Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: complicated grief (page 1 of 3)

The Layers Of My Grief

Matt,

Somedays I feel like I’m layered in grief.   I remember how I would layer my clothing on those iffy weather days.  Never knowing if the sun would break through the clouds and warm the gloomy day.   This grief is heavier than my clothing and unlike my clothing cannot be ripped off when the waves hit and the tide recedes.

I feel like an onion.   Peeling through the multiple layers will leave you in tears.  Whenever I feel I’ve come to grips with your death, I’m hit by another wave.   My tears come as the overwhelming feeling of sinking into my abyss hits like a slap.

My cancer diagnosis has compounded your death.   I need you here.   I want you here.   You should be here.   I need to hear your voice telling me, “You got this Mom.”   I need you to talk to your brother as only brothers can.  I need you to be here to help me face the unknown.  I need you so badly that I feel myself reliving that horrific fresh pain I experienced early after your death.

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I grieve what could have been.  I grieve who I used to be.   I grieve for the life I took so for granted.  I grieve for Ray and all he has lost in a companion.   Layer after layer after layer.   The grief builds up like volcanic ash.   Get too close and you get burned.   Tears flows like ash completely out of my control.   Then the flow stops and mountains of ash are left behind.   Mountains that block this journey to finding peace.

Mountains of tests since my diagnosis.   Grief over the possibilities.   Mountains of newly woken grief over you not being here to hug me.   Grief over how quickly plans and life changes.   Grief when I hear your brothers voice begin to crack as we both share our feeling about your absence.

I’ve read that grieving is a life long process.   I will never get over your loss.  I will never get over losing me.    I pray for the strength to carry my layers as my journey with multifaceted grief will continue as long as I live.

Peeling an onion is like dealing with grief one step at a time.   The onion comes apart one layer at a time.   If you peel harshly you can tear through the  layers causing damage.   If you peel gently the layers fall off easily.

I will work to peel gently through my layers.   Working through one layer at a time.   Dealing with the feelings that I try to run from.   Dealing with my losses in hopes of recovering a small slice of peace………..

 

The Blessings Of Incidental Findings

Matt,

I must admit when you died I was so pissed off at God.   I felt let down.  Abandoned.  Like my prayers to keep you safe fell on deaf ears.   That my prayers weren’t good enough to be answered.   God and I had many ugly conversations as I sat in the dark and said things that would have had my grade schools nuns running for the Holy Water to wash out my mouth.

I was shocked at the depth and power of my anger.   Growing up in the Catholic church attending Catholic School I knew I had better straighten out my thoughts and get control of my out of control mouth.   I dared God to appear to me and explain why he let you die when I prayed you would beat your addiction and recover to live a beautiful life.

I was a spitting mad grieving mom and nothing would ever convince me that Jesus knew what was really happening in your life when I just had my fantasies of how you were living.   All I wanted was you back.   Under any circumstances.  I really didn’t care if you were suffering from your disease, I just wanted you back.

I remember going to your garden at our church and sitting under the cross.   Seeing your name carved in stone was like another slap from God.   Seeing your name, birth date and death date was having my soul ripped from my body and shattered into a million pieces.   No mother should ever see her precious child’s name on a cold stone.

I took my anger and turned it into an advocacy against those who poisoned you with their pills.  I was relentless.   I held nothing back.   I named names and called people out for who they truly were.   I began helping those who reminded me of you.   Fighting for them as I fought for you.   Four years of advocacy work culminated in six bills that would change how Delaware treats those who suffer from your disease.  I surrounded myself with the best advocates Delaware had to offer and channeled my anger into leaving a legacy to honor your life.

Little did I know that once again my life would be turned upside down.   Looking back it’s really not surprising.   My friends kept telling me to take a much needed break.   To just enjoy the fact that summer was here and Legislative Hall was out of session.   But advocacy is in my blood.   Hard to turn it off when people are calling for help to find treatment.   No way was I not going to do everything in my power to get another mother’s son or daughter in a safe place.

Well, it seems that God had another plan for me.   Funny how God just decides to take the stubborn bull by the horns and say enough.

I know you know.   I have this crazy uncommon cancer.   Of course why not?   You and I were always the misfits.

Except this time I have no anger against God.  I have never felt closer to Jesus in my entire life.   It seems Jesus has been beside me all this time.   I just ignored him.   My grief blocked his peace.   My anger did not allow me to feel his presence.   He was knocking all along.

Jesus has taken over my care.   He has placed me in the hands of experts.   Jesus has saved me from the wrong diagnosis.   He has saved me from an extensive surgery that might not have been the best first step in my fight.

Matt, I know you are here.   I feel you and see your smiling face.   You gave me such a gift by getting your message to me to fight.   You told a friend you still wear your ball cap backwards.   You told her about my cancer and my advocacy.   You talked about your brother by name.   So many messages I know it’s you.

So just like Jesus you never really left me.   I just needed to let my grief open to see the most amazing light shining through.   I have a peace like never before.   I feel totally confident that Jesus has both of us in the palm of his hand.

Matt,  you were always my beautiful boy.   Now I know you are my guardian angel.   I know that you will be watching from heaven.   I know you are at peace and that is the most beautiful gift I could have ever received in the middle of my storm.

Blessings continue to find me.   Ray is amazing.  My friends, those precious few who stood by me after your death are carrying me through this new journey.

Blessings totally unexpected but so welcomed.   I continue to learn from you my beautiful boy.   I now sit and remember our conversations when your wisdom shined though.   Believe me Matt, I’m going to enjoy those little things I always overlooked.   I see you in the stars,  I see you in the sunsets.   I know Heaven is your beach and you my son are enjoying a peace by your precious sea.

I will fight for you and my family.   But when my time comes meet me by the sea.   We will run through the surf together.   You wearing your ball cap backwards and me with my crazy curls.  Together forever one day.   Godspeed my boy.   Tell Jesus your mom says thanks for not giving up on her.

 

Two Words Changing Life Forever

Matt,

I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.  I never thought that feeling of shocked numbness would ever hit me again like it did after hearing those two words, “Matt’s Dead”.   We’ve all heard that saying how one phone call can change the course of your life.  Once again knocking you off balance and forcing you to navigate your life on shaky, unrecognizable ground.

I remember those early days after your death.  Walking around numb.  Feeling like my insides were jelly.  Constantly shaking.  Walking through the days going through the motions of living, but really not living.  I remember the feeling of nothingness.  Of denying this was my new reality.  Of feeling foolish for sweating the meaningless small stuff that life constantly throws your way.  I now knew that life was too fragile to sweat over issues that in reality really didn’t matter.  Your death was a lesson in my life.

Foolishly, I believed that after 4 long years, I was back in control of my life.  My advocacy work allowed me to channel my grief into helping others.  I finally felt a purpose.   I still grieve you everyday, but felt like as long as I had my advocacy your death would always have meaning.

I’m still trying to understand where I am today.  Whether it was a God intervention or a Matt intervention.   I remember the day perfectly.  Reliving every step I took.  Every thought I had exactly the same as I experienced upon hearing you were gone.

A beautiful day, June 22nd.  The humidity finally broke and all I wanted was to fill the house with the cleansing breeze of fresh air.   You remember how I always hated having the house closed up.  We used to laugh as I would only put the air on when the dogs were getting too hot.  I needed to hear the songs of my garden birds.  Needed to hear the soothing sounds of the waterfall in the garden beneath the kitchen window.

I lifted the window.  It stuck.  Instead of giving up, I continued to push as hard as I could.  The pain was excruciating.  I felt like my back and leg had been stripped of muscle.  I remember my nursing instincts kicking in as I hobbled to the freezer.  Ice now.  I grabbed the bottle of Motrin swallowed quickly and hobbling to the couch.   I sat in shock.  Looking at the window with such contempt.  If I could have I would have grabbed a hammer and beat the crap out of that piece of glass.

Weeks passed.  The pain remained.  Fueling my hate for that window.  In my mind it had ruined my summer.  No more biking, hiking, dog walking, yoga, gardening.  Everything I loved gone in a split second.  All my self care practices that kept me sane on those dark days now out of my physical capacity.

After two months of continued pain an MRI was ordered.  I was expecting a herniated disc.  I was fully prepared to inform which ever neurosurgeon I would see that surgery would be my last resort.  After watching how your surgery did nothing for your back except lead you to the road that finally took your life I was perfecting my speech.

Never in a million years did I see what was coming.  You always laughed at me being the health nut.  Skipping cake,  not eating red meat.  I can hear your words so clearly now..”Mom, life”s too short, eat the cake.”

Although the two words were different, their impact on my life was the same.  Fracture.  Tumor. I remember that familiar feeling after hearing those other two words, “Matt’s Dead.”  The feeling of leaving my body as my brain went searching for that protective cocoon it once wrapped me in after I learned of your death.

Today, I am fighting another reality I never imagined.   The reality that I will now be fighting for my life as I fought for yours.  I lie awake in the dark praying for peace as I did many nights after your death.  I wake breathless and shaky.  This reality hits just as the reality of your death did.  New every morning.  Today I am once again going through the motions numb to where this journey will lead me.

Looking back, that sticking  window was a gift. A divine intervention.  My doctor calls this an incidental finding.  I have no symptoms of cancer.  I feel fine.  If not for the back injury I would be biking, gardening and living life unaware of whatever was happening inside of me.

Today, I see the light shining through that window.  I hear the birds singing and the sounds of soothing water.  I watch the dogs chase each other through the gardens.

I look at that window seeing your beautiful smile.  I know you and God worked together for whatever reason to bring this to my attention as early as possible.  Perhaps my advocacy work is not over.  I promised as long as I lived, you would continue to live.

Its almost ironic.  I’ve always told everyone that losing you was the worst, most devastating event in my life.  Surviving your death has taught me that I can survive whatever life chooses to throw my way.  Your death was my lesson in how to live.

Matt, Walk with me on this new journey.  Let me feel you by my side through the biopsies and treatments.  Give me signs that you are near.  Please thank God for me.

Believe me, I will be eating the cake.  I’ll take that burger.  I’ll remember how you lived and mimic your absolute love for life.  I remember you telling me, “Mom, I don’t have to worry, you worry enough for us both.”   Lesson learned my beautiful boy  Four years and Seven months later your death continues to teach me about life………

 

 

 

The Collateral Beauty Of Shared Grief

Matt,

One definition of Collateral beauty is beauty that is impossible to be seen.   Perhaps a devastating tragedy has broken your life beyond repair.  This tragedy so unimaginable, so incomprehensible, has rendered you powerless to see beyond your brokenness.

This weekend I witnessed the reoccurring presence of Collateral beauty as I attended The Compassionate Friends National Conference In Philadelphia.

This conference was specifically for parents like me.   Parents who have survived the unsurvivable.   We have out lived our children.   We have received the phone call that no parent could ever imagine receiving.  We have heard those words.   Your child is dead.   We  know what it’s like to continue to breathe after our hearts have been ripped from our chests and lay shattered at our feet.  We know the pain of planning a celebration of life when we should have been planning a birthday, a family barbecue, a wedding.

I really had no idea what to expect.  I could feel my anxiety gripping my throat as I stood in line waiting to be given the conference materials.   I remember looking around and recognizing the pain etched on parents who knew my grief.  We were each given a red lanyard with our names displayed for everyone to see.  Many like me carried pictures of beautiful smiling faces.   Faces that should be here.  Faces that should be laughing and living.  Faces not memorialized but alive and well.

My heart began to race.  My twisted thoughts gripped my brain.  I wanted to scream.  Hey!  Do you really think we need to wear a lanyard?   Look at our faces.  Look at our eyes.  Grief has been etched permanently into our being.  All you need to do is look.  We are marked by unimaginable loss..

I remember walking into the Ballroom and scanning the room.   I could feel my tears beginning as I found the nearest table.  So many people gathered together.  It was as if we were one broken soul encompassing every inch of available space.  No longer strangers.  No shame, no uneasiness.  Our connection was palpable.  Pictures, names and stories were being shared without one thought of judgement or guilt.

Conversations that are taboo in society flowed like nectar from a exquisite flower.  Nothing was off limits.   The time frame of our losses were never an issue.   The cause of death was shared without the worry of judgement.  The reality that our child died overrode the how’s or the why’s.  Grieving parents understand that this life altering grief will last a lifetime.

Unlike societies perception of grief having a time table with stages that lead to the completion of mourning, parents recognize that the loss of a child is not linear or logical.   It’s layered with secondary losses.  We have not just lost a child.  We have lost the present and the future.  We have lost hopes and dreams.

During this amazing time I never felt the need to defend my grief.  I never felt the awkwardness I’ve felt among those who feel that enough time has passed and I should be over Matt’s death.  I felt connected to those who needed no explanation when my tears flowed and my sobs were heard across the crowded room.

Mothers I’ve come to know and love due to the power of social media showed me compassion and comfort.  Hugs and tears mingled as we were finally able to physically wrap our arms around each other knowing that nothing need be said.  We live it.  We get it.

I was given the gift of just being Matt’s Mom.   I was given permission to leave my mask behind.  To let my advocacy have a few days off.  To disappear into and acknowledge my son and the sorrow of the profound loss I live with everyday.   Permission to mourn is the greatest gift we can ever give to another bereaved parent.

I silently watched as Collateral Beauty surrounded me.  I witnessed it as parents who were once strangers came together and carried each other’s grief.  Just for an incredible moment our grief was lifted by another allowing our hearts to see the beauty of compassion and understanding that defies explanation.

Collateral beauty shining a light through the darkness of our brokenness.  A light I will carry with me as I continue to live my grief.  The experience of catching that  glimpse of beauty among the dark ashes of child loss will remain in my heart forever.

They Said Time Would Heal The Pain. They Lied.

Matt,  Today is Mother’s Day.  My 5th without you.  Even as I write these words I still struggle with my reality.   The thought that you really aren’t coming through my door with flowers in your hand and a dog at your heel continues to break my heart.

How did we get here?   I still question why you left.   Why life turned out to be this nightmare.   Why God didn’t answer my prayers like I wanted.   You should be here.

Today is such an incredibly painful day.   For weeks I’ve been tortured by the Hallmark commercials with smiling Moms and beautiful children.   The perfect family gathered around the perfect mother celebrating their perfect day.

Doesn’t Hallmark know that for some of us Mother’s Day is a brutal reminder of what we no longer have?   Of children that no longer live.  Children who won’t be calling or sending cards to celebrate our day.   Children who’s voices were  silenced by an untimely death.   Children who’s faces and smiles are frozen in time.

Mother’s Day was once a day I looked forward to.   If my love was enough, you would be sitting beside me surrounded by family.   We would be laughing and hugging.   Filling our plates with crabs and corn.   Sharing stories of your childhood antics with your brother.   Pups would be chasing squirrels as we enjoyed the beauty of my gardens and the warmth of the shining sun.

Today all I have are precious memories and cards from past Mother’s Day.   Treasured pieces of paper signed by you.   I hold them close reading each word while running my finger over your signature.   You always laughed at me for saving cards now perhaps you understand why.

Today there is no family gathering.   No shining sun.  Today, the weather mimics my soul.   Dreary and cold.  Rain hitting the window makes me think that the angels are crying for Mom’s like me.   Knowing this pain will never let go.   I will mourn you as long as I breathe.

Today I will give myself a gift.   I will allow memories to overflow in my mind as my tears fall shamelessly from my eyes.   I will not pretend to be ok.   The mask I wear to get through life will remain in hiding.   Today I will be true to my grief.   I will allow it to wrap  it’s arms around my soul as I remember you as my loving son.   Today I will allow myself to break.   I will close my eyes and see your smiling face.

Today I will reaffirm that I will always be your Mother.   I pray I will feel you with me.  That you will be with me in spirit as I remember your love as both my little boy and as an amazing man.    I will speak to you as if you were sitting next to me.   I will pray for a sign showing me you are near.

Today I will be that Mother learning to survive her day.   A Mother learning to live with a broken heart on her special day.   A Mother living with a child who lives in Heaven.

 

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