Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: grief (page 1 of 6)

A Can Of Beefaroni and So Much More

Never in a million years did I ever think I would find myself falling apart in the pasta aisle of my local grocery store after seeing a can of Beefaroni. The gut wrenching, hit my heart hard, kind of pain left me holding onto my cart telling myself to breathe. Tears running down my face like a hose stuck in the on position with no hope of being turned off. Oh God, I think, how am I ever going to survive the rest of my life if can’t even make it through the grocery store without a major meltdown. Seeing that can and feeling those feelings has become a part of my new life. The life I never saw coming or signed up for.

Beefaroni was my youngest son, Matt’s favorite food. I would stock up at the ten for $10 sale and hurry home to stuff his weekly care package with all his favorite foods. Sending them off with a piece of my heart to the half way house he lived in a thousand miles away from home. A can of Beefaroni, a connection to my son who is no more.

Then there is the scent of Phoenix. This was his smell. I can still hear his voice, “Hey Mom, can you pick me up my deodorant, I’m running low”. I’ve found myself in this same store walking to the deodorant aisle and finding that familiar blue can. I remove the lid and spray a tiny bit. Closing my eyes taking a deep breath I let my mind drift back to happier times. This is what my life has become. Finding pieces of my son in everyday places trying to keep our connection alive.

I once felt that being the mother of a son suffering from addiction was the worst thing that ever happened to my life. That constant feeling of helplessness and anxiety ruled my mind. I compared his addiction to being trapped on a very fast, very high roller coaster with many twists and turns. Never knowing what each day would bring, what was coming or how some days would end.

Mothers of addicts learn to live with the crazy unpredictability that goes hand in hand with the disease of addiction. We learn to expect the unexpected and we relish the thought of a possible period of recovery. Matts addiction became mine as I held onto the roller coaster for dear life. Praying for things to somehow calm down and allow us both a little piece of normal. I’ve since learned that being the mother of an addict who suffered an accidental overdose is waking up and finding the nightmare you feared the most has now become your reality.

Be careful what you pray for they say. I prayed for peace, I prayed for quiet, I prayed for his addiction to go away. My prayers have been answered but never in the way I imagined. I now struggle to survive in this all too quiet, empty new world. I long for the days of chaos. Riding the uncertainty on the roller coaster known as addiction now feels like a walk in the park compared to being the one left behind.

Learning to navigate through my grief is a daily process. I’m now the lone rider on a different coaster. This one mimics the other but now the ups and downs belong solely to me. There are days I wake up, shed my tears, pray for strength and somehow get through. There are days the darkness overrides my heart and I crawl through my brokenness as if it is surrounded by shards of glass. Each piercing my heart with knifelike accuracy.

For now I take it one day at a time. I pray that someday that can of Beefaroni or the scent of Phoenix will warm my heart not break it. Reminding me of the connection between a mother and her son that neither time nor space can break. For now I pray for understanding and strength as I continue to put one foot in front of the other attempting to navigate my new unchartered life without my son.

I know I will never return to the person I once was.   Going back to that person is not an option.    She vanished when my son died. Gone with his last breath.   My grief path is my own.    It’s rocky and full of broken pieces of a life that used to be.   I tread lightly on days I can.   I crawl through the glass on days when the pain kills and I question my survival.    My grief has no finish line.   It’s one day, one breath, one scream at a time.    My grief is the best I can do.   Navigating this path is the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do.    One thing I know for sure is I’m not ok.   I will never be ok.   And for me that just has to be ok…….

A Broken Heart Doesn’t Show Up On EKG

Matt,  Since your Death I’ve had several episodes where it feels like my heart is actually breaking apart.  The medical community uses the term “Broken Heart Syndrome”.  Although the cause of broken heart syndrome is not completely known, it is thought to be triggered by extreme emotional stress.  Intense grief is listed as one of its causes. The heart is stunned by an unexpected, shocking event.  When stunned, the heart no longer works efficiently and causes severe pain and anxiety.

I can tell you I’ve become the poster child for Broken Heart Syndrome.  I’ve been in the ER more since your death than I have my entire life.

My first trip was the day before Christmas Eve.  It was the first Christmas after your death and I think reality gut punched me and started the shattering of my heart to begin.  I was a mess.  Breathless and in agony.  Trying to describe my pain to doctors was like trying to explain color to a blind man.  Nothing like your classic heart attack signs just an unending ache deep in my soul.

I remember the doctor coming in to tell me all the tests were normal.  Seriously, I thought.  I’m dying and you’re missing it.  Then he asked what’s been going on in my life.  That simple question opened my floodgates.  His face said it all.  Your death, then my career screeching to a halt was tough enough but when you threw in the death of a dear friend ten months later, I was drowning in grief.

Returning home I remember feeling so foolish.  I was an active, healthy person.  Why did I feel like I was dying.  Once again I put one foot in front of the other taking baby steps trying to navigate this new life.

Strike two was in April of the following year.  Year two was shaping up to be another brutal round of reality.  I made it through all those “firsts” and never expected the “seconds” to come with stronger gut punches.  I was in my garden.  Clearing out old leaves trying to remember the joy I once felt digging in the dirt.  My garden was my sanctuary.  The place I fled to trying to find peace during your addiction.

Seeing your cigarette butts was a sharp slap across my face.   Memories flooded my brain.   You sitting on the deck pitching your smoked butts into my precious gardens.   I remember yelling at your disrespect for all my hard work.   What should have been minor fix turned into a major fight as you continued to flick your butts into the garden with that look of defiance on your face.    Oh God,  that memory long since buried was dancing through my head.   I held them to my nose trying to pick up the scent of your mouth.  Oh God,  what I would give to have you sitting there again.   This time I would hold you and hug you knowing how our journey would end.

Once again that familiar pain shot across my chest.   Struggling to catch my breath.   That lump in my throat growing larger each second.   This time I’m sure something will show up.   My heart hurting so badly yet again everything was “normal”.    Sent home once again feeling foolish.   Even my nursing education wasn’t any help in controlling my thought that I must be dying.

Strike three arrived 5 days after returning home from Florida.   Even the beauty of the Keys couldn’t  lift my grief.    I felt it the second week there.   I could see you everywhere and no where.   Dear God, you died in Florida was all I could think of.   You should have been  enjoying the turquoise water.   We should be having lunch.   I should be seeing your place, meeting your friends.  You should be alive.

Returning home was another slap of reality.   My eyes finding your urn.   Seeing your smiling face staring back at me forever frozen in time.    I can’t breathe.   This time I heard my heart break.   Feeling the shards of glass tearing into my throat.  I can’t be alive and survive this pain.   I must be dying.   Once again the doctor wants to know what’s been happening in my life.   Once again I see the look of compassion for your broken mother on her face.

This time a stress test is ordered.   I’m injected with an isotope and told to start walking.   The treadmill belt is moving.   I think of you. I’m walking too fast.   Trying to run from reality.   I’m told to slow down.   The speed needs to build up.   All I want to do is run.   Pictures are taken and reviewed by the heart experts.   I’m told I have a beautiful, healthy heart.   I sit and listen as tears run down my face.   How can they not see the cracks, the shards that live where my heart used to.

The NP gives me a hug.   Tears mingling with mine.   She too knows living with a broken heart.   Losing her daughter years ago.   She tells me our mother’s hearts never forget.   Eventually the breaks won’t be as severe and gut wrenching.   Time will eventually put some pieces back where they belong.   One day my heart will remember only the love rather than the loss.

Until then I’ve learned that a heart breaking never makes noise.  It’s only felt by the soul of the one experiencing the pain.    Unseen to the human eye but  deeply felt by the griever.   And like grief, the break signifies unspeakable, unending  love…….

 

 

 

Come, Sit, Grieve…..Repeat

Matt,   I could never have imagined the impact your death would have on every aspect of my life.   Never did I ever think my grief would turn me into a leper.   It seems people are terrified of those who are grieving.   Scared to death of contact with me or have that famous opinion on how long grief should last.   I’m guessing my time is up.  Even strangers run when I bring up addiction and your death.   It’s almost that I carry a contagious disease and if they get close enough they will carry it home to their family.   Like the flu, only worse.

Unfortunately, your disease still carries an ugly stigma.   I see the look on peoples faces when they learn how you died.   They can’t get away fast enough.   Quickly changing the subject as they scurry away.   I feel like I have that huge A branded on my forehead.  Except my A stands for Addiction.    I still find it mind boggling that even today as we continue to lose people from all walks of life  Addiction is still thought of as a dirty mans disease.

Experts on grief tell you to find a support group.   Sounds easy right.  I had a better chance of being struck by lightening.  You see Matt,  my grief comes with a ton of baggage.   All those what if’s and I should have’s cling to my heart and take turns tearing little pieces away.   Death due to overdose comes with such regret.   Things said and done dance with those things not said and not done.   Until you have lived that rollercoaster with your child one could ever understand the helplessness and hopelessness parents feel as we struggle to save our kids.   Death from overdose is unlike any other loss.   Not only do we struggle with grief but the stigma continues to rear its ugly head throwing daggers in our direction.

My attempts to find that group where I would fit in was futile.   Believe me I tried for several months.   I sat next to mothers who lost their children to cancer and felt the compassion ooze around the room.   I remember sitting there feeling that all familiar tightness grip my throat.   Then it was death by car accident.   Once again compassion.   I wanted to be Alice and slide down that rabbit hole.   I wanted to be Jeannie wiggling my nose and disappearing into thin air.   I wanted to be anywhere but in that room when I said that ugly word and felt the compassion wash away with the breaths of shock and stares.

Then it was off to another group that actually dealt with addiction.   Oh I had such high hopes.   Finally a group that got it.   Imagine my surprise when I was subjected to another parent beaming with joy.   My mind whirling as I realized this group was largely made up of parents who’s kids were either in recovery or still active in their addiction.   My mind whirling, my gut revolting as I heard her voice praising God for saving her child.   I felt like I’d been slapped.   How dare God save her child and not mine.   I remember wanting to run.   Wanting once again to disappear.   I made myself sit for an hour hearing more stories of recovery.   Stories of continued struggles that I knew too well.   I left sobbing and defeated.

I hid for months, licking my wounds feeling isolated and alone.   I scoured bookstores.   My shelves now lined with books on grief and grieving.   Reading the stories of other parents whose children also died from addiction gave me the push I needed.   I once read that when God closes one door, He opens another.   As a nurse I’ve spend many years holding hands and shedding tears with people who have lost their loved ones.   As a NICU nurse I’ve also helped grieving parents say goodbye to their child.   I remember praying asking God what my purpose was now that you were gone.   I spent the last 7 years fighting to save you.   Now I had all this time to discover my new path.

Support After Addiction Death (SAD) was born on a rainy, bitter day.   Sitting at my computer I designed a pamphlet.   Explaining how and why I was starting a support group exclusively for parents who lost a child to the misunderstood disease of addiction.   Our pastor offered our church.   The same church I said my final goodbye to you.   The same church where your ashes were scattered in the garden I tend as we celebrated your first birthday in Heaven.

Today I have a new family.   Mothers and fathers who know and live the same grief that envelopes my life.   We gather together and shed our tears.  Our eyes mirror images of unfathomable  pain.   Lifting each other on those dark days when one of us is drowning.   I look into their eyes and know no words are necessary.   We have lived the nightmare.   Our ending is not the one we dreamed of but together we find strength in the blessing of finding each other.   There is no shame, no stigma.   Sharing pieces of our broken hearts we begin to slowly heal.   Our children gone but never forgotten.   Pictures are shared.   Birthdays are remembered.   Names are spoken.   Many tears are shed.   Memories are cherished.

God did close the door for me when it came to saving you.   God also opened a new world where I can once more reach out, offer a hug and just show up.   Grief doesn’t scare this group.   Grief is a part of who we are.  Grief is the unwanted, unspeakable place that bonds us more than blood.  As long as I live I will be grateful for the people who say your name, offer a hug and stay……….

 

 

 

 

Imagining Heaven

Matt,   Since your death I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Heaven.   I want to know everything there is to know.   I want to know if your happy.   If your Heaven really is a beach.   I have memories of us laughing sitting side by side watching the waves crash onto the shore and both saying “Heaven is a beach”.   We were so alike.   Our love of the sea is a tie that will forever bind us.

My bookshelves are lined with books written by those who returned after a near death experience.   I read their words closing my eyes and letting my soul imagine the colors, shapes and sounds.   I see your smile in my mind.   I hear the song of the gulls and remember the salty spray in my face.   I see you as a child.  Racing your brother through the waves.   Your laughter was beautiful music to my ears.   The vastness of the sea always made me feel the wonder of God.

I wonder about the nature of life after death.   I search my bible for comfort in knowing that you arrived in Heaven and never looked back.   Looking for answers anywhere they can be found.   I scour book stores like someone dying of thirst.   I need to know.   There are days the clouds roll into my heart and I question everything I believe.   Those dark days bring such pain to my heart.   Those are the days you’ll find me talking out loud to God.    Days I beg for a sign.   My desperate heart needs proof.   Those are the days I feel the weight of my grief.   Questioning everything I’ve ever believed about God and his Heaven.

The hardest part of your death besides missing you everyday is the wonder if I will ever see your handsome face again.   So much was left unsaid and undone.   Always thinking there would be more time.   Never thinking you would leave me behind to find my new normal.   I wonder if you will be there when I leave this earth.   You were never afraid to die.   I remember our conversations.   How you amazed me with your thoughts about God and Heaven.   How many times it was you comforting me.   How ironic a child giving peace to his mother.

I’m left with unanswerable questions.   Questions that have the power to haunt my broken heart.   Questions that cause me to sit on the edge of the dark abyss of the unknown.   Questions that shake me to my core.  On those days I reach for my Bible.   This amazing book spent so much time sitting on my shelf unopened.   I talk to God asking him to speak to me.   To give me what I need to survive your loss and the emptiness that has taken up residence in my heart.    Matt, I can hear you laughing as I write this.    Your Mom reads the Bible.

I found John Verse 14.  “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.  In my fathers house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you.   I go to prepare a place for you.   And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself;  that where I am you will also be”.   Reading this verse filled my aching soul with a peace I haven’t felt since you left.

I remember begging God to keep you safe.   To take care of you until we were together again.   Never did I think my prayers would be answered the way they were.  Never did I think God would take you home before me.   Your death broke my faith and at the same time is helping to slowly rebuild it.   If you lived, my Bible probably would have remained unopened.   Now the Scriptures are where I run to on those rocky days.   Sitting alone, my bible opened looking for answers.   I can feel you surround me with your peace.   I close my eyes and see your face.   Your beautiful eyes.   Your smile.   I see you walking near the most beautiful sea.   The bluest water.   Kahlua running by your side.

Oh Matt, my beautiful boy the sea continues to connect us.  My dream is that one day when my eyes close on earth they will open again to see your beautiful eyes face to face.  Together we will run into the waves holding onto each other, never letting go.   My grief will wash away with the tide.   The gulls will sing a song of joy and Jesus will greet us saying “Yes my children, Heaven is indeed a beach”.

 

 

 

Why Is This Grief So Complicated?????

Matt,  This complicated grief is nothing like the grief people who have never experienced think it is.  Most people, at least some of the people I’ve come in contact with still think grief has a time frame.  Supposedly, normal grief is still thought of as something you glide through.  Going from one stage to the next until you reach the finish line.  After that so called specific acceptable time frame, the grief just disappears into thin air.  Like magic, poof, it’s gone.  Life then supposedly returns to normal.

Unlike the so called “normal” grief, complicated grief doesn’t seem to follow a time line.   It doesn’t seem to care that it’s been years.  It seems that time can continue to pass and complicated grief just clings tightly to your heart.   Complicated grief is usually associated with the loss of a child.   This grief is unbearably devastating.

What makes this grief so tough is that I find you have to constantly defend it.  People will bring up how long it’s been.  Oh yes, believe me I know how long its been.   So does every other parent who has lived through the death of their child.  What I don’t understand is why how long its been should have any impact on how long or how deep a parent continues to grieve.

The loss of a child goes against mother nature.  Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.   The loss of a child shatters the foundation of what we have been taught to be normal in our world.   The loss of a child rocks parents to their core.   We begin to question everything we have learned throughout our lifetime.   We question our faith.   We wonder how a loving God could have allowed our child to die.   I remember my daily prayers.   Every morning and night I prayed to God for your safety.   I prayed for you to have the strength to beat your addiction.   I truly believed that if I let go and let God all would be ok.   Imagine how I felt when I got that life shattering call that you were gone.

I felt totally betrayed by my God.   I felt like I had done something so horrible that he was punishing me by allowing my greatest fear to come true.   I felt abandoned and alone.   I questioned every belief I’d ever known.   Feeling that I’d not only lost you but also lost my trust in how the world should be.   It’s taken years to rebuild my faith.   To know that God did answer my prayers.   He saved you not my way but his.   To this day God and I have an agreement.   We agree to disagree on answered prayers.

Through my grief I have found many blessings.   At first I felt abandoned, alone.   Many friends walked away and never looked back.   Apparently my grief made them uncomfortable.   Believing that I should get over it and get back to a so called “normal”.   They wondered how they could be around someone who was so deeply grieving.   Rather than helping me through they simply disappeared.   The years of friendship meant nothing.   Shared experiences all forgotten.  Grief scaring them so deeply it was safer to abandon a friend than to stand by her side.

Isolation is a large part of how grief becomes complicated.   I never believed what I’d heard.   But since living it I know it’s true.   People forget you are still here.   Forget you are trying to navigate through your new life.   Trying to figure out how to survive without your child.  Mourning the hopes and dreams once so alive now gone in the blink of an eye.  No more phone calls or visits,  just complete abandonment by people who were once considered close friends.   You wake up one day and it hits.  Not only have you lost a huge piece of your life, but you’ve also lost any connection to life outside your grief.

I also live that famous verse, “If God closes one door, He opens another”.    Through my grief I have found a new family.   Other women who like me have suffered the ultimate loss.   We share a bond and belong to a club we never wanted to join.   Finding peace and strength through our loss.   We lift each other on dark days.   There is no need to defend our grief.   No need to explain why those special days re-break our healing hearts.   The gift of these friendships are priceless.   Understanding that time does not heal all wounds.  That healing has no dead line.   That there is no shame in missing our children every day of our lives.  We are a gift to one another.

Being honest with myself is tough.   To realize that even after 3 years 2 months and 20 days I’m still shocked by your death.  To think that the years have passed without you here continues to take my breath away.   Simple things still cause deep pain.   A can of Beefaroni or hearing a song by Guns and Roses can be overwhelming.   There are days when seeing a father with his baby reminds me of things that will never be.

I’ve learned that grief is not a race to be run.   It’s a process to be survived.   A place to move through at our own pace.   Grief is as individual as a fingerprint.   My grief is mine alone.   It is not something I should ever have to defend or be ashamed of.   Grief is love that has been rerouted.   It lives in every fiber of our being.   Grief is how we love.   Love never dies.   It lasts forever.

So does Grief……………………………

 

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