Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: mothers grief (page 2 of 5)

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.

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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…….

 

 

 

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”.

 

 

 

Grief Lives In Paradise

Matt,   It’s February.  You remember that first year when you were living in Florida?   February was the month I planned to come for a visit.  I anticipated seeing you again after 6 long months of nothing but phone conversations.   I imagined how it would feel to see you in person.  To be able to touch you again.  To feel your hug and see your incredible smile.  I was excited to see you in a new life.  To see you living on your own in the place you loved the most.   I envisioned us walking together on your beach and making plans for a beautiful future.

As you know, my dream was shattered by your unexpected death in January.  So here we are.  The third February since your death. I’ve returned to Florida.  To the Keys.  My piece of heaven on earth.  You see that was the original plan before your death.  I was spending that first week with you in Boca then heading for the Keys.  You were planning to come for a long weekend.   Once again I anticipated showing you my paradise.   I planned on how amazing it would be to show you what draws me back year after year.   The turquoise water.  The cry of the sea birds.  The vastness of the sea that surrounds the house.  This is my heaven on earth.

You never made it.  So now my paradise is bittersweet.  I remember boarding the plane.  It was an early flight.  I remember just closing my eyes and closing off the world as my earbuds blocked out the noise.   I started to pray the Serenity Prayer,  oh please God help me to accept the things I cannot change.   You see Matt, no matter how many times I say that prayer, I will never accept that you are gone.

I’m hanging in.  Until I feel the plane start to descend.  Looking out the window I see the blue water surrounded by a scattering of homes.   I hear the pilot welcoming us to Florida.  The state you took your last breath.   I feel the slap of grief.   That familiar throat tightening.   I’m choking.  The grief lives in Florida.  I stare out the window hiding my flow of tears.  Hugging myself to stop the sobs that are escaping from my broken soul.   My therapist said, “The body remembers”.   Matt, my body is remembering and physically reacting to your loss.

The airport is full of happy people.   Families reunited.   I see a young man walk into the arms of his mother.   I allow myself the fantasy that you are here.   Waiting for us.  I see your smiling face.  I hear your “Hey Mom”.   I look for you everywhere.  I hide my tears and tell myself to breathe.

Grabbing my luggage I walk out into the welcome heat and sun.   Ray grabs my hand knowing I need to get my bearings.   That I need to allow the grief to envelope me until I can breathe again.   We reach the rental car.   The radio starts to play.   The sound of Guns and Roses, Paradise City fills the air.   Oh Matt, are you here?   Guns and Roses your favorite band singing about paradise.   My tears start to flow.   Ray grabs my hand.  Smiling he tells me it’s Matt.

The drive to the Keys is indescribable.  The salt air hitting my face.   The bridges surrounded by the most beautiful turquoise water.  The cry of the sea birds welcoming me back.   I’m surrounded by Paradise as my thoughts turn to you.

Once again I look for signs that you are here.   I wonder if you know I’m back.   I talk to you as if you are walking beside me.   Listening for your voice in the sound of the wind.  I remember all the plans we made.   Plans that have now become a grieving mothers fantasy.

Reminders of your loss are everywhere.  I see you in my mind as two little boys ride skateboards down the street.  I see you standing on yours next to your brother with that famous I can do it Mom smile on your little face.  I see you in the man carrying his child on his shoulders.   I see you in the stars shining in the night sky.

It is said that grief is a journey.   That in time the pain will lessen.   I’m finding that this journey is an endless path that neither time nor place can soften.   Even returning to Paradise has become bittersweet.   Tomorrow I head home.   Leaving both my paradise and a piece of my heart behind………

 

 

Grief, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Matt,  today, January 3rd, marks the third year since you left me behind.   Three years have passed since I’ve heard your voice or seen your handsome face.   Three years.   It just doesn’t seem real.   How did I survive three years of carrying the unbearable weight of my grief.   I sit alone and remember the moment I learned you were gone.   Three years ago, January 3rd was a Saturday.  It was snowing here and all I could think about was how lucky you were to be spending your day at the beach.  I was working in the NICU feeling jealous of your new life in sunny Florida.   Jealous that I was freezing and you were laying in the warm sun.  Little did I know you were already lying in a morgue your body lifeless, cold and blue.

For three years I’ve lived in a fog.   Disbelief allowed me to survive.   Days I pretended you really were lying on that beach being warmed by the Florida sun.  Then there were days when reality snuck in and I had to crawl through choking quicksand.  Days the weight of my grief literally had me fighting for my own life.

As a nurse, I read about how debilitating complicated grief could be.   I learned how destructive this type of grief could be to the body and soul.   Never quite understanding it’s incredible power until I was thrown into the fire after your untimely death.   You see Matt, my grief has been complicated by my guilt.   For three years I have blamed myself for your death.   I became my own personal punching bag.  Constantly allowing that rollercoaster of emotions to chip away at my very soul.

I blamed myself for not being the “best” mother.  For working while you were young.  Not having the luxury of being one of those incredible moms who had time to make meals from scratch.   You know those moms who never had to be responsible for anything else except their kids.   My beatings continued as I rehashed everything I should have done to save you from your addiction.   My guilt would never allow me to see everything that I did do.   Guilt is ugly.   Guilt only let me see all of the wrongs and none of the rights.

I remember watching you withdrawal from your opioids.   I watched your body shake, sweat and fall apart.  I watched in horror.  Never quite understanding how your body could withstand the assault.   Now it’s my body that’s being assaulted.   I’m the one withdrawing from you.   I was addicted to your addiction.   For seven years, I fought to save you.   Never once thinking that I had no control of our fate.   I was so foolish thinking I was in control of anything, especially your addiction.   Call it nurses mentality.   Nurses save and your mom was a nurse.   I spent my life saving people and  could not accept that this wonder woman of a nurse could not save her own son.

So now it’s me thats been shaking, sweating and falling apart.   For most of the past three years my soul has lived in a constant state of high anxiety.   Your death caused a permanent withdrawal that I now have to navigate my way through.  Panic attacks,  ER trips thinking I’m having a heart attack, and my new friend migraines.   Every crazy symptom all anxiety and guilt related.

I remember being told that one day I would get angry.   Angry at you for causing such profound grief.  For causing my world to spin off its axis.  For causing me to drown in this dark, ugly abyss.   This overwhelming ocean of heartbreak.  Constantly fighting the powerful undertow that drags me down on the bad days.

I never did get angry.   I forgave you the moment you left.   The person I need to forgive is me.   Three years is a long time to fight the most powerful of emotions.   Three years of blaming myself for something I could not control.   Three years of near drownings when the guilt pulled me far away from my safe shore.

I will grieve and miss you forever.   This isn’t how our story was supposed to end.   I now realize that when the guilt starts dragging me under I must reach for a life preserver.   I must focus on getting back to shore.   I must learn to swim again…………

Hanging On By A Christmas Thread

Matt,   December 3rd marked the 35th month since your death.   35 months.   I still can’t believe you are really gone.   I heard the second year was tougher than the first.   Never in a million years could I ever allow my mind to believe it to be true.   It seems the protective fog has blown out to sea leaving me a clear view of the empty shoreline.

This second year has beat me to the ground.   My cocoon shredded and blown away with the wind.   My mind reminds me daily that you are dead.   I feel naked, stripped of the protection that the shock of grief provided during those first months when my mind was in complete denial.   Grief protects you from reality.   The brain builds that impenetrable wall able to withstand the assault of reality.   The second year, cracks begin to form and the wall slowly begins to crumble at your feet.   Leaving you with a clear view of life.

Last year I was numb.   Able to go through the motions of life.   My holiday mask was intact and firmly secured to my face as I navigated my way through the usual festivities.   My mind allowed me the fantasy that you were alive.   Living in Florida.  My mind allowed my heart to stay on track providing multiple distractions keeping the grief under wraps in public.  This year I’ve found the mask has dissolved from the flow of my tears.   This year my grief has gained power.   This year my grief doesn’t seem to care that this is the happiest time of the year.

Your loss continues to stun me.   I’m shocked when reality slaps me with the knowledge that you won’t be coming home for Christmas when I hear that holiday song.  Reality grabs my heart and causes me to forget to breathe.  I was told in time I would get angry.   I’M ANGRY.   I’m angry at our reality.   I’m angry at happy strangers shopping with a spring in their step and joy on their faces.   I’m angry that my grief continues to hurt so deeply.  I’m angry that I’ve just survived Thanksgiving and Christmas is being shoved down my throat.   Not everyone is merrily anticipating holiday traditions.   For some of us our holidays will never be the same.   I’m angry that the woman I see in the mirror is not who I used to be.

This second year has a power I could have never anticipated.    My mind now clear vividly remembers painful events.   My guilt has returned full force.    My double whammy.   Grief and guilt have renewed their friendship bullying me every chance they get.   My mind remembers things it buried to protect my shattered heart.   Things said and done during your addiction.   The I should haves or could haves haunt me like ghosts from Christmas past.   I look at family pictures.   You and Mike on Santa’s lap.   Childhood innocence.   A time of joy and anticipation of things to come.   Never did I see this coming.   Never did I ever think my youngest son would be gone in the blink of an eye.

I hear strangers stating what they want for Christmas.   Children rattle off a list of toys.   Adults want more money, a better job or world peace.   I cringe and feel the tears start to form.   The song,  “All I Want For Christmas Is You”,  starts playing in my head.   I close my eyes squeezing as hard as I can.   Trying desperately to balance myself on the edge of my abyss.

I want a visit from the ghost of Christmas past.   I want to see my boys squeal with delight as they rip into beautifully wrapped gifts.   I want to hear the laughter of two boys as they compare super hero capes.   I want to feel the joy and completeness of having my family intact.   I want to travel back in time.   Before you  became adults.   Before your injury led you down the path of no return.  I want to fix what is broken.   I want to close my eyes and see you walk in my door.  I want to hear “Hey Mom, Merry Christmas”.   As your wife and kids wrap me in a hug.  I want to see you and Mike standing side by side belly laughing as a childhood memory cracks you up.   I want every chair at the table full.  I want to raise a glass and toast to a future full of possibilities.

Unfortunately,  A Christmas Carol is just that.   A fantasy script written long ago addressing second chances.  Our reality is a painful reminder that death doesn’t give a redo.   There will be no second chances for us.   No more watching you and Mike standing together surrounded by your  family.   No more holiday pictures full of smiles and joy.   No more hearing a Christmas song without the punch of grief taking my breath away.

This year when everyone else is dreaming of a White Christmas, I’ll be dreaming of the family we used to be…….

 

 

 

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