Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: overdose death (page 1 of 2)

Screaming Through The Stages Of Grief

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Matt.   I remember being a nursing student and studying the 5 stages of grief.   The book On Death & Dying written by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross became every nurses’ bible.   I studied each stage trying to understand the power of grief over our hearts and souls.   During my nursing career,  I became a witness to the grief experience as I helped many families say good bye to their loved ones.   The echo of screams and uncontrollable sobbing etched themselves forever into my brain.   I carried these experiences with me throughout my career.   Never once did I ever think I would be the one screaming.

My education consisted of the theory  that grief followed a straight path.   That we put one foot in front of the other as we climbed the steps from one stage to the next.   I always pictured grief as a linear process.   We had to pass one stage before we could emotionally handle the next.  Textbook grief was so well defined.   Like a Lego project, one step built upon the other until you reached the top and returned to the old you.   People were thought to be “returning to normal” or “getting on with life” after “surviving” all the firsts.   Grief was supposed to be a temporary place where hearts and souls healed.   Grief was like a passing ship.   The impact was felt as the wake hit the pier but soon the waters became calm again and supposedly life returned to “normal”.    I always felt grief was like an exam.   You had to start with the first question before you could get to the last question.

My grief theory was crushed on a snowy January day.   Grief found me.   You died and my world came crumbling down.   That supposedly predictable and orderly pattern that I studied made no sense now that I was the one living it.    To be honest nothing made sense.   30 months later nothing makes sense.

Your death has been such a devastating, disorienting time.   There are days I don’t know how I will ever reach that final step of Acceptance.   Really, am I supposed to just accept that your addiction killed you?   I’m just supposed to chalk it up to life.   I’m just supposed to accept that I can’t pick up the phone and hear your voice.   Accept that you left without warning.   Without a chance to hold you as you took your last breath as I did after you took your first?

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I am stuck.   Denial and Anger hold my hands.   They are my constant companions.   Denial keeps me somewhat sane.   Anger fuels my desire to fight the broken system.   The system that let us down and let you die.   I was not prepared for the power of my grief.   I was not prepared to become a stranger to who I once was.   I was not prepared for the reflection staring back at me when I glance in a mirror.   Grief has washed my face and lives in my eyes.   Grief doesn’t know its stages.   It doesn’t know that after all “the firsts” I’m supposed to keep climbing that grief staircase until I get to the top and shout Hoorah I’m done.  I survived.   I made it through and to the top!

My grief is clever.   It’s tricky.   Letting me think that today will be ok.   Today I will be “normal”.   Today I will feel joy.   Today I will not be carrying its weight on my chest.  Today will be better.   Today my grief will be predictable.

The reality of my grief is floating on a tiny raft in a big unpredictable ocean.   Waves hit hard tossing me in the frigid water.   They pull away allowing me to catch my breath before hitting again.    My grief has me floating in a fog never knowing when it will sneak up.  Grief creeps up and squeezes me from behind as a memory hits or a song plays.   I’m dry eyed one minute, a sobbing mess the next.

I have learned in my reality there are no stages of grief.   Grief is a crapshoot.   It shifts and changes.   It’s never the same minute to minute, hour to hour.    Grief ebbs and flows.   Grief has it’s own mind.   It makes you feel like you’re losing what’s left of your mind.  Grief cannot be contained or controlled.     Grief has moved into my soul and I have no idea how to evict it.

 Grief is as unique as a fingerprint.   Grief has no set pattern.  However we survive is how we survive.   The only thing I’ve learned for sure is that until you meet grief you have no imaginable idea of it’s power over your life.   The other think I know for sure is that Grief Sucks!!!!!!!

The First Year Fog

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Matt.   The professionals call it grief brain.   I call it being hit in the head by a tornado.   I used to call myself a smart girl.   Once a capable human being.   Able to care for the tiniest, sickest infant.  Functioning at my highest capacity.   Being a wife.   Being your mother and fighting your battle like it was my own.   Never missing a beat.   Being able to rattle off a diagnosis and calculate the most complicated drug dose while working in the NICU.    Today my brain is scrambled.  Like an egg thats been dropped from the counter.   My brain in pieces all over the floor.   Shattered like the town that was once whole but now nonexistent.

All I remember is being wrapped in a fog.   After hearing the words I’ve dreaded throughout your struggle with addiction.   “It’s Matt, he’s dead”.   I remember feeling like my body was no longer attached to my being.   I was in another dimension.   Unable to hear or feel anything.   I felt a protective cocoon envelope my soul and I heard the door shut with a slam.   My brain protecting itself from what would become my harsh reality.

I feel like I’m walking around in a soft, warm fog.   Everything I used to be now a distant memory.   I feel safe here.   My grief cocoon.   Surviving  the first year without you has been excruciating.    I try to break free of the fog.   In my psyche I know I must come to a place in time where I can face reality.   I just don’t know if I can survive.    I’m told the brain protects us from overwhelming, crippling grief.    I say thank God it does.    I would have lost my mind months ago if my fog hadn’t settled over me like it does over the harbor on a humid night.   Protecting my heart from the harsh reality of what has become of my life.

My nightmare keeps trying to break through.   Reality continues it attempts to seep through my fog like blood soaks through a cloth.    My brain continues to resist knowing I am consumed with disbelief and I’m struggling to accept my new reality.

There are days I feel like I’m losing my mind.   Days I just cannot allow myself to believe there will be no more you.    I’m having trouble believing I’ve survived a year without hearing your voice or seeing your smile.   I go through the motions of life.   I get up and crawl through the grief punches.   I put on my mask to face the world but in my mind I’m gone.   I’m told I made it through all the firsts.    Like I should be given that purple ribbon of grief and put your loss behind me.    It’s time to live again.    What no one understands is that living is the most painful thing I do.

My grief has become a part of who I am.   This first year has been the hardest time of my life.   Brief memories find their way through my fog.   Memories of us on the beach.   Life before your demons took over.   Memories of a mother and her son fighting for his life.   Those struggles seem like a walk in the park when compared to the reality of my life.   I go there briefly knowing that if I stay I will be lost forever.

Everyday is a struggle.   I battle my demons now as your demons took you away.   The guilt of the what if’s and I should haves spin out of control threatening to crash into my fog with a blazing light exposing me for who I really am.

Learning how to breathe.   Learning how to pretend that I feel.   Learning that I must go on without you.   I feel like an infant needing to learn how to navigate a new life.     A broken mother searching for the pieces of her mind.   Settling back into the protective fog when grief whips her heart.

I’m told life goes on.   I’m told the grief changes.   I’m told it gets easier.   For now my fog is a welcome place.   I’m not ready to see the future without you.   My fog wraps me in the warmth of loving hug.   I will emerge when I’m ready.   Until then I will allow my mind and heart to heal at their own pace.   For now my fog is a where I need to be………

 

 

 

United By Addiction. Bonded By Grief

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Matt,

I had the amazing experience of attending The Fed Up Rally and the Unite to Face Addiction concert in Washington DC this weekend.   When I was in the midst of the battle to find you help I felt so alone.   I felt isolated.   I felt that no one cared.   I had no idea how many other mother’s knew my heartbreak.

I was having second thoughts about attending.   Every weather report dampened my spirits and made me think of staying home and staying dry.   Then I looked at your picture and felt that gut punch of knowing you were really gone.    The broken system  failed us both and you paid with your life.   As I continued to stare into your  beautiful eyes, I felt a power in my soul like I’d never experienced  before.   I’d walked through hell during your active addiction, why would I let the threat of heavy rain and wind keep me away.

I read about the Rally in the paper.   They were asking for stories of recovery and hope.   I had written a piece telling our story and included your picture.   To my surprise, It was published and I was humbled.   I also sent your picture to be included in The Addicts Mom’s quilt.   There was no way I was going to miss seeing your face being remembered at this amazing event.

I took a bus early Saturday morning with a small group from Delaware.   We knew each other’s grief, each of us losing a child.   Saturday was an emotional day for me.   It was the nine month anniversary of your death and here I was riding a bus in the rain to attend a rally for drug addiction.   My tears fell along  with the rain drops as I remembered the struggle to find you help.    Unfortunately, Delaware had no rehabs.   We have one detox unit that never had any beds when you finally agreed to get clean.    I remembered conversations begging your insurance company to approve treatment only to be told that you had no days left.   How could they treat your disease like you were not worth the time or money spent to save your life?   Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think you would die and I would be on a bus heading to Washington participating in a march to The White House.

The bus dropped our group off at the hotel.   We grabbed our rain gear and headed to the memorial.  The sky was grey with a light rain falling mimicking my mood.   The closer I got the more I could feel the atmosphere changing.   When we reached the mall, I was shocked at the size of the crowd.   People just like me.   Strangers who knew my grief and walked in my shoes.   Strangers whose faces looked just like mine.   Shock and disbelief marked us as those left behind.  Eyes swollen and empty as we wiped tears away with the sleeve of our shirt.

The stage held a memorial filled with names of those who lost their battle.  I was brought to my knees when I saw your name.  My precious son surrounded by hundreds of those who like you are gone forever.  I felt that too familiar gut punch as my tears started to fall.  I wore your picture on a lanyard around my neck.   I grabbed it and started to sob.     A complete stranger came and wrapped me in her arms.   Whispering that she understood my pain.   Here we were two mothers, strangers, holding each other up as the rain mixed with our tears.    Sharing stories of children lost.   I witnessed the kindness of strangers forever bonded by a common grief.

I was waiting outside The Addicts Mom’s tent.   They were preparing to unveil the quilt.   I remember the wind blowing  and the rain hitting my face.   My eyes searching the many squares until I saw your face.   Your beautiful smile right in the center of this beautiful handmade creation.   The sound of a wounded animal came from my lips as I stood letting the rain mix with my tears hugging myself against the heartbreaking pain.   Arms reached for me.   Another mother who got it.   We rocked each other in the rain and wind as we shared our heart breaking grief.   Another mother living my life, knowing my pain.   Angels walking among the crowd comforting strangers.

We formed groups as we prepared to walk to the White House.   I looked around in awe.   Thousands of people all here for the same reason.   The broken system failed their loved ones.   I was no longer alone.   We marched together.   We hugged each other.   We shed tears together as we shouted out against a system that must be changed.   We were empowered by the numbers.   We were heard.   I walked back to the hotel with a couple who lost their son.   We now call each other friend.   This event formed a bond never to be broken.

Sunday morning came with my familiar face in the mirror.   Puffy eyes staring back at me.   My face changed by grief.   The price of addiction is what I now call my new look.   I have forgotten how to smile.   I attended a breakfast in Arlington hosted by The Addicts Mom group.   A group no mother wants to belong to but the circumstances of life have left us no choice.   It was emotional to meet all the mothers I’ve supported and who have supported me on Facebook.   These women have walked through the same hell and get it.   Again I came face to face with the quilt.   Your smiling face staring back at me and again another mother held me as I shattered into pieces.

There really are no words to describe Sunday’s event.   The crowd tripled from Saturday.  The weather cold, and dreary.   I stood on the hill by The Monument.   In awe at the number of people from all parts of the country coming together to demand better care for the disease of addiction.   Many holding pictures and banners with names and dates.   All here to honor the ones they loved and lost.  Those in recovery were celebrating  a new sober life.   Everyone had a story to tell.   Strangers sharing their souls with strangers.  Sharing the bonds of love, loss and hope.

Sunday evening Joe Walsh and his fellow musicians held a concert to honor those lost and those struggling to survive.   A tribute to this deadly disease.   The crowd came alive.  When the music started the atmosphere became one of happiness and hope.   Rich and famous artists coming out and admitting they were once addicts.  Speeches by people who care and will fight to make changes.  Hope.   I could feel it in the air, at last there was hope.   Our new Surgeon General gets it.   Lawmakers now ready to join our fight  providing equal treatment for the disease of addiction.  Hope.   I stood with a crowd of strangers and danced to the music.  Joy I hadn’t felt for so long coursed through my soul.  We held onto each other when a  song hit a nerve and tears returned.   We sang out loud.  We were empowered.   Too many people fighting for the same cause.   Everyone remembering loved ones.   Honoring them by speaking out against the stigma.

I still get chills when I look at my pictures of all the faces lost.   Pictures of people coming together and lifting each other up in spirit.   Strangers becoming friends.   Promises of keeping in touch.  Of working together for the greater good.   I’m humbled by this experience and I know I will never be the same.   I no longer feel alone as I remember the beauty of seeing thousands of people coming together demanding change.

There is a saying, If God closes one door he opens another.   My new door has opened and I know I have thousands of people fighting the same fight.   I will be your voice.   I will remember your smiling face on that quilt surrounded by a hundred others.    No longer alone but humbled by the compassion of strangers.

Grief and Guilt My Constant Companions

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Matt,   Grief is defined as keen mental suffering over loss.   It encompasses sharp sorrow and painful regret. Grief and Guilt take turns pounding pain into my heart.   Each hitting me when I least expect.   Sweeping me up in emotions I can no longer control.   I never knew that Grief could physically hurt.  I never knew that Guilt could be so cruel.  My body feels beat up. Every muscle and bone feels the pain of loss that no one can see.   This incredible anguish cannot be described.  I could never imagine that this type of pain existed until it crept into my soul the day you left me behind.

My books on Addiction have been replaced by books on Grief.  Books that no mother should ever have to touch or read.  Books on the stages of grief and how to survive each one.   Titles lining the shelves that bring tears to my eyes.   The Bereaved Parent, Transcending Loss and When A Child Dies From Drugs have replaced Stay Close, An Addict In The Family and Beautiful Boy.   Those books gave me a false sense that you like their children would also survive.   Those books met their demise on a snowy, grief filled night as I tossed each one into my roaring fire.   These books made me feel like I failed to be that perfect parent who did everything right.  You know the parents who can brag that their child beat the demons and now leads a productive life.   My jealousy rears its ugly head and  my Guilt slaps me like a foulmouthed child.  Where were the books that had our ugly ending?   The books that would have warned me that endings are not always answers to our prayers.   The books warning of middle of the night phone calls that bring parents to their knees..

Guilt then replaces my grief.  The what if’s and I should haves wrap me up in a tight cocoon refusing to let me go.  Feelings of failure course through my veins replacing my grief with powerful emotions of hopelessness and regret.   Flashbacks dance through my brain .   Things done and said in anger and frustration whirl through my mind.  Knowledge I have now eluded me then.   Trying to save you and survive life changed my rational mind into a crazy, calculating one.   Your addiction became mine.   Staying a step ahead of your demons took every ounce of my being.   Now, in a calmer state I see things clearly.   My mind in a rational state sees things I should have seen when I was losing it.   I have become someone I do not want to be.   My soul caught in a perfect storm.   Tossed between two painful emotions.   Grief and guilt holding hands as they dance over my heart.

Some days weathering the storm is almost impossible.  There are days I want the storm surge to carry me out with the tide.   To drown my grief in the sea we both so loved. To stop my pain, to sweep me away allowing my pain to dissipate with the sea spray.   Sadly, I have become a swimmer.   I am the one pulling parents out when I find them struggling to stay float fighting the same storm surge that has consumed my soul.    I throw the life preserver forgetting how soaked I am in my own grief and rescue those drowning in my sea.   Still there are days that even rescuing another has no impact on my heart.   I fall into the abyss of the perfect storm.   I wonder why your grip kept slipping from the life preserver I continued to throw in the midst of our storm. Why were you swept so far away from my attempts to save your life?   I look at the sea and remember holding tight to your small hand.   So tiny, but fitting perfectly into mine.   As you grew, your hand became harder to hold slipping away again and again until you disappeared.

There are days the grief storm is manageable.   Putting on storm shutters and hunkering down, I survive. There are days the power of the grief and guilt pulls me into the undertow of reality sucking the breath from my lungs.  This sea of grief and guilt ever changing is where I live since you left me that cold January day.    Navigating through the powerful waves on a daily basis.  Some days the waves hit gently and I can walk through without falling down.  Other days a wave hits without warning knocking me to my knees.   Learning to weather the unpredictability of my storm takes practice, patience and self forgiveness.    Navigating through this storm is tough.   Attempting to hold myself together while I slowly pick up pieces of broken sea glass that used to be my heart.

Lost in Paradise

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Matt.

We made it to the house we’ve rented in The Keys.   I listen to the excited voices of Ray and our friends.   I feel nothing except lost.  It’s been one month and eleven days since you left.   My life has become a before and after movie.   I replay the scenes over and over in my mind.  Searching for that missing piece.  Still not able to believe you are gone.  Life before you died was full of hope.  Full of promises and joy.  Dreams of your future, a wedding and grandchildren washed away with the outgoing tide.  Life now is unbearable.   This pain is constant, crushing my shattered heart.

The house is beautiful.  The perfect location.  I find myself going through the motions of living.  I find my mask and secure it to my face.  Trying desperately to hide my grief.  I listen to Ray and our friends.  Smiles and plans of sunshine filled days.   Kayaking and biking.  Everything I once loved to do in this beautiful place brings no joy.  I am numb.  The walking dead.

Sleep continues to elude me.  I toss and turn listening to the sounds of the sea.  I lay in the dark silently crying.  I wonder where you are.  I wonder if you know that you’re gone.  I wonder how I will every survive the rest of my life.

Days are spent pretending I’m ok.   I find myself drawn to the back of the house.  The turquoise sea surrounds me.  The sun kisses my cold skin with warmth.  Nothing can penetrate the ice surrounding my soul.  I stare out at the beautiful water and remember your smiling face.  I look for signs of your presence.  I think of this trip.  The planning.  The joy.  The excitement I would feel at seeing you again.  I close my eyes and see us walking together by the sea as we’ve done so many times before.   I feel like I’m trapped in a nightmare.  This did not happen.  You could not be gone.  My mind has become an enemy.   Never quiet.  Always replaying the scenes from our journey.  Forcing me to relive every moment.  Every decision, every fight.  I constantly rethink every little thing.  Hindsight continues to slap my face.   I beg for a redo.  I beg to wake up.  I beg for this to be a horrible mistake.

I sit in the warmth of the sun thinking of how things should be.  You should be spending the day at the beach enjoying your new life and I should be the happiest mom on earth.  You told me how blessed you were to be living by the sea.  I felt that blessing spread to me thinking you found your peace and I could finally take a breath.   Try to pray.   There is nothing left to pray for.   My years of prayers went unanswered.   I feel abandoned by God.

I’m surrounded by beauty but all I can think of is you.  I stare out at the sea and remember the words.   Those words that pierced my soul spoken by the man I trusted to keep you safe.  “People die here everyday”.   Those words run through my head like hot lava spitting from a volcano.   Smoldering and destroying everything in its way.   Were you not a human being?   A wonderful man with a horrible disease.   A loving son and brother or were you just a meal ticket for this man who tossed you away?  The more I remember those words, his I could care less attitude, his I’m too busy to talk about Matt when he finally returned my call, the more I want to scream.

I feel my grief changing.   I feel the hopelessness starting to fade.   An ember has started and a raging fire has erupted in my soul.   Who the hell does J think he is?   How can the state of Florida think that running sober living homes like he obviously does is acceptable?   What happened to you will never be right with me.  Florida, you pissed off the wrong mom.

My first call is to the Florida Office of the Attorney General.   I filed my complaint on the website but that is not enough for me.   I want to talk to this woman.   I want her to know what is going on in her state.  I want her to know that parasites are making a living off addicts.   I want her to know that your mother is outraged and won’t  accept your death quietly.

My next call is to The Department of Health and Human Services.   Next the Governor’s Office.   Your story is being told.   Tears and sobs escape with each phone call.   They are listening.   I feel a strength come over my being.   Like you are here rooting me on.   I owe this to you.   I let you down.  I live with regret everyday.  I had no idea you were flying into a death trap when I bought your ticket to Florida.  Now you are gone and I’m left behind.   The lone wingman.   The one Musketeer.   You and I had a bond like none other.   A bond that even your death cannot sever.   Memories of you flood my mind and break my heart.  Your laugh, your smile forever tucked safely away in my heart.

My ringing phone brings me back to reality.   Your story found it’s way to FARR.   Florida Association of Recovery Residences.   They have begun the battle against the J’s.   Those who prey on the people coming  to Florida for help.    We plan to keep in touch.

Our time here is over and I’m torn.   I want to go home and I want to stay.   A piece of my heart will remain in Florida.   Because of you I have a permanent bond with this state.  There is so much left for me to do.   I feel your spirit.  Your energy by the sea.  I close my eyes and see you standing on the beach you loved.   One of your last pictures before you died.   Joy radiating from your face.   Happiness finally found you only to be brutally ripped away.   You deserved so much more.

Its cold and grey when we land in Philly.   The weather mimics my soul.   We pull into the garage.   The house is silent.   There are no wet noses or wagging tales.   No “Hey Mom, Welcome Home”.   Just a dead silence that takes my breath away.   I drop my bags on the floor.   The memories of another homecoming flood my brain.   You were there.  The dogs on your heels.  Hugs and kisses.  Barking and wagging.  You were so proud of how you cleaned the house.  I remember your beaming smile, “Mom, everything’s done”.   “No dishes or dog hair”.   I remember your laugh.  “Bet your surprised”.

The cold slap of reality brings me back.  I am home and you are gone.

 

 

 

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