Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: surviving loss

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…….

 

 

 

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……….

 

 

 

 

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