Matt, I’ve spent the last 6 years grieving your death. I’ve also spent the last 6 years beating myself up with guilt. It seems my emotions swing between the two, but lately the guilt has been weighing heavily on my heart.
I continue to use my heart as a punching bag. Blaming myself for your death. I continue to see you as a helpless child instead of a grown man.
There are days I sit quietly and allow the film of our struggle to replay in my brain. I feel like I’m split in two. My brain tells me that I did everything humanly possible to save you. My heart tells me I should have done more.
Lately I’ve been trying to forgive myself. I had no idea how powerful the opioids really were. Six years ago I did not have the information that is readily available today. Had it been, you might have had a fighting chance.
I’m trying to place some responsibility on you as I have carried the full load of guilt for so long. I’m trying to remember all the times I fought with you to get you into treatment. I remember all the times my phone rang and you were on the other end telling me you were signing yourself out. I remember the feeling of hopelessness and of being so angry that once again you decided what was best for you without any thought to how your decisions were impacting me.
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Even though you are gone, my struggle continues. I feel like I’m walking on a broken road. Some days I’m able to avoid falling into those crevices where the guilt lies waiting to wrap itself around my heart. Other days it seem like those crevices are unavoidable. Days when a memory will surface. Days when I hear of one of your friends having a baby. Days when I am drowning in the what if’s or I should have. Days I wonder how you would look 6 years older. Days I wonder how life would be had you lived.
So now I must find my way to forgive myself for something I could not control. As parents we live under the illusion that we can control the behavior of our children. I think the moment we become mothers that guilt gene takes over.
I go back to when I was your age. I remember my mother trying to tell me how I should live. I remember her attempts at controlling my comings and goings. I also remember I did what I wanted to do despite her attempts to guide me. As I look back, I now know how right she was.
Sadly for us, you will never have the opportunity to look back and understand my intentions were for your own safety. So now I walk this new journey alone. Learning to navigate this new road that hopefully will lead to forgiving myself. I know this journey will somedays be nothing more than baby steps. I know there will be days I slip into those waiting crevices. I know this road will be long and treacherous. I also know that I must find my way through……….
Matt, It’s 5:21 on January 2nd. Six years ago you were still alive. I remember our conversation. It was Saturday evening and you were on your way home to the sober home where you were staying in Boca Raton. I remember looking at the clock it was 6:23. We chatted about your day and promised to catch up again later that night.
That next call never came. Little did I know that our conversations would never take place again. We ended our conversation with our usual I love you thinking our future would be filled with many more talks.
As I write this letter I can feel my throat tighten and tears forming in my eyes. I can feel the shock and disbelief wrapping itself around my heart. It’s called muscle memory as the body never forgets trauma.
Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of your death. Some days it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve heard your voice. Other days it feels like yesterday.
The New Year is always tough for me. This year it’s full of uncertainty and grief. Sunday is the 3rd. Your anniversary. The weather will be rainy and bitter. Mimicking my heart. Monday l have my second CT scan checking to see if my cancer treatment has been successful. I will be holding my breath and praying until I hear what I will be facing. More down time or more treatment.
So I now mourn your death and my health. I sometimes wonder if the cancer was caused by years of second guessing decisions made that led to your death. Years of grieving and guilt for what might have been. Years of wondering about If Heaven truly exists and if you are healed living in Paradise. Years of wondering if I will ever see you again. Wondering what death is like and if we will be together when my time comes.
I feel like I’m walking on ice. On a frozen pond trying to get to the other side. Some areas are solid and stable. As I continue my journey I find areas that are cracking beneath my feet. I can feel the frozen water seeping through my shoes as I wonder if I will make it to the other side before I fall through.
My journey since your death has been one I could have never prepared myself for. Parents are never prepared to say goodbye to their children. Parents are never prepared to hear they have cancer.
So I continue to pray that God has us both in his healing hands. I pray you have found your peace that eluded you here on earth. I pray your body and mind are free of the demons that followed you as you struggled. I pray for his peace and healing as I struggle with losing you and losing the woman I used to be.
Matt, Christmas is in 15 days. I’m trying to hold on. This will be our 6th Christmas without you and I can say it hasn’t gotten any easier. I’ve decorated the house. Not like I used to but it does look like Christmas. Every year since your death I’ve purchased a deer in your memory. I remember when you would be so excited that hunting season finally arrived and I would cringe and call you Bambi killer. You were such a lover of animals I could never understand your love for hunting. Perhaps it was the bond you shared with your brother Mike. The two of you always competing for the biggest prize.
You would brag about the “rack” on the deer you killed and I would cover my ears and tell you I would never eat Bambi. You would have jerky made and you and Ray would smile as you devoured it as I would close my eyes in disgust. I told you no Bambi meat was ever allowed in my freezer. You’d smile that beautiful smile and tell me you had the meat donated to a homeless shelter but the jerky was definitely staying. I never did try it but to this day Ray still talks about how it was the best he ever tasted.
Little memories of seasons past sneak into my brain bringing both joy and heartache. Today I would welcome your deer with open arms. Today I would welcome anything that had to do with you.
I’ve decorated your garden for Christmas. There is a wreath hanging from the cross. Poinsettias are carefully placed next to your stone along with white lights that shine through the darkness of night. This has become my peaceful place. It’s where I come to talk to you and God. It’s where I allow the tears to flow. To let my mask fall to the ground and shatter into a million little pieces. This is the place I run to when life beats me down and I feel like I can’t survive one more day of my grief.
I sit and absorb the stillness. I listen to the wind as if I might hear your voice. I dream of what you would be like today. Would you be married, have children, have a home filled with laughter and love. I let my imagination wander, let my fantasy take over closing my eyes I picture your home. A beautiful tree loaded with presents. Children and dogs chasing each other as squeals of laughter fill the air. I hear your voice saying Merry Christmas Mom. I feel your arms as they wrap me in your famous hug. I allow myself the gift of how I prayed life to be. I allow my heart a few moments to take a break from the grief that has moved in and refuses to leave.
I struggle to find the beauty in little things. Yesterday a hawk was sitting on a tree near your garden. He flew over me as I got close. I felt like I’d been given a gift. His beauty in flight lifted my spirits as I wondered for a moment if that was you.
Since your death I look at life differently. I know that in the blink of an eye everything once expected can shatter at your feet. I take time to scan the night sky looking for the brightest star lifting up a prayer for you. I talk to God like he is my friend. I ask for signs that you are at peace. I walk on days once considered too cold enjoying the crispness of the air and the songs of the birds. I take nothing for granted.
Life has taught me that although it can be filled with heartbreak, there are still moments that continue to take my breath away.
Matt, These last two weeks have been tough. It seems my grief resurfaces with the changing of the seasons. Fall has arrived. The leaves are changing and the geese have begun their daily fly over. I stare at the sky and listen to their song thinking of you. I remember how we shared a love for watching their V formation and listening to the honking. We would roll down car windows upon spotting them in the sky and remain silent as their sounds filled the air.
I’ve started fall decorating around the house. Every pumpkin holds a memory. You loved this time of year especially Halloween. Your rubber mask remains on the shelf in your closet just as you left it. There are days I have flash backs of you running into the house, your mask covering your face, your laughter filling the room as the dogs circled you barking with wagging tails.
You loved handing out the candy spooking the kids as you jumped out of bushes with your big bowl of candy. Those memories remain bittersweet as Halloween will be so different this year. The virus has changed the way we do things today. It’s no longer safe to open your door to strangers.
As the weather cools, the need for quilts returns. Two years ago I had a quilt made with 20 of your favorite T Shirts. I remember picking it up and crying all the way home. Your quilt has been tucked away in my closet since it arrived home. On bad days I would bury my face in it’s softness hiding in my closet as the screams were muffled in your clothing. Two days ago I put on my brave face and brought it downstairs. As I laid it over the sofa in the den my tears started to fall. Memories of you sitting there holding Scarlett wearing the exact shirt that was staring back at me from the quilt hit hard.
There are so many things I need to share with you. So many things happening in my life. So many things I need you to be a part of. So many days I struggle to remember your voice. I wanted to call you to let you know my first CT scan was good after finishing cancer treatment. Your number remains in my phone contacts and so many days I fight the urge to call not knowing who or if anyone would answer.
I know the seasons will continue to change. The world around me continues to move on. I struggle to stay in the present. To find a bit of happiness when those memories hit. To be grateful I had you for 37 years. Navigating through life reminds me of being in your boat. Being caught off guard as an un predicted storm caught us unprepared or our unexpected joy as family of dolphins put on a show for us. So many emotions continue after all these years. The most important lessons your death has taught me is never take tomorrow for granted and love never ends……….
Matt, I went to your memorial garden yesterday to water the flowers we planted. The weather has been scorching hot and I’m trying to keep the beauty surrounding your stone alive in this heat. It’s typical July in Delaware. I remember you complaining about the crowds and traffic that would invade your happy place as the temperatures soured. You hated sharing your paradise and always wished the summer season to finish giving you back your peaceful place.
My neighbor, Debbie has become my garden companion as my back surgery has made it impossible for me to plant or water your flowers. My job is to keep the bird feeder full and she lugs the watering can around the garden giving those flowers a refreshing drink.
We pulled up and parked next to the garden. Deb grabbed the watering can and I grabbed the bird food. I headed toward the garden as she headed up the parking lot to where the hose is stored.
A piece of paper was lying on your stone held in place by 2 quarters. My curiosity peaked as I wondered who visited and left this mysterious note.
As I began to read I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. My body enveloped in chills even in the 90 degree heat. The letter was written to God by another mother who knew my grief.
She was asking God the same question I did after your death. Why? Why? Why? did God allow her son to die. She poured out her heart onto this precious piece of paper. As I continued to read I could no longer hold back my tears. Debbie seeing my tears thought I was crying over you. I handed her the note and watched her face as she read this grieving mothers words to God. Both of us stood silent with tears running down our cheeks as we continued to read this broken mothers words.
She was begging God for her son back just as I did and continue to do. She was begging for just another moment in time with her precious son. Begging God to give him back to her just as I have begged. To think this mother came to your garden and stood at the foot of Jesus’s cross pouring out her grief was so bittersweet for me. I could picture her talking out loud begging for her pain to stop and her son to be alive just as I have done many, many times.
I will probably never meet this mother but I know her as I know myself. A mother who’s heart holds the unbearable grief of losing her precious son as does mine. Mothers, strangers bonded by a grief no mother should carry. Both standing by your stone in the peacefulness of your garden asking the question that has no answer………