A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: finding peace while grieving

It’s So Much More Than Just A Tree

For so many the holidays are a time of cheer.  Decorating homes and family gatherings are a huge part of everyone’s plans.  The expectation of a perfect holiday season is evident every where you look.  From the Hallmark Christmas movies that play 24/7 to the Christmas music that starts before Thanksgiving begins. 

Seven years ago my holiday celebration came to an abrupt halt.  My youngest son, Matt lost his battle with addiction.  I was so broken that hearing  “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” left me running out of the grocery store with tears running down my face.  

Prior to his death, Christmas was my favorite holiday.  I was that person who decorated every room in my house.  I was that person singing Christmas Carols and watching every episode of Home Alone over and over.  I would immerse myself in finding the perfect gift for everyone on my list.  My kids called me the crazy Christmas lady and I loved it. 

After Matt’s death, nothing mattered.  My only decoration on display was my nativity set. I gave away our tree to a needy family and never put up another. The holidays became a painful reminder of his absence.  We were no longer that happy family gathered around the tree in past holiday photos. 

The years went by.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years became days I learned to survive.  I’d go to church. Have family and friends over.  Going through the expected traditions all with a broken heart. 

I don’t remember when my heart began to heal.  I don’t know how or why I began to feel joy.  Or when the memories of prior holidays began to become less painful.  I do know it snuck up on me.  Hearing Christmas music while grocery shopping no longer sent me running for cover.  Seeing trees brightly lit caught my attention as I stood before them remembering trees that once graced my hallway. 

My healing has been a slow process. I’ve read that losing a child demolishes you.  If you have ever witnessed a demolition you know that what was once whole has been completely destroyed.  The process of rebuilding especially when it’s a life can and does take years. 

I’ve learned grief has no time frame. Grief doesn’t up and leave after you survive all those firsts as society wants you to believe.  I’ve learned I had to acknowledge my loss, live my loss, feel every bit of my pain before I could once again begin to feel the joy the holiday season can bring.

This year a beautiful tree graces my hallway.  The white lights remind me of twinkling starts.  My Nativity set is at home on the mantel. Santa’s and snowmen have found their way out of boxes to fill once empty spaces.

I know Christmas Day will continue to hold a painful reminder that Matt won’t be home to celebrate.  I know there will be tears.  This year there will also be joy as I sit near my tree that symbolizes not only Christmas but my healing heart.  ♥️🎄

Kicking & Screaming Into The Holiday Season

Matt,   Christmas is in twelve days.   This will be the seventh Christmas without you.  Funny how I fooled myself into thinking this year would have to be easier than the past years.  After all, how long does this grief hang on.   

I’m finding that once again grief has the upper hand.  This time of the year we are bombarded with commercials of perfect, smiling families.  Everyone gathered around the big, beautiful tree surrounded with thousands of presents.   Then the Hallmark channel drowns us with unrealistic portrayals of the “perfect family” and of course the “perfect Christmas”.   

I’m finding these unrealistic expectations of “perfect”  add to my anxiety,  and regret.   I feel like society wants me to wrap up my grief with a beautiful bow and put it in the back of the closet so others won’t be uncomfortable when I’m around.

There are days when I do feel joy.   When I hear a song that connects my brain to a happy memory of our past life.  Days when the tears stay away and the holiday season doesn’t feel like a knife in my heart.  Then for whatever reason, another song leaves me a sobbing mess.  Those waves come out of nowhere knocking me off balance.  Seeing Christmas cards knowing there will be none from you.   Thinking about what to get for your brother and remembering I will no longer be putting a gift under the tree with a tag stating your name.

I decorated your memorial garden with a wreath and poinsettias.   Holiday lights are wrapped around the cross.  Your stone is surrounded by angels.   It’s my place of peace.   I feel close to you there and can talk freely about how Iso deeply knowing that you won’t be home for Christmas.

I did put up a small tree this year.   Ray wanted a little something to make the house look festive.   I decorated, placing a few of my favorite things around the house.  It looks sweet when the light glow illuminating the Nativity set on the mantel.  

The saddest thing is how Covid has changed the way we celebrate.   I have no idea if anyone will come to visit.  The lack of family highlights the loss I feel when I remember how the holidays used to be.  I wonder how you would have handled this pandemic.  

I try to remind myself of the true meaning of Christmas.   How the most important thing is acknowledging the birth of Jesus.  I remember sitting with you and your brother reading the Christmas story teaching you that Christmas was about much more than just Santa.  

The biggest hurdle for me is accepting my reality and letting go of the fantasy I thought life would be.  Accepting that you are really gone is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  There are days I have to allow myself to just sit closing my eyes while picturing you sitting by my tree with your children.   I see your handsome face and beautiful smile as you help your babes unwrap gifts from me.  I picture you drinking coco in the kitchen as we talk about life and the coming year.  Some days those fantasies are how I survive.

I don’t know if my grief will ever lessen as I survive the holidays with a broken heart.  I will go to church Christmas Eve.   I will wear your fingerprint close to my heart.  I will cry as I’ve done every year as I see families with children fill the pews.   

For Christmas I will pray for my peace and acceptance.   I will pray for the strength to welcome another year without you in it.   I will pray that past memories will bring more joy than pain.  I will pray that you are at peace, healed from your demons and celebrating the birth of Jesus in the beauty of heaven.  

 

 

 

Go Ahead and Call Me Crazy

Matt,   I know it’s been a while since I’ve written.   I feel like I’ve been hit by a tsunami and I’m still struggling to come up for air.   For some reason, the holidays smacked me in the face as reality that another Christmas was here and you weren’t coming home.   I could feel the darkness beginning  to close in and surround me with dread.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the New Year brought your 6th year angelversary.   January 3rd the day you left my life continued to batter me like an unexpected wind knocking me off balance.   January 4th added to my unsteadiness as I had to be at Penn for my total body Cat Scan to evaluate my cancer.   I felt like I just couldn’t carry the weight of all that was happening piled on top of each other day after day.

Just when I started to regain some balance, Aunt Mary ended up needed more care than we could handle and it was up to me to find her a safe place to spend the rest of her life.   I remember spending hours on the phone begging for some help from the medical professionals who really seemed not to give a damn.

In the midst of all this I was still dealing with my unresolved grief over the sudden death of your grandmother.   Still reeling from all the things left unsaid and undone.   I was also waiting for a biopsy result from a mole removed from my eye lid.   I felt like I was surrounded by doom and I started thinking a lot about death.   Both yours and mine.

I became obsessed.   I could think of nothing else.   I began to find myself in a constant state of panic.   I wondered what it was like for you as you were taking your last breaths.   I wondered if you were afraid or in pain.   I wondered if you were really in Heaven and if I would ever see you again.   I then relived the moment I was told you were gone.   It was like my life was a replay of everything I feared the most.   I wondered how I would die.   How much longer it would be before my cancer returned.   I focused on the treatments I endured to get where I am today.    Chemo, two major surgeries and 54 rounds of radiation.

I felt like I was losing my mind.   Like after 6 years I was no longer able to cope with what life threw my way.

I finally went to seek professional help.   As I sat before a new doctor and spilled out my journey since your death I felt as if the horrible weight was being lifted.    Telling my story out loud and seeing the doctors face I felt validated.   I felt like I had every right to feel like I was losing what was left of my mind.

She confirmed that I had PTSD.   Her validating what I felt started the road to my self healing.   Rather than fearing what I can not control, I’ve started to count my blessings.   I’ve started praying more and worrying less.   I talk to you and your grandmother asking for signs that you are together and healed in heaven.   I’ve started saying the rosary everyday.   It gives me a peace I haven’t felt in such a long time.   I’ve started to attend support groups where I can be the grieving parent rather than the facilitator of the meeting.   I’ve come to realize that I like every other grieving mother needs to find support on this journey of unrelenting loss.

Little by little I’m learning that life even though  it can be filled with pain and anxiety, it can also be filled with beauty.   It’s up to me to learn not to run and fear what might be but to open my mind to the possibilities of joy.

 

 

 

Searching For Beauty Among The Ashes

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.

 

 

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