And The Third Year Begins…

Two years and 9 days ago, my beautiful daughter died.   Two years and 9 days ago my world fell apart, and time has changed little.   There are still no days without tears, NOT A SINGLE DAY.  That means I have cried for 739 days consecutively, and there appears to be no end in sight to that.

Yes, I look “better” as I “appear” to be living life, but few know what thoughts run through my head or what pains I feel in every part of my body.  Few know the anxiety that now envelopes my life each day and the terror that overcomes me when I fully realize that we picked out a casket for our girl, stroked her hair and kissed her cold cheek before we put her in the ground, and can’t hold her in my arms.  Few understand the inability to breathe each time I do something with anyone else that I know I can’t do with Melinda.  The feeling that I’m going to lose my mind is never far away.

I have tried to push myself to face all that I have been avoiding since Melinda’s accident.  I’ve avoided her favorite places, the places we visited together, the craftroom we spent hours in together, and so much more.  These days I’m trying to visit those places and not lose go crazy.   Today I decided to listen to a piece of music Melinda loved.  Music has been very difficult for me.  It depicts a time of joy,when life was promising.  Now it’s just painful.  She had chosen this as the song she would walk down the aisle to, but instead it was the last piece of music we played at her funeral.   The song, Close Your Eyes, by Michael Buble so perfectly depicts the beautiful soul we shared 20 years with.   I listened to it today for the first time since Melinda’s funeral.  I nearly lost my mind.

I’m trying to remember without all the disabling pain; I’m trying to remember all the love and happiness we shared with Melinda, but I’m not there yet.   Two years and 9 days later, I’m still broken but the world keeps moving on.

If you can listen to the song, please do and think about the kind yet strong soul the song depicts.  That is our Melinda.  She was strength and beauty, forgiveness and joy, and she is forever loved.

Just Choose…

Today I had one of many conversations with a friend and grieving mom.  Although we have never laid eyes on each other, we have developed a friendship based on an unimaginable pain.  Just a couple of months after Melinda’s accident, this friend lost her beautiful daughter unexpectedly.  We connected, at first, with comments on each other’s blogs, then through emails, and then to phone calls.

Today we talked about our children, all of our children, as we always do, but most importantly we just understood.  Having suffered such incredible loss at almost the same time, we have ebbed and flowed with the pain in very similar ways since our conversations began over a year ago.  We talked about how exhausting it is to always be hearing trite “motivational” blurbs about moving on, and making the choice to live, and so on.  As we talked, I told her the analogy I’d given my newest therapist during my last session earlier this week.   The therapist had asked me why I couldn’t potentially see myself happy in my future even if it obviously couldn’t be the same happiness that once was.  I had previously explained that moments of happiness are not only possible but have already happened, but that moments scattered over weeks or months do not add up to a happy life or an internal contentment and that not one of those happy moments came without the sting of pain because of who/what was missing each time.   To try to better explain, I offered her this analogy.

Imagine your two children are going to be separated – one will live on one side of the world, and the other on the opposite side.   As the parent, you get to choose which one you will live near.   The catch is that once you’ve made your choice, you CAN NOT see or speak with the other child for the remainder of your life.   There will be absolutely no communication with one child, ever, in any way.  You will not hold that child when she’s not feeling well; you will not hear her laugh or see her smile, and you will have no news of how she’s doing.  Now choose!  Which one will you be near, and which one will you not see?     

My therapist sat quietly for a noticeable amount of time before she finally said: “Is that how you feel?”   That’s exactly how I feel with the exception that I never had the opportunity to make the choice in the fist place; it was made for me for no apparent reason, without any obvious logic, and without consideration of the outcome.   I couldn’t have made the choice had I been given the opportunity so I guess that is irrelevant, but having the choice made for me doesn’t make the outcome any less devastating.

For nearly two years, I have heard people tell me that I can choose to live again.  I’ve heard them say I can choose whatever I wish.  I’ve heard them say JUST choose and you’ll be fine, you’ll be healed.  What they don’t understand is that I do choose.  I choose. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  Each morning when my eyes open, the first thing I do is say good morning to Melinda, always.  The second thing I do is choose which child to live near.   I may not vocalize that choice and it isn’t always a conscious one, but I make it each day as I get up, as I move about the house trying to accomplish even the smallest task, as I go see therapists and doctors, as I buy food donations in Melinda’s memory, and as I help my oldest daughter achieve her goals and dreams.   I make the choice every day.  Consider that the next time you see a grieving parent who doesn’t seem to be “healing” fast enough for everyone’s liking.   Just know that, each day, that parent makes a choice.  Simply because the choice doesn’t fit someone else’s definition doesn’t mean it’s any less valid or any less difficult.

Nowhere To Go But Numb

I’m finding it harder to breathe lately.  The days have been overwhelming, and I anticipate they will only get worse as May approaches.  Time is healing absolutely nothing and neither are the countless hours and thousands of dollars spent on therapists.   The days for nearly two years remain static.

Last weekend I made what was as close as I could get to an Easter dinner.  There was ham and sides; there was even dessert, but what was missing, what I couldn’t buy or create was what used to be, and what used to be was happy.   There were only 4 of us for dinner – my husband, our daughter, her boyfriend, and me.  The house was quiet; the weekend was quiet.   We didn’t set the dining room table.  Why bother setting a large table only 4 would sit at?  There were no Easter antics, bunny ears, chocolates, laughter.   There were no phone calls.  No questions.   Just silence.

This coming weekend is another Easter for us, Orthodox Easter which we normally celebrate with my family.  I haven’t been in my parents’ home in 2 years.  I haven’t been because I can’t imagine sitting at the dining room table without Melinda.  That’s never happened before.   I haven’t yet decided if I will attempt to go for dinner next Sunday, but I do know the thought of it makes my stomach turn and my tears flow.

In the middle of these 2 weekends was my oldest daughter’s birthday.  She turned 24 yesterday.  Melinda would be 22.   My daughter took the day off work as she knew it would be what she called an “emotional” day.   We talked, went for lunch, and visited the lottery homes.  We bought tickets and went off to wander show homes in the area.   Instead of a cake, we bought enough Italian pastry to feed about 30 people and we came home.   Shortly after we went for dinner.  By the time we got home, we were all exhausted.  When I asked my daughter to pose for a picture with her pastries, she hesitated for just a fraction of a second but long enough to be noticeable.   There are no pictures of her from her birthday last year.  All previous birthday pictures are of her and Melinda holding up their fingers and toes to count the years.  In the last birthday photo, my oldest daughter’s birthday the month before Melinda’s, she is sitting at the kitchen table with her all finger stretched.  Melinda is sitting on the floor beside with her fingers stretched out and her legs in the air with her big toes pointing up so there would be 22 appendages.   There will be no more pictures like that – ever.  So last night when I suggested a picture, there was a pause, a second we all recognized as filled with pain, a second we understood could never be what it was.

I made it through the day without crying.  Even as we sat eating tacos at lunch a block away from the cemetery where Melinda is resting I managed to hold in the shaking and tears.  I held in the feelings as we wandered through the show homes and I imagined what Melinda would say about the decor.  I swallowed hard each time I thought about how Melinda would be teasing her sister about being in her “mid twenties” now.  I thought I would have my first day in 2 years without tears.   I was wrong.

Just before bed, I couldn’t stop the tremors.  I couldn’t stop the shallow laboured breathing, and I couldn’t stop the tears.   I wanted nothing more than to scream at the top of my lungs, to beat the floor, but instead I sobbed as quietly as I could.   No days, not a single day, without tears for nearly 2 years.  I never imagined the body could produce so many tears and hold so much pain.

I held it in the best I could last night so that I didn’t ruin a birthday, but this morning was a different story.  This morning I screamed myself hoarse, cried myself dry, and have now moved into numb.  It’s still the safest place.  My therapists have repeatedly asked me how I see my life in the future.   This is what I see: each day filled with tears; an underlining pain regardless of the happiness of a moment; a perpetual numbness that keeps me detached from everything around me; a life I breathe through but do little more.

I’m bracing myself for May.   Another Mothers’ Day without Melinda.  Another wedding anniversary without a sense of happiness.  Another marking of a year without Melinda.  A reminder of a wedding day she never had.  I have many reasons to dread May, but I will face it like I have everything else the last 2 years, numb and alone.

Redefining the Dictionary

The last several days have been hard, harder than the months before.  I don’t know why.  I just know that my mind is racing constantly with what should be, what I want to be, and with overwhelming pain.   When I realized that in a couple of months it will be 2 years since Melinda’s death, I nearly lost my mind.   How is that fucking possible??!!!!   How can my child be dead for almost 2 years and the world keep turning?

For nearly 2 years I have been trying to redefine myself and my life with little success.  Last week I realized I have to redefine so much more.   All our lives are categorized into “before” and “after.”  This categorization helps us sort out the chronology of life.  It helps us plan for a future, and it helps us define ourselves.  We all have many “before and after” scenarios.  After we finish school/university there is the hope of a fulfilling career, money earned, and accomplishments achieved.  Before we get married, we learn to explore our potential and define ourselves.  After we get married holds the promise of happily ever after, of companionship, of love.   After we have children holds a future filled with family trips, memories, and celebrations.   After the kids move out brings with it the opportunity to rediscover our partners and ourselves in a new and exciting way.  The many “afters” in life come with hope, come with promise, come with something better on the horizon.  This is NOT the case after the loss of a loved one who was so deeply embedded in our hearts and in daily life.

This deep of a loss requires redefining myself, my life, my hopes, my future, my relationships, and every fucking word in the English dictionary.  And this is the reason that grief can not be timed or rushed.  I literally have to redefine practically every word in the dictionary.  A chair is no longer a piece of furniture.  After loss it’s a tangible picture of  the empty space at the kitchen table.   A coat isn’t just an article of clothing;  it is something Melinda loved, bought, and still lingers in the house but no one wears.  Every food is linked to Melinda because she loved it, or didn’t, because she created treats with it, because I took extra care in preparing it, because it’s a memory of family celebrations that no longer happen.    A flower isn’t something I eagerly await in spring.  It’s what I leave a grave; it’s what I spent hours making with Melinda.  A cup doesn’t just hold my tea;  it’s the thing Melinda’s hands touched when she painted it in a ceramics shop.   After means I have to redefine everything I see, smell, touch, taste, and hear every single day for the rest of my life.   The truly difficult part is that these “after” definitions can change daily depending on how low I am at the time.

All of the “before and after” scenarios have lost their meaning.  My chronology has shifted to one single event in my life – the day my daughter died.   My life is now divided into 2 segments.  There was a time when there was hope and joy.  Now there is pain and sorrow.  Before and after.

I feel like the next couple of months are only going to get worse.  We have to face another May, more defining of “after,” more change.  I still have no idea how I do this.  Nothing is clearer or easier.  Anyone who thinks that I should be “moving on” by now, should be “doing better” by now, or should be feeling the pain “ease” should try standing in front of a mirror and saying their child’s name followed by the words “is dead.”  Say it aloud.   Even though you know it’s not true, it’s a horrible statement to make.   Now imagine standing in front of that mirror, saying the same thing and knowing that it is your life.   This after is different.

Could You Write A Full Page?

A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing a new therapist.  I haven’t stopped seeing the original one as I’m not ready to let go of someone who has walked with me for so much of this journey.  That means I spend twice as much time sitting in a chair across from someone who is supposed to help me “figure this out.”

The new therapist and I have met twice, and this week will mark the third time.  The first two sessions were primarily introductions with the last one ending with a homework assignment for me…the first real step in the cognitive therapy.  She asked me to write out what I feel I’ve lost because of Melinda’s accident.  I must have looked shocked or something because she followed that up with a simple question.  “Do you think you could write a page or so?”   A PAGE!!!!!!!   I could out write Tolstoy!  She specifically asked that I not leave it until the last minute so that I didn’t feel pressured; I sat down this morning to compose “my page.”

I don’t claim to be a good writer, but it comes easily for me; I’ve kept journals of varying kinds since childhood.  It’s part of my life to express myself in written form, but this morning was different.   It took me nearly 3 hours to compose a single page of what I’ve lost.   I edited repeated because I couldn’t accurately condense into 250 words what my daughter meant and still means to me.

How do I, in a handful of sentences, a few paragraphs, convey the brokenness of my heart, my spirit, and my soul?  How do I convey so succinctly the impact my daughter’s 20 years of life have had on my life?   How do I fully explain the pain of not being able to hold her or hear her?  Impossible.  I couldn’t do it justice if I wrote an entire series of books let alone a single page, but today I pushed myself to revise and to condense this horror into a page long diary entry.

Of course I hardly touched on all the levels of complicated pains.   As I wrote, I got angry at times.   I shouldn’t have to be doing this.   Just 21 months ago today, I wouldn’t have been able to confine my joy to one page.   I would have needed volumes then too, but they would have been very different.

I wrote that single page today with so much missing, but I wrote it.  Could you confine your greatest pain to one page?   Maybe if I can learn to do that, I can learn to “move on.”  Doubtful.

And The Roller Coaster Dips…

For about 19 months, I have sat in a large orange chair across from a psychologist specializing in PTSD and trauma. Through the use of various therapeutic “techniques” including EMDR, she has walked along beside me on this journey.   I have had the opportunity to cry, vent, rage, and express feelings too frightening to share with others.  But even with all her experience, all her compassion, all her effort, I have not “moved on,” “gotten better,” or “learned to accept.”  Instead, after nearly 19 months, I’ve learned to go through the motions; I’ve learned to fake life more skillfully.

Since Christmas, I have been unable to fully pull myself out of a dark haze that has descended on me.   I had thought that as the days got longer, brighter, I would be able to shake at least some of the depression that has set in.   Like with everything else, there was no predicting one day to the next.  The last few days have been worse.

Although not as frequent, the depth of the grief waves that have been coming is growing.  Those feelings of losing my mind and my head feeling like it’s about to explode have intensified again.   I’m used to the bodily sensations that overcome: the shaking, the nausea, the inability to breathe.   These are all a part of daily life.  I’m used to feeling exhausted all the time, ALL THE TIME.  I’m used to aches in my neck, shoulders, and back as my muscles tighten with stress.  My bodily ailments are only noticeable now on the rare days they don’t appear.   Feeling “ok” is not the normal but rather the unique.   What I’m not used to is the emotional wave that overtakes takes me and forces me to gasp for breath.   The moments that become triggers when only days ago they went unnoticed are the moments I can’t get used to.   They not only stop me in the middle of whatever I’m doing, they induce a panic attack, and worst of all, they make me realize that every second, every inch of my life has changed and that I’m incapable of performing the most simple of tasks on most days.  From the outside looking in, I seem to be “better,” and I am able to do more than I was a year ago.  What hasn’t changed is what goes on inside me.  I may look as though I’m moving along this journey; it may look like I’m participating in parts of life again, but in reality, that’s a pretend.   I’m going through the motions because I have no other choice.  We have to eat; we need clean clothes; we have bills to pay, but all of those are mere motions, actions I preform.

Last week I met with a new therapist.  I will be seeing her weekly for a scheduled session of 12 weeks which will be a more structured approach to making me give a shit about life again.   I hold out no hope, have no expectations, but I will go through the motions, attend each session.   I can’t and don’t believe my life will be any different than it is now other than I will learn to fake going through more motions the outside world expects of me.

When I met last with my regular therapist, she asked me if I ever just let loose what was inside me when the feelings arose.  No.  I told her that wasn’t possible.  I couldn’t fall to the true depths of my misery and pain in front of others because I don’t want to hurt or scare them.   I can’t do that to those who have stood by me and who also already hurt so much.   When she asked why I didn’t “let loose” when I’m alone, I was hesitant to answer.   I knew the reason immediately, but putting it into words and making it more tangible is a whole other thing.  I was finally able to tell her that succumbing to the despair alone wasn’t possible because I can’t be sure where it would end.  It is still my preference to NOT be here, and I fear letting myself fully feel the grief that swirls around me.   Now I can pull myself out of the waves with a great deal of work and focus, but to simply let it envelope me is frightening.

In what are now my normal days, I can stave off acting on the most horrible of thoughts, but I have now assurance in myself that I can make that same choice when I am fully submerged in pain.  And that is the purpose of the new therapy treatment.  It is designed to help me “realign” my thoughts.  It’s a therapy that is supposed to help me reassess my beliefs and values and adjust my thinking accordingly.  Like I said, I have no expectations because one belief I am certain of is that my depth of grief and pain is directly in correlation with the depth of my love for Melinda.   I don’t want that to change.  I hurt this much because I love this much, and that I won’t let go of, move forward from, reassess, or get over.

I suppose we all wonder if and when things might change for us.   I’ve been told I just need time.  The trick of course is to be able to endure the time until then.

I love you Melinda, and the hole in my heart remains.

Life’s Riddle

I’ve never been much for logic riddles, but I heard one yesterday courtesy of another episode of Joan of Arcadia, that frustrated me.  The riddle poses:  If a man weighing 190 pounds and carrying 3 boxes each weighing 5 pounds must cross a bridge which can sustain only 200 pounds, how does he do it?  With his own weight and that of the boxes totaling 205 pounds, more than the bridge’s limit, he must be clever and diligent in his solution.

The answer:  He juggles the boxes so that he never holds more than 2 at a time and therefore never carries more than the bridge can hold resulting in his safe arrival at the other end.

The metaphor:  The bridge represents the life we travel and the boxes are our emotions, stresses, joys, problems, and so on.  The idea is that we just need to keep juggling while we travel the bridge of life to reach the other side.   It’s a good riddle and maybe even a decent metaphor until another box is thrown in: grief.

Some will say that grief is a part of that journey over the bridge, part of life, and normally I would agree.   But I’ve spoken with far too many people who’ve lost children and siblings to say that this type of loss is a “normal” part of life.   We expect loss of loved ones who are old; we know it’s coming.  We may even expect loss of younger souls because of prolonged illness, but when someone dies “out of turn” with what’s expected, there’s a fourth box added to the juggling and because of it, the bridge changes substantially.

This new box isn’t another 5 pounds; it’s another 10 because it easily outweighs any other pain, stress, problem that’s contained in the first 3 boxes.  All of a sudden you are still forced to cross a bridge that sustains 200 pounds, but now you have to juggle 4 boxes weighing more than you ever imagined possible.

The result:   It’s almost impossible to keep 2 boxes in the air while you hold 2 during your juggling.   And even if you can sustain the motion, inevitably you will end up holding the 10 pound box and a 5 pound box simultaneously which is more than the bridge can hold.  With each step a piece of that bridge crumbles, a piece of life’s journey crumbles away at your feet.  But you can’t stop it because you are desperately juggling and all your energy is needed for that.   Instead, you watch bits of your life, your relationships, your self worth, your judgement, your existence fall off the bridge in chunks, and you wonder if any of it can be rebuilt now that it’s fallen away.  As the days pass, a bit more erodes from the bridge.

No days are actually good.  How can any day be deemed as good when a portion of it is always spent crying, hurting, and longing?  But some days are better than others, like the days when you’re able to juggle faster than you thought. But even with those “better” days there is always the knowledge that the grief box is only hovering above your head for seconds before it crashes into your hand and the bridge under you crumbles a little bit more from the weight.

I have no idea how long my bridge is, no idea how long it will take me to get to the other side, but I do know that I doubt on many days that I will be able to reach it before the bridge completely collapses beneath my feet.  As time passes since Melinda’s death, the faster I seem to have to juggle.  I’m tired of juggling; I’m tired of being off balance each time the weight of that grief box lands, and I’m tired of trying to figure out what each day and each tomorrow should look like.  In over 20 months, I haven’t felt the pain soften.  I haven’t stopped asking why.  I haven’t stopped screaming out Melinda’s name trying to call her back to me, and I haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to do now, but I keep juggling.

When I think about how much I hurt and multiply it by just the number of people I’ve met with the same pain, I don’t know how the world doesn’t simply collapse on itself.  When I think about the many others whom I’ll never meet who suffer as I do, I don’t understand how the world even revolves from the weight of the grief.

The riddle frustrated me because it was just too simple of an answer.  Just juggle.