The Most Painful State of Being…..

One of the most difficult aspects of grieving the loss of a child is facing the loss of what would have, should have, been.  As we move along this path, the pain becomes less raw because we’ve learned to absorb it into our selves and have it be part of who we are.   There is really no choice in this.  The depth of our pain is a direct correlation to the depth of our love. We can’t change what happened so we get up each day; we get dressed; we breathe; we do what everyone else does…because we have to.   But in all of this “normal” of daily life, the knowledge that our futures have been lost is ever present.

Like others, I had visions of what my life would look like as it went along.  I’d achieved much of what I’d wanted in my life, and I was looking forward to watching it all unfold.  We worked hard to “do the right things” and to prepare a good life for us and our children.   I wasn’t expecting a “reward” for being a good parent or wife or person.  I was expecting to live my life intact and with gratitude as I’d done for much of it already….before Melinda’s accident.  On May 18, 2013 I lost my daughter and a huge part of the future I had envisioned.  No matter how I learn to “absorb” the pain and make it part of my daily life, I will never understand how to redefine a future I’d planned for decades and now can’t have.

Philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “the most painful state of being is remembering a future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” He was right!   I miss Melinda with every breath of every day, but I also miss the possibility of holding her children, of sharing in her achievements, of shared laughs and secrets, of so many many things.  No matter how far along this path I journey, no matter how well I learn to absorb the pain, no matter how “healed” I manage to become, I’ll never forget and never stop suffering the loss of a future I can’t have.  I’ve searched for answers, just like every other grieving parent or sibling I’ve met, but none have presented themselves as of yet.  I still want to know why!   I still want to know if I’m being punished!  I still want to know the many “what if” parts that are unanswerable.  I guess I still haven’t reached the Acceptance step, and I doubt I ever will, mostly because I have no idea what that even means.

About a week ago, my oldest daughter brought home the DVD set for the show Joan of Arcadia.   We used to watch it as a family long ago…before.   We enjoyed it as a family too.  For those of you who don’t know it, consider this a spoiler alert.

The show is about 16 year old Joan Girardi who has recently moved to Arcadia with her family after her oldest brother’s accident.  The family deals with typical stresses and then some.  Joan and her two brothers must adjust to a new school, find new friends, and generally learn to fit in while their father tries to clean up a corrupt police department as the new chief of police.  In the middle of all of this is grief.  The oldest son’s accident has left him unable to use his legs and bound to a wheelchair.  They all grieve the young man who once was, and the family they once were.  To make things even more interesting, Joan is visited regularly by God who presents himself in various characters she encounters through the day.  He’s there to give Joan “missions” in the hope that God’s work will be done.

As in real life, there are no clear answers in the show.  God does not provide explanations and reasons.  We watched the show when the girls were younger because it was well done, “taught” good values without being patronizing, and was both entertaining and thought provoking.  It holds an entirely new meaning now.  I’ve seen the episodes before, but this time they hold deeper meanings.  Now, when Joan’s father does all the “right” things to clean up the department and still ends up losing his job, it rings loudly that being “good” guarantees nothing.  Now, when Joan’s mother confronts a priest in the parking lot about “why” her son and he responds with Kierkegaard’s quotation, the confusion resonates much closer to home.

Watching the series is difficult because it is so close to home.  It’s difficult as each episode’s subject matter is painful because it addresses suicide, loss, death, and more. I don’t know why, but watching the show now has brought moments of comfort.  Maybe it comes from knowing that even the most skilled creators of fictional life can’t provide the answers I desperately seek.   There are no easy solutions.  Even a God who’s created by man can’t explain, can’t justify, can’t just make it easy.  I don’t have the answer, but I do know that there is something in each episode that touches me, like Kierkegaard’s quotation, and I’ll take it because so very little touches me anymore.   I’m still too numb.

I breathe because I believe Melinda was spared a hellish life on earth, but that is still not enough.  I wake each morning and talk to her, and she is the last person I converse with every night.  In between I look for answers and whatever little peace I can find.  Joan of Arcadia offers moments of that…for now.

Wishing you all peace and grace whenever possible.

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A Bit Closer or Farther Away?

It’s New Year’s Eve; the start of another year without Melinda.   I’d like to say this one will be easier than last year, but I know that’s not true.  If anything, it will be more difficult, just like our second Christmas without her was.

The loneliness and emptiness have fully set in now. We are more acutely aware that our lives are forever different.  It’s palpable on our tongues as we speak because words hold different meanings now.  Our body aches have become “normal” to us, and we’re unable to fight off the cloud that hovers over even the happiest of moments now.  Those moments are changed by grief, tainted with pain, and diminished by an inability to just purely enjoy.

I have mixed feelings about the coming year.   On the one hand, I don’t look forward to it because I can’t imagine another year without Melinda’s smile, her voice, her hugs, or her joy.   I anticipate that waves of grief will continue as always.  Some days they will be knee deep and I will feel stuck, and other days they will loom over my head and come crashing down on me, and I will feel I’m drowning….again.  On the other hand, one more year passing means I’m one more year closer to Melinda, to the other side, to being done with this pain.   Those thoughts about being with Melinda never subside, and I can’t imagine they ever will.

I’ve heard people say they look in the mirror after losing a child and don’t recognize the person before them.  They see a shell of a person, a different person, an aged person.  I haven’t had that experience.  I stand before a mirror and I see the same physical person I always was but without the light in her eyes or the smile on her face.   I don’t think I look any more worn or tired than I did before.   I don’t think I look different, but I know I feel different, and that’s far worse.  My doctor has given a clean bill of health, telling me I’m actually (on paper) healthier than I’ve ever been.   I’ve even had my psoriasis disappear, completely, about a month after Melinda’s accident.  No more creams, no more pills, and no more struggles with covering up.  I look the same, I think, but nothing about what’s inside me is the same, and that’s the hard part.

The person I was is muted now.  The open joy that surrounded me is stilled and hard to find.   The smile that beamed is merely a grin now.   The creativity that allowed me my passion is now a distraction, something to do so that I’m not spiraling into despair.   The small pleasures of life – a shared home cooked meal, a clean house, a bit of dessert, a beautiful piece of art, a good joke, and so much more – are now chores, too much work not worth the effort, or outright pointless.    The parts of me I had once refused to allow surface in me are now there regularly.  I’m angry, impatient, and intolerant of what used to be insignificant.   I’ve learned to rage, to hate, to wish horrible things on others.  I’ve learned to close myself off for fear of being hurt.  I’ve learned to see the ugly that is around me.

I’ve tried desperately to find a “lesson” in all of this.  What am I supposed to learn from all of this?  But no answers are coming.   My oldest daughter believes that maybe I’m supposed to learn to overcome all those things that have now surfaced in me, but if that’s the case, then I’m failing miserably.

I don’t know if I’m closer to anything or farther from it.  I’m unable to imagine a time that I will ever again feel so happy that I will be brought to tears of joy, not in this lifetime.  I know I feel farther away from Melinda because of time, yet I feel closer to her because she is constantly on my mind.   I know that I feel farther away from her because I can’t hold her or hear her voice, but I know I feel closer to her because I’m certain, without question that she was spared a hurtful life.   We have learned, beyond a doubt, that the life she wanted, had planned for herself, could never have happened because who she was planning it with, is not the person she thought he was.   Knowing this has given me the strength to suffer agony so that she doesn’t have to.

I know in my heart there is no “end” to this grief and this pain, so I know I’m no closer to that.  I know those waves of grief that we all wish would come with instructions are closer than even I realize and that the farther I move along this path, the more inconsistent they are likely to become, making them even more dangerous as time goes on.  I used to be able to predict what would likely trigger a meltdown because everything was a trigger.  Now I’ve absorbed those things and made them part of my life, but I still have no control over when a meltdown is about to erupt, and that makes them harder to ride through, for me and those around me.   I still cry every day, at least once, usually more often.   Sometimes the tears are because I miss Melinda; other times they come because of everything else we’ve also lost, and we’ve lost so much.

I hold on to whatever I can to help me get up in the morning, function during the day, and then fall asleep in the dark.   I act the way I have to act in order to get through the day and function in life, but that does not mean I’m any closer to being over my grief or that I’m getting any better at dealing with it.

I had coffee with my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother a couple of weeks ago and she said something that has stuck with me.   As we visited, which we hadn’t done in almost a year, she asked how the young man Melinda was engaged to was doing.  She hadn’t heard.  I told her he was married now and about all the hurt he’d intentionally caused us in the months after Melinda’s accident.  I told her he had criminal charges hanging over him now.  I told her about the many, many lies he told us and he continues to tell, and I told her he was never the person we thought he was.   In her shock, her eyes teared up and her next words to me rang out like a bell, sharp and clear.  She said,  “Oh Mira, how God must have loved her so much to have caused you this pain in order to save her from that.”   That is what I hold on to.  That is what brings me closer to Melinda.  That is what helps me endure this pain.

I’m not looking forward to 2015, but I’m also not fighting it.   My Melinda, my giving, beautiful girl is always with me in my heart and my memories.

Wishing you all peaceful days.

Good from Grief

Tomorrow marks 19 months since Melinda’s accident.  It is 19 months of hell, agony, anger, confusion, fear, and pain.  It is 19 months of a huge emptiness, of depression, of turmoil and guilt, of unanswered questions, of strained and destroyed relationships, and of physical and emotional pains like I could never have imagined.   It has been and continues to be a daily struggle to find a way to breathe, to function, to want to live, and some days it’s seemed impossible to move at all or feel anything.  The numbness is constant and, I suppose, still necessary to shield me from the depth of pain that is my life.

In all of this we have done our best to honour Melinda and to share her beautiful spirit with others.  She was not perfect, but she was wonderful, joyous, forgiving, and loving, and that is how she is remembered.  In her name, we have reached out to help others less fortunate because that is what she did.   She made people smile; she helped when she could, and she never hesitated to share herself and her joy with others.  The foundation we started in her memory has been busy since its incorporation several months ago, and now that we are a fully registered Canadian charity, we hope to accomplish so much more.  People have told me I have been an inspiration to them.  It’s difficult to believe when I think of all the meltdowns, bursts of rage, and tears.  They don’t seem at all inspirational, but if I have helped even one person, then I will take some comfort in knowing that I have not been so consumed by grief that I have lost my humanity because that would be easy to do.

We have been fortunate to have had media interest in our work.  Two weeks ago I did an interview with the main newspaper in our city.  The reporter was working on a piece about families who suffer loss and turn it into a vehicle to help others.   The article appeared in the paper and online last Saturday.  Please take a few minutes to read the article and view the video.

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/index.html

 

Time on My Mind

Today marks 18 months without Melinda at my side.  It marks 18 months of anguish, frustration, mistrust, confusion, anger, and so much more.  Although I’ve stopped counting the days, weeks, months aloud, I have a subconscious internal clock that sets an alarm for the 18th of every month.  Today that alarm was deafening when I awoke this morning.  The days leading up to today have been difficult and full of sadness.  This has only added weight to the grief that already comes each month on the 18th day.

On Friday afternoon we received a call telling us that our friend and neighbour of over 20 years had passed away earlier in the day.  She had struggled against cancer for years, but her body just couldn’t keep up anymore.   She was only 59 years old…a mere 59 years which should have been filled with holding her only grandchild who was born 4 months ago, a month premature.   It was as if he knew, or someone did.  The news was not unexpected, but that made it no easier to hear.   I had visited with her about 3 weeks earlier when we shared an Ice Cap and talked for hours.  She was depressed and doing her best to prepare for the inevitable.  As we talked, she repeated the phrase “but you know what I mean” as she referred to the sorrow that comes with loss.  I did know.  I understood that what she wanted was the same thing I wanted – more time.  She wanted more time to watch her grandchild grow, watch her daughter become a fabulous mom, give advice as mothers do, and enjoy the results of years of work.   I understood because that’s what I want, more time.   I want more time with Melinda. I want time to tell her I love her. I want time to feel her arms around me.  I want time to watch her achieve her goals.  I just want more time.

Last Sunday marked 3 years for a friend who lost her 17 year old son in an accident.  She and I have never met, but our connection and friendship is real.  We share something that surpasses distance, economics, education, or anything else.  I remembered this day was coming for her, and, without speaking to her, I knew the anxiety building in her.  I sent a message to her late Saturday night letting her know she and her son were not forgotten and that a candle would be lit in his honour in our home.  As we “chatted” back and forth, I was overcome with tears.  I knew her pain; it took very few words to convey it. I cried regularly and often that day, but I cried for her.   I cried because I couldn’t imagine what 3 years would look like on this journey.   We are half way there, only half way there yet the destruction has been more than I’d ever imagined possible, and it still continues.  Will that change in another 18 months?  I can’t imagine that because I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop missing Melinda and that is what creates the pain.

The last few days have been hard as well as I sit and wait to hear news about the young man Melinda loved.   His world is about to be turned upside down again, but this time it’s of his own doing.  Once again time is the only master here.

In 6 days, I turn 50.  I’ve been here half a century and for almost all of it, I’ve been joyously happy, but I don’t really remember that feeling anymore.   For me, time continues.  This is supposed to be some sort of milestone, isn’t it?   I’ve survived 50 years.  But it’s not a day I anticipate with any type of excitement.  Instead it is one more fragment of time which I hope will just pass.  There it is again….time being the master.

During all of this swirling about me, we managed to go to a movie on Saturday night with friends.  It was good to be out even if it meant sitting silently in the dark.  The movie,  “Interstellar,” was good but it was the focus on time that caught my attention.  In one scene character A asks character B if he’s afraid to die.   Character B’s answer stood out like a gong had just gone off.   There it was!!!!  In one line, he succinctly qualified a struggle I’ve slowly internalized over the last year.   Character B simply replied:  “I’m not scared of death; I’m scared of time.”

Like the character in the movie, it’s not death I fear; it’s the time until it that is the problem.  I am caught between two worlds and am equally drawn to each.   I don’t worry about dying; there is no question that I’m ready for whenever it happens.  The problem is that time is the master here too.   On one hand, I want time to slip by quickly so that I can be with Melinda again.  I want to be with my daughter again as quickly as I can be.  On the other hand, I want time to move more slowly so that I can spend every minute of it with my oldest daughter here.  I want to watch her achieve her goals, watch her get married, give her unsolicited advice on raising her children, hold my grandchildren and watch them grow and achieve their dreams as well.   I want all the things my neighbour no longer has, but I envy her because her pain has ended.  Yes, it’s a different pain, but it’s an end to pain either way.

Time is both my enemy and my friend.  I suppose it’s always been that way, but the perception has now changed.   I’ve never wanted time to swiftly slip away toward an end.  Of course I’ve wanted moments to come to an end, but not all of my moments.   There’s the shift in perception.  How does one balance no fear of death and anticipation of it with wanting to live life?   “I’m not scared of death; I’m scared of time.”

Perchance To Dream….

This morning I woke up sobbing.  Last night I dreamed of Melinda, the first time in over a year.  I’ve struggled with many things since Melinda’s death, and one of them has been my feeling of not being “connected” to my daughter.  What kind of mother am I if I can’t “feel” my daughter around me?  I’ve read about how others feel wisps pass by them, feel something brush against them, feel a weight, and I wanted (still want) to experience all this.  I want to dream of Melinda every single night, but that hasn’t happened, and that’s only added to my struggle.  How could I think of her all day, cry every day, miss her every second, and not dream of her?

Prior to last night, I’ve had one dream with Melinda in it, and two “dreams” unlike any other dreams I’ve ever have.  They were more like visitations from Melinda because they were vivid unlike anything else I’ve experienced and we talked as if she was sitting beside me.  In one of those visitations, I asked Melinda if she could stay with us, and she said she couldn’t but that she was happy.  Last night was something in between that vivid experience and a typical dream.

In last night’s dream, I was in my kitchen with music playing, as it commonly was in our household.  It was the kitchen of today, remodeled and different from the one of Melinda’s childhood.  I stood in the middle of the kitchen and sang along to the music.  I looked down to see 4 year old Melinda at my feet, looking up at me.  She smiled and said “let’s dance Mommy,” and we did.  I picked her up and twirled around the kitchen floor with her just as I used to do when she was four.  We smiled and laughed, and we danced, and then I woke up crying.

I’ve come to terms with knowing Melinda isn’t going to walk through the door, knowing my phone isn’t going to buzz with messages from her, knowing I can’t hold her and tell her I love her.  What I haven’t yet come to terms with is the loss of dreams we had for our family.  I haven’t been able to let go of what was supposed to be, of our future.   That too was lost when Melinda died in May 2013.

In my plans, in the dreams I was certain would come true, my husband and I would now be enjoying the rewards of a life for which we’d worked hard.  Melinda would be married, and her sister would be moved out and likely engaged to her wonderful boyfriend.  My husband and I would be renovating all the bits of the house left untouched for 20 years, waiting for the girls to grow up and move out.   We would be travelling to small towns in the area and visiting little shops, buying things we didn’t need but would bring beauty to a corner of the house.  We would be “dating” again and just enjoying each other’s company.  We would be enjoying time individually while crafting, playing floor hockey, or whatever else we chose to do.   We would have had a full and happy life because all those “dreams” would be coming true.  We would have danced at Melinda’s wedding; we would have watched the girls settle into their adult lives, and we would have kept busy waiting for grandchildren to spoil.  We would have done many wonderful things……

Some of those events will still take place, but not in the same way.  We will still celebrate the day our oldest daughter gets married, and we will love her children and watch them grow, but we will not have the same kind of happy that once existed in our home.  The dreams have changed.  Now they are more about getting through each day without a meltdown.  Now the dream is to have the ability to care about anything anymore.  Now the dream is to find a way to keep busy that doesn’t cause me to dissolve into tears.  Now the dream is to keep my daughter’s memory alive so that everyone remembers the beautiful spirit she embodied.  I haven’t fully found these new dreams because I’m still hurting about the ones that have been lost.

We lost a daughter and a future we eagerly anticipated.  We lost dreams we had for ourselves and our family.

Last night’s dream was painful because it was a reminder of all the beauty that was part of our daily lives 18 months ago and is missing now, but I’m also grateful to have had that sweet 4 year old ask me to dance with her again.

I miss my daughter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What A Wrong Number Means

Last night I was reminded just how quickly my world can be turned upside down …again. I was reminded how close to the edge I walk, and how little it takes for me to lose my footing at the cliff’s edge.
The last several days have been exactly like the roller coaster ride I described in a previous post. My emotions have been running high and then have crashed repeatedly through the days. It began with contacting the inner city schools we are helping with Melinda’s foundation. They have each been allocated $1300 to spend in the areas they need most. Some are buying food while others are seeing this additional money as a way to improve the tools use to help feed hungry children. They have requested everything from a freeze, to glasses, from pots to knives, and we will fill every need we can. With all of this confirming of purchases, I’ve had to explain to each person who I am and that I was calling from the Melinda Green Memorial Foundation. It didn’t take long before they asked about the connection to the foundation, given the same surname. Each retelling of the story only reinforced the reason I have to establish a memorial foundation in my daughter’s name. Even when I heard the excitement in the people receiving our gift, it did not overcome the sorrow.

We also found out officially that the foundation is now a registered charity according to the federal laws of Canada. When I opened the email and read it, I burst into tears. They were literally a combination of happiness that we’ve finally been approved and can now have the recognition and authenticity like much larger more established charities and the anguish we still endure in making this happen. Within minutes, my head was throbbing and my heart was racing. It’s literally been a roller coaster of emotions and I had been barely making it from morning till night.
I was resting on the sofa last night, exhausted from the waves of grief, when my husband’s cell rang. It doesn’t often ring at night. He picked it up and in less than 10 seconds from his “Hello,” I was in full panic mode as the anxiety attack took over. It was a wrong number; someone was looking for someone else with my husband’s fairly common name. When the caller asked for my husband by name, he replied in a tone commonly used when you’re unsure of who’s on the other end; that’s when the panic attack hit me. In my mind I heard my husband’s voice reply as a character in a movie when he gets “that” call. “This is he.” I’ve gotten “that” call, and I know that tone. Before another word was said, a word that would have clearly shown this was just a wrong number, I was shaking, my stomach was turning, and I was beginning to hyperventilate.
The moment when I could have rationally calmed myself down because it was just a wrong number had passed. I struggled on the sofa for a few minutes before running for the bathroom hoping not to throw up the Big Mac I’d eaten a little over an hour earlier. By the time I shut the door behind me, I was wheezing desperately to breathe. I couldn’t draw air in deeply enough and soon I was lightheaded, and then there it was…I was back reliving the emotions of the worst day of my life. With that brilliantly clear image in my mind, I began to dry heave into the toilet and to catch my breath in between. It wasn’t working as I became more light headed. To stop the spiral, I did the only thing I could think of doing. I screamed at the top of my lungs for as long as I could. Between that, the dry heaving, the labored breathing, and the coughing, my throat was left raw. Half an hour had passed before I could breathe properly again and stand upright.
My mind recreated my worst nightmare, but this time it was about our oldest daughter. She wasn’t home last night, and the cold sweat that overtook me was in reaction to hearing something had happened to her. Because now anything is possible!!!! That which could not happen to us, which happened to other people, had happened to us. We are not immune. By the time my panic attack passed, I was exhausted and numb.
It was a wrong number, but to me it was a nightmare.