Whack, whack, whack.... whack, whack, whack... whack, whack, whack
Driving my usual way, like a bat out of hell, quizzing Lucas for his sight word test, and feeding Reed his breakfast, we squeal up to the curb in front of the elementary school this morning with mere minutes to spare.
“Have a great day, I love you, nail those words, and go!” I frantically yell.
He flings open the door and jumps from the car. The guidance counselor is standing at the curb to greet him as she usually does in the mornings. She looks at me, smiles and says, “Hey Rachel, you have a charger cord hanging out your car door.”
I look down and instantaneously burst out laughing- “THAT.” I holler through the back seat, “is my life right now.” My manic laughter sends the boys into giggles as well. They don’t know what they are laughing at; they just know that mommy thinks something is hilarious so it must be hilarious.
"Whack, whack, whack" mirrors the hamster wheel we are caught on. Frantically running from one thing to the next, not really sure whether any of us are accomplishing anything. Not really sure whether or not we are moving forward, just that we are moving.
Am I running from something? Probably. Am I running to something? Doubtful. I’m just running.
Lucas brought home a drawing from school today that said “My family. I love you. I am sorry that dad died. Together we will be okay.”
Wow, I thought. Maybe I am doing something right.
Whack, whack, whack. That’s us. And that’s ok. It’s more than ok because according to Lucas “Together we will be ok.”
When you see a woman driving down the road like a bat out of hell, with some inanimate object hanging from her door, beating the heck out of her car, simply smile. Grab the laugh where you can. I’m not embarrassed in the least. I’m human. And frankly, the three of us will always have something hanging out our car doors.
“Your memories from this week four years ago” came across my email today. I saw the headline in my inbox and knew better than to look at it at that moment. A day filled with high emotions, hardships and a few of my own stressors, I knew immediately this needed to be viewed later while in private. I didn’t know exactly what would be there but a pretty good assumption was that Daniel would be front and center.
Already feeling as though I may not survive the afternoon, I waited until I got home. I allowed the boys to have some iPad time because frankly I needed some me time. I sat down and hesitantly opened the email. The top photo was Daniel with Lucas, then almost 2, and newborn Reed on a hay ride. That day marked the first time we visited this Charlotte area farm that has now become an annual tradition. Seeing him doesn’t always make me cry but damn did I need him today, and that very thing is what opens the flood gates. A void that cannot be filled by someone else, an alcoholic beverage or even a long run.
This is simply part of life. I know. I know. I KNOW.
Some days I just want to quit. Don’t ask me what that looks like. I don’t even know. I simply know that this is hard.
I do recognize that I am not alone. I live other people’s traumas every day. I listen to the parent who feels at the end of their rope with their child’s behavior. I empathize because I am right there with you. I listen to the woman who can’t get pregnant and can’t understand why. I can’t empathize with your situation but I promise I know what unfairness in life feels like. I listen to the friend who says her marriage is over. I can’t empathize with you but I know loss. I listen to the friend who's parent was just diagnosed with cancer. I empathize with you because I know cancer. I listen to my son as he asks a stranger if he will be his dad. I can’t possibly empathize but I know more than anything how desperately we both yearn for the same person to return to our lives.
What do you say? What the hell was I supposed to say when a man we’ve known for a short period of time as a coach simply stares back at me? I said nothing. For someone who usually has a comeback for everything, I was once again speechless. I hung my head and climbed in the car.
I am plagued with daily morning questions: Where is dad? Does he have a headstone? Was he a good driver? Did he like this song? Can we send him this flower? It’s constant right now from not one but from both. I love talking about their dad but sometimes it is so hard.
I’m telling you. If you want to quit, I empathize. I know how it feels to be drowning. I know how it feels to muddle through quicksand. I know how it feels when the weight compressing your chest won’t let up. I promise I know how it feels when you think it will never get better. I can’t promise you it will. What I can promise you is that you must keep going. You have to keep getting up and pushing through. There will be a time that you look back and think “wow, I made it.” I don’t know when it will happen, but it has to. And it will.
That question was posed to me today by an acquaintance. What a question. A pretty typical question for someone who hasn’t experienced loss. Am I over it? What is it exactly? What exactly do you believe I should be getting over? His death? Absence of the person? Hurt? Anger? Feelings of injustice? Daily loneliness? The recognition that I’m chasing someone and something I can never have? That sometimes I feel his presence? That sometimes I still reach for him at night?
And what does over mean? A sense of moving on? Forgetfulness? Pushing forward? No longer curling up in the fetal position in the back of my closet? No longer feeling like I can’t possibly breathe one more day? No longer feeling like I’m drowning? I ask myself time and time again how can it be that I am breathing but don’t feel as though I am living?
No. I am NOT OVER IT.
Sometime over the course of the last week I wrote the darkest blog I have thus far. I chose not to share it then but will share some of it today. I woke in the middle of the night because sleepless nights have resurrected themselves again. I awoke with a start and realized I was crying. I’m not exactly sure what prompted this bout, but I knew I needed to get these feelings off my chest. I grabbed my phone and began vomiting these words of hurt and injustice and sorrow. Crying and shaking, finding my voice, releasing the loss, the hurt, the struggle.
My husband died two years ago and part of me died too. I can't get that part of me back. I live through my kids. I run them from point a to point b and I don't stop. I have no me. They are me. I am their mom. Period. I meet someone and I feel so guilty. I make unfair comparisons. I can't imagine life with them because I can't imagine life without Daniel. I feel like I'm crazy. I'm no longer the counselor but the client. I try to do things for me and someone refers to me as being self-centered. My breath catches, I want to scream the most profane thing I can think of at them, but I can’t because they have kicked me when I am down. They have stolen my breath.
I get up every day. I work my ass off to function every day. I keep it together when my kid tells me he wants to take the last family picture we have to school to show his friends his dad. I hold it together day in and day out when my kids ask me about spirits being in heaven and what their dad is doing when he’s there. I hold it together when all they want is to share something with him and him alone. I hold it together when our youngest climbs into bed and unprompted says I love you daddy.
I hold IT together.
All I want is a day where I can feel normal again. I want me back. I want to find myself. I want to move forward but my feet are stuck in cement. Life does that sometimes. We get stuck. We all have our own shit. We all struggle for breath at times. We go through phases where our faith is tested, periods of internment with our spouse, days when our feelings get stripped by our loved ones, times when the person on the other end of the phone is rude, times when we feel unbalanced, struggles that we don't understand, times when we want to give up. I know that the cement is not permanent. I know that I am simply leaving an impression. I may even leave my cutest pair of high heels in that cement but one day the light will shine again and one day I will no longer be in those shoes. I will look back and sigh with relief. I will recognize that the cement was part of the bigger picture. I will get through this. I will use my strength to continue to hold IT together and so will you.
I recently read a chapter on secondary trauma. This occurs when professionals experience stress or symptoms of trauma when working with traumatized children and families. I experience this often as a therapist, and today I experienced it as a friend.
A very good friend of mine's family member is dying. She is currently at the same hospital that Daniel received his hernia surgery in. Today I sported Kentucky blue high heels instead of the black and white stripes that I wore the morning I was told my husband was dying. I passed the waiting room and ominously glanced toward the chair that I sat in that morning, slowly watching the clock continue to tick past the time I was promised he would be done. I rode in the large elevator silently upstairs to the fifth floor instead of the fourth. The fifth floor does in fact however mirror the fourth. I passed the chair in that lobby where I curled up and called his boss. Where I called my boss and struggled to get the words out.
The smells that assaulted my nostrils were the same. Nurses continuously went in and out to check the vitals and administer the medications, not allowing her to rest. This was the very same way we spent our night together on the fourth floor before being released into the next ten weeks of trauma. I offered a suggestion for hospice as the nurse for palliative care entered the room. I held my tears at bay knowing instinctively that tears would not help this situation, as they rarely do.
I left this afternoon holding onto every ounce of strength I possessed and walked past the very chairs where I sat with my friend who brought me dinner and clothes that first fateful night. I remember her questions. I remember her blank expression. I remember stating that things were "not good." What an understatement. Little did I know at the time, that evening would begin a tornado that I often still feel trapped inside of.
Secondary trauma shook my shoulders today. I teleported back to that life altering day and the weeks following. The emotions claimed my mood and my physical being. The same thing happened earlier this week as I met a new widow. Her husband died 30 years ago at the age of 26. I asked her if she remembered the details. She said of course, just like it was yesterday. She said she still feels the anger inside. Anger for herself and for her three children. We stared at each other longingly, not with pity but with awe. We were bonded together by our loss. Neither of us chose this.
Today was important for me on so many levels. It was about giving back. It was about being vulnerable. It was about sharing, connecting. It was about recognizing someone else's pain and suffering and acknowledging the continuation of my own. It was about telling myself it is ok to still feel sad. It is ok to still miss the father of my children. It is ok.
I was not asked to come to the hospital and honestly I don't think I spoke ten words while there. That shouldn't surprise most. Sometimes we have to do the uncomfortable. We support those around us because that's who we are. We do what we know is right. This will be a long road for this family, and their course will never be the same. My own personal feelings and emotions, a swirling mess inside me came back full force. But it is ok. We will all come together and lift each other up. That is simply what we do.
I’m curled up in the corner of my couch. Earbuds in my ears, music turned up loud mentally reviewing the past few weeks. Celebrating the successes. Worrying about the failures. Stressing with self-doubt. Doubting some of my choices. Doubting if I’m enough. Preparing for change. Telling myself to let go. Encouraging myself to not be so judgmental; not of others but of myself. To stop self-doubting and over thinking. Just be.
What a simple demand, but yet so difficult for me personally. I have come across this one word a lot lately in conversation. In what I’ve been reading. On people’s social media accounts and even in a course I’m currently tackling. Today I was reminded to use this very word myself when a man walked up to me and stated very directly, “I met your husband this week. He was so nice.” I was simply stupefied for a moment before stating my husband was deceased. The stupefied expression quickly transferred from my face to his. A stammer of apology followed and an explanation of whom he thought I was. Its fine I assured him. A statement that I often use without even thinking about it. How many of us say we aren’t “fine” when asked?
We are all one in the same. None of us set out to offend others. No one sets out to ruin people’s days. No one sets out to fail as parents. To fail in our marriages or with our partners. To make choices that may look differently that very next day or even a week later. To slack at work. To be a crappy friend. To let our family members down. I don’t believe any of us wake up each morning and say, “Yes, today my goal is to fail. Today my goal is to make someone else feel bad. Actually, I just want to disappoint myself.” No, none of us do that but we are all plagued by these feelings.
I’ve been feeling a little down. I’ve been working on several things lately that just don’t seem to be coming together as smoothly as I hoped. I have no one to blame but myself. The big part of that though is why lay blame at all? How about cutting yourself some slack? Letting go. So easy to type yet so difficult for me to feel and do. So, here I am curled in the corner of this couch and am thinking about this word that keeps gracing my presence. I have cycled through my usual “writing” songs through my earbuds and this word just keeps hanging out there waiting for me to reach out, acknowledge and grab it.
Definitions from Merriam-Webster:
· unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
· a virtue coming from God
· approval, favor stayed in his good graces
· mercy, pardon
· a special favor
· disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
· a temporary exemption : reprieve
Per usual, Webster has given us an abundance of definitions for this one word, and honestly I didn’t even include statutes 3-8 as I felt one and two were plenty. I know that other people have shown me personally as well as my family an abundance of Grace over the past two years. I am so very grateful. I look at this word and really try to determine what it means. Its fine to list the definition here but different to use it. To live it. I could have easily felt offended today. I assure you it did take my breath away. As he described the man he met I did think you could be describing my husband. You would have enjoyed a conversation with him as well. However, it wasn’t and I said nothing. I tried to provide a little grace to this man that was obviously embarrassed and made an honest mistake.
Showing others kindness even if they don’t deserve it is giving grace. Letting go of those idiosyncrasies that your spouse engages in that drives you absolutely crazy. Having a little extra patience with your children even when they are talking back or throwing tantrums. Having a little extra patience with your aging parents. Assisting your co-worker, even though you feel that they don’t pull their own weight. Reaching out to others. Being present. Offering forgiveness and forgiving others.
Now I would gently say, provide some to you. Show and give to others but also provide a little grace to yourself now and again. Give yourself a break. Recognize that it’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to get bogged down but know that you are worth it. That you are more than you even realize. That these feelings are temporary. And that this too will pass.
Thank you for providing us with Grace. And showing us the meaning behind it.
I am fortunate to have a friend that resides with her family in D.C. We have been friends now for 30 years. We don't talk weekly or even monthly but we pick up each time we get together right where we left off.
The boys and I were fortunate enough to get to visit her and her family this past week. The week was full of so many rich experiences.
I didn't anticipate what the city would entail for Lucas or how much he would quickly fall in love with the history. Every day he exhibits more and more of his dad. At every Smithsonian he wanted me to read every plaque. If you've been to a Smithsonian you know that is simply not possible. I strolled along with him laughing inside my head. The last time I was in D.C. was with Daniel and I can remember dragging him onward. He wanted to read everything! Enthusiasm is great but come on?!
We walked over to the Lincoln memorial and Lucas wanted to know why Abraham Lincoln was a statue. I thought, not for the first time, your dad would be so much better at answering these questions than I am. I stumbled through an answer about the 16th president and his role with the Civil War and then proceeded to explain that we would read the plaques! The question following was why doesn't daddy have a statue if he’s dead too? People who are statues have done really important things for America. Hmm- really, that's what I came up with?
Our first stop on our last day in D.C. was to Arlington. This was an interesting experience for the boys but one that I believed was important. I always enjoy going and wanted to share that with them. The conversation generated from that trip however was one of graves and markers and the newly introduced topic of cremation. Lucas and Reed have seen Daniel’s urn. They have asked what’s in the beautifully carves box however I have glossed over the topic feeling that we weren’t ready to address it. This week however was a different story as Daniel chose to be cremated. I answered Lucas’s questions as directly as I could. It was another of those moments when I thought, Am I adding more traumas to them? Was this the right decision?
I over analyze myself and my actions so much I drive myself a little crazy. It’s unnecessary. "Only you know what you can handle," was advice given to me recently.
Sometimes generic thoughts such as these frustrate the hell out of me. Do I really know what I can handle? I believe that implies that you have hit the mother lode, that at some point you have broken down and all of a sudden you know you can't take anymore.
While I teeter on that edge much more often than not, I'm not sure that I am aware of that limit. I continue to add to my plate as though I have not eaten in weeks.
What's the alternative? To say no? What if I like saying yes? What if I enjoy taking it on? What does it say about me if I like to pile it on? That I cannot relax? That I’ve forgotten to enjoy things?
Possibly, more likely, probably.
Life is a series of choices as my mother would say. And she's correct- it's all about choices. A series of choices and actions that are often guided by a desire to do well, progress and provide but with little direction. I frequently read the signs but are they suggestions provided to us or are they factual?
I think we are all driven by these like minded goals. Trying to make choices for ourselves and our families and trying to achieve goals. Sometimes, and yes I’m talking to myself, we need to take a breath. We need to stop chasing what is in front of us and enjoy the moment.
Hit the reset button.
I am. I'm releasing my mommy guilt. I’m releasing my I ate chocolate chip cookies last night guilt. I am releasing the I work too much guilt. Thank you for the advice of me only knowing what I can handle. You are right. And life is all about choices. I think the important thing here is that even when you make the wrong choices or feel as though you are lead astray hit the reset button.
I do and I am.
On my morning jaunt today Bob Seger came on. The saxophone intro of “Turn the Page” vibrated off my apartment walls. I couldn’t hide my smile.
I am in fact ready to turn my own page. I am ready. I have my big girl pants on and I am ready to do this. What in the world am I referring to? The unknown. The wild and exciting world of dating. A world that I haven’t been a part of since the early 2000’s. I can hardly compare my college dating days, if you would even qualify them as that, with dating in my 30’s as a widowed single parent of two.
I’ve debated sharing this part of my life through my blog, going back and forth with the pros and cons, however if you follow my column on Bizwomen you are already aware that the journey has indeed begun.
Because Daniel was sick and his death was not sudden this was something we were able to talk about. I won’t share his words, because those were between us but I know that he wanted this for me and for us as a family. I feel as though it has taken two years to climb out of the abyss. Two years to get my shit together and figure out how to move forward with life. To recognize that I can indeed dance on my own, but really who wants to do that?
I sat down to look at Daniel’s third video blog and posted it on Weebly today under "Daniel's journey". It is worth ten minutes of your time. Daniel was so grateful in life. He was absolutely gracious to everyone. I watched and I didn’t cry today. From his words, I’m about out of them. I yearned a bit for him but what I took away, what my biggest lesson was is that life is not a dress rehearsal and I can no longer be sad.
I am learning to regain control and grab hold. Grab hold of what I want. This is not however happening without faltering steps. Dating is like learning to ride a bike all over again. Actually, it’s more basic than that. It’s like learning to walk.
I’ve been on a few dates. I’ve toddled those first few steps, fallen down, gotten frustrated, felt like crying, and wanted to throw in the towel. A few awkward moments, a few bizarre men, however are not enough to make me give up on the male species in general. Meeting new people has made me feel alive again. Made me recognize that I am ok alone but not fulfilled. The flip side is that I’ve felt as though I was cheating on Daniel. How can I cheat on someone who's not here though? I can’t and I’m not. I’m simply living again.
A friend of mine recently told me you only have one great love. Really? Are you telling me my great love has come and gone? I can’t possibly believe that. We as human beings are capable of loving many in a lifetime. We already share love with our children and families, our friends. Why not with more than one partner? Those who’s marriages end for whatever reason should not be told that they must be alone for the rest of their lives. One of life’s greatest joys is walking alongside someone else. Sharing all those moments, big and small, together. I simply do not believe we only have one person to do that with.
Someone else told me not to share my blog with men I may decide to date. Why? Why would I not want to share my life with someone new? There will be a confident man out there who is not afraid of my past, of my first husband, regardless of how much we all canonize him today. We cannot change our pasts. This was not something I chose in life but it is a large part of who I am and who my children are. We cannot predict the future. We can however choose to do now. I can choose life. I choose happiness. I choose to love again. I may to toddling at the moment, but I have no doubt that I will soon be off and running again.
Afternoons are all pretty similar. Cease working. Pick up Lucas. Pick up Reed. Repeat.
When you drop off in the mornings you give a big hug, remind your children to please make good choices and to have a great day. Drop offs are easy these days. Picking up can sometimes present a different challenge. I always search for the teacher praying I will receive a smile in return, direct eye contact and not raised eye brows or heaven forbid an eye roll. Raised eye brows or a determined stride in your direction usually indicates that my boys haven’t had the best day and may not have made the best choices today. These days are far and few between but I still walk in with a sense of anticipation each day because they do in fact occur.
Today I get smiles at both schools. I empty their “boxes” labeled with each of their names. Their boxes are filled with tons of fantastic artwork, daily sheets and homework. A deep sigh of relief is released as we head to the car together. A good night is bound to ensue at home. Both boys are talking up a storm as they climb in their seats. I quickly flip through their papers and my throat catches. I’m stunned. My mind is whirling. A tinge of anger percolates. I am not going to cry. I am going to take a deep breath and think.
What in the world has me so upset?
Reed, our 3.5 year old has made a family tree today at school. His tree has included three branches, “Mommy, Lucas and Reed.” I am devastated. I show him his picture while I’m driving and begin a conversation that I do not want to have. “I love your tree! Who’s on your tree?” He quickly responds appropriately with mommy, Lucas and Reed. I gently ask if he wanted to include daddy. He simply stares at me in return. Lucas, our overly talkative child, chimes right in. “Why don’t you have daddy? Do you not remember him? Mom can show you pictures. He lived with us. He’s just not here right now because he died.” Silence from the other side of the car.
Where is my manual? What is the best course of action here? This is parenting 101, otherwise known as there is no damn manual. My tears stay hidden. I tell Reed I love his picture. In my head, I am screaming. I am crying and I am frustrated. The frustration is becoming more prevalent these days as the boys recognize what they are missing. As they begin to understand that their family is different than their peers. I take a deep breath, hold in the emotion and drive us home.
It is insane that their perspectives of our life can be so different. My eldest child will always include his father and anyone else that may choose to join our family. I believe my youngest child’s tree will always look the same, regardless of our situation. Part of that is the difference in their personalities but mainly it is because Reed's memories at this time are gone. He no longer remembers the most important man in a child’s life. He no longer remembers his dad. He has after all, been gone over half of his life now.
When death occurs unfortunately many things begin to shift. Not necessarily for the worst but also not always for the best. The best people in my life continue to speak of my husband. They acknowledge the loss but also acknowledge the man he was. Sadly this is not the majority. People continually avoid talking about Daniel, even two years later. They won’t even whisper his name, as if that small feat would bring the wrath of hell down upon them.
Small talk occurs at work, amongst neighbors, even among family members, but everyone pretends he simply never existed. Please acknowledge the elephant in the room. We all know he is not invisible. And yes I am completely aware that my husband is dead. As if I will ever be able to forget that.
The loss of my husband changed me as a person. I am no longer the woman I once was and will never be the same. For friends and family, many may not see the changes as positive. That is okay. I take responsibility. For those of you that I have lost touch with, know it’s not you, it's me. My perspectives on life, on choices, on the way I spend my time are different now.
It was so extremely difficult to feel good again. The guilt of participating in any activities at all brought so much heavy burden after his death. I remember not being able to read after the loss. To many, not reading is probably a ridiculous thing. To me, however, books have always been a big part of my life, one of my great loves. A way to get lost and enjoy “me” time. I had lost the ability to live.
I am however finding my voice again, finding my breath. Learning how to participate in life again, albeit without him.
In our recent move many people kept asking me how I was doing it, why was I choosing to do things on my own. Such a simple question to others with a not so simple answer. I was working through my grief. Physical labor has been a saving grace for me. I had a few helpers here and there but I had to box up our life. I had to close that chapter on my own.
During the move friends talked to me about being careful with my “nice” furniture. Let me be clear in stating its just furniture. Furniture. I don't care what we paid for it. I don’t care how nice it is. These dressers and chest of drawers are simply vessels for our belongings. If you dropped the dresser with me outside on the sidewalk or dented something, trust me, it’s not a big deal. I even forgive the one that busted the 4000 piece Death Star that Daniel and I both spent weeks constructing. Its just stuff. Stuff that can be replaced. Stuff that fills space.
That is perspective. Perspective from someone who has experienced significant trauma. My husband died. My best friend was taken from me. My children grieve every day. I promise, I don't give a shit about scratching my dresser. It's simply a piece of furniture. And yes I acknowledge I am a different person today. You are correct in recognizing that my demeanor, my thoughts and who I am has changed. My perspective is now what it is and I promise its not you. Its Me.
How can your life be reduced to boxes? Boxes filled with stuff. Stuff associated with memories.
I have been fine. I have been fine dammit.
Fine until I emptied my closet. Why does this closet have so much power over me? Maybe because it has become my sanctuary and my safe spot.
I stand in the closet and my shoulders quake. Why do I feel an overwhelming sense of leaving you behind? All these things flash through my mind.
The night we moved in. I was 28 weeks pregnant with Reed and you and everyone else that was here were getting on my nerves so I refused to go to dinner. I needed space. I needed peace. None of you were surprised.
I remember you all coming home and just standing there staring at all that I had accomplished. It still makes me smile.
The play set. I sat in the swing tonight and flew as high as I could, reaching for you. The amount of curse words that flew from your mouth during that building process is unheard of, but wow were you proud to say you built thing from several flat boxes. The boys have cherished every single moment on that structure, thanks to you. We sat together and swung on the very swings together after your diagnosis.
Your space upstairs. Your chair. Our couch. Your fish. Your television that is older than hell but I still chose to move because it was your first purchase over ten years ago and I remember how proud you were of that purchase.
I mowed the final time yesterday as well and you know what, the weed eater started on the first pull. I left the yard as you wanted it. As you always had it. I will never forget shoveling seven tons of rock with you. We were both proud of that adventure and you were right it looked amazing.
Damn the closet. I turned up the music and slid to the ground searching for my breath. Slowly your things have been moved, boxed, donated. The closet held your clothes. The closet held my hand. The closet kept me upright and was my haven for the past two years.
I am leaving this home that was ours. I am leaving our space and our memories. I am however not leaving you. You will come with us and surround us in our new home. We will never be without your presence and thank you for our future.
So long River Lake Court.
Meet the Author (me)
Driven by a need to help others. I have known from a young age that this is what I wanted to do. This is my very real, somewhat sarcastic, look into my newfound widowhood. I hope this site will help you as much as it helps me.