There are times

When the span of the five years that it’s been feels like nothing. There are times when it hurts almost like it did during those first few weeks. Even now, there are days that I have to fight to be “fine” when inside it feels like I’m crumbling.

There are nights when the silence of my life now, alone, is painful in how loud it is to me. Evenings when the sheer vast void left by loss is so heavy that it weighs me down, It feels smothering, taking my breath and with it my will to move or even think.

There are moments when I crave the release that I know I could find in a bottle or some pills but I know that what I run from will still be there after. Sometimes I don’t care though. There are times that the numb that exists in that space is safety and I go there.

There are times like tonight that I hate myself for feeling this – still – again. Times that I hear the voice in my head screaming at how I need to just suck it up and stop allowing myself to even acknowledge the loss and the pain that lives with that loss. It’s been FIVE years the voice screams. You want it to not be reality? Well, it is – the voice sneers.

There are times that my anger at all of this is ravenous and demanding. Anger that feels like it is spinning, searching, looking for destruction to spend its rage through. There are times that I wrestle with my anger to find a path for it to flow through. Times that the deep, rich red of the path that it is given matches its intensity. And it is both sad and beautiful in its calmness as it quiets itself in that surrender of release.

There are times that I lose the fight to be “better”, the fight to be further along with grieving  – whatever the fuck that means. There are times when I can’t be “fine” and all I can do is let it out finally.

There are times when the hole that is left from the loss feels like a canyon and I am lost in its vastness.

There are times, like tonight, when it feels dark and cold and alone.

During these times, like tonight, I know that the voice is wrong. I know that the hurt IS bearable and that it IS NOT always going to be as dark as it feels right this moment.

There are times though, that the distance between knowing and being able to believe those truths is massive.

 

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Top 10 If I Knew Then

A while after my son died, his father asked me if I thought that it would ever really get “better” like the parents in his grief support group said it would. At the time I said I thought so , but to be honest, I wasn’t sure. Actually, I didn’t believe that it would at all, but I thought that sounded too pessimistic so I said sure it would.

Five years down the road now myself and that conversation is on my mind again tonight.

I’m not someone who is willing to tell anyone what they want to hear if it’s not true so, in answer to “does it get better?”….

“Better” is a word that is clung to by those who are hurting and want to have hope that the pain they feel, in that moment, will go away. “Better” is an ethereal concept that, whether they admit it or not, insinuates that there is an end to grief and the pain of the loss they are feeling.

Sorry, spoiler alert here: “Better” doesn’t happen like that.

If I could share anything, it would be this – let go of looking to when you won’t hurt anymore. Forget about when you will have a day that you don’t cry, or rage, or hate. This is with you for good; in some form or another, this will be carried by you for the rest of your life. How that looks though is different than the “Better” that we think it should look like.

Just like the good things that happen in our lives help to shape us and stay with us, so do the not-so-great experiences. Like deaths of loved ones…and that’s just the way it is.

For myself, “Better” is seeing the things I have learned as the last five years have passed.

My son’s death has shown me that I have a darker sense of humour than I ever thought I did and also that sometimes you do have to laugh or you’ll go crazy. (There’s a funny story about my son’s ashes, a hard corner and a seat belt that I’ll tell another time…well, I find it funny 😉 )

So, not sugar-coated and not all Pollyanna and happy, but here are my top 10 things that death and grief has shown me:

  1. That a heart can keep beating even after you are certain it has been destroyed.
  2. That you can survive what you never imagined that you could.
  3. That tears have no end.
  4. That time does not heal all wounds, but it will soften the edges of the pain.
  5. That grief is a tangible entity, and it is heavy.
  6. That even in the midst of the worst darkness, you can find something to laugh at…. sometimes,and that it’s ok when you can’t.
  7. That when you don’t know how you will keep going, you will. Hope doesn’t always look like we think it will, and that’s all right.
  8. I have learned that asking “Why?” may be pointless, but you will anyways, over and over again.
  9. I have learned that you will never forget.
  10. I have learned that life does go on, and it will never be like it was…but that doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t be good.

Bonus point 11.

I have come to understand how a person can hurt so much that they would rather just not wake up the next day. I have learned that you will be glad that you did make it through that night to see the next day. You will learn to live with the grief.

 

The day before

It was five years ago this evening; the last time that I saw Willie alive.

People tend to focus on the day that someone died when they look back on the passing of someone they have lost. I know I do. February 1st 2012. That was the day that Willie died. That day and the memory of it are something that I live with every day since.

What still catches me off guard though is how much the anniversary of the day before hurts. It was the last day that life didn’t include this pain of his death.

That was the day that everything seemed to be on the upswing, small as that arc was at the time. January 31st was the day that I got great news about getting Willie settled for school in a program that would allow him the flexibility needed to work with schooling and continuing to try to manage his mental health issues. I had a just finished unpacking from a move and was starting to feel like we could settle in there. It was a day that my schedule at work had run on track and I was feeling optimistic that life, as it had been, was starting to “normalize” finally. After a few months of chaos and more stress than I ever thought a person could live through, that day felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Willie had an appointment that day with a new therapist who was going to be working with him on some behavioural therapy methods and he was agreeable to the idea – that alone was a comfort. I had sat and watched him and his youngest brother play together in the waiting room while Willie waited for his appointment time. I remember whispering to his Dad, who came along that day, how neat it was to see him laughing and smiling again. I felt hopeful.

Hopeful, even though there had been glimpses of what still was inside of him – even that afternoon. As I picked him up and we drove to the appointment, I blithered on about the school and the options and how great it was that it was taking shape the way we needed it to. He nodded and mumbled “It doesn’t matter”. His face was turned away from me as he went on to explain that he was happy that I was excited but that it just didn’t matter – he wasn’t going to be around. “I know it’ll be hard at first but it’s for the best for everyone – and for me.” was what he said to me. As we pulled into the parking lot I finished my response of telling him he was wrong… that a day with him not around would never be a “better day”. I told him to stop talking like that – that we were seeing someone new and that it would get better… I told him to hold on and to have hope – to believe that it would get better. He shrugged and said “yeah” and I knew, even then, that I couldn’t promise him that it would all work out. I wanted to, but he wasn’t stupid – neither was I, so I just told him to promise me that he wouldn’t give up. I’ll never forget that he never answered me on that one. He just started out the window.

After the appointment, as we stood outside the building and said our goodbyes before he left with his Dad for a dinner out to one of his favourite place, he was different than he had been the last few months. He stooped down to say goodbye to his little brother. He hugged him and said |love you, little buddy” and messed up his hair a bit to annoy him as he laughed. I grinned and thought how great it was to see him being so affectionate and so happy again. I remember thinking to myself that it was all going to be okay, that he looked like himself again.

I moved towards him to hug him and he backed up, away from me. I didn’t push it and just said “love you, I’ll call you in the morning”. He looked away, said “yup” and turned to leave.

That was it.

The next time I would see my son, it would be in the morgue at Vancouver General.

I drive past that place when I go visit his brothers now. Most times, I take a back street and a different route, out of my way, to avoid having to pass by it. It hurts too much to glance and see the spot where he stood.

Today, 5 years later, as the hour approaches the time that I last said goodbye to him, I see the sun starting to dip and the light starting to fade and it all comes back to me and I remember him and I miss him.

Yes you can, and you will

For those who lose someone and think they can’t go on.

 

A comment that I read on social media today made me actually speak out loud to my computer. It was a comment that someone made on a thread that was discussing the latest celebrity passing. Debbie Reynolds, having just lost her daughter Carrie Fisher the day before, had passed away and this person expressed her belief this way: “I would die after burying my child too.”. The words “No you wouldn’t” flew out of my mouth. There may have even been a hand gesture at the screen. Ok, more than maybe. There was, and it was dismissive.

I can absolutely understand this sentiment that this person stated. Losing a child is regarded as the worst thing that can happen to a parent – and it does indeed suck in a huge way like nothing else – and that is an understatement of epic proportions! However, like all things in life that we don’t think we can live through, we do. Trust me on this one, sometimes you wish you wouldn’t make it, but you do.

Having been there myself, there were many time that I wished that I would just not wake up the next morning. Actually, more than wishing, I  wanted that. The option of waking up every day and feeling as horrendously as I did that first little while was not an option that I wanted. Nope, not even one little bit. Being healthy and generally ok physically though, I did keep waking up everyday. Waking up and still hurting so badly that I felt like I would die. Waking up and hurting so badly that I wished I would die so it would end. Not because I didn’t want to live, but because I didn’t want to live like I was – having lost my son.

Those wishes didn’t come true though. Not in the way that I wanted then, but they have come true in some manner.

I don’t wake up every day hurting as much as I did in that first while. Some days I do, and I would be lying if I said that it never hurts like that anymore. It does – and it always will, I think. It didn’t kill me though and it won’t.

I remember a conversation that I had with my sons father about a couple of months after our son died. At the time we were getting together to talk and share our grief (we had been divorced for many years). He asked “What if it never gets better? What if it never gets easier to live with? What if all those parents who have lost children who say it gets easier are lying? What if how it feels right now is how it’s always going to feel?” I assured him that he was wrong; that of course it would get easier, blah blah blah. The truth was that I didn’t know if it would and how I felt then, I sure didn’t believe it myself. I also knew that he needed to hear that his fears were unfounded. So that was what I told him. For the record, I don’t think he believed me.

Almost five years later now and I can say that, for me, grief has become something that is manageable – most days. I can’t speak for him and we haven’t talked in awhile so I’m not sure how he’s doing to be honest. I can say though that, now, I do believe that those parents who say it gets easier to live with, probably aren’t lying. Does it get “Better” with a capital B? Mmmmm, that’s not something I can answer because that concept (to me) infers that the “issue” is resolved, and death is one issue that won’t ever be reversed or resolved. So I’ll leave “Better” up to each person’s interpretation.

I can say though that when you lose someone and you’re thought is “I can’t live, I can’t go on”, I want to remind you that “Yes you can, you will”.

Can a person die of a broken heart? I believe they can in some ways. Debbie Reynolds was 84 and yes, it is very likely that the stress and shock of her daughter’s death tripped the wire that was holding her in this life.

Can a person choose not to live because of a broken heart?  Yes, and that’s worse than them dying because of it, in my opinion.

You can’t choose to not hurt, but you can choose to hurt and live anyways.

Yes, you can, and you will.

The Impact That We Have

You never know how something you say can affect a person. This is one story of that truth.

I was back at work for the first time since my son had died. I worked, managing a fitness facility on-site in a corporate environment. My job was one where I saw the same people, day in and day out. I was at a number of sites with the company that I worked for, but this day I was at what was one of my “home sites”. A place that I had been at for over 6 years and one that I knew everyone by name. Aside from managing the site, I also worked the desk, taught classes, did one on one training sessions with clients and generally was around, a lot. My nature is one of being very open and sharing. I talked about my kids and life and connected with the people in the gym. They shared about their lives and kids and spouses and the usual banter was always ongoing. Many of the people in my facility were more than just clients in a sense, I had known them so long and we had shared so much. I may be an introvert but I love connecting and I loved my job and my sites.

I had missed work and even though I knew I wasn’t up to teaching, I wanted to get back to trying to have some sense of normal after Willie passed. So, about a month after, this was my first time back. The plan was for me to come in for a few hours and just see how it went.

Just before the lunchtime rush started, the first few regulars started to trickle in. There was the awkward, not-sure-whether-to-ignore-the-obvious encounters. I smiled and went along with it. There were the openly almost weeping sad, pitying faces that I hated more than anything at that time (and still do). I hugged and cringed inside and got them on their way.

Then there was one of the regulars, I am going to call him Sam. Sam was someone who was quiet and polite. He had been a regular and we knew each other by name. We had chit chatted but he had never been really talkative beyond the standard level of polite conversation. He generally kept to himself and, while never rude, was never one to actively reach out to start a conversation either.

This day he came in and walked to the desk to sign in before going to get changed and start his work out. He was clearly a bit taken aback to see me and he smiled and said hi, like he always did and he signed in. He paused a bit but then just turned and went into the change-room. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding and realized that maybe this was not such a great idea to have come into work.

A few minutes later, Sam comes out, towel and iPod in hand. He starts to walk past the desk then stops and turns back. He asks if he can talk to me for a minute, in private.

What Sam shared with me with was this: He didn’t know details, just that my son had died, by suicide. He didn’t want to know details or what had happened. He just wanted to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. He said that ever since he had heard, he had wanted to reach out but wasn’t sure if he should. He shared that he had been a teen that had struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. He had wanted to die. His parents had told him how much they loved him and how it would get better and that he would be okay. He told me that, in those times, it didn’t matter to him what his parents said. What anyone said. He said that he made it out of that and he is alive and glad that he didn’t kill himself. He said that what I needed to know was that it had nothing to do with his parents. That they didn’t stop him, they didn’t help, they didn’t impact it. That if he had killed himself, it would not have been because of lack of them trying or it not being “enough”. He wanted me to know that he had been how my son had been. He wanted me to know that it wasn’t my fault.

He was shaking and holding back tears while he talked to me. We both were. He shrugged and ended with a simple “there was nothing you could have done, it’s not your fault” and he walked away.

I was more touched by this than he could have known. He probably still doesn’t know.

He wasn’t someone saying they knew how I felt… he was someone sharing how the other side of this loss felt, in a way that I hadn’t thought of.

I can’t imagine what it took for him to open up and share that part of himself. I hope he knows, somehow, just how much it meant to me, and how much it still does.

The connections we make and have mean more than we are aware of at times. We may think that a kind word or action (or a harsh one) has no impact but we are wrong. Don’t hesitate to reach out, it just may make a difference more profound than you imagine.

Thank you “Sam”, and I’m glad you made it too.

The Impossibility of What They Demand

They rest inside me, deeply, persistent in their demands for release.

Monsters of thoughts and emotions that are dark with the density they possess.

The weight of them suffocating me lately.

The days fly by in a flurry of avoidance and boundaries of sanity.

The evening hours tick grossly by – second by second with the heaviness of it all.

The monsters – the thoughts – the emotions – form into words, and then sentences in my mind.

Filling volumes of expression that careen around inside of me.

They exhaust me so deeply there that I have nothing left with which to give them voice.

So they continue their dance inside of me.

Ever faster and more frantic they dance to their drums.

Boundaried only by the confines of my weariness.

By my inability to let them find footing and leap outward in the words that they demand be written.

They draw in all the energy I have, consuming it entirely.

All the energy that it would take for me to set them free.

So they stay where they are.

Thunderous in the silence they create.

Just One Picture

Can a person who is hurting and living with grief still laugh and feel joyful? Absolutely. Can that person cry and feel like never getting out of bed again? Absolutely.

Why is it that it’s encouraged and supported to relive and carry with us “good” memories but we are quietly (or not so quietly) nudged to let go and move on from the “bad” ones.

Take pictures of that awesome vacation and the hikes and the milestones that everyone is smiling at. Remember those times in your life blah blah blah.

But grief…loss…death? Oh dear, it’s bad to hold onto that. Don’t dwell on it. Let it go and move on with your life. Don’t let that shape how you see life now. Put it behind you and live your life.

Well guess what? All of those amazing experiences and those happy times are inside of me and helped make me who I am today – and so are all of the not so happy times in my life. Joy and hurt can exist in the same body and mind. At the same time.

Why is it ok for me to talk about a great family vacation and laugh as I remember the ridiculous events and the fun, but when I talk about how it felt to leave my son behind in an emergency psych unit, I get told that bringing it up will just make the grief last longer? Life is made up of laughter AND tears. Trust me on this one, not feeling hurt doesn’t mean that all you feel is joy. If you have lost – or pushed away – the ability to feel hurt, than what’s left is not just joy. It’s apathy and emptiness. As bad as grief can be and as badly as it can hurt, I’ll keep letting myself feel it because it means that I can also feel the swing side of it. There was too long after Willie died that I was numb. I’ve learned over the last two years that starting to feel “good” things again – happiness, love, sensuality and silliness – meant letting in the “bad” that I had been hiding away. I can’t move forward without bringing it all  with me.

Like a picture that hangs on the wall, grief is just there in my life. It isn’t the only picture on my wall and it isn’t all that my life is, like it was at first, but I know now that it will always be there.

It’s always present but I don’t always look at it or even really see it sometimes. Some days I go by and barely notice it. Other days, it’s all I can see on that wall. Its presence doesn’t affect what goes on in the room though. There are days that I cry and rage and scream there. There are other days that I laugh and make love and giggle in that room. Some days the room is quiet and mellow while some days the noise can be deafening.

My life is like that room. So much more than just one picture among the many that adorn its walls. It’s a combination of everything that’s there and all the things that will be brought in still as I experience and live my life. There’s always room for more.

Adding on and growing and with every new addition, it changes and becomes…. and is Life.