HOLIDAY SEASON 2015
So, I got sort of stuck here. I had hoped to be further along by now, but, alas, this was not to be. I am going to be skipping around a bit now. It will likely be a mix between the order I was going in, and some thoughts from the present. If I ever do a book, I’ll clean this up, but for now, I need to just let it rip how it comes. For now, it’s gonna come sort of willy-nilly.
If there is one thing I have learned in the last 17 months, it is that you apparently cannot die of a broken heart. There are times where it hurts so badly, you wish it could, in fact, release you from this life. But it can’t. If it could, I would be long since gone.
I have also come to realize that I no longer fear death. I do, however, have some healthy, and maybe some not-so-healthy, fears about life. And I don’t know if this is true for others that have lost children, but I no longer fear death. I can’t lie; some moments it seems like it will be a great relief, to be honest. But since I am clearly meant to be here without my child, I try to make the most of it, for my other child, as well as myself, and others. This is sometimes surprisingly easy. This is sometimes hard. This is sometimes scary as hell. I’ve recently come out of my most “scary-as-hell” period. I wouldn’t wish it on another living soul.
Beyond the grief, beyond the sadness, beyond the shock, the regret, the heaviness of heart, and the just overall devastation, the loss of a child is just so incredibly disorienting. I can think of no better way to describe it. Disorienting. It is, hands down, the most disorienting experience I have ever had. It feels like you are on really, really, really bad drugs all of the time, and you can’t come down. Some moments, it might be more precise to say, “You can’t come up.” I can’t really put my finger on exactly what makes it so disorienting, I guess because, hey, I just said the experience is disorienting, and disoriented people can’t put their finger on shit. It doesn’t stop me trying, however, so I suppose that I’m on a bit of a fool’s errand.
I think that one thing that makes it so disorienting for me personally is that I have one child here, and one child, well, elsewhere. I can’t see, touch, taste, hear or smell her. I have, at times, felt her. Just a couple of times, and I cannot tell you how badly I wanted those moments to freeze so I could relish them a bit. I obviously have my girl here that needs my care and attention. And one could say that Alice, she no longer needs my care and attention. But how do I know that for sure? As I have said before, your maternal instinct does not just conveniently shut down after your child dies. At least mine did not. It reminds of some video I once saw of an animal, I think it was a dog, trying to care for it’s dead pup. The urge to do something to care for your child is still incredibly overwhelming, except, there is no child, here, to care for. I have done things to care for her in her absence. I have done things to care for her memory: this blog; the Agastock Memorial Concert I held for her to raise money for more therapists to be trained in EMDR therapy; the altar I made for Alice that Grace helps care for; the donation of Alice’s toys to her friends and the places she went to daycare. Etc.
Just last week, I dreamt of her—and I have only dreamt about her a handful of times — and in the dream I was caring for her. I was doing simple stuff, like putting her straw in her juice box, and I was so happy. I was just SO happy to be doing basic tasks for her, even though the dream world looked all dark and doomsday-like and there was clearly some catastrophe happening all around us. I have prayed many times to see her in my dreams, and 99 percent of nights, I do not. But when I did dream of her, I was simply caring for her. And I was happy.
I named this blog “Mothering in Memoriam” on a lark, really. It just came to me, and I went with it, because I needed to get it going, and it seemed good enough. But it was a good call, in retrospect. Because of all the things that are hard about losing a child, trying to figure out what to do with a mothering instinct that did not die along with your child is one of the harder things to manage.
And then, you have to balance the instinct to mother the child presumably above, with the instinct to mother the child who is very much still here. You walk between worlds, in a way, like a Shaman. Like a broken-hearted, untrained, Shaman. The world where Alice now resides is completely unknown to me, so that has inherent problems. The world where Grace is, I presumably know, but in the aftermath of losing my other child, I find myself wondering how much I really know about this world, so that has its own inherent problems. So, you walk like a broken-hearted Shaman between two worlds that both seem foreign. Sound disorienting? It is. It also leaves me feeling somewhat inadequate to do any mothering at all. I mean, I think most parents feel inadequate as parents sometimes anyway, but losing a kid to an unknown cause will really spark up your feelings of inadequacy.
And you know what? I didn’t even know, really, that I was suffering from feelings of inadequacy until I just wrote that.
But it certainly puts my previous three weeks into perspective, now that I know I am suffering from feelings of inadequacy.
HOLIDAYS, MY ASS
The holiday season KICKED. MY. ASS. I mean, really kicked my ass. I was in the worst shape I have been in since the week she died. In some ways, I was worse, actually. In the beginning, I was in shock, and shock spares you some pain, let’s face it. The last few weeks were scary. Really scary. But it was too big to fight. It was just clearly so much bigger than me. I have found you just have to sort of release into it, lean into it, and then it goes away faster. Well, it usually does. The last weeks, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. And that, my friends, is scary shit.
In retrospect, I think that this rough patch was a perfect storm of many factors that I will tick off here, and explain later: holidays, a birthday, no time off work, a particularly tough stage with Grace, and learning that a friend of a friend lost his daughter to suicide. Throw in some regular, though substantial, everyday life problems, a wound from a friendship, a divorce and all the changes that accompany a divorce, and it’s enough to start a grief wave, I guess.
A dear friend of mine that found his only daughter dead three years ago, told me last Christmas, “I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. It gets harder.” I prayed to God that would not be true for me. But, I am starting to see what he means 17 months into this. I would say minute-to-minute, maybe even day-to-day, is easier for me, but the downs are REALLY DOWN. When I have a down day now, it nearly levels me. They are fewer and farther between overall, I would say, but they hurt more. Way more. And there is far less support coming in 17 months later than there is right after. Naturally. This is to be expected. But, when I get support now, when I say it saves my ass, I mean it. It saves my ass.
I used to love the holidays, and part of me still does. But now they feel like something I survive. Barely. I was at my stepsister Sarah’s house for Thanksgiving when a wave of grief hit. She asked me what about the holidays were harder than other days. And you know, I can’t really answer that, because I have no idea. I did not expect Thanksgiving to be particularly hard. We don’t have big traditions around Thanksgiving. Traditions leave you really noticing that someone is missing. But they can also keep you going, I guess, because others that love you are involved in the traditions.
I do know that when big waves of grief come over me, they aren’t thought –based. It isn’t like I’m sitting there thinking, “If Alice were here, she’d be…” or anything like that. Before I lost a child, I would have bet a good deal of money that if I did lose a child, I would really spend a lot of time thinking “if she were here, she would be doing xyz,” but I don’t. No idea why, but I don’t. She was two years old. And I spend very little time extrapolating beyond that. This surprises me. So, it is hard to say what brings on the grief at the times it chooses to come up. It is like you harbor this being called grief inside you, and though you know it’s there, mostly it allows you to function normally. But every once in a while, it pops out behind you, takes over, and knocks you flat out on your ass. You don’t even see it coming. You can’t, because it resides within. My MIND feels ready and wrapped around what is to come from day to day, even in the throes of a wave of grief. But my body, it has other ideas. For me, a grief wave starts as purely physical, then becomes emotional, and may or may not become mental.
When a wave of grief comes, I know because I wake up with a pit in my stomach. That is almost uniformly my first clue. The grief, for me, is very, very physical. Emotional. It is not mental at all. So, thinking my way out of it doesn’t work. Talking my way out, doesn’t work either, and in fact, can make it worse for me. I suppose this is because talking is basically thinking out loud. Not sure if it is this way for others, but it is definitely that way for me. In a big wave, I get teary easily. I feel a pit in my stomach and an actual heartache. I feel an emptiness sometimes. I feel physical tension. During some waves, I feel a great deal of physical tension and soreness, like I got into a fistfight and lost. I get overwhelmed easily, in a big wave. I become forgetful if it is a “big one.” I had quite a memory before all this, but I have done things like lost my keys and left the car lights on so many times in the last 17 months, I’m surprised they haven’t revoked my AAA card. Some waves leave me feeling breathless like I felt right after she died. Sometimes I experience anxiety amongst crowds. During a big wave, I nearly always have a strong urge to get quiet and reflective. The grief, for me is so physical, it’s as if my body is saying, “I know your mind has this under control, but this is big stuff, sister, and you need to sit the hell down and rest sometimes.”
If it’s a really bad wave, I have to fight the urge to isolate completely. I suppose this is because of the combination of thinking/talking not feeling helpful, lack of energy, feeling overwhelmed, aversion to crowds, and a fear of being judged. Of course, in the beginning, I didn’t give two hoots who judged me, so not sure if that fear returning is progress or not. I don’t spend a lot of time fretting about who may be judging me. But, every once in a while, I notice. Or someone tells me. I am always shocked. Mostly, because the handful of folks I did find out are judging me harshly are uniformly the same people that can go on an 80 comment Facebook tirade about getting bad service at a restaurant or whom you have heard complain for months on end about a very toxic relationship. When I find out certain folks judge me, I stand there flummoxed and think, “You can’t handle bad service at a restaurant or losing your favorite sweater. You think you are going to rock the loss of a child?” It’s laughable, really. But, in my weaker moments, I’ll admit: It hurts. And in this last rough patch, it made me a bit angry. I hadn’t been angry yet…
So, I turn to focus on my more positive friends.
In the beginning, it was impossible to isolate. So much support was coming in, it was almost overwhelming. And all that support was a very good thing. It’s easier to isolate now. And some days, I really do need to just hole up and rest. But isolating completely is probably a very bad idea. I know I would not advise it to my patients, so I try to follow my own advice. But when the support is not pouring out like it used to, and people get used to you doing well, you have to learn to ask for support when you need it. And that’s really hard, because it’s very difficult to be vulnerable and fragile, and even harder to admit that you are vulnerable and fragile. I am learning, but it is not easy, and I am never comfortable doing it. If I ask you for support, you can rest assured I really need it, and that I have likely hemmed and hawed for hours, or even days, before rustling up the courage to ask for it. Asking for support when vulnerable leaves one feeling even more vulnerable. And we aren’t really living in a society that supports vulnerability. In the last 17 months, many people have said to me, “You are so strong. You are doing great.” Not one person, other than a therapist, has said, “You are really allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and that is really brave. You are demonstrating great strength and doing great.”
As a society, we have a notion of emotional strength that does not really allow for vulnerability; keep your head up, chin up, stiff upper lip, etc. But we also have nearly one quarter of adult women taking medication for a mental or emotional disorder of some kind, according to a 2011 study by Medco (http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/16/news/la-heb-mental-health-20111116). If one quarter of a population is being treated for mental-emotional disorders, is it really mental-emotional disorder, or is it a societal disorder? I’m not slamming people who take these medications, mind you. I know that they can be very helpful to some people. But I also know several people on several medications who are incredibly frustrated because not only do they not feel better, they also suffer many side effects. So, my point remains: if we live in a society where that many people seek pharmaceutical help for mental and emotional problems, would it not be worthwhile to examine what the hell is going on in our society that leads that many people to believe they need that kind of help?
But I digress.
So, as I mentioned, I am learning to not hide when vulnerable, but it ain’t for the faint of heart. And I have found some beauty in vulnerability. And I have learned that I am never stronger than when I am vulnerable, oddly. But it’s a new skill, and I am still not completely confident in this new skill. In the days before the holidays, I called and asked for support, and I got it, and I am ever grateful. My friend Nancy went above and beyond, not only bringing her family here on Christmas Eve so I could have the full house I love, but she also helped me assemble Grace’s new desk until 2 AM on Dec 22nd. Nancy and Mike, Chrislie, Tommy M and Betty, Gillian and Steve, Teresa and Sal all stood by me Christmas Eve, and Janet and Mark hosted Grace and me on Christmas day, and I am profoundly grateful. I’d made it through. Or so I thought.
On Christmas Eve day, a dear friend found out that a family in his circle of friends had suffered a terrible tragedy; a young girl had hung herself. The dad of the girl who committed suicide did CPR on her for 20 minutes, and hearing this sparked recurring images of me doing CPR on Alice. It sparked my feelings of shock, fear, guilt, hopelessness, and yes, inadequacy, that I could not love her back from death. I have heard about many other tragedies in the wake of losing Alice—after you lose a kid, people tend to tell you every story of every child death that comes to their mind — but none of those stories triggered me. This one did. I have no idea why this one did and the others did not. My friend felt bad that he had told me; he could tell that this story sparked my intrusive images, as they call them, before I did. But, you can’t trigger something that isn’t there. Some part of me still has work to do to incorporate those events into my personal narrative in a way that doesn’t cripple me, or it would not have triggered intrusive images. And if there is more work to be done, better sooner than later, because this shit doesn’t just get easier all by itself. The only way through it is through it. Through the shit and the mud and the hurt and the tears.
So, it is a gift, really, that I was triggered. A gift that left me crying in the fetal position for hours and days on end, but a gift nonetheless. And my friend has been so supportive of me throughout my loss — my losses, actually–I would have felt terrible if he hadn’t told me what he was dealing with in his community. And even if he didn’t tell me, nothing my friend can say or do, or not say or not do, can erase the tragedy that struck my family. It happened. I have to deal with it whether I want to or not. I deal with it every single day, but sometimes it hits you bigger and brighter and faster than the speed of light. And like light, it comes at you in waves (or pulses, depending on how long ago you studied physics). Dealing with a giant loss happens layer by layer, like peeling back an onion, tears and all.
I was told, in the beginning, that grief was not linear. Oh, is that ever true. Nothing about it is linear, which, I can actually handle to an extent. A linear path would leave a trail of dead in its wake, I’m sure, because it would feel like there was no end in sight. Each new level of understanding one obtains, every tweak in one’s perspective, takes some time to integrate into one’s consciousness. If grief were linear, there would be no resting place for the integration of all that is being revealed to oneself. And there are so many revelations that come at you after a loss like mine. Revelations of self, of relationships, of society, and even the Creator. It’s heavy stuff coming at you constantly, all the while you still have to deal with all the details of regular life, and sometimes you just need a damn minute.
In the last year, I have looked to the sky and said, “Hey there. I know many people are far worse off than I am, but can I have a minute, please? I need a minute, just a minute, to get my feet under me. I’m going to be more able to serve you, if I can have a darn minute.” Sometimes, I get a minute. I am fortunate to have so many dear people that have gone above and beyond to do all manner of things that helped me get a minute here and there. The fact that grief comes in pulses gives me a minute to rest up, and to assimilate the new feelings, my new perspective. Because your perspective changes in a titanic way, in EVERY WAY, after you lose a child, and that can be very disorienting. The break between the pulses gives you a minute to try to get your feet back under you. The trouble comes when you aren’t expecting the next pulse, or when a pulse is suddenly just so much bigger than the previous ones. Or sometimes, there just might not be much time between pulses, leaving one overwhelmed. That is what happened to me this holiday season, I see now in retrospect.
First of all, I got hit with a pulse of grief AND a wave of PTSD that were far bigger than any of the previous pulses/waves. I had experienced PTSD prior to this. I had experienced waves of grief. But I had not, since she died, dealt with them both in full force, simultaneously. Talk about disorienting. Talk about feeling inadequate. Talk about not feeling able to make toast. And, because the holiday season is so long, I didn’t get a break between the ordinary little pulses. I was simply not expecting this to be the case. I was unprepared. Thoroughly unprepared. Then again, you can’t prepare for something like that, so it perhaps it’s better to be hit by the pulse when you are relaxed and not looking.
In any event, hearing the news of that young girls’ suicide unsettled me, but I was able to function. I worked right through the holidays, hosted 16 people Christmas Eve, built and wrapped presents, and kept myself together for the two-day holiday. I made it through. Or so I thought.
STYMIED AND CRYING
Grace was in a great mood Christmas day and actually brought up Alice quite a bit. I had not been bringing up Alice much with her lately, because Grace has been in a place where she didn’t want to talk about Alice. She said she thought that if I mentioned Alice, it meant I didn’t love Grace. Of course, I explained that this was not the case, and assured her of my undying love for her, but a five-year-old does not so easily digest this, as it turns out. While we opened presents, she looked at me and out of the blue, said, “I miss my sister, Mama.” I was heartbroken and relieved at the same time, because I harbor a fear that Grace will not remember the experience of having a sister. She was only 4 ½ when she died after all. We had a pleasant chat about Alice, and recalled some memories, and I felt really good about that. Or, as good as you can feel about talking about your deceased child.
Later in the day, we went to Janet and Marks for a lovely Christmas dinner with their family. Grace befriended Mark’s 84-year-old brother-in-law Will, and those two had quite a time. She looked at him with adoring eyes, and asked him to read to her, and so, he did. She snuggled up on his lap after dinner and he read to her from Charlotte’s Web, a book she had found on Janet’s bookcase (she had previously brought over a book about the Cotswalds, but Will told her it was a boring grown-up book, so she went back and found another). A few minutes in to the story, Grace sat up, looked him in the eye, and said, “I had a sister. But she died.” She then looked at the floor and said, “But no one knows why she died.” I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. Will acknowledged Grace with empathetic eyes, and then looked at me like “WOW.” Wow, indeed. Grace does not generally tell strangers about her sister. In fact, I cannot think of one other instance where she has done this. I was pretty shocked that she told this man. And it occurred to me that the grown-ups are so busy trying to wrap their heads around an unexplained death that we may have missed that Grace struggled with it as well.
As I said, the last two or three months, she has not wanted to talk about Alice at all, so, I honored that, but I could see now that her wheels still spun the story. And I could see that the holidays bring up grief in Grace too. Her grief was kicked up a notch, and she has no expectations of what Christmas should be like, or who should be there, so it’s not like her expectations were the trigger for her grief. She has only had five Christmases, and only two with a sister, and the last one was two years ago when Grace was three-going-on-four. We did not do the same thing this Christmas that we did last Christmas. She does not have a lot of expectations of what Christmas entails. I was careful not to bring up Alice unless Grace did, so talking about Alice wasn’t the trigger for Grace either. Despite all of that, she felt a pulse of grief too, that was clear. And I cannot tell you how badly I wish that I could change this part of her life story for her. I can’t, though, and so, well, I guess that leaves me with some feelings of inadequacy. And dread. And heartbreak.
The day after Christmas I woke up feeling just annihilated and exhausted and somewhat depressed and physically sore. When I way sore, I mean I was sore on every square millimeter of my body, like someone beat me up in an alley, left me there and I slept on concrete for days after kinda-sore. And, though I knew I was in a bit of a funk that day, it is only in retrospect that I realize how down I was. Only in retrospect do I realize that this was the day my body said, “Nice try, sweetie. You’ve been chugging along, and now, you’re going down, whether you like it or not.” I wasn’t really sure WHY, but I just felt really down. I had made it through the actual holidays pretty well; I hosted a Christmas Eve dinner alone, worked my ass off to give Grace a magical Christmas on a very tight budget, worked one of my busiest work weeks of the year, and kept it together. The fact that I was busy at work over the holidays was good, because I need the work. But, I woke up on the 26th really wishing I had the day off, and that almost NEVER happens to me. I can count the number of times in my current career I found myself not wanting to go to work, and I realize that this makes me very lucky. But, I got Grace off to daycare and off to work I went. I made it through, but I was knackered.
Grace had a tough night that night, the 26th, and speaking of feelings of inadequacy; Grace’s tough days really leave me feeling inadequate. She had an epic meltdown before bed, and once she was down for the night, I started crying and could not stop. I could not stop. I could not move. I washed a couple of dishes and then had to lie down. I put some shoes away, and then had to lie down. This had never really happened to me before. I felt like I was dragging my very unwilling body around the house until I just couldn’t do it anymore, and collapsed on my bed in a pool of tears that didn’t stop for a couple of hours.
I have not cried that long, uninterrupted, since the day after Alice died.
But there were more to come, I could tell. I stocked up on coconut water, because I could feel the dehydration coming on.
I kept thinking about the young girl that committed suicide. I kept thinking of her family. I thought of how guilty I felt after Alice passed and my heart just broke for that girl’s parents, as well for the young girl. Fourteen. Did she even realize the finality of her act? I am not one that believes suicide is an act of selfishness. I see it more as an act of hopelessness. I thought of her Dad doing CPR on her and could not stop seeing myself doing CPR on Alice to no avail. I was sent right back to that day, those moments, so clearly it was hard to believe it wasn’t happening again. “Intrusive images,” they call them.
Intrusive is a freaking understatement, I’d say.
I literally cried myself to sleep. I hadn’t done that in a long time. Months, perhaps.
Saturday was a somewhat better, but I was having trouble reaching the level of productivity I hoped to maintain. Grace enjoyed a play date with Alice’s friend Aria on the next street over. I stayed for part and came home to clean for part. Aria’s parents-Jim and Jen- were kind enough to offer to watch Grace for a spell because they knew I was having a hard time, and I am ever grateful to them. I was able to do more than I had the day before, but I was clearly not myself. I wasn’t able to just tick off my list without stopping. I had to rest after every other task. I was a bit breathless. My body was so incredibly sore, it was hard to concentrate or even hold my head up. I kept going anyway. I just figured I was tired. I wasn’t sure why I was so sore.
I felt on verge of panic attack, but it didn’t really kick in all the way. I had some intrusive images, but not as many as Friday. So, I stupidly thought that by slowing down a bit, I was staving off the beast.
I didn’t sleep well again Saturday night. I had been sleeping fitfully for several days. I had some CRAZY dreams in this dark period of mine. Doomsday dreams, dreams of floating in Space as I watched a friend become untethered and drift off into the endless emptiness, dreams of Alice, dreams of flying, and dreams of doing all manner of seemingly impossible things. I reflected on my space dream of watching my friend slip off into the endless universe and noted that, in the dream, I felt, in equal parts, comfort in being alone, but sad that my chance for any companionship had just slipped away, leaving me solo in a vast dark universe. I had a sex dream so bizarre, so surreal, it lead my friend to advise, “Maybe it’s time to lay off the peyote enchiladas, Deary,” and, “Perhaps you’ve missed your calling, Supa-freak.”
(Mom, I do not eat peyote enchiladas. Or peyote tacos. I do not eat peyote with a mouse. I do not eat peyote in a house.)
Grace woke up Saturday and announced that she was “going to be really nice to you from now on, Mama!” which was good news, because she had been really testing me of late. Some days I just look at her and think, “Can we please just brush the teeth? We do it EVERY DAY. Twice a day. Do you really have to scream about where I stand and if I looked at you when I didn’t know I was supposed to look? Because for that, Mama needs her A-game, and Mama’s A-game is currently unavailable in this market.”
But, I can’t say that, so I have to wing it.
The results vary.
All of her own accord, Grace drew me a picture of how she felt about the meltdown on Friday night. She had placed heart-shaped post it notes on which she had written “I Love You” at each of the four corners. My eyes welled up. We talked about the struggle that night, and what we each could have done better. We hugged for a long time. I felt relieved, but also knackered. And inadequate. So very inadequate.
I had to work on Sunday, which is a usual workday for me. I do not usually have Grace on Sundays, but I did this week, so she went to work with me. She loves going to work with me. She had a blast. We then went to ride ponies at the park, and then on to her favorite restaurant, El Cholo, for a birthday dinner. It was a nice day, but I was still physically sore and just utterly whipped. Reading back on my dream life, I realize that I was perhaps just exhausting myself in the bizarre dream world I had suddenly inhabited. When we got home, Grace looked up at me, out of nowhere, and said, “I miss my sister. I don’t want to die, Mama. The reason I don’t want to die is because I don’t want my Mama and Papa to be sad.” She started crying and said, “I’m going to be sad when you die, Mama.”
Oooof. Grace knows how to articulate her feelings, that’s for damn sure.
Bath time was rough again. Really rough. She cried. I cried. All the girls were crying. Once I finally had her calmed down and in bed, she was happy again and getting excited for her Birthday the next day. She asked me if she was going to die in the night “and not get to be six years old” in the same tone of voice she asked if she could serve ice cream instead of cake at her Birthday party. Oddly, she didn’t seem particularly worried about this potentiality. She was smiling sweetly when she asked, which gutted me, frankly, but I kept it together. But the fact she had to ask me is pretty damn heartbreaking. And surprising, really. Surprising because although I eventually had to tell her that I found Alice had passed away in her crib, she has not asked any follow up questions about that, so I have not offered more, and the manner of Alice’s death has certainly not been discussed with her at all in at least six months. I cried myself to sleep again, but could only sleep in about three hour chunks.
Now, birthday’s can set me off a little. Not always, but it’s happened. I first noticed this a few weeks after Alice died. A friend’s child turned two a few weeks after Alice died, and upon seeing the Birthday pictures on Facebook, I felt my fight or flight response kick in. I suppose it was because my baby had died so soon after she turned two, and with no warning, so seeing a baby turn two made my body go into “DANGER!” mode. I noticed this happen many other times throughout the last months, but mostly with kids that turn two. This year, however, the fight or flight response kicked in on Grace’s birthday. This did not happen last year on Grace’s birthday, so, I wasn’t really expecting it, but I felt my body prepare for something bad from the moment I woke up. Again, no thoughts, nothing mental, preceded this feeling. The feeling was first. It’s wild, because my mind was not playing out any doomsday scenarios around Grace’s sixth birthday. But my body, well, my body seems to remember what happened after a birthday. And my body, well, it’s clearly not very fucking happy about it. Now, it’s true I was already in not a stellar place before Grace’s birthday, but Dec 29th is where the shit really hit the fan, I see now. The end of November and early December was where I slipped. December 26th was the day I fell in, and Dec 29th, was the day I started spiraling downwards. I see this in hindsight, of course. I knew I was not good while it was happening, but I didn’t know how bad I was until I got past it a bit.
The morning of the 29th, her birthday, Grace asked me to measure her height on our wall where we measured the girls because she was sure she was taller. She was sure that her too-big pajamas fit better. This made me smile. Luckily, she was taller than last measure in September. Upon seeing evidence of her growth, she clenched her fist, closed her eyes, and released a giant “YES!” to the heavens. It’s the little things that make parenting worthwhile.
Once I got Grace off to daycare, I realized on my way to work that I had been on the verge of a panic attack for about a week. I was alternating between intense anxieties and crushing lows. I was so busy trying to stay afloat, trying to keep a roof over my head, and my kid cared for, that I had not really realized the severity of my situation until Monday the 29th. I realized that hearing of that young girl’s suicide had triggered PTSD symptoms. I mean, I knew I was experiencing certain things when I experienced them, but it was only on this day that it occurred to me that PTSD had reared up in full force again. I realized that there was also a combination of not enough good sleep, holidays, birthday, and feelings of inadequacy stemming from parenting my living child and recalling the lack of success I had trying to save my other child that were complicating my situation. I realized that the loneliness of grief and the loneliness that the holidays can bring for ANYONE were more difficult that I had previously acknowledged. This year, for me, the holidays pointed out that I was down a half of a family. I realized I would now never have the intact nuclear family of which I always dreamed, something that also leaves you feeling inadequate, and for the first time since the separation just over a year ago, like a failure. And just sad. Truly sad. I realized that the inner loneliness I had experienced contributes to the urge to isolate.
I realized a lot of heavy things on the way to work. And my day had only just begun. Throw in some other big life issues, and you have yourself an official shit sandwich.
I thought the feelings of failure I was clearly experiencing as a result of not being able to resurrect Alice were somewhat interesting, because though I did indeed drown in guilt right after Alice died, at that time I did not feel like a failure because CPR had failed. I suppose this is because I was pretty sure she was past the point of no return when I found her. But she was my darling baby, so I tried CPR anyway. I had to try. But for some reason, I felt like a failure for it now. Because now, I guess, my mind knows I was doing CPR on my dead child. I realized I was just like that dog that tried to nurse its dead pup. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling I would wish on no one. No one.
I put in a call to my therapist. She was gone for the holidays but said to call the Center and leave a message at anytime if I needed support during the holidays. I have never in my life emergency called a therapist. Never. But I did on Dec 29th, 2015 because I suddenly realized the seriousness of my state, and I was scared. I am not sure what, exactly, I was scared of, but I was scared, that is for sure. I have no family here. Most of my support was out of town for the holidays. I was in bad shape, and I was alone, and I was sadder than I had been in months, and I was scared.
It’s not fun to feel fragile, and it’s even worse to have to admit that you are in a fragile state. But I knew I had no choice.
I went to yoga that morning. I cried all the way there, and intermittently throughout the class. I did the entire class, but as I did my triangle poses, and my warrior poses, tears ran down my face. My sweet teacher Pagan noticed and silently did some kind of mojo over me. It helped for a while.
I went right from yoga to work and tears ran down my face the entire way to work. I pulled it together for work, and then cried the entire way back to pick up Grace for a birthday play date I was hosting for her and two of her friends. Elle’s mom, my friend Chrislie, sat with me while the girls played. She could tell in my eyes I was not doing well. I will never be able to repay the kindness she showed me by just sitting there with me, occasionally hugging me, while I cried. Eventually the play date ended, as did my time with Grace, and I was alone in the house. I was fine with being alone. I had so much to do. But I got very little done. I could not focus. I could not move. I could not stop crying. I wasn’t even sure what the hell I was crying about, honestly.
All I know is that there was seemingly no end to the tears. My therapist called and we talked for about 20 minutes, which helped. She reminded me that I was dealing with a lot of major issues, alone, and that sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for that. It kind of made me giggle, because it made me think “I’m alone?! SHIT! I hadn’t noticed. NOW, I feel so much better!” But I still could not stop crying. I asked if I could have some “touch up” sessions for EMDR because I felt like I was experiencing PTSD again. She said she would ask the lady that had done my EMDR sessions before if we could schedule some sessions, since my current therapist does not do EMDR. A couple of friends checked on me that night, out of the blue, not knowing that I was in such bad shape. Thank God for my friends.
I couldn’t focus on anything so went to bed early.
I spent more time in bed between Dec 26th and Jan 5th than I have in decades. The last time I was in bed that long was when I was in the hospital recovering from a brain injury I incurred in a car accident during my Junior year of High School. I didn’t sleep more; I just could not do much. I could not focus. I could not hold my own head up.
I slept better Monday night than I had in days, but Tuesday the 30th was rough. I was very shaky all day. Not quite panic attack levels, but I sure felt on the verge of one. I wasn’t sure how I was going to work, but I pulled it off. I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to drop out of society. I cried a lot. I didn’t sleep well. Wednesday started out less brutal than pervious day, but took a turn. I was very shaky, and completely drained. I had no appetite—my appetite was basically nil for two weeks. I had consumed very little alcohol, despite the holidays. Luckily, I have never had the urge to drink when I’m down, which is great, because one doesn’t really need a depressant when one is down. On a whim, I tried on some jeans I love that haven’t fit since before I had Grace. They fit, which was mildly exciting, though I can’t say I recommend the circumstances that got me into those jeans.
I brought out Alice’s ashes for a while and cried my eyes out while I held them.
Later that day, I discovered that I met my monthly goal at work in December, which is pretty unbelievable for December, and that made me smile for a minute, but I have so much farther to go now as a single gal, so the celebration of this goal lasted about as long as it took me to text my friend about this small victory. I also realized that even if I move to a one-bedroom apartment, my business and housing rents take up about two thirds of my income, which is obviously unsustainable. Right after that, I saw an article about how rent prices are soaring in LA, leaving people homeless. It leaves one feeling pretty damn hopeless and like all of one’s efforts are futile. And, panicky. Pretty. Damn. Panicky.
New Years Eve, Grace was home for a few hours, and was having a rough time. I felt like a failure as a parent, and this sent me further down into the abyss. I don’t love NYE in the first place, but I wanted to honor my renewed commitment to taking care of myself, so I had signed up for a late night yoga thing on NYE. My sitter cancelled. I cried. But my community rushed in with offers of help when they heard, and in the end, Grace had a place to go so that I could go to yoga. I am so grateful for that. It was a lovely event, and it felt good to move my body a bit, but I did not have my usual energy level, and I silently cried on and off throughout the three hour class.
But, I completely lost it on the way home. I mean, I LOST IT. I found myself crying, “I miss my baby’ over and over and over again. I screamed in the car at the top of my lungs. I have no idea what I was so mad at but I released quite a fury in the car. That yoga class really shook something loose. I can’t even remember the last time I lost it like that. I have obviously missed Alice. I, obviously, have had moments where I was overwhelmed by grief about it. But I cannot recall the last time I screamed it at the top of my lungs, in fact, I am fairly certain that has not happened prior.
I realized that I had entered a bit of an anger phase in the “grief process.” I had not yet had an anger phase in the 17 months. Two things made me aware I had entered this phase: screaming in the car, and the fact that Facebook was really pissing me off. I generally check in to Facebook daily. It is a great way for me to connect to many people at once, and not have to repeat myself a hundred times. But I was starting to get mad about things there that never bothered me before.
For instance, if I saw the hash tag #muchdeservedvacation from a person who has been on multiple vacations this year one more time, I was pretty sure I was going to lose my shit. You know who needs a “much deserved” vacation? The parents that have a chronically ill child in the hospital for so many years that one of them is forced to quit their job to be with the child. They have a sick child; they are down an income while having twice as many bills, and often another child at home that needs attention too. They much-ly deserve a vacation. Or, the father that accepted a job offer in another country to try to give his pregnant wife and unborn child a better life, only to lose both mother and child in labor. That guy needs a vacation. Men that work in coalmines, or go to war, or have some other horrible job that causes illness and injury, and yet barely make enough to travel out of their county—they deserve a vacation. Or, the mothers of all those girls in Africa that were kidnapped into sexual slavery. Those women probably didn’t even get a single day off, and may never have a vacation in their lives. If they do ever get a vacation, they deserve to say #muchdeservedvacation. But it you are reading this, you are reading it on a computer, smartphone or tablet, probably in your pajamas, under a roof, and you know where your kids are and where your next meal is coming from, you might appreciate your vacation, and you may even deserve your vacation, but #muchdeservedvacation is a bit of a stretch.
Normally, I love seeing pictures of people’s vacations. It’s fun. I don’t begrudge people their vacations; I’m generally very, very happy for them, and riveted by the details. And it is great that they appreciate their vacations. But, for some reason, at this time in my life, #muchdeservedvacation made me want to throw things. That was when I decided Facebook and I needed to take a break.
I felt guilty for missing Facebook people’s birthdays though, because Guilt had set in, and Guilt is a tenacious bitch once it gets a hold of you.
I have no idea why the anger phase came when it did. I suspect I know why it was so misdirected, however. When you do not know why your kid died, where are you supposed to direct your anger when it comes?
(I’m over the whole hash tag thing now, in case you were wondering. Post away safely. )
New Years Day, I could barely move. It was all I could do to get out of bed. I had absolutely no motivation, which is highly unusual for me. My heart literally hurt. My diaphragm was spasming. I was not sure I had any fight left in me and this concerned me because I have a fair number of difficulties I am facing, and I need my moxie to get through them all. But I felt useless, inadequate, disoriented, and well, I felt like everything was futile. Not pretty. I was afraid to talk to people because I did not want to burden them. I was in a dark, dark place, and this is scary. Really scary. I had to pull it together though, because I needed to pick up Grace that morning. She opened with some heavy questions about the divorce. She rarely asks about the divorce, so it was hard not to think, “Of course, today, you ask this.” I was completely at a loss.
I was supposed to take Grace to a play date at my friend Jessica’s house that afternoon, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage being social. For starters, I only recently realized how much energy I expend attempting to have people feel comfortable in my presence. This is all on me, mind you, this is something I have done to myself, and not a single soul is to blame for this but me. But, looking back, I now notice that I do this. Because sometimes I just can’t take the look in people’s eyes when they see me. I can tell that I embody their worst nightmare, and it’s heavy to be on the receiving end of that. Again, this is ALL ON ME. I am quite certain that I would do the exact same thing in their shoes, and the people’s reaction to me is 100 percent understandable. It is just that on some days, I am not in good enough shape to handle it. Also, I had no idea how I could be social because I just could not stop crying. I kept it together in front of Grace, but the minute she went to another room, the tears fell out of my eyes. As if divinely inspired, Jessica wrote to see if I was OK. I have no idea what even made her ask. I replied that I was not OK. She then offered to come get Grace and keep her for the day. I remembered what I had learned about “yes” and said, simply, “Yes, thank you so much.” She said she wanted to do this for me, that she really wanted to do this for me. God bless her. She is such a good person, and a good friend.
I can’t remember what I did that day. I think it was a whole lot of nothing, and a whole lot of feeling very guilty about doing nothing. And a whole lot of feeling guilty about parenting, and not earning enough money, and not being able to save me baby, and on and on. You name it, I felt guilty about it. I did make some scones, I remember that, and I sent some home with Jessica. Jessica really helped that day. Thank you, Jessica.
I thought I bottomed out on New Years Day. But I was wrong.
Friday was a brutal morning, but I had work. I often go to yoga before work on Fridays, but this day, I went for cheap massage. My body was just a wreck and I could barely move. I felt like I was made of one piece of steel. The massage helped, but I was still a mess. After work, Dawn did my hair for me. She has been an amazing friend and I just adore her. And it was nice to have my hair look good, I’ll admit. I thought, well, “I am a frickin’ wreck, but at least my hair looks good. Thanks Dawn.”
My friend Tommy checked in that day and helped with some parenting adages. Tommy is hilarious, and generally his stories of parenting pick me up and crack me up, but I was not so easily picked up on this day.
Saturday the 3rd, I did a yoga workshop with Pagan. I was really trying to be better about my “self-care” because I realized I had dropped the ball on this in December and that this was likely part of my problem. For many, many months, I had maintained my commitment to myself to do at least one thing a day just for me, whether it was meditation, yoga, hiking, therapy, writing, or whatever. In December, this did not happen, and in December, I could see that I had tanked. So, I tried to get myself back. It took every ounce of energy I had to drag myself out of the house, but I did it.
Sunday the 4th was awful. I was feeling very down on myself, and nearly immobilized with grief and tears and panic. I had a session with my therapist before work, and that helped me get through work, but I was not worth much after work. The whole next week was emotionally very, very difficult, to be honest, but I managed to be productive in spurts. At least, more productive than the previous week. I made some hard business decisions the week of the 4th, and acted on them. My life is in utter chaos right now, however and I just needed to simplify. There is literally not one area of my life that is not in flux. And mine are no small fluxes, thus the disoriented feeling, I suppose. I felt better the minute I committed to these new decisions, but I was still a wreck, and in fact, the panic set in. I was very panicky, and very low, but I just needed to get some stuff done, so I took something for the anxiety one day that week. I have done this only a handful of times in the last 17 months, but I did that week.
I was in a very, very dark place, and in retrospect, I think I maybe had a bit of a breakdown. I do not have the luxury of giving in to my dark place, however tempting that may be, so I solider on, but it was increasingly difficult to solider on. Thursday the 8th I barely slept and Friday started off really bad. About as bad as I have ever been. So, I went to yoga and then I talked to a friend who talked me back from the edge. A few other friends checked in that day, randomly, having no idea that I was in such bad shape. You all mean so much to me. You know who you are.
Friday the 9th was, perhaps, my bottom. I hope to God it was my bottom, at least, because, I’ve just about had it with this wave, this pulse.
It is so tempting to isolate when feeling that low, because, well, allowing someone that cares about you to see you that destroyed, is about as vulnerable as you will ever be. The kindest, most generous, most selfless, most helpful things anyone has ever done for me were to just sit with me while I collapsed. Without judgment. Without advice. Without commentary. With only love. I am so very, very lucky to have a couple of people in my life who saw me at my worst, and love me anyway. That is true love. I am incredibly lucky, in that regard.
Sat the 10th was the closest I had felt to normal in at least 3 weeks, and the next two days were better, but that is not saying much, and I was certainly not out of the woods. I was improving it seems, other than I was a level of exhausted that I have not been since the week Alice died. On Sunday, Alice’s little friend Darla saw flowers at the market and told her mom that she wanted to get them and take them to Alice’s mom. I had not seen Darla or her mom Elizabeth C in some time, and neither Darla nor her mother were aware of my bad state, so this was pretty crazy. They brought them by my office while I was at work, and I just can’t express my gratitude. Or awe. It is pretty amazing how kids can kind of tap in to things well beyond them. It was pretty amazing that she had a whim to bring me flowers on such a rough day, with no idea that it was such a rough day for me. After work that day I went to see Bubba, Rey, and their beautiful twins. It was one of the first social events I had attempted since I “went down,” but it went pretty well. I had a relaxing day helping them with their twins, and catching up, and then watching the Golden Globes with them after the babies were down. I love that family like they are my own family.
YOU CAN’T PULL OUT ALONE, DUMMY
Tuesday, I became aware of some serious challenges in other parts of my life, and I started to have a panic attack. I did my best to stave it off, and, in part, I was successful, but there was no doubt I was having one. It had lurked around the edges of my consciousness for weeks, and finally, on Tuesday the 13th, it took hold. In an uncanny coincidence, I was gifted a three hour massage on this day, to be received at my house. The guy showed up, not long after the panic attack started. It’s a long story for another time, but the massage was truly transformative, far beyond what I had come to expect from traditional massage. I felt and looked 18 by the time he finished. This is the moment I turned around. I was having a panic attack when the guy arrived, and by the time he left I felt like I was kissed by God. I’ve been a whole different person since. Even my friends noticed. I guess that guy was an angel. I’ll be ever grateful.
I have a ways to go. I have many challenges ahead. But I did not give in to the dark side despite really wanting to do so. I have a couple of friends that basically saved me. They know who they are. And they have my lifelong loyalty.
It is scary as hell being in as dark a place as I found myself from Thanksgiving until a week ago. The period between Dec 26-Jan 9 was downright terrifying. All I know is this: You can’t pull out alone. I generally try to pull out of any sort of trouble alone, but this is not something I could have done alone. You need a few loving, gentle hands on deck, to pull you back up to the boat. The people that own the loving hands that saved me have my undying, lifelong loyalty.
I’d been stuck on the Week 7 blog for weeks, a couple of months even, and I’ve never been stuck that long. I wasn’t really sure what to do about it, because the act of writing this blog does not feel as helpful when I force it out as it does when I let it flow. I was already considering beginning to write out of sequence when this giant grief wave happened, and so, I thought, “I’m gonna just sit down and write it out.” Because, as I keep saying, the only way through it is through it. And sometimes you have to do things outside of your “normal” order, your normal expectations, to get through something like this. Sometimes, you have to honor what’s happening at the moment and that requires some changes. Sometimes, you need to let go of what you think you should do and do what you have to do. For all of those reasons, this blog entry, like Alice’s death, is out of sequence.