The first time I saw a counselor after the accident she asked me what my goal was, what I wanted to achieve in counseling. The only answer I could give her was “I don’t want to be like a grieving mom I know. Her son died 5 years ago and she still acts like it was yesterday”.
5 years seemed so far away.
But here I am 5 years later and it went by in a flash.
And I understand now, I will always grieve the loss of my boys. Some days it will feel like it just happened yesterday. Other days it will feel like it was a lifetime ago. Some days the pain will be more than I can bear. Other days it will be a small flicker in the background of my life. But it will never go away.
It will always be with me, but it doesn’t have to define me.
That was my goal in the beginning of all this, to grieve the loss of my boys but not let the accident and the loss become my identity.
On Mother’s Day I can think of no mother more deserving than a mother that had to give one back.” ~ Erma Bombeck
This weekend is going to be an emotional rollercoaster ride for me. On Friday I will be graduating from graduate school. It will be a celebration of 2 ½ years of stress and hard work. I will have accomplished something I didn’t think I could. The only damper to my day will be the fact that my boys are not there to share it with me.
Then Sunday is Mother’s Day.
I dread the approach of Mother’s Day. For some reason this holiday is different than the others. I have figured out how to survive holidays and the boy’s birthdays. (You can read about it here). But Mother’s Day is different.
How do you survive an entire day dedicated to celebrating motherhood, when you don’t feel like a mother anymore? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a mom and I always will be. But I don’t FEEL like a mom. There is a certain level of worry you live with when your children are around. All moms’ I know question themselves. Am I doing this right? Am I a good mother? How can I be better? With my children gone, I no longer have that level of worry about my children. I no longer spend my days questioning if I’m doing motherhood right. My days are no longer ordered around my kid’s schedule. I have only myself to think about and worry about. I no longer FEEL like a mom.
I loved being a mom. I had so much fun joking around with my boys and dreaming of their futures. I couldn’t wait to see who they grew up to be. I loved silliness and the craziness of having boys. Their creativity and how they saw the world always astounded me. I loved the organization of making sure they got to where they needed to be and keeping the house picked up after their whirlwind way of playing with toys. I even enjoyed the worry, the fighting, and the annoying little things they did. Because that’s what being a mom is all about. I MISS being a mom.
All holidays point to the fact my children are gone. But Mother’s Day screams it.
So how do I survive the day dedicated to being a mom, without my children around to make me feel like a mom? I hide. I refuse to attend church on Mother’s Day. I stay off Facebook. It hurts to much to see the pictures and read the stories of what has been done for the mom’s, knowing that I will never again have that in my life.
Last week I joined a Facebook group for grieving parents who have lost a child or children and are now childless. Everyday since joining someone has posted the question “How do I survive Mother’s Day?” The responses range from beautiful to desperate. Some spend the day with family; others decorate their children’s graves. Some, like me, hide away from the world for the day.
There really is no right or wrong way to get through the day. As a grieving mom you do what you have to do to survive the day. The best way through these days is to have a plan. Plan out what you would like to do that day. If the plan works you’ll get through the day and survive. If the plan doesn’t work out that’s ok too, you will still survive the day. The idea is to have a plan that you know will get you through the day.
This year my plan is to hide. I will buy myself my favorite chocolate and a new movie. I will curl up on my couch, lose myself in a good movie and pretend the world doesn’t exist. I will do this because on this one day it hurts to much to try and so I shut down. I miss being a mom.
This blog post is late. The process of going through my oral boards for school took a lot out of me. (There is a blog post on this coming soon). As a result when Devin’s 14th birthday came around, I was still recovering. It took me a week and a half to feel like myself again. Now that I’m recovered (I think) I’m ready to start posting again. 🙂
Devin would have turned 14 on February 26th. I missed his 10th birthday . . . turning double digits. I missed his 13th birthday . . . becoming a teenager. Every time one of these days passes I remember what I’m missing.
Instead of another list of all the things I’ve missed, I thought I would share some memories with you.
Devin and I had our own special way of measuring his growth. Sure we had the standard marks on the wall, where every first and last day of school new marks were added for both boys. But Devin and I did something that was just for the two of us. We’d put our palms together and spread out our fingers. I could see how much he’d grown by how long his fingers were against mine. Today, his fingers would probably be longer than mine.
One night Devin and I were being silly. He was telling me the names of his fingers. Yes, he’d named his fingers. I wish I could remember the names of his thumb and forefinger. But I do remember the names of the last 3 fingers. Billy, Bob and Billy Bob. Every time he named off his fingers, I’d go into a fit of giggles. He kept repeating them, because I kept laughing. It was a fun game.
Devin would often do or say the funniest things. I used to say all the time “you never know what’s going to fall out of that kids mouth”. The other day my sister found an old Facebook post of mine from September of 2010. It was a conversation I’d had with Devin that I’d forgotten about. It made me laugh to remember.
Devin: “Mom you know how Adam named all the animals. Well who made all the words?”
Mom: “God made the words”
Devin: “I think it was Eve”
Such a smart, funny kid.
Because of the way my classes are structured, I was not able to get out of class on Devin’s birthday. This was the first time I was not able to take the day off from my responsibilities and spend it with my family. I knew with all the stress over orals the birthday might end up being harder than normal. Stress tends to exacerbate grief. The fact that I couldn’t take the day off concerned me a lot. I wasn’t sure how the day was going to go, or if I’d be able to deal with it.
My sister came up with the idea of the family coming to class for a visit on my break. I thought that was a good idea, so I asked a few of my classmates if they’d be ok with that. Everyone agreed, so the plan was set. My mom bought a 5 pound Hershey bar, in honor of Devin’s birthday, to share with everyone.
For Devin’s 6th birthday my sister bought him a 5 pound Hershey bar. The candy bar was almost as big as he was. I left it sitting out on the counter and all 4 of us would break off pieces to munch on. One day after school Devin’s kindergarten teacher mentioned to me that he’d been a bit more hyper in class than normal. I knew immediately the cause was the giant Hershey bar. I guess he’d eaten more of it than I realized. Sneaky imp. 🙂
We thought sharing a 5 pound Hershey bar with the class would be a great way to remember Devin on his birthday and celebrate the end of orals. My family arrived and introductions were made. The candy bar was broken up and shared. It was a nice way to spend Devin’s birthday.
As I was driving home from class that night I started to feel weird about having my family come to class. I felt like I had unnecessarily dragged my class into my grief, and dragged my family to my school when they didn’t need to be there. In short, I felt foolish. Like I had made a big production of something that could have and should have remained small and private. It took me a few days to realize why I was feeling this way. I’ve progressed through my grief enough that I can handle these days without the need for a big production. For every birthday and accident day that has passed my family has gotten together to remember the boys with a special activity and dinner at one of the boy’s favorite restaurants. We’ve done balloon releases, lantern releases, launched rockets, worn silly bands, played with Dawson’s go cart, done light painting and we’ve even gone to a MythBusters display at OMSI in Portland. I knew that someday these activities would stop. And though I’m not sure we’ve reached that point, it’s nice to know I don’t NEED them anymore.
“You might be but one drop in a bigger ocean, but even that drop causes ripples which affect every other drop. ~ Sue Krebs
Today marks the 4-year anniversary of the accident that took the lives of my children and changed my life forever. Anniversary . . . . . . it really does not seem like the right word to use. To me an anniversary indicates a happy event, an event worth celebrating. Today is not about celebrating, it is about remembering.
It has been 4 years since I have seen my children. There are so many things I have missed in those 4 years.
I have missed having mountains of laundry to do.
I have missed breaking up fights.
I have missed navigating the messy bedroom just to tuck them in and say goodnight.
I have missed stepping on Legos. Yes . . . I do miss this!
I have missed the incessant questions.
I have missed repeating myself because they were not listening the first 40 times.
I have missed the bickering.
I have missed the back talk.
I have missed the “can’t keep it clean” house.
I have missed the creativity.
I have missed watching kid movies and tv shows.
I have missed reading stories at bedtime.
I have missed the laughter.
I have missed the joking and goofiness.
I have missed the craziness that having boys brings into your life.
I have missed their hugs.
I have missed touching them and having them touch me.
I have missed my boys.
The other day a friend asked, “If you could ask God one question what would it be?”
My answer to that question is simple. I would ask God to allow me to see the far reaching effect my life has had on other people. I want to know that what I am going through has meaning. I want to know that someone is living a better life because of what I have been asked to deal with.
I have friends tell me how their friends have been affected by my story. These are people I don’t know. I love hearing these stories, but I want to know more. I want to see the whole story of my life, the part that only God can see. I would love to see the part of my life that God can see, that kept him from stopping the accident from happening. I want to know and understand why I have to live the rest of my life without my boys. I want to see what God can see . . . . the ripple effect.
I know I will probably never be privy to this information this side of Heaven. But I sure hope that God allows me to see the ripple effect of my life when I get Home.
When you are grieving the loss of someone their birthday is no longer about celebrating another year. It’s about remembering them. And that’s not what a birthday is supposed to be about.
Yesterday was, my oldest son’s 16th birthday. Dawson would have been 16 years old. Sixteen!!! No matter how many times I say that, I just cannot get over the fact my baby boy would have been turning 16 years old. No longer a baby, and no longer a boy. He would have hit that magical age of 16 years old, a teenager on the verge of becoming a man.
My memories of Dawson stop when he was 12 years old, a pre-teen on the verge of puberty. He was still into Transformers and Bionicle action figures. He loved airplanes, astronomy and knowing how things work. If anything needed to be put together he was the one I called. He loved building things. He built his own transformer costume out of cardboard boxes. He and his Grandpa built a go cart. He was so proud of the fact that his 1st Lego robotics team dubbed him the “master programmer”.
Yesterday he would have turned 16 years old. A landmark year, a birthday party year. When the boys were young I decided they would have big birthday parties on the landmark years. 5, 10, 13, 16, 18 and 21 are the years that deserved special recognition. I missed out on throwing Dawson his 13th birthday party and now I’m missing out on his 16th birthday.
I’m missing so much.
I wonder all the time how tall he would be? What would his voice sound like? What would he be like as a teenager? What kinds of interests would he have developed as childhood slipped away? Would he be interested in girls yet?
I won’t get to teach him how to drive. I missed his graduation from 8th grade and his entrance into high school.
As time goes on, I will miss out on even more. I will miss out on watching him participate in high school activities. I will miss his first date. I will miss watching my son graduate from high school, going off to college, getting married, and providing me with grandchildren.
I feel like I’ve been cheated. I was so looking forward to having teenage boys in my house. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of young man my son would become. I will never have the answers to my questions. And I’ll never be able to see my son grow into a man. To quote Dawson “It’s not fair”.
I miss my boy so much. I miss watching his mind work as he built something. I miss his intensity. I miss his laugh and his smile. I miss fighting with him over food. I miss the teenage attitude he’d started to develop. I miss teasing him and being teased in return. I miss our movie nights. I miss his adventurous spirit and our bike rides.
I miss so much.
For Dawson’s 12th birthday he received a rocket from his Aunt and Uncle. At the time of the accident the rocket sat unopened in his room. Because his birthday is in the winter and so close to Christmas, we never had a chance to play with it.
Every year since the accident we have launched Dawson’s rocket on his birthday. Last year the rocket broke. The parachute did not open and when it fell back to earth, it hit the ground hard.
This year Dawson’s Uncle bought 2 new rockets so we can keep the tradition going. Dawson’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered to launch the new rockets. We’d planned to start launching the rockets at 2pm. But in true family fashion, it was 4pm before we had all the problems worked out. We launched the first rocket and watched it disappear into the clouds. When it came back down, it landed in the trees far beyond our reach. The first rocket was lost. So we moved locations to launch the second rocket, farther away from the trees. Woosh! The second rocket launched. This rocket had a second booster, which shot it well beyond our vision. The second rocket was lost as well.
Even though the afternoon was filled with launching issues, it was a great way to spend Dawson’s 16th birthday. I just wish he could have been with us.
I thought it would be fun to share part of Dawson’s birthday with you so I made a short video of the rocket launches.
Last week I received a message from my pastor asking if he could use my story as part of his sermon. I asked if he just wanted to mention my story or if he’d like me to come share it personally. He became very excited at the opportunity to have me speak in-person, so I agreed.
I spent all of last week cycling between being excited and nervous. I even had a moment of sheer panic on Saturday night. .
Yesterday I shared my story and my journey of clinging to hope in church.
I have wanted to share my story for a long time. I am very passionate about grief, how to grieve and how to treat those who are grieving. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my story and my passion in a public forum.
After much prayer, I feel led to help others beyond just one-on-one counseling. I believe my story and my journey can benefit others. With a leap of faith and the support of my friends and family, I have decided to open myself up to speak to groups, churches, and support organizations.
The posted video is my first step down this path. Your prayers and your support is appreciated.
“The absence of a loved one is noted and highlighted by what is supposed to be a time of celebration.” ~ psychologist Dr. Velleda Ceccoli
After my blog post last week I received a couple of emails asking me how I’ve dealt with the holidays.
The short answer is I make sure to have a plan. I learned early on the only way to get through the difficult days like Christmas, the boys birthdays, or the accident day is to have a plan. It doesn’t matter what the plan is. It doesn’t matter if the plan is actually followed. But having a plan is an absolute necessity. I learned this the hard way.
The first Thanksgiving without the boys was terrible. I didn’t bother to have a plan because I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Thanksgiving was never that exciting of a holiday for me, so I didn’t think it would be hard without the boys. However, as a friend reminded me, Thanksgiving is a tradition. It turned out to be an incredibly difficult day. Last year, the plan I had to get through Thanksgiving, wasn’t a very good plan. The holiday was so bad last year that I’m really dreading Thanksgiving this year.
The purpose behind having a plan is to deal with the dread leading up to the actual day. When you know a difficult day is coming all you can think about is how you are going to survive that day. Questions like, “How am I going to get through that day? What should I do?” occupy your mind. These days, the holidays, birthdays and memorial days are hard because they shout that the boys are no longer here. Birthdays are no longer about celebrating becoming a year older, they are about remembering. The accident day is a reminder that my life shattered in one brief second. And the holidays . . . . well the holidays are not nearly as much fun without the boys to share them with.
Christmas has been the holiday I’ve obsessed over the most. The first Christmas without the boys had me so panicked I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up alone in my home. No kids to pull me out of bed before I was awake, no excitement over presents, no Christmas mess to clean up and no playing with new toys. I just couldn’t handle the emptiness of it. So I did the only thing I could think of, I ran away.
I went to Hawaii. I can still remember the smell that hung in the air when I walked out of the airport. The whole island smelled like perfume. Palm trees, blue skies, and perfect temperatures made it hard to believe it was Christmas time. There were not many decorations around and everything was open on Christmas day. If you want to avoid Christmas, Hawaii is the place to go.
The second Christmas after the accident caused me almost as much angst as that first year. I wanted to avoid Christmas again. But I could not afford the trip to Hawaii, nor did I want to spend the holiday alone again. So I talked my parents and my sister’s family into renting a cabin in the woods. My parents found a house for us to rent up near Mt. Hood. I was excited about this idea because, being closer to the mountain we had a better chance of having snow for Christmas. Living in Oregon’s Willamette Valley snow is pretty rare, especially for Christmas.
It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. We woke up Christmas morning to snow gently falling from the sky. It did not stop snowing until 4pm. I had not had a white Christmas like that since I was a child living in Minnesota. I felt like it was a gift from God. It was like God was telling this hurting family hiding in the woods how much he loved them.
Last year was the first year I didn’t feel the need to run away. Maybe enough time had passed, maybe it was because I had moved and was no longer in the home where I’d raised my boys. Whatever the reason last year was the first year I stayed home for Christmas. It was a nice Christmas, with my family, that turned into a spontaneous slumber party at my parent’s house.
I still have not decorated for Christmas. My sister asked me if I was going to decorate this year. I said “No”.
“Not even a little bit?” she asked
“No, not yet” I replied
The thought of opening all my Christmas boxes and seeing the boy’s special ornaments, their homemade ornaments or the Christmas stockings I spend a year cross-stitching for them is too painful. Someday I will be able to open the boxes of Christmas decorations and fill my house with holiday decorations and memories. But right now I just can’t do it.
For me the holidays are still about surviving them. I’ve learned that each holiday is different and what I need to do to get through them is different.
So I make a plan. The plan can be as simple as going to a movie, or as big as going on a vacation. Playing games with family, going shopping, hanging out with friends are all good ways to get through a holiday. The key is to have a way to get through the day so the grief doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s not avoiding the grief but finding a way to cope on one of the hardest days of the year.
Sometimes having an exit strategy is necessary. If the original plan is failing, having something to fall back on is key to salvaging the day. This is the first year I have made an exit strategy. I’m dreading the holidays so much; I feel the need for a backup plan. I may take myself to the movies, or go home and watch a new movie I purchased just for this reason. Though I am hoping to not need my backup plan, I’m glad I know that I have a way to survive the day if my original plan fails again.
I’ve learned that during the holidays I can only worry about what is going to help me survive the best. Someday I will have joy in the holidays again. But for now I hold my breath until it’s over.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” ~ C. S. Lewis
The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling. I haven’t been sleeping well. I have had trouble focusing in class and with my clients. (I’m in graduate school working towards my degree in counseling) I’d rather lie around all day watching tv than get anything accomplished. I was starting to recognize the funk I was in as depression.
I’ve been trying to shake it. I thought I just needed to get myself organized and then I’d be able to focus again. I switched internships a few weeks ago and I thought the schedule change was contributing to my funk. Then I thought I needed to get the paperwork organized so I had an idea of what I was doing.
Tuesday I realized there was so much more going on. I was talking to my supervisor at school about my inability to focus with clients. He asked me one simple question and it all fell into place. “Do you have a hard memorial day coming up?”
I looked at him and I said I have 4. Both of my boys birthdays, the accident date and Christmas all fall within the same 3 month period. December – February.
After 4 years you’d think I would recognize the signs that I’m entering the hardest time of the year for me. But no, it didn’t even dawn on me. It took an outside observer for me to realize that my “funk” was really about the boys.
As I talked to my supervisor I admitted something I haven’t been willing to admit to myself or anyone else. I haven’t been allowing the pain in. I know I desperately need to, but I just don’t want to. I’m so tired of hurting. I’m so tired of the intense pain.
This year has been the hardest year since that first year. The cloud of the surreal is lifting and the reality is really setting in. The last few years my life has been separated into 2 worlds. The reality I’m living and the dream of my old life. Most of the time the life I’m living now feels like it’s the life I’ve always lived. And the life with the boys feels like a dream. Every now and then that barrier would be crossed and I’d feel the pain of what I’ve lost. But eventually the barrier would go back and I could continue to carry on. This is all so hard to explain, but so normal in the grief process.
This year has been different. The dream of my old life and the reality of my new life have been trying to merge into 1 reality. And I’m afraid. I’m afraid to let the pain in, because I know that this time the protective barrier isn’t coming back. The reality that my boys are truly gone is setting in with a finality that I don’t want to deal with yet.
Yes I will admit it . . . I am afraid. I know how intense the pain of grief is, and how exhausting it is.
It’s sitting at a stop sign and realizing it hurts so much you have stopped breathing. It’s the sharp, searing hot pain that slices through your heart when you weren’t expecting it. It’s the dull ache in your heart from not being able to hold your child anymore. It’s collapsing to the floor of the boy’s room because your legs will no longer support your weight. It’s crying so hard you cannot breathe. It’s feeling alone even when you are in a room surrounded by friends and family.
I wish I could fully explain the depth of the pain and grief that comes with losing a child. But unless you’ve experienced it, you can never really fully understand. And that’s good; I wish people didn’t have to know this pain. I hope you never have to.
C.S. Lewis is right; grief and fear are incredibly linked. The fear comes from knowing the pain is intense and cannot be avoided. It has to be dealt with. Grief cannot be ignored, it will come out eventually.
I know I need to let the pain in, or as I like to put it, have a meltdown. And I will. I cried while writing this post, and that’s a step in the right direction. I may have to deal with this in small bits instead of my normal big meltdown. Or I may need to have a full on crying fit. Either way, I need to make time in my life to grieve. These next few months are going to be hard and I need to allow that into my life. The only way through grief is to deal with it head on. And I will, when I am able to.