Sunday, May 18, 2014

One Year Later

May 17, 2014

A year ago on this date, I was blissfully unaware that I was about to embark on the most painful journey that one can ever go on.  May 18th fell on a Saturday last year, so although tomorrow marks the official day, it was this Saturday a year ago that I received the worst phone call of my life, from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, telling me that my 19 year old son had been found dead.  Every parents worst nightmare that, instead of counting birthdays here you begin counting the years since you had to give them back, had come true for me. 

I know the exact spot I was standing in when the ME told me the news and I hung up on her.  I think that, in that moment, I thought I could make the news go away if I hung up the phone.  I'm not even sure that lasted a full moment, but I know my own coping mechanisms and that had to be what I was thinking.  I've relived that horrible moment and the ones immediately following, over and over and over.  I know the exact spot and the words I used to tell Ariana her brother had died.  I'm still grateful to her little dog, who was so confused by my sobbing that I tried to comfort him.  My church still brings pangs of sadness.  I still sit in different seats, mostly alone, trying to block out the pictures of my son on the screen, his urn on the stage.  The phone reminds me of the hundreds of texts I had the next morning, a sad reminder that I wasn't just waking from a nightmare.  There are many triggers that haven't been replaced with happy memories yet, so I keep seeing the same trauma.  It's hard to watch yourself sobbing, devastated from the depths of your soul, and know that there is no fix.  That first day, and probably many afterwards, I would stop crying for a second and worry about how worried Brandon would be, how sorry he'd be that we were in this pain, and then start crying, again, non-stop.  I cried through an entire shower, a blow dry and a flat iron without stopping.  Crying that I swear traumatizes me to this day to think about because it was so primal, so horrific.  Watching someone suffer like that is horrible and I see the scene often when I walk into my bathroom.  I'm telling the truth when I say that you are not aware you even have that kind of grief, that kind of agony, inside of you, until your child has gone to wait for you in Heaven. 

I found myself thinking then, as I do now, that God knew this was coming and wondering the things He'd been thinking about.  He knew that Brandon was going to die and that our worlds were about to fall completely apart and yet he allowed it to happen.  I know that, as a parent, his heart must have been grieving with ours, it still does, but what was he actually thinking, what was he seeing, why couldn't he just change something, even a little something, ANYTHING, to save his life?  I don't blame God, though.  I know that he intervenes in our lives repeatedly or we'd probably never make it to age five.  I know for a fact he intervened just five and a half months earlier and saved Brandon's life, snatched him right from death's hands.  We are humans with free will, but God is sovereign and could've intervened, again.  Instead, He chose not to. 

Perhaps God allowed Brandon the final say.  That, too, haunted me because I'd told Brandon that should anything ever happen to him, it'd wreck us, we'd never recover, never be able to go on without him.  That wasn't just for dramatic purposes, I'd tasted what it would be like to lose him and it shook me to my core, I thought I might die.  It became a very real concern of mine that Brandon would hurt from our hurt and regret going with God.  In the end, I had to trust what I know to be true of Heaven and of the character of God and trust that he is happier than he could ever be here and that God wouldn't allow him to be's just not possible in Heaven, walking with the Lord every day.  For the happiness and glory that Brandon is now living in, I am thankful, but it doesn't make me miss him less, it doesn't stop me from saying aloud, WHY...I just want him back?!

I think that mortality is never as frightening as when you have children.  Just the thought of them dying is horrifying, in and of itself.  I've had many, many nightmares over the years about my children dying and, sadly, I actually saw this entire scene with Brandon before it happened, but, ultimately, I was powerless to stop it.  Now, my nightmares are my reality and vice versa.  I walk through the days crying, I am awakened from sleep crying.  I dream of Brandon so, so often and 99% of the time I am painfully aware that he is no longer here.  I wrote about the first several days and how I didn't dream, something very rare for me, but I knew it was the grace of God, forcing sleep on my exhausted mind and body.  The first dream I had of him upset me so much it still makes me cry to talk about it.  I woke from a sound sleep sobbing to the point that I was choking.  After a few dreams that woke me the same way, I begged God to please make them stop for a while, until I could handle it, because they were wrecking me.  And, they did stop.  For a while.  I guess that now I am strong enough to handle them.  I beg to differ.

And, so, here we are a year later and we are all still alive.  Somehow, some way, we have survived.  In spite of ourselves, I'm sure, but we are here.  We are not thriving, I suppose, but getting through something that you are sure you will not survive the first week of, is big.  I've slept my way through many days and it's been a challenge to care about this life now.  When the worst has happened, it's easy to weigh everything by the same standard and then rule it unimportant.  Eating, bills, money, church who cares, those things don't matter compared to losing your child.  It could be a good thing, in the right context, but it could so easily make one very bitter.  Because you see things like homes lost, bullying, a sick pet, whatever, and the pain cannot compare.  "Really, they lost their home?  I lost my child."  It's selfish and self-centered and hateful, but when you care about nothing because't seem possible, it seems like a natural progression. 

Thankfully, God hasn't allowed me to stay there.  I have a greater compassion for people, most of the time (not always, I have my moments).  I am thankful, too, that this didn't run me from God.  I never thought it would, though I wondered if I would be so dead inside that my faith would be of no significance.  I was reminded several times in those first weeks, not to lose myself because my daughter still needed me.  Gosh, it was hard.  It still is.  The pull to run and hide is strong.  I thought I was being pulled under for a while, but there was God's hand and there was my girl's face and, somehow, I allowed myself to be pulled back up.  In the hardest year of her life, she has asked questions and read my blogs, so she's seen my struggles, but God has been faithful and patient.  I haven't gotten answers to all of my questions, neither has she, but she knows it's ok to ask and she has seen that I do not blame God.  I know he hurts with us, but Brandon is in the best place in the world and for that I have to be thankful.  For that, I do not have to worry. 

One of my grief emails said that this is something that should be worked out before you have to walk this road and I agree.  It doesn't always happen that way, but without that faith to fall back on, you're left groping around in the dark for something, anything to hold onto and, sometimes, what you take hold of is the wrong thing.  I shudder to think of the darkness that would've overtaken me had I not had God to lean on, even if I didn't feel like leaning on him.  What we're capable of when we hurt like that can be really scary!  So, while we are not always jumping for joy that we are alive, we are also not spiraling out of control.  The girl is ready to see a counselor now and I think I may follow her lead.  I want her to have the best mom she can have, a better mom than she's had, she deserves it, and I'm not sure I can do it on my own.  We will see.

For now, it's enough to have made it.  Until we meet, again, Brandon...missing you every single minute of every single day.

This is a poem written by Brandon's friend, Ruby, last June.  She was so sweet..she messaged me and told me she didn't want to worsen my heartache, but she wanted to share the poem she wrote for Brandon.

Three much

I haven’t been eating much just so I can stomach this.
this ‘this’ sounds a lot like loneliness.
see, there’s been too much on my plate for far three long.
things have been happening on a scale that ‘too’ can’t satisfy anymore.
for example, I miss you three much.
I missed you ever since you stopped
being here even when you
were right next to me.

you’re so going going gone
it hurts four much.
I am a biological model
for fetal position.

sometimes, I find myself
(though that in itself is rare) I find myself shaking like
a broken carousel horse in
the corner of my own mind.

I can’t stomach this.
so I’ve been hearting it instead.
this heart of mine isn’t so strong.
and if home is where the heart is
I’ve been broken hearted for far too long.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The First Mother's Day

I thought I'd gotten through all of the firsts, leading up to the date that Brandon died.  As it turns out, I'd forgotten all about Mother's Day, which happened to fall exactly one week to the day before the "anniversary" of Brandon's death.  Deathiversay?  I don't know what to call it.  It's not something you celebrate, that's for damn sure, but it's also not something you'll ever forget and you'll be watching the calendar for weeks ahead of time.  I guess it's like Memorial Day is supposed to be...a time of solemn remembrance.  I've never done this before, I guess I'll probably do it wrong. 

I think I've been pretty well covered in prayer because the days that I dread with all of my being end up being sorta ok, it's the days leading up to it that really get me.  You have all this expectation of pain, so you're flinching way ahead of time, trying to brace yourself for what's to come.  Of course, this doesn't help the pain any, but I suppose it's part of that fight or flight instinct. 

Brandon died right after Mother's Day last year.  I mean, who has to lose their child right after Mother's Day?  It's completely unfair.  Truly, though, I can't think of a good day to lose a child, but he died right after Mother's Day and right before Father's Day.  It's hard.  Really, really hard.  We still have a daughter and we still have to be parents and she needs to know that she's enough and she really is, but the hole is still so deep, the wound still so fresh. 

I still catch myself in total disbelief that this is MY life.  I was talking to my sweet friend, K, who is a few years ahead of me on this agonizing journey, and I asked her if she ever still feels that way, like it can't be true, like it's all just surreal.  She said that, even after all this time, she still feels that way.  I wonder if that will go away.  Maybe that's some part of acceptance and maybe I'm not there yet.  I don't want to accept that this is my life.  I really could not have given birth to my first child 20 years ago and not have him now.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have pictured that it'd end up just being me and my daughter. 

So, I am still avoiding.  I'm starting to count calories and you know I'm looking for some serious distraction when *I* start counting calories.  Lately, I don't even feel like I'm part of the world.  The sun has been shining, it's been absolutely beautiful here and I don't want any part of it.  I've spent way too much time with the covers pulled up to my chin, staring off into space. Today, I noticed that I was smiling during a conversation that I felt like I was watching, rather than being a part of it.  It's a strange fog that I didn't expect to have to feel, again, but it's back.  I drive down the street listening to a song that isn't remotely sad and I realize I can't stop crying.  My body, I guess, has decided it knows what is really going on, in spite of my trying to pretend otherwise. 

On Mother's Day, the hardest thing was looking at the door that connected our bathroom/bedrooms.  I miss hearing the sound of his door sliding open and the knob turning on the door to my bedroom and Brandon coming in to say hi or sit and talk or show me something funny.  The crappy thing is that, while I lie in my bed throwing my pity party, I'm staring right at that door, a constant reminder of who is not coming through that door.  And, still I stay there, asking and yet not really asking, could you have let this happen?  There are no answers, not that I want, anyway.  I know it's grace, mercy in action, but still there are so many what-ifs, so many tortuous thoughts.

Thank God for my daughter, my saving grace.  She worries about me and cares for me in a way that I wish she did not have to.  Her life should be carefree and filled with girlie drama, not loss, sadness, death.  I am so grateful for her, though, and her attention to the details of my life.  What a strong girl she is, I can't wait to watch the story of her life unfold. 

The picture is the last card I received from my son, for last Mother's Day.  What a precious boy I had.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Land of Bittersweet

Lately, I've noticed that I use that word a lot, mostly in my own head, but it describes where I live and what every single thing that could be joy now feels like.  On a day that I should be happy for many reasons, I am profoundly sad.  It started good and I expect it'll end just fine, but I guess it's not enough.  I've spent way too much time crying and hating this day.  And this state...Washington.  I feel like it stole my son.  I know it's just displaced anger and that's ok, I hate this state, anyway...oh, but how much more I loathe it without my son in it. 

I did what I needed to do and got my gorgeous daughter ready for her prom and the second she was out the door, the sadness wrapped itself around and around and around me, until I felt so suffocated I all but ran out the front door.  I want to revel in my daughter's happiness at going to her senior prom (bittersweet for her b/c she does not want high school to end) and commit to memory how pretty she is, inside and out, and thank God for providing all that he has, so we can provide for her, but all I can think about is that Brandon should be here. 

He's missing everything now and every moment, no matter how grand, is missing Brandon and I don't know how any moment will ever be, at its very best, better than bittersweet.  How can anything ever be truly right, again, with half of your heart gone?  There's no pill, no drink, no food, no shopping, no nothing that you can drown yourself in, that does not come with the realization that it will never be enough to cover all the pain.  When you're hit, yet again, with the facts of life as you now know it, it can be pretty brutal.  Sometimes, I know when the emptiness will come because it usually follows the dreams.  I still wake up crying from my dreams and it always puts me in a bad mood.  I know this will happen and yet I end up watching myself lash out at some innocent victim because if I let the sadness do what it wants, I'll be even less than I am, so I go with the anger.  Neither healthy, both probably normal...a laughable word right there, as if I've ever known what normal was in the first place. 

In truth, I know Brandon is missing nothing.  It is we who are missing out, not just on being with him, but also experiencing what he is now.  I know that he wants for nothing, there is no bittersweet there and he will never feel pain, again.  I do not hurt less.  I still can't think of anything bringing me happiness that doesn't bring with it its companions, heartache and longing...and the ruthless knowledge that Brandon will never experience another moment with me on this earth.  I hate that knowledge.  God, I want to just be ignorant and unaware, sometimes. 

I guess this is why you do the one day at a time thing because thinking of all the tomorrows without your child is really too much.  In borrowing trouble for the rest of your life, you rob today of the moments of grace and joy that are ok to have.  I know they're ok.  In my head I know they're ok and necessary.  And, yet, they are so, so bittersweet.