Settling in for a LONG ride

I remember in the first few weeks after Charlie died, I talked with a few other mom’s who had lost babies and they said, “it gets worse.” When I heard that, I thought, “There is no way in hell it gets worse than this!” And I felt scared thinking they could be right, but also kept telling myself, “That’s their experience and each grief journey is different.” I was confident I couldn’t get any lower than I was. Also, I’m a therapist, right? I can pull out all my “therapist tricks” to prevent myself from sinking lower…right?

But I feel like the last five days or so have proven that I can, indeed, sink lower. My own therapist told me that my “playing therapist” on myself is actually part of the problem. I’m trying to hold myself to a different standard and haven’t been as empathetic and loving with myself as I need to be. She says I need to be “very human” for awhile and it’s OK to be “barely functional.”

After that plane ride home, I feel like I haven’t been able to rebound back to “normal grief survival mode.” I’ve continued to feel so raw, and so sad, and so heavy. I cry at the drop of a hat. I cried today when someone was rude to me while driving on the road. I almost turned the car around to go back home. I would have, had I not known Brooke was waiting for me at the gym (thank you Brooke).

This may sound weird, as it’s hard to explain, but I feel like part of why I feel more sad is that the novelty of grief has worn off. I am thinking of grief kind of like labor. When you first progress to the point of labor where the contractions are really strong, it is a very painful but unique experience. For the first couple hours, there’s almost this, “Wow, that hurts!” reaction. Like there’s a surprise and novelty about the entire thing that is self-sustaining. But then, it wears off and it just SUCKS. Really really sucks. It’s at that point, in both my labors, that I called for an epidural.

But there’s no epidural forthcoming in this experience. And as the novelty has worn off, I can see more clearly that it is going to be a LONG ride. Thank you for journeying with me.

 

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The new meaning of Memorial Day

I used to always look forward to Memorial Day as it initiated summer and represented a long weekend full of fun activities with family or friends. Now, I feel bad that I never thought to reflect on what Memorial Day really meant before it became so personal. 

This Memorial Day, being the first after losing Charlie less than 2 months ago, was bittersweet. On the one hand, it was awful to go visit my son in a cemetery. On the other hand, there was something so beautiful and unifying about seeing so many families crowd the cemetery to say hello to their loved ones. The cemetery at Larkin Sunset Gardens was almost blanketed in flowers. It seemed almost every grave had a visitor. In babyland, where Charlie rests, it was nice to see some of the families I have wondered about as I have looked at their baby’s graves at times I’ve come to visit Charlie. We were all, on that day, united in our grief and loss.

This Memorial Day was also the first time we decided to bring Hailee to the cemetery with us.

She had never visited Charlie’s grave before. We didn’t explain that Charlie was buried there because her little two-year-old mind wouldn’t understand and if she did, it’d probably really scare her to think he was underground. No, we’d rather her keep understanding that Charlie is at Jesus’ house.

My sweet brother Preston and sister-in-law Emily brought their children to the cemetery to pay respects to Charlie as well. It meant so much to us to have family gathered together to show love for our little Mister Mister.

My nephew Andrew deeply touched Chad and me with his sensitive spirit and love for Charlie. He wept with us over Charlie and Chad and I both found ourselves wrapping Andrew up in our arms as a result.

We all shed tears together and reflected on Charlie. To honor him, we released balloons. We told Hailee that “baby brother [would] catch them at Jesus’ house.”

It was a beautiful day, albeit a painful, gut wrenching day.

I’m so grateful I’m not journeying this alone. I am so grateful for the unyielding love, support and care from my family and friends. This journey is only beginning and I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other without that love and support. Thank you.

My wrestle with God

We often talk about having personal “religious shelves” on which we put things we don’t understand. These are things that confuse us, or may even feel wrong to us, but we are willing to suspend judgement and cling to faith. Well, I am finding in this grief journey, that I have to make my own “grief shelf” for the things I do not understand about Charlie’s life and death, about God, and the meaning of life.

This grief shelf is hard for me. I don’t have an easy time putting some things on this shelf. For example, I keep ruminating about whether or not Charlie’s death had inherent meaning. I have read blogs of other mom’s who have lost babies or young children, who have said with conviction that they believe their children were meant to die. They may not understand “why” but they have received revelation that their child wasn’t destined to be on this earth long. In one woman’s blog, she described that she and her husband had impressions, both at separate times, that they would not have their daughter for long. They have subsequently found these impressions to be reassuring that God is in control and is orchestrating a Grand Plan.

I didn’t have any impressions like that while Charlie was alive and I haven’t had any answers since he died whether God intended Charlie to return to Heaven or whether it really was just a freak accident. I want so desperately to believe that there is inherent meaning in his death. I would love that comfort. If I had that comfort, I could breathe more easily knowing that if I’m not in control of my life, or the life of my children, at least God is.

But Charlie’s death has seriously confused my understanding of my Heavenly Father. Some things of my testimony remain strong and true. Like, fundamentally I don’t doubt that He’s there. I don’t doubt that He knows what is going on and how I feel about all of this. BUT, I suddenly find myself thinking: If God is omnipotent, why didn’t he SAVE Charlie? I think of four possibilities: 1. Charlie was supposed to die 2. Heavenly Father, for reasons I don’t understand chose not to save him, 3. It was a freak accident and Heavenly Father isn’t as involved in our everyday lives as I previously thought (he’s more of an observer and less involved as a parent) or 4. He’s not as omnipotent as I thought, and perhaps is constrained from interfering in mortality (again in ways I don’t understand).

I don’t like thinking options 2-4 but I can’t help it. I feel this need to make sense of Charlie’s death. I try to gather evidence that option 1 is true…but none of it is convincing enough that I believe it. I hope it, but don’t believe it. When I can’t believe option 1, I try to think of what one of my best friends said, “When things happen, Heavenly Father and the Atonement make those events into exactly what you need.” That statement rings true to me.

But there are times, like last night and today, when that belief isn’t enough. I feel so confused about God and that confusion scares me. I used to think I knew Him. But now, I don’t feel like I do. Like I said before, there are some things I still believe, like He is my Heavenly Father, He sent his son to die for me and all of us so that we can return to him, He loves Charlie (that belief gives me great comfort), and that he knows me and is aware of me. But I don’t understand him at all.

I don’t understand why sometimes He intervenes and other times He doesn’t. Why would He take, or allow, my Charlie to die when I was trying to be such a good mother? And other children grow up in abusive and neglectful homes? It makes no sense.

As I was wrestling with all these feelings last night and today, I read some things that gave me some comfort. In this book I got from the Utah SIDS alliance: The SIDS Survival Guide, I read a brief essay by a mother who lost her daughter, entitled, “A Jewish Perspective on ‘Why'” In this essay, she explained that in Reform Judaism, they believe that God is an unexplainable presence. “Did God want her to die? Was it her time? Unequivocally no!…What chutzpah to claim that we know what God is thinking! That very assumption is an affront to our sensitivities because it assumes that we know what God is…We mortals may live to be 120 years old, but God is billions of years old. He preceded everything. How is it possible for any person to explain or blame God?”

That essay brought to mind a scripture in the Book of Mormon along those same lines: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9)

Then I ended the struggle today reading this article with Chad. My favorite quote from the talk was this: “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.”

As I read these things, I felt a welcome calm settle over me. I felt I could put that heavy “WHY?” question up on my shelf again…at least for now. 

Finally, I cried when I read, “He who descended below all things will come to our aid. He will comfort and uphold us. He will strengthen us in our weakness and fortify us in our distress. He will make weak things become strong.” I’ve never needed comfort and strength so much in my life. I am so grateful for my testimony of my Savior and his love for me and all of us.

I know my wrestle with God isn’t over. But at least tonight I can go to bed feeling some comfort and reassurance that He and I are on the same side.

No reserves

I have ZERO reserves to roll with the punches life throws at me. I can be “ok” if everything in my life runs smoothly. Subsequently I have been careful about activities I engage in, and who I see, as I try to protect my fragile emotions. But I can’t always live like that and I can’t anticipate everything. And the SMALLEST things can set me off. Someone looking at me the wrong way can cause tears to spring to my eyes.

So my trip to Florida with Hailee ended up being a great trip. I had a wonderful time with my mom and seeing my brother, Jotham, sister-in-law, Ruth, and Hailee loved her cousins, Mason, Quincy, and Graham. There were some hard or tender moments but the overall trip was wonderful and we created some great memories as a family. My favorite memories involved kicking the soccer ball with my brother on the beach and watching Hailee’s excitement on the “It’s a Small World” Disney World ride. I also loved the late night conversation with Ruth and my mom, where we got to talk about Charlie.

But the trip home from Tampa to Salt Lake City yesterday completely undid me. It was honestly, the worst day I’ve experienced post-Charlie-funeral. We all got up early to drive from Orlando to Tampa to catch Hailee and my 9:50am flight to Denver and then onto SLC. We said goodbye to my mom at the curb and everything seemed to be working out fine. We got to the plane right as they were boarding and I thought, “Perfect, I don’t like extra time with a two year old in an airport.” But it was all downhill from there.

We boarded and were all ready to go, only to wait on the airplane, at the gate, for an hour and a half while they fixed a light on the plane. Then, the long flight from Tampa to Denver was full of a squirmy Hailee who didn’t want to sit and watch movies on her IPad and demanded lots of attention and management. She fell asleep on my lap, literally 3 minutes before we landed in Denver and I had to wake her up to get off the plane. We rushed off the plane to try to make our connection but quickly learned that our flight had left without us.

The airline representatives booked us on the “next best” route to Salt Lake City, a flight leaving four hours later and required a plane transfer in Phoenix. We were to arrive in SLC at 8:30 pm instead of our original schedule of 1:45 pm. There were no other straight shots to SLC that weren’t booked already. I struggled to refrain from crying at this point but I couldn’t help it. I took Hailee to the bathroom with me and proceeded to cry in the stall at the Denver airport. I allowed myself five minutes of crying, as my crying was causing Hailee to cry as well. Then I “sucked it up” and went with Hailee to find something to eat for lunch.

I said lots of swear words in my head and out loud when I was on the phone with Chad. But after a full belly and picking up some new games from a cute toy store in the Denver airport, I felt I could handle two more flights with Hailee.

When we arrived in Phoenix, I walked over a quarter mile to our next gate with Hailee in my arms, only to find that our flight out of Phoenix was delayed an hour. This would get us into Salt Lake City after 9pm. This meant over 12 hours of traveling total.

At this point, Hailee was a mess. She was so tired and sleep deprived from our vacation and lack of naps and was throwing two-year-old fits all over the place. When I saw that this flight was delayed, I honestly felt I had been pushed over the edge.

I went to a representative and asked if I could be re-booked on something the next day so that I could get a good nights sleep with Hailee at my parent’s house in Phoenix. The representative told me I would have to buy my own tickets to do that. I responded, “That doesn’t make sense to me and feels like very bad costumer service when everything that has happened today has NOT been my fault and I have now been flying all day with an exhausted two-year-old.” The supervisor was not sympathetic and said, “We are getting you to your destination today, which is what we can do for you.”

I LOST IT. I completely LOST IT.

Now, if this had happened to me when I wasn’t grieving and raw, this would simply be a really annoying and long day. But this honestly felt like more than I could handle. It didn’t help that throughout the day I seemed to see lots of babies and happy, smiling parents everywhere.

I took Hailee and walked toward the bathrooms for another “stall cry” but didn’t even make it there. I collapsed in front of one of the airport news and snack stores and just SOBBED. In front of hundreds of people, I was just SOBBING. I took Hailee in my lap and together she and I just cried and cried. We got lots of looks but I was beyond caring.

I called my parents (my mom had arrived in Phoenix from her Tampa-Phoenix flight about an hour previous) and told them the situation. They, of course, offered to come get us and for us to stay at their house. Right then, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. So I walked back up to the supervisor who rejected me and asked her how much it would cost to fly out the next day.

It was over 500 dollars! My sweet mom offered us to use her mileage points so we could stay. The supervisor, now that she saw my distress, was much nicer and sympathetic. She walked onto the tarmac, personally, to see if she could find our bags and offered to loan us a car seat so we could stay. Well, as it turns out, our bags went a different route to SLC, so I felt there was no point in staying if I couldn’t change my underwear. I took a deep breath and decided to “suck it up” one last time.

With all my crying and trying to plan how to stay in Phoenix, by the time I decided we were going to fly to Utah as planned, I only had about 20 minutes to wait before boarding. We survived the last leg of our trip and in the end, I was grateful we decided to come back to Utah. When Chad saw us and wrapped us in his arms, he started crying himself. He expressed how much he missed us while we were gone.

This event has left me very raw. I feel like an exposed nerve. My gut feels like it’s been put in a blender and like someone has taken a dagger to my heart. My mind is being very cruel to me and I am having to make a conscious effort to not overly berate myself. It’s hard to even write about this because it just feels so vulnerable to admit how raw I really am.

It is also hard, because in this rawness, I feel like a “waste of space.” Like I’m doing no good to anyone or the world by existing. I hate how easily I am unraveled and subsequently feel like I offer little to others. In fact, I often feel like in this vulnerability, I may burden others, especially my sweet husband. I also don’t want people to feel like they have to walk on egg shells around me.

If you read this and interact with me, please do NOT walk on eggshells. It actually hurts more if I feel like others are treating me as fragile. It meant a lot to me that my brother said something relatively insensitive in Florida. While it hurt, it felt good to know that he wasn’t editing himself around me. And I got over it. I know I need to face these situations (i.e. life) if I’m going to keep going. This airport adventure makes me aware that I will be tumbled and smashed on the rocks from time to time in my journey.

And to recover from this tumbling, I’m taking care of myself today. Chad booked me a massage and I am signing off now to go to it. 🙂

Reminders

Reminders of Charlie, especially Charlie’s death, are hard for me.

Right now I am on a very welcomed vacation with my mom and Hailee in Florida to visit my brother and his family. I didn’t anticipate that this vacation would bring much up for me, but today it is.

For example, it’s hard for me to wear certain clothes. Putting on my swimsuit this morning was hard for me. It was the swimsuit I wore in Hawaii when he died. Other clothes I associate with that time in Hawaii are hard for me to wear as well.

It’s hard for me to be in a hotel. Even though it’s a super nice hotel and completely different from the hotel we stayed at in Hawaii, it’s still a hotel.

Similarly, even though we are on the complete opposite side of the USA, and it’s a totally different ocean, it’s still an ocean. The air feels humid and salty and sounds of vacation are everywhere. Hailee’s excitement about the beach and the pool are cute, and also a bit painful.

This morning at the pool another mother asked me, “Is she your only daughter?” I responded, “Yes” but wanted to add, “but she’s not my only child! I had a son. He was amazing.” But I didn’t want to get into that awkward conversation with a stranger today so I left it at “yes.”

Because of these reminders, I’m finding I have to more actively fight off intrusive images from that horrible day. I hate it. I find myself even shaking my head in moments, as if to physically shake the images and memories OUT of my head.

This experience makes me grateful, however, that Charlie didn’t die at home. Then I would have to deal with reminders of that day almost all the time. It’s hard enough not to think about, let alone be reminded of constantly. I’m grateful my home is a refuge and comfort to me.

I’m optimistic that vacations, especially to warm sunny beaches, won’t always be this painful. I’m grateful I’m in a place surrounded by family to dampen the sting and am looking forward to creating NEW, fonder, beach vacation memories. But today my heart physically aches for my baby.

A small but vital comfort

I never thought much about morticians growing up, outside of watching My Girl where Dan Aykroyd plays one. And if I ever did think about them, I would get a chill down my spine thinking about what their job entails. I would wonder what type of person would want to do a job like that?

But now I have a completely different view of them. The mortician that worked with us for Charlie’s funeral and interment, Dieter, holds a very special place in my heart. Dieter obviously cares deeply about his work and put so much effort, time, and care into Charlie and helping us through the process. He was such a gentle, understanding, kind man who rendered us an invaluable service. When I think of Dieter I think of someone who is just amazing to perform such an emotion laden job with such devotion. I asked Dieter how he felt about his job and he said, “I feel it’s a blessing to help people through a very difficult time in their lives.” He was certainly a blessing for us in the darkest week of our life.

Dieter also gave us an invaluable gift. After my mom and I dressed Charlie for burial, we invited my brothers and sister-in-law Ruth in to say goodbye to him, before we closed and sealed the casket. We put some very special things in the casket with Charlie: his binkie, his favorite blanket, pictures drawn for him from his cousins, and a homemade bear from Hawaii. After we placed these things in his casket and were in the process of saying goodbye, Dieter came into the room with four stuffed bears; two large and two small.

With tears in his own eyes, Dieter told us, “This family of bears is special. This is the Momma bear (he handed it to me), the Papa bear (he handed to Chad), the little bear for Hailee (who wasn’t there) and the baby bear. This baby bear will be with Charlie and if you ever want to give Charlie a hug, just hug your bear and the baby bear with Charlie will feel that hug and hug Charlie for you.” I couldn’t help the gushing of new tears in that moment as I squeezed my bear and told Dieter “thank you.” I watched as Dieter put the baby bear on Charlie and tried to control his own emotions. The thought and symbolism of this was so perfect and meant the world to me.

Now every night I sleep with my bear snuggled in my arms and I feel as though I’m giving Charlie hugs and loves. This bear gives my aching arms something to hold and makes it easier for me to sleep. I don’t care if I’m a 30 year old sleeping with a stuffed animal. This bear will sleep with me for a long time. This bear is small but vital comfort to me and I am so grateful for such a thoughtful gift. For this act and all the others Dieter rendered, I now think of morticians as earthly angels.

 

 

The observer

I’m not living. I’m the observer. I’m watching other people live their lives. It’s like standing next to a moving sidewalk and watching families and friends ride along, smiling, teasing each other, accomplishing things, (living) but I am immobile to join them. And I don’t want to join them. I hurt too much to engage in the task of living. So I’m just surviving…and observing that others are living.

It’s not fair that life continues. Can someone direct me to somewhere I can go where life STOPS for awhile? The Hotel California maybe?

I survived a three year old birthday party this weekend. It took everything I had to fake my way through those two hours. The difficult nature of the task was compounded by the fact that two people brought babies about six months old. But the difficult nature of the task was also eased by the presence of my friend Brooke, who rarely left my side.

I fake it well. It’s something I’ve always been good at. It’s sadly ironic because I spend so much effort as a therapist helping people be congruent with their emotions and I’m unwilling to be congruent myself. I’m so good at faking, it can be an unconscious act. You almost have to catch me unawares or be very close to me to see how I’m really feeling. Or I guess you could just follow me home after a social event and see my inevitable crash.

Faking is a survival tool that makes it so I don’t have to deal with other people’s discomfort at my sadness. And in those moments, I don’t have to deal with my sadness either. And let’s be honest, a three year old birthday party is NOT a place to be SAD. But this survival tool sure makes for a lonely reality when I get home, and I’m all alone, and I’ve drained all my reserves. Then the tears come in force.

It’s then I feel everything I didn’t allow myself to feel in the company of others. I feel angry that people have the audacity to go on living in my presence. I feel upset that I cannot join them…and simultaneously terrified that they will leave me. I feel scared that I may never rejoin them. I’m scared I’m going to be faking the rest of my life.

And yet I feel like if I ever do rejoin life, I’m leaving Charlie behind. I know this last thought isn’t quite logical…but I feel like my grief is my bond to him. If I ever let my grief go, then I’m letting him go. That’s what I mean when I say, I don’t want to rejoin life right now. I want to stay with Charlie. I hate that already my memories of him are less vivid.

I hate that already I’m getting used to the absence of him. I hate that I’m getting used to the world being wrong.

I feel angry that I can do NOTHING to get Charlie back. I feel angry that I am being required to live the rest of my life with a gaping hole in my heart. I feel so SAD.

But chances are, if you see me, I will smile and say, “OK” in response to “how are you doing?” And who knows? In that moment I may even believe that I am OK.