My Purpose

I have grown into believing that in every situation there is a lesson…and all that happens to us has a purpose.  Actually, if I think back…maybe I am just wired like that. I do distinctively recall a lot of eye rolling from my best friend through high school on when I would sputter “everything happens for a reason” whenever something adverse happened to her.  It drove her crazy!  Maybe it’s that those of us believing in this theory are just eternal optimists that are spinning each situation into having a silver lining to make ourselves feel better…but either way, it works for me that bad things don’t just happen for no reason at all.  I get to learn and evolve as I go.

Well, when someone you love dies it makes you question this theory.  Especially when it is someone who hasn’t lived a full life yet.  Someone who has children…and small ones at that.  Someone who was loved by all and fought as hard as he could and that made no difference.  He went through a hell of a year fighting and being sick for no difference in outcome than if he didn’t fight at all and just gave up.  He is gone.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  He had plans, WE had plans.

This isn’t an “Everything happens for a reason” situation here.  If that was said to me a month ago…you’d get far more than an eye roll!!  However, I am beginning to look at things a bit differently as time marches on and I get further into the healing process.

I am beginning to believe that we all weren’t meant to be on this earth for 90 or 100 years.  I believe we all have a purpose…some have many purposes. Babies right through to those living 100+ years. When we are taken…our purpose(s) were served.  I’m sure Matt, over his 38 years and especially in his last year, inspired, motivated, healed, loved and impacted many.  I can’t say that there was a reason for him dying, but I can certainly say there was a reason for him living.

So many said to me over the year I was with Matt that I was an angel sent to him and then even more so just after he passed.  It made me uncomfortable because I wasn’t with him to be a saint, out of pity or for whatever reason some people thought (it was nastily said to me by a certain someone after he passed that I liked the “show” of being with Matt!!  I say prayers for that person!!).  I actually fell in love with him and he helped me more than I could have ever imagined in my own grieving process at the time.  Odd that I am left in albeit another time of grief by the one who helped me heal!

I, now that I am moving through my stages of grief and through starting a new relationship, am actually embracing being told that I was his angel.  That was MY purpose for him.  It wasn’t a cruel twist of the universe…as I first felt when he died…to give me love, healing and hope and then snatch it away like a greedy crook.  I look back and know how many times alone we spent cracking each other up.  Rides to the hospital flew by and I swear people thought we were nuts at the laughing and goofing off in the waiting rooms when everyone there was in the midst of a dire situation.  I brought him smiles, laughter and love.  And he brought me the same.  He was my angel, too.  My tears of grief that would arrive in those alone times (especially in the car!) lessened and finally disappeared because of him. The pain in my chest that I held for so long that I didn’t even realize was there…was replaced by feelings of love from and for him.  The grief never goes away, but Matt helped me live happily with it there.  A purpose he had was to help heal me and show me I was able to love again.

It’s nearing five months since he’s been gone.  I am lucky enough, and unlucky enough, to have met someone new to care for so soon.  Grief and a new partner has it’s own set of challenges for both parties.  But I see when starting a relationship without a sickness…which is all I have really known in the past decade…I was missing out on so much…even though I didn’t realize it then.   I didn’t feel like it was lacking anything…it was perfect for what it was at the time.  We were fulfilling a purpose for each other.  Just as this new man in my life is in a role of helping me heal, he is serving a purpose.  I am not sure if this is his only purpose with me and we will part ways tomorrow or next month or next year…or never…or how I am helping him, but he is making me smile and drying my tears (like literally drying them…hence the “unlucky enough” said previously).

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I am now taking comfort in all the roles people past and present have played in my life.  I am embracing all the lessons, love and healing and trying to let that take precedence over what’s been lost and gone wrong.  Eye roll all you want.

Living in Our (Grief) Trigger-Happy World…

Triggers…the unexpected and probably one of the hardest parts of losing someone you love.   When you are all aboard on this grief train…it’s enough to derail you.  Being that this isn’t the first time I am getting my ticket punched and setting out on this journey…it doesn’t derail me quite as easily, as I know what to expect…however, it seems almost constant at this point.

What’s a grief trigger? A grief trigger is anything that brings up memories related to a loss. What are grief triggers for me?  It would appear that it’d probably be easier to explain what aren’t…but here we go.

Let’s start with the obvious and in-your-face ones.  A birthday.  Matt’s birthday is at the end of this month.  He never made it to 39.  That’ll be a tough day, well, a tougher day…although, learning from my own history, the days before will be the worst when anticipating that monumental day…and the actual day will be okay and filled mostly with good memories and smiles.  Milestones counting out from the death is another obvious one.  First it’s days…then it’s weeks (yesterday it was six weeks since Matt passed)…then it’s months…then you get to the “angelversay” as we call it in our household.  We just passed Mike’s 3rd Angelversary just days after Matt passed away.  September can officially “suck it”. I’m always anticipating those triggers.  You can brace yourself for them and you can plan for your derailment…which, unfortunately, makes it no easier, but at least you have a head’s up.

Then there’s the unexpected triggers you face throughout your days. And weeks. And months.  And years.  I am letting out a big sigh as I just typed that.  My life, since embarking on own my path with Matt, was completely intertwined with him.  We never got to live together (which was our plan as soon as he was “healthy”), but if he wasn’t physically with me…he was on my mind.  Or I was traveling to visit him.  Or I was cooking for him.  Or I was texting him.  Or researching for him.  That makes for going through the days and weeks after he’s gone with a lot of reminders that he is not here.  A lot of free time on my hands that was typically was monopolized by him.  So, even the empty space in my days is a grief trigger.  Having empty space is starting to become my norm, so my new routine is starting to get a little easier.

And then there’s the grab bag of other reminders…the person that walks in the restaurant that looks like him, the song on the radio, the posts and pictures of the Grassdrags Matt was really hoping to introduce me to, looking down at your little boy who’s looking up at you…and drastically resembling Daddy, washing the sweatshirt you stole from him, the random post in your news feed about them…and there’s so many other little and unexpected things, smells, sounds that occur…and regardless of how small or insignificant they seem…they can drop you to your knees, or make you feel like you want to, because the pain is so intense.  Then you pick yourself up and move on until the next one comes along.

Working with the public combined with being so open on social media and through my blog, I come into contact with people daily who knew of Matt’s illness and were up to speed on the final days.  I am friends with a large portion of my customers…some closer than others.  We all catch up with each others’ lives when they visit.  Right up until yesterday I am seeing people for the first time since Matt died who are giving their condolences…hard, but welcomed.  And even harder (for them, not me) are the ones who are out of the loop and ask how Matt’s treatments are going.  That always makes for an awkward conversation…I still haven’t found the right words for that one. More grief triggers.

This becomes the norm.  Life, a series of reminders…triggers.  Sometimes all day…sometimes not for a while.  But forever. I can tell you, years later, I can’t hear an ambulance without being zapped right back to the day Mike was rushed to the hospital only to be gone from us a few days later.  I now know, because of this, that I will never hear a helicopter without thinking of Matt being airlifted to Boston. Throughout your days, I assure you that there are a lot more ambulances and helicopters than you realize!!!

I’m in no hurry to go through this process.  I know from experience that there’s no time limit on when you travel through all the stages of the journey. I will be glad when I am out of what seems like the zombie stage(my own non-technical term). I’ve never seen even a few minutes of the Walking Dead, but I can picture a zombie creature walking down the street, labored, and being hit with bullet after bullet…and they still keep going.  The trigger bullets keep coming, and I keep going.  I am the zombie taking the hits and going through the grocery store by the “Mitchell’s Fresh” sign without outwardly flinching. I am waiting on the customer that uncannily looks like Matt without batting an eye.  I will continue to pour drinks with a smile while a family member sits at my bar and fondly tells stories about Matt.  I will be cleaning the house with the kids when that song comes on…and I will just continue on.  But then I will get in the car alone and let it go.  I will feel it and by the time I’ve reached my destination I will be thanking my waterproof mascara and leftover napkins from Dunkin Donuts on the seat beside me…and move forward.  I will go to bed fine, then hit with a trigger, curl into a ball, get though my grief attack…and then pick up my phone and play my kids and other various opponents in my new favorite smartphone app.

So, what I have learned from mourning Mike and being with Matt, is that the triggers never go away.  Those triggers will be shot at you like bullets, like it or not.  The difference is that over time they don’t need to always be so painful.  They can bring a smile.  A good memory.  Sometimes sadness. Sometimes pain.  But not like it feels in the beginning.

For now, I will be thankful that even through the sadness and pain…and bullets… that I am able to find joy in my children’s smiles and laughter, that I am able to belly laugh whole-heartedly with friends and co-workers…and that I can just merely get out of bed…while it’s still in the a.m… I know that it won’t always feel the way it does today.

Zombie-like or not…I’m moving forward.

“Give Sorrow Words”

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” ~ Shakespeare

This insightful quote…and the encouragement of my kids…leaves me opening up a blank page and continue writing.  Keeping grief locked up keeps the pain locked up.  I’ll give my sorrow words…

Three years ago, I came to learn about real grief for the first time in my life.  I had lost numerous people…but when it is someone so close…someone you let into your heart…it’s far different.  This first experience was with my son’s father.  I guess it’s probably the same feeling as when you lose a best friend, parent, sibling, or even worse…God forbid a child.  I guess I was lucky making it 41 years escaping that pain.

So, this time around, losing Matt a week ago, it doesn’t hurt any less.  However, this time around I have some hope that I won’t always be stuck where I am.  That feeling where I just want it to be bed time so I can sleep (well, lie there and try and sleep), having that walking around in a fog type of feeling, just plain being non-functional.  Like not remembering how to even tie your shoes type of non-functional.

This time, I am able to see the milestones and know that I am headed in the right direction.  Today, for instance, I made my cup of coffee this morning and came to the computer rather than back to bed.  Baby steps.  I clicked on the website for the grocery store circular armed with paper and pen.   The goal was  to make a list and plan dinners judging on the sales and get myself out to the store…eventually. I clicked on the site.  I haven’t looked at it and the paper and pen sit in front of me untouched.  But it’s still baby steps.

Right now, I am going to put on my Pandora music stations and attempt to get some cleaning done.  Then get back to my grocery list.  I don’t know how far I will get, but getting the music on and out of this chair (and avoiding my bed) will be steps in the right direction.  Moving forward…

And Grief trickles in…

Grief trickles in. Yes, it does.

Unexpectedly, I have a night alone with Brayden. Jamie (my oldest) invited DJ (my next oldest) to his home for the night…and Mackenzie (my only daughter)was invited over a friend’s house for the evening. There go my sitters for my tentative plans…and here goes a night home, just me and my littlest.

Cool. We will do dinner and a movie. Done. Bedtime lasted about two hours longer than the norm…but he’s sound asleep…finally.

My goal, after Bray’s bedtime, was to put in a movie and pour a glass of wine. The chick flick I planned on was more of a “get your tissues ready and have a good cry” kinda flick.

Grief trickled in. I have been so worried and consumed with what is going on with Matt and his battle with cancer, I’ve allowed no time for worrying about anything else. It felt good to let it go. I actually forgot the grief was there. It’s there, it always is, bubbling at the surface and it unexpectedly started boiling over without warning.

When you lose someone you truly love, the grief is always there…I am learning it just comes out differently and at different times. I am happy I am with someone who is willing to stand by me with that bit of instability as a part of who I now am. Who shows no fear or jealousy of that past love.

Thanks, Matt, for getting me through when it “trickles” in. Now, off to find a happier chick flick…

It’s that time again…

It’s September 9th, 2014.  Two years ago on September 9th it was the last time I had a conversation with Mike. It was a Sunday morning and I had just pulled into the driveway after going to church.  The kids all got out of the car, except Brayden…he stayed in his car seat until I let him escape after my phone call.  The conversation went pretty much the same as they all did at that point.

Him: “Wendy, I want to come home”, “Why are you doing this to us”, “The kids want me there”, “I love you”.

Me: “No”, “YOU did this”, “Course they want you here, they love you”, “I love you, too”….”Get sober and you can come home…like a year sober”.

Sometimes it ended there.  That Sunday it got a little heated, not yelling and screaming heated, but I was angry.  He wasn’t visiting.  He wasn’t paying any support.

My last words?  “If I wasn’t around, Brayden would just die in his crib, you are doing nothing to care for or support your son”. (Yes, pretty extreme, I know.)

His response? “I love you, Wendy”.

He hung up.

That was it.

I went about my day.  Went to the grocery store just before dinner time.  Upon leaving the grocery store…at the lights in front of what is now Domino’s…my phone rang.  It was Alyssa.  I answered and had to tell her to slow down because I couldn’t understand her.  “Daddy’s at the hospital, he wasn’t breathing when they got there” she was finally able to get out enough for me to comprehend.  She was referring to the ambulance and paramedics. That’s all I really recall of the conversation.  I am sure I comforted her and said I’d be right there.

That sentence “Daddy’s at the hospital, he wasn’t breathing when they got there” was a chant that I heard over and over and over.  All the way home.  While I was home getting care for the kids.  All the way to the hospital.

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The rest of September 9th, 2012 was spent at the ICU…as well as the 10th…and we said goodbye on the 11th.

This is the second time I am recognizing this anniversary of the 9th, our last conversation.  A hard pill to swallow when they are words like that.

It’s not easy, but it’s definitely easier.  I am so thankful that I am in a much better place in my healing.  I thank the person responsible for that on a regular basis.

We miss him and it hurts to know he can’t experience everything I get to about the kids growing and see all that they are doing.  It’s hard know they won’t experience his goofiness or sense of humor anymore.  We will just keep doing what we are doing and that’s continue to re-tell his funny stories and antics, keeping his spirit alive. That always brings smiles and laughter.  Peace, Mike.

 

Through the eyes of a child…

I went out to start my Easter shopping yesterday…yes, yesterday.  Between a back “issue” and a stomach bug plaguing the house this past week, I was left the day before Easter battling Walmart. Ugh.  On my list was to find a book about the meaning of Easter for Brayden(my 3 year old).  After a few trying moments throughout the store I had found myself at the “Easter book” section.  Thumbing through books of Peter Cottontail and various other bunny books, I came across a book about Heaven.  It was geared toward “little ones”  and as I was reading through it…I was suddenly feeling it very heavy that my three year old had heard the term “heaven” a whole lot…and I am sure that he had NO idea what we all were talking about when we said that’s where Daddy is…other than it lies somewhere above the clouds we point at when telling him.  Matter of fact, it occurred to me when the next book I picked up “Daddy is my Hero”…that he probably has no idea what a Daddy is! The guy in all the pictures that we all look fondly at, but in reality he likely has no memory of being with and adored by.  I put the Daddy book back on the shelf, but put the Heaven book in my cart…

Bray at falls

(Bray at the Falls, Easter Sunday ’14, where part of Daddy’s ashes were spread)

 

The night continued on as expected…chaos and fun..and then all the kids were in bed.  It was time to get everything together for Easter Morning.  I (shockingly, cough) checked in at the computer…likely to update a facebook status or check in on my newsfeed…when I noticed a folded over paper with text on it to the left of the monitor.  I am not sure which kid had been reading it and left it there, I haven’t asked.  I honestly never knew it existed in that form before that night.  The only time I read the words on that paper were, first, by Mackenzie’s English teacher…who sent it to me by email attachment so that I had a chance to absorb what Mackenzie had written before she brought it home in her final report.  And then second, by her report she actually brought home…in which I was eternally grateful to the teacher who gave me a heads up and a few weeks notice to figure out what my reaction would be!

The following is a narrative of a ten year old girl who is about to, and does, lose her father figure.  It doesn’t speak of Heaven or where he goes…that’s something she and I talk about often, but is not in print. Between the books at Walmart and the narrative I stepped upon, I couldn’t help but think about the children, at all different stages, that Michael left behind. A 1 year old, a 10 year old, an 11 year old, a 13 year old, a 16  year old and a 20 year old.  Not all by blood, but all his children and lives he deeply impacted.  It’s hard to comprehend what these children think about in these times and how they process everything.

I am blessed that my daughter’s assignment that very Fall was to write about something important that has happened in her life.  This was an important tool in her healing.  I have shared this with a few close to me…along with the named “Allison” (who was AMAZING) and with Mackenzie’s permission I am sharing it here:

 

Kenzbray falls

(Mackenzie and Brayden viewing the falls)

 

The Hospital
by:Mackenzie Clark
My step dad got very sick and went to the hospital. My mom went first. Then the next day after Dj’s football game we went to the hospital to visit him. When we got there it was very quiet in the waiting room. Then a girl named Alison came and talked to to me and Dj about a lot of the machines and what is happening. Then while we were waiting she gave us things to do like a container with sports stuff and you try to find them all and if you find the penny you get 1$. We didn’t find it though, there was also coloring and playing with dough. Then it was time for us to go in. When we got in it was very sad there was so many machines helping him breathe, stuff to feed him, his heart rate and a really cool one it takes out his blood and cleans it out and puts it back into him and he was very swollen but really warm. I gave him a card and one of the nurses read it to him . And I got very sad when I walked in. After that we left but I didn’t want to leave him. When we got home and we said a prayer for him to get better. The next day we went back and visited him again. We had to wait a little again but Alison came in again before we could go in. Alison came in and gave me some play dough to take in to squeeze. When we got in there it was still very sad. And one of our pastors came in to say a prayer to Mike. After that me and Dj went with Alison into her room for kids. Me and Dj made a poster type thing and we wrote stuff and then we went to one of the rooms and got wet toilet paper and would throw it at it and it wash those bad memories away and it wash those things away and it made me feel good. After that we picked up the toilet paper and water. Then we went back to Alison’s room . And my mom was there and I left but Dj stayed cause I think he was embarrassed to cry in front of other people so he stayed with Alison while  we went back to visit Mike. When we got there was a priest he said a prayer and then he left. After that this was my very last goodbye to him so I wanted to to stay in their for a long time and we did, and I had to my squishy ball thing that calms me down a little when we go in there. I squished it really hard and gave him a hug and a kiss then we had to leave then it looked like there was 20 machines! Trying to help him it was a little scary but I tried to stay there as long as possible and we had to leave every now and then for other people to come in. So we kinda went back in forth . But we took a little break so we could kinda breathe from all the crying so much and we went in and out of the room and into the waiting room. I wanted to talk to Kyle and Alyssa, Mike’s children. But I usually see Alyssa every Sunday for cheerleading. But sometimes I look over and shes crying . But then it was our very last good bye I gave Mike the biggest hug I have ever given him and a kiss. And said bye to Kyle and Alyssa. And we all left. Then me, Dj, Jamie, Emily, Zach left . So we went to Mcdonalds and I texted my bff Gabby and she knew Mike for a long time, we even did his makeup and nails once and we didn’t have nail polish remover, but she was sad. So we finished and went home and watched a movie and I watched the Smurfs and we had popcorn and lots and lots of candy! Then my movie was over and my mom came home and Mike was gone he didn’t even struggle it was only like 5 seconds and his breaths got smaller and smaller and smaller then his whole body stopped. Then he was gone and it was the saddest thing ever but I keep one picture in my bag and 2 on my wall and Mike will always be in my heart forever. 
falls
(Michael and oldest son Kyle at the falls, Gonic Trails in 2011)

Grief

Miek Bray

Grief. Something I thought I understood.  I thought wrong.   Until about a year ago.

I write about it now, because it’s front and center at this moment.  For whatever reason I fell deep into it last night…did the whole photo book scanning with a box of Kleenex.  I never know when those random times are coming or why, but I embrace them when they do and move on.

It’s true what they say, there are definitely phases of grief.  And it’s not just moving forward from one phase to the next…it’s going from one to another, and then you get to go back and visit them…fun, huh? Yea, I don’t think so either.  It’s also true what I’ve been told, that after that magical year it gets easier.  It truly does.  However, at any given moment, without any warning, you can be zapped right back to grief, despair and pain.  Raw pain.  Brokenness. Thankfully, those times are getting further apart and they don’t last as long.  Sometimes it’s a few days of being blue…but usually it’s just for the length of the song that brings you there, or for as long as you look at that picture, or…well sometimes is just because and just for a moment.  But for anyone just newly suffering a great loss…trust me, it does get better.

When I first lost Mike, I was already in counseling to…well, cope with the loss of Mike.  We were separated and I was having a terrible time with it, so I sought therapy to help me cope and be strong with my decision.  Little did I know how much harder it was to become.  I kept asking when the pain would lessen and when I would feel normal again.  That’s when I was told there was no magic amount of time, but after about a year, most people seem to agree that’s when acceptance usually settles in. A year??!!! When you tell that to a person days, weeks and even months into it, it sounds like a life sentence.  A year??!!  I can remember panicking.  I couldn’t wait that long to be ME again.  The unbroken me. Thankfully, I have enough kids and chaos in my life that kept a healthy amount of distraction for me to eventually make that year go by…and I even was able to enjoy a good portion of it.

Now what I also didn’t realize was after that year and things are getting easier…it’s not that I was getting back to being myself. That old ME is gone and will never be again.  And that’s okay.  There’s a part of me that’s broken now. Like when someone loses a leg…it doesn’t grow back and they miraculously are healed. Most times they eventually do learn to walk again, but not quite the same.  They walk with a limp.  Sometimes I don’t even notice the “limp” in my heart…and other times it’s so heavy it feels like my heart weighs 200 lbs in my chest.

My heart has a limp.  But it still works. That’s good enough for me.