BEING ME…

It’s been two weeks since my last post and it seems like forever. I was out of town with a close friend at a scrapbooking weekend and to be honest, I came back pretty melancholy. I just wasn’t sure what to write about having been knee deep in memories for three solid days.

For those who are not familiar with scrapbooking, it is a hobby involving putting pictures in albums with decorative elements with the finished product being something special for generations to come. It is a treasure trove of memory after memory of growing up, family vacations and just about any event you have been involved in. Pictures are generally filled with smiles, beautiful scenery, and snippets of times gone by.

I did pics starting when we brought Lucy home, happy days in January, but as I moved forward, the realization of what happened during the next few months hit me hard. Not that I had forgotten, but the realization that it had been 5 months without Rick was like a truck full of boulders backed up and dumped right back on my shoulders. While I was working on the pics, I was ok. I was surprised I could do it this early on, but as I have mentioned before this isn’t my first time dealing with great loss.

I placed the pictures carefully and methodically on the pages, picking just the right things to accent each one. I moved through it like I always have, but I discovered I felt numb. I wondered “Is it possible to hurt so much and so deeply that you just can’t hurt anymore?” I think I answered my own question.

I believe loss of a child takes you to the depths of despair. It is a loss out of order and what should have been your future becomes your past. It’s not ok to lose a child. It’s not normal to lose a child and dealing with the enormity of it is overwhelming. I always wondered if it had desensitized me in some way. When I lost my mom, one of the other great fears of my life, I grieved in a different manner. I wondered if I handled it better because of losing Lindsey or was it the more natural course of life. She was very sick and very ready to see what was waiting for her on the other side. That gave me peace.

Now I have another great loss along with loss of hopes, dreams and expectations. In The Grief Recovery Method, it’s as simple as that. Everything we thought life would be is different. The retirement I dreamed of is different. The “growing old” together is different. There will be no more pictures of Rick and I traveling around the world, there will be no more pics of holidays and vacations with Rick. I guess that is what made me melancholy, the realization that such a wonderful life together has ended never to be the same again.

It has been 162 days since my life took a detour down an unimaginable path, full of twists and turns, and lots of unknowns. I am greatly affected by the little elderly couple walking to the car with their groceries. It hurts to be in groups where everyone is “coupled”. It a sharp pain that you feel deep in your heart. Everyone around you has continued their life just as they should. Time goes on no matter what you are feeling.

I asked myself sometimes ” How do I go forward?” There is no formula to navigate this unknown world , no magic that makes things “better”. There is only you. Your support system can be helpful, but they can’t do it for you. You have to take “griefs” hand, hold on tight, and keep taking steps. You will stumble and you might fall, but as long as you don’t stop I believe there are things yet to be discovered.

As I walk the maze this week, I pull out my compass, the one my mom gave me growing up. No, it’s not a physical thing, but a way of thinking. NEVER GIVE UP. Concentrate on what matters, do things that make you smile, don’t do what you can’t handle. While you travel the maze, take time to sit with your grief when you need to. You don’t have to explain yourself, you just have to keep trying.

So I sat with my grief last week and now I’m ready to work again. Compass in hand, emotions in check, plenty of water and food, I am taking steps. To where? Who knows, but toward HOPE for sure. Hope that my life can be full again and I can be a different me. I hope I like the new “me”and I hope she makes me proud.

It’s ok, you got this.

I’M NOT HERE…

It was an exhausting week both physically and emotionally, nothing specific, just a lot of extra things going on. What I noticed most was it seemed everyone around me was feeling it too. I’m not sure what it was, but I had some extremely special moments with several people from my life. I decided last Sunday to start some healthy eating and Lucy started training to be an official therapy dog. We are finding purpose together and looking to bring some comfort and hope to others. I’m trying to do something positive every week, like reaching out to someone I haven’t talked to in awhile, doing an act of kindness or just trying to go out of my comfort zone a little. I even went to the vegetarian festival at Byrd Park this weekend with the girls!

I think it all began when I was riding home from work this week and a new song came on the radio by Luke Combs. I listened closely to the words and what I heard was this…

“Just cause I’m leaving/ it don’t mean I won’t be right there by your side/ when you need me and you can’t see me in the middle of the night/ just close your eyes and say a prayer/ it’s ok I know you’re scared/ when I’m not here/ but I’ll always be right there.”

As the tears rolled down both cheeks, a beautiful butterfly flew right in front of my car. Butterflies symbolize a sort of metamorphosis for grievers, as the caterpillar leaves it’s cocoon, emerging as this iridescent ray of Hope and beauty. It shows the changes we go through in grief to find that “new life”, much different than the one we had. The caterpillar is unrecognizable as its former self and many times, so are we.

You see, although my world is different in every way imaginable, there are things happening all around me that makes me feel a closeness. I have had so many unusual things happen that you could say could be coincidence and maybe it is, but in my world it brings me peace.

Right after Lindsey died, fighting to get through the painful days, we all hopped in the car and headed out to Arts in the Park. As we strolled aimlessly toward the festivities, my precious granddaughter, then 2 1/2 years old, saw my tears. She took my hand in hers, fingers intertwined and said ” it’s ok Mimi, she is still with us.” No words had been spoken and a butterfly flew past.

Today, we realized we were walking that same stretch of road and the memory surfaced. We meandered through the crowd, 5 of us, a Great Dane and 2 Doodles. The first booth was someone selling dog scarves, bowls and fun stuff. The scarf I saw first had crabs on it and the woman remarked “I ran out of this last week at the river.” The next booth, minutes later, was Rikki’s Recovery, a “no kill shelter” for all kinds of animals. We looked at each other and we knew by our eyes, we were thinking the same thing.

A short while later, we took a little break, Tiffany waiting at a food truck, the rest of us sitting in the grass enjoying Italian Ice. Amanda went to look at her phone and her internet connection said “Rick’s iPhone”. This happened twice in different locations. There were probably 1000+ people in this park. Coincidence?…maybe, but I think not. There were no tears, merely gentle smiles and recognition that we were all on the same page.

Sydney graduated from 5th grade this year and it was very obvious that we were missing much of our family. We did our best to make it special for her, but as always, everyone’s feelings were right below the surface. As we left the restaurant, the heaviness was palpable, and there sitting next to my car was a Red Wing Shoe van. Rick had ended his work life at Red Wing just weeks before. Coincidence? Could be I guess, but I believe it was something else, letting us know he is still with us.

There have been so many things that I believe were signs from Heaven, letting us know that those we love and miss so desperately are really still right here, in our hearts. There are butterflies and dragonflies and Cardinals everywhere I go. Did I just not notice these things before? My first cruise after Lindsey died, we had reached open water and sitting on my leg was a ladybug, always thought to be a sign of good luck. Weird a ladybug would hitch a ride on a cruise ship.

Another frequent sighting has been license plates and signs. The day after Lindsey’s funeral, Tiffany pulled up in the Ukrop’s parking lot and straight ahead the license plate said Linzi. That is how Lindsey decided to change the spelling of her name in high school. I have friends that find pennies, hundreds of pennies, and those that find multiple rocks shaped like hearts, clouds of hearts and angels and faces. There are more, like tie day and Grateful Dead stickers, number combinations, symbols only they know, the favorite song at just the right time, the chance meeting with someone who is walking a similar path. Chance, coincidence, imagination…maybe, but I know they live within us and beside us and everywhere we turn, paving the way for us as we travel the maze.

Although like the song says “I’m scared” I know they will always be right here.

Our last moments with Rick, involved a Cardinal sitting on the porch posts looking straight into his room. Maybe a visitor from Heaven…you decide.

CHANGE …

Feeling thankful today for simple things, like a roof over my head, water to drink and plenty to eat. I know that may seem sort of like Pollyanna, but it’s true. We take so much for granted until it’s not there. We were spared the wrath of the hurricane this week, but so many weren’t so blessed.

I’ve been struggling the last few weeks, trying to figure out who I am and where I belong and what kind of future do I have. In swept Dorian and made me realize that we are really not in control of very much. The only control we have is how we behave, how we live and how we respond to adversity. When it comes down to it, most of what occurs is out of our control.

After Lindsey died, I floundered, trying to find that new normal they call it. I sincerely dislike that term because there is nothing normal about it. Thing is, I was still a mom to 2 wonderful daughters and still a wife, daughter, grandmother, sister, friend . This time, I truly don’t know who I am. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? When you are half of something most of your life, it fits like a puzzle piece to make the picture of something wonderful. Then life comes along and that piece goes missing, making you unable to complete that picture ever again.

This is my dilemma. This picture is the only one I have ever known, so is there a different puzzle out there. Where do I find the pieces of what my life will be? How do I complete this picture? I know it’s early, but how do you not worry.

I picked up my computer last night and pulled up Facebook, expecting to see the usual, family moments, politics, people sharing their lives on social media and what I saw was humbling. There was a livestream of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Mariner, and people from all over the world were side by side packing 20,000 meals to deliver to the Bahamas this morning. What a statement. There was no division among these workers, it did not matter where they worked or how much they made, they were shoulder to shoulder trying to bring comfort to those devastated by the storm. This is just one example of the outpouring of human kindness , there are many others.

I’m sure two weeks ago, the Bahamian people didn’t expect to lose their home, to lose their family, and that to get a drink of water would be a major task. I don’t know that pain and suffering and hope I never will. So when the puzzle piece is gone forever, how do you finish the picture?

I think it takes time and perseverance to figure it all out, but I believe, with all my heart, you have to take action to create change. My picture hasn’t been taken yet, so in the meantime I need to decide how I can influence the outcome.

My first action is to take charge of my health, start eating healthier and maybe even taking walks with Lucy. As the leaves change from green to the many hues of fall, the landscape changes and the picture you took of the same scene in June looks very different in October. My landscape has definitely changed and my picture will look different than I had planned. I am setting goals for myself that will maybe make that picture inviting and positive. It doesn’t erase what you miss or the love you carry in your heart, but it opens your heart to the promise of happiness again. The tough part is that you don’t know what that looks like or when or if you’ll find those pieces that fit your new puzzle.

As I stroll the maze today, taking in the fall colors, I am reminded of wonderful memories made during this time of year. The air is crisp and I know change is coming. While I’ve always had trouble with change, this one is different. The miserable summer temperatures will wane just like the raw pain of losing Rick. This will happen over time, but not overnight. What is left is the “missing” their physical presence in the world and that part will never change. I will forever miss his mischievous smile, his sense of humor, his love for everything related to being on the water and most of all his love and devotion to his family. The hint of fall shows that although it looks and feels different, it has the potential to be beautiful. I think I’ll keep walking and see what’s next, continuing to look for new pieces to complete my puzzle.

Please keep all of those affected by the storm in your thoughts and/or prayers today. Remember many are going through a storm you know nothing about.

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY…

‘This weekend was supposed to be my weekend to see my grandson and instead, the East Coast is bracing for a hurricane. It was a very difficult decision for me to make even though I knew the right thing to do. I struggled with him being disappointed and made it an agonizing decision. I knew the right thing, I just never want to let him down. When he was born, life changed in a way I can’t describe. He was my first grandson and the first boy in our family.

When Lindsey was growing up, all she wanted in life was to have a baby and to be a mom. I totally understood because there was never a time in my life that I didn’t dream of being a mom. I guess I was influenced by my life with my mother. I desperately wanted to have someone love and admire me like I did her. She was my “best friend” growing up and I thought she was perfect in every way. I used to say “If I can be half the mom you are, I’ll be happy.” I do believe, with all my heart, that we are influenced by people when we are young and those people and experiences follow us the rest of our lives. It isn’t the riches or the trappings, but the love and caring that you remember. My mom made all things happen even when money was scarce. I don’t know how she accomplished what she did, but I thought she hung the moon and lit up the stars.

My grandson was born with a mop of dark hair and he was perfect in every way. Lindsey was over the moon as were her sisters and the rest of our family. The way she looked at him is something I will never forget. It was as if all her dreams had come true and in that vintage pink and blue striped hospital blanket was her future.

The days to come started out pretty good, but then she started experiencing various health issues. Her days and nights got harder and harder as did they for her husband and family, but all the while there was this handsome, dark haired little boy with the bluest eyes who was stealing hearts. Time proved to be short and Lindsey’s time with Jax was exactly 700 days. For 700 days, she had everything she had ever wanted.

Life changed after that and each and everyday since, has been filled with “what if’s”. This is not a negative thing, but it is normal to wonder how things would be different if things hadn’t changed the way they did.

Walt Disney is one of the most fascinating entrepreneurs of our time. He was talented in a way most only dream of. He built a world around fantasy and in that fantasy his beloved characters became a part of us. I remember when access to his movies was scarce and you waited patiently for them to be released to the theaters every seven years, so you could watch them again and be immersed in this world.

Did you also notice that most of these films have no mother figure , sometimes fathers are killed and many of these films begin with sadness? Although Walt Disney was successful in his work life, it brought him tragedy also. After a successful film release he and his brother bought his parents a home. Shortly after moving in, there was a furnace problem and his mother died. How much did this influence his career after that is speculation I know, but I bet his grief was so deep that he used his films to express it and to show there was hope in every situation. If you go back to the archives of your mind and remember, these motherless children learned to be strong and resilient.

No one gives up in a Disney film and isn’t that the way you have to survive grief? There are mountains to climb and challenges beyond your wildest imagination, and just when you think it’s getting better another storm comes.

So this tough holiday weekend, I should have seen my buddy, I am trying to focus on the way this happened for the infamous Mr. Disney. I will look for a new date to visit, I will think about how much fun Rick and I had on the boat on these holiday weekends, I will look toward the future and remember all those Disney icons who never gave up. Today the maze is filled with my memories of sitting in theaters in downtown Richmond with my popcorn in hand and wondering how my heroes and heroines would ever be happy again. Thank you Walt Disney for showing us the value of never giving up.

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME…

From very young, I can remember knowing I wanted to live my life with no regrets. Every single decision I made was meticulously thought out with how it would affect me or anyone I loved. I never wanted to look back and say “I wish I had….” but that is not realistic I guess. I have many regrets, but I like to reframe it and say “I wish it had been different.”

One of my biggest regrets overall is not listening closer to our older generation. I have found them always to be a wealth of information and although I heard a lot of stories over the years, I didn’t retain them. If I knew what I knew now, I would sit with our parents and record every word because every syllable they uttered is now a treasure. When you are growing up with parents and grandparents, you are so used to hearing them tell the same stories, sometimes over and over. At that age it is probably more annoying than anything else. You really don’t realize that they are like finding a treasure in a diamond mine until the mine gone. If you listen closely, they have stories of survival, of hardship and of courage beyond compare.

If I could turn back time, time from Rick’s diagnosis to his last day with us, I would concentrate less on the illness and more on our life together. I wish I could have used that time for sitting together and holding hands. I wish I had told him how much our life together had meant to me. I wish I could have told him how proud he made me and how much it meant to me when he would say “You look pretty” every day when I was leaving for work and “I’m proud of you”. I wish I could have used those 52 days for being grateful and expressing that gratitude. I wish I had used that time to thank him for all the times he stood by me, always being my rock even though some of those times he was crumbling inside. I wish we had talked about Heaven and when we would meet again. I know that the situation didn’t lend itself to this scenario, but it doesn’t erase the feelings that I wish that time could have been different. Instead it was filled with doctors, medicines, equipment and everything he hated. That part makes me sad.

I had much the same feeling when Lindsey died. I wish I hadn’t been out of town. I wished she hadn’t been in and out of the hospital with no answers each and every time. I wish I had told her how much I admired her strength tolerating the poking and prodding, test after test, the continuous decline in her health and all the while, she never gave up. I wish we had talked about our wonderful family more and the devastating illness less. I wish I had talked to her more about things that mattered and not just things. I guess in a way, I did, but when you don’t have that time anymore it leaves a lot of doubt.

My mom, my best friend, my confidante, my rock, had such a difficult life, but you would have never known it. She was tough as nails and she taught me lessons I didn’t even know I learned. I wish I had thanked her for being my mom. I wish I had told her how proud she made me. I wish I had used her last days with me talking about the “old days”. I wish I had written it all down, because in the whole scheme of things, those things are more precious than gold. Mom’s last days were filled with pain and I wish she hadn’t endured that, but as I said before, the situation wasn’t one we could control.

So regrets are part of the process of navigating the maze and moving toward Hope and a different future than you had planned. Regrets are also often associated with that awful “guilt” we feel. One thing I learned is to reframe my thinking and in the principles of the Grief Recovery Method, its a matter of wishing things were different, better or more. I wish all of this had been different, but I was not and am not the author of this story. I was just fortunate enough to have been a character in one of the greatest novels of my time…

ATTITUDES AND PLATITUDES…

I was struggling a little with what to write about this week and I happened on several articles on what not to say to a grieving person. This is probably one of the most discussed topics in support groups everywhere. When I attended my first support group meeting, I expected naively for everyone to just be sad. Turns out there are a ton of other emotions that go with grieving.

How do you comfort someone who has just lost a loved one, a piece of their heart. The norm is to feel awkward and ill prepared to come into contact with someone fresh on the grief train. Hugs always work, but people generally feel obligated to talk. Just don’t… unless it is to say “I can’t imagine.” or “I’m here for you.” Do not ever say “I know how you feel.” because you don’t. Honestly, even if you had a similar loss, you don’t know how they feel. You only know how you feel and how you felt with that loss. Relationships are complicated and just because someone is married, it doesn’t mean losing a spouse is going to affect everyone the same. Just because you are a parent, doesn’t mean you feel the same feelings about the loss of a child. The death of a parent can be challenging, as those relationships are dynamic and ever changing.

This is especially true for child loss. There can often be issues with the parent-child relationship that you know nothing about. Often there are extremely difficult family dynamics that are present making the loss even more complicated. In cases where there is a stillborn or a baby who never gets to term, there can be underlying health issues, infertility etc. This is not information that is easily shared and can be very painful in itself.

Statements like “He’s in a better place.” falls short of comfort. The indication is there is a better place other than with me. This increases the pain and has no place in “comfort language”. Now you may be thinking of being in Heaven, if you have faith, but we are here and this is where we want them to be. Some don’t have faith as an option so this could sting even more for them.

‘He isn’t suffering anymore.” Fact, but not helpful. Now I am suffering in a way I could not have imagined, so although this is true, not “comfort language”.

‘You have other children.” Fact, but not helpful. I am fully aware of my other children 24 hours of everyday, because they are suffering too. If you are a young family that loses a child, you have to maintain and still gets the kids to school and activities, prepare meals, and above all you are challenged with helping them to grieve. It’s a tall order and frankly I can’t imagine. With older siblings, you have to help them navigate the loss without making them feel like their “before” life was better for you than the “after the loss” life. This can and does make them feel insignificant and devalued. Speak to any grieving sibling and they will tell you the truth, but you have to be willing and ready to hear it.

‘You can have other children’” Fact (in most cases), but not helpful. One child doesn’t replace another, no way, no how. Each child has a place and that place is their sacred place in your heart and in the family. Even those born sleeping hold that sacred place. Don’t ever take that away.

“God needed an angel” and “God picked another flower”. Just don’t. Not “comfort language”.

The famous “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Too abstract to call it a fact, but “not helpful nonetheless “. I saw a meme that added “by now I can bench press a Buick.” This became my mantra. I think I’m going to make a t shirt with this on it because now there have been a lot of Buicks.

“You are so strong.” Not necessarily the case, just trying to survive. If I appear “strong” then the act is working and I hide my pain so you can be more comfortable while I can secretly remain with my grief.

“Time heals.” This is fiction. Things change over time and things get different. Time itself does nothing, it is what you do within that time that creates change. We control our destiny. You can get lost in “grief” like quicksand pulling you with so much force you think you will surely get sucked under or you can take steps along the way to avoid the quicksand, slow, strategic, mindful steps, so that when you feel that pull, and you will, you have a rope nearby to hold onto.

“I couldn’t do what you are doing.” Not a Fact, but I thought that way once too. Well I wasn’t given a choice so here I am. This is my plight, so what I do now is totally up to me. I can give up or give in and work to live the best life I can.

My all time favorite is “You need to move on” or You need to get over it”. Not fact and not helpful and definitely not comforting. There is no such thing as getting over the loss of someone you loved dearly. Relationships mold us into who we are. Sometimes those relationships are positive and sometimes they are not, but we learn from every single thing that happens to us. We are created from happy times, sad times, positive influences, negative influences, the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly. We use what we learn to be who we want to be. We do not move on, but we do move forward, away from the pain and towards the memories of the good stuff. Sometimes you want to hide from the world with its attitudes and platitudes, but in the end we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As i continue to meander the maze I wonder, what is my future? How do I use my experiences to make life better not only for myself, but for others. I stop to think and jot down some thoughts. For now this is my path, trying to use my pain to reach out to others. Thank you to those who read my words and my sincere wish is that you find “Hope” in every blog. My intent is to take what seems insurmountable and use it to create a future full of joy while still loving and remembering my precious Lindsey, my true soulmate, Rick and the best Mom a girl could ever have and all the others who were part of my journey. I wish for anyone reading this that you will take time out for yourself today and practice self compassion. Do something that makes you feel good, something for yourself or something for someone else. We are not promised everything is this life will be perfect so it is up to us to make it the best it can be while we continue the journey…

110 DAYS…

It has been an interesting month now and I have to say I think I have done remarkably well. I have grieved with over 1000 people at a conference, said so long as my grandson and a true “apple of my eye”, moved away, I have seen the 9th Birthday without Lindsey and it has been exactly 110 days, 8 hours and 1 minute without Rick and I am still standing. That is true success isn’t it, pure survival?

I have worked my schedule, taken care of the house, raised a needy puppy, changed porch lights and took out my own trash. I have not cooked, but have eaten plenty. I have had groceries delivered and hired someone to cut my grass. I have dealt with insurance, Social Security, hospitals, doctor’s offices and Medicare and that is just scratching the surface and I am still standing.

Today I was restless and unsettled and what I realized is this, I haven’t been crying everyday. Tears well up whenever I talk about things, but that deep, chest heaving, head throbbing, eyes burning kind of cry has been absent and that for some reason made me sad. It made me realize that time is passing and I’m getting further away from the “good stuff”. No matter what, time marches on. I wonder if I hadn’t already survived one of the most devastating losses a person can experience if things would be different. This isn’t my first rodeo and after suffering loss after loss, do you start to wear an emotional set of armor? It makes me wonder.

The other thing I realized this week is that everything I touch and everything I do, I did it the last time with Rick. Whether it be a restaurant, a store, a sign I pass everyday, I did it all before and I did it all with Rick by my side. We were inseparable that way and it feels weird that it will never be the same way again. It feels wrong, like the universe is out of sync and I guess it is. My world is out of sync.

For two years, we had made reservations at Cape Charles for July 4th, planning to take the boat over. We had rented a golf cart months ahead and planned to watch fireworks sitting on the deck of Linzi-Lu. Life Threw Curves and we never got to go, but this weekend we packed up an RV and pulled a golf cart to Cape Charles. We sat on the beach, watched the sunset and made s’mores over the fire pit. I laughed and I smiled and I wished he were there, riding with Lucy and I in the golf cart making memories.

Countless people lost their lives this week in senseless acts of violence while patients sat trying everything to survive while receiving chemo treatments. There have been natural disasters and people being left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Children have died in hot cars and young and old have lost their lives in accidents. These people don’t get a chance to make more memories and neither do their families. I cherish the times I had and although I wish I had more time, my time was precious.

Although days can be hard and tasks innumerable, I am thankful for every minute I had with my precious family of five. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and if I had it to do over again, knowing the outcome would be the same, I would make the same choice. I would live and love and love some more. I wish all those who lost loved ones this week had been given the gift of time, but that was not to be, so with them in mind, I walk the maze tonight with lots of company. Their grief is thick, like the fog over the marsh, hardly able to see beyond a few steps. It’s quiet here, talk is unnecessary, feelings understood. The eyes meet with recognition that the road is going to be long and hard. Hands clasped together and steps tentative, but deliberate, moving forward slowly searching again for the exit to the maze…