The Journal

I’ve been watching Firefly Lane on Netflix. It’s emotional and complex and quite honestly pretty brilliant. My sister read the books and just recently warned me it could be triggering. If you’re watching it now or plan to, I’ll let you know you should close this window so you won’t spoil anything! Because, I had to. I had to know how it ends. Because I wasn’t sure if I could watch it.

If you’ve never watched the show, it jumps all around through time. We watch a friendship form and go through 30 years of change and heartache. But the story is not told in the linear fashion but rather through four or five different spots on the timeline. In part one of season 2 they keep showing a car accident. So I assumed that that’s what my sister was warning me about. And while the car accident was pretty terrible, I’m glad I was prepared to deal with how the season ended.

I absolutely love both of the actresses in the series which is why I started watching it in the first place. I have loved Sarah Chalk since I watched her in Scrubs. Katherine Heigl was my favorite from when I used to be able to watch Gray’s Anatomy. Before the accident.

My new post-grief life includes googling the ends of things. My husband absolutely hates it and says I spoil everything. I think I just prepare myself in case there is going to be something triggering and what I am watching or reading. And when my sister texts me and warns me that I might want to know what’s coming, I take heed.

So now I’m sitting here with a bunch of balled up tissues because I know that my favorite character is going to die. From breast cancer. They reveal at the end of part one that she is diagnosed with stage 3. So I needed to know what is coming, even though they’re not going to finish the series until June of 2023! And now I’m a puffy faced mess.

Amongst the remainder of my father’s stuff that my sister picked up when my stepmother died, was a journal. It was my Mom’s journal. My stepmother had mentioned it and had been uncomfortable about giving it to me. I honestly didn’t press the issue because our relationship was tenuous at best at times. And I kind of forgot about it. It sounds terrible to say that out loud, but I did. I have been living surrounded by my deceased parents stuff for years. It was hard to fathom there was something I hadn’t seen or touched that was my Mom’s.

So I started reading it. This journal is the Indiana Jones equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant for grievers! My Mom passed away 26 years ago and now all of a sudden I had access to her thoughts. The first few pages were blank, the first entry is from when she found the lump in her breast. Then there’s a whole bunch of more blank pages and then she starts to talk about everything as she’s going through it. I only got a few entries in before I needed to take some time off. Because it was a lot.

I don’t know what I was expecting to find. It kind of feels like an invasion of privacy, but at the same time she’s documenting her road through breast cancer in 1996. Which is crazy for me to think about because everything that is written there is a term that I understand from all of my years of walking for Komen. It’s also very crazy to think back to her journey being the beginning of stem cell use. I have so much gratitude for how far we have come, technologically speaking. But we’re certainly not done yet.

When I read those first few entries, it sounded very similar to my blog. Our writing styles are so alike. I smiled at that. It felt really good at first. It made me feel really close to her, which is something I haven’t felt in 26 years. But I only got a few entries in before I had to put it back down. Because now I’m sad. And I’m missing her all over again. This woman that is so like me is missing from my life. And has been for the better part of it. It is heartbreaking.

I watched this scene on Firefly Lane of this 40 something year old woman getting diagnosed with breast cancer and I lost it. Because in that moment, I understood her fear and anxiety. Because I read it in my Mom’s journal. And in 5 years I will be the age she was when she was diagnosed, so it really isn’t that far fetched for me.

I miss my Mom daily. Even this far out, I am so very sad for every single thing that we have missed out on. I will read more of the journal when I am ready. I so very much want to know every little detail while simultaneously wishing I wasn’t opening up this Pandora’s box right now. But such is grief.

We Almost Made it

When Covid hit in 2020, I was scared shitless. I had enough anxiety in just trying to get through every day and convince myself we would be ok. And then we were thrown into a pandemic.

We washed our groceries. We wore our masks. We stayed home. I celebrated every time another one of us was able to be vaccinated. Because I was scared. And you can sit there and tell me all that you want about the chances of any of us getting really sick. Because statistically speaking, my Bennett should be alive too. So numbers are meaningless to me.

I lived in panic. None of us were technically high risk, however anytime we got sick, Perry (my youngest) got REALLY sick. At 6 months it was an ER trip with the flu because she couldn’t keep any breast milk down. At 18 months it was 2 ER trips and an Urgent Care visit before we finally landed in the PICU for 4 days. On oxygen. With Pneumonia. In the same hospital where my son was pronounced dead 5 years earlier. I feel like my anxiety over her is justified.

And it finally happened, we got Covid. I knew we would get it eventually and I had honestly made my peace with it after we were all vaccinated. That shot gave me the tiniest amount of hope that maybe things could be normal for us again.

I didn’t even know that I had Covid until I was 4 days in, I thought it was just a really, really bad migraine. Thankfully I wasn’t around too many people besides my husband (and we were at a work event😬). I test us at the first sniffle and I honestly tested myself on a whim when we got home. And it was positive.

When I tested positive, I ran to Walmart curbside the next day and had them fill my trunk with every cough and cold serum known to man. I had no idea if any of it would actually work, but I wanted to have it all on hand.

We made it 2 days and I was actually convinced that I had contained it to myself. And then everyone started falling like dominoes. One positive test after another. Perry’s one test never came back positive, but she started in with a fever and cough.

And then she just couldn’t stop coughing. We tried everything, brought her outside, used a humidifier, cough drops, sleeping elevated. For 24 hours she coughed and coughed and coughed. And I was terrified. We broke out the pulse oximeter that I bought at the beginning of Covid and saved ourselves a trip to the ER. Because I was ready to go. But her oxygen levels were perfect. Thank goodness.

This has been my worst nightmare since March of 2020. And that probably seems crazy to some, but once you truly understand how fragile life is and how quickly it can all change, all bets are off. Thankfully, after a week of rest, we are back at it.

Either I’m Getting Old or…

Something. My body is tired and tight. My head aches, everything is out of alignment. My chiropractor couldn’t even crack me. Years of trying to hold it all together have finally caught up with me. I think that when your body is in fight or flight mode for so long, it’s really, really hard to decompress.

I look at the above graphic and literally have every single symptom from the shoulders up. My shoulders are tight, which leads to my neck and then my jaw and then my aching head. Apparently I’m clenching my jaw so tight that I fractured a tooth in my sleep (didn’t even know that you could do that). My damn body is tired. Because my mind is tired.

I think that I had a whole year off to grieve Benny. I had a year to sit in it and let it wash over me. Unlike after my Mom’s death I had some time to process things. And it was a truly healthy start to this whole process. For the first time I felt like I was actually dealing with my stuff instead of shoving it down deep.

But we all know that grief doesn’t have a timetable and I wasn’t magically healed after a year. But I was pregnant. And facing a whole new set of anxieties I couldn’t have imagined. And then sleepless nights and chaos. And then 2 years later in the thick of all of that again with the next baby whilst we moved 4 times until we were finally home. And I loved every moment of it (besides the whole moving part).

Things finally settled a little bit for us and I could catch my breath and then boom, Covid. The whole world is thrust into a grief unlike any other. And everything kept changing and we just kept having to adapt.

I feel like I have been in fight or flight mode since 2013. And I am truly, truly exhausted. With the chaos came very little time for me to continue processing the fact that my son died. Sometimes it’s much easier to lean into the crisis of the moment rather than to face your own reality. Because the reality is that my son died. And it’s fucking awful.

So here we are. I’m ready for a good crack from the chiro. I’m going for a massage to try to clear some of that tension. It’s time to start going through some of this stuff that I’ve been holding onto and to try to change how I’m living. Because I’ve been fighting this battle for so long and my soul is just exhausted.

My Grief Superpower

Well, this certainly describes me. And seeing it written out like this almost makes me realize how pointless it is. Almost.

How am I doing? Some days are awesome. I can get through the day and just exist. I don’t feel like I have to weigh every decision in life or death. I can just be.

Other days I panic when my husband takes the kids in the car. What if they all die in a car accident? Or when the kids are wrestling, what if one of them hits a piece of furniture and had to go to the hospital? Or worse? Or what if they choke and I’m in another room? Seeing as how my two littles can’t seem to make any type of good decision lately, this is completely plausible.

I found that when we were out pre Covid that I would always be very aware of my surroundings. I made sure that I knew where an exit was ‘just in case.’ Now Covid has sent me into another spiral of worst case scenarios. Just 2 years ago I rang in the New Year in the PICU with my littlest on oxygen. I know what it’s like being scared my child couldn’t breathe and I know I don’t want to go back to that.

So maybe my hypervigilance is my super power. I don’t want a cape or bat signal to notify others of this, I have a hard enough time trying to keep my own family safe. However, if I’m around your kids, I will be watching them as if they are my own. It’s not because I don’t trust you as a parent, but rather some messed up part of my brain thinks I can save you from the same fate. Maybe I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what we’ve been through.

A huge part of doing this for me is knowing that I feel like I have done everything in my power to prevent something bad from happening. I think I’d like to be able to tell myself with confidence that it wasn’t my fault. Because child loss is so tangled in guilt and self doubt. This ridiculous anxiety is my way of trying to counteract that.

Rationally, I know all of this is crazy. But so is grief and death and trauma. I don’t think imagining worst case scenarios is a healthy use of my time, however it’s now a part of who I am, like PTSD is. And I have managed to learn how to live with it so it doesn’t totally consume who I am. Today. Tomorrow may be different. If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s to never expect to ever be perfectly ‘healed’ or ‘over it.’ That simply doesn’t exist when you’ve lost a child. It’s all in learning to live with it.

I’m the one

I’m the one that drives 12 in a 40 during a snowstorm because I’m scared of crashing.

I’m the one that panics when the 3 year old sleeps through the night, because she usually doesn’t.

I’m the one that cries at doggie daycare drop off because I’m afraid of my puppy with the other dogs.

I’m the one who tries really hard not to go into stores and religiously wears her mask.

I’m the one that decided to keep her daughter remote during a pandemic because she’s scared of it.

I’m the one who lost her mom to cancer at 16 and her Dad to bad lifestyle choices at 39.

I am the one who was hit by her car in her driveway and watched her son die.

I am the one with PTSD, anxiety and probably a myriad of other issues.

I am the one that doesn’t necessarily live in fear, but has lived too much in reality.

I am the one that has seen too much, lived too much loss, yet still really hopes it will all just be ok.

This is what is left and I’m tired of apologizing for whom I’ve become.

Marbles

So here’s the thing about loss. When something really awful happens, you begin to realize how little control you have over things. And that maybe something bad can happen again. And it’s terrible.

I’m paranoid and anxious. A lot. I try really hard to reason with myself and be realistic, but man there are just some times when it is really difficult to let my guard down. In my 41 years of life there has been so much damn loss. And grief. And trauma. So much of who I am and how I react now is a trauma response.

Let me preface this story by stating that everything turned out fine. Earlier this week I was in the living room on the floor working out. My littles were on the other side of the couch playing with marbles and magnets. I was less than five feet away. I could hear them giggling and goofing around. Then I could hear something in their mouths and my ‘Momdar’ went into hyper drive.

As soon as I popped up to ask them what they were doing, I could hear a slight choke/cough and my 3 year old Perry began crying, saying she swallowed something. To say I panicked is an understatement. I completely freaked out.

She swallowed a 1/4″ steel ball. At first I thought it was a magnet and then I really started to panic. I called her doctor and was told that the NP would call me back soon. It was a long 20 minutes.

I called my husband who convinced me the marble wasn’t magnetic. That made me feel a little better. I was convinced we would have to go to the hospital and they would have to open her up. During Covid. I was freaking out she could have aspirated it. Every awful scenario played out in my head. I was texting and googling like a madwoman hoping to find someone who had gone through this before and could guide me.

The worst part was that I was right there when it happened. I was maybe 3-4 feet away from the kids and she still swallowed the damn marble. I was a second too late in realizing that my kids were making very poor choices. And I was really angry at myself. And my kids of course, because they both know better than to put stuff in their mouths. But they are just kids. And I’m the adult.

But I couldn’t prevent it. I couldn’t predict it would happen. And I felt completely out of control. And anxious. And really angry that I was fearing for my child’s safety again. I’m pretty sure I aged another 10 years in those 20 minutes.

The NP called and wasn’t concerned. It was a good thing it was small, it was a good thing it was round, because it wouldn’t get stuck. Even if it had been a magnet that’s fine as long as it’s just one. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Here’s the thing about trauma, the small things become big things. They send you completely down the rabbit hole. Just when you think you have something figured out, life throws you a curve ball. This was my reminder that I cannot control every situation. It was a reminder to give myself a little grace.

Oh, and that marble, came right back out.

What’s Your Word?

I have decided that I need something to hold onto this year. Last year was a stunning disaster of epic proportions and this year hasn’t exactly started off so great. I’m tired of waiting for the world to get it’s shit together enough so that I can breathe.

Grace is the word that I will be taking with me on this journey into 2021. Grace is what I will be holding, for yours truly and others. I need to learn to forgive me and not be so hard on myself. I also need to learn to hold grace for others.

I’ve been home with my children since March. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time together. And I’ve begun to notice that my 12 year old daughter has more love and respect for herself than I do at 40. She is unwavering in her view of herself and I have never been more proud. It is easy for her to make a decision and she is guided so effortlessly by her moral compass. She has compassion for herself and others and almost always seems to make the right decision. I am jealous.

I would give anything to be as self possessed and confident as this child is. I come off as tough because I had very little choice in that department. And maybe tough is construed as confident, yet I feel anything but. I am constantly second guessing myself and how I interact with others. It is absolutely exhausting.

I feel like at 40 I am flailing. It has been a very hard year with heavy choices. I feel as if grief has consumed me for so long, that it’s hard to know who I am anymore. What is left?

I’m feeling very confused about who I am. I think that’s a part of growing up and maybe that’s what this is. It’s hard to look at yourself and not feel recognizable.

2020 showed me that it’s time to begin paying attention to what is going on in the world. I need to be aware of what’s happening and begin to strengthen my convictions. I have 3 little people that need to be able to be a part of the solution, not the problem. But, before I can do that, I need to work on me. I need to figure out exactly what I want and need from this life.

I’ve gone around and around this in my brain and I think I need to fall back in love with myself. I need to learn to love not only my good parts, but the parts that don’t make me whole. I will never be who I want to be while grieving the loss of my parents and my son. And I need to learn to love that person anyway.

I need a little grace this year. What’s your word?

2021

The 2010 decade sucked for me. I felt like the 2020’s were going to be my time! I’m a January baby and in 2020 I turned 40. I figured this was it! I was going to rule this decade!

So, we all know what happened there🙄. I don’t really want to claim anything in 2021. I’ll just be happy to put 2020 behind me and take a nice deep breath and hope that 2021 will surprise me. In a good way.

I am holding onto hope. I’m hoping that love wins out in 2021 and the world looks more like the world that we knew in 2013 when Benny died. When people were good and kind and caring.

I hope that the loss that happened in 2020 isn’t overshadowed by the political BS occurring daily. Remember when September 11th happened and we were shocked and horrified as a nation? We are seeing September 11th level death daily. It makes me so sad. To be complacent in others suffering instead of coming together to try to help is not ok. We need to get back to that mindset of holding space for each other and caring.

It has been a really, really tough year. I have been challenged as a mother, wife and business owner like no other time in my life. Maybe except for 2017 when we were homeless (because we sold our home and the housing market was nuts) with a 2 week old baby and just bought a business. But the challenges this year have been different. I’ve felt so out of control and anxious. I’m exhausted. I’m trying the best that I can to make the right decisions for my family (whatever those are) and trudge forward. But my god it is hard.

I’m working on self acceptance. I’m relearning to like myself and trying to show myself a little grace. 2020 has given me ample time to think and reconnect with me. It’s a process.

So there will be no big New Year celebration. I’d be surprised if we all make it to midnight. And that’s ok. I’ll be holding my breath for 2021 and hoping against hope that it’s a little bit kinder to us all. Because I can’t be the only one that needs a break.

Brave

I’m not feeling very brave. I’m feeling very beaten down and tired. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the fact that it has been 7 years since Benny died. And maybe if the world wasn’t a disaster, and school wasn’t a mess and work wasn’t overwhelming I could spend 5 minutes actually acknowledging this very fact.

My soul is weary. Maybe even more so than it was 7 years ago. The constant reminder of death, the statistics and the faceless people is too much to bear. Because I know how absolutely soul crushing it is for these families to have to try to pick up the pieces. But I don’t know how they do so in the absence of hugs and physical touch.

I don’t think that I’m fighting so much right now as I’m surviving. It seems to be a constant game of defense, as something new rears its ugly head to contend with. I don’t feel like I’m pushing away the waves as much as I’m being slammed by them. Over and over as I try to right myself and swim again.

Trust me, I very much want to give up some days. I want to get in my car and drive until I’m somewhere, anywhere. I want to be done with 2020 and all of its constant reminders to ‘enjoy every moment, because you never know when it will be your last.’ If anyone knows about death and loss, it’s me. My bingo card is filled to the brim. It’s overwhelming to constantly be reminded of this.

But I’m here. And tomorrow’s another day. And hopefully I will find my 5 minutes of peace with my grief. And if it’s brave to just exist right now, to just be, then maybe, just maybe, I am brave.

End of the World Thoughts

Well damn. Here it is. Every day of my life. Every little thought that something could go wrong. Some days are worse than others. When you’ve lost as many people as I have, maybe you’re just more aware of what can happen. The anxiety certainly doesn’t help though.

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