Slumberland

‘You have the dream you’re meant to have; we make sure of that. What happens next is up to you.’

Tonight we previewed Slumberland (spoiler alert). I had watched the trailer and thought it looked fantastic, albeit sad. It deals with death and grief. Seeing as how Fletch came to us tonight with his Dinosaur book in tears because the Dinosaurs all died, I figured this was something we should watch first. And I’m so glad that we did.

I bawled my eyes out through 40% of the movie. A PG childrens movie completely wrecked me. And I mean wrecked in the best way possible. It put into words how we deal with grief, how desperate we are to see our loved ones in dreams and how even when we are desperately sad, we can still find hope.

It touched on so many of my grief experiences. In the first few minutes of the movie, the main character dreams that her Dad died. I honestly believe that there’s a subconscious link between life and death. My Mom came to me in a dream to say good bye and moments later I awoke to our house phone ringing and I knew that she was gone.

The entire movie is based upon the main character wanting to find her dead father in a dream so that she can stay with him. My god, that is all that any of us grievers want. I sat there crying, begging for a good visitation dream. It’s been so damn long. And I miss my people. I want to find a pearl so that I can wish this dream into existence.

When that pivotal moment finally happens, when the main character can have her Dad back, she finds that she has to wish for something else. Something has become more important than her Dad. And it’s awful and beautiful all at once. Because she found hope. And in finding it she had to let go a bit. And that is really fucking hard.

I wish I could say that I thought this was a good idea for my kids, but it’s not. It’s too close to home. There are some scary parts too as well as a lot of drowning. We’re a little too sensitive over here and will have to wait a bit. But the overall theme of this movie is absolutely beautiful. Especially if you need a good cry.

‘Life is waiting for you, Nemo. It would be a shame if you missed that.’

Where do you store your grief?

This is one of the writing prompts for my HLH Journaling workshop tomorrow. And i can tell you, i know exactly where my grief is stored, my shoulders and my neck. Why, you ask? Because that’s where I like to bottle everything up and hold on to for later.

I’ve lost some mobility in my neck because of the block of knots that are my shoulders. I see a chiro weekly, a massage therapist monthly and I’m about to add my doctor shortly as I’ve started to get terrible headaches from the neck pain. My chiro told me that I need to add yoga so that I can breathe more. He can barely crack me, it’s so tight.

I workout, I try to stretch and relax as much as I can, but none of that changes my losses. None of that brings my people back. I feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. But instead of the world, that ball is the weight of my grief. Heavy and pushing me down.

It’s weird how grief can affect us physically. Part of mine is perhaps psychosomatic, as I was injured in my shoulders and upper body when my son died. The body has a memory for pain and injury. It can remember exactly how something felt. I can remember the sensation of being struck by my car and thrown down the hill. It was not a feeling of weightlessness, but rather like I was in the washing machine, stuck on the spin cycle. And the natural reaction is to tuck. And I feel like ever since that day I’ve tucked into myself, physically. I slouch inwards, as if in defense or protection. Almost as if I’m hugging myself. Or holding myself together.

So this results in tons of shoulder and neck pain. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make it better. I’m a problem solver by nature, so I need to make it better. I need to learn that my body is a safe space and instead of approaching the world in a protective posture, I need to open my arms to it. I need to end my reign in flight or fight mode and open up to the possibility of joy and love. Because I know that I feel that in my soul, I just need to allow myself to be vulnerable enough in my stature to accept it.

9 Years ‘After the Accident’

It has almost been a decade since we lost our Benny. And so much in our lives has changed. And yet, somehow, things still seem the same sometimes. I can’t explain it, just like I can’t explain how surreal it feels to lose your child.

I gaze upon pictures of Benny’s face and it seems like it was just yesterday, and it also seems like a lifetime ago. There are moments when I wonder if any of it actually happened. And then I look at his picture and I remember what he smelled like, what the curves of his dimples looked like, what his little curlies felt like against my skin. His life may have been short but it was real.

I can’t explain what today is like. We used to have to leave town because I couldn’t deal with being in the house where he died. I used to want to crawl out of my skin because the reality of November 8th was just too much. The days and weeks leading up to this awful date used to send me into a complete tailspin. And I guess that’s not to say it still doesn’t, just in different ways.

It’s been 9 years of learning to live without my son. And I hate saying the word ‘learning’, because learning implies growth. No one should have to ‘learn’ how to live this way. So instead we move forward, slowly trying to figure out how to navigate what the hell this life looks like.

Now I usually find that I throw myself into projects leading up to November 8th and Benny’s birthday. Apparently I need some creative outlet, or some instant gratification to get through these feelings of grief. That’s how I’m built. I’m a doer and I need to get things done. If you look at the last 9 years of my life, my grief has physical evidence in the home renovation projects that I take on.

I’m not sure what today looks like just yet. We will go to the cemetery, maybe take the dog for a walk. Relax. Eat his favorite food, hot dogs, and just be. There’s a little less stress and angst surrounding today than there used to be. Sometimes I find that sad. Other times I think it means that maybe we have figured out this grief thing a little bit.

Missing my boy everyday, but today especially. Love you Benny ❤️🌻❤️

Dia Del Muerto

I first learned of ‘Dia del Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’ from the show Jane the Virgin. Which consequently, if you haven’t watched it, it’s probably one of the best shows I have seen to portray grief. It’s also super funny and has some incredible female characters.

In any case, without giving anything away, there is a scene where they show the Day of the Dead. They portray the character dealing with grief during the first year, then the second year, then the third year, etc. She starts out sobbing and by year 4 she is able to tell funny stories and actually laugh again at those memories. They hurt much less as time has passed.

I love this idea of spending a few days to remember those that are gone. We mourn at a funeral, but what do we do to allow ourselves to grieve over time? The biggest concerns that we as grievers have is that our loved ones are going to be forgotten. I think the idea of being able to set aside some time every single year to tell funny stories, and remember those that we have lost would help all of our hearts.

We do this in my family on Benny’s birthday. And it’s become a beautiful tradition for my family. And all of my kids now know their brother, even though two of them have never met him. But I don’t know that we spend a lot of time talking about my mom and dad who have died. My kids really don’t know their grandparents and that’s very sad.

The Day of the Dead traditions include creating an altar for the deceased, eating their favorite foods, creating decorative skulls, visiting their graves and decorating with marigolds. Ironically, it’s also a day to celebrate the living with gifts of candy or poems dedicated to friends and family. This honestly sounds like something I can get behind! What a beautiful way to love and appreciate all those around you, both living and dead.

So I’m going to try it. We’ll see how it goes. This year Dia del Muertos is observed on November 1st through the 2nd. I’m intrigued to add another tool to my grief toolbox and see if it sticks.

Taking Care

I was among friends over the weekend, and there is a woman that I consider one of the most grief evolved people I have ever met. I am in awe of her ability to speak honestly and openly and be completely vulnerable. The only time that I feel like I am able to do that is through writing. So here we are.

She said something that resonated with me. And made me think about stuff I apparently had buried pretty deeply because I haven’t thought about it in a long time. I started to think back to when my mom died.

Now, we’re talking nearly 27 years ago. I’ve lived longer on this earth without my mother than I did with her. Being a mom myself, that realization makes me very sad.

Some 27 years ago I was 16. My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 14, roughly a week or two before I started high school. She was sick and in and out of the hospital, my freshman and sophomore years. My dad was an alcoholic disaster. He struggled to keep it together when things were good. My mother’s diagnosis and impending death pushed him completely off the wagon for good.

I remember when my mom first got sick that my sister and I had to start doing our own laundry. My mom had written out on index cards how to sort and wash everything and taped it to the cabinets above the washer. There’s so much more that I wished she’d left instructions for. Like how to live without your mom.

I will never forget the phone call in the early morning hours of May 25th. And my sister crying. I’ll never forget that feeling, like the Earth shifted on its axis. We knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I remember the last time we visited her and she was barely conscious. I knew in that moment that time was up. What I don’t understand is why we weren’t there. Why did we leave? Why weren’t we there with her when she died? Was it my father’s choice? I hate that she was alone. Why didn’t I ask if we should be there? Why didn’t anyone else? I will regret this forever.

I wish she had left instructions on how to deal with my father. After she died things got bad. He was never around and when he was, he was drunk. And either mean or depressed. I had to learn how to take care of myself. No one cared about my grades or where I was or what I was up to. My father’s grief was so bad that the rest of us ceased to exist to him. He died on May 25th with my mom. And as the only other person in our house, I was left to pick up the pieces. And it was terrible. But I didn’t know what else to do. Or how to fix it. So I just grinned and beared it. I was fine. Everything was fine.

I wish she left instructions about how to handle my grief. Because we didn’t talk about stuff back then. It was just expected that my mom died and I had to move on. And parent my alcoholic father. And create these awful trauma patterns that I would spend the rest of my adult life trying to break. And it’s really hard to unlearn that you can actually depend on people. That you can actually ask for help. Or that you can actually say no. Or that your worth isn’t just tied to caring for/doing things for everyone else.

And I miss my mom. Because no one has come close to taking care of me like she did. There are so many times when I cried out for her. When I was in labor with Darcy, pretty much anytime I’m sick, and the ambulance ride after Benny and I were hit by my car. Because I needed her to make it better. And 26 years with her being gone, I still do.

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.

I’m Out

I took the summer off. From everything. I gathered my children and we had adventure after adventure. And it felt so right. And I felt really content for the first time in a long time.

I didn’t take a break from grief so much as she took a break from me. I spent a lot of time thinking about things and looking at them from a different perspective. I made peace with so many things I’ve carried for so long. But that’s another story.

The reason for writing is actually a story in itself. I’ve been reading again! Being able to let go of some things has really helped and for the past few months I’ve been devouring books. And loving it.

I was an avid reader before Benny died. It’s just another one of those secondary things that was also taken from me. I can’t explain it. I tried to get back into reading over and over again. I did read a few books here and there, but I either couldn’t focus, or I’d lose interest. So I gave up.

I’ve gotten big into Colleen Hoover. I love her writing style. I love the conflict that she builds as you sit there and question if the character is a good or bad person. Or are they just human and made a mistake?

So I started Verity.

I barely made it through the first sentence. Never mind the remainder of the page. I closed the book and took a breath. I decided to continue, against my better judgement. I didn’t get too far into the book before I found out that one character just lost her mother to cancer and another main character lost 2 children and his wife was in a car accident (this is all revealed in the first chapter, so I’m not spoiling much).

Nope. Nopity nope nope nope. I made it maybe a chapter and a half in and I had to Google. I had to know what I was getting myself into. So many triggers. Too many triggers for me. I’m out. I will have to pass on this one. Maybe this was why I stopped reading in the first place.

How should you be 10?

I can hardly believe it. You should be 10 today. Two whole hands. Another milestone missed. Another birthday where we celebrate you in your absence. And I try to wrap my head around the fact that any of this is actually real.

The hardest part is the missed pieces of you. You were so young, but had such a big personality. Out of all of your siblings, you were definitely the chilliest and the only one to sleep through the night. Temper tantrums weren’t really your thing. You were just so completely different, your own person. You were always up to something, climbing something, getting into something. It was entertaining and teriffying to witness.

I wonder who you’d be at 10. Would you still have blonde hair? Would your blue eyes have changed to more of a green like your brothers? Would you be playing sports? Would you be on the mountain skiing with us? This seems like a silly question given your fearless attitude and thirst for adventure. Would you still love the old cars the way your father does?

Would you and Fletcher be the best of friends? Making me completely crazy with your boy antics? Would you and Perry share a special bond as your personalities are so similar? Would you still be close with Darcy? The two of you were truly matched in every way and you looked up to your big sister and wanted to do everything that she did.

It’s hard to know who you would be at 10. It’s been so long since I’ve laid my eyes on you that I can’t even comprehend you as a grown up child. And it’s super sad. I’m super sad. And I miss you. And I wish you were here with us instead of us planting vegetables and sunflowers and singing happy birthday to an empty chair at the table. Nearly 9 years later and it doesn’t hurt any less.

Happy Birthday buddy❤️🌻

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

My mom was a teacher her whole life, so teachers hold a special place in my heart. I always loved going to school with her, setting up her classroom and being involved in the various school activities that she ran. It was always so important for her to be involved in her students lives and make learning fun.

I think back to all of the incredible teachers that helped to shape my own life. My health teacher in seventh grade had us work on a ‘life’ project where we had to somehow illustrate our future plans. I drew a floor plan and he ended up showing it to a friend who was an architect. Guess what I studied in College? In 8th grade I wrote an opinion essay on a current news article and my teacher asked me if I actually wrote the first paragraph. Not in an accusatory fashion, but rather she said it was a compliment because she liked the writing.

I had Mr Newcombe for English in 11th grade who strongly suggested that I read Pride and Prejudice for a project. All of my children’s names are now out of Jane Austen novels and my two littles middle names are Jane and Austen. This book had a huge impact on me and is (clearly) still a favorite today. These people helped to shape who I have become as a person. And I am so thankful for their encouragement and guidance.

Darcy was in Kindergarten when Benny died. She was our first in school and we really didn’t know the community well. When Benny died, Darcy’s Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Borus, showed up. She came to his services. She had all of Darcy’s classmates make cards for her (which I still have today).

We received a letter in the mail from another teacher in our our district. She gave us such great information on programs for children and loss and was just incredible in her vulnerability. Darcy (thankfully) had Ms. O’Connell in first grade. It was a huge relief to me know that she was being taken care of emotionally in school as well.

When we moved, Darcy was in fifth grade and switched districts. I was nervous, we had been surrounded by so many incredible teachers and families that knew our story. I had to reach out to a new principal and teacher and explain Darcy’s background. Mrs. Sullivan welcomed my daughter and our family with open arms. Darcy had the best 5th grade year and sobbed when it was over.

Darcy entered Junior High in 2019, right before the pandemic. This was truly her first experience with switching classrooms and teachers. And I don’t know if she won the teacher lottery, but they were all incredible. They did the best they could with a really shitty situation and supported my child incredibly through the hardships of working at home. She definitely struggled and there were some tough days when I had to reach out to some of the teachers and explain what was happening at home because they couldn’t see it firsthand. And they just handled it amazingly time and time again. We have been very lucky to have these incredible people be such a huge part of our daughter’s life.

Last fall was tough. I had homeschooled Fletcher for kindergarten so he was really entering the classroom for the first time in first grade. He was also the first child I had sent to school since 2013. I was an emotional wreck. I reached out to his teacher prior to him starting school and explained Benny’s death and our family situation. It’s one of those things I’ve become pretty adept at over the years. Fletcher is extremely different than Darcy though, he has no problem standing in front of a classroom of his peers and talking about his brother who has died. Fletcher craves connection and is one of the most vulnerable people that I know. I honestly think it’s his superpower.

Once again we were gifted not only an incredible teacher but an amazing partner in his education and emotional growth. I am so lucky that this woman is in my son’s life. He misses her during the weekends and over vacations. She has been an incredible lifeline for us as parents as we struggled with Fletcher’s learning this year. She has also been an incredible asset that has allowed him to share Benny so openly.

I had to email Mrs. Macaruso last night to let her know that Fletcher is struggling with the end of the school year. He is extremely sad that he will not be able to see her everyday in second grade. I am extremely sad that I will not have this incredible human as his teacher next year. She not only made this transition from home easy for him, but easy for me as well. We all love Mrs. Macaruso!

I can keep going and going. My children have been so lucky to have so many incredible people to look up to in their lives. They have also had incredible daycare, preschool and dance teachers who have helped to shape who they are now. I am lucky as an adult to have some incredible teacher friends who have changed me and who I am. I’m looking at you Miss Patty and everyone who helps at Hope Lives Here. Or the teacher friends that have joined us in our grief.

Thank your teachers. Show them some love this week. Let them know the impact that they have had on your children and you as a parent.

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