Nothing is the same

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When Mike died I became someone entirely different. I was no longer the same mom, friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend I was before. Believe it or not in some ways I am better than I was prior to Mike’s passing. You might not see it now but one day you will look back and realize you are not the same person you were before your child died. You will realize in some ways you are more aware and more tolerant and believe it or not a better you than you were before..

I now know that life can change in the 10 seconds it takes to answer a phone or open a door. I love a bit more deeply and forgive more freely. In my head I knew none of us was guaranteed tomorrow, but you never really KNOW it until you go through the unthinkable. I have also found I know what is important in life and I don’t get caught up in the bullshit of life. When coworkers and friends begin to complain about schedules, or politics, and stuff that I don’t consider important I walk away. In the past I might have gotten caught up in the gossip, and the complaints, and joined in. Now, I am more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt. When people are miserable or cranky and rude I am not so quick to judge or react. I am more likely to ask how I can help or what I can do. I have learned is everyone has a chapter in their book that they don’t read out loud.

I have found out what is important and I have found I need to make time for my family and my friends. No one has ever said “I should have spent more time in the office.” I have learned it is ok to say “no”. I have learned to prioritize and I have learned it is ok to focus on me and to take care of my needs. I learned that I was not indispensable and as important as I thought I was. My work could figure out and did figure out how to go on without me. I found out it was ok to take care of me, because I am not good to anyone else if I am burned out and fatigued.

It isn’t an automatic transition to this place. It takes awhile until you are ready to shift and change your thinking. I remember in the early years being with a family member who was sad (and rightly so) that her daughter was not coming home for Christmas. She had a fiancĂ© and holidays would need to be divided between both families. As I was listening to her what I wanted to say was “Be happy at least your daughter is alive and you can talk to her any time you want.” Those feelings are normal and they are ok. Somedays you just can’t stop it. You hear the words popping out of your mouth. I personally think that is ok. It can lead to communication and honest heartfelt talks about your feelings, hopes, and thoughts. To bury our thoughts and hold it all in is detrimental to our mental and physical health.

The first time I laughed after Mike died I felt horrible. How could I laugh when my son was gone? But I have found it is ok to laugh. It is ok to have fun. It is ok to live. I love sharing Mike stories. He was a goofball. There are lots of great stories to tell about his short life. I still love hearing his stories from his friends. I really like the ones that start with “Mike said never to tell his mom this……………..” And I laugh and I cry at times and I can hear his laugh in their laughs and it makes me happy that he isn’t forgotten. Life can get easier and it can be good again.

I highly recommend keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Writing is very helpful and therapeutic. . If you aren’t a writer and the thought of writing long entries is too much. You can use bullet points and lists of feelings and thoughts you are having. There is something therapeutic about writing and getting the stuff our of your head and on to paper. But as you are writing I want you also to write 3 positive things that happened that day as well. In the beginning it might be that “I got up and got dressed today.” or “I remembered to eat before 5 pm.”. In the beginning I considered it a successful day if I remembered to change my underwear every day.

I am sending you all lots of love and hugs. Time doesn’t not heal all wounds. But you will learn to live and to laugh again. I wish peace for all of you.

I Know Just How You Feel

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Once the memorial service is over and all your family and friends return to their homes you will find yourself trying to figure out and understand this new life you were just thrown in to. You will read all the cards and notes and listen to the messages left for you. Some of them will bring you comfort and some of them will leave you feeling annoyed and even angry. You will hear comments from well meaning family friends and coworkers that will make you say “what is that supposed to mean?”

Things like:

  • They are in a better place
  • God needed another Angel
  • At least you still have your other child(ren)
  • I know just how you feel. My (grandma, grandpa, mother, father, cat, dog……..) died
  • There is no way I could survive the loss of one of my children
  • You can have other children
  • Stay strong for your other child(ren)
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Time heals all wounds
  • let me know if you need anything
  • I don’t know how you do it

Initially you will want to scream, yell, shout at them. “How can you say that?” But most people mean well. They just have no clue what to say to a grieving parent or how to say it. In reality I probably would have said the exact same things before Michael died. When they say they know how you feel they are trying to relate to you in any way they can. As the years go by it does become a bit easier to remember that and give them a measure of grace.

In the early days your job is just to survive. You take it one day, one moment, and sometimes one breath at a time. There is no timeline for grief. There is no roadmap or manual on how to grieve. No two parents will have the exact same journey. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Be kind and be gentle to yourself.

I found comfort in going to a support group. Years later I still go. I found a local chapter of the Compassionate Friends and as tough as it was walking in to a group alone, once there I found people who understood my journey and my pain. We all had one thing in common. We had children who had died. We share our stories, we share our journeys and it is amazing to be with people who just get you and understand. I would encourage you to seek out a support group for grieving parents. There are in person and on line groups. I find it comforting to hear how other parents survive. I have adopted some of their ideas in my own journey. I love that on days when I’m struggling I can text, message, or call one of them and they will understand and offer me a bit of time to talk and a bit of hope that I will survive.

Time does not heal all wounds. “You don’t get over it” but somehow you get through it. The days turn in to weeks, months and then years. As time goes by it gets “softer”. You do learn to laugh again and smile at the memories. Yes, you will always have what I call “Michael days” when life is overwhelming to you. You will hear a song on the radio. You will see a text or a read a post on Facebook that throws you in to a panic. Be gentle to yourself. On those days give yourself space and time. Learn to show yourself grace and love. If you need time alone, take it. If you can’t stand being by yourself and just feel the need to be with someone call a trusted friend and go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee. And above all remember you are not going crazy. You are grieving.

I

Choosing to live

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November 27 is the anniversary of my son’s passing. As the day gets closer on the calendar my anxiety level gets higher and higher. November 2020 was a long exhausting month. I was dreading the day. No one quite gets the dread you feel as the day gets closer and closer unless they’ve been there.

I was thinking and obsessing over what I would do. I wanted to go away somewhere to grieve, mourn, think, and celebrate Mike’s life. My sisters were going to join me, but life happens and they weren’t able to come. I made a reservation to go to Saint Michael’s in Maryland to stay for 5 days. My hope was to walk along the water, drink wine, and just escape my reality for a couple of days. Well, COVID cases were rising and travel was discouraged and I made the decision to cancel my time away.

As Thanksgiving drew closer I dreaded the day. I was invited to go to Thanksgiving dinner, but had no desire to sit around a table and talk about what I was thankful for when in reality there was not much I was thankful for. I hated the whole month. Reading on social media what everyone is thankful for, reading COVID related posts and arguments, political debates with the election which still wasn’t resolved all had me anxious and depressed. I took a couple of days off from work. I couldn’t concentrate, but I couldn’t stand being alone either. It was a very dark time. One I was filling in with wine and feeling sorry for myself.

On Sunday November 29 I stumbled across a Wine Free Work Week Challenge from Angela Mascenik on Facebook. I signed up for it. On Monday November 30 I tuned in to her day 1 of the challenge. My first comment I wrote was “I have no idea why I am here. Tomorrow is my son’s birthday who died in 2016. I don’t think I can get through the day without wine.” Angela commented “you are in the perfect place………”

An idea formed in my mind. I spent Mike’s birthday walking with a friend of his at a local park. I had lunch with my other son. My sisters arranged for dinner from one of Mike’s favorite places with his favorite meal. (BBQ ribs). I went to a local grocery store and paid for a birthday cake anonymously. It turns out the recipient was a 12 year old boy whose family had covid and they were quarantined at home. The gesture eventually made it on to Facebook and later into USA Today. It was the first December 1 I spent sober in 5 years.

That weekend I joined Angela’s 6 month group coaching program Stop Overdrinking and Start living. With her help, weekly coaching, and the support of the group I am learning to process my feelings, change my thoughts, and love myself. I have decided I no longer want to just exist and drink wine to numb my feelings. I am determined to learn to live again. I have learned I have a passion and a desire to help other grieving parents.

The idea to start a blog to share my journey with the world was born. In this blog I hope to reach other grieving mothers and give them some hope and some inspiration that life can go on. It is possible to live and love again following devastating loss. If you are reading as a newly bereaved parent, a long time survivor of loss, or the loved one of someone who has lost a child, my hope is you will learn how to begin to live after suffering child loss or how to support someone who has gone through child loss. Finding hope…………

My Story

My son, Mike, passed away unexpectedly on November 27, 2016. Four days before his 24th birthday. He went to sleep and never woke up again. I was immediately thrown into every parent’s worse nightmare. Life for me changed in the instant it took to answer my phone.

For 4 years I drank wine nearly every day to numb and forget the reality of my life without one of my children. What I found was grief doesn’t go away with a bottle of wine. It hides behind the door and waits for you to sober up. Then it jumps out at you to say “I am still here.” I was alive but I wasn’t truly living.

I decided to make 2021 be the year that I learn how to live and not just exist. I decided that I wanted to stop drinking wine and alcohol just to escape. I wanted to figure out how to learn to live again. This is my story.

I have a desire and a passion to help other mother’s learn to live without one of their children. I want to help them learn to live a vibrant healthy life without using alcohol as a means to escape reality. I want to help them heal their broken hearts and choose to live in a way that honors their children’s memories.