"Happy Anniversary, Sorry Your Husband’s Dead"

Before we had kids, Gregg and I used to go on trips for our anniversaries. The Virgin Islands, some small weekend getaways to the mountains. Once we went to Woodstock. We had ridden the train from the city, and so we had to walk everywhere. We hiked to a monastery and ate organic food and considered moving there and becoming hippies. We considered moving everywhere we visited, really, because we never wanted the break from reality to end. After our kids were born, we only had two anniversaries together, and the trips stopped because, well, priorities.

One of the ways that I cope with anniversaries and birthdays now is by doing something adventurous. Gregg was really adventurous and I think my cautious nature was stifling to him at times. He had such a vitality about him, a palpable energy you could just feel. And it helps me to do something to honor him while also reminding myself that I’m alive, I’m here. I have fears, but I have courage. I have a past, but I can have a future.

For Gregg’s birthday a few months back I went rock climbing. It was only a 30-foot wall inside of a nice, climate-controlled building, but I may as well have been climbing Everest. I was terrified. I hate heights, and the thought of falling from them. But I could hear his words in my head from the times he would push me and cheer me on. “You got this, you’re doing awesome, just a little bit further, you’re almost there.”

Anyway, for our anniversary today I planned a paragliding excursion. I booked it weeks ago because I knew that the closer it got, the more likely I was to talk myself out of it. The thought of hovering high in sky with a mere piece of fabric between me and certain death is beyond terrifying. Last night I was literally going through scenarios of what would happen if I died. Like, “good thing I got that will in order… wait I haven’t gotten it notarized yet, oh my gosh my kids are going to be left in the hands of some stranger who probably will tell them their mother didn’t love them enough and that’s why she left!” Yeah, it got pretty messy. This morning I threw up. But then I pulled myself together and was determined to not let myself freak out. I think that doing something that provokes my anxiety is also a way to distract myself from the emotions. It’s a heck of a lot easier to worry about floating through the air with basically an umbrella holding you up than it is to think about all the crap that goes along with not having your husband here for your 8th anniversary and what you would be doing if he were here, and what he’s doing now, and what you’re going to do next, and how damn lonely it is sometimes, and how you might be lonely forever, or *cringe* how you might not be lonely forever… Yes, please, something, anything, distract from all of that. So I was all in for this paragliding thing.

And then the pilot called to say there was supposed to be high winds and they weren’t doing any flights today. Really? The company said that I could reschedule for another day, but I promptly told them I’d like to just get a refund, if possible. No way am I just going to just test my fate for “fun.”

So I scoured the internet for things that I could do that involved adrenaline. Most things were booked or closed or too far to drive to by this point, but I found a kayaking excursion just up the canyon. Rushing river full of rocks and river monsters, small boat that could capsize at any moment; perfect.

In all seriousness though, it was actually great. It was a challenge and the rapids rocked me, but I only had to lay down to avoid hitting a low-hanging tree once. And I didn’t end up in the water, though it seemed as if all of it ended up in my kayak.

It was the perfect mix of rush and lull. I quickly learned that some stretches called for strong, determined strokes, while others went smoother if you just drifted with the current. To passively row in an area where you needed to be vigilant would get you pushed to somewhere you didn’t want to go, and fighting a current that was working in your favor caused unnecessary exhaustion and still ran you into a rock. The guide had been down this river countless times before and handled these different stretches with ease, but I was clumsy and inexperienced. Occasionally, he would call out that we needed to stay to the left or to the right and at one point we even had to get out and walk our kayaks around a bridge that created too strong and unpredictable of a current to try to go under. The rapids got progressively bigger and stronger, so when I got to the last one, I was glad that I had been prepared for it by the smaller ones. I was thankful at the end that I had chosen to go with a guide instead of trying to navigate the water on my own. I still almost got taken out by a tree and was thoroughly doused by each rapid, but I made it. And I knew that if I did get caught on the shore or go the wrong way that the guide would be able to help me back to where I was supposed to be. It was reassuring.

So I would say that kayaking was a success and that Gregg would have loved it, too. But I’m already having a hard time replaying his voice in my head, and that is scarier than any adventure I can think of. But I’m fairly certain he would have been whooping and laughing and, when it got difficult, telling me that we were almost there.

One of These is Not Like the Others

A few weeks ago, I had my first experience as the third wheel. Fifth wheel, really. The extra and unnecessary one. The odd man out. I sat with two couples, who were delightful and easy to talk to, but the conversation was a strong reminder that I am not a part of couple anymore. I am a single. But not truly a single really. Just… a separate? Separated from my husband by space, but still connected by love. It’s a strange place to be. And just so we’re clear, my feelings of being the third wheel are completely my own doing. I don’t expect, nor do I want, people to bend over backwards to accommodate my feelings. I own my feelings, I’m just still getting comfortable with where I fit in socially, I guess. In a room full of people, I wouldn’t know where I fit in. And I’m ok with that, but settling in its taking time.

Anyway, so there we were, me and these two couples, all getting more acquainted, talking about our backgrounds. Asking each other questions about where we were from, how we ended up together, how long we’ve been married. Except that now those types of questions aren’t directed at me. It’s like now that Gregg is gone, our relationship is in the past. It happened, but it’s not happening anymore, even though it’s still sort of happening for me, in a way that’s hard to explain. So while the couples were getting to know more about each other’s stories, I was reminded of mine and Gregg’s.

“Where did you grow up?”
This is where Gregg or I would have said we grew up in the same small town.

“How did you two meet?”
This is where I would have said we met in elementary school, but no, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Then Gregg would have given everyone the same old schpeel about how I was just waayy too cool to date him in high school and it wasn’t until he had all those Army muscles that I wanted to date him. (Which is false. It was the growing from a 14-year-old boy into a more mature version of a pretty much 14-year-old boy that got me hooked. The muscles were just a bonus.) I always hated this schpeel because it made me seem shallow. Gregg loved telling it because he knew I hated it.  But it also showed the romantic part of our relationship. Friends for years, love, dating to engaged to married in three months. It’s a beautiful love story, really.

“How long have you been married?” We both would have glanced absent-mindedly at the ceiling while we calculated the years and months since June 27, 2009.

“How long have you guys lived here?”
Our answer would have always been a time frame that was less than 2 years, no matter when we were asked. In our 7 1/2 years of marriage, we made 4(ish) out of state moves. We would have explained Gregg’s Army career, his deployment, our adventure living in New York, eventually settling back in Arizona.

“Wow, you were deployed, how was that?”
I would have said that our first year of marriage sucked in a different way than most people’s. We had to learn to be away from each other instead of learning to be with each other.

But no one asks these questions anymore. And I’m definitely not faulting them for it, I know it comes from trying to be respectful. But it also just never comes up because I’m a widow, not a wife. Sometimes I don’t think people really have to try hard to avoid it. That chapter has ended and it’s more important to know what I’m going to do next than to know the details of my relationship that ended. Only I’m still stuck on that chapter of my life that ended prematurely. And I may be stuck there for a long time, and even after that I’ll turn back to it regularly to remember what it was like to be actually in my marriage, not just clinging to it like a moment you wish you could freeze time for.

When people do ask about us, they want to know more about the end of it. How he died, how old our kids were. How on Earth I did it. That sort of thing. Which is not bad. I can’t really think of anyone who has been truly off-putting in asking those questions. But the beginning stuff only matters to me now, ya know? Sometimes I just want to tell people that I took my first plane ride ever by myself to go see Gregg before we were even dating. Sometimes I want to tell them how on the last night of my first visit, instead of taking me to a fancy dinner, he asked if I wanted to eat apples and protein bars for dinner, which was the best idea I had ever heard. I want to tell them how he got down on one knee in the middle of a crowded airport and how everyone started clapping. I had never been so happy and embarrassed in my life.

My goal is to write it all down so that our kids, and their kids, will have it. And so I’ll have it when I start to forget the details. Gregg was good with details, I’m more of a big picture person. A lot of my memories are condensed down into snip its that highlight major details and emotions, with all the small stuff smushed together in between, all stuck into one big glob that’s hard to pull apart. Gregg had a ridiculously good memory, and would sometimes tease me that he was hurt when I couldn’t remember the exact day of our first kiss or the color my shirt was when I flew to see him. He remembered things like that. Once when I was ridiculously pregnant and feeling particularly out of my mind, I even forgot what day we were married. He was appalled, and probably truly hurt by that.

It’s a strange feeling when your place in the world changes. The club I’ve joined still feels foreign. But I think I am getting settled into it, though ever so slowly.

Father’s Day

Out of all the anniversaries and “firsts” and sucky days that remind me how much has changed now that Gregg’s gone, I’m dreading this one the most. Thomas has this new adorable thing where he scrunches his brow and says, “no fair” in his deep toddler voice. And this is something that is so not fair. They should be able to tell their daddy “happy Father’s Day” and give him all the finger paintings and mugs and crumpled paper ties that they will make throughout their childhood. They shouldn’t have to be reminded that they are missing out on what could have been an amazing relationship, one that could have helped to teach them, comfort them, and strengthen them. And, if nothing else, one that would have helped them feel loved and cherished. This is not fair.

I had friends growing up who had lost their dad. My young lack of social-emotional competence never led me to be sad with them, but I was always sad for them. I recognized that it must have been an earth-shattering tragedy for them. And it is when you lose a parent. Earth shattering and tragic. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 75 or still in the womb when your parent dies. The loss will always be felt.

I recently had the chance to spend time with a very special lady who I have known since childhood. She’s in her 80’s and has lived a full and happy life, and continues to still. But you can still see the pain resonating on her face and in her voice when she talks about her parents, whom she lost decades ago. It’s still right there, right on the cusp of spilling over at any moment. It struck me how amazing it is that one person can experience so much loss and so much pain, yet not break and still somehow be able to feel joy so profoundly. And I wonder if that’s a strength that we’re all born with or if it only sprouts when it’s cultivated by tragedy.

Anyway, I have a half a mind to just opt out of Father’s Day altogether this year. But I won’t. Even though I know my boys wouldn’t know the difference if I did, I want them to be able to know that it’s ok, even though it doesn’t feel ok. But I sure as heck won’t be singing the Father’s Day song in church alongside all the other mothers and wives. There’s only so much I can take, and singing a beautiful song about how important and loved fathers are in front of the whole church would put me right over the edge. I might throw up or punch someone. Or worse, cry. So I’ll just pretend like I’m too busy herding my children. Works every time for getting me out of uncomfortable situations.

I do recognize that Thomas and Luke have a lot of amazing father figures, which I’m very grateful for. And I hope that the hole that they feel as they get older is not quite as empty because of it.

Sleep

Today is Memorial Day. I started writing a really heavy post about Gregg’s service and how it changed his life. But, I decided “screw it, I’m not ready to go there.” I’m not canning it, just saving it for later, and instead I’m going to talk about what is happening with us here, right now, because that’s the reality I still have to live.

Sleep. I used to be a really heavy sleeper, then I became a mom. Actually, I started sleeping like crap before that, when Gregg got home from deployment. His nightmares and sleep paralysis were so bad at times, I’d wake him several times a night. First he would get goosebumps all over his body. Then his muscles would tense up. Then he’d start doing this mumble/moan thing that was the saddest, most helpless thing I’ve ever heard. Sometimes he would start thrashing or he would open his eyes ever so slightly, but you could only see the whites because his eyes would be rolled into the back of his head. He’d be terrified when I woke him up, which could take anywhere from a few seconds to up to 10 seconds. So I became a light sleeper.

There I go, getting heavy again.. Nope, can’t do it.

These days it’s Thomas and Luke who I wake up for.

Why is it that I have a king size bed, yet Thomas always ends up right up against my body with at least one arm or leg thrown over me? Seriously, I love him so much I would die for him, but man it’d be nice to not wake up 17 times a night to try to put a little space between me and his warewolf-esque body temperature. “Why don’t you just put him in his own bed?” Because then I couldn’t as easily watch him while he slept and think about what a beautiful, sweet, smart child he is and how lucky I am that Heavenly Father sent him to me, that’s why.

And don’t even get me started on Luke. I would literally give anything for him, including my sanity apparently because the time I spend trying to get him to sleep is turning me into a crazy person. I laid down next to his crib last night, trying to soothe him while he learns these “sleep skills” everyone keeps saying babies need to learn, and within 30 seconds I was asleep and I had the most vivid dream I’ve had in months. It was about Carrot King, who had a crown made of carrots. Carrot spirals, actually. Big, cascading, orange ringlets. Yeah. That’s as far as I got, the next wail of protest 4 seconds later woke me. I just read a post on a breastfeeding group I’m a part of about a mom who was trying to fix her oversupply of milk in the mornings because her 7.5-month-old baby slept for 12 hours at night. I almost cried. I want to sleep for 12 hours.

And I know all parents struggle with getting their kids to sleep. And that I’m not the first single mom to have to do it alone. And that I could ask my awesome family members upstairs for help, but that shows weakness, and also I might as well get used to doing things solo. Also, my kids are 100% mama’s boys, they would be ticked if someone else tried to put them to sleep.

But like, could mother nature give me a break? Like maybe don’t mess up the sleep stuff? Things were going great for about 4 days where I would have the children asleep by 8 and then I had at least 1.5 glorious hours to get stuff done before Luke woke up. Then BAM, sleep regression. THWOP, growth spurt. BOOM, teeth. And now we’re all screwed.

And I’m sorry, but what in the actual heck does “drowsy but awake” mean? My kids have two degrees of consciousness: awake or asleep. Awake and going full force, or passed out, wouldn’t be woken by a fog horn asleep. I’m kidding really, I know how to look for signs of their “sleep windows”, it’s just that those widows only open 2″. They have approximately 7 minutes of drowsiness before they need to asleep.

And I can’t help but think, “Gregg, you suck.” I’m down here spending half of my waking hours getting children to go to sleep and half of my sleeping hours being kicked in the head by a stronger than average toddler and he’s just up there watching. If I could tell him this, he would know I was mostly joking. And he’d make some joke about how he planned it this way so that he could skip the hard stuff and just watch the amazing stuff that makes it all worth it. Before we had kids, he used to tell me to not be surprised if he came up on orders for an 18 year deployment if I got pregnant. And then I’d threaten to put antifreeze in his dinner. We had such a playful way of showing our love.

Anyway, I keep telling myself that my children will sleep better as they get older. And that when they move out of my bedroom when they turn 18 and go on their missions, I’ll miss snuggling them all night.

Thankful

I’m not good at expressing gratitude. Or I try to be too good at expressing it. I don’t know, but when someone gives me something or does something for me, I’m so grateful but I immediately also feel tons of guilt. They just did something for me and I feel like I have to thank them over and over and over again until I can think of a way to actually repay them. Like if someone opens the door for me, the best thing that could happen is if there’s another door up ahead that I can open for them. Otherwise I either come off as ungrateful, or I get stuck in this “thank you” cycle that gets weird.

I’m trying to think of a movie character or somebody who has this form of gratitude syndrome to show how bad it is… I can’t think of any, but if there’s not one, there should be (Tina Fey, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome). Like a woman who drops a huge stack of papers and keeps mumbling “thank you, I really appreciate it, that’s so thoughtful of you” like a blubbering idiot while someone helps her pick them up. Said idiot would then offer to carry their briefcase, buy them lunch, make them copies, and so on while continuing to drop all of the papers that are being placed on the building stack in her arms. This would frustrate and annoy, probably even creep out, the other person until they slowly backed away into an elevator and pushed the “door close” button as fast as they could, cutting off the woman abruptly as she tried to follow, offering her first born child as a token of her gratitude. In the next scene, a fellow pedestrian would push her out of the way of an oncoming bus and she’d be so floored that she’d whisper “thanks” before sprinting in the other direction because there’s no way she can adequately thank the person. You get the picture. One extreme or the other, there is no in-between.

I think what it is is that one, deep down I don’t feel worthy of people’s charity, two, it makes me uncomfortable to be indebted to people, and three, my social awkwardness knows no limits. I’m very grateful to people who help me, but man I just don’t know what to do with my hands when they do something for me. It’s something I’m working on, and I’ve had lots of opportunity in the last four months to do just that. I have been the recipient of so many acts of service since Gregg died that I’m basically an anxious Thank You card flailing around in a wind tunnel.

I’m going to tell you about everything that everyone has done for me since December 26. This is going to be hard, because my gratitude feels inadequate and also hasn’t been fully expressed to a lot of people, because I haven’t been able to find the energy to start writing thank you’s to people who should have them. This is also going to get really wordy, which is also hard for me because I thrive on getting to the damn point. I’m not going to use any names, because I don’t want this to be a name dropping party and some of the people who served me I didn’t even know. And I won’t even tell you how awkward I was when they did things for me, I’ll just let you use your imagination.

Where do I even start. The night Gregg died, one of my best friends dropped everything and came to sit with me in the middle of the night. My Bushman family bent over backwards to give me everything I needed, because I didn’t even know what that was. My parents took care of Thomas for days, but still brought him to see me often so we wouldn’t miss each other too much. The day after Gregg died, someone brought me a handbook on survivor’s benefits from the VA. Another best friend and her mom drove hours to see me. People brought us food, so much delicious food, which eventually brought back my appetite. So many people called or sent messages of love and support, all of which I read, most of which I couldn’t reply to.

People gave me money and gift cards, lots. People that I didn’t even know just handed it to me. Friends, old and new, sent it with sweet messages. Family, lots of family who I know have their own things to worry about. Family members of friends. Friends of family members. A good man and friend of Gregg’s started a fundraiser for us, where tons more people donated, and then his own organization pitched into the fund. I don’t know what I would have done. Becoming a widowed mother of two at 27 years old wasn’t something I had prepared for financially. It should have been.

My brother-in-law looked up all the logistical things I needed to do, which was something that helped my need to “do” in the short-term and also helped secure mine and the boy’s stability in the long-term. One of my best friends drove me to one meeting and sat with me. My sister drove me to another.

My sister-in-law literally did most of the funeral planning that I couldn’t handle. Gregg’s sweet grandma let us use the last family plot left so Gregg could be close to his mom. My sweet father-in-law put his own grief and needs after mine, and everyone else’s. My sister-in-laws traveled across the country with their families to be with us, and saying that they were a huge comfort and help is an understatement. My brother-in-law picked out Gregg’s burial clothes, which I know was difficult. Everyone helped to take care of Luke during the nights he was doing the crying newborn thing.

Friends and family came from all over. People dropped their plans, their lives, and came to honor Gregg and say goodbye. My sister and brother-in-law flew from across the world. A close friend spoke at Gregg’s funeral at the last minute and gave a wonderful tribute. Gregg’s siblings gave him the sweetest goodbye I could imagine. One of my best friends made a collage, and all of Gregg’s family worked on the display. Old friends sent a beret and a medal that I couldn’t get. My sister- and brother-in-law broke into my apartment to find things I needed. My sister held Thomas during the funeral while I held Luke. My auntie played with Thomas at the cemetery.

When I got home, my sister-in-law went with me, for almost two weeks. My church family brought me dinners. My neighbor down the hall, who had been charmed by Gregg in the months after we moved in, brought me and Thomas breakfast and dinner every day until we moved out three weeks later. An old friend from high school that I hadn’t talked to in years brought me a baby carrier for Luke. Another classmate brought me a plaque she had custom made, commemorating Gregg. A woman whom I had only met once brought me enough diapers and baby wipes to last for months (and with two kids in diapers, that’s a lot). When I was so desperately reaching for something I could control and was about to pull a Britney 2007, one of my best friends colored my hair, another friend from school cut it, and neither wanted payment.

My church family helped me pack, clean, and load up my apartment. Friends helped me go through Gregg’s Army stuff, and made countless trips to goodwill. My cousin and auntie drove it all my crap up north. My sister and brother-in-law let us live with them. They helped us immensely, and we were so well-fed. Seriously.

When I surrendered my car to the bank after filing for bankruptcy, my parents let me borrow theirs. My cousin’s husband went to an auction for me to try to get me a new car on the cheap. An old classmate from high school put me in touch with a kind man who said he could get me a car at an auction. He made two 8+ hour round trips and was able to get me a reliable car for the cash I had, at a much cheaper price than I would have paid anywhere else.

My sister- and brother-in-law helped me move up to Utah, and let me be their roommate. Every day they help with the boys, give me a break, and do all the adult stuff that gets harder when you’re the only one.

Even months later, people serve us. A business owner in Snowflake held a raffle for us. A man whom Gregg and I met on his mission is making a video of Gregg’s life. My family and Gregg’s family call and ask what they can do, or they just do without even being asked.

Gah, I can’t believe I almost forgot about the people who helped me find some pretty, comfortable dresses to wear to the services! I had a suitcase full of only leggings and needed something that felt like pajamas, but looked classy. One friend let me shop her home boutique, one helped me find one online, which someone anonymously paid for. My sister and her sweet mother-in-law gave me another. I felt like the funeral was my last date with Gregg, so I wanted to feel good about myself and not like a frumpy mess. And then there was the viewing, and Luke’s baby blessing… Those dresses helped immensely with feeling my level of comfort.

I hope I didn’t miss anyone. I realize that a lot of these things were more done for Gregg, but me and Thomas and Luke are the ones that are benefiting from it. There was a lot. I was literally carried through a time when I could not walk. People kept telling me they were amazed at how well I was coping. It wasn’t me, it was you. You and your service to me, as well as my Heavenly Father, carried me, and continue to carry me, through this dark time. Thank you.

The Shock Factor

I feel like I should be coming out of the shocked phase by now, but I’m not. It’s coming up on four months. Surely I should have returned to some semblance of normalcy, or at least created a new version of normalcy. A new routine, one that feels natural. Some days do feel normal. Feeding children, changing diapers, adulting all the adult things, changing more diapers, dinner-bath-bed as fast as I can because we’re all exhausted, repeat. This is what my boring normal looks like.

But throughout the day, I still find myself being jolted back to the reality I haven’t been able fully process yet. No, not reality, a dream version of reality, because this can’t be real. Gregg’s gone. He’s not going to call. He can’t pick up anything from the store on his way home. He can’t play with Thomas while I feed Luke. He can’t share in the joy of new milestones, like Thomas’ feet finally reaching the pedals of his tricycle or Luke getting his first tooth. He can’t be the fuel that keeps every conversation going, or the witty spark that lights it up. He won’t do things like cat call me in public to embarrass me. He won’t leave his wet towel on our bed after he takes a shower. He won’t put Thomas’ socks on inside out.

In the middle of my boring normal, the things that he’ll never do keep rocking me like a brick wall to the face. That’s typically how it goes with me, I get so caught up in just putting one foot in front of the other that I forget where I am and why I’m there and I don’t look up until I’ve already hit the wall. And that shit hurts, every time. It’s not that I don’t want to “process” it, whatever the heck that means. I would love to be able to break down what happened into tiny, digestible bites that I could then absorb into my psyche and feel satisfied. But my brain won’t do it. It can only handle a small morsel of it at a time. I feel like it will be that way for a while, which I guess is ok, really. I don’t think there’s a recommended time table, just my own expectations that I need to put aside.

The Dragon

One of the reasons I started this blog was to put my energy into something positive, an endeavor that would help me see the blessings I have and bonus points if it somehow helped other people who have also experienced a loss. Positive, feel-good blurbs about persevering. Some days I will write about those types of things. Today is not one of those days. Today I am pissed. I. Am. Piiiiissed. I’m so angry that I feel like my head might literally pop off and go spinning like a top across the floor. Like I may snap at any moment. I can almost see it. I can picture the scenario in my head and see the shock resonating on everyone’s faces when I literally grow horns and start speaking in tongues. Don’t worry, it’s not directed at anyone or anything in particular, not even at the things that you would think I’d be entitled to be angry about. I’m angry for no reason at all, which makes perfect sense.

This is usually what happens when I’m depressed. I don’t get weepy or tired or sad, I get irritable. Irritable and cranky and easily offended. That’s usually how depression manifests in children because they don’t have the socioemotional maturity to process and express their feelings, which makes me feel great about my overall psychological health. So here I am, not able to deal and acting like a giant effing child. It feels odd to me because I’m not an angry person by nature. Side note, I actually was a pretty angry child. When I was four, I smashed a bunch of oranges on my sister’s closet floor because I was mad at her. No one knew until she returned from a weekend at her dad’s, and by that time all her clothes already smelled like rotten citrus. Genius. I was the kid who told the other kids that Santa wasn’t real. I thought that everyone intentionally ruined my happiness, so I often sabatoged theirs. I was generally grumpy and bad-tempered, like a surly old man. Maybe I actually am angry by nature.

Anyway, luckily I’ve learned since becoming an adult about emotions and whatever. And I’ve learned to hide in a cave until my fury passes so I don’t spew misdirected fire at anyone, and a dark cave is what I need anyway because a lot of it is just over stimulation. And a lot of it is just feeling out of control. And hurt. It’s not actually anger, just a bunch of messy feelings that get all jammed up until I’m not sure which is which and where everything goes. Some days it’s exhausting just trying to sort them all out. And then Thomas tells me he’s growing bigger and starts jumping up and down, and Luke laughs at him, one of those deep belly laughs that he uses his whole body to make. And then everything is sorted out again, and all the feelings go back to their proper place, in the right order. And I feel peace and love and joy, and I can breathe easily and deeply. It’s wonderful.

From the Mouth of Thomas

“I tant wait daddy tome bat eh doe tar wash.” Thomas can’t wait for daddy to come back so they can go to the car wash.

Gregg was oobseeeessed with washing his truck. Every other freaking day he would leave to go to the car wash. It was his thing and he would always tell Thomas he was going to the car wash and they would both be weirdly excited about it, because boys and their trucks. Sometimes Thomas went with him. I’m glad he remembers this. I told him that someday, daddy will take him to the car wash, but for now he’ll have to settle with me taking him. In the not-so-pretty Scion XB we’re borrowing from my parents. On a rainy day, because I love him and $3 car washes are cheap entertainment.

“Mom, where daddy doe?” He wants to know where daddy went.

This is a frequent one. How does one explain Heaven to a toddler? I tell him daddy’s in Heaven with Heavenly Father, Jesus, Nana Kathy, Uncle Alik, and Uncle Dave. He usually just says, “otay” and continues to ask me for treats. Pretty sure he’d be satisfied with any answer at this age. It’s only awkward when he yells it to me from across the playground and I have to choose whether to yell back, “Daddy went to Heaven” in front of an audience, or ignore him until he doesn’t forget about it and only continues to ask louder and louder until we have an even bigger audience. Then I have to answer in case anyone’s thinking his daddy went to jail or, like, to Paris with his mistress or something. Because, of course, their minds would immediately go there.

“Mommy, we dot doe get daddy.” He wants to go get daddy from Heaven.

Me too, kid, me too. I always tell him that in a really long time, he can go see daddy. This one is harder because, true to his toddler-hood, he wants to go NOW. I’m actually kind of glad he doesn’t understand what it means to go see daddy in Heaven, though. I heard a story once about a kid with a disability whose parents told him that when he went to Heaven, his body would work like other kid’s. Couldn’t get him to wear a seat belt for a while after that. And really, I can understand that. Heaven does sound awesome.

*dials buttons on obnoxious play phone (I swear on the stars and the moon I will never buy an electronic toy again)* “Mom, daddy tant heaw me.” Daddy can’t hear him and doesn’t answer when the robot voice says “calling daddy” in a decibel loud enough to wake the dead.

I always explain that daddy can hear us, we just can’t hear him. That just results in him yelling, “hewo, dad, daddy, hewo!” It’s impossible to explain this to him. Heck, I can barely understand it. Do people in heaven actually hear us? Do they see us? I know I could look for answers in places where I know hold the truth, but that sounds exhausting and also terrifying. I’m afraid the answer would be “no.”

The Heirarchy of Grief

If you’ve never heard of Ring Theory, aka Circles of Grief/Circles of Support, I highly recommend looking into it. Here’s my favorite quick and easy read explaining it http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407. Cliff notes: “Comfort in, dump out.” Comfort and support the people closer to a tragedy than you are; dump your emotional junk out to people who are farther away from it than you are.

So, now that we’re all on the same page, let me start by saying that I love this concept. When my brother, Alik, died 4 1/2 years ago, I wish more people would have understood this. I had people who I barely knew crying to me saying, “I just can’t believe it. It’s such a tragedy.” Yeah, no shit, thanks for letting me know. It was exhausting. Maybe it’s because my way of coping is to ride the shock wave as long as I can until I crash on the island of grief, where I’m forced to face the loss. Most of the time following my brother’s death, I appeared fine, even happy. It’s what I do. My happy facade also probably had something to do with the fact that I was so uncomfortable with death that somehow I would smile whenever I was faced with it. Like, “my baby brother shot himself” *huge grin*. It was like I was so uncomfortably that I didn’t know what to do with my hands, or my face, or my life. It was a whole thing. I don’t do it anymore, but only because I’ve been around death more. Still, my awkwardness did make me more understanding of other people’s completely asinine comments. Death makes people weird.

Anyway, back to the whole Ring Theory thing. When Alik, died, I was very protective of his memory. Sometimes I would get angry when people who I didn’t think were close with him displayed more grief than I thought appropriate. Like, he wasn’t your brother, you’re just trying to get attention. Don’t let me see you bubbling over with sadness because you didn’t earn that right while he was alive. Now I see how immature and insensitive that was, but I still allow my younger self the right to react however I wanted.

It was different when my mother-in-law, Kathy, died. I knew that she was special to so many people, but I found myself feeling more protective of her husband and kids. Like, sure, be sad but don’t dump your emotional crap on the people who are feeling this the most.

It’s been very different with Gregg. I recently had a conversation with someone who was very close with Gregg, probably second only to me. He felt badly about sharing with me what a hard time he was having. I quickly explained that everyone was entitled to grieve and that it didn’t bother me to hear about his, or anyone else’s pain. On some level I do feel like I feel Gregg’s loss the most, but then I know that he was so special to so many people. And I sort of want to see everyone be sad, regardless of how close they were to him. I know, that sounds weird. But I almost appreciate it when people dump their emotional pain on me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around the tragedy block before, maybe it’s that misery loves company. I don’t know. But it is sort of comforting in a weird way. Like, whew, I’m not the only one that feels as if the world has stopped turning; I’m not alone. There have still been a few people that I want to throat punch, but only for legitimately over-stepping boundaries, sometimes bulldozing them completely. Those people can go to hell. But don’t worry, if you’re reading this, you’re not one of them.

I feel like this post has been a bit all over the place, but so have I lately. I guess my point is that I do think it’s super important to be respectful to others when tragedy strikes, but that we’re not put on a totem pole of grief. Just because losing Gregg was the worst thing that I’ve experienced doesn’t mean that losing him wasn’t the worst thing that someone else has experienced.

Self Care

I’ve been trying real hard to put more effort into this whole self-care thing, but there’s only so far I can go. Like, sure, I’ll eat a vegetable, but only every couple days, and you better believe it’s gonna be slathered in butter. I’ll shower daily, but my hair is going to be skipped most days because ain’t nobody got time for that and dry shampoo is life. I’ll change out if my pj’s, but only because I’m going to change into their more socially-acceptable-to-wear-in-public cousin; leggings. I’ll do something I enjoy as long as it involves very little energy and takes approximately 6 minutes.

Cue bedtime yoga. *clapping, fanfare* I love yoga and have been doing it for the last 3+ years, mostly in my own home from a YouTube video, because that’s where I’m most comfortable. But there have been times in my life where it feels counterproductive to do it. Instead of feeling calm and connected, I feel anxious; instead of feeling energized and vibrant, I feel drained. The times where it’s been this way have usually been the times where I need to practice the most. Lately I’ve been setting a to practice each day, but it usually doesn’t happen at all or is a short-lived practice that ends up doing more harm than good. During those first few inhalations, I immediately start to push back. It’s harder to breath, my chest gets heavy, and a fire of panic starts to build in the pit of my stomach.

My last session I did was a 7 minute bedtime practice that involved sitting down, lying down, and breathing; my kind of yoga these days. At the beginning of the session, the instructor invited the viewers to take stock of where their energy was lying. That was interesting. Where was my energy lying? At my core, I was worried, anxious, sad, alone, fearful, angry, guilty, and a slew of other negative emotions. Before you start to feel sorry for poor me, understand that I don’t typically walk around with the emotions on the surface. I’m good at finding joy in where I’m at with what I have, and most days I am thankful, hopeful, and can feel joy. But 30 seconds of no distractions, no self-talk, just being in the moment and breathing strips it all away. Like the chocolate coating on an almond joy, my outward strength melts away to reveal a big unsavory glob of goo. This is where the impending sense of doom came from when I tried to calm down and feel peace. And when that barely audible voice on my smart phone on the floor of my bedroom invited me to pay attention to what I was feeling, I understood. And it hurt. It was still painful. But I sat with myself and my feelings and just felt them. And it sucked, but then my breathing became easier and my chest lightened. The darkness lifted and I felt… not nothing, but the passing of those feelings, at least for the time being. They weren’t covered up or ignored or outrun, they were experienced and felt and moved passed for now. It was the best gift I could have given myself that day.