Not easy. The next 2 weeks are not going to be easy. That said, I am much more prepared this year then I was last year. But it is still going to be difficult.
2 weeks from this past Friday is the day our life changed 2 years ago. Today minus 2 years and 2 weeks was the night of his visitation. A 4 hour visitation that in the first hour or so felt like almost 4. The number of people that walked in and out of that funeral home for Jay still boggles my mind at times. How could someone that had such a short life have lived so much and made an impact on so many. Those are big shoes to fill…literally and metaphorically speaking for those who know what Jay’s shoe size was. (had to put humor in here somewhere)
Tonight I got really mad at Jay. Aaron had a rough afternoon and evening so that did not help but I got really mad at Jay. As I was able to calm Aaron I looked into his eyes. It solidified something a heard from a speaker on Friday. Closure does not exist.
On Friday over lunch I was invited by a dear friend to listen to this speaker. The speaker is a professor of sociology and has written a couple books around death and grief. She made so much sense it made my head want to spin. There are so many people that don’t want to talk about death. They don’t want to hear about how you are grieving your loss. A loss is a loss. It can be someone close to you but it could also be a marriage, house or animal. People directly and indirectly affected by the loss want the fastest track to closure. Guess what? No such thing as closure. You learn to live again. You allow yourself to be happy. You learn to move forward through milestones and difficult times. It is never done. There is no check mark that you have done everything you need to be “over” your loss. Because as there is no such thing as closure, there is no exact way that fits everyone to work through their grief/loss or help them begin and continue the difficult process of moving forward. No…we don’t move on…we move forward.
I found it interesting that this professor said in one of her classes she has her students plan their funeral. Only and only with the group of people listening that day and a few of my closer friends that have been through this kind of loss would I have felt comfortable saying what I did about that when I raised my hand to speak. I said…”I think it would be great to plan my funeral. Then I could pick out the flowers and the music I really wanted.” Had I been asked that 2 years ago I would have had a completely different response.
Speaking of 2 years ago. If I go back to what people told me in those first weeks after Jay died that I didn’t believe, most of them if not maybe all in some regard are actually true. Here are a handful for you to think about.
You will find happiness again. Thought people were crazy but you do. It isn’t the same happiness but it is happiness all the same and it feels good.
Time heals. This one used to tick me off to to no end, especially early on. But it does. It heals. But the scar is still there and always will be.
You will be surprised about who disappoints you and pleasantly surprises you through the grieving process. This is so true and continues to give me perspective.
The next two weeks are going to be difficult. But I think I am ready. I am going to have my moments but as a friend said to me Friday night….”Alyssa…they are few and far between lately.” I appreciate her saying that. I also had a friend call me today and tell me a “random thought” she had about some of the pictures I have posted lately. Random as it was, it made me smile and I appreciate that. My friends and family are my foundation and will be the reason I survive the next two weeks.
I sat in my basement tonight with one of my closest friends and said “Last year at this time I did not think I was capable of doing this.” We had just finished working through the basement. All boxes except electronics are boxed up and on my second floor. All that exists in the basement is furniture and electronic stuff. Let me add some perspective to what we really did. A lot of what I had to sort through was things of Jay’s and things from my “old normal” that I had thrown in boxes and put down in the basement because if it was out of sight it was out of mind. And up to a few weeks ago that was an OK place for those things, those boxes to reside. A few weeks ago I contacted my general contractor I used on my first floor and said “It’s time.” He stopped over, we walked downstairs to the basement and put together a plan of attack on how to make the basement mine. It is going to be awesome. But before that can begin I have to do some difficult work. And in two days it is done. The boxes, some of which held some serious obstacles with memories, are boxed up. Reorganized to an extent and all up on my second floor and out of the way of the demo guys.
I had a couple of moments, and because of that I am so glad this friend was there. I opened a box of Jay’s clothes and there it was. The bag of his clothes from May 9th…the day he died. I opened it and looked at my friend and said, “Well. Nothing like starting with the hardest group of clothes he owned.” I ended up putting them to the side for a bit until I was ready to push through it. As I worked through another box that had his socks in it I looked at my friend and said, “They are socks…I don’t really need to keep these do I?” I am so thankful for this friend because she looked at me and said “Alyssa…if you want to get rid of them, do it. They are socks. They are not memories. You have your memories forever. Don’t get rid of anything you don’t want to but if today it is OK to get rid of these socks let’s do it.”
I ended the night going out to a restaurant and celebrating a friends birthday for an hour or so. I don’t have Aaron so tonight was a perfect opportunity once the basement was accomplished to go out and do something fun.
I titled the blog “Pinch me” for a couple of reasons. In the last week I have hung out with and talked to so many of my close friends. May 9th changed Aaron and my life in so many ways. Some not so fun to talk about but as I sit here tonight my cup runneth over and my heart is full of friendship and love. A lot of the feelings are from others in my life and I feel so blessed and fortunate for these people in my life. It is an awesome mix of those that knew me in high school, college, before I met Jay, as part of my old normal and most recently as part of my new normal. It is no mistake that I sit here tonight with a smile on my face loving my life. I have let go and I have embraced the life that sits in front of me. The other part of my good feeling is directly from me and I am going to take credit for it. I am finally allowing myself to be happy and be me. Last year at this time I would have never imaged where I am today. I must be dreaming, pinch me.
On my drive home today I became thankful for two things. The first is satellite radio because it makes the drive to my parents go so much faster and often sparks the inspiration for a blog or two as I have 4 hours to drive and think. The second is that Aaron was not with me on the drive back today. The first reason is obvious as I get a few days “off” but also because the drive back was not ideal and was longer than normal due to traffic so it was nice to be able to come down from that experience with just me in the house.
The weekend started off with a day off from work because it was Good Friday. I had a scare and laugh on Wednesday this week as I was talking to my manager during our bi-weekly meeting as she said “You know it really isn’t Wednesday right?” I stopped kind of freaked out, looked at my phone and said “Umm…yeah it is.” She then clarified saying that it wasn’t like Wednesday being usually the middle of the week as we were already half way through the week since we had Friday off. That folks is one of the many reasons I love my manager. She always has a positive outlook. Friday was not a day of staying in bed though and that is OK. I’d rather be out and about. It was a good day. I spent it with good company.
Saturday we spent time with my parents and Sunday we spent time with my parents, brother and sister in law. I love all of my family but I want to specifically call out my dad and brother this Easter holiday. Before I do that though know that my mom and sister in law are amazing women and I am blessed to have them in my life…but back to the men. These two men have in their own special ways helped me to get to this day and in their special ways help me every day wake up ready to take on another day. In those first days they were the foundation and support that kept me going. I remember distinctly when we entered the room at the funeral home where the caskets were feeling my dad grab me as I almost fell to the floor in disbelief. And as my brother walked into the house that afternoon feeling his hug. In the moment I needed these men the most they were there. I remember looking at both of them asking “Who is going to teach Aaron about sports?” and then saying “I don’t know how to throw a football or catch a baseball!!” I remember them both looking at me and said “Lyss…we got that covered, don’t worry about that ok?” As I got Aaron out of his carseat when we got to my parents on Saturday I saw my dad come out of the garage. I said “Aaron…look who is here…” his response with eyes lit up like bright lights said “PAPA!!!” A little later that day after I took a nap I looked out in my parents yard and there was my dad and Aaron on the riding mower driving around the yard. It was a John Deere of course for those wondering. 🙂 And then later that day Aaron and I walked out to papa as he was watering the wild flowers in their yard. Being a boy of course Aaron wanted to understand how the water hose worked. And then he got soaked with cold water. Aaron couldn’t have been happier if he tried. Aaron’s expressions of pure happiness still run through my mind. And then when we went to my brother’s house on Sunday I got Aaron out of the car and ready to walk into the house. Aaron walked right up to my brother and said “Hi Eric!” My brother opened his arms and Aaron went right to him and gave him a big hug. It is in these small moments that help me remember that these two men in my life have got my back. They have the “teachings of how to be boy” covered. And for that I am eternally grateful.
As you think about Easter this year and your memories with your family, remember that it essentially is about something someone did for you that you can never fully repay them for. My dad and my brother do that for me every time they interact with Aaron. There is no amount of money or words that can tell my dad and my brother how much the things they do mean to me…to us. So do that. As I wrote this blog I cried a lot and not for the reason you think. I cry because I am so incredibly blessed. My weekend was awesome. There was someone missing in our celebrations but that is OK because I have the next best thing. I have people that care enough to do things I can never repay them for. Helping me get back into shape, make me laugh and smile, have impromptu dinners with, love me and most importantly teach Aaron all things boy. From my family to yours…Happy Easter.
My last post had to be separate from this post. They connect but they are different tones. For those that read sequentially, the previous still exists in my core but tonight I had a moment. And ironically (but not surprisingly) as I start this blog, my iTunes started playing “Good Riddance” by Green Day. For those unaware of the significance, it is one of the songs that was played at Jay’s funeral. It used to be a song that I could never hear again, and yet lately it has been quite comforting.
The terrible twos took a toll on my patience tonight. Instead of completely losing it, I decided to take Aaron to the bottom of the stairs. I sat him down and said “Aaron…we need to talk. What is going on?” I didn’t expect anything that would make sense although he is talking so much and so I thought “What do I have to lose?” After he went through some dramatics what came out of his mouth stopped me in my tracks. In his little boy voice he looked at me through some remaining tears and said “I want daddy.” I think my jaw hit the floor. As tears fell down my face and I started to cry I said back to him “I miss him too Aaron. I miss your daddy.” I hope what happened next was coincidence. And yet I also hope it has some merit. He then looked at me and said “no cry mommy…daddy’s home” I must have looked at him really weird but then I asked him another simple question. “Where is daddy?” And at this point he pointed over my left shoulder and then said “no cry mommy”, grabbed me and gave me a huge bear hug and said again “daddy’s home.”
Believe what you will but I will now tell you this isn’t the first time Aaron has done something like this. Within the first year after Jay’s death, actually I think it was around this time last year, I was changing one of Aaron’s diapers and out of the blue he points over my left shoulder and says “daddy!!” Kind of laughing it off I looked over my left shoulder and said “If you can’t be here physically to help me with this diaper can you help magically potty train him or something…you owe me that.”
They say children are better able to see things that we as adults fear and have been conditioned to not see. They pick up on things better then we can. That said, this kind of freaks me out. I hope Aaron knows that no one will ever replace Jay as his father, and that it is OK for him to want his daddy.
In less than a month it will have been 2 years since jay’s death. Last year at this time, a month before the anniversary, I was falling apart. This year is different, let me tell you why and how it happened.
Last year I felt numb. I felt lost and defined by my grief. Even though I would tell whoever would listen that I didn’t want to be defined by my grief and that I wouldn’t be, I felt defined. Some will say it is when I finally started to truthfully grieve our loss and maybe that is true to some extent. I’ve said in different times of my life that you don’t know how bad you feel until you feel good. When I look back to last year at this time I can say with certainty that I didn’t know my place in this world. I had lost the place I thought I was and even the vision of where I thought I would eventually be and I had a lot to figure out, rummage through and let go. My honest thought last year at this time was I had already had to let go of so much, what more could there be to let go of. Turns out there was a lot left.
And so last year at this time I was told to take time to regroup. I had to reset. Rummage around in my head and do some serious Spring cleaning and that is exactly what I did. It took the right counselor to look at me and not just let me talk things out of my head but tell me “Alyssa…you have PTSD from the day Jay died”…”It’s not always about you”…”You can be angry at God…he can take it…and he will be here when you are ready to not be mad anymore.” Those 3 conversations with my counselor helped unfold what I am today. The conversations about PTSD and God helped in the moment but “It’s not always about you” is the one that rings in my head throughout my whole day.
I’ve let go of the stuff I no longer need, the stuff that no longer served a healthy purpose. And I’ve given myself permission to live life my way. It’s not always the right way according to some but I’m happy and although it isn’t always about me, sometimes it is.
I go into the 2 year anniversary with some of the same emotions and anxiety I had last year but it’s different. I’m a better friend…daughter…sister…co-worker and most importantly mom.
This year I feel drunk on life. And no that is not the same as numb. I am energized. I’m healthier. I’m mentally in a place that just thinking about it makes me smile. I’ve embraced life. I’ve let go of a lot of fear. I’ve done things that I never thought I’d do again. I’ve tried things I’ve always wanted to but feared. I am intoxicated by the good vibes around me radiating from people in my life,events I attend and things I keep close to me.
In the first year after Jay’s death, it was pure luck that I made it. In the last year, I have made some very thought out deliberate moves to make me who I am today. I am proud of this past year. But it is still hard to believe it will be 2 years in less than a month…
I will be honest and tell you that when I was asked to speak at Mercy hospital downtown, I had to convince myself that I could do it. You see Jay was taken to the other Mercy location. I have yet to walk back into the place I walked into that day. But I have been to the location downtown twice to visit Jay’s uncle and more recently his dad.
I went into speaking yesterday with great energy. It may have been the 2 highly caffenated drinks I had during my morning that assisted with that. Considering I am also fighting the sinus ick going around and am taking medicine for that, I needed all the help I could get.
This presentation was different from all the other times I have been up to speak. I have never been part of a service as it was yesterday. The pastor was first to get up and speak and I was instantly captivated. He talked about a person he always thinks about when it comes to organ donation. This particular person from his past experiences had just learned some devastating news about their loved one. The pastor was there for support and he said he was unable to see the person’s reaction to the doctor who was talking to him but it is when the person turned to face him that he was taken back by what he asked. The doctor had delicately mentioned organ donation to the loved one after giving the bad news and then left the room. The person looked at this pastor and asked “If you had an opportunity to help someone else and could, why wouldn’t you?” That simple question rang in my mind for the rest of the day and actually still does. Then the next speaker walked up to the podium and spoke. He was a donor recipient. We were sitting in the front row together and before the service he was talking to me about his experience a little bit and he asked me a very important question. Are you ready? He asked “Do you like the tv show “the Big Bang Theory?” This show just happens to be one of my favorite so I answer “Yes!” He then told me that before he went under for his procedure and the anesthesiologist said that he would give him the medicine via his IV, he would feel something across his head and then it would be good night. This guy looked at the doctor and asked if he would sign him “soft kitty.” The whole operating room started to laugh. I knew at this point I liked the guy. He liked my favorite show and had a sense of humor in tough situations. But back to his speech. He is a double cornea transplant recipient. For those that haven’t made the connection yet, Jay was a cornea donor. In all the times I have been up to speak I don’t think once I have been in the presence of a cornea recipient. Or at least not one that has said anything about their experience. I was again instantly captivated by what he was saying. He spoke so highly of his donors and actually read part of his letter he sent to the donor families. It took me back to the moment that I read the thank you notes I received. Then he talked about when he knew it was time to do the transplant and this is the moment that I really had to hold back tears. He had been losing his eye sight because of the eye disease he had and it was when his grandson hopped up on his lap with a book and asked his grandpa to read it to him. He looked up at the crowd and said “I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t help but tear up but also be proud because that is what Jay helped his recipients with as well. You don’t have to give a “life saving” organ to make a huge impact on someone’s life. When he was done speaking we watched a video of Joey Gase. I met Joey at the Legislative day at the Capitol. Amazing young man. And then it was my turn.
I love speaking about organ donation and telling our story. I share how Jay being an organ donor has helped me through my grief. Talking about that part of our story is “easy.” I took the opportunity yesterday to tell a little bit of a different story. I shared with them how what the pastor had said just minutes before me was not just true with organ donation but in your life and in your work. I talked about the hand mold. Jay died of a heart attack. He was gone before anyone was able to get him help and he had help fast…within seconds of him collapsing. In most cases you only get a hand mold when there is time to plan. It is something that Iowa Hospice does and it is not something done through the hospitals. So…how do I have one you ask? I have a hand mold because one person at the Mercy West location saw/heard that a very young man had just died of a heart attack and most likely had a very young family. I’m not sure of their true intentions so I can only guess truthfully. What I can tell you is what happened next…the person called Mercy downtown to ask someone there if they knew who did these hand molds they had heard of. The person downtown knew that Mercy didn’t do them but Hospice did. So the person at West called Hospice in Johnston. The lady there just happen to be available and could make it to the hospital. The person in Norwalk that helped with the molds just happen to be available as well. So they rushed to the hospital to get there within an hour of Jay’s death to get the mold taken because a good one has to be taken within a certain timeframe of death if it happens after. So because of one person I have a statue of Jay’s hand and it is one of my most treasured possessions. However, what that one person does not know is that their act of helping me have a priceless piece of art did not end when the mold was given to me. Because of that mold I was connected to the wonderful people at Hospice and was introduced to the grief group called “No time to grieve I’m parenting.” And through Hospice as well I was introduced to a woman that I consider one of my best friends today. She is also a widow and when her husband died her son was young as well. And the network of many of the amazing people that have entered my life since is because of that hand mold.
So I spoke about organ donation but I also drove home the idea that the pastor started with. Because if you are given an opportunity to help someone and can,to help them be able to read a story to their grandchildren or help someone continue their life or provide them a hand mold of their loved one, why wouldn’t you?
I am wide awake at 3:30 in the morning. Aaron has woken up for the 3rd night in a row crying and wanted to be next to his mommy so I waited as he made the journey from his bedroom to mine. Standing next to my bed I hear him whimper…”mommy….” I pull him into bed. He of course wants to be as close to me as he can. Normally this is something I long for and know from too many moms that it goes away so I need to enjoy it as much as I can but I think to myself “child…it is 3:30…IN THE MORNING…can’t this wait?” He gets settled and at this point I have been able to go back to sleep but not this morning. I have been trying to get a blog out for the last couple days with no success and it is this day that I am scheduled to speak at an event at a hospital downtown about organ donation. My mind is busy and coming up with some really good stuff so I go downstairs, take some Tylenol Sinus (as it appears I am starting to get the sinus junk), grab a bottle or water, head back upstairs open laptop and start to get the thoughts down.
When I prep for a speaking event I inevitably have to take myself back to the day my life changed. At first this was completely and utterly exhausting. A little less than a year ago a counselor I was going too said I had PTSD from the day Jay died. Recognizing and going through some treatment for this going back to May 9th, 2012 is still very sad but it no longer takes me down like it used too. I can not only go back to many of those crystal clear memories of exactly where I was in my place of employment when I got the call to get to the hospital but I can see the number of the trauma room…what the door looked like…where it is in the hospital and the looks on the nurses faces as I opened the door and asked “Is he OK?”
As I said above I am starting to get a little bit of the sinus junk going around. This is not amusing to me at all. Infact lately life has been a little crazy with things going on and things not going as expected or smoothly as one would want. As a single parent, you are the sole person responsible for the little human(s) you created. It is a big enough responsibility when you share it with someone but to be the sole person to make all important decisions for them can be exhausting. Jay’s dad is starting his fight against cancer. To take on the role of “gatekeeper” to your late husbands family because the original gate keeper is gone knowing you want to stay in contact but that things are different. You are not responsible for their grief or to even help them but in some way you need to keep communication open and understand the dynamics. This is exhausting as well on a normal day but with other factors it becomes daunting. Oh and if you have a job you have to keep up with that. Knowing that people probably look at you on occasion and wonder, “How does she do it?”…”I don’t think I would be able to do what she is doing.” You force yourself to remember that you don’t own people’s thoughts nor should you even begin to try. It isn’t about you, it is about them. But to answer their question you are Superwoman. And if they were in the same situation they would figure it out, they may not know how they would at this point in time but they would…they would have too. And then there is the sick that goes around. You fight not to get it because “You don’t have time for it.” But even Superwoman and her sidekick get sick sometimes. You learn to listen to your body and try to catch it early. And you reach out to the amazing people in your life that can be at the house within an hour as to give you a much needed 60 minutes to regroup…take a hot shower and bath in hopes of helping your sinuses put up a good fight because in reality you really do not have time to be sick. And then there is the fact that a month to this day it will have been 2 years since Jay has died. And on this day you have tasked yourself to speak not only about organ donation but at the hospital system in which he was taken to in hopes of bringing him back to life.
So yes, I have a 2 1/2 year old that is testing me constantly on what he can get away with, my late husbands dad is fighting cancer and I still work a full time job. I have decided that to suffer such loss and still move I must be Superwoman but even giving myself that title I am apparently able to get the cold going around. And as I continue to move forward and live life, milestones and anniversaries will happen and I have to learn to walk through them remembering that it isn’t just about me.
How do I do it? I stay happy, positive and determined. I post inspirational, motivational and positive quotes to my Facebook page. Some may find them annoying and trivial. Guess what? I don’t care. You see if I go to my page I can see all of them I have shared. I read blogs and people’s emails. I talk to people who don’t judge me. I listen to myself and to those around me. And I force myself to understand the in’s and out’s of this life. I know there is more to come in this life and there is more to let go. We don’t make it out alive so we have to make the best of every day, no matter what it has in store for us.
On May 9th, 2012 life changed. Once I received the call, got to the hospital and saw how my life had just drastically changed I had a determination to do things my way and do things “right.” I was determined to stay strong when I could have easily crumbled. I was determined to make Jay proud for choosing me as his wife and do things as he would have wanted. At first it was to make the funeral service what he would have wanted. The next was to show the world that I was going to be OK…that I would survive. And finally it was to prove to myself that I could do it. I would be a good mom. I would be a survivor. I would be happy. Even awake at 3:30 in the morning with sinus issues and many more obstacles to face, I would live and most importantly I would love again. Not just love a person but I would love life.