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Things I know

A few days ago, I received a text from a good friend who had just learned that good friends had just lost their 26 year old son while he was driving impaired. A kind, funny, helpful young man. The similarities to my son were chilling. She was seeking advice to give to her friends to help them “survive those raw and painful weeks after Jeff died.” The question stopped my heart for a moment, overwhelmed with questions about how we did survive. This is what I wrote.

 You don’t know me but my husband and I but we are good friends with the W’s. Linda reached out to me wondering if there was any advise I could pass along to you regarding how to survive this time. She reached out to me because  In May of 2015,  my 26 year old son, Jeffrey, also died in a car crash. He too was intoxicated. He too was by himself and thankfully also one else was injured.

I truly know your pain, and understand your loss
I also know that there are no magic words to help you heal; that there are no answers to the questions you have.  I know there is no sense that can be made from your son’s death. No loss so great.
I hope you can take solace that my husband, my daughter and I have survived.  We aren’t the same, but we are doing OK.
I know that your path through grief will be as different from mine as mine is different from my husbands and my daughter’s.
Some things that helped me were :
Knowing that Jeff like C is not defined by a single stupid decision. Rather he is defined by the friends he left behind,the memories you have of him, the love you shared. The person that he was.
Keep  busy, I found too much empty time was not my friend.
That said, there were times I sought time to myself. I wouldn’t answer the phone, didn’t want to talk to anyone. Those were the days I couldn’t be around the rest of the world which kept on going. That’s ok. Try to listen to your needs.
Scream, yell, let the emotions out. I found the shower a good place to do this. A cleansing place where I could cry and let the emotions wash over me and down the drain.
I needed to talk to my friends and family about Jeff, to cry with them. I still need to talk about him, not about his death but about the wonderful young man whom I miss everyday. This was different for my husband who didn’t want to talk to anyone, who would not pick up the phone. He had a few people he was able to talk to but for the most part he isolated himself in his grief. Thankfully he eventually was able to get help for his deep depression.  He can talk about Jeff now, enjoy being with his friends and remember him with love.
I knew that Jeff loved life. I knew that he would be mad if we gave up because of his death. So I made a conscious choice to get out of bed each morning.  I’ve learned that it’s ok to enjoy life, to laugh and smile again. But that takes time and at first it felt wrong. I wanted to scream at the happy families who wer out enjoying life. But I chose not to let the grief make me act like a crazy lady.  Choosing life is what C would have wanted you to do.
There were days I obsessed about the way he died. I kept reading news accounts of his crash, looking at he news coverage. It didn’t make me feel better but I couldn’t help it.  It doesn’t help, it made me feel worse. I wanted to magically change what happenend.  My advise is to avoid doing it.
 I read through his emails and phone messages looking for answers that were not there.  I learned to be mindful after a while and admit there were no answers. There were only questions I’ll never get the answer to. I realized that those questions didn’t matter anywas. I learned to accept the reality of his death.  I’ll never know why he choose to drive impaired that night. Not knowing doesn’t change anything.  So I learned to put those thoughts in a “box” and store them away . To refocus my mind on something else.
Don’t make any decisions now about C’s belongings. There will come a time when you are ready to deal with them.
It sounds simple but eat and try to sleep.
Grief is exhausting.
Food wasn’t important.
When you are ready, find a therapist. It took me several times before I found one that I connected to.  Stan’s saved his life.
Hold each other
I found exercise helped, it still does.
Somedays I simply  “fake it until I make it.”  I couldn’t do that for a while, the grief was too new, too raw.
Sometime someone may say something that is hurtful, ignore them. I think in such a huge, unimaginable loss they don’t know what to say.
Same can be said about the people who see you and look the other way. Acquaintances not friends. I’ve learned to not care. I know who my friends are. I know that our friends who knew and loved Jeff also have their own grief to deal with.  It’s taken time to know that grief about Jeff’s death is not mine alone. It is shared by everyone who loved him. I know it is easier for some to talk to him than others.
Realize that the intense “sneaker waves” of grief you feel right now will lessen with time. They used to literally knock me to the floor. That doesn’t happen these days. I miss him every day but the grief is more like a rock I carry with me, somedays it’s heavier than others.
I realized one day that I didn’t worry about Jeff anymore. I knew he was safe.
I miss him every day but I know where he is
I couldn’t listen to music for a long time. Too many lyrics that would make me cry.
I learned that the thought of driving my car off the side of the road was a morbid thought. It was not a suicidal thought but if it happens talk to someone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We need support to help us through the dark forest of our grief.
I found solace in the Prayer of St Francis.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
I wish I had a magic answer for you, I wish you weren’t thrust on this journey.
If you were local, I would give you both a hug and sit and listen to your stories about Casey.
Please feel free to reach out anytime you need or want to talk.I may be a stranger to you but not to your journey.
yours,
Linda Barnwell
there is a group called Compassionate Friends that has some resources. You can find them online.  I never went to a meeting but I know it has helped some.
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Wishes

I wish I had my son back here on earth

I wish I could hear his voice

I wish I could feels his strong arms around me

I wish I could have a complete family

I wish friends would ask me how I’m doing

I wish friends would talk about him and share memories of him

I wish friends would reach out like they used to

I wish I wasn’t part of this group of bereaved parents

I wish I could have my “before” life back

I wish my heart wasn’t forever broken

But,

I know he is safe

I know I will never forget him

I know I had a son

I know I had two children

I know I will always love my son

I know I wouldn’t pull him out of heaven even if I could

I know I will see him again

 

Grief settles in

2018. It will be 3 years in May since Jeffrey died.  There is not a day I don’t think about him. Not a family event that he is not acutely missed.

My nephew was married this fall. Jeff would have loved to celebrate with his cousins from Florida and meet their wives. It was such a fun wedding. I missed him so much that day. A brief moment when I gave into the grief and let it overwhelm me. For the rest of the weekend it was a silent companion by my side.

In November we had a family reunion to celebrate a family members 80th birthday. It entailed a trip to Boston. Jeff had been there once, and would have once again spending time with family that lives far away.

His California cousin just got engaged. Will is a year older than Jeff.  I suspect this wedding will be especially hard. Will’s younger brother Scott died at 17. I think the fact that Will is missing the brother who should have been his best man, the cousin who was a year younger than him will be tough on our family.  I’ll need to be mindful that the day is not about Scott and Jeff but rather about two wonderful people beginning their lives together. Nevertheless their absence will be an uninvited guest at the wedding.

Jeff missed visiting his sister in San Diego. Missed seeing her first condo she bought. She recently moved back to the North West. What fun it would have been for them to live in the same part of the country again.

I need to find a way to let the grief not define who I am.  To be thankful that I had him  for close to 27 years. But it’s hard. It takes a purposeful mindset to feel joy for these young people and our family and friends  as they live and grow in their lives. To not feeI jealous of their lives.  But that is a thought that doesn’t bring anything to my life. I purposely choose not to hold onto it.

It doesn’t feel right to drag my grief into lots of everyday events. Into my job as a nurse, into my interactions with friends and family, into my interactions with acquaintances on the streets, in the grocery store, into my interactions with strangers. It would be an awful way to live my life. I’ve learned that I can keep my grief to myself.  It’s not easy.

I try to keep living my life. I have to remind myself to feel the blessing  in my life. I know with a firm certainty that Jeff would want that.  He would be so mad at me if I didn’t. So for Jeff I get out of bed every morning and live my life.

But still the grief is there. Sometimes it feels like it weighs me down, slows me down. Follows me around like a gloomy cloud.

Sometimes I need to take it out of it’s box and immerse myself in it once again.  Have a long conversation with it. But I have learned that I can put it away, carry it with me like a backpack  and continue to live my life.

It’s what Jeff would have wanted.

 

3rd Christmas

The first Christmas after Jeff died, we were invited to a wedding far away from Oregon. Far away from every memory we had of Christmas spent with our family of 4. Dad, Mom,  older brother and younger sister. Memories of walking down the street to the Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree, cut it down, bringing it home : triumphant at having picked the  best tree for our home. That year, December 25, 2015, six months after Jeff had died, it was a blessing to be somewhere else.Somewhere where only a few people knew our history and our loss. It was easier to pretend while being away. To try, unsuccessfully, that we could run away from our grief.

2016 brought our daughter wanting to have a “traditional Christmas at home.”  My husband and I would have preferred to be away again, but with only our daughter left, we do holidays as she wants. Her desires to recreate family memories, to redefine our family and happiness are more important than our desires to pretend that Christmas wasn’t happening.

Carolyn came home and for the first time in a long time we all decorated the tree together. Ever since my kids were born,  each year I gave them each a special ornament . The plan was that when they were ready, (or I got tired of keeping them) I would give them each their own box of ornaments to  hang on their own tree. Jeff’s box has as assortment of  baby’s first five Christmas’s, Super Hero’s, Skiers, Hiking gear and whatever else made me smile that year, that reflected his interests and activities.   Carolyn’s box is filled with Barbie ornaments, skates, snowboards, apples for her time spent teaching, and other items.

None of us were up to hanging Jeff’s ornaments on the tree that year. So I safely left Jeff’s box in the attic. Don’t know what I’ll ever do with them but I don’t need to make any decisions right now.

It’s funny that as much as I want to hide from grief, to “fake it until I make it ,”  I can’t really ever hide from grief. It is part of who I am. If I don’t acknowledge it, it finds me anyway, sneaking up on a moment when least expected.

That year it snuck up on me when I opened a box with a few house decorations and discovered the stocking I had lovingly stitched for Jeff. I began it the year I found out I was pregnant and finished it after he was born by adding his name. JEFF

I held the stocking and lost it. I remember clutching the stocking to my chest. Wandering away from my family to grieve by myself. I remember my daughter and then my husband finding me and surrounding me with their own love, loss and grief.

This past Christmas, we again “celebrated” the holiday at home. We struggle to redefine our family, to learn to honor our traditions which are so important to our daughter ( and perhaps ourselves.)  But we are learning that it is possible, Different, flatter, but we can enjoy our time together.

My daughter has told me, “The reason that I think traditions are so important to me now is that the one tradition I want most, seeing my brother, can never happen again. It’s made the others seem more important.”

We all have our ways of dealing, or not dealing with Jeff’s death. Carolyn’s needs supersede mine and my husband’s. She has so much longer to live without her brother than I have to be without my son.  Maybe someday I will actually find some joy return to Christmas.

 

29th Birthday

Yesterday, August 23, 2017, was Jeff’s 29th Birthday. Does he still age every birthday or do I say it would have been his birthday. How do you “celebrate” an event that just makes you remember how much you’ve lost, that emphasizes what should have been, that makes the loss so much more acute? How

This was the 3rd year we survived Jeff’s birthday without him. The first year was a mere 3 months after Jeff died.  Stan and I took a long hike along a trail that we’d hiked with the kids when they were younger. It is a trail that Jeff hiked with friends. I remember a high school hike that he said one of the girls was complaining about the weight of his pack. What did Jeff do…… He carried her gear for her. That was the sort of thing he would do. We made a mistake that first year. Our daughter was in San Diego by herself, working. When I spoke to her that evening, she said it was an awful day for her. I vowed after that conversation that we would never spend the day apart again. We haven’t

Last year we were in San Diego. Carolyn took the day off. We went for a nice hike than had a great sushi dinner. Jeff loved Sushi.

This year, Carolyn was home in Oregon. The eclipse was on Monday. We went to the coast and saw it.  Jeff would’ve loved to see it, especially at the coast that he loved so much. Wednesday we went out for dinner. Sushi. A new tradition I think in his memory, his honor.

A few things  have learned about handling a birthday is that for us it’s important to do something, eat something that Jeff would have loved. It’s important for all 3 of us to be together.  The day will always be a sad one. We have survived other birthday’s, we will survive more. The date on the calendar is just that, a date. I try to tell myself that but it doesn’t always work. Maybe someday I will just be able to remember how lucky I was to have him in my life for almost 26 years. How lucky I am to have so many memories.Suspect it’s a process.

I’ve learned that facebook depresses me that day. I’ve learned that as the years go by fewer people remember his birthday and post. I’ve learned that even if it feels like I shouldn’t care, I do. I want his friends to continue to remember him. I miss him so.

 

Always 26

Last weekend, two of my son’s best friends were celebrating their 30th birthday. The guys wanted to celebrate at our home on the coast. We were happy to have them stay at our house. These boys ( no, men now ) loved Jeff.  Michael spent the last full day of Jeff’s life with him. To be honest I’m a little jealous that he had that time with him that I didn’t. I am so happy they have stayed in our lives. Hopefully they always will.

I struggle when I’m out at the coast. Jeff loved it there so much. He lived there several summers while he worked at the State Park. He spent his last few hours there. He died not far from our house.  I think I always expect to feel his presence there. Somehow sense him. All I feel there is emptiness and a deep sadness that fills my soul. I wonder what he was thinking on that drive out there. I’ll never know. Have grown in the fact that I now accept that I will never know.

My husband loves it out there still. He tells me that Jeff went out there to figure things out, to think. The coast was where he went to find peace. I never imagined he would so soon find his final peace there.  My husband reminds me  that Jeff loved the coast.  I wish  that I could think that. I’d like to  but I don’t know how to change the playlist that is in my mind.  I feel his loss more acutely out there.

The boys turned 30 last weekend. My son would have turned 29 on August 23. As his friends find their way in life, have careers, contemplate their futures, have girlfriends and long term relationships, my son is and forever will be 26.

I’m not sure what we will do for his birthday. Our daughter will be with us. I will try to honor Jeff’s exuberant love of life, family, and friends in some way. We will eat sushi, his favorite meal. Even though this will be the 3rd time I’ve spent Jeff’s birthday without him, I’m not sure it will be any easier. It actually feels harder. We are all getting older and yet he remains frozen in time, forever in my memory.  Forever loved. Forever missed.

Flat

There is a children’s book called “Flat Stanley.”  The character is so flat that he can slilde under doors and into envelopes.  I imagine he takes up no space in this world.  A light breeze can blow him over, making him roll down the street like a tumble weed.

Most days I feel flat in a different sense than that. Flat in the way that I am no longer full.  No longer a participant in this life. Someone just going along for the ride.  Flat like a tire that won’t stay inflated or like the birthday balloon that has lost it’s air.  The balloon that carries memories of the festivities but no longer participates.

This summer I feel like that deflated party balloon.  It’s already mid July. Summer, my favorite season  is disappearing and I have not taken advantage of it. It’s easier to be depressed in the rainy, gray of winter. Harder when the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.

I feel like I am exhausted all the time. I could wake up from a nights sleep fall asleep again that morning if I’d let myself. Sometimes I let myself do that. It doesn’t help.

I pretend that activities fill me up as they fill up my day. It’s easy to stay busy. I feel like it’s impossible to be fulfilled. Lately there is a leak in me that I cannot patch no matter how hard I try.  Memories leak out the hole and down my cheeks. Memories that are all I have left of my son.