In anticipation for the release of my book following my grief journey through the loss of a husband and then my son. A second book ‘Shaken, not Stirred,’ on my advice for blended families with a focus on Step-mothers. A third book is almost ready to be released, about the difference in being a little girl to stepping into true womanhood (Princesses wait to be rescued, Queens save themselves!) I will be sharing my stories the only way I know how, raw and vulnerable. Blogs posted every Thursday!
This morning I feel incredibly raw. It’s 9am, but I have been awake since 4. My eyes are stinging and it is hard to focus. Even the beauty of the sun rising over the Mediterranean Sea in colors of yellow and pink cannot stir my heart. I cannot deny the miracle in the view before me, yet I only feel sadness. I move slowly, more coffee, more scripture, more writing. It is a bizarre mix of every sense heightened, every noise too loud. It almost hurts, the faintest sound of my fingers on the keyboard. But writing is all that grounds me in these moments. It’s all that stops the room from spinning.
Still, I see the sun. I see the ocean from my window. Two of my favorite creations are colliding right in front of me. How can it be that such warmth and majesty evade my senses completely?
I feel only everything that is painful and aching, and somehow am numb to all that is good and lovely.
Every few minutes I have to look away from what I am writing because the hot tears blur my vision, and I can’t see anything at all so I rest my eyes for a while. When I close them, a picture from my dream last night flashes in my head and my crying turns to weeping, and I have to slow my breathing to calm myself down.
In this moment I want to be alone. I also want someone to hold me, to let me cry and absorb my pain. I want to feel comfort, but I don’t want to hear the sound of anyone’s voice. I don’t want to be touched, I don’t want to hear anyone breathing, and I don’t want to talk. So all I can do is write and weep. Perhaps the writing and the weeping is my prayer that I will find God in this lonely, quiet moment. In this moment that is the torment of my soul, feeling like my skin has been ripped away and I am sitting in blood; raw, naked, exposed.
This is what grief looks like. This is what it feels like when you lose a child.
This is why I have no judgement, not for anyone. I can see why people put needles in their veins or chug whiskey like it’s water. Being human is hard, and feeling the pain that accompanies being human can be too much. I see why people look for anesthesia. I understand why no one wants to feel this depth of pain.
I know I don’t want to feel it.
With all my knowledge, all my days on this earth and my history, and with all the things I have already overcome, I can’t deny that I know better than this, but I am still fighting it with everything in me. For years I have been running from this pain. It’s just too much.
Last night I dreamed of him, my Michael. I was in his bedroom in the house where we lived as a family for the longest stretch of time. I could smell his cologne mixed with the smell of the fresh laundry I had just placed by his door. I could see all of his things, his trophies, his artwork, his t-shirt thrown on this bed, his dirty socks in the corner. I saw the pictures of our family on the walls, back when there were eight of us and we were all crammed together struggling to fit, smiling through the chaos that all family pictures seem to bring.
I walked around his room, picking up his treasures one by one, looking at them, running my fingers over them. I picked up his t-shirt and pressed it to my cheek. It was still warm, as if he had just taken it off. His room was filled with everything I don’t have anymore. I’ll never know where most of his belongings ended up. When you love a child that struggles with addiction you find that their personal belongings become as broken and scattered as the rest of their lives. I looked out his bedroom window at the broken screen, and smiled to myself. He thinks I believed his story about sitting on the roof to get some sun, but I know he snuck out that night to meet his friends and get high. I wished he had just wanted a tan.
The last time I saw my son was in the kitchen of this very house. He was 19 years old, 6’3, solid muscle, and he towered over me. His hugs always left me with my face in his chest, right by his heart. When I am awake and think of him, I see him like that, a grown man with a boyish smile.
When I dream at night, Michael is always little Mikey, usually around six years old and completely wild, beautiful and slightly naughty. I have never loved anyone more than I loved that little boy. He was my joy. Tonight is no different. In this dream, little Mikey walks into his bedroom and smiles at me, and I catch my breath at the sight of him. I can’t believe it’s real, that he is really here and I throw my arms around him and pull him to me, squeezing his little body. I hear him giggle and feel the vibrations in his chest. This is real. I can even smell his hair. I am laughing as I rock him back and forth and then I pull back so I can look in his eyes. He is as happy to see me as I am to see him. “Oh, Michael, I have missed you so much!” He chuckles from deep down inside himself, his bright blue eyes light up and widen, “I know, Mom. I have missed you too.”
His voice jolts me awake, and for a minute I don’t know where I am, but I can’t hear Michael laughing. I can’t find him at all. It wasn’t real. It was just a dream. My stomach drops and I cover my face with my hands. “Oh, God,” is all I can exhale, all I can cry out. It feels like I just heard the voice of the police officer tell us he was dead. It feels just like that first hour trying to comprehend what happened. I am deep in disbelief again, and reality washes over me like a cruel wave.
I don’t want to feel any of this. I can’t stand this dark, cold place. I can’t hear him, I can’t see him, and I can’t find him anywhere. My little boy is gone. It seems that what my mind knows, my heart can’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand. Making the connection is work that I don’t want to do.
But what are the options? I know numbing it only prolongs the pain. I know that option is not an option at all. I know pain is necessary for the healing to come, but I just have not been able to carry it. I have been too weak, too exhausted and too afraid to walk down this road.
It’s like standing at the edge of a huge lake and there is only one way to get to the other side; you have to swim. But the lake is frozen on the top and you are wearing nothing but shorts and a tank top. The wind is blowing and the snow is whirling around you, your skin is turning blue and you can’t feel your hands or feet. The longer you stand there the more your extremities begin to numb. You are cold, hungry, tired, scared and alone. You are miserable.
On the other side of the lake is a house, with a real wood fire burning in the fireplace, big fur blankets, a hot cup of tea, your favorite meal, and your family. They are calling to you, they miss you, they want you to be with them. In the middle of your family is God, smiling, His arms open wide, peace and love swirling around Him. His warmth radiates the ground and there is fresh green grass, flowers and trees. You want to be on that side, so you close your eyes and make a wish that when you open your eyes you will be there instantly, in the warm, safe, beautiful place.
You open your eyes only to realize that you are still where you were, on the dark side, the one with cold, snow and wind that cuts right through you. The one completely devoid of hope.
The only way to cross the lake is to jump in it, and swim under the ice to the other side. Jumping in that freezing water is going to feel like a million knives stabbing you, and the water is dark so you won’t be able to see where you are going. Even if you overcome all of that, it is impossible to breathe under water.
Jumping in that lake may kill you, but standing here thinking about it is killing you anyway. If you die here, your body will just freeze in the snow while your family watches. If you jump in the lake you have a chance to not only live, but make it to the warm, beautiful place, with all the food, and fire and the people that love you.
This is what a journey through grief and pain looks like for everyone. No matter what whether we’ve lost a child, a spouse, a dream, our innocence or our hope. Loss is loss.
Pain is searing and intimidating, dark and scary, and there is only one way to the other side. We have to go through it.
We may feel alone in it, but we are never alone.