Happy Birthday my sweet baby boy. I love and miss you. The years pass, but this day does not get easier. Much love. I'll hold you again one day....
When I started writing in the summer of 2014, I was focused solely on our tragedy. Hot car deaths. Losing a child traumatically, etc.
But, time passes. And, as it passes, I've come to realize our journey is much more universal. We have all lost. We have all experienced our own iterations of trauma. The experience of loss reaches so many. It is not as isolated as I once thought.
One thing I know to be true is that the lasting effects of loss or trauma do not end in a year or two. It is extremely isolating to pretend that they do. Loss changes you. In the first few months after Ben died, I went for an interview with the Danbury Times in Danbury, CT. They introduced me to an employee who lost her daughter in the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012. When I met with her...she was moved to tears. It was the profound loss of her daughter. She missed her in ways I still cannot describe. Her daughter was in her 20s when she died, meaning the mother had spent the better part of two decades with her daughter before losing her. This one experience I will never forget. At the time, I couldn't contemplate what the loss of Ben would feel like two years later. I just hoped I wouldn't still be crying.
It is now three years later. I'm different. I will never be the same, and I'm finally becoming comfortable with admitting that. I can't pretend like life goes on with no changes. For those of you experiencing the same thing...it is okay to admit that. Per my previous post, you know I struggle with the passage of time. I also struggle with fear. It is so simple...the things I fear. It is the simple mental step of differentiating the irrational from the rational. Before July of 2014, I would have told you it was irrational to fear that my son would die in a hot car when I thought he was a daycare. Now...not so much. So, the two become interrelated. The girls are now 10 and 8. They can easily walk themselves to the bus stop merely 50 meters (if that) from our house every morning. I still sit in our driveway, eyeing them, waiting until the bus comes. Each. And. Every. Morning. As my neighbor tells me "If a car were to drive by, they would have to steal all 6 of them." But, to me...I have to physically SEE them get on the bus. A car could very easily steal just two of them. Mine. Poof. I wake up one morning, and then they are GONE. Just like Ben.
I will fear the irrational forever.
And, I know it is not rational. I know it is the trauma speaking. But, it still affects me. After loss, YOU ARE AFFECTED. And, it is okay to admit that. There are many other instances of irrationality I experience as an after effect of Ben's death, but I won't bore you with those for now. As for the mother who lost her daughter in the Sandy Hook shooting....I want to tell you that I cannot pretend to understand but I want to give you another hug. I knew Ben for 15 short months. I have known my girls for 8 and 10 years. I can only contemplate the pain of losing them in 20 years. I still convulse at the thought of losing them now. It makes me "irrational." I would not only be crying after 2 years, but after 12, after 20. Until the end of time.
Life is all too precious. Time is too precious. Grasp and hold onto it.
"It feels like all these beautiful pieces of life are flying around me and I'm trying to catch 'em. When my granddaughter falls asleep on my lap, I try to catch the feeling of her breathing against me. And when I make my son laugh, I try to catch the sound of him laughing, how it rolls up from his chest. But, the pieces are moving faster now and I can't catch them all. I can feel them slipping through my fingertips. And soon where there used to be my granddaughter breathing and my son laughing, there will be nothing. I know it feels like you have all the time in the world, but you don't....Catch the moments of your life. Catch them while you are young and quick. Because sooner than you know it, you will be old and slow. And there will be no more of them to catch."
- "Pilgrim Rick," This Is Us, NBC, November 11, 2016
When asked how it felt to be dying, Randall's father, William, who was dying of cancer, answered with this monologue. It shook me because it put into words a feeling I have experienced since Ben died. I think the experience can come to anyone, not just the dying. To anyone who knows death. To those who have lost or even contemplated loss. To those sensitive to the passage of time.
Before Ben, I had known death but in different ways. Grandparents who had led a fruitful life, loved, laughed, held my hand for countless years. But, never a child. Losing a child made the passage of time so important in some fundamental way I could not explain. It still makes me look at my girls in a different light. I became obsessed with the concept of time and, most importantly, its passage. I researched it from physics and spiritual perspectives. I wrote about it. But, it still keeps me awake at night. Sleep is not as it used to be. I take something to help me sleep these days, or it would never happen. But, still, upon that instant of waking -- I pause. It is a sense of anxiety, reminiscence, regret, fear, anger -- all rolled up into one. Every. Single. Morning. Without fail. For most of my day, I scurry around with work, with the kids, happy, content. But, for that instant - I pause and everything rushes in, until I take that first initial step out of bed. It is all related to the passage of time. The loss of Ben, of a child. Childhood.
I find myself grasping to capture the looks on my girls' faces when they laugh, their expression when they sleep, the rise and fall of their chest when they lay on me at night....breathing. Content. It is childhood I will miss. Each and every moment of the passing of time that I struggle to hold onto before they are too old to call me "mommy." Ben made me cherish it all. It is death's fault. Knowing death.
Cherish every moment. Hear the sound of the moments at they exist in the present. Feel them. Listen to the guttural sound of your child's laugh. That is TRUE happiness. Feel the softness of their skin as they grab your hand as you walk down the street. The sound of their voice as they call for you. Their expression when they score a soccer goal. Childhood. Life. Joy. It will all pass too quickly, united with time that flows into the future.
My youngest still likes to sleep with mommy once in awhile. I lay awake watching the rise and fall of her chest. The content look on her face. It is this which causes the pause as I awake in the morning. The pause when I realize "the pieces are moving faster now and I can't catch them all. I can feel them slipping through my fingertips. And soon where there used to be my daughter breathing...there will be nothing." Time will have passed. They will be teenagers, then adults. And...just not enough time.
We were driving home from dinner last night, just me and R. I found myself telling her "I love you." She responded, "I love you too," and the following discourse ensued:
Me: "How do you love me?"
R: "What do you mean?"
Me: "How do you know you love me? What do you feel? When do you love me?"
R: "Well....I love you when you snuggle with me at night. When you lay there and tickle me and even fall asleep with me. That's when I know I love you the most."
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I've been struggling with the big decisions recently. Where do we live? Where is my home? Where will I find happiness? Those types of decisions. I have mistakenly believed they were big decisions, when in fact they may have been small decisions. Since Ben died, I've tried to define my story, to understand my purpose. It is very humbling to contemplate that my story is as simple as a moment. My purpose as understated as one that elicits this response from a child: "I love you when you are with me. Just me and you. Alone. Together."
I've worried about paying for college, weddings, making their lives the most they can be. Finding the old happiness I had when Ben was alive. But, what if that is just the future and the past? What if the truth lies in the present moment? How could I have ever known it was so much simpler. As simple as "why I love you." Right now.
I struggle with what to say or what not to say during the holidays. Life goes on, but then again it doesn't. So, it leaves me speechless. I don't write anymore, which is why I'm writing this Thanksgiving night. It is the therapy I need but don't have time for with a full-time job. We've cooked our turkey, played Jenga and Sorry at the dinner table. Laughs all around. The kids are sitting on the bed beside me while I type until we all watch Home Alone as a family later tonight.
I am trying to put into words that which resists words. I continue to remain in touch with a friend who lost her daughter in the Sandy Hook shootings. My texts started with a simple "Happy Thanksgiving," and upon response evolved into a "the holidays are lonely." And, they are. We live on foreign ground out here in Colorado and family is far away and unable to travel. The "me" I envisioned at 21 was one sitting at a full dinner table for Thanksgiving....extended family and kids running about. Wine and laughter. It is different now. There is just the insular "us." It is still lonely. There is no Ben. There are no friends that we enjoyed several years ago sitting around our dinner table.
I've had a thought recently of losing my photos of Ben, so I have spent the past few days uploading all of our photos to Google Photo. I scrolled through our last Happy Thanksgiving, November 2013. He wasn't even one year old and we spent the holiday at our best friend's house. It was a mixed emotion of joy and anger. More joy...reminiscence. I miss that.
I don't even know what I'm trying to say. I'm just writing as therapy. How do you help friends who have lost children during the holidays? Text or call them. It is that simple. The need for that doesn't end in a certain number of years. It does not go away. We all want to say "Life moves on. People change." But, in reality, the core of people changes very little and life doesn't move on for those who have lost. Some days, we swim in a pool of nothingness, not knowing which way is up or down, waiting for a kind soul to reach out a hand and save us. It is not pretty...well, not pretty in the sense of things we are meant to verbalize during the holidays. That's why I didn't text my Ridgefield friends today (no matter how much I wanted to speak to them), instead texting my Sandy Hook friend. I didn't want to seem needy or talk about things that weren't happy, but I still just need to be "me." It is a small group of us that understands.
Today, I'm still so thankful to have time, second chances, family, friends, love, so many things. Happy Thanksgiving!
Love you all.
Today we participated in a press conference to announce the introduction of the HOT CARS Act of 2016, which requires new passenger vehicles to be equipped with technology to provide an alert that a child remains in a rear seated position. It wasn't at all as I'd expected it to be. In the aftermath of Ben's death, back in the summer and fall of 2014, I held it together. I remember the word stoic was used. That was not the case today. All the families who spoke....it was heart wrenching. Tears and broken sentences. I can't believe I cried in front of national news media. But....that's life. Back then....it was adrenaline. Be strong, or you will break. One chink in the armor and its all over. I had to be strong or we would fall apart. Now...it is back to real life. Today made me accept the truth...
...I am forever - FOREVER - changed. And that is okay. I have to accept that one fact, in order to move on. I don't write anymore because I don't know how to verbalize all of this. I feel like an outsider. Us parents -- we move on in the sense that we become once again part of the outside world -- but we are never the same. We are not part of your world anymore. Back in 2014, I thought time would heal. That I would wake up one day and be "okay." It doesn't happen.
Life is back to normal as much as it can be. Both Kyle and I have jobs we love. The kids are happy in school and sports. "Normal life"...but it isn't. My mind doesn't work the same as it used to anymore. The trauma...it did something to me. I have this constant sense of something...it seems like anxiety but it isn't. It is more like a "waiting for something" or a sense of something missing. And maybe that is it - I am missing something and always will be. I am looking for that missing piece. I wake up each morning with that sense. It won't go away and it torments me.
I don't have real friends anymore. We left all of our lifelong friends back in Connecticut when we ran from everything. And, I've accepted that. It is just us. And there is a comfort in that. Longing for those moments at the end of the day and on the weekends when we all just hang out. Snuggle on the couch. Laugh. Hold hands. Having only family teaches me something --- that all we humans need is something very simple: the love of family. It brings me a simplicity of sorts.
I yearn for the past. To be back in Connecticut. I can feel the fall breeze, see the changing leaves, see our family walking through the pumpkin patches in fall and Christmas tree farms in winter. I want it all back to badly. But, that is not the living. It is the past. We have to move forward with what life offers us. And, that is the challenge.
Everything that has happened. It was utterly horrible. And, no, to answer that question -- we don't move on. It has changed us and we continue to struggle through. And that.....well, I guess that is the living.
They say you can't live in the past. But, what if the past is all you have left? What if the break between The Past and The Future was so abrupt, you can't separate the two? What if the thing that keeps you going is the simple remembrance of it all? You just can't keep the dreams from intruding at night. What if the memories become a warm blanket you wrap around your body on the coldest of days? A momentary lapse.
What if...just for that instant...you are back there again? Before you knew what you know now. When it was simple and comforting.
A walk in the park. A soft nuzzle at night. Laughter. Time, so much time. All as it should be. What then?
Tomorrow Ben would turn three. I've realized for those who have lost loved ones...the pain never goes away. You don't "work through it" or learn to "deal with it." The pain doesn't "lessen." Time passes and that is all that changes. The passage of time means you learn to think about other things more often, you become more adept at pushing it out of your mind. You start to focus more on work or soccer games or just simple things, like grocery shopping - the next task to keep your mind busy.
When you have loved a child and lost him or her, the pain never goes away, no matter how much you want to pretend that it does. That is just the reality of loss.
Happy Birthday Ben, I miss and love you dearly.
How do you enjoy the holidays without one of your children? I'm struggling with that question this year. In a new state, without many of the Christmas traditions we enjoyed back East. I think back to the day after Thanksgiving 2013. Jones Family Farm in Shelton, CT. The land carried with it an almost magical air. In October, we had enjoyed their hay ride, corn maze, apple cider, a large pumpkin patch. Beautiful fall leaves overhead. In December, we travelled the 45 minutes to visit their Christmas tree farm on the opposite side of the property. Walking the half mile through acres of Christmas trees towards to "North Pole," where we would cut our own Frasier Fir and haul it back to be baled. It was chilly, and I carried Ben in the Baby Bjorn on my chest. I pointed to the trees, asking him which one he liked the best. He had to learn how it was done, as we had so many years in the future of Christmas tree hunting together. I never questioned that. I leaned down to nuzzle his soft cheeks, which were cold from the wind. He smiled and babbled. He was happy. Afterwards, we walked around the farm, picking out fresh garland, cinnamon pine cones, a wreath, sipping hot chocolate, then driving home to decorate the tree. Together, as a family.
The Christmas with Ben. I could never have known it would be the only one.
I expected my second Christmas without him to be better. The grief does lessen over time, we get back to our typical family activities, smiling and laughing. We look normal on the outside. And, we are in part. We know we need to rebuild, we are too thankful for life and our family not to to that. But, underneath there is a reality that never really goes away. Something from which we cannot just move on. We carry it with us in our hearts, each and every day. The loss of a child.
I was worried it was just me, that I wasn't doing something right. I thought I would just wake up a year later and be better, have moved past it. On Black Friday, when I texted my friend who lost her daughter in 2012, I realized it wasn't just me. I can't expect it to ever go away, it is now part of me. That's what love is.
The holidays can be sad and lonely for those who have lost loved ones. I guess I really want to talk to them...let them know they are not alone. There are many of us out here, feeling the same way - and it's okay. To miss them. To not feel the same carefree joy though the holiday season. But, we hold on to what we have. I allow myself to be carried away by the laughter and innocence of my girls. Decorating our tree, donning their Christmas pajamas, baking cookies, mailing Christmas lists. They don't know what I know yet, and I allow myself to crawl into their bodies if just for an instant. To feel the Christmas joy again.
So, if you know others who have lost loved ones, just understand and give them time. Let them know you are there, and you don't expect them to be normal again, to forget. They will forever be changed. A little bit of love can go a long way during the holiday season.
Happy Holidays Friends and Family, we love and miss you!!
Hi strangers! I received an email yesterday reminding me that I have not blogged in quite awhile. And, she was correct. It has been a long tumultuous summer for me here in Colorado. A bit of depression reared its ugly head in June and spiraled to a climax a few weeks ago. But, I am thankful because it got me to where I am today. The positive takeaway from a journey like this summer is that it can get better! My doctor changed a few things and then I had a little "me time" in Aspen, CO, when the fall foliage was at its peak. It was a little excursion for me to find some peace so that I could just exist within myself, away from the static of life. Sometimes I feel like I've "found Ben" again but haven't quite found myself. My trip was for that single purpose, and it was a success in so many ways.
I had stopped writing (and running) for most of the summer, which should have been a huge red flag. But, I have my "voice" back and I'm off to the races again. Writing, running, family time. I feel more free in ways now than I ever have.
So, a little story from the past week. Kyle and I took the girls out to eat at Carraba's Italian Grill in town. I remember a moment when I looked around the table and noticed all four of us just talking, laughing and being silly.
When did that happen? Overnight? Was it a long year long or life long process? How long had it been since I had laughed without hesitation?
On the car ride home, the girls were out of control silly. Making jokes, laughing at themselves, snorting in the process. Kyle and I just looked at each other and smiled. As my oldest walked into our living room ahead of me, she threw her arms into the air like a bird preparing for lift off and screamed in a drawn out measure "I feel sooooo ALIVE!!!" and looked back at me smiling ear to ear. In that instant, I realized that *I* had helped enable that night to happen - by taking care of myself, getting better, traveling my own personal journey, finding myself, positive energy and balance. For when I laughed and existed with a positive peace and energy around them, they felt it and fed off of it. Through my freedom, I was allowing them to truly FEEL life again. We were all so intimately connected.
The next day, I took my youngest (a unique, spirited little girl) aside to chat with her. I had no idea what words would come out of my mouth, but I felt the need to tell her something. Something important. She looked at me with a little smirk, not knowing what to expect. I told her that I loved her, all of her, even the "talking all the time, mind running a mile a minute, coming out through physical movement" side of her. Also, I loved the sensitive, emotional side of her. And, most importantly throughout her life I wanted her to love herself. "Just always be you. And surround yourself with people who will love all of you. I'm one of them! I'll love and support you no matter what, forever. I'm always here for you." I asked her whether that made any sense, for there really were no words for my emotion.
"Yeah, mommy, it actually does make sense. Thank you!" And she leaned in for a hug.
The power of finding a place of positive resonance in life and existing at peace within yourself is amazing. It had made me feel alive too - possibly for the first time ever.
The last Back to School night I attended was in Connecticut. It was after Ben had passed away, and I was nervous about even walking through the school around everyone who "knew." Mostly I just kept my eyes glued to the floor, walked quickly and collapsed into the welcoming arms of friends. The night ended up not being too bad. Our school family was so overwhelmingly supportive to us....it was a comfort to be back. Last night, I attended my first Back to School event in Colorado. I went with a close friend and chatted with a few other moms. I was absolutely fine with just getting the job done...listening to the teachers....then heading back home for post-soccer dinner with the family.
As I've said in previous blogs, I miss crying at normal things these days. Sitting through the teacher presentations, though, that old feeling snuck up on me a bit. You know...the tightness in your chest, the tingle when tears begin to form. They never fell, but I got closer than I have in months. What was the trigger? As the teachers walked through the expectations for the year and the skills they would teach, I was overcome with a feeling of love for my two girls and gratitude for what these teachers do each day. Even more than that, I was overwhelmed by an urgent question flitting through my brain: This school will teach my girls academics and social skills....algebra, grammar, science. But, how can I teach them how to "survive"? Prepare them for the vicissitudes of life, the good and bad in human nature, that "worst case scenario" that could happen? How to I teach them the true meaning of real love, our interconnectedness, the importance of true friendship and treating others with respect? How do I instill that "survive at all costs mentality" in them, give them the grit necessary to succeed in life?
My seven-year-old walked me through her thoughts on the ultimate end of Earth one day when the sun would expand and turn into a red giant, destroying the Earth, then over many more years turn into a white dwarf and eventually a black hole, where nothing could escape, not even light. [She didn't know the sun isn't massive enough to turn into a black hole, but we'll overlook that for now.] But, how do I teach her that one day she may lose someone she loves so deeply that it may tear her apart...that she may feel them, but not be able to reach them, as if they had disappeared into that black hole? How do I teach her that she would have to just breathe and survive, continue to live and love...that she can survive anything, even if it seems impossible?
What if I fail at these more important life lessons? How do I raise my girls to become self-sufficient, strong women?
I try to be an example for them, but I'm not perfect. I try to focus on these important lessons in our daily lives. I sat with my oldest daughter on Ben's grave during our last trip to Connecticut and told her the truth about our move to Colorado, her daddy being charged and the way in which that ended, the DCF investigation that I tried to protect her from. I needed her to know - we were strong, we protected those we loved, and we made it. I explained to my girls why some of their new friend's parents wouldn't allow their kids in our house after googling our names. I want them to know the importance of finding the right friends, love and understanding. That they don't have to try to be liked by everyone, just those true, real friends who will treat them as they would want to be treated themselves. I do not want them to ever be afraid to tell someone their last name, for fear it may be googled.
Last night, I had to take a sleeping pill to get some rest. It has been a long July and August, we've lost a bit of weight again and haven't slept well. But, the sleeping pill made me dream, and I felt like I was in another world again. I woke up in the middle of the night in the darkness of our bedroom and could not comprehend where I was. I had been dreaming and felt like Ben was there. But, in the darkness I was only confused. The question "Where is Ben?" kept running through my mind. I even woke Kyle up and right before the question rolled off my tongue, I remembered, where I was and our reality. Thankfully, I didn't traumatize Kyle by asking him that question in the middle of the night.
I'm not sure how my brain can still be struggling with that question, this reality of "Where is Ben?" and "Did this all really happen or is it just a dream?" But, it is. Maybe it was triggered by my oldest daughter's "Portrait in Numbers" that was displayed outside her classroom last night. For the portrait, she was asked to list the number of siblings she had. She said "2" and gave their names. There was "Benjamin" as clear as day. I guess she's learned that no matter where he is, he will always be her brother and loved. And, maybe that's one of the greatest lessons of all.
Luckily, tomorrow night we won't have to ponder these serious questions. Instead, we will be at the Dave Matthews concert in Denver. What a great escape from the all-to-serious parts of life. Maybe that is a good lesson for the girls as well...that no matter what you are going through, you have to hold onto what is good, friends who love you and go try to laugh and love a little bit each day. And, music can always help you enjoy life when you need it!
I hope you all have a great weekend! Much love -
So, we finally closed on our house in Connecticut Thursday afternoon. Much of my anxiety during my visit to Ridgefield a few weeks ago was related to the memories and sudden rupture of our old life and survival decision to move out of state. There are so many physical reminders in Ridgefield that I found comforting during my visit. I drove by our old house, just to glance. There was a tiny basketball goal in the driveway. That was supposed to have been Ben's. One of the cutest moments of his life...we'd walked outside in the front yard and our dog was running around. Ben wasn't quite used to the dog's herding antics, as she would run toward him, then turn and run the other direction. Each time she got within a few feet of him, he would crouch down, put his head down, arms around his legs and let out a laughing squeal. That happened a few feet from the basketball goal that now stood in the driveway, foreign yet oddly comforting.
Another aspect of my emotional response to the visit involved the pending sale of our house - Ben's home. My rational mind knows that no part of Ben is left in the physical parts of our old life. Ben is energy and spirit and love...and he's around us all of the time. I often feel like he is right in front, above, below, beside, inside, surrounding me....if I could just try hard enough, I could reach him and feel his essence again. But, he's just not on this plane of existence anymore. And, the physical memories...they are. It is hard to let go, even a year later. The moment our house closed, the ability to go back and relive the memories, walk the wooden floors where he toddled around, run my fingers along the door against which he sat letting his oldest sister feed him yogurt the weekend before he passed...is gone.
The corner of our living room where we placed our Christmas tree, took family pictures for our Christmas cards...Ben being kissed on both sides by his sisters, dimples gleaming.
The kitchen table where he sat each night eating dinner with us, where he said "Mama" for the first time the Saturday before he passed, asking me to place him in his seat to eat lunch.
The sunroom where he threw and chased balls, any kind of ball, for hours on end, laughing and screaming with joy.
Our bed, where we laid him each morning and night to change diapers, dry him after baths, where we blew raspberries on his stomach eliciting belly laughs over and over. The rocking chair where we lulled him to sleep each night, where I sat breastfeeding him, his eyes slowly closing into a dream world, with his hand gently remaining on my chest. I smell him as I write this, feel his skin.
....we left it untouched for months. The morning after his passing, when the police let me back inside our house, my parents walked me through. I found his alligator pajamas crumpled up on the bed, where Kyle had changed him the morning before. I had stayed strong up to that point, but the physicalness of it all made it unbearable. I held them up to my face and inhaled his smell. "I want to keep his smell! What do I do?!! HELP ME! He's dead!" I screamed at my mom. I screamed and screamed. Later, I placed his pajamas, stuffed animal and shoes in his crib, left his toys untouched.
But, eventually I was forced to organize the nursery to show the house, then eventually pack it all up to move. Before doing so, I took snapshots of every angle of his room...to capture it in time. I sobbed and hit the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor in front of his changing table. I knew it was only physical, but it was all I had left. Memories.... Due to my new OCD response to our trauma, I decluttered and threw out most of the unnecessary items in our basement and house (two huge dumpsters full) before moving. But, I kept all of Ben's clothes and toys. They are in the storage room in our Colorado basement labelled "Ben toys," "Ben clothes," "Ben memories."
Moving through the healing process is cathartic and much needed...we have come so far since those initial days. It is good to let go of our old house, but I can't say it was easy. I know he is closer than ever, liberated from the physical...but still....
* * *
On a much happier note -- I have to admit that part of our healing has involved allowing the necessary sadness and anxiety to flow over us like waves but to try to recover and move on to happy times as well. I am excited to announce I am officially "Colorado country" now! I had my first country line dancing experience on a fun Ladies Night Out on Thursday (thanks Kyle for watching the girls!)...now I just need to buy some cow girl boots and hat and I'm all set. In all seriousness though, I woke up Friday morning asking Kyle if we could take dance lessons as our new date night adventure. I think he's game!
Have a good weekend everyone....
I miss dreaming. Pre-Ben, I had vivid dreams that I remembered for days. My mind was clearer and I slept well enough to let a bit of my unconscious in at night. I want to see Ben again, in my dreams, but it never seems to happen. There is so much research about our unconscious and dreaming, it's astonishing. I yearn to dream. I had to take a nap this morning after dropping the girls off at school. And finally...
It was a dream that liberated me in ways. Part of my survival mechanism is to build myself up through affirmations ("Everything is fine, we're good. We made it.") and other coping strategies -- running, time with close friends, family time, writing, therapy time with Harley -- so that I build up a wall. It is a tall, strong wall that keeps me from touching the deeper feelings that still remain. I go about "normal life" without feeling or crying or talking about anything from last year. But, once in awhile, cracks form in that wall, often when I am tired or have experienced emotionally trying times, such as the anniversary of his passing, the start of school in a new city, being homesick, etc. And, sometimes these cracks grow to allow a flood of emotion which is ultimately extremely healing. The past few weeks have led up to one such experience today.
It was a dream within a dream, making me feel like I'd finally found true reality. Kyle and I had been searching for a house to buy back in Connecticut. Beautiful, comforting houses that brought a sense of home to us again. We were camping with friends, then I was suddenly transported back to my old hometown in South Carolina...to my grandparents farm. My grandfather was keeping Ben, just like he and my grandmother had done for me years ago while my parents worked. They were playing, Ben was laughing, he was carrying him around the farm, showing him the world. The animals I'd played with, the stream through our land, the trees I'd climbed.
Then, I found myself awaking from a deep dream or slumber. My parents were with me. I had a gut feeling...that something was wrong. I felt it was all a dream, but I didn't believe it yet...that I was awakening to some kind of new reality. My anxiety began to grow, I started pacing, crying, asking questions. I raged against the possibility. I sped in a car to our old farm, but it wasn't there. It was a new house, not ours. Then, I was back in Connecticut. I raced to our old daycare. "He's in there playing, just wait!" I screamed. Kyle and I walked into the daycare...they didn't want to let us in because they all knew. But, we asked if we could just look in the door window to the toddler room. I'll see him there! But, he wasn't with his friends. There was no Ben. There were other toddlers, who had grown and were now around two years old, but no Ben.
I was immediately swept through space and time back to my home in South Carolina. "Does Ben have a twin? Maybe that's what I felt! I still have part of him here, right?!" I asked. They just looked at me, with tears.
My mind swept through all of these landscapes again and I finally let reality flow in. "Ben's dead isn't he. So is my grandfather. Our farm is gone too, isn't it. It's not real. They are all gone." Their expressions confirmed my conclusion.
Sometimes I still feel like I'm living in a dream within a dream. None of this can be real, right? In my dream, oh my, I could feel him, feel my grandfather too. I was more comforted than I have been since the day before Ben passed. I was back in my normal life, with our family of friends, love, comfort, life, no heartbreak. I've landed on a new shore and I'm crawling around to build our new life. Sometimes all of this, past and future, feels utterly impossible. And, from the very first moment that night of July 7th, I built a tall, strong, impenetrable wall because I had to survive. It is a wall of "don't think, don't feel reality, don't love, don't grieve, don't let others in, just breathe, eat, keep your heart beating and live." But, when does that wall become a prison? When I can't dream anymore, feel Ben, see him in my dreams, feel loss or the need to love again, let others in, when I avoid the simple act of allowing my heart to feel...reality or anything else? I believe my dream this morning taught me that I need to allow the broken moments to be filled with the simple act of sitting and feeling and missing Ben....to allow reality to heal itself so we can build anew. Walls have their purpose, but freedom, even if it involves intense emotions, is much more beautiful than a prison where nothing gets in and nothing escapes. That's not living at all, that's just surviving. And, I want to do more than just survive.
I just wonder...in this dream within a dream that is reality or Heaven...was my grandfather really walking Ben around our old farm today while I slept?
Why do I get blogs out sometimes and not others? Why are there long gaps in my posts? No ideas come, no thoughts, words, sentences...even though I have so much I'd like to say, express, tell you all. Why do I even like writing? It isn't about a need to keep working through last year. It isn't because I like talking about it. I tend to avoid it actually. There are things I've never said or shared. Part of the reason I even started this blog is because our experience showed me definitively how utterly human and imperfect and broken we all are - but beautifully imperfect in a way that can lead to joy and hope. That is the human part of life. Being put together all the time, well that's not possible. I remember one comment online after Ben died, it was from a stranger about me, insinuating I was that type of person -- had everything going for me, life was easy. I believe they referred to me as Mrs. "hyphenated name" or something along those lines. Consider Facebook....our children are growing up in a world where everyone puts their best face forward, all the good times, the happy smiles and accomplishments. But, is that real? Are they learning it is okay not to be perfect? No one ever speaks up to say "I'm totally broken and imperfect, but I'm making it and life is beautiful and so worth it." I've realized through receiving so many emails recently that everyone has weaknesses, tough life experiences, regrets, struggles and imperfections. I write because in ways I have nothing else left. Maybe it gives me strength to just speak up and describe the real side of our humanity, my weaknesses, struggles and the reality of living each day with that brokenness and imperfection. That way, anyone who feels the same but never says it...well, they can see they are not alone. Not in the slightest. Maybe I find liberation in saying things that most people never do. When you have nothing else left.
I also write because it saves me. I've seen the profound value of art in my and others' lives recently and it has made me ponder whether art can truly save a life? I think it can. We were watching So You Think You Can Dance last week and saw a dance choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. It put movement to the 10 seconds after a person experiences a tragedy. Those 10 seconds after you get the phone call, when you cannot breathe and the world stops:
I was moved. I couldn't cry, as I typically would pre-Ben, because my nervous system and emotions are so messed up...but I was still moved. Just like in the dance, I feel suspended in air, and it's still hard to breathe sometimes. Are there emotions and experiences that are so integral to the human experience and staying connected yet cannot be expressed traditionally though words and speech? I believe there are. Many days are good now, but there are those dark times....lasting from a moment to a few hours to a few days...then I am able to pull myself out of it with friends, running, kids and....writing. Often the strong emotions I feel about life in general I can't even express in words to new friends...they are too much, too deep, too inexplicable, too complicated. The pain, grief yet deep love for life, family and friends. How love and loss and utter destruction can make one feel so differently and deeply about life. It changes everything. I've had moments where I feel like the only way to express it all is through a loud, guttural SCREAM. Maybe I should just run out into the woods near our house, alone, and scream. I'm not a speaker...I can do it...but I much prefer expressing emotions through writing. In some of those dark moments, I've brought myself back by simply realizing I can sit and write it down. To connect, to possibly help others. Music, dance and art can touch these deep indescribable places in us all even more naturally because no words are involved at all. They touch a place within us that we can't quite put our fingers on. The core of something much greater than ourselves.
One a rather dark day recently, I received an email from a friend that was titled "You've landed." It read:
Over a year ago I wrote the following:
"It's as if the ocean has swallowed you whole and pounds you repeatedly into the surf. Wave after wave it's relentless. Then one day after the ocean of grief has had it's way with you, it spits you out exhausted and disoriented on the shore. Gasping and grasping the shore, blinded by the sun."
You made it. There will be stormy nights and high tides that will threaten your existence...but you made it. You are on shore.
Now picture everything you want your life to be. Hold that image as your new goal and with the single minded focus of the runner at your core - just do it."
It is okay to have days where your only goal is to exist and make it through. It is okay to love and hurt and lose and love again, to feel things so profound it is hard to breathe. You are alive, human, real. I remember back to the year after Ben's birth. He was my third child, and it was my third bout of postpartum depression -- they got worse with each birth. I had actually considered not having a third just because of how the postpartum phase affects me personally. But, he was worth it. And I hid it relatively well around strangers, at work, around the kids. With depression or any mental or physical illness, some days it is a struggle to just get up and put yourself together. Sometimes you have to put your brain together each day to get through. To just breathe. It would be nice to be normal or perfect all the time, sometimes I have craved that. Yearned for it. But, it is simply not possible and part of the struggle is to accept who we are and embrace each other for it. The strongest emotion I felt in the days after Ben's death was of empathy. In the emergency room that night I remember thinking of this extreme example of imperfection and how my husband had helped me through before...and it is possible to love someone, deeply and unconditionally, even despite this inescapable part of our lives. It is our humanity, after all. I played John Legend's song "All of Me" over and over...because it hit a chord of the emotion I experienced that night. You give all of yourself to someone and you love all of them in return. The good and the bad.
Through all the turmoil and darkness, I save myself through art and wrapping myself up in a warm blanket of love from family and friends. I want to roll around in it until it has diffused throughout my entire body and become the very continued beating of my heart, every breath. Love is life and our salvation and all that is completely real -- that never fails on those days of imperfection and struggle like we had on July 7, 2014.
"Wow, mom! You are a good cook after all! This is actually yummy!"
"I mean, not as good as daddy yet, but almost. You just need some practice, and you will catch up soon!"
"Gee, thanks a lot!" I replied, tickling my youngest daughter.
Last night as we sat around the dinner table I realized I was officially a "stay-at-home mom" and quickly becoming more domesticated. My friends love to make fun of me for not knowing what the "shiny thing with knobs" in the kitchen is. Kyle was our chef, not me. But, that morning I had started a crock pot AND cooked pancakes, all in one day.
The girls' first day of 2nd and 4th grade went well this morning...it was like Christmas for them, jumping out of bed at 6:30, thirty minutes before I'd planned on waking them. School supplies packed the previous night, clothes laid out. We don't have busing in this district, so most parents drop off before work. This morning, the playground was packed with parents ensuring little ones made it to the appropriate line, grabbing one last hug, taking a quick picture. Some were holding back tears...I wish I could cry about normal things. If I feel that tight chest/throat feeling, I try to hold on and nurture it but it rarely makes its way to my eyes anymore. I miss normal tears...
The morning was still surreal for me. As soon as I woke up, I had flashbacks to our house in Connecticut and my mind flipped through a memory reel of each "first day of school" since kindergarten. I made the girls stand in the same spot each year for comparison photos. I smelled the old wooden floors in our house, felt the moisture from a humid New England day, heard the clatter of our school bus pulling up to our driveway. I pulled the warm blanket around me, if just for a moment, of walking into our old school, knowing most of the faces, giving and receiving hugs.
At the school ice cream social Tuesday afternoon, I found myself in an unknown land. I knew a few friendly faces, but generally I felt more comfortable standing outside the gym door alone pretending to watch the girls play with their friends on the upper field. I've grown less able to make small talk, even though I know I should. Sometimes I feel more comfortable alone, or just with the family....they are my "home base" these days. Part of it is...here, people see the new "me" when they look at me. A "me" without last year. But, I've integrated the events of last year into who I am. I'm not yet sure where that leaves me these days. I don't want or need to talk about our tragedy on most days, but it is still part of me....it has become part of the lens through which I view the world, it has changed the way in which I view relationships, the types of friendships I need, my desire to be alone sometimes -- in my own little world where I'm glad most people will never need to join me.
One step at a time....
Happy 7th Birthday to my spunky, sweet daughter!
I wish you all the comfort, happiness and love that you have brought me since the first moment our eyes met. Sometimes I conjure up that image in my mind....the nurse laid you in my arms and your brown eyes looked up into mine. Now that I've seen what your role has been in my life...my spiritual counterpart in ways...I often wonder if your eyes were trying to say "Hello world! We're finally together now, mom, and I'm ready for us to share this journey together. I'm here for you!" You and your sister have played important roles in getting me through the past year. I needed you both in different ways. In the often surreal way we are connected, I can honestly say I sometimes feel as if your soulful, exuberant energy has kept my heart beating at times.
As you said lying in bed one night, "Can't you feel it mom? There is something connecting our hearts!"
Yes, love, I do feel it!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY GIRL!!!!
“Because I think people must be the same everywhere. Only these people are in my bones.” - Jodi Lynn Anderson, Tiger Lily
I stood with my oldest daughter and three of her friends this past Monday, watching the demolition of the old Ballard Park playground in Ridgefield. As the bulldozer razed the slide she played on as a child, the other girls jumped up and down shouting "WOW, this new playground will be so awesome!" She crouched on the rock wall. Watching. She turned to me, slowly, with searching eyes "That's so sad. Why would they do that? It contains so many memories." She was right. It wasn't about Ben this time, it was memories of "us." Our community, our life.
I was in Ridgefield with her due to a bit of an emotional breakdown at 2 am on Sunday morning. Kyle and I were eating pizza in our kitchen and next thing I knew I was crying. I should have seen it coming. During the Saturday blues festival downtown, they sang an amazing "take you to church" rendition of "A Change of Gonna Come," the song I'd listened to the entire year of Ben's life simply because I had rediscovered Gavin DeGraw. I made it halfway through the song on the dancefloor before I found myself in tears, dialing a friend in Connecticut. What was this aching feeling?
By 2 am, the "aching feeling" came out in words.
I don't know who I am anymore. I'm not real. I'm filling a void.
I'll never be able to put myself in your position, but I've tried to understand what you were going through. Can you do that for me?
Don't you get it? I didn't choose this! Overnight I was uprooted from my entire life and implanted in a foreign land. I was happy there, so were the girls. I MISS HOME - Ridgefield. The community, our "family of friends," picking the girls up from school each day, my colleagues, the park, the restaurants. All of it.
I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was the tree in the beautiful artwork above that our Colorado friend painted.
According to Merriam Webster, to "mourn" means to feel or express grief or sorrow. I'm realizing it's possible to mourn more than the loss of a person, but also your self-identity, your community, your entire life. As I watched my daughter's friends run up to her with huge smiles, I realized...overnight she was here, and then the next day...her seat in the classroom was empty, her spot on the soccer field was gone. Our places at the beach club were empty. We disappeared overnight, poof, like a ghost. And, all of this town and our friends were taken from us overnight too.
Driving down Main street, she verbalized to me that she missed it in ways. When I asked her why, she simply stated, "It's my friends of course, but I miss everything. Even just the streets and town. And Deborah Ann's ice-cream." I've lived each day of the past year deep inside of myself mourning Ben...driving by Kyle's office doesn't affect me anymore, neither does visiting the grave or going to the park. But, losing everything....it still affects me. Maybe because I haven't allowed myself to say it or feel it? I don't have the right to do that. Or do I? Does my daughter?
For many months, all the memories in Ridgefield were painful. But, now the memories have turned into a comfort of sorts. I am enveloped in a warm blanket here. Maybe it is because the events of last year have been integrated into who I am as a person now. I left part of my soul here, when we left overnight in November to save the girls from publicity and DCF. But, this small town community, the coffee shop, restaurants, parks, library....the people...they are all in my bones.
Ben was here, the "old me" was here. I gave part of myself to the people, and I took part of them. He walked these streets, laughed in Ballard Park. Though anonymity is great at times, there is also comfort in seeing those whose eyes show a deep understanding -- this happened, I know "you," and I see you, we miss your place with us. This was my real.
So, yes, I am mourning the loss of an entire life and future in a certain town. A community. Friends. In that singular moment at 2 am last Sunday morning, there was no where else I could be except Ridgefield, no one else I could be with except my friends here. You became part of me, I left part of myself here. I still mourn you. What's real in life...whether it's family, friends, community...it's irreplaceable. Ben is irreplaceable, you all are as well. And sometimes...it's just you...and this town that my heart needs, in the moment. I texted a friend early that morning as well. Her response was "Just come home."
So I did.
As we get ready tonight to fly out early tomorrow, my heart is so very sad...which is grief...which means I am mourning. You.
I'm still searching for my new real, and I can't say I know what that means anymore. I know I have to be true to myself and allow myself to feel and look for it. To look for the irreplaceable beauty that is a certain friend, community, coffee shop, sidewalk, playground....which can comfort your very soul when no one and no place else can.
Kyle and I often de-stress from the day by snuggling on the couch at night (when life isn't so glaring and urgent) by watching old T.V. series on Netflix or Amazon. Since we moved to Colorado, we've gone through House of Cards, Breaking Bad, vetoed Game of Thrones after a few episodes, and now we are onto Orange is the New Black. I had a moment the other night while snuggling in bed with the girls that made me think about the Valentine's Day episode of OITNB, where an interviewer asked inmates "What is Love?" Suzanne (so-called "Crazy Eyes"), played by Uzo Aduba, explained it in a way that hit home for me:
How simple, yet beautiful is that explanation? Back to snuggling with my 6-year old...this child is like electricity. She runs into our bedroom each morning, already talking a mile a minute. This morning, I hear the door "BLAM" open, and she ran in wearing a cape. Yes, a cape. We call her a minion because of her high-pitched voice and have even taken a picture of her hugging a yellow fire hydrant saying "Papaya oh-la-la!!!" Her mental energy flows outward through speech and physical energy. She cannot sit or stand still. On the flip side of this is a profound, loving little girl. She is the one that slept with me those first weeks after Ben's death and said things that blew my mind. Despite her frenetic energy, she is so very loving...on a deep level. Sometimes I feel like she would crawl right back inside of me she loves me so much.
We were snuggling in bed two nights ago, and she did her "thing." The pure, simple act of lying in silence beside someone makes her deeply happy and satisfied. She asked me to rub her arm, she laughed because it tickled "but it still feels good." Then, she said "I'll tickle your arm too." I pushed the hair back out of her eyes (like I used to do with Ben) and held her cheek in my hand. She did the same to me, then a huge "happy to her core" smile came onto her face, and she just stared into my eyes, smiling.
I get a little bit of religion every day when I experience that kind of love. I'm going through a life phase right now where I think a lot about transcendence and being Real...and how integral that is to being human, enjoying Life, and even finding God, in part by finding yourself. I've got a ways to go, but one thing I have discovered is that real "love," in spouses, family, children, and friends, is a required part of this search. Without the Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" kind of love, you can never truly be yourself and become Real, transcend past your limitations and imperfections to a place of happiness and resonance. Isn't life really all about just being able to sit in silence, look someone in the eyes, way deep down to their soul, and just Be. Just exist. Breathe. Let go of trying so hard. Let your eyes say "Hi, here I am, all of me." And, their eyes say "I know, and I love you for it."
That's how we can all "become more" Real. (OITNB)
"Safety should not be a partisan issue." - Senator Blumenthal, Connecticut
Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted along party lines to defeat numerous provisions that would have increased transportation safety for American citizens and even rolled back current safety laws. The Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act (S. 1732) will be sent to the full Senate for inclusion in surface transportation reauthorization legislation as early as this week. (See Senate Committee's No Vote Incenses Lawmakers Seeking Auto Safety Reforms, NY Times, July 20, 2014) This legislation will set the agenda for the next six years and is pro-industry, not pro-consumer protection.
Today, I joined a media call hosted by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety along with Senators Blumenthal and Markey, various safety advocates and crash victims, to speak out against S. 1732 as it currently stands. In Senator Blumenthal's words, "America deserves better than this bill." Not only did the committee strike a provision which would have required NHTSA to complete research into the development of driver reminder systems within two years (which it has been authorized to do under MAP-21 since 2012, and is only in the beginning stages of developing a testing protocol) but it also struck other consumer protection provisions, including but not limited to those that would:
- impose criminal penalties on auto executives who fail to disclose deadly automobile defects (which would be applied in situations such as the GM cover-up of faulty ignition switches)
- barring used car dealers from selling vehicles with un-repaired recalls
But, one provision allows 18-year old teenagers to drive tractor trailers on our interstate highways (a concept that was rejected ten years ago due to high crash risk of young drivers).
My statement is copied at the end of this blog, and you can visit the Advocates website later today for copies of other participants' statements. More information can also be found by visiting the following links:
Text of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015 (S. 1743), sponsored by Sen. Nelson (D-FL) and co-sponsored by Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Markey (D-MA), many provisions of which were not included in the final bill going to the full Senate.
Text of the Truck Safety Act (S. 1739), sponsored by Sen. Booker (D-NJ), many provisions of which were not included in the final bill going to the full Senate.
Text of the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S. 1732), sponsored by Sen. Thune (R-SD), which will go on to the full Senate in the next week.
Joint Statement of various safety organizations addressing pending legislation.
Letter from various safety organizations to Sen. Thune opposing legislation.
On a personal note, Janette Fennell, President of KidsAndCars.org, my husband and I met with Congressmen, Senators and other staffers, along with David Friedman, then-Acting Administrator of NHTSA, last September to discuss the need for further research and attention to the known risks of child hyperthermia deaths from hot cars. One of the most striking phrases and I heard from a staffer was the following: "It's lives for dollars." The staffer was referring to the cost/benefit analysis inherent in any administrative decision to regulate industry. I remember looking at the staffer and saying something along these lines: "As an attorney and intelligent woman, I understand exactly what you mean by that statement, and I accept that as the way government works. However, as a mother, who just lost her son, I'll have to walk out the door for a breather, if I hear that phrase again. My son's life cannot be valued in monetary terms." In my notes, I drew a triangle between Capitol Hill, regulators (NHTSA) and the automobile industry (and it's lobbyists). We discussed the revolving door between NHTSA and automakers, which can be a roadblock to safety reform. See Bill Aims to Close "Revolving Door" Between Automakers, Traffic Safety Agency, The Washington Post, April 28, 2010. Safety advocates are battling powerful auto lobbyists at every turn. For example, Ford Motor Co. made slightly over $1 million in political contributions in 2013-14, while GM made $724,445 in contributions, according to open secrets.org.
Our country is stagnating due to party politics and fragmentation. What could we accomplish if politicians and citizens joined forces and accepted a world view of compromise and negotiation, instead of partisanship, left/right, right/wrong, black/white? This may be one of our last chances to enact safety reform. Please make your voice heard.
My statement during the media call today, held by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety:
"I come to you today on the heels of our country’s tenth child vehicular heatstroke death of 2015, which occurred last Friday in Texas. The child was a two year old girl. One year ago, my own 15-month old son, Benjamin, died from heatstroke after being left in the back seat of our car unknowingly by my husband. As an attorney and grieving mother, it was startling for me to learn that safety advocates had been urging Congress to pass legislation requiring NHTSA to address this vehicle safety concern for over a decade, legislation which could have potentially saved my son’s life. In 2007, language calling upon NHTSA to issue regulations that would have required driver reminder systems in cars was stricken from the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, due to opposing corporate interests and partisanship. Since 2007, approximately 314 children have died in hot cars. This same mistake is happening again as we speak. Language directing NHTSA to complete research into the development of driver reminder systems within two years has again been stricken from the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act (S. 1732). This is not a partisan issue, this is a human issue, with our children’s lives at stake. NHTSA has made little if any progress addressing the potential for technological solutions on it’s own without Congressional directive. Since NHTSA last conducted round table discussions on this issue in 2011, resulting in a call for a public awareness campaign only, at least 153 children have died, 32 in 2014 alone, including my son.
Experience from past vehicle safety initiatives shows that education alone will not fully mitigate this known risk and eliminate child vehicular heatstroke deaths. Research into the viability of other technological solutions is needed. Car manufacturers themselves publicly identified this as a serious safety problem as far back as 2001. How many more children will lose their lives before Congress can align in a bi-partisan fashion to act and force real progress on this important transportation safety concern? We must act now. I ask that constituents call their state Senators to speak out against S. 1732 without needed amendments.
I want to also thank Senator Blumenthal from Connecticut, where I lived when I lost my son last year, for his unfailing support of transportation safety issues. Thank you for your time."
Warning! This post is a momentary departure from my normal blogging style. It will have no serious existential or literary purpose...but I just need to say...
We are going with friends to see Darius Rucker at an outdoor venue tonight!!! I'm so excited : ).
Okay, so I may tear up when he sings "It Won't Be Like This For Long," since that was one of my "Ben songs" (the songs I streamed on my iPhone as crying therapy after he passed)...but otherwise, our group will be the ones screaming "HOOTIE!" in the audience. I'm sure Darius Rucker hates that.
I may also be the one screaming at the top of my lungs "I'm from South Carolina!!" Oh the memories of driving around our little Southern town in my Green Jeep Cherokee listening to "Let Her Cry" and crushing on boys during my teenage years.
The only serious comment I can muster today is...even in the depths of grief and trauma...allow yourself to take those random good days and laugh, sing, dance, enjoy your friends...IT IS OKAY to smile...life is too good not to enjoy again.