"Just Come Home"

“Because I think people must be the same everywhere. Only these people are in my bones.” - Jodi Lynn Anderson, Tiger Lily

Original artwork by a close friend in Colorado.

Original artwork by a close friend in Colorado.

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.

Much love.

 

  

 

 

 

"You Become More You"

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 CardsBreaking 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)

Transportation Safety Reform Stalled By Party Politics

"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."


HOOTIE!

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. 

Only In My Dreams

I like dreaming for much the same reason I love (cherish, crave) writing, they both have the potential to create new worlds, where there are no rules, up is down, the future is the past, histories and people merge, there is a bright, technicolored tapestry of possibilities. In dreams and writing, our minds can move past a physical reality to imagine a different world, dazzling and bold. 

I don't sleep well anymore, so I don't usually dream at night. Ben has only come to me in dreams a handful of times and only twice in a vivid nature, one the night before my Today's Show appearance and another during our DCF investigation when we were considering moving. He had a definite message in both, which I will tell you about another day. Other times, I feel a "sense" of him in my dreams, but do not get to see him again. 

But, last night I slept and dreamt, and it was so very refreshing and beautiful. I had miraculously returned from a knee injury and sabbatical from college and found myself surrounded by all of my old college running friends and teammates in my "safe place" from young adulthood...a cross country course. There was a blanket spread out for us to stretch and prepare for the race. They seemed surprised to see me, but at the same time we fell right back into our old groove, like no time had passed. I had made it back for one more season, possibly my senior year, but at the same time I was older, as if I had kids, but did not. Time and reality merged. It was safe, and we laughed and caught up. I told them I hadn't run in over 2 years (make it 10 really) but I had gotten in shape to join them for one more race. We watched college-age women warming up for other races, while my mind slipped back into its old thought patterns: what time do I need to eat my last meal, when do we warm up? The coaches hadn't expected me to join, so a recurring theme in my dreams popped up - I don't have racing shoes! But, they opened a closet on the course, where hundreds of racing shoes tumbled out...I found a pair a size too big, but it would work. We all laid on the blanket discussing time that had passed and how I'd somehow gotten back into race shape. I wished it would rain, so the slushy course would be slower..and much easier for me to compete with the younger, faster girls.

Then, we were walking inside a large university building of chemistry labs, Christmas ornaments and other miscellaneous items...almost like a Home Depot store. I watched the 20-something students mix chemicals, study fumes escaping from beakers and I was taken back to my days of pre-med courses. My gut landed on that familiar emotion of "If I had just gone to medical school instead. That was more right for me." I'd wanted to be a psychiatrist, to help others who had to deal with depression or other mental illnesses. In that moment, I was back at that decision point....could I follow another path, if only in my dreams? Then, I was washing glass instruments with a young, male track runner, who asked me if I'd come back on the JV, recreational team. I laughed "No! You know I actually used to be a good runner, I swear!" I walked down the hallway with a teammate and asked her about my old collegiate best friend and roommate who I could not find or get in touch with...its been a lifelong worry for me..."Is she even alive?" My teammate informed me she was and they ran into each other all the time. 

The university building gradually merged into a neighborhood as we walked together. We were all beginning to gather at a family home in the suburbs of Raleigh...I didn't know the owners, but I watched them in the house, with their children. I got a sense that I was living there again and was an attorney downtown, with a family, we were happy. Was this family us? In another life? Was Ben inside, still alive...if but for decisions made years ago? Was I a doctor, lawyer, or writer?

If life is a combination of all potential histories, can I be transported to one where I am holding Ben this summer, camping with him in the mountains, dipping his toes into cold, river water and listening to him squeal, watching him run from the ocean waves again? Or, if life is like the smallest particles of which it is composed, where no potential history is set in stone until it is observed, then can I close my eyes and observe another version...if I go to medical school, is there even a Ben; if we had stayed in Raleigh, today would he be climbing at that same playground just like my girls did, so many years ago; if I simply text Kyle on July 7, 2014, would we all be at the local beach today in Ridgfield, playing kickball in the sand? No...only in my dreams, or writing. Maybe the truth is that this, today, as I sit on our deck in the Colorado sun, writing and crying...this moment was always going to be, and this is who I am and should be...and possibly that is where my strength lies, with infinite possibilities. I am Me, and a writer, and that is good enough in this moment. It just feels right.

I never got to run the race that I'd been preparing for at the beginning of my dream, but I did get to visualize the finish...as we often did in preparation. I somehow won that race, there was a lot of pain, but I pulled it out, and the feeling at the finish line....well, that was an emotion only for dreams or writing....It was:

the immense pain of
a lifetime of burdens
and struggle
born in one moment,
lifted,
transformed into
an overwhelming
lightness of being,
nearing ecstasy
with arms lifted high
I am free
where all hurt,
loss, grief,
shame turned into
(or always was)
love, joy and
the relief
of finally
being able to
hold him
again.

BV or Bust!

Sunset this weekend in Buena Vista, CO.

Sunset this weekend in Buena Vista, CO.

We went camping this weekend in Buena Vista,  CO with some good friends, who have kids the same age as our girls. It was a beautiful weekend of nothing but nature, hiking, campfires with S'mores and writing. I even got to unplug from electronics for almost an entire four days, imagine that! 

So, we got through last week relatively unscathed. I spent July 7th with a spiritual, soul friend for lunch and then with a large group (8 adults, 7 kids and 3 dogs) of wonderful friends for a BBQ at our house, full of a bit of serious talk, but mostly laughs and good food. It all got me thinking...you know, life includes the good and bad days - you can't get around that, especially after a loss. And, you have to learn how to ride them like waves. Yesterday was a bit tougher, after a full day of isolation and writing, which leads to A LOT of thinking. And, here is my quick conclusion from a day of processing various emotions: 

My new job should be as a risk assessor, since I have developed a strong instinctual aversion to LOSS, of all types. I avoid it at all costs. I also have a rough time with transitions, as they are linked to change and loss in certain ways for me. The end of the school year, then the end of summer, starting anything new, leaving anything old. Change reminds me of the reality that most everything in life is transitory or can be. I feel like the 2-year old girl in daycare that gets a note sent home to her parents "Suzy has trouble with transitions between centers." Or, more so, I have become the character "Fear" from the movie Inside Out. This is me...the risk assessor: 

Yes, that's ME! My brain immediately assesses the potential for any kind of danger or loss in any given situation. Campfires, swimming at the pool, climbing rocks, riding bikes down the street, even things as benign is leaning against our stair banisters (yes, I visualize all possible outcomes)...enter FEAR, loss avoider mom to the rescue. It also pertains to myself, though, which can be debilitating. What is the risk of loss in the future for any new situation -- job that I may grow to enjoy, new friends that I may allow into my life and care about, writing books, etc. At first I tried to turn this lemon into lemonade and stay positive -- "Without risking loss, you never truly live!" And on and on. But, truthfully, I've realized recently that No, I am (anyone is) allowed to feel these emotions after significant, sudden loss and just exist with that emotion for awhile. If I push it out, that can do more damage than good. It is part of what we went through. And, possibly over time it will lessen, but right now, today in this moment, I have to just let instinct reign, let the waves of each emotion, each day, wash over me and then move on to another day. Maybe one day, I won't be risk assessor, loss avoider MOM/WIFE/FRIEND and will just be normal me, but not today and I'm okay with that. 

Ben's Random Gifts of Love

"Hate is not the opposite of love, the opposite of love is individuality." - D.H. Lawrence

On August 19, 2014, at approximately 10 p.m., you would have found me running in pants and a long-sleeve shirt, sweater flowing around my waist, right down the middle of an old country road in Ridgefield, Connecticut. It was pitch black. Headphones blared "Ben songs" in my ears. We had just returned from a healing vacation in Colorado and Texas, but I had found out startling news about investigations and legal proceedings geared toward, not only my husband's control over our children, but mine as well. I began to question who I was fundamentally as a person, my role as a parent. We were healing...and, now we were stalled again. I hadn't run in years, but I sprinted the distance from our house to...where? Nowhere? My heart began pounding, racing. I sobbed, raised the volume of the music, talked to Ben, to God, to whoever would listen. I can't do this. We can't take much more. Help me, BenGuide me. I ran down the center of the road, since the darkness hid the shoulder from view. I didn't care if a car came straight at me, I didn't care if my heart burst. I was breaking and knew nothing else to do but run, yell, cry. Scream.

In the end, however, I did get over when cars passed. Partly to remain safe, partly to ensure no one saw me. I needed this time to break. Alone. My journey took me to the cemetery where we had recently placed my son in the ground. Legs shaking, lungs burning, heart racing, I collapsed in privacy behind the wall of a mausoleum. You would have heard a broken woman, sobbing, talking to her son who had passed. I can't do this. I simply can't. We can't survive THIS. Help me. When I lifted my head, this view met my gaze: 

Picture taken in daylight on August 20th.

Picture taken in daylight on August 20th.

In the months to follow, I struggled (and still struggle) with many things. How do I face the negativity and hurtful comments geared toward my husband and family? Toward me, for not loving Ben enough, if I still loved my husband? Investigations? Criminal trial? Moving, losing...nearly everything? But mostly...losing my heart and soul - my son. I avoided reading most of the negative comments and deleted Facebook pages. I tried to handle investigations with grace, but also as a lawyer-Mama Bear protecting her children and family. For awhile I didn't blog because my emotions were simply pain, grief and anger. Hurt. Disbelief. Trauma. So, I took the time in silence and tried to find myself, as well. I needed time to decide how one handles...THIS...an experience that is beyond words or imagination. The past year has been and my future will be a continuing journey of self exploration and acceptance, as much as it is forgiveness of my husband. 

After last summer, I rarely read the news anymore. Or watch television. It's all so negative and depressing. For us personally, we felt so much love last summer but negativity as well. How can I correct that? How can we all heal? Recently, I've been inundated with emails from blog readers, some with personal stories or messages of support, others responding to my July 7th request to share the love. Over the past few weeks, on some of my most trying days, when I wasn't sure I could make it another night, I've read an email and felt a physical lifting and lightness of my heart and spirit. If love is truly the core of it all, our interconnectedness, expressed spiritually and through shared energy, then YOU (yes, all of you) have become part of me and my healing. Knowing I've reached you, lightens my load. It adds to my positive energy, maybe all of our positive energies, turning the tide from last summer. For we are not individuals, we are connected, we are love, and God is love. Small things we think, say and do actually can AFFECT others. Let's make it positive.

This love, positivity and acceptance (of others and ourselves, along with our imperfections) IS simply and purely BEN. On August 19, 2014, I asked him to lead me. He has sent me his smile, laughter, love and positive energy this year. That smile. Those eyes. You all remind me of him each and every day. Due to the overwhelming response on July 7th, I offer a simple idea for the summer -- if you engage in a random gift of love -- whether it is holding the door for someone, volunteering, offering someone a sandwich, giving someone a seat on the train, paying for someone's coffee, or simply accepting someone different from you, saying I love you one extra time or offering a hug -- think of Ben and any person you have loved and/or lost, all the angels in Heaven watching over us right now. And, keep reaching out with your stories and thoughts. I read them all! 

I received this email titled "Rainbows and Miracles" from a Ridgefield resident: 

"Tears from Heaven. 7/7/15. At 7:15pm the skies opened up with a flood of tears from heaven. Buckets and buckets. Flooding the streets of Ridgefield. Huge huge baby tears. Then the sun breaking through - rain - rain - sun - should I chase the rainbow or just know there is a huge rainbow over the town of Ridgefield in honor of Ben. The one year cycle has been completed commemorating the passing of your beautiful Guardian Angel. Let the rainbows and miracles begin."

Taken by a Ridgefield resident. 

Taken by a Ridgefield resident. 

At 7:15 pm, on July 7, 2014...I had just arrived at the hospital to find out our life had changed forever. 

"Let the rainbows and miracles begin." 

Much love!

#forBen

 

The Gift of Ben

For some reason this is one of my favorite pictures. This is the Ben, with his blue eyes, that I remember in my dreams. This is the photo I finally downloaded as my iPhone screen to greet me every day. 

For some reason this is one of my favorite pictures. This is the Ben, with his blue eyes, that I remember in my dreams. This is the photo I finally downloaded as my iPhone screen to greet me every day. 

This will be a short blog. It is meant for July 7th, the one-year anniversary of my Ben's passing. But, I probably won't be able to type it tomorrow....so I'm posting it a day early. 

I checked my blog email today and am so very overwhelmed with joy. You have no idea how much those amazing words mean to me today, from nearby in Connecticut to places across the nation. I needed to read those messages so very much today, as my heart aches in many ways. 

In memory of Benjamin Jacob Seitz, I ask you to do one thing for me on July 7th: Share the love, his love. Choose someone that touches your heart or needs you. It can be someone you love and care about deeply, someone you have lost or from whom you have grown apart, someone who is suffering, struggling or in pain (even if you don't know them), or simply a person you want to tell "I love you." Call them, text them, email them, stop by to say hello. Or simply hold a positive and loving thought of them in your mind and heart. They will feel it. 

That is all I want for tomorrow. Love, love love. The amazing, profound, deep love that Ben has taught me. I also want everyone to do something that has been very difficult for me over the past year....to have this one day where you set aside any feelings about yourself that are negative. Use it as a day to take a deep breath and love yourself too...all of yourself, each and every imperfection, your mistakes, your potential, hopes, fears, dreams. It is beautifully human to be imperfect, and those who accept you for who you are will love all of you fully and deeply, even the imperfections. Be okay simply being you!

Give your family, especially your kids, friends and anyone else you love a huge, overpowering HUG and tell them you love them. That hug I want to give Ben tomorrow but can't....you guys take it and send it around. Share the love!

Much love to each and every one of you! 

#forBen

The 30 Minutes That Changed My Life....

My daughters, on July 7, 2014, the day Ben passed, at 6:11 pm, New Canaan, CT. 

My daughters, on July 7, 2014, the day Ben passed, at 6:11 pm, New Canaan, CT. 

I realized last night over fireworks for July 4th that I am no good as a wife, mother or friend unless I can face who I am today and how I got here. I have utterly failed at that so far, for a variety of reasons. It is easy to talk about grief and healing but much harder to discuss why I even need to grieve or heal...why I am, well...."me." I've recently given up on the hope that I will ever be normal again. Here is my attempt to convey the 30 minutes that changed my life. 

This picture was taken at 6:11 pm in New Canaan, CT, where I had spent over an hour at my oldest daughter's summer soccer practice. I remember sweating underneath the trees, talking to another mother about how this was the hottest day of the summer. It was a glorious summer day, though. Unlike some stories where parents swear they "knew" their child was in danger, I had no idea. I actually started a pick-up soccer game with a couple of younger boys who were there watching their older sisters' practice. Kyle and I usually touched base every day after daycare pickup to plan dinner - around 5:15 or so. That was the point when I started texting him that day, to no response. What's for dinner? No response. Hello???? No response. The girls were enjoying themselves so much, I actually stayed late to kick the soccer ball with them. Hence, the picture at 6:11 pm. 

We eventually left the soccer field, as my anxiety began to grow. I try to not be paranoid, but there is always that chance that something is wrong. The unimaginable. I buckled the girls into the backseat of the car and told them I wanted to drive around downtown Ridgefield to find daddy and Ben. I called again. Still no answer. I texted him jokingly If you don't respond, I'm calling the police. By the time we arrived back in town, my heart was racing. Maybe Kyle is having dinner with Ben at our friend's house. Maybe he went on a daddy-son date at one of our favorite restaurants. So, I drove through the Fifty Coins parking lot...no car. Then, I turned into the CVS parking lot fully expecting to see him and Ben playing soccer at Ballard Park...no Kyle, Ben or car. At that point, I called our friend to ask if he was with them. She reassured me that he was probably just in the grocery store with no signal. Then...my world began to shatter...

My father called asking whether Ben was okay because daycare had called our house asking about him. I remember my heart beginning to race...what is he talking about??!! I drove out of the CVS parking lot onto Main Street, simultaneously dialing the daycare. As I spoke with them, my muscles automatically drove the car toward the police station. I asked the manager what was going on with Ben. The only thing I remember is the manager saying repeatedly "We don't know. Ben never came to daycare today." I anxiously yelled into the phone, "What do you mean never came to daycare??!!" She kept repeating over and over "I don't know, Lindsey. I don't know." As I hung up...that was the moment when reality coalesced. I rationalized two options: Kyle had never dropped him off and he was left in the car all day, or he had been kidnapped from daycare and his name was erased from their system. In the second option, there was a possibility I could find him. I would search forever for him! There is a chance he is alive.

But, as I hung up the phone, something inside of me knew. He was left in the car. I've heard about it every summer. It happened to us. I had no idea where to park at the police station, so I pulled over in the theatre parking lot across the street. Trying not to worry the girls, I told them everything was okay and to stay in the back seat of the car. This was the first panic attack I had ever experienced. I remember stepping out of the car and collapsing on the ground. My legs were shaking, and I couldn't stand. I could not form sentences correctly. Reality had all fallen away. I dialed our close friends to come get the girls at the police station and asked them to call my parents. I then called my closest friend in another state, leaving a message....something to the effect of I don't know what's going on, we can't find Ben, but I need you

I then gathered the girls from the backseat, reiterating that everything was okay and walked to the police station. I believe my comment walking in was something to the effect of "I'm Lindsey Seitz, is there something I need to know about my family? I can't find them." They are gone. I was ushered back to a private room where I was told by two police officers that there was a medical emergency involving my son, and they needed to get me to the hospital asap. I just wanted to know if he was alive or not. They could not relay anything more. I remember walking into the lobby to tell the girls that Ben was just sick and everything would be okay, but I had to go be with him (I want to be with him! Hold him!) and that a friend would come get them. They seemed fine, so I left with the police officers. 

In the police car, I remember they handed me a throw up bag. I wasn't going to throw up. I was speeding through Fairfield County trying to rationalize what had happened. Maybe Kyle picked Ben up and had a wreck on the way homeThey are okay, I'm sure. But, the ball had already begun to drop...I knew I had lost someone I cared deeply about. I was just putting it off. That is what the brain does. When we arrived in the hospital parking lot, I only saw police cars and police officers. As they walked me into the waiting room, people stared. As I walked down the hallway, I weighed the options If he was left in the car all day, he either passed away or is very sick from hyperthermia and will probably never be the same Ben again. Walking down that hallway, all I could think was I just want him alive, no matter his state. I simply want to hold him again. But, then a man greeted us (I am still not sure who he was), but his eyes were red from crying. I knew. Definitively. Ben is dead. And, they walked me through the hallway where the living lay into a room where I knew This is where they tell people.

And they did. Tell me. What I already knew. The ball dropped and my life shattered.

So, who am I today? How did I become "me"? At 6:11 pm on July 7, 2014, when I took the picture above, Ben had already passed away in the backseat of our car, my husband had screamed in the daycare parking lot and hit another car rushing him to the hospital, he had collapsed in the hospital waiting room...and our journey had started but without my knowledge or consent. 

I will never be the same. Call it trauma. Or grief. Or any word you want. But, it was the 30 minutes that changed my life. It taught me what it is like to give yourself to another person and lose them. To truly love and live...and lose. 

One of my best friends in CT told me last year she never shared our story with her other friends. It is like I am taking something from you. He is yours. It is your story. I can't share it with others, she said. She is right. I am damaged at this point. We don't have pictures of Ben up in our house yet. Father's Day was the first day I saved a picture of him as the background on my phone.  I rarely share our story with new friends and never share pictures or videos of him. He is that core to me. It is too much a part of me to share, no matter how much I want to open up. Pictures, this story...it is exquisite, painful, beautiful, pure love. And, this is why I am changed and can't go back.

Over the next few days leading up to July 7th, I will relive that day over and over. But, the only phrase that runs continuously though my mind is I love and miss you Benand I am so very sorry

 

Inside Out

[*Spoiler alert: This post may contain some spoilers from the movie Inside Out.] 

July 4, 2013. As usual, we spent the day with friends at Mamanasco Beach. Other pictures from that day show Kyle standing at the picnic table talking to friends, rocking Ben to sleep...all night long.

July 4, 2013. As usual, we spent the day with friends at Mamanasco Beach. Other pictures from that day show Kyle standing at the picnic table talking to friends, rocking Ben to sleep...all night long.

July 4, 2014. Fireworks got rained out, so we spent the night at our friend's house making the most of sparklers and laughter.

July 4, 2014. Fireworks got rained out, so we spent the night at our friend's house making the most of sparklers and laughter.

July 4th carries with it so many wonderful memories. July 4, 2012...a few weeks before I got pregnant with Ben, the weekend that I realized I wanted to quit my job at a big law firm in NYC to spend more time with my family. July 4, 2013...our first with Ben, representing our wonderful lazy days of summer spent at the neighborhood lake with friends. July 4, 2014...the last weekend I had with Ben, the weekend that I sat in the sand at the lake and thought Wow, I am finally truly happy, life is good, a healthy family, wonderful job five minutes from home, close friends that are like family, good marriage, it is perfect. I am so lucky. 

As I look back today, part of me feels like July 4th weekend somehow affected the events of July 7th...decisions made, or not made. I know it is just my grieving process. Some of the thoughts that cross my mind go like this: 

There was something about the rain. If it hadn't rained on July 4th...would events have been different? If there had been fireworks? If I hadn't worked so hard as an attorney while Kyle was a stay-at-home dad, would I have kept Ben at home on July 7th instead of sending him to daycare and the girls to Vacation Bible School so I could just have a couple of hours purely alone at the coffee shop to read a book? (I know he died as I was sitting there, drinking coffee, thinking, reading.) If I were perfect, if I hadn't struggled with postpartum depression where Kyle took over night duty feeding Ben so I could sleep 8 hours straight...would he not have been as tired that morning? If I hadn't begged Kyle to let me get a new dog after my 14-year old best friend Sheltie died on Christmas Eve the past year...the dog that added some extra stress into our life the morning of July 7th as we were rushing to get the kids out of the house on time...would Ben still be here? Is it my fault, not Kyle's? Is it anyone's "fault"? 

After Ben's death, I became intrigued by a variety of subjects and started researching concepts such as near death experiences, universal consciousness, neuroscience, histories of and commonalities between various religions (from Buddhism to Christianity to Islam), quantum physics, etc. One of the most interesting ideas I've read about came from The Fabric of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene. In layman's terms, he explains how, from a physics perspective, the past, present and future are simply illusions. “[E]vents, regardless of when they happen from any particular perspective just are. The all exist. They eternally occupy their particular point in spacetime,” he states. This means that history, potential futures, cause and effect - the "flow" of time that we consciously feel - these all are really areas of grey...not as clear cut as we all once thought. In my writing, I've explored a question of whether we can always, in some way, "sense" these moments that just are...if pain is too much to bear all at once, can we bear it a lifetime and never know it? Was there no cause and effect, but simply an event that was always happening or was to happen or had happened. Can a person grieve in reverse, early in life, so they can somehow stay strong when everyone else needs it in the future? Maybe my questions of "fault" don't even matter in reality...but my human brain and my need to grieve still struggle with those types of issues.

As you can tell, I'm living with a variety of emotions this July 4th and will probably for the rest of July and the summer. Part of my healing is accepting the fact that I can't be strong all the time. That I can wake up one morning and have joy, then experience a trigger that shakes me to tears, and it's all okay. You have to hold an emotion, feel it, then let it go. There is always a tomorrow with possibility for hope and happiness. Grief and tears are cathartic. 

We took the girls to see Inside Out yesterday. I loved the movie because it reiterated something I had just discussed with a friend over lunch. It is not human to be joyful all the time...it is simply not possible. Sadness and tears play a roll in life, as well. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to feel sadness and cry, sob, weep if you need, let the tears fall...in order for joy to return. And, part of that joy is the comfort that you feel from allowing others to surround you with love. To allow them to be empathetic and touch your wounded heart...even when all of your instincts tell you to push people away, avoid pain, avoid loving and losing again. To build walls because, if you don't feel, you can never be hurt again.

But, what if we only truly experience the mysteries of God and life and love when we live "Inside Out." What if all the answers we seek can't be found in the laws of physics, objects we can touch, or things we can learn or read about, in cause and effect, in one church but not others, in anything that we previously viewed as "reality." What if the "truth" can't even be described in words or concepts that we recognize, it simply can't be grasped by the human mind. Maybe you have to be turned upside down, inside out, feel pain through the deepest love, lose part of yourself and find it again, be broken beyond recognition only to pick yourself up and put yourself back together, different but still you. To have nothing left but just the core of an imperfect "you" and God and existence and the will to survive...because life is just that wonderful. I've struggled with the question of whether it is better to have loved so deeply and lost that which you loved that it tears you apart and turns you inside out. I still struggle with breaking through my walls and allowing myself to love or be loved again, in an effort to avoid the pain we have experienced. But, this July 4th, I'm thinking that it is so very much worth it. Without it, you never truly live. Maybe being turned inside out is God asking us to search for and find something greater than ourselves and the physical reality we see around us each day. For, grief is the most profound type of love. Today, I am okay with letting go and allowing myself to simply exist, even if I am living inside out.

Life As It Will Be

Just a few thoughts on grief to follow up on my post from last night. So, how does the morning look after a night like that, one where you unexpectedly find yourself sobbing and unable to breathe? It was a restless sleep for sure, and I'm fairly certain I told Kyle that I just wanted to lie in bed for the next week and not get up. I called a friend (in this time zone!). Then, I took something to help me sleep and laid in bed wide awake for an hour or so, soaking up the memories from last year when we had to do the same thing. I smelled our friend's house where we were sheltered for weeks and let the comfort of being there wash over me again...the comfort of being allowed to just fade away at night into an oblivion of sleep where there was no tragedy, no grief, no mountain to climb. But, we always had to wake up the next day and go on. You absolutely have to. You have to hug and snuggle your kids, allow new (and old) friends to be there for you, and move forward building a new future. So, like last summer, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run around the reservoir this morning.

It is hard to focus on the future at times like this. But, I think part of the grieving process is working through the past before you can move on into your future. I'm just now at the point of getting through the past and beginning to create a vision of the future ahead...without Ben and everything we cherished - our close friends, soccer, schools, teachers, community, work. But, I know there is a new reality, a new normal for us out there -- filled with much love, friendship, laughs, soccer tournaments, careers and community. It's just hard to see on some days.

A huge thank you to those who are supporting us right now and helping us create our new life.  

Life As It Was

June 30, 2014, playing at a restaurant in Ridgefield, CT with family and friends. I didn't know what the next week would bring, my Ben. I love and miss you! Thank you for the time you gave me. 

June 30, 2014, playing at a restaurant in Ridgefield, CT with family and friends. I didn't know what the next week would bring, my Ben. I love and miss you! Thank you for the time you gave me. 

Tonight, we enjoyed a wonderful U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer game with the kids and friends, in a venue with many memories from the “Ben days.” But, all I could think about was June 30th of last year. Where I was, how happy we were, what Ben was doing, how much time I thought we all had. How ignorant I was to take it for granted.

I finally got to text back and forth with a Connecticut friend. Now this isn’t just any friend. This was the person who had to be our rock in those first moments after Ben passed. These were our best friends, who knew Ben when he was just in my stomach, with whom we spent every weekend. What this friend doesn’t know is that I sit on my bed watching videos of Ben’s first crawling attempts on her floors, listening to her voice saying “Go, Ben, Go,” and we all clap.

When we got home tonight, I couldn’t help but just lie on the bed in Kyle’s arms crying and questioning….

Why can’t we all talk about pain? Friendship? And loss and grief? And the core of it all…love?

It's just too much, and we do it all in our own ways, in our own time. It breaks us in small ways if we deal with it head on, all at once.

But, pain, love and loss…maybe that is what let’s us know we are truly living. But, I don't want to know I am alive through this....I just want to hold and love my son.

In these days leading up to the one-year anniversary of his death. There is only one thought I have….

How could I not have known and saved him? It was the one day that I failed to text my husband and inquire about drop off at daycare. I could have kept Ben at home that day. I can't let go of that one moment, driving the girls to Vacation Bible School, when I actually passed his car on Main Street and wondered "how did he get to the coffee shop so fast?" I could have simply texted and asked...but my mind couldn't fathom the impossible as I passed the car, with Ben sitting inside. I simply thought "I misjudged when he left."

I’m so sorry, Ben. And, I’m speaking to all of our friends in Ridgefield, CT right now…I love and miss you. So very much it is beyond words. And, even more, I miss our life as it was. Those innocent beautiful days of last summer.

* Thank you to all my readers, who allow me to vent on this blog. It is my salvation. I do read your emails, and they give me so much renewed hope in humanity....they mean so much!

One Day...

I always thought, one day, I will figure it all out. The meaning of it all - of God, and you and me, and what is left when it is all gone. So, I searched. I pleaded in church pews and devoured books. I avoided the reality of evasive and unsatisfactory answers with the pure passage of mindless time, delving into pursuits that could fill the void of silence. One day, I thought, I will know God and what it all means. Then, I will have Become…me and what I am supposed to be.

But, I am beginning to believe that I may have been looking in all the wrong places. Last Thursday, I found myself dialing my mother, as I sat on the ground crying into the phone. I’m dealing with things now that I couldn’t last year, I said.

Like what, she asked.

I paused.

What has caused this feeling, of my soul lying outside my body? Of being torn apart, a pain that becomes painless?

It's just him, I said finally, it's just purely Ben - the essence of him and how much I love him and miss him. It is finally only about…him.

Last year on this day, I could touch him, and now I cannot.

 And I continued crying.

Through the tears, I began to wonder if God is in the places I have been avoiding. Possibly my search has been far off point. For instance, I’ve never been a “toucher”…I tend to avoid showing my emotions or letting others in. I avoid touch, and being touched by anyone I could truly love,

and lose.

It’s the braille of their body that gets me. What you can read through each caress, the energy pulsating through them, and if connected by touch, then on through me. It is the love of you are here, but, one day, you may not be. And, if I truly come to know you, love all of you, then the pain would be the kind that eventually becomes painless.

But, what if it is not as easy as I once thought, to find God? To find meaning? Maybe it is not in a church pew, or a book, or even in the dirt of the Earth. Maybe it is in the energy of all of them, together, flowing through the touch of you and me. And, what if you never truly live unless you have said the words it is just him and someone has said the same about you? What if that tearing outward of the soul, the painless pain is so simply the core of God, and you and me, that we almost miss it for it can be as gentle and quiet as a soft caress? And, what if that painful love is what is left when it is all gone? 

Concerts in the Park

Concert in Ballard Park, Ridgefield, CT June 17, 2014

Concert in Ballard Park, Ridgefield, CT June 17, 2014

A friend invited us today to join her family at a summer concert in the park here in Colorado. It is the second of the summer, and I haven't been able to make myself go yet. I know we should, I'm sure it is lovely and fun. I miss it. But, the memories are too strong right now. Tuesday night concerts in Ballard Park in Ridgefield were simply the best part of our summer. The kids looked forward to them all year. Summer 2013 brought baby Ben at the concerts lying on the blanket just taking in the sights and sounds. If we go to the concerts here, there will be an empty space, a gust of wind, a smell that brings back the Ben I held last summer. Laughing, running around the park holding his favorite toy, a ball, throwing it, giggling, picking it up and...all over again. There will be fireflies and glass jars, best friends, chatter, innocent children screaming and playing soccer, runs to the ice cream truck, dancing at the stage. All was well, all was love, all the time in the world....I just didn't know. How could I not have known and stopped the next few months? But, isn't that life...why this was so hard for most parents to swallow? We live most of our life believing we are in control. But, there is a reality that is hard to face -- we have them to hold, but we can never know when that day may come. That's why we have to live the life that fulfills us each and every day, love those close to us deeply and unconditionally, and never waste a moment. It's all too short. Those blue shoes in the picture...I searched for them for hours in preparation for the funeral. They were nowhere to be found until one day I located them at the bottom of our "escape route" suitcase. Something inside of me must have known...I needed to keep those with me. As I write this, I'm listening to a song that downloaded on my iPhone the weeks after his death. Those first weeks, I sat in our sunroom, writing, for hours on end, listening to music. It is Jason Mraz's version of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday." 

Yes, it is. I simply was not ready. 

Maybe next week we can cross the hurdle of concerts in the park. 

I love and miss you Ben!

Planet of the Golden Retrievers

Last Friday morning, a rough day with flashbacks. We just needed snuggles.

Last Friday morning, a rough day with flashbacks. We just needed snuggles.

A few weeks after Ben died, we had our first encounter with a service dog in training (to work with individuals with PTSD). We met him at Tazza, our favorite local coffee shop where we'd spent endless hours with Ben and our family friends. His owner gave us a card, and we later invited them to our house to share his gift with the girls. Then, the week after our Today's Show interview, Kyle and I were eating at a restaurant in the Danbury Fair Mall when I walked by a table and heard someone whisper "....she is....Today's Show." My first instinct was to hide because we had encountered so much negativity and gossip by that point. But, after we were seated a woman walked up to our table, introduced herself and told us she had seen the interview, respected us and was keeping us in her prayers. It was Jen Marr, the handler for Addie, a Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog that worked with Newtown families (see Good Morning America segment). She offered to bring Addie by to see my girls, which we gladly accepted. She is now a dear friend, and that one visit changed our life for the better. 

It was after feeling our intense anxiety melt away, if just for the moment we were petting Addie, that we began exploring the idea of getting a Golden Retriever. We found a breeder in California, and I knew it was a match as soon as she told me his name was Harley. He was bred for service work or simply to be a family dog. Next thing I know, in late September I found myself waiting in the cargo area at JFK to meet our new puppy. This is what greeted me: 

Meeting Harley at JFK Airport. "Hi!!! Are you my new mommy??!!"

Meeting Harley at JFK Airport. "Hi!!! Are you my new mommy??!!"

Over time, we learned that Harley had very distinct traits and gifts:

Giving and receiving love. Our family joke is that he is our lazy dog, inevitably quitting on us at the end of every hike, quietly lying down on the trail. Sometimes I think he needs us even more than we need him. He craves love, each and every minute of the day. He slowly stretches out on his side when he sees us walk toward him. “Just pet me,” he says. He is a dog that doesn’t bark but “mumbles”…it’s a low key growl-like sound (call it a "purr") that he emits whenever he is happy and relaxed. Now, don’t get me wrong, he musters enough energy to run or play with the kids each day, but he really exists simply to love and be loved, nothing less, nothing more.

Staying. Because of his laziness, Kyle loves to say he is Yellow Dog "guaranteed to never run away” (from the Chevy Chase movie, Funny Farm). When Goldens find their family, they stay. One day, our youngest daughter let him outside, not knowing the wind had blown the gate to our fence open. Twenty minutes later, our neighbor showed up on our front porch where Harley was sitting patiently staring at the door and waiting (not barking, of course). “I saw Harley sitting here on your front porch when I drove by and wasn’t sure if you knew he was out,” she said. He is not a runner, he is a “stayer.” I’ve read articles and wonderful blogs about how friends can help grieving families. There are many things you can do, but I can narrow it down to one of simplest yet most fundamental actions: Staying. There may be nothing to say or do; your friend may push you away only to come back again later. You may feel utterly helpless and in pain, but a simple message of “I’m here when you are ready” can mean more than you could ever imagine. Often there are no other words. I'm sure I have whispered amongst tears many nights, Just Stay.

Therapy. He senses stress, anxiety, sadness, depression. There have been days when I’ve come home, and he has absolutely attacked me….would not stop crawling all over me, giving me hugs, putting his face against my leg. Sometimes I don’t even know how stressed I am, until I realize he has sensed it. Then, I try to let go of the tightness in my chest. The picture above was taken last Friday morning. It had been a subtle trigger. I’d awoken to sun seeping through the slits in our blinds, then the breeze of the ceiling fan hit my face, blowing my hair. In an instant, I was taken back to a morning in our bedroom in Connecticut last summer, sun breaking through the thick tree cover, birds chirping, window fan circulating the fresh summer scent through our room. I was there again, breathing in the smell of our house and yard, humidity enveloping my body, waiting to check the monitor and see Ben playing in his crib, quietly waiting for us to get him up. But, this Friday, when my youngest ran into our room and I buried my face in her hair, yearning to smell our past life again, there was no crib, no Ben, no trip to the lake later that day. But, we had Harley. We needed some love therapy, and he was eager to give it.

Amidst the criminal and DCF investigations and court proceedings against us, Kyle made a statement that resonated with me: “You know, humans are going to destroy each other, and one day Golden Retrievers will rule the world.” Sometime I think he’s right. Humans fight and argue without even stopping to ask why, and Goldens, well, their only goal is to make it all better. Have you ever argued with someone and realized later it was because you loved them, not because you were angry or disagreed with them? I have. How counterintuitive, yet so utterly human, is that?

As for myself, I am still trying to learn how to simply...

love and allow myself to open up enough again to receive that same love in return. 

Lazy dog after a hike. "Just love me."

Lazy dog after a hike. "Just love me."



What The Eyes Say

June 28th, 2014, enjoying a day at Jones Beach for our oldest daughter's soccer tournament.

June 28th, 2014, enjoying a day at Jones Beach for our oldest daughter's soccer tournament.

Why don’t you look me in the eyes?
It was a legitimate question,
but she was a new friend,
who didn’t Know,
so I faltered.

How do you say….

The eyes are dangerous, and
in their reflection,
I cannot hide
Me,
and what I’ve seen,
touched,
heard and experienced,
who I’ve loved
and lost,

the Me that lives fully, deeply and passionately,
but is too scared to feel anything again,

the suffocating pain but
also the love, happiness and hope,
past, present and future.

The eyes are windows to
the soul, a place where I go alone, when nothing else is left,
the heart, where I carry the Ben that was,
and heaven, where I can still feel the Ben that is.

The eyes are sacred, because
they once held his steel blue gaze,
and they can’t let go,
but if you look,
I fear
he may disappear.

And, what would you see, in that reflection?
It's summer now, with
sunscreen,
sand,
heat, which is
simply
the Ben my eyes once saw -
his navy Hawaiian bathing suit,
shovel in hand,
giggles while digging in the sand;
the Ben my hands once touched –
applying the sunscreen to his soft skin,
wiping the curls out of his face
that last morning with a whisper
you’re too pretty to be a boy, I love you;
the Ben my ears once heard –
the first and last time,
the weekend before he was gone,
Mama, mama, mama

Mama (echoing forever)….

I fear you would hear him too.

My eyes would show you,
I’m right back there today,
and they would take you there too.
But, right now you are safe,
and you don’t have to know what I know,
that there can be beaches and smiles, then nothing,
and fear what I fear,
loving and losing,
Ben, and
the friends I held so close,
and right now, my eyes,
they would only reveal
the truth
that I can’t let anyone in again,
not quite yet,
for you don’t want to see,
what I have seen.

** I was not ready for what this first summer would bring. It hit like a unexpected tsunami. The first hot, sunny day we had in Colorado, a day at the pool, smells (sunscreen, water), sensations (the breeze), sights (a mother rocking her son, with a navy bathing suit, in the same position I used to rock Ben). It has been nine months since I’ve experienced a flashback and never one like this. At the pool today, all of those senses coalesced into one moment and my mind took me back to the weeks before Ben’s death, then the week after - I was at the beach with him, then I was at our friend’s house where we hid that first week. I smelled the comfort of her house. Then, I profoundly missed the friends I had to leave in Connecticut. It has been good for us to start anew, but sometimes I need those who experienced the trauma along with us, those who have had the same triggers with the heat these past few weeks, who sheltered us at their houses during breakdowns, who hugged me when I could do nothing else but sob.

A Life in Pictures

I don't look at pictures often. I assume it is a survival tactic. We haven't put pictures of Ben around our new house yet, and I don't carry one in my wallet. They cut to the core. When I break down and look through iPhoto, I smell him, feel his soft, innocent skin and curly blond hair, hear his laughter. It's too much of an emotional roller coaster for most days. 

During my writing session today, I was trying to describe a particular vision -- sleepy-eyed Ben in his alligator pajamas. I scrolled through iPhoto searching in vain, for it wasn't there. Then, my eyes stopped on the videos and pictures of him over July 4th weekend. It is beyond belief how happy we all were...loving, innocent, naive - so much time ahead of us for laughs, vacations, kindergarten graduation, soccer tournaments, snuggles, kisses. Then, as I scrolled down, the pictures jumped to blue flowers at his funeral. The space between those two sets of pictures is beyond my comprehension. Isn't it a basic human fear -- to go from A to Z in an instant and not understand how? To feel someone on a Sunday, then they are gone Monday. To hear giggles, and then they are only echoes in the wind. Maybe it is the pain in that space that holds something very integral to life and human existence -- how much we can truly and deeply love others and fear loss. To this day, that feeling still keeps me from making new connections with friends, opening myself up, or considering having another child. Is it better to love fully and risk the pain of losing that? I hold my girls tighter and tighter each day, now that I know....there can always be that space between pictures.

It is rare that I'm brought to sobbing, but pictures do it to me. It is painful to realize that all I have left is a life in pictures. After that quick glance today, I realized -- Ben in his alligator pajamas...that wasn't even a picture. It is a memory as vivid as life itself, hovering in my mind each and every day, an unfolding vision of the last moment I saw him, touched him, smelled him. I will always have the memories....

Yes, the pain of missing Ben is strong today. 

Intermittent Waterfall

Intermittent waterfall on the Intemann Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Intermittent waterfall on the Intemann Trail, Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Chiseled mountains,
worn thin and strong, by rivulets of
yesterday’s rain;
speckled rocks beneath our feet, glistening with memories,
earthy and jagged.

Our bodies move in unison with one shadow
to hide the secrets of
Silence, only breathing. And magpies soaring above,
crying.

Prominent red rocks lie contemplative in the distance,
emanating an energy from another time, another place,
where we will remain entwined.

Stenciling, my fingers (charcoal dark and strained)
trace the gentle curves of the ravine,
the dirt relinquishing pain with each touch.

A curtain of sunlight glides across the canyon, unveiling
a world glittering and alive,
pulsating waves of heat,
thick and thirsty with longing.

Ascending, cliffs hang loosely across the trail,
bridges, spanning the time and space between,
turning, he reaches for my hand;
I find comfort in relenting.

We vanish into a canopy of green, darkness
and the richness of the earth,
a soft relief, as our imaginations flirt
with possibility, a hidden sanctuary, where we
fly wingless, carried by the
scent of fallen spruce.

Ageless, we slide down rooted embankments,
two mud splattered bodies guided by the aching roar,
we land stained and pure;
water rushes overhead, violent and sensual,
a pounding pulse to soothe our pain, I slide my arms around his waist
and whisper I love you.

I turn away, guilty and shy, as the mist engulfs us.

 

 

* Kyle and I run together on local trails almost every day. We escape for an hour into a world of no judgment, no media, no trauma - just us. We feel far away from the real world, in a land of our own, where we can love and grieve and simply be ourselves. Last Monday, a friend told me about a hidden waterfall on the Intemann Trail. The next day Kyle and I trekked for an hour and a half in search of it. Our journey showed me, once again, the relief that can be found in simply forgiving and loving - loudly, purely and honestly. Isn't that what makes us human? We are imperfect beings, and one of our greatest gifts is the ability to give limitless love to one another. What a wonderful experience....

 

Lazy Days of Summer

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby 

This is me, around age 3 or 4, enjoying watermelon with family and friends.

This is me, around age 3 or 4, enjoying watermelon with family and friends.

After several weeks of torrential downpours, thunderstorms, hail and even snow, I awoke this morning to birds and sunshine. The girls are feeling it too. They were up fixing their breakfast before we could even make it downstairs. The house was abuzz and bursting with excitement for what exactly? The sense of freedom so close at hand? School is ending, no more tests, just reading days, parties and field trips. They can don their shorts, huge smiles on their faces, muscles twitching to run and play, laughter abounding. They know the summer is near. It is contagious.

Do you remember those lazy days of summer? For Mother’s Day, my mom gave me two large photo albums that follow my childhood from birth to high school graduation. The pictures take me right back to the deep South of my childhood. I feel the watermelon juice oozing down my chin as we snack at the campground; my hands and feet are wrinkled from swimming all day; the moonlight reflects off glass jars as I flit across the yard catching fireflies; I feel the breeze through the open window, allowing a symphony of crickets and tree frogs to lull me to sleep in my grandparent’s farmhouse. I am happy and invincible, no worries or concerns, no limitations…nothing but time on my hands.

I know the world has changed in many ways since my lazy days of summer in the 1980s, but I truly wish that same experience for my girls. I want them to be innocent, joyful, free  – they will have plenty of time to be serious as time passes. And, as I feed off of their energy over the next few months, maybe I can be a child again too. 

Conquering the Incline

View from the top of the Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado

View from the top of the Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado

I halfheartedly pulled myself out of bed early this morning to hike/run the Manitou Incline with a good friend. The Incline has become a famous local challenge – something you have to try once,  and you can wear as a badge of honor, if you conquer it. Athletes love to compare times, since it’s a great test of your fitness and mental determination. That being said, I run mainly for fun these days, so I was less than enthusiastic with the prospect of heading up to the Incline at dawn today for the 2,000+ vertical feet ascent in less than one mile.

While I was waiting for my friend to pick me up to drive to Manitou, I found an email sitting in my inbox from KidsAndCars.org with a link to the most recent hot car death of 2015 in Florida. As I read through the article, I experienced my normal emotional response to such triggers: flashbacks, rush of adrenaline, tears rising. But, this trigger was unique, as it brought on an overwhelming sense of empathy and pain in my chest for the child and parents, thinking of what they may experience over the coming months and years.

As I made my way up the Incline, I was stunned by the beauty of my surroundings. It was just me, the wilderness, my burning quadriceps and racing heart. I discovered that my previously untested “slight” fear of heights was actually more of a “substantial” fear of heights. Portions of the Incline are so steep that you have to bend forward to touch the next step in order to stabilize. At that point, I felt my heart start pounding, and I realized I could not look up, nor down, but only at the next step directly in front of me.

Trauma and loss are life-changing. I believe this is the reason I started writing again. Of course, writing has always been my passion and “who I am,” so in a way it has been a return to myself. But, it is also a way for me to deal with the pain in my chest that I felt earlier this morning. I cannot change last summer, the world, life and death; I cannot erase the pain of losing friends or life as we knew it altogether; I cannot escape the horrible memories from experiencing criminal and DCF investigations; I cannot make my life more normal again, nor can I keep others from experiencing loss and trauma. However, I can share this message: Life is beautiful. There is hope. You can survive.

From the earliest days onward, our trauma response changed from the acute symptoms of shock (and catatonia for Kyle) to generalized symptoms, such as increased startle reflexes, insomnia, inability to concentrate, and bouts of crying or agitation. If our brains became overloaded with stress, then they would simply shut down. At times we could not respond to simple questions from others: Mom, what store are we going to next? Gradually, our nervous systems began to heal, though they may never be the same as before July 7, 2014. We weaned off anti-anxiety and sleeping medications (down to just melatonin). There are still nightmares and times when our skin crawls, adrenaline rushes, or we jump from loud noises, bumps in the road or people touching us unexpectedly…but it has lessened in intensity and frequency over time.

I realized today that I have done (and continue to do) the work necessary to deal with Ben’s death and related events, so most of our days are actually full of laughter, smiles, and lots of hugs. But, there are still triggers. I warn new friends that they are walking around land mines because no one (including myself) can know what a trigger will be. Riding or sitting in a hot car, seeing flashing police car or ambulance lights, hearing babies crying, or visiting hospitals. Super Bowl commercials with fathers and children. A random story about a child who suffered a heart attack. This morning, reading the article about the hyperthermia death in Florida. My visit to Connecticut for Ben’s birthday. The trauma reaction now consists mainly of flashbacks and a rush of emotions. So, I just take a moment, bring my mind back to the present and get through it.

Today the Incline was my mountain of recovery to conquer. At the beginning, survival starts very simply. You cannot look backward and you cannot look forward, you have to look at the next step in front of you, lift your legs and sometimes nearly crawl. You get out of bed and take a shower. You let people in, don’t push them away. Hold onto what’s good and real. You go to therapy, stay healthy and breathe. Take medication if you need it. Step by step.

We have thankfully avoided, by sheer will and a lovely, little pill, anything more than normal (under the circumstances) bouts of depression on rough days, but I’ve experienced my share of depression in the past. And, though it never reached this point for us, many individuals who have experienced a vehicle-related hyperthermia accident (or any other type of loss or trauma) do become severely, dangerously depressed and hopeless. I think this was the root of the pain in my chest this morning. We’ve made it closer to the top of our mountain, so we can see beauty in the world again. But, it hurts to remember what it was like to be on that first step, looking up.

For anyone facing loss, grief, or trauma – just know that you can survive, love, and live again.

One step at a time.