Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Acceptance and Anticipation

It's been 5 months since I last spoke to Dude on the phone. It's been nearly 5 months since I called the police and 12 hours later received the horrific news. Since April 3rd, I have had what I have dubbed "the triple threat nightmare" only once. To protect Dude, our family and our friends, I won't share the details of "the triple threat nightmare". You'd rather not know, anyway.

I can't count how many times since we've received the news, I've remarked to our family and friends that I feel like we are living a nightmare.

"We are", they reply.

Oh, right. We are. But, we won't wake up from this nightmare. It's reality.

Hate is a strong word, but I think it is appropriate for this situation. I hate that Dude was in so much pain. I hate that he felt that leaving the world forever was the best option. I hate that all of our valiant efforts failed. I hate that this is now a part of my life and will be forever.

I don't blame myself. I did everything I could. I loved him and was there for him. I hate that this is my new reality, but I have to accept it.

Acceptance means I can no longer pretend that he is away and is going to come back. He is dead. Gone and not coming back. Acceptance brings sadness.

I miss him. I miss his touch. I miss our conversations. I miss spending time with him. I miss making realistic plans and pretending that one day we will fulfill our wildest dreams. I miss our "play fights to practice our lawyer skills". Yes, we are kind of nerdy and really did this. He actually still owes me a cupcake because I won the last one. I even miss the bad times. Things weren't perfect. I won't even pretend that they were. Sometimes they were very hard. But, they were real.

Now, this nightmare is real. I live in a new reality and am learning what it means to adjust to that and fully and truly live within it. Part of adjusting is dealing with the anniversaries, birthdays and holidays.

Dude's birthday is one week from today and I am already anticipating how I will feel. The only thing I know for certain is that I will go to the cupcake shop by my condo and get a free cupcake. He would expect me to celebrate with a cupcake and would be so proud of me for getting it for free! 

I've been anticipating his birthday for days, and I've realized anticipation doesn't help anything. Throughout this journey, I've been advised to take it one day at a time. It makes sense. You can only walk one step at a time. Anticipating your steps doesn't get you anywhere! You have to actually take a step to move forward. Anticipation only makes you stuck. Taking steps moves you further than you were before.

I didn't choose this path. I am forced to walk down this road. I don't like it, but I accept it.

I just can't believe I have to.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The first four months

Over the last four months, I've learned the following things about grieving the loss of my best friend (in no particular order):
  1. It will hurt so bad that you will feel like you are going to die. 
  2. You will never take your own life. You don't want others to ever have to feel this pain.
  3. Focus on God. He is there.
  4. Crying (and laughing) can be an excellent ab workout!
  5. You will, for once in your life, be at a loss for words.
  6. The human body has an amazing ability to keep on going. Most of the time, you are really thankful for this. 
  7. Open up to your friends who understand. Share your emotions and be honest.
  8. It will hurt and terrify your parents to see their child in so much pain. Their reaction will be to try to protect you from this pain. You can't and don't want to be protected from the pain, so you will get frustrated.
  9. There will be people, even your closest friends, who don't understand this. Be patient with them. You don't want anyone to have to understand this.
  10. Resist the urge to cane the people who say the following inappropriate comments. Instead, just laugh.
    1. Get over it and move on
    2. I don't understand why this is such a big deal!
    3. Why on earth would you spend so much time and energy on someone so sick?!
    4. Death happens. It'll happen again.
    5. You can relax now. It's over
  11. It's OK to eat ice cream and cupcakes and Mike and Ikes and then totally regret your decision. If Dude was here, he'd eat half of what you attempted to eat, and you wouldn't have gained so much weight!
  12. You are amazed by people who care so much. 
  13. You are a bit startled by some people who don't seem to care or remain silent.
  14. You will make some new friends through this.
  15. Grief is the price you pay for loving someone so deeply.
  16. Appreciate all of the small gestures -- a home-cooked meal, a text that says "I love you", a song, a poem, a phone call -- anything and everything makes a difference
  17. Be sure to tell your friends who have been there for you in this aftermath just how much you appreciate them.
  18. Lean into the pain, experience it, and know that it will get better
  19. Listening to Dude's voicemail does not make you sad; it's comforting.
  20. Joining a support group makes a big difference.
  21. You will not have much energy to initiate contact with people, but if they contact you, you feel so loved.
  22. Keep every card and message people have sent you during this time. They serve as reminders of how much Dude was loved and how much you are loved.
  23. Ask for help and accept help offered to you.
  24. You will forget absolutely everything and feel like you are going crazy. Your memory will return in time. 
  25. Uncle Brian told you to work out because it will make you feel better. He was right! And, the exercise helps prevent weight gain from grief indulgences. BONUS!
  26. You are not responsible for another person's actions. You did everything you could.
  27. Talking to Ava is incredibly relaxing.
  28. Matt's laugh makes your heart swell because it is identical to Mike's.
  29. You have completely lost your ability to spell. Jer beats you by 800+ points in Scramble...but you love to play Scramble with Jer.
  30. You are stronger than you think and will get through this.
  31. Don't worry about forgetting Dude. You never will.
  32. Avoid beating yourself up for thinking you are not progressing fast enough. Counselors remind you that you will not "snap out of this".
  33. Do something you have always wanted to do - no matter how crazy it sounds to some people!
  34. Wine is such a gift -  Just not too much, too often.
  35. Remember how much Dude loved you and how much you loved him.
  36. You will truly live again!
  37. You will see the world differently from now on.
  38. You have the coolest, kindest, smartest, most amazing guardian angel.
  39. When you get to heaven Dude will be just as excited to see you as you will be to see him.
  40. Until then, live, laugh and love!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wanna climb mountains?

The Olympics may be over, but the challenges at the gym continue! Fitness Together (FT), the personal training studio that I belong to, has been having monthly challenges. A few weeks ago, I won the bronze medal in the push-up competition! That's right! Line up to get your tickets to the "gun" show! But, until then, why don't you join me in climbing mountains?

Now, I know what you are thinking. Jess, you hate camping, so why on earth would you be interested in mountain climbing?! And, you have so much going on, how do you think you are going to have time to climb a mountain? And, aren't you having surgery soon? Mountain climbing is not something you should probably be undertaking right now!

I am not talking literal mountain climbing! I could probably only do that in my dreams! The United Cerebral Palsy Association is having a challenge where you "virtually" climb mountains. This is an association that I jump to support since I have CP. UCP is forming teams all over the world for a suggested donation of $25. The way it works is that you wear a pedometer for the month of September. The pedometer tracks all of your movement and UCP has set step limits for mountains all over the world. I don't have many details yet, but my goal is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro! Hey, it's the closest I'll ever get to doing it for real!

All non-FT members will get one free session for participating. FT is a wonderful personal training studio and my trainer, Jen, is phenomenal!
 There she is when she won "Trainer of the Month" last month! She deserves it every month, if you ask me!

I don't have a picture of me doing push ups, but I do have this one of me slamming ropes.
I'm trading in these ropes for some that will help me "scale those mountains"!

If you are interested in participating, just contact me! You don't have to live around here to participate in the challenge.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The perils of summer in DC

  August in DC is a relatively peaceful time. Congress is not in session, so a lot of 
people go on vacation. Traffic is lighter and there is a general calmness around the 
city. Even though all of the politicians have exited the city and returned to their hometowns for a bit, the same cannot be said for the tourists. While there are not as many as there are in the early summer months, they are still here, soaking up a bit of history so their kids can sound smart and report on something fun, exciting and educational during their summer vacation.
Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about living in the DMV. DC truly is a beautiful and exciting city and I am blessed to call it home. There is so much diversity (of more than just race) and if you get bored in DC, it’s your own fault! But the biggest tradeoff to the beauty and the action are the tourists. They crack me up!
Neon is trendy these days, but when you see a drove of teenagers in neon green shirts coming straight at you, your first thought is not to comment on how on trend they are. Your “fight or flight” instinct kicks in. You immediately decide whether you are going to push your way through this inquisitive group of students wearing shirts the color of slime who are not paying one bit of attention to the fact that you are trying to get down the same side of the street they are, or if you are going to try to make a beeline to the other side of the street.  You execute your big escape only to discover that on the other side of the street are a group of senior citizens on a leisurely stroll! SIGH.
Let’s just talk about tourist attire for a second. If you are a man, your khaki shorts and short sleeve shirt are just fine, but you look sort of ridiculous with 3 cameras around your neck, knee high white socks pulled all the way up, your perfectly white tennis shoes that you probably bought just for this trip, and your fanny pack. I know you are trying to be comfortable and I don’t blame you, but don’t you want to look nice in your photos? You look like you are struggling with all of that stuff! Now, I understand, your wife probably told you to carry all of it, so I shouldn’t judge you.  And, the thought of looking fashionable in your photos never occurred to you! But, lighten the load and jazz up the outfit a little bit for the photo op! Then you can resume being a pack mule.  And, your wife, who is wearing those shoes designed to help you lose weight makes me nervous. Those shoes make you slightly off-balance and there is lots of uneven payment in the DMV. She may end up with a broken ankle instead of a few pounds lighter. Just warning you!

And, there should be a tutorial in the Metro for the people new to DC public transportation. First of all, locals have some serious beef with Metro. You’d think the nation’s capital would have a stellar transportation system, but sadly, it gets worse everyday!! The tourists don’t make the experience anymore pleasant. Your ticket goes in the front and pops out the top! It is hilarious to watch tourists get completely confused by this fact. They put the ticket in the front and then stare at the slot for the ticket to be returned back to them. Poor things don’t realize if they just look up, they can retrieve their ticket and be on their merry way….if Metro is on time, not doing track work or breaking down somewhere!!
I travel a lot, so I am positive locals of other cities or countries get the same kick out of me making my way around their city! But, I will say, after spending 30 years observing DC tourists, I am more conscience of my behavior and my outfits…I try to be fashionably comfortable. Heaven forbid, a picture be ruined because I or someone in my family looks completely hideous in it! But regardless of you how look or behave, we’re happy to have you and happy to see you go! Welcome to DC – now get out of the way, I’ve got places to be!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear – CS Lewis
Anyone who has experienced profound loss knows that this quote rings all too true. The moment death strikes, fear takes a hold of you.
The fear that my life is ruined forever.  At the very least, it is marred by this suicide and that will never go away.
The fear that I will not recognize myself at the end of all this. I know I will be forever changed, but what does that look like?
The fear that God has forgotten about me because now I feel left behind.
The fear that I will never find someone who understands me the way Dude did.
The fear that others will forget about Mike or only remember him for how he died.
The fear that I will be forced to forget about Mike and shove half my life in a closet as if it didn’t exist.
The fear that people will distance themselves because they don’t know what to say and I will not feel loved.
But, most fear, although real, is irrational.
If Mike could respond to this, he’d say:
Your life is not ruined forever. I told you I wanted you to be happy and wanted all of your dreams to come true. Keep praying and know that Jesus wants you to be happy and for your dreams to come true, too. His hand is on you and I am watching over you.
How many times have I told you that you are beautiful, amazing, kick-ass and strong? You will always be those things.  You will see the world differently, but that’s not bad. Perhaps you will be able to help others through this experience.
God has not forgotten about you. He has you in the palm of His hand. Trust me when I say you need to trust Him. I hang out with Him everyday, He’s got you!
I know you feel a tremendous loss because we were best friends and had so much fun together! But you should see your husband! He is PHENOMENAL. You can thank God (and me because I helped pick him) later.
JB,  Remember the song we used to sing with Grams? “Unforgettable, that’s what you are…” It applies to me, too. You can tuck our memories in your heart and move forward. I know you are going to take your time, but you will get there and your life will be even more awesome!
Whenever you feel lonely, look at every note people sent you. Call on Mary. God sent her to you to help you.  Remember my last words to you. You are loved.

And God says,

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD because He cares for you.

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

And then it doesn't seem so scary anymore....

Saturday, August 18, 2012

To my godmother


I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to you on Friday night. Had I had the opportunity, this is what I would have said to you. My mom and dad came back from visiting with you and said your eyes were as beautiful as ever and your smile lit up the room. I don't doubt it.

I will always remember looking like the most stylish kid on the block thanks to hand-me-downs from Katie. Thanks for buying "us" such fashionable clothes.

One of the best New Year's Eve's was spent at your house. As soon as the clock tolled midnight, you got out the pots and pans and starting banging on them to ring in the new year!! Then you gave each of us party hats and noisemakers and we all made quite a raucous! I'm pretty sure my dad and Jeff were thoroughly embarrassed at the shenanigans, but you were life of the party! For years after that (and even now), I remind my parents just how boring they are sometimes and that we should celebrate the way you do.  From now on, I might have to bang some pots and pans just for you!

In addition to being my godmother, you and Jeff were my legal guardians. When things seemed "rough" and unfair over here on Cambridge Road, I proudly proclaimed that I was going to go live with you guys! Life was surely going to be fun over on Brian Jac Lane.  You traveled to fun places, had Laddy (We have had two Westies thanks to Laddy), and when we went out to dinner at the Chinese restaurant with y'all, all of the kids got the pupu platter! Sweet! Except the snakes....OH the snakes....I wouldn't "welcome" them as you all did.

I still remember the last time I saw you. You, Jeff, my parents and I went out to dinner at Reston Town Center and we just had a great time. This weekend has been a wonderful opportunity to see Katie and Matt. It has been a long time since we got to spend time together, but I hope we get more fun opportunities in the future.

At your funeral today, (It was such a beautiful tribute to you) the minister talked about how you really liked the verses about Jesus preparing a room for you in His house. Even though I threatened to run away to Brian Jac Lane on many occasions, I never moved in. It's different now, Linda. The next time I see you, I will get to live with you --- in our forever home.

Just one question -- Do they have pupu platters in heaven?

We all love you and will miss you dearly.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Talk to the hand

Over the last four months, I've done a lot of work on dealing with my grief. Some people give helpful advice, and some mean well but just can't understand. That's fine. I don't want anybody to ever have to understand this! One of the best grief illustrations was given to me by a friend. She said at the moment you experience such a profound loss, your vision is clouded by grief as if someone put their hand in front of your face. As time goes on and healing begins, that hand moves farther away from your face. However, for quite a long time, you see the hand. Sometimes it is all you can see. It's as if you see the world through fogged up, grief filled glasses. When I am talking to someone who cannot, in some way, relate to this loss, I feel like I am asking you to talk to my hand. I am trying to listen, but my mind is focused on the loss.

Although I was keenly aware of Mike's illness, I never expected him to take his own life. All of a sudden, the man with whom I shared secrets, hopes, dreams, inside jokes, laughs and tears was gone. The bond that could not be broken was traded for a broken heart. I used to think dying of a broken heart was an overblown exaggeration, but in those initial weeks, my only prayer was that my heart would keep beating - that I would live and carry on Mike's spirit. But there were times when I was certain my heart could not withstand the pain and I would be joining Mike in heaven sooner than I wanted. For the most part, that physical pain has subsided and now there is empty space where the pain once was. A big hole.

I'm still learning that I need to have patience with myself. I need to remember that because of this loss I will not be the same again, but the efforts I've put towards my grief will be rewarded in the end. I will go beyond surviving to living -- living life to the fullest just how Jesus and Mike want me to live. Right now, I am not there. I get frustrated with myself because I have not fully celebrated friends' birthdays, new babies and weddings. Normally, I would be their loudest cheerleader, but lately one pom-pom is all I can manage to raise.

My friends from college and Ava, Matt and Jeremy have been incredible support in this journey. Today when I proclaimed to Charlie that I sucked as a friend, he brought me back to reality. Charlie reminded me that I am doing what I can to make myself a better person for my friends in the future; that you must secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, and just because the bag doesn't inflate, doesn't mean the oxygen isn't flowing. Charlie reminded me that right now I am adjusting and need to take the time (however long) to do that. Some of my friends just let me talk in circles and cry. I know it is impossible for them to understand a word I am saying through the tears, but they listen through my blubbering. As time goes on, the tears are not as frequent, but our bond has been strengthened. We are united in this grief and determined to make it through. We are committed to living life with the zest that Mike did.

So, if I haven't called you lately or if I seem distracted when I am talking to you, "the hand" is blocking my view. One of the lessons I have learned from all of this is that sometimes you are not in the position to take care of others, but you need others to take care of you. It's not that I don't want to talk to you or I don't want to do something fun. In fact, it's just the opposite. I would love to spend time with you on the phone or in person. I just have trouble initiating the contact right now. 

Counselors and friends have advised me to write down my feelings throughout the journey. At first, I thought about keeping them in a private journal. However, as I've been doing my grief work, I have stumbled upon blogs where people have chronicled their feelings through a loss and they have been so helpful for me to understand I am not alone in the way I am feeling. Consequently, I will post about grief probably once a week. Don't worry, I also have more fun posts, but if you know someone these might help, please pass them along.

Dude, miss you more. Promise. ;-)

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