Driving home from the Walgreens pharmacy tonight after picking up my migraine medication and the antibiotic for my sinus infection. The song “I’m Still Standing” came on the radio, one of my favorite songs by Elton John. I turn it up full blast and belt it out. And I think to myself about this past year… I am survivor. Truly, this year was about surviving. I never really knew what that meant until I’ve lived through it. Just making it through each day. And what a success it is to be where I am today. I thought about all the people who have supported me and not judged the choices I have made. I thought about every act of kindness shown to my family these past 13 months, big and small. I thought about the small changes in the thinking of many people I know about suicide and what that means. I thought about this house that we built. Where my kids will grow up and make new memories and be happy.
The kids and I went to the cemetery last week and noticed lots of headstones with poinsettas and wreathes. So we picked up some decorations at the party store (anything sparkly and “Christmas-y”) and decked out his headstone followed by a dance party to “Uptown Funk” (yep, right there in the middle of the cemetery). Because while there is a time and place to be sad, there is also a time to celebrate Mark’s life and rejoice in the time we had with him. There will not be a single day that passes where we won’t wish he was here and miss him like crazy. But I hope I am teaching my kids what it’s okay to be happy and live life to the fullest. We are all survivors. We are all still standing when life tried to knock us down. And suddenly, I am looking forward to our Christmas holiday and the new memories we will make this year.
Should I continue with this blog? Is anyone still out there? Happiest of Holidays to you and yours. I can honestly say I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store for me!
So I did it. I took my ring off today, never to put it on again. It’s been on my mind a while and I knew I would do it someday. I kept thinking how I want to start fresh in 2015. In a lot of ways, keeping my ring on was holding me in the past. It was making it really difficult to truly move forward. And I was okay with that. There are lots of ways in which I don’t want to move forward. But it’s not something I have a choice in. I know that if I’m ever to truly have a happy life, I am going to have to force myself to take these steps to move forward.
All day I have touched that empty place on my finger… it feels so naked without a ring. For some people, it may not be a big deal, but I was an every day, all day kind of ring wearer. So not having it on after over 12 years is a strange feeling. It makes it more real knowing I am “single.” At some point I like to think I can entertain the idea of meeting someone. It does get lonely and the thought of being single for the rest of my life makes me really sad. It is not an easy road I have ahead of me, but I can choose to make the best of it. I am looking forward to really beginning this “new life” in 2015. Like so many others, it seems like the perfect time to make my life what I want it to be. And I am 100% certain Mark would want me to be happy… now I just have to find out how to make that happen…
So it’s a pretty crappy time of year. Which makes me really sad because this used to be my very favorite time of year. People are posting pictures on Facebook about how joyful they are and the magic of Christmas. It’s just not in my heart this year. And that makes me so sad. A few months ago, I was contacted by a man letting me know that a family had nominated us for Tinley Wish. “What’s that?” I asked. Well, it is sort of like Make a Wish on a lesser, local level. After a moment of hesitation, I said, sure, we can be nominated. Long story short, after it was put to the board, we were selected to receive this gift. I have to be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable. I hate feeling like we are receiving charity when really we don’t need it. I know there are so many others out there who have it much harder (financially) than we do. And then I had a realization. Not all burdens are financial. Our burden is emotional. And that is the burden that Tinley Wish lessened for us this holiday season. The joy on the kids faces when Santa pulled up in a Dodge Viper (thanks, Bill) as the parade of firetrucks and police cars and motorcycles came through was priceless. And the gifts… oh man, the gifts. It took the kids an hour to open them all. Everything you could ever imagine and a basketball hoop and a swing set… I could go on and on. Plus a ton of gift cards to spread throughout the year. I am beyond grateful. All because there are people who care about other struggling families in their community. I am so thankful and I am certain this was an experience none of us will ever forget. Definitely brought joy to a time of year when, sadly, it isn’t easy anymore to feel joyful.
And then Sunday… kids were out with my mother-in-law for a Christmas party. I was doing okay, doing the annual tradition of wrapping presents, listening to my Christmas tunes. I wasn’t even feeling sad, just ready to be done wrapping! Then I pull out a gift bag. I am a re-user and I notice a sticky tag on the corner. “To: Mark From: Bill”… and that’s all it takes. It all comes flooding back. I remember what we are missing again this Christmas. Thinking about what was in that gift bag from one brother-in-law to another. And I sit, take a moment and I am sad. But as usual, I don’t let myself sit there long. Too much to do and not enough time in the day. I finish my wrapping, take a quick shower, and 20 minutes later, kids are home. I squeeze them extra tight because I know what they wish they could have for Christmas. And no matter how hard we want it, we will never get what we truly wish for.
So I bit the bullet and our family finally got a pet! She is an (almost) 2 year old shih tzu mix we adopted from a shelter. The kids have been bugging for a LONG time to get a dog, and well, now with more space and a huge yard, how could I say no? Plus, she is already house trained which was a big one for me. She’s been in our house just 2 days, but she is adjusting quickly. She has definitely become my little shadow, following me around wherever I go. Last night I let her sleep on the floor in my room instead of making her go in the crate. She did well, tried to come in my bed around 1:15am (she had been with a family who let her sleep in the bed!), then again at 3:40am to go out. All in all, I really can’t complain! She seems like she will be a great little addition to our family. I am hoping in some ways she can help us all heal some more in our process. How can you not be happy when you see this little face??
So the kids and I went and took family pictures. It didn’t really bother me like I thought it might. The kids had a blast and the photographer was amazing. I absolutely LOVE all the pictures she got of my kids. There are a few that have me in them too that I like. However, it is still hard for me to accept that THIS is my family picture. See that spot right above B? That is where Mark should be. How complete would it look with him standing right there in a tan sweater and his brown Kohl’s shoes? I live my life learning how to force our family to feel complete when it’s not. This photo is another reminder of what is missing in our lives. I am so thankful for every minute with these kids, and even though I don’t want to be a family without Mark, we are. And while I look at this picture and see what is missing, I also look at it and see what is there. A strong family who love each other more than I could ever put into words. We were already close, but losing Mark has made us appreciate each other in a way that I hope you never have to understand. While the pain is deep, so is the love. And those little faces are pretty darn cute to boot 😉
Here I am, sitting at Panera enjoying a cup of (decaf) coffee without someone asking for a cup of water or to help them turn on a show. Being a single mom is exhausting. When things need to get done, I am the one to do it. Kids need help with homework, mom will help. Bath, brush, bedtime? Mom again. I love being a mom and I LOVE my kids. But I also love this “me” time. Last summer, I committed to getting a babysitter once a week. Sometimes I make plans, and other times, like tonight, I don’t. I usually just bring my kindle somewhere, get a cup of coffee, and sit and relax. Not think. Not feel. Just veg out. Because the other 6 days and 20 hours of the week, I have to be “on” and I have to think and Lord do I have to feel.
I remember when I first started going to counseling one week after Mark died. My main concern and a big portion of my time was spent talking about the kids. It still is. I remember her telling me that kids grieve differently than adults. It is not linear. They can go from full on heartwrenching pain to playing in minutes. It doesn’t seem to linger like it does for adults. If it’s not at the front of their minds, they can go through their days easily and happily (thank God). Unfortunately, I got a taste of this last night.
Anyone who regularly reads my blog knows that my son B has had a hard time talking about his feelings about Mark dying. He is getting older now (will be 7 in January!) and I think he is processing more and more. So last night he was acting strange (his “acting out” emotion is anger, so I know when the anger doesn’t match the situation, something is going on). He tells me he misses daddy so much. He should still be here. “I just want him to play baseball with me. I can never hear him say ‘I love you’ at night.” I wish I didn’t, but I cry every time, right along with them. We get it all out. I am left thinking, “is he going to be okay? Did I say the right things? How can I make this better?” And he’s onto cartwheels with his sister. I (again) let him sleep in her bed because it brings him comfort. And she is the best big sister and loves to be that source of support.
So he has moved on, but I am still here thinking about how I will make it better for them. What I can do to assure them that daddy loves them and yes it’s not fair. By far the hardest part of this grief is seeing the kids hurting. I would do ANYTHING to take away their pain. This event is shaping who they will become. I hope I am doing what I can to make sure it is for the better.
So happy November is over. Sadly, I think it will be a rough month for me for many years to come. It was pretty awful, which is sad because there are so many great things during the month. The past week was really hard. No special reason. Nothing really happened or didn’t happen. Yes, it was E’s birthday (she turned 9!) and yes it was Thanksgiving. But ON those days I didn’t even really think about Mark. Maybe it was there, simmering under the surface even if I didn’t know it. Ugh, I hope it’s not always this painful.
I had one particularly bad night. Just missed Mark SO much. It is crazy how it can just hit out of nowhere and then there is nothing you can do but be sad. I am thankful the feeling has settled a little bit and I can once again function and get things done. Today I had a terrible migraine. I took 3 of my Imitrex until it finally subsided, but pretty much all day it was there, literally a pain in my neck! I got nothing done. Laundry is still unfolded in the dryer, clean dishes waiting to be put away. Kids are having mac and cheese for dinner. Just like my physical ailment, mental illness can be debilitating too. It is so sad to me how misunderstood mental illness is. And how one who is suffering from a mental illness is expected to just “get over it.” Guess I should have just “got over” my migraine today, too. It truly is a disease and I am understanding that more and more.
Anyways, now that I am somewhat settled and Christmas decorations are up, it is on to preparing for the next big holiday without Mark. While it is our second Christmas without him here, last year is such a blur that I feel like in some ways this year will be even harder. E told me she doesn’t want to wake up Christmas morning in this house. She wants to go to our old house. I wish we could wake up to a “normal” Christmas morning, too, but that isn’t going to happen. We are creating our new normal. I told my mom I want to go somewhere for Christmas (and if it wasn’t so darn expensive I would!) just so we don’t have to be here. I saw that posted in blog I follow of a widow on how to cope with holidays after loss. Try travelling! I see why that could help. Change of scenery and all that. So, instead of gifts this year (okay, just a FEW gifts) I am taking the kids downtown for 2 nights on Christmas day. I think the change of pace will be good for all of us and we can enjoy the holiday in a place that doesn’t always make us realize who is not with us. Hopefully each year, Christmas will get a little easier than the last…