I Miss You

I haven’t written about her here in a while, a long while, to be honest…and while part of that can be a testament of how time works in healing wounds, part of it is also because I haven’t been able to make coherent thoughts lately, let alone -words. One thing I have never been able to do is look at pictures that are, perhaps, close to the time of when she died. I can look at the pictures from the year before, months before even. But pictures that are close to the time when she died? I can’t bring myself to do that. I just can’t.

Last night I was looking through some old photos -trying to find one of Dylan when he was younger, because as you may have guessed, I can’t look at any recent pictures of him either, when a picture fell out that made me pause to catch my breath. In the quiet darkness of the night I held what is perhaps that last picture I ever took of her.

A picture of her in all her ornery glory. Her grin, her hair, the scratch on her chin that followed her to her grave. All of it was there. In one black and white image that I have never looked at or posted before. I took a few minutes to memorize the details before putting it back in the small folder that holds the hard copies of the very few pictures I have of her. Two years does not present a lot of opportunities for pictures. I have very few pictures of her…what ones I do have, I hold very close.

It’s been an incredibly difficult eleven years. I miss her more this year than perhaps in years past. I couldn’t tell you why -perhaps it is because the wounds have been opened and the grief of losing another person is fresh. I don’t know. It is different, this missing. It isn’t that soul scraping pain that feels as if you will be hollowed out from the inside out, but rather a dull ache that something…someone…is missing.

Small glimpses of her remind me of all that I am missing. I had a very few short years with her -and while for them I am grateful, I am constantly reminded of all that I lost out on. All that I am missing. All that I don’t have. While I try to remain positive and look at what I do have -I can’t help but look longingly over my shoulder at what was. What will never be.

Life moves on, and with it, I have no choice but to move on as well.

But sometimes I must pause and acknowledge that dull ache. I must acknowledge that I loved her, love her, and always will love her. That the pain is there for a reason, the memories are not for naught, that she did exist, that the hole in my heart will always be there -as a small reminder, a token. To what was. What always will be…but what never shall be again.

I miss you.

In His Absence

These are new grounds for me, this helping a child navigate grief. More specifically, helping an autistic child who is non-verbal, navigate grief. I don’t know how much he understands, or what all he really comprehends about the whole situation. I don’t know what questions he has, or what he is feeling. I don’t know what is going through his mind. I don’t know if he is experiencing the normal stages of grief -or if he is handling things in his own way -the way he does everything else.

I just don’t know.

I watch him, carefully, for some sort of clue. I look in his eyes when the opportunities arise, I watch him carefully open the containers that hold the items I have packed away. I watch him look through, selecting one or two things before hiding them away under his own bed -where he puts his most beloved treasures. I wonder what is going through his mind. If he wonders if he is next. If he wonders why his best buddy is suddenly just gone. Didn’t they have something special? Wasn’t he supposed to be there for ever and a day?

What goes on inside his mind -is beyond me. I try my hardest. I really do. I understand the importance of body language and tones. I know from the way he screams if he is happy or upset. I know from the way he twists his arm if he is frustrated or just tired. I know that when he starts picking at his eyes and hair that he is having a hard time understanding something. That he is frustrated. I know that when he slides under his bed -he doesn’t want to deal with people. That he wants to be left alone.

I know that he won’t eat in public, that he prefers to go with no pants and that he is his happiest when he has space to be himself without interference. But I also know that the bond he and Dylan had was something that can never be replaced and something that will always leave a hole. I know that he used to wait by the window, watching and waiting. That he followed Dylan around like a lost dog, that the small bits of favor that he showered on him went much further than any other action. He would do just about anything to be with him, to be acknowledged by him.

I know that if he could, or did, speak -he would have said that when he grew up he wanted to be just like him. I know that Dylan knew this -and while he was your typical teenager in many ways -he often would comply and shower a little bit of affection on his younger cousin, who might as well have been his brother. They shared many moments together and apart…

…and I am not sure how to go about healing the wounds I know were left behind.

All I can do is watch from the sidelines. Try and gather clues from the way he reacts. Try and be understanding when he has bad days -knowing that he too, is struggling in his own ways. Ways that are perhaps, much harder because he cannot verbalize what he is feeling. I can’t offer him help because I don’t know the extent of his suffering, even though I know it must be deep.

He loved him -and he was loved by him. They fought, they bickered, they argued. With each other, against each other, and behind each other. But they also had a bond that was unbreakable. In ways that I thought would carry them far. If for nothing else, they had each other. Regardless of what happened -they would have each other. They would have each others backs -in good times and bad, and that would carry them far.

Just not far enough.

While one boy got his final wish -to depart this world and no longer be shackled with the pain and aches that this world could not heal, another is left to grapple with his absence. I don’t know how to explain all of this and more to a boy who still looks out the window, waiting for his hero to step off the bus. So instead, I sit with him. I watch the horizon, knowing full well that he won’t be returning, but wishing -for just a moment, that perhaps -he will.

PICT0020

If for nothing else, to bring some answers to a boy who thought and still thinks, the world of him.

Rising Above

Close to probably five years ago there was a couple I knew. An older couple who had been married for years. Many years. They were, in my mind, the idol of marriage. They were what one should strive to be like. Their attitudes, outlook and perspective on life was something to be desired. About five years ago -the wife landed herself in the hospital. The particulars were hushed, the details were secret and the information private.

I brought them coffee and a news paper every morning, for no reason other than I felt absolutely helpless but wanted to do something. It was a small task that didn’t require much effort on my part -and a task that I didn’t even know if they appreciated.

A few short months later -she passed away.

It was only then that the details slowly began to emerge, details that literally -made me sick to the stomach and made me wonder if bringing coffee and newspapers only made the situation worse. It wasn’t even a few months after she had passed -did he show up at my house with a box of cookies and a card.

A handwritten note from him and his wife -thanking me for the daily coffee and newspapers. The “little bit of normalcy” in their dark days. I remember thinking how -in his deep pain and anguish -he had taken the time to thank me for something so simple and stupid. The task he performed did not go overlooked -simply going to a grocery store to buy something was a task I found to be a challenge at best -even years after my loss. Writing a note -with her name, and delivering it -holding a conversation in which he openly admitted to crying daily…

It is something I will never forget and something that will forever be etched in my mind and heart.

To do something for others is one thing -but to do something for others when you are hurting so badly -is another. It comes from a much deeper part of the heart.

Which is why I decided that instead of drowning in self pity and despair -I am going to choose to do things for others. Even, or especially when, I don’t feel like it. On those days when seeing daylight is so, so hard -I am going to put others first. I am going to do something kind for someone else.

I am going to kick this sadness. I am going to beat this despair.

I might not ever be ok again. I might not ever think of certain things without spiraling downwards.

The hardest thing in my life is knowing that while my life is seemingly out of control and I am completely crushed -there are other people out there. People who are hurting. Just because my heart aches, does not mean the rest of the world has ceased to exist. Instead of giving into my desire to pull the covers over my head and not face the world -I am going to face it head on.

I am going to push through. I am not going to be beat down.

Someone told me once that your life -your words -can have an impact on others. Your simple deeds can hurt someone so badly…or they can help keep someone from the despair of suicide. I am clinging to that hope. Clinging to the tiny shards of hope that maybe -just maybe -my actions will have an impact on others…and if not, at least I am not allowing myself to be swallowed alive -regardless of how badly I want to be.

be-kind

The Small Things

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can make or break you. I mean really, you would think I have been through enough to know NOT to sweat the small stuff. To not break out in an absolute panic over absolutely nothing. But I haven’t. Apparently. Because I still do. Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the big things come crashing in. I can handle the big things –to an extent. I can suck it up and move on through life. I can put on my happy face when I lose everyone I love. I can smile through funerals. Muscle through hospital appointments. Still get up in the mornings.

But the small stuff? Man, it gets to me.

Things like the bed breaking, the phone ringing, the dog being annoying. Things like having to open not one, but BOTH doors because the dog refuses to go out if they aren’t both cracked perfectly. Things like buying a brand new bed –only to find the following day (after not even sleeping on it) it has broken. Things like annoying people calling and being annoying.

I have spent the day on edge, in a panic, waiting. Pacing. Biting my nails. Anticipating.

I tried the tried and true ways to get the levels to drop: I tried listening to loud music, I tried counting backwards from 100, I tried napping. I tried to go for a walk but after a week in the hospital apparently your body just isn’t ready to hit the ground. I tried. But it didn’t work. So instead, at 9:30 at night, I am nursing a panic attack from taking full flight.

I am trying to focus on the good. The positive. The happy.

But all that wants to flood my mind are the negative things. Things such as how behind I am after being away for a week. Things such as how cold it is with both doors open. Things such as how annoyed I am. How annoyed others must be with me. How stupid life is.

Because right now my thoughts are just that immature, where they refer to life as stupid, and things such as a broken bed threaten to overwhelm me.

All I want to do is crawl into my broken bed, pull the covers up and wake up some other day. Just not today.

Because today –while unexpectedly good, was hard in its own way. The small things. They make or break you. And today…they broke me.

On the Flip Side

I’ve been to a lot of hospitals over my years. I’ve sat at the bedside of more beds than I care to admit, heard the lingo I will never understand and walked through those doors countless times. I never have gotten used to the smells, the hard chairs or the sounds. I can still hear every single sound when I close my eyes -the beeping, the silent walking of those pacing the halls -because yes, in a hospital even the silent sounds are magnified. You spend enough time in a hospital and you can learn to distinguish the sounds of a new patient, a long term patient and even the nurses. The way the shoes click, slip, slide or squeak across the floor.

You can tell how urgent something is by the sound of theses feet. You learn to tell the sounds of the beeps, you learn to not jump straight out of your chair every time someone walks in -because someone is always walking in. You learn to decipher through a lot of body language and tones to get to the bottom of the story. You learn a lot. But I never have gotten used to hospitals, or liked them.

I don’t like doctors -I don’t have anything against them, I just prefer not to see them. I also prefer not to see cops, dentist or grocery store clerks -but we all have to live somehow, so I push through.

The last time I was at the doctors for myself, I was five. That was some thirty years ago for those counting. I had a three day stay and by the time I was able to go -I breezed past the nurse carrying dinner -much to my sisters dismay. There was cherry pie on the tray -and I could have opted to stay for dinner. But I didn’t. Instead I shoved my arm into my coat before realizing that it wouldn’t go through the hole since I still had an IV wrapped up under there. I walked into the fresh air and didn’t look back.

Until Sunday.

You know it’s bad when I drag myself to the ER. It just isn’t something I do, but after dealing with stomach issues for over a week -and eventually feeling like my stomach itself had turned itself over to the devil who was making some sort of sacrifice with it -I hauled my sorry self in.

Turns out kidney stones, that left untreated and turn into a kidney infection, with a week of dehydration, lack of sleep and a 105 fever is my nemesis. I spent the better part of Sunday evening wishing I was dead, or wondering if perhaps -I was dead. Pain meds wouldn’t touch whatever was going on in there -because my kidneys decided to have a little dance party and introduce me to a new dance move called the spasm. Basically it meant that every few minutes I was subjected to some intense pain on top of the pain that was already there. Thankfully by Monday the pain was under control, the stones were on their way to being evicted and the only thing left to do was battle the infection -which apparently was of more concern to the doctors.

I couldn’t really tell you what all went on the past few days -all I really know is that at some point I needed my pants (trousers) and couldn’t find them. I called and text ½ the contacts on my phone before the nurse gave me some magic pills that made me sleep for a good four hours.

…I then spent the next four hours apologizing to everyone I had disturbed with my pant antics.

I’m on the uphill swing of things and hopefully with any bit of luck the (second) antibiotics will kick the infection, drop the fever and let me crawl back to my own bed.

Until then, I am calling this week a complete flop and hoping for a fresh start next Sunday, where hopefully -I won’t be confined to this pole of magic drugs, counting ceiling tiles and looking for my missing pants.

The Truth of Forever

I need to believe he was happy, but at what cost?  Perhaps I always needed to believe this, perhaps that is where the rose colored glasses came in at.  Perhaps.

I shouldn’t have gone looking through pictures, shouldn’t have forced it.  I shouldn’t have tried to convince myself, yet again, that he was happy.  The truth -the hard, cold, honest to goodness truth is that he wasn’t happy.  Regardless of what I wanted to see or believe.  If he were happy -he wouldn’t have done what he did.  If I hadn’t forced myself to believe that somehow, he was happy -maybe, just maybe, he would still be here.

My mind so badly wants to believe that somehow -regardless of how true it is -that he was happy.  Of course the pictures show he was happy -why wouldn’t they?  I’m not the type to snap pictures of sad or miserable people -I take pictures of things I want to keep, memories I want to hold onto.  The few pictures I do have don’t speak as loudly as the ones I don’t.  The gaps in between the ages and pictures tell a story louder than any picture ever could.

He wasn’t happy.

Yet I still want to believe, somehow, that he was.  Even if it means changing history.  Rewriting the past because I cannot live with knowing that he wasn’t happy.

But history doesn’t lie.  The missing pictures, the few smiles scattered in between tell a story loud and clear.

I found what I was looking for -I found my answer.  I just didn’t find the answer I was looking for.

Sure, I found one or two pictures that have him, smiling.

But between the lines, the missing pictures, the lack of evidence tells me everything I need to know -louder and clearer than any smiling picture ever could.  He wasn’t happy.  I didn’t want to believe.  I still don’t want to.

Yet instead of being able to do something about this -I am left to live the rest of my life knowing that he wasn’t happy and I failed to notice.

Opening the Door

With Josh coming home this weekend, one of the things looming on my to do list has been to clean out their shared bedroom. The door to this room has been closed since before I left for my trip, and hasn’t been opened for any length of time since. As if shutting this door would somehow shut out everything negative. As if shutting the door would erase all that happened. Would somehow make the day disappear. As if it would all somehow go away, with the simple shutting of the door.

But life moves on, and as life would have it -the time to open that door has come. Quicker than I would have liked, but here none the less.

I had somehow played up the moment of opening this door. As if something you see in the movies there would most likely be a fog…a distant smell that reminded me of him, and the few moments that followed would be that of remembering the happy times, the good times, the times that made this life worth living. The fog would lift and there would be a neat pile of things that somehow closed all the wounds that have been open these past few months.

…and then like magic, the room would clean itself up, pack things away and life would move one -with the door wide open.

As bizarre as this may sounds, I really can’t think of how else to explain it. But when I opened the door, as you probably already knew -there was no fog. There was no magic moment. And the only smell was that of cat pee and misty crackers. Which is probably best, because the odors of a teenage boy are not those to be desired.

The room was exactly how it was -six months ago. The thing is, he wasn’t in that room six months ago. In fact it has been close to two years since he has been in that room. Things of his have been moved, and pushed away, rearranged and shoved aside. While the room was always ready to accept him -when he came back, it also doubled as Josh’s room and for the past year and ½ it has been his room only. With the exception of Dylan’s things -piled along the side, pushed under his bed and shoved in his drawers.

The goal today? Was to box as much of his stuff up as possible. The plan has been to box it all up and sort it later when Madison is here. But I didn’t make it that far today. I made it across the threshold, set the boxes down and sat down beside them.

…and instead of boxing things up, let my mind run wild.

It doesn’t take much these days. Doesn’t take much to get the thoughts running and all the feelings feeling. I thought about the first time he talked about suicide, and how I did nothing about it. I thought about how he probably danced around the topic so many times, yet I failed to realize. I thought about how often he would have tried to get help -but was turned down. I wondered if he was really ever happy. I thought about the past ten years. The bad and the really bad…

I tried to think of happy memories. I tried to pull out the good times, but like some sick joke -those memories have vanished and the only things that replace them are the many ways that I have failed and let him down…and as if there was any need to elaborate on these feelings, I started to think about putting all of his things in boxes. As if boxing his things up, was the same as boxing him up. As if his life didn’t amount to anything but a few boxes in the corner.

I closed the door, leaving behind the empty boxes.

Today I opened the door, crossed the threshold and brought in some boxes. Tomorrow I will put some things into those boxes and try to put away some of the guilt and regrets, and maybe in doing so I will find those happy memories that I know exist.

Somewhere.

Coming Home

He is coming home, and I don’t know what to think.

Seven months ago, when Dylan finally succeeded in ending his life -I booked a trip out of the country.  I left a month later -and in doing so, I packed Josh up and left him with friends.  Originally it was only going to be for the few months I was gone, but when I got back -I couldn’t pick him up.  It is hard to explain, but there was a force that just would not allow me to pick him up and bring him home.  I couldn’t even see him.  I closed the door to the bedroom and walled off those areas in my mind.  As terrible as it sounds -I just couldn’t do it.

Over the past few months I have debated heavily with myself, friends, family and others as well.  I have questioned every avenue.  I gave myself fully over to the idea of never bringing him home again.  My thought process was simple: I had already failed enough.  Most seemed to back this theory -in their own ways.  Not so much that I had failed, but that I wasn’t cut out to be what Josh needed.  Some ignored the question.  Others threw their opinion at me.

There was only one person who told me again and again, over and over -that I should take him back, no questions asked.  But this only made the choice more challenging, because I wanted the vote to be universal. Unanimous.  I wanted there to be no doubt that the choice I made was the right choice -and yet it wasn’t.  I couldn’t persuade either side to move to the other side.  I couldn’t unite the vote, and so it was split…and so was I.

I don’t want to fail him.  I didn’t want to fail Dylan either.  I didn’t want to fail any of the kids.  My purpose in everything I did was to better them, not fail them.  But as the weeks and days ticked on, my mind only continued to scream how badly I had failed.

…and then in a random twist of fate, someone mentioned something to me that would change my thinking.  They referred to Josh as a dog.  They said that they would be more devastated to give up their dog than I should be about giving up Josh.  Others would go on to call him a burden.  A responsibility to large for myself.  A hindrance.  They would say that I should leave him and explore my life deeper and further.  “Let go and live.”

The responses cut deeper than any of the two sides had cut before -and as those cuts healed, I began to realize that this boy?  Was not a burden.  He is not a dog.  He is not something that should be tossed around.  Yet that is exactly what is happening.  While the family he is staying with is nothing less than perfect and ideal for him -they don’t want to keep him forever.  If I were to decide not to keep him -he would go into foster care.

He deserves more than that.

I don’t know if what I am doing is right -and I don’t know that I will ever have that security or confirmation.  I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, I don’t know if this is me -failing all over again.  All I know is that right now -this is the decision that feels the least wrong.

…wish us luck.

I give

I am not the kind to admit this stuff easily, or to just anyone. I am a firm believer in ‘fake it until you make it’ kind of stuff. I hate admitting that I am failing, or on my way down and often will continue digging myself into a hole so deep that I might as well tunnel through because there really is no point in turning back.

But the truth is I am struggling and I am failing -quickly. I’m losing whatever grip I have on reality and quickly sinking to places I don’t want to go.

The truth is, I have been sober for nearly eight years. Something I have struggled with in the past is attempting to drown myself in whatever I could get my hands on. It isn’t something I am especially proud of, but it is what it is. I sobered up for one reason…and now that reason is gone, and in its place is a boat load of things that I simply don’t know how to handle.

Truth is, I have turned back to drinking. Truth is, it isn’t working…and instead of getting out while I am ahead, I head deeper into the spiraling hole calling my name. A few friends have picked up on it -yet no one has called me out on it, which makes it easier than ever to spiral myself out of control.

To be honest, I don’t know why I am even admitting it. Perhaps so one day I can look back and critique myself. Perhaps as an attempt to slap myself into shape. I don’t know. All I know is that I am falling, and I am falling hard. There is no security net to catch me this time. There is nothing to stop me from going all out, all back. There is no point in sobering up this time. No reason to turn back.

I am, simply put, exhausted.

Going to sleep provides no reprieve and instead leaves me waking up in the middle of the night in a heavy sweat with my heart racing and mind running rampant. Staying awake only leaves my more exhausted and more frustrated. The only way I can get any relief is by turning back to my old ways…ways that I swore I would never return to, but can’t remember why.

I’m tired of fighting so hard for so little. Tired of getting up only to be shoved down. Tired of whining and complaining. I’m tired. I’m hurting. I’m struggling. I’m failing.

I have no words, no thoughts.

They say to reach for help -to call someone who will help -but when you call and no one is there, when the only voice you hear is your own, echoing back -it is hard to imagine there might be something worth living for.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I give up.

I just give up.

Eleven

Tonight I climbed into bed way earlier than I should have. On the way to bed I passed by clothes strewn on the floor, dishes pouring out of the sink and way more dog and cat hair than I care to admit to. It’s been an extremely long weekend, a really long year and an even longer eleven years.

As much as I would like to say that I am in as good of a place as I was last year –I can’t. Because I’m not. A lot has been sandwiched in-between these two years, and a whole lot has taken place over the past eleven. I could beat myself up, for feeling the way I do –sad, depressed, upset, frustrated, angry…but I won’t. At least not tonight. I will cut myself some slack –but just for tonight.

You see, eleven years ago I faced the one thing that I was certain I would never get up from. Holding her as she took her final breaths –leaving her behind and moving forward –both figuratively and literally –has been, and will always be the hardest thing I have ever had to do. There simply are no words to explain how it feels to watch everything go down the drain in front of your eyes while you stand by –helplessly unable to do the very thing you were called to do.

There are no words to explain how life altering and uprooting it feels to be told that you, as a father, are helpless to do anything. The only thing you can now do is stand by and watch as your daughter dies. There are no words and so I will spare the world my attempts.

A lot has happened in these past eleven years. So much. So much has changed and moved. Time has ticked by –fast at times and slow at others. But steady. All along. Ticking by. I haven’t always been a willing participant in this life –there were times when giving up just seemed like the thing to do…and while I have been able to say in the past that time has helped me come to grips with this seemingly senseless occurrence, I can’t say that today.

Because today, I miss her.

Tonight I would do just about anything to have her back.

To just hold her, and tell her –one last time just how much I loved her.

Last year, I was in a place where I could see the light. I didn’t understand why –but I could accept what I couldn’t accept. I was moving forward –regardless of how slow. I was doing her justice by not wishing that I could have her back –no matter for how long. I was letting her go.

But this year, tonight, I can’t. I can’t let her go. I can’t let her memory slide. I can’t forget her. I can’t move on. Regardless of how long it has been –I still miss her…and I still wish to hold her once again.

EM15

I miss you, little one. I miss you more than words can ever say.