Beyond Words

I simply do not know how to describe, even to my best friend or my mother, what it feels like to be suddenly yanked from the only world you can ever remember knowing and held in suspension – in another realm entirely – drowning in a mixture of confusion, agony and despair. I don’t know how to make people see why I can’t just open the door to this crystal globe prison, take a gasp of air and rejoin the world that I am doomed to still reside in, but never really feel a part of again. I will never be the same. It doesn’t go away. Cliche’ advice is more painful than helpful. When in doubt, say nothing. Many of you do.  Many of you try.  As odd as it sounds, the best way you can help me or my boys is by continuing to love and honor my daughter – whatever dimension she may be in.  Angels need love too.

A friend sent this poem to me. The author has done a beautifully, painfully, poignantly horrific job of describing the massive earthquake of losing a child and what it feels like to be left standing on the opposite side of a giant chasm from nearly everyone and everything else – including who you yourself were before this unprecedented disaster.  Perhaps it might offer a bit of understanding for those of you who seek it.

I looked up the original poem, and I am re-typing it and re-posting it myself. I haven’t been able to find too much information, other than to give the author credit – Michael Crelinsten of Victoria, B.C. – a bereaved father of a gone-too-soon daughter. He describes life after the loss of a child in a way that I have not yet been able to. His situation is, of course, different from mine. His daughter was younger, left in a different way and he has a loving spouse beside him – another parent, who also loved and grieves for this child. I don’t know which is worse – going through it alone, or going through it with someone equally broken by it. I do have my boys, Kimmy’s fiancé, good friends, and extended family who love her. But it isn’t the same. Either way, Mr. Crelinsten and I have much more in common than I’m certain either of us would like to. I can only say, Amen, my broken-hearted brother. May God bless you and yours.

 

 

His Preview: Our daughter, Alexis, died six months ago, at the age of nine. A rare medical anomaly, in a heart-rending wrench of our innermost spirit, stole her from us in barely more than a moment. Recently, I was at the beach near our home with what remains of my soul – my son, Ethan. Our new puppy romped with us. Beautiful weather, fresh salt air, gentle clear water and sea lions barking in the distance. Perfect. Walking back, I saw a sharp, rusted metal rod and thought to get it out of the way. As I tossed it aside, it caught my thumb and cut me. Perfect. Every moment of peace we have, cuts. Everything that is, hones what is not.

 

The Gap

The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is profoundly difficult to bridge.

No one, whose children are well and intact can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed, what they bear.

Our daughter now comes to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal, every kid on a scooter.

We seek contact with her atoms – her hairbrush, her toothbrush, her clothing.

We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded.

What we had wanted, when she so suddenly took ill, was for her to be treated.

We wanted her to be annoyed that her head had been shaved for surgery.

We would have shaved ours and then watched her smile as we recovered together, whatever the nature of that recovery.

“Recover” is no longer a part of our vocabulary. Now we simply walk through the noise and debris of our personal ground zero.

A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape.

It is a difficult place.

For us to enter there is to be cut deeply, and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss.

Yet we return, again and again, for that is where she now resides.

This will be so for years to come and it will change us, profoundly.

At some point in the distant future the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened but the empty space will remain – a life sentence.

It is not unlike a dog who, suddenly hit by a car, survives.

The impact is devastating and leaves the animal in shock, confusion and despair.

In time the animal recovers adequately to spend the remainder of its life on three legs.

It is not that he is unable, eventually, to function or even to laugh and play.

The reality, however, is that on three legs from here on, every step he takes, every action, virtually every breath, reminds him of what he has lost.

We are that animal.

Our community of friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it.

We grieve for our daughter, in part, through talking about her and our feelings for having lost her.

Some go there with us, others cannot and through their denial add a further measure, however unwittingly, to an already heavy burden.

This was not a sprained ankle or major surgery that we suffered.

Assuming that we may be feeling “better” six months later is simply “to not get it.”

The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience.

Thus it is a trap – those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity.

And yet, somehow, there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our immeasurable comfort.

They have understood, again each in their own way, that Alexis remains our daughter through our memory of her.

Her memory is sustained through speaking about her and our feelings about her death.

Deny her life and you have no place in ours. That’s the equation.

How different people have responded to our loss, or not, transcends a range of attitudes and personal histories.

It is teaching us about human capacity and experience, albeit at a searing price.

Parents’ memories of a lost child sustain that life.

It should be the other way around.

We recognize that we have removed to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us.

Our attempts to be normal are painful and the day to day carries a silent, screaming anguish that accompanies us, sometimes from moment to moment.

Were we to give it its own voice we fear we would become truly unreachable, and so we remain “strong” for a host of reasons even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will.

Were we to act out our true feelings we would be impossible to be with.

We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise.

People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard.

Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience – and extreme experience changes one extremely.

We know we will have recovered when, as we read, it is no longer so painful to be normal.

We do not know who we will be at that point or who will still be with us.

There will come a time, quite some number of years down the road, when the balance between the desperate awareness of what we have lost when our daughter died will be somewhat balanced by the warm and joyful memories of what we had with her when she lived.

I neither long for nor cringe from that time.

It will simply come.

We will recognize it – though now it is beyond us.

So yes, our beloved daughter is gone – a light in our lives gone out leaving blackness for us, left behind, to stumble through.

And, while we understand and deeply feel the meaning of our phrase, “Now we are lit by her only from within,” we hope, desperately, that she is wherever the light is.

We are trying to understand what this means, as we seek our own way, for the remainder of our lives, to some kind of light.

We love our son and are trying to breathe.

We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them.

This is our attempt.

For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this.

It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.

 

 

 

Wake Me Up When September Ends . . . or Don’t

This has been the hardest week yet, Sis. When people said it would get easier, they lied.

I have prayed my guts out, trying not to be consumed with regret and grief. Kimmy herself has sent me some reminders of things – premonitions I had in earlier years, gentle reminders that I knew. I knew she would be leaving early. This was part of her plan. How and why can suicide be part of my daughter’s plan? Part of anyone’s plan? I have no idea. (And don’t do it – don’t use this as an excuse.) I have deeply spiritual moments when I feel comfort and peace. But I also feel a whole lot of emptiness and turmoil.

People have told me it’s a blessing she didn’t die in a horrific accident. Yes. But then we would have known it was an accident. Or it’s a blessing that she didn’t suffer from some awful disease and waste away from cancer. Yes. Of course I didn’t want her to go through that. Except then I could have had the privilege of taking care of her, and said everything I wanted to say, and made sure she knew that I loved her. She could have said what she wanted to say to her brothers and her fiancé and everyone who loved her – so no one had questions running through their minds and hearts after she was gone. We could have said our good-byes and made sure that love was certain and hope was real. We could have had a plan – Kimmy and I both always make lists, always have a plan . . . shock and bleakness and uncertainty and unanswered questions are all so terrifyingly out of our control. Not the way we roll.

I remember my kids listening to the “When September Ends” song. I always hated it. I’ve always hated the fall – when everlasting warmth and sunlight start to fade and everything turns brown and dead, hope dies, and you know that bleak awful endless winter is fast approaching. I’ve never seen the beauty in the thrill of fall. And now, at the end of the worst summer of my life, a summer far worse than anything I ever imagined – Halloween decorations are everywhere, the stores even have Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations up. My little girl left almost 4 months ago. That much time again and we’ll be at the end of the holiday season. How in the world will we even survive that? This year – or any year – ever again? I walk into a store and I start to bawl. I remember how excited I used to get when my children were little – the excitement of Christmas on the horizon and how fun that would be for them. All the joy and magic of the holiday season. I loved having little children and being a mom. That is forever gone and dead and buried. Even the last few years the holidays have been harder – money has always been stressful, there has been pain, someone who should have loved them always cast a dark shadow on everything even when I tried my best to keep the sun shining – even during their magical younger years. And now it just doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

Part of me knows that I should be happy for Kimmy. She has escaped the dark awful coldness of this place – where people so often are not who they pretend to be, where things are so hard and lonely and dull. Days get so gray and monotonous and meaningless. It all feels so pointless. I don’t blame her for not wanting to be here. I want to believe that where she is now there is all light and love and happiness – that you can trust what you see and hear and feel, that things are as they appear, that people are genuine, that love is real. I want my little girl to be happy and feel cherished and loved and safe. I want her to have clarity and meaning and purpose and know who she is, love herself and be courageous, be able to reach people and make a difference in the things she does. And I really, really, really just want to be there with her. Some days I just feel tired. So very tired.

I’ve tried to post mostly hopeful and uplifting things. But I’ve also said that I am committed to authenticity or there’s no point. And I just feel awful lately. Losing someone you love feels like crap. Watching your family fall apart because of it feels like crap. Suicide is a nightmare. Maybe I’m trying to convince myself as much as any of you. I’m still here because I know what it does to your family when you leave.

I don’t know why this week has been so difficult. Maybe it’s that Chris has moved up here with my granddogs, and as happy as I am to see all of them and know they are settled here close to us and to Kimmy – the reality is sinking in that she is not with them. I helped him look for a place where he could have their dogs, and everywhere we looked I would stop and just try to feel Kimmy, see if I could feel her there, if she liked it, if she approved. I know she loves this place. I know she will be there often with Chris and their boys (and their noisy little girl bird). I’m trying to help him get it looking nice for him, but also for her. He has worked very hard, I know. That makes me happy and brings me some comfort.

I was just in shock for a long time. Maybe I was able to be in denial and pretend she was still in St. George all these weeks. Maybe it’s that the new school year has officially started and that brings up all kinds of Kimmy memories – Ryan goes to the same high school. I work at the school she went to kindergarten through third grade at. I see her in the halls, and have flashbacks of bringing her things or watching her perform, or coming to volunteer. I have those with my boys too, and they are also sad because they grew up – but they aren’t gone. I don’t know. Maybe it just takes 4 months to hit like a freight train.

Maybe it is the increasing awareness that her medication change had so much to do with this, and I feel angry. Really angry. I thought maybe I was going to skip that stage. I’m not. Yes, I think we need depression/anxiety medication. It can make a drastic positive difference. And sometimes you hear that it can cause “suicidal thoughts or tendencies” but we all dismiss that along with the list of 500 other possible side effects. It’s real. It is a real and lasting and awful and legitimate and VERY permanent possible side effect.

I had another friend lose a family member to the same thing the week after Kimmy. In that case, they did an autopsy and said he had had a reaction to his new meds and basically confirmed medically that they had caused it. Why isn’t this information out there? Why aren’t we watching our kids more closely? Or educating our young adult children who think they are invincible and don’t understand that it isn’t something wrong with them when they have a poor reaction to medication? Why aren’t they monitored more closely when they switch meds, or called and checked up on? Why aren’t parents made more aware of the serious risks/side effects so they can take that on if doctors won’t?

I wonder how often, really, a change in medication is directly responsible, or at least is a major factor, in suicide – especially in young people. I’ve even experienced it personally. It took 2 weeks to register for me, as a 40-year-old mom, who has dealt with kids with mood disorders, read all about it, and been on depression medication myself for a long time. I can see how a college student would just think it was them – that the new medication wasn’t working, they felt even more depressed, life is hopeless . . . Instead of realizing it’s the meds and they need to call their doctor STAT and get off – quickly or right away, however they are medically advised.

I didn’t recognize in Kimmy that her new medication was having such an impact on her personality and her increased depression. She started looking up suicide chat rooms and forums, and ways to commit suicide, within a few days of starting the new meds – we found out after she was gone. It was on her tablet – no one thought to check it until after. Why would we go through her things? The timing is not coincidental – she never did that before. I also had no idea such horrible dark places existed or that our kids could find them so easily. I so wish that she had talked to me, or that I had seen it. So does Chris. So does everyone who loved her. We can’t go back. But if it’s your child, or fiancé, or friend, and they seem off – check their tablet. And their phone. And their computer. If they have changed their medication, WATCH them, TALK to them, LISTEN. Maybe my mistake can help someone else.

I left this article and went to church. Found a tiny bit of hope in a dad talking about his son – how he knew before he was born that his son was so happy to be coming to earth, filled with joy, and that it has brought him comfort since, after he realized all the struggles his now-adult, severely handicapped son has had to go through in life. He said, “Who am I to say there is something wrong with his plan? It’s his plan. I’m just along for the ride as his dad.” That brought me a great deal of comfort actually. Until I suppose well meaning people started grabbing me and telling me all the things I should do, like stay at church longer. Really?

No one gets this. No one. I think the person I most wanted to hit was someone who said a few weeks ago, “I know exactly how you feel.” No. No, you don’t. Even worse, this was someone who doesn’t know me, doesn’t know my daughter, and has only made either of our lives harder through secondary contacts.

And then there are the people who say, “You just need to get out – you should go do something.” “You should go for a walk.” “You need to exercise more.” “You should eat better.” “You’d feel better if you quit feeling sorry for yourself and did something for somebody else.” (Most of my life is doing things for “somebody else.”) Or the opposite – “You need to get away and go on a vacation all by yourself, or with your girlfriends. You should do something just for you.” (My brain doesn’t even work that way. Guilt would just consume me and I would miss my children and my daughter even more). “Maybe you just need a project.” “You should focus on work.” Or my favorite – “It’s been almost 4 months. Aren’t you over this yet? I’m getting concerned. I think there’s something wrong with you.” (There is. There most definitely is. And it isn’t going away any time soon). I really just want everyone to go away and leave me alone. No wonder my daughter left. There is such a profound feeling of, “I simply do not belong here.” And, “I think I’ve just had enough.”

No one needs to call someone to come and take me away. I’m not going anywhere. Someone has to pay the bills and take care of my kids, and I don’t want to leave anyone feeling more of the way we all feel now. I’m just to the depleted point, where I don’t want to look for the good and try to uplift everyone left behind. I’m a lowly human full of flaws and screw-ups and I don’t care. I just want my daughter back. I want my boys to be okay and my family to be whole. I want them to love each other and help each other and feel hopeful and joyful and have futures to look forward to. I resent that their lives have been so hard, no matter how hard I’ve tried to make it otherwise, and that it doesn’t matter any more. I miss my Kimmy. Love you, Boo. I’m sorry. I hope you feel happiness and not all this garbage. I try to trudge through the days and hold onto hope of heaven . . .