Tag Archives: grieving

It Just Takes One Person . . .

My Entire, extended family, including my brother, sister-in-law and my parents
By Hunny Bee Photography, Amy Renz-Manoucheri Photographer

I have four kids.  That is no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog, but the statement is more about the worries and futures that weigh on my shoulders than it is just sheer numbers.  I never realized what an impact two people raising kids had until I was doing it alone.  It’s not the meals, or the laundry or chores . . . none of that is the main impact.  They all fall together into a big gelatinous mountain of worry, sure.  The fact is I look at all four of them and wonder what impact the last year and next will have on all their lives.

When you have that partner, the one person that you trust above all others, you aren’t alone in this.  The world isn’t working against you – or at least you don’t feel like it is.  When my oldest daughter would get sick Andrea or I would walk in, take her temperature, run the humidifier, or just plain hold her on our lap and put our hand gently on her hair and make her feel secure and cared for.  While I or Andrea would do that, the other would care for the other three.  Maybe give Noah a hug or high-five for a great math test.  Maybe read Sam’s story for his English class.  Perhaps listen to Hannah play some new song she’s played on the guitar.

But those days are over.  I find myself constantly saying “you’re all talking at once, do it one at a time!”  I can see the impact that having to do this on our own has had.  I’ve discussed Noah’s behavior before.  It’s ebbed and flowed.  There was a big lull in the lack of self-control.  I took the time to garner some attention on him and listen to him and do the things he needed along with helping his siblings.  But there are only so many hours in the day and so much attention I can muster before the laundry needs done and the beds need changing and the breakfast and dinner for tomorrow need to be addressed.  It’s not a simple system.  Let one fall the others pile up behind it.

Add to that the fact that, no matter how much good the Diocesan grief counsellors thought they were doing, they have set those two boys back – with one fell visit.  It’s funny because a year ago the boys were doing amazingly well, considering.  We’d established some semblance of a routine.  They had stability with my parents helping us get back on our feet.  Even when they returned in the Fall to school, it wasn’t easy, but they were doing really well.  Talking to counesllors, and even their doctor, they informed me that the grief was . . . well, grieving.  The boys were doing what everyone should do.  They were sad they lost their Mom, adjusting to the new life, and we were starting to look to the chapters ahead, not dwelling on the ones we’d already read.  Sure, you can’t tell a story without the motivation and history to back them, but you look back, you don’t dwell there forever.  That’s what my boys were doing.

But that one moment, the day they were forced to talk about everything that happened the day they lost their Mom, in sordid, painful detail, they both – Sam and Noah – came home like their clocks had been set back by months.  Noah started picking at his sister.  Sam started closing down and spending all his time upstairs again.  They annoyed each other until Noah or Sam would lose it and hit or kick each other.  No, they weren’t perfect before, but they were now at a point that even the grief hadn’t created.

My point here is not to blame someone for the problems.  I know it sounds that way, and I’m still a little angry about the whole episode, but the reality is that I worry about being just one person.  I worry about what example the kids get.  Abbi had 16 years with her Mom.  Hannah had 11.  The boys had almost 8.  I remember a lot from that year, but not as much as I’d like.  I know that major events, happy, sad, traumatic even get burned into your consciousness.  I get that.  But it weighs on my mind that, first, they won’t remember their Mom, not much, and not the woman that they should remember but the one that was coming back from depression and sadness.  They also don’t have that soft, gentle influence that only a Mom can have.  Before all the women I know and women reading tell me that they’ll always be there for the boys, I know that.  I understand and appreciate it.  The thing is there isn’t the constant, daily influence, though.  There’s just something about that second, differing opinion and outlook that evens out a person.  I can try all I want to give that to my sons and daughters but it’s not there.

Some psychiatrist on one of those daytime programs the other day said something about what influence you want to have on your kids.  “Would you want your kids to date you?  Would you want them to grow up to be you?”  They were hoping to spark some deep discussion in :30 second soundbites, I get it, but the thing is, I think their questions are off-point.  I worry not about whether I am the example of what they should be, I worry about whether I’m pushing them to be what they want to become.  That’s a big difference.  I don’t think any parent, unless they’re insanely narcissistic, wants their kids to grow up to be just like them.  While the psych doc on the box proclaimed that “your kids see if you kiss your wife but she’s still sad and wonder why . . . and whether you caused that sadness” it’s not about that.  They don’t get it. 

For me, at least, it’s about making sure they live up to their own expectations and potential.  I can see glimmers of what they want and should be and prod them along, sure, but I cannot be the end-all, be-all for what they think life is about. 

A friend was talking to me today about how I was lucky.  I got to meet the love of my life.  I got that “fairy tale” ending and got it right the first time.  The funny thing is, I don’t know if I got it right.  Sometimes you’re alone, the world swirling around you, and it just takes one person – the one person out there who sees through the melee and joins you in its center, without ever seeing the damage being inflicted around you.  It just takes that one person.  Andrea was mine.  I had given up – at 21 years old, yes given up – and figured that I’d just turn around and ride with the current.  It was at that moment that Andrea, who I thought wanted nothing to do with me, entered my life.  It was never the same.  It had amazing points.  It had horrible points.  But it was there, together.

So what example do I want my kids to take?  It just takes one person, sure.  But make sure it’s the right person.  I could have dated a string of women, tried to get through the insanity by grabbing everyone I could.  In the end, though, I found a love that would hold my hand and understand.  Together, we faced the world.  What I don’t want the kids to feel is that they’re doing this alone.  I don’t want my daughter to think that she’s taking care of her siblings and doing it all alone.  I don’t want my sons to think that the “guy’s perspective” is the only perspective. 

It’s easy to think that you just need to grab love where you can find it.  The whole “Love the One You’re With” idea, but I want my kids to know that they shouldn’t “settle.”  It’s OK to experiment, to date, to see what your likes and dislikes are.  I found my so very early that it burned out too soon.  But I’m not alone.  I don’t lean on my kids, I want them to lean on me.

So tonight, after signing the detention slip for Noah’s acting out I had to try my hardest to give him the best advice, channeling my wife’s thoughts the best I can and letting him know how much harder he’s going to have to work.  Telling him how kids act during PE games and sporting events when they play each other.  Telling him “it’s alright to get mad.  Nobody’s going to fault you for being angry.  You can’t act out on that.  You can get mad, yell, heck even kick at the dirt.  But not someone else, no matter how bad you think they’re acting.”

I worry about the example I’m giving my children.  But I don’t want them to grow up to be like me.  I want them to grow up to be better than me.  It just takes one person to make it happen.  They’re lucky – they each have four already.

Isn’t It a Pity

I started writing this blog for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, was selfish.  It’s helping me, giving me an outlet to sort through everything that’s going on in my household and my head.  I talked with Andrea about everything, so when you go from having that adult who shares all of your thoughts, feelings and helps you decompress from the day.  You have no idea how important that is and how much you miss it when the most intelligent conversation you have is with four children and not with another adult of similar ilk.

Another reason is to try and touch, if just a little, the memories and history of the first half of my family’s journey.  I have to do this now because I can see the small pieces of her falling away, disintegrating an atom at a time, the memories flying away like pieces of pollen in the wind.  I hope only to retain some of those particles so that they don’t disappear altogether.

The last reason, and the one that pushes me to connect with others via this blog, is to remove the lid from this box that some people (emphasis on SOME people) want to throw you into.

There’s a tendency to ask someone like me how you’re doing, which is fine.  But the next step is always to say “it will get better,” or “you’ll heal, you will meet someone, you will find another person . . ” insert your own cliche’d moment here.  The reality is, it won’t get better, nor should it, and I don’t want it to.  This is what people just don’t seem to understand.  We have such a need in society to want everyone to be OK, but not actually face the things they are going through.  I don’t want to think you will be sad, depressed, stressed out, or even hurting.  I don’t want to face that you might be alone, so damn the consequences, I’m telling you that it will pass and you will get better and you will fall in love again and the world will be bright, full of rainbows, sunshine and unicorns.

Isn’t it a pity.

If I touch even one person to face reality . . . I feel like this has been worthwhile.  Here’s what I want everyone to face, and this isn’t easy for me to write, but if I can face this, I think you can, too.

After Andrea took a turn in the ICU I went into a frenzy of panicked activity.

I spent the next two days talking until I was hoarse.  I took so many phone calls I couldn’t handle it.  I eventually forced people to look at my Twitter feed because my phone kept dying.  I started reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” out loud hoping that I was just so annoying that she’d wake up and tell me to shut the hell up.  I hid in the corner of the room, behind the curtain, hoping they’d miss me and I would stay for longer, maybe the entire night, in the hospital.  I asked her what she thought we should do for our anniversary, what I should bring to her here in the hospital.  I needed her to stay around for our anniversary, it was 18 years after all.

We got married young, and we were stupid.  We were still kids at the time, and I was just so insanely paralyzed by shyness, brought on by a paralyzing lack of self-confidence, and it translated to most people that I was awkward, even uncomfortably silent.  But she never saw that, she saw the person I was at home, the guy that could be normal and boisterous and emotional when he was behind a microphone with a guitar.  She saw that, even when I wasn’t hiding behind the Stratocaster and tweed amplifier.

She made it to 18 years.  Barely.

This is a long setup, I get that, but it tells you what I was going through when the world started trying to shove me into a box.

Saturday morning, March 26th, 18 years to the day that I wiped the emotional tears from Andrea’s eyes as we told each other “’til death do us part”, the hospital called me and said Andrea was “in some distress”.  No big deal, right?  That sounds pretty basic.  I was already on the way and they didn’t sound like it was a big deal.

Until I got to the hospital.  When I buzzed the doors, they got strangely quiet and I heard the nurses scrambling, saying “it’s her husband” in the background, unsure what to do.  The doors opened and I walked into the most chaotic, insane situation I’ve ever experienced.  3 nurses were taking turns pumping up and down on Andrea’s chest, injecting medications to the Y-shaped connector where the IV tubing that snaked its way to Andrea’s arm.  They were doing that CPR count as they pushed, her chest caving in with each compression.

Everything around me started to swirl.  You know how people say they actually see everything turn red when they’re really angry?  Mine went white.  Don’t ask me why, it just got covered in a milky white haze.  The doctor was calmly shouting commands to the nurses.

If all you have seen of this type of scene is what’s on TV, it’s just so inaccurate.  The room had a flurry of activity, but it was oddly quiet, which was even worse.  As they worked on Andrea I could hear one of her ribs break.  I was a mess, begging her to stay with me.  I was in a mad-dash panic and all I could think was “stay with me, please!”  As each piece of medical equipment ticked away, I was thinking how I can’t do this.  I can’t break my kids’ hearts.

Then the doctor came over and told me they’d been doing this for more than half an hour, maybe longer, and that even if they kept going they didn’t know how much oxygen her brain had been deprived of.  He’d keep going, but it was really up to me.  I reached up, held her foot, and saw every horrible thing that was happening to her.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s where the lid of the box opened.

The hospital chaplain too me into another room, as I nearly hyperventilated in emotion.  I haven’t cried in years, but I was a mess.  Here I thought they were going to help me, try to give me tools to move forward.  Instead, they literally overwhelmed me with crap.  I had to start looking at decisions.  I had to pick out a mortuary.  I had to look at a string of things that needed to be taken care of.  It wasn’t an hour since she was gone and the hospital told me I had to start making arrangements.  The kids didn’t even know their mother was gone yet.

Then came the string of phone calls.  Lots of them were really sincere, helpful, and seriously emotional as I was.  Others gave me awful platitudes and talked to me only so I could make them feel better.  This is what I’ve dealt with, a metaphorical version of the hospital.  Get the person out of this room, make the room look empty, make this go away.

Where I’m comforting my kids and trying so hard to keep daily life just daily life, many people just don’t know how to handle that.  Why doesn’t he just stay in the box?  It makes them feel better to think that I will get over things, that the wound will heal, I will move on, the world will get better, and everything is perfect.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  God help me, sometimes I wish it did.  The kids just don’t have a Mom.  No other woman will be their Mom.  No other person understands me the way Andrea did.  This isn’t life the way it had been, it’s a new life and a new story.  People cannot seem to accept that for right now we have to do this without her and have a hole in our lives.  It’s easier to try and tell us that “all wounds heal” and “everything will get better”.  I’m sorry folks, it won’t.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  We don’t lose the pain, folks.  We learn to live with it.  I don’t crave the day that I don’t think about Andrea all the time, I dread it.  This woman was one of the greatest part of our lives, so why would we want to make it disappear?  Yes, right now it hurts like hell.  But we also have amazing memories and wonderful fondness for her.  It bothers people that we can have both.  People want you to fit the mold.  A mom and a dad.  Parenting the kids.  This isn’t a diatribe about single parenting.  Divorce still leaves two parents.  If you have a problem you can still call that other parent, whether you are friendly or not, because the greater good of your children is there.

But people just can’t seem to handle that life is so complicated.  We just don’t fit in the box.

I know this is the second post in as many days to use music, but to use a former Beatle’s line: “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame.  How we break each other’s hearts.  We cause each other pain.”