There is Before and there is After

beforeafterboxHave you ever experienced an event so traumatic that inevitably forevermore all things will be mentally placed in two boxes labeled Before and After?

Like how people always remember where they were on September 11, 2001, or where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the first man walked on the moon. Or when your mom died, things like that…you know where you were, how old you were, even what you were wearing or what you were doing. These moments are indelibly stamped in your heart and brain as well as the accompanying emotions.

I have my own personal tragic date of profound sorrow that will forever mark my future. There was happiness BEFORE: sadness and confusion AFTER.

My life is split in two now. What was will never be again as I dwell in a mostly perpetual state of grief, of dysphoria, of purgatory, of anhedonia.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments of brightness, moments that bring a smile to my face and lift my heart a little, but then I see a certain date or I remember a certain event and I mentally place it in its appropriate container: BEFORE or AFTER. I say to myself, oh yeah, that was before. Now we dwell in the after box.

If I see a story or read an article about, for example, Yellowstone, that memory goes in the  before box. Ironing perfumed sheets for a homecoming or walking to the beach, Sunday morning buckwheat pancakes–or any one of the thousands of sweet daily memories since 1991–all BEFORE. Don’t get me started going down THAT road. There are actually about half a dozen dates that signify different aspects of after-and those recollections are even more painful to tidy up and allocate to their designated container.

BEFOREANDAFTERBEFOREANDAFTER. I do it automatically now.

For me, it signals panic attack time. I never experienced a panic attack BEFORE–now I know the triggers and force myself to use the tools I went to therapy to learn so I don’t once again spiral into a paralyzing dissociation with reality.

There is so much that is before. Why wasn’t I able to foretell the future? If I had only known. But I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known,  and the abject shock of it all still colors my waking hours–and my sleep.

ravenIn my case, every single day I mourn the death of someone who’s still very much alive.

Unless you’ve walked this same journey, you might not  understand how I can grieve for someone who still breathes and eats and sleeps. Although they aren’t clinically deceased, they are gone, and it feels like a true death in every sense of the word.

And now for me, I will forevermore be tormented by BEFORE and AFTER.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'One of the hardest things you will ever have to do my dear is grieve the loss of a person who is still alive. unknown'

 

the birthday that might not have been

Like most moms (and dads, of course) I never thought to prepare myself for what it would feel like to lose a child.

I’m not talking about losing him in the mall or losing him in a crowd; I mean to lose him forever.

We were so immersed in the business of living that it never occurred to me that anything life threatening might happen to my Angel Boy.

Health and fitness has always been a priority.

I made his baby food, did all the recommended baby exercises, and as soon as he could, we walked every day; no sitting in front of a television for us…

This was a typical school day at Casa de Enchanted Seashells:

I woke up at 6:15 a.m. to make a hot and nutritious breakfast for my little guy. I’d wake him at 6:30 with a kiss and and a song —  “New day, time to wake up!”  At 7:30, we’d leave the house to walk our dog for about thirty minutes, chat about the day, and practice spelling or math as we made our way to his school for the first bell at 8:00.

I figured if I did everything in my power to build a healthy and strong human, he’d be that way forever.

Do I even need to state the obvious that he was (is) my entire world? 

I never thought of how dreadfully painful it must be to look at the calendar every year and know that your child’s birthday — the date of his birth–is approaching and all you have is a memory.

I  honestly can’t imagine the pain.

How does anyone survive that kind of loss?

At 9:52 on March 23, 1981, my most amazing boy child was born.

Since then, I’ve cherished every breath he inhales as much as the first one.

April 29, 2014 might have been the date of his last breath.

It doesn’t matter where I am; even when I’m asleep — in my dreams, I’m transported back to the hospital.

That feeling of helplessness — In the surgical waiting room and then (with DIL)  the ten days of twenty-four hour round-the-clock bedside vigil.

For vigil it what it was…

…not taking one single deep breath for months, actually.

On that day, that dark day, those dark days, none of us were sure we’d be celebrating anything ever again.

My mind replays that what if tape all the time, even though the nightmare is over. Really over.

Only now, almost a year later, I think I can finally

exhale.

That’s why this birthday is a very happy one.

He runs, he bikes, he camps, he hikes, he surfs.

He EATS. He BREATHES.

Life. Is. Good. 

(My heart goes out to families who don’t make it to the other side. For me, the door opened just a crack, and I experienced a mere glimpse into that world, and it’s impossible to imagine being able to ever smile again.)

♥ ♥ ♥ On a happier note, what does an ‪#‎emptynest‬ mom do when she can’t be there in person to bake her Angel Boy’s birthday cake?

She finds a a vegan bakery in New Jersey, Bear Hug Bakery, and commissions a cake to be delivered to his office today at ‪#‎Rutgers‬.

One layer of vanilla cake, one layer of chocolate, raspberry cream filling, and covered in ganache. YUM!!!

Mom Tip #276…it’s never too late to embarrass your child.

Happy 34th Birthday, Angel Boy!!

babyJason


POSTS ABOUT THE SURGERY:

1. That Dreaded Call at 3:00 A.M.

https://enchantedseashells.com/2014/05/01/that-dreaded-call-at-300-a-m/

2. Time To Exhale

https://enchantedseashells.com/2014/05/06/time-to-exhale-hospital-update/

3. Full Circle From Hell to Happiness

https://enchantedseashells.com/2014/05/10/full-circle-from-hell-to-happiness/

4. What Does a Cosmo, the Trauma, Unit, and Mother’s Day Have in Common

https://enchantedseashells.com/2014/05/11/what-does-a-cosmo-the-trauma-unit-and-mothers-day-have-in-common/

 

 

 

A lost opportunity, a huge regret, a haunting feeling

During one of my healing retail therapy sessions in the shoe aisle at Nordstrom, an older (and by older, I mean WAY older than me, like late sixties) well groomed beautifully dressed lady was sitting nearby trying on a pair of boots. She had a scarf around her neck that you could tell simply by looking that it was woven of the highest quality cashmere. She had a lovely air of grace and elegance. I think it was that regal essence that reminded me of my mom. She owned that quality too, always dressed head to toe with class.  The woman looked so together that I couldn’t keep from sneaking glances at her while I too tried on boots. I’d been looking for a pair of flat riding boots that fit snugly but weren’t too high, which is a tall order. (ha ha). I’ve never been accused of dressing elegantly. Sexy, flamboyant, stylish, wild even–but never Lilly Van der Woodsen Upper East Side elegant. Lilly van der woodsenHere’s an example of me getting dressed… If one pearl necklace is good, a dozen is better! A ring for every finger, well, why not? We have ten of them, isn’t that what they’re for? And aren’t our arms just begging to be filled with every bangle and charm bracelet in the jewelry box?

My mom would shake her head and say, “Princess Rosebud, haven’t you heard the old saying, less is more?” My response to her was, “Haven’t YOU heard of my saying, more is better?”

So I’m sitting there and this lovely woman is sitting there and she turns to me and says softly, matter-of-factly,

“My husband died last week.”

What do you do when a stranger opens up that way? What do you do? I said,

“I am so very sorry for your loss.”

She continued,

“We had been married for fifty years. I don’t know what to do with myself so I shop all day. I can’t bear to be home alone without him.”

If anyone could empathize with that philosophy, it would be me. Not that I’ve lost my life partner, but when my darling thirteen-year-old kitty died, I felt the same way. I left the house early in the morning and stayed away ’til dark, wandering around the shopping centers like a lost soul. I couldn’t bear to open the front door and know that I’d never again see her face at the top of the stairs greeting me. I couldn’t bear to sleep in our bed and never again feel her jump up and scratch at the covers to join me, nestled against my body, so I slept on the sofa until the captain came back. What made it even more difficult to bear was that it happened while he was out to sea, and I was the one who was unanchored, aimlessly drifting. I totes understood the poor lady’s pain.

“He made every day worth living.”

I asked her if she had family in the area to help her with her sadness, and she shook her head. It was on the tip of my tongue to invite her to join me for a cup of coffee when when my cell rang. It was my son. He needed me to run to the post office before it closed and send him a book he had accidentally left behind the previous week.

As I walked away, I touched her gently on the shoulder and told her once again how sorry I was for her loss and I hoped she’d be all right.

I really, really regret not getting her name and telephone number so that we could meet at a coffee shop or simply make sure she’s OK. I have a feeling she might not be. I do have that feeling. I’ve never seen her again.

For the most part, women are a truly and deeply caring and nurturing community. I dropped the ball that day and it haunts me.  It haunts me.