Grief in a word is Difficult! It is Difficult to explain, Difficult to describe, Difficult to go through, and Difficult to watch someone you care about to go through it! But grief is a very personal thing, some people think that it is love, others believe it is darkness! Many people believe that they can fix you, and others like to equate their grief with yours. If they lost a sibling or a parent, they feel they understand your loss of a child because the grief must match yours, it is the same! Grief is Grief – right? No, Grief is not Grief!
I am by nature strong woman; I am not the person who would go to counseling of any kind, because I work through it myself! When our daughter Megan died, our grief was so overwhelming, so consuming. We had to stop the life-sustaining machines that were keeping her alive, and it was so incredibly heartbreaking! I will tell her whole story at another time! The pain was immediate, it was gut-wrenching, it was all consuming, and it was profound!! What I remember the most about it – was all I did was sob! When we were making the arrangements, Keith and I were zombies, the funeral director was speaking, but we could hear no words. He took us to pick out a casket, and there was nothing any more surreal than having to decide how to bury our child!! He said to us “Of course you want the best for your daughter?” Of course, we did, so he proceeded to show us, three models! We have the economy model, some sort of heavy-duty cardboard that was $1,000, but you don’t want that – bugs get inside! The next model was a sturdy white wooden casket that was $3,000, less chance of bugs getting inside or the golden model – a golden casket that was $6,000 with this model bugs will never get in!!! Well, as disgusting as this was, this was his pitch to us – we could not afford the golden model, we really could only afford the $1,000 model, but the thought of our child not being protected horrified us, so we went with the $3,000 model! (Just a side note – years later we found out that it didn’t matter one from the other – you cannot stop the bugs) I remember saying to Keith, why are we here??
During the wake, people actually came up to us and would say things like, “you know, 99% percent of all marriages break up after the loss of a child”, or “you now have an angel watching out for you” or my favorite, “you are young, you can have more children”, REALLY?!?!?
When everyone went home, and we were all alone, we discovered that we were both grieving so differently. I was usually the strong one, let’s get things done, kind of person, but when Meg died, I shut down – completely! Keith, on the other hand, who was usually the more reflective one, and could sit quietly for long periods of time, he was almost manic, in everything he did. He was so hyper it was virtually dizzying! Everyone tended to gravitate toward me because I was the mother, and the “public” opinion was that he is strong, he can handle it! Sadly the dads are in as much pain, in fact, we were both drowning! No one within our immediate family or friends had lost a child, we were at a place no one could relate to, no one could fathom, no one ever wanted to be! And worst of all No One could really understand, they tried, but we were alone in this!!
One day I was so depressed, I could barely put one foot in front of me, I was driving my car and came to an intersection where the light was red, with no car in front of me! As I approached, I had more than a split second to decide that the 18-wheeler that would be barreling through the intersection, about the same time I get to it, would help me to end it all in one clean fashion! However, at that moment, I only thought of Keith, and I knew that it would absolutely devastate him if he had lost me too! So, I put my brakes on and stopped at the light! I decided I would never tell him!
Since neither of us knew how to deal with this overwhelming grief, I thought we should go to a Parent Bereavement Support Group. Keith did not want to go, but I asked him, and he came only for me! When we got there, the room was full of people mostly women. We sat around a table, and each of the parents told their heartbreaking stories. When they got to us, I told our story about Megan’s life. The woman next to me had also lost a daughter at 33 years old about two years prior. She proceeded to tell us that she loved her daughter longer and that her grief was worse since I only had my daughter for only 19 months and 27 days! I couldn’t believe that this is what she was saying. How can your grief be more significant than mine! I started to argue with her, and I was getting so mad, that was when Keith got up and said, let’s go – we never went back again!!!!
Even though it was utterly upsetting, it helped us to realize that everyone grieves differently, and so do we, we promised to pay attention to each other and give each other lots of hugs and space! However, we did not tiptoe around each other either, if one of us were having a particularly rough day, we would be there for the other, we would listen to each other, and more importantly, we would embrace each other as if the world would fall apart if we let go!!!
We kept the world out because everyone was trying to fix us, with cliches like “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” “God gives us lessons in life and sometimes we won’t know the why only God knows the why”! These statements only made us angry; they were not comforting. My reaction was “Fuck God, what kind of a God would give our beautiful daughter the new heart that she so desperately needed only to take her away six weeks later!!!” Growing up Irish Catholic, I have struggled with God, since I was 14, but now it is magnified since Meg died! My cousin Laurine, who is a soul healer (I only found out about this after Keith died, because she knew how I felt about things) is trying to help me – but that is a much bigger story!
I was so grateful to so many friends and family, each one, in their own way trying to comfort Keith and me as much as they could. One day, my lifelong friend Diane called me, she happened to be pregnant at the time with her first child. I answered the phone, she said, hi how are you? and for the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to cry in her ear. No words could come out, I just sobbed! Diane stayed on the phone, and I do not think she said a word, she just listened to me cry! When I was done, I told her that I needed to go, and we hung up! Many years later I told her how grateful I was for just being able to cry and her not telling me it will be alright! She called me all the time and does not remember this call, but it stayed with me forever!
As we were trying to navigate the heaviness and sorrow that we were feeling, I had gotten pregnant 3 weeks after the funeral, I said Keith had a lot of energy! I knew immediately that I was pregnant (I knew it with Megan as well) and I was freaked out, to say the least. I was deep in this hell, and I had a hard time grappling with the loss of Meg, and now I was pregnant?!?!?! I told my sister first because I knew if I told Keith, he would have been happy, and I didn’t know if I could handle that! I think I cried on the phone for 20 minutes before I could get it out! I really did not know if I wanted to keep this child, I was so distraught, how can I love another child like I loved Meg?? How horribly unfair to her memory, if I have this child!!! How can I even go through this pregnancy with all the angst and sorrow I feel! And the most important of all, since they could never really explain to us how Megan got sick, I was utterly stricken with fear, that this baby would be ill as well. When I finally told Keith a few days later, he said to me, well, we have some time to make a decision, let’s just take it one day at a time, we still haven’t even taken the test yet, it is too early!
Two weeks later, we were sitting in the living room as the timer went off, and we both sat there not moving. About a half an hour later, we got up and walked to the bathroom, and there it was, positive!!!! We both started to cry, and I said I don’t know if I can do this! Keith said to me can I tell you what I have observed in the last couple of weeks? I noticed that you stopped taking the Ativan, (the Dr. gave it to me to help me sleep), I noticed that you cut back on your tea intake (I drink massive amounts of tea), and I also noticed that you are eating better!!! I sat in silence for almost an hour letting it sink it what he was saying, and finally, I said, ok, so I guess we are having a baby! It was hard to smile or feel joyous, but I did feel relief! It was still terrifying, the birth was a long way away, but as we stood together we knew we would get through this – together!
On August 10th after an extremely stressful pregnancy, and going through every possible test at that time, I gave birth to our beautiful, healthy new daughter Kellie. Though our hearts were still with our Megan, we learned to live with her always in our hearts. Kellie grew up always knowing about Megan.
As the years went by, one day I decided to tell Keith about my encounter with that 18-wheeler, and he looked at me and started to cry! He told me the only reason “I stopped myself from ending it all, was because of YOU – I knew that I could never do that to YOU!” We both just stared at each other for a really long time, we could not believe that we both had these thoughts and never told each other until now!! We talked into the night, and we knew how so very lucky we were to have each other!!
On February 8, 2018, exactly 26 years, three months and 16 days, or a total of 9605 days, after we lost our beautiful daughter, my favorite person in the entire world, the pure love of my life died. But this time, I was grieving alone! Of course, everyone around me was grieving, my children, my family, and our friends. But, this has proven to be very lonely, very scary and very debilitating!
The first night after Keith died, I came home and sat on my couch, and I really did not move for nearly 10 hours. I did not turn the television on, I just sat there, I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to move. Kellie was the opposite, just like her dad, she could not sit still. She actually said she read something that said that people grief opposite their personalities. I immediately knew that was right, having been through what I thought was my worst nightmare and now grieving again, I could feel some of the same emotions. Almost every night, I did the same thing. I really did not want to speak with anyone, I didn’t want anyone to come to my house. I just wanted to be alone, and for the first time in 31 years, I was completely alone! I didn’t want to speak with anyone, and if I did only through texts, and that was only if I felt like answering. During the day, I had to work to keep the business going, but during the night, I locked the door and shut the world out! My beautiful sister-in-law, Laura had lost her husband 18 months earlier, and she became a wonderful guide for me to at least help me to know what I might expect.
Sadly 17 days after Keith’s death, a friend of mine in town, lost her husband. Mona’s husband Jim had cancer, but he was done with Chemo and doing so much better, Mona, Jim, and their children began to feel safe to start thinking of the future again, but then tragedy suddenly struck, Jim after a complication following emergency surgery, died!! Stunning!!! Just as Mona came to Keith’s wake, I went to Jim’s. It was at the same funeral home, but I knew that I needed to be there for her!! My heart was breaking for her because I knew exactly where she was at this moment in time!
I was able to keep myself very busy during the day, taking care of matters and work, and just trying to keep things running. This went on for 6 weeks until I decided to close the business because I did not, and more importantly I could not do it without Keith! That first couple of months, I was in an automatic mode if you will, I was heartbroken, but I was moving. However, once I stopped, I was overwhelmed with the gut-wrenching pain I was feeling. The heaviness began to set in, the sadness and pain were profound and insurmountable. I was completely alone!!! Of course, I have had so many loving people around me, the kids, my sister, cousin, family, and friends, but I did not want anyone around. I didn’t want to speak with anyone, it took too much energy! Everyone wanted to know if I was ok, I was not, but I said I was!
For the first month or so I tried to be active, getting up, taking a shower, looking for a job, cleaning my house, taking care of Bailey! But as the days and months went by, those activities became quite a struggle! I was not sleeping, how could I, my lover, my partner, my friend is no longer by my side!! He laid next to me for the past 31 years, and now he is not there. My bed is empty, I still lay on my side of the bed as if he is there. I would wash my sheets and find it so bizarre that I am cleaning a pillowcase for a pillow that was never laid on! Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, and other times I just lay awake afraid to shut the light off because I have become acutely aware of how alone I am! Even with Kellie in the next room!
Keith and I were truly one! We loved our togetherness! We worked, slept, ate and went to the grocery store together! We would work all day together, get in the car, get home and walk Bailey! We were not freaks, it just so easy for us to be together. We were able to give to each other like no one else could!! Life around us was hard, very hard, but our life together never was!! That is what makes this so difficult for me to move forward, the hardest part is learning to live without him in my life! The hollowness, the profound sadness, the future feels so dark and bleak. It is so paralyzing and difficult to leave the house to even look for a job.
Many times, I would wake up and genuinely wish I didn’t wake up. I would get up, take a shower and decide that I was going out to look for a job today!!! But instead, I would take a shower, go sit on the couch, and only get up to take Bailey out! Poor Bailey, I was walking him 5 to 6 miles a day.
So many times, people would say to us over the years, that they could not imagine losing their child, and it is true that there is nothing like it at all! But I have lost a child and my husband! I have lost half of my family! When Meg died, we had each other to hang on to, we supported each other, we cried to sleep together, we cried during the day together, we held each other up! We were the support for each other to get up, get dressed, get going! Now there is nothing! My sister cannot help me, my cousin cannot help me, my children cannot help me! I am alone! I do not do alone well, Keith loved his alone time, me – not so much! Now I am always alone, even when I am not! I have had a lot of love from family, friends, and acquaintances that tell me that Keith is still with me, but that is not a comfort, it makes me angry!!! He is not holding me, he is not talking to me, he is not comforting to me!!! All I feel is the emptiness. I have become a hollow shell of myself, I have lost myself, my soul, my confidence and I really could care less to find it! I even started thinking that I was unable to take care of Bailey, and began contemplating putting him up for adoption because it was just so hard!
I tried to go to the grocery store, late at night so I did not have to see people. One of two things would happen, I would see someone and they would look down, because they did not want to speak with me, or they would come up and hug me and say things like, it is time to start cheering up! Or yes, unbelievably, you are young Keith would never want you to be alone!!!! REALLY People!?!?!?!
Speaking with Mona, I think has helped us both, because I know exactly where she is going, like no other. We started texting, but then went to lunch and would just cry, and listen, and because NO ONE else knew how we were feeling, at this very moment. Mona’s grief is the same, yet different than mine, she has three children, two adults and a 13-year-old daughter at home that needs her mother. Mona needs to be strong especially for her. Yes, she will mourn together along with her other children, but she cannot sit on the couch and cry all day, her daughter needs to go to school, and after-school activities and go to sleepovers. Mona’s oldest daughter was getting married in May. I said to her OMG! How are you doing this??? I cannot! I so admire Mona, she has strength well beyond me!
Sure, many people have lost their spouse or significant other, but their experience is not mine. And if it happened several years ago, you can remember how you felt, and it brings back the pain, but you are in a different place. Sadly soo many people I know have lost children since Meg, I would never say to them, I know how you feel because I do not! I lost my child, I understand that, but I do not know how you feel. I can reach out and say – I am here if you need a shoulder to cry on! I can possibly guide you, but I do not know what you are going through! My friend Patty had lost her son, 10 years ago, we had been out of touch for many years, and because of Facebook, reconnected. I tried to guide her but did not want to in any way diminish her pain. We were in two different places, but still shared the pain of losing a child. My sister-in-law Laura has been my beacon for what I should expect, and for the most part, she had to relive her own heartache, yet Keith was her big brother, she is in her own sadness, and grieving differently than I am, but yet very similar!
Last night, my stepson Justin called, and after about a half an hour of me being emotional about not finding a job, he said to me, “what has happened to my strong, confident stepmom? The woman who picked herself up every single time and became stronger and more confident!!” I told him she died, he said no she is hiding! It was kind of a kick in the ass, bringing me to reality! I realized that he was right, although, I will not be flexing my biceps anytime soon. It really made me begin to stop feeling sorry for myself. I realized that Keith would be so disappointed in how I am acting! Today, I slowly started to move in at least a forward motion. Hopefully, as I put one foot in front of the other, and yes with Bailey by my side, the darkness will lighten up, and the hollowness will start to close! I have been a Phoenix most of my life, the Phoenix will rise again, but I truly hope this is the last time I have to do this!