Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Bigger Cage

I wrote this non-fiction piece a while ago as a way of documenting a portion of my friend's journey through domestic abuse. Watching her go through this painful journey opened my eyes to all we never see behind closed doors. If you know someone who is suffering from domestic abuse, get them the help they need before it's too late.


A BIGGER CAGE

It all seemed so normal until it wasn’t. Her life personified by the two beautiful boys she had always aimed to keep safe, to love without conditions or expectations. She did everything for them and for him. Him, now a monster in her rearview mirror, wasn’t always a monster. She loved him; loves him. How did she become so blind? How did she allow him to take so much?

Her
“You need to get out of the house,” he said. “I’m having an open house, and you and the boys can’t be here.” His face bore only satisfaction as the words left his mouth. The utterance of those words was the first large rug to be pulled out from under me since I learned of his affair.
“Our house is for sale?” I said.
“Get out or I will throw you out.”
I didn’t understand. We were working things out. I was willing to forgive him for having a long-term relationship with another woman. I was willing to do anything to keep our family together, to keep the boys from the pain of a broken home. I did everything he wanted. All those hours making the house spotless, homeschooling the boys, making appearances with a beaming smile on my face. I endured his swinging moods, his stinging words, his leaded hands and his need for control. Every day, when the garage door would make its grinding noise, I could feel my heart beat faster as I scanned the house one last time to ensure it was perfect—for him.
But it was never perfect enough.
“Why isn’t dinner ready?” he would snap. “What in the hell did you do all day? You’re a worthless piece of shit.”
“I’m sorry. I was schooling the boys and lost track of time.”
“I’m so sick and tired of your excuses.”
Our dialogue was predictable, my apologies discarded like table scraps.
The day I discovered he was still having an affair, my heart broke into a million bloody pieces. Each piece seeped with sadness and despair. Everything I had done to prove to him how much I loved him was rejected along with my apologies. He lied to me; told me it was over with that woman; told me he wanted to make our marriage work. I didn’t understand. But rage soon overcame me, and when I confronted him in the kitchen, while the boys were still nestled in my bed after a night of movies and popcorn, he smirked and told me I had no right to look at his computer, the one he left open to that woman’s Facebook page. I snapped. I could feel something physically break inside of me. I took a swing and hit him, and he hit back. The small scratch on his chest was nothing compared to my swollen eye and bloody nose and lip. I ran upstairs. “Call your aunt and have her pick you up,” I said while I packed them a bag. Moments later, I heard him on the phone telling 911 I was running after him with a knife. What followed seemed like a nightmare I couldn’t shake. My beautiful boys’ wide eyes watched as the flashing lights approached, as they handcuffed me and patted me down, as they rested their hand on top of my head and guided me into the back of the squad car. They were too young to see this, but he let them watch as if it was a warning. His face wore that same look of satisfaction and maybe a glint of evil flashed in his eyes as he watched me being loaded into the squad car.
I was broken.
I was weak.
I was lost.

The Friend

I had no idea. My friend with long locks of blonde hair and a perpetual sweeping smile always seemed so happy, especially when she was with her boys. Our kids performed in musicals together, and she had a golden touch, making whatever she worked on, beautiful. She could make a few sad flowers look like a masterpiece, and she could decorate a table or an entire room with a flair that came from only the most gifted decorators. And she loved doing all of it; always with a smile; always with a sense that she was that perfect wife and mother many aspire to be.
It wasn’t until she announced she had separated from her husband, that I saw the cracks. She had covered them up for years, never letting on to the nightmare she lived. That’s why it was such a shock to hear the news. And then, through the ever expanding cracks, the painful truth began to leak out like thick tar that stuck to everyone it touched.
“You know that movie, Sleeping with the Enemy?” she said. “That was my life.”
“How could that be? You seemed so happy?”
What could she say to that? All she could do was tell me each painful, poignant event in her marriage. Like the time he dropped her off at the hospital for a hysterectomy and forgot to pick her up. Instead of staying at the hospital like normal, loving spouses would do, he went and spent the day with his lover and never answered the phone when the hospital called multiple times. Or the time when they were all supposed to go to Hawaii for their anniversary, but at the last minute, he told her she couldn’t go and left her at home while he and the boys enjoyed a week on the beach. As she recounted these stories to me and let go of some of the baggage she had carried secretly for years, her face straddled between fear and embarrassment for the truth she never saw.


Her

I was forced to find a place to live. The house was sold right out from under me, and when we handed over the keys he leaned over and said, “Does it hurt yet?” In the middle of the night, my car disappeared, and there wasn’t a dime in our bank accounts. He had taken it all; stripped me bare of any support. All those years I sacrificed, all of what I brought to the marriage and gave over to him was now in his pocket, and I had nothing.
It was God’s grace; His light that guided me out of my darkest moments. Who else could deliver such gifts when you have nothing to give? A condo, vacant next to the very school my older son, would now be attending. Cash from my father, who for years didn’t offer any support, was like manna from heaven. It was enough to rent the condo. From this day forward, it was always just enough.
Once I moved what little belongings I had into my new home, I searched out jobs. Friends, who were shocked to learn that my life was anything but perfect, stepped up to the plate and hired me. I thanked God for the opportunities He placed before me, however big or small. I didn’t mind cleaning my friend's houses, pulling weeds, or stocking shelves and decorating offices in the middle of the night. I know my friends felt awkward that I was cleaning their homes, but I actually enjoyed seeing their faces when they came home to a clean, organized home. And the fact that they truly appreciated my efforts was worth more than any monetary payment. Each dollar I made and each friend placed in my path was a blessing and a promise that God would provide.
The Funny thing was, there was a strange feeling growing inside of me that, at times, made me giddy. I was free. I no longer had to fear the sound of the garage door at the end of the day. I didn’t worry that the dishes were still in the sink or that the laundry wasn’t folded and put away. I didn’t have to call him to meet me at the gas station so I could fill up my car, because now, I had the money to fill it up myself.


The Friend

But he still played the game, like a twisted chess match. The boys were his pawns and the rules of how he moved the pawns were modified to meet his own needs; to cheat. It was something he excelled at, removing boundaries for himself while imposing stronger ones to the pieces he controlled. Those around her could hear the game being played when she couldn’t.
I remember the day he texted her, shortly after telling her what a fucking bitch she was. They shared joint custody of the boys, alternating weeks. She would work extra hours on the weeks she didn’t have them so she could spend more time with them when they were staying with her. She stood in my kitchen, wiping down my stove with a hopeful face.
“He wants to help me with the boys. Says we should go over my work schedule to see where he can help.”
“Really?”  I shook my head and watched her diligently scrub off last night’s dinner. What was he up to now? “I’m not so sure he really wants to help.”
“He sounds sincere. I think he feels bad.”
“For what? For having an affair? For kicking you out of your house? For hiding and selling your car? For leaving you with nothing?”
She stopped scrubbing and turned to me. “I think he misses what we had.”
The thought crossed my mind that he probably did miss what he had, but it wasn’t that he missed them as much as he missed controlling them; he missed being their puppet master.
“I’m just not sure his intentions are pure. Don’t let him know you’re too busy with work to take care of the boys. Something tells me, he’s playing a game with you.”
She shook her head at my analysis. “I don’t think he’d do that.”
“All I’m saying is, don’t give him anything he can use against you. If he gets confirmation that you can’t take care of the boys because you work, he could use it against you.”
I was certain I hadn’t convinced her that there was something amiss until a few hours later when she sent me a text: YOU WERE RIGHT!


Her

Denial followed me. It dragged behind me like a course, heavy blanket, picking up and holding on to the dirt he threw at me. The relentless, brutal text messages that filled my phone were sadistic and cruel. Those aren’t your friends, they are only pretending because they feel sorry for you—no one would possibly want you for a friend. You’re worthless. You’re no one. You’re a pathetic bitch.
His threats still held me captive; still had me trying to please him so he wouldn’t follow through, but he did anyway. He’d often refused to return the boys to me, keeping them a full twenty-four hours past his court-appointed time. Or he would send me on a wild goose chase, changing his location just before I arrived. I never fought back because I didn’t want the boys to think less of me. I wanted them to know I would do everything in my power to keep the peace.
When I would occasionally break down and show my friends some of the messages he had sent, they wanted me to fight back. I could see the anger in their eyes, but they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand him the way I did. They didn’t know what he was capable of and how fighting back would only mean more punishment for me and the boys. So, instead, I cleaned off the soiled blanket that trailed behind me and carried on, making myself believe he didn’t really mean it; that it was only a matter of time before he realized how wrong he was and make everything right again. And, just to make sure, on the heels of his painful texts, I would text back with only kind words and affirmations.


The Friend

The text messages he sent her were horrific. As she shared some of the rants he sent her, my mouth shot open, and the blood coursing through my body began to boil. I couldn’t imagine my husband saying such horrible things to me, and I began to realize that her husband was either really stupid or a psychopath. His words were calculating and vindictive, but she just brushed it off as though she were trying to prove the “sticks and stones” theory.
I tried to offer counsel, but it appeared she didn’t always agree. I was becoming afraid for hers and the boys’ safety, but again, she didn’t share that fear. So, for a while, we would chat briefly, but rarely about her situation with him. It felt like there was a physical fault line between us, neither of us wanting to cross to the other side. There were bits and pieces she would throw over to me, but they were modified, as was my advice.
When she announced, after two years of his relentless verbal abuse that they were reconciling, I thought I would truly lose it in front of her. After all she had been through, after the hate and lack of empathy he had shown her for countless years, she was entertaining a reconciliation.
“You’re what?” I said.
“We’re going to try and work things out.” There was a smile on her face; she seemed happy. I was still trying to lift my jaw off the floor.
“Why?”
“He’s changed. I think he understands now.”
“Has he gotten professional help?”
“No, but he’s finally seeing his mistakes.”
It was all I could do to not grab her by the shoulders and shake her from this spell she was under. But, even as her friend, I didn’t know if it was my place to protest.
“Do me a favor. Sign the divorce papers,” I said.
She narrowed her eyes and twisted her lips but didn’t say anything.
“If you are truly starting over with him, clean the slate first. Make him recommit with nothing on the table but you.”
“Hmmm. That’s an interesting idea,” she said.
“Whatever you do, do not get rid of your condo and protect your savings.”
My fear that this was another move in his ongoing game had me on edge.


Her

I was excited at the prospect of our family being back together, all under the same roof. The boys ran through the vast house he had found, where we would all move into, together. This house was larger than the one he had sold. The floors were covered with warm, rich wood and the kitchen gleamed with stainless steel appliances and maple cabinets. Each boy would have his own room again, and there would be plenty of space for friends to gather. I saw myself preparing chili and cupcakes in the chefs kitchen on Halloween, made a note of where the couch would be best placed in the family room, and envisioned my colorful planters livening up the backyard.
But as I wandered the expansive halls, my stomach began to squeeze, and my chest began to hurt. And then, I understood. This was just a bigger cage.
In the back of my head, I could hear my friend’s voice, “Whatever you do, don’t give up your condo.” It was as though the cloud that grew thick and dark around my head during our marriage was now burning off, allowing me to see for the first time in years. This house was a ruse, a way to lure me into yet another cage where he could lock the door and control me. He knew how important it was to me to be a family again and for the boys to no longer be pushed back and forth on the swing of separated parents. And he knew, up until this very moment, it had always been my goal. But what he didn’t know was that I wasn’t the same woman he threw out of our house with barely more than the clothes on my back. I was more; so much more and I would never be locked in a cage again.
I told him I wasn’t ready to move. We still had a lot of repair work to do before moving back in together. And, in all honesty, I liked my little home  I had spent my hard earned dollars to renovate and make into my very own sanctuary. I wasn’t ready to give up the one place that showed me how far I had come. He didn’t like my answer.


The Friend

She didn’t show up to clean my house. I shot her a text wondering if she was going to come and she apologized that she couldn’t make it. I didn’t think anything of it, she was busy trying to balance everything. But two weeks later, when she did come, it was obvious why she had avoided me.
When I arrived home, I searched for her, eager to catch up on life’s happenings. I found her in my daughter’s room, dusting. The moment she saw me tears filled her eyes, and she lifted up her long bangs. Just above her eye was a large, red scar. She looked at me with such sadness and regret, as though her whole world had crashed down upon her, again.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He slammed my head into the door frame.”
“Why?” Not that there ever needed to be a reason for someone having their head slammed into anything, but I wanted to know what had happened.
“He got angry, and when I turned away from him, he grabbed my head and threw me into the door.”
“Oh, God!” was all I could say.
“He did it in front of our son. Told me to get the fuck up.”
It pained me to hear the details of how he ranted at her without an ounce of empathy or regret as her head gushed with blood and her brain struggled to process what had happened. She eventually grabbed her phone and called our mutual friend, who knew something was up when she couldn’t put a coherent sentence together. Our friend came to the door and when she saw the blood said, “Oh my God, what happened?”
And, as if out of some horror movie, a voice from behind our friend said, “she fell.” Him.
She continued to dust as she finished her story. “I didn’t understand until they put the wristband on me in the hospital. It read: VOV.”
I looked at her, unaware of what VOV meant.
“Victim of Violence.”


Her

It was my wake-up call. I never considered myself to be a victim of violence. The abuse he directed at me throughout our marriage I often blamed on myself. I needed to be a better wife; I needed to please him more. When I covered myself with the bed sheets to protect myself from the onslaught of what he threw at me or when I huddled in the closet and prayed for God to get me through his next rage and spare the boys, I never thought I was a victim of violence.
The strange thing is, everyone knew except for me. I had accepted my life as it was while others watched on, hoping I would open my eyes. Friends would send me notes saying they were sorry I was going through this, or they would leave an envelope of cash or a bag of groceries on my doorstep, yet I didn’t understand. And when I still couldn’t see through the thick fog or maybe just refused to open my eyes, they protected me as though God instructed them to be sentinels and witnesses to the grace He provides.
My journey is not over. While I am now officially divorced from my tormentor, I am still tethered to him by our two sons. But now, I am fully awake and stronger than I’ve ever been. I know now that keeping our family together was the last thing our boys needed. What they needed, and still need, is for me to fight for them and to fight for myself. They need to see their mother as a strong woman, and they need to know that their father’s behavior was and will never be okay. They also need to know that I will never allow them to suffer at the hands or the mouth of their father again, and I will never live in another cage, no matter its beauty or size.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Fighting the Good Fight: The IEP Meeting

I'm sitting at Starbucks pretending to be another person working, but really I'm waiting. In forty-five minutes I will return to my son's school along with my husband, E's in-home therapy case manager, and his lead in-home therapist on whom we've come to rely, because they can help our son where we can't. It's a humbling experience.

My husband is used to meetings. He says the key is to be prepared. Those of you who know me may have noticed that being prepared is not one of my most fine-tuned skills. Yet, here I am with a bag stocked with a notebook, lists, and present and past goals and progress reports. I could (and very possibly will) write an entire post discussing the things no one tells you about being a special needs parent. Right now, I'm thinking about the paperwork. The forms and reports and requests and evaluations. The forests and forests of trees stuffed in E's file alone. But, I digress.

I was not prepared for my first IEP meeting. I remember walking in to a room full of people sitting around a long table, each equipped with their own laptop, lanyard, and shiny coffee cup emblazoned with the school's name. The scene may have been overwhelming even for someone who doesn't consider ordering a coffee to be enough social interaction for one day. Besides, I wasn't exactly sure that these people were on my side. The whole thing felt strangely like a court proceeding. I'm not being critical; E has made leaps and bounds in his blended classroom (about 50/50 special education and mainstream students) and his teacher is amazing. I have every reason to believe these people I don't really know want my child to be successful nd supported in school. The thing is, though, I can't afford to assume that. I have to be ready and willing to play the unfamiliar and uncomfortable role of an assertive person if I feel my son isn't getting what he needs.

The weirdest thing about IEP meetings and all those evals we need to fill out is the concept of discussing and highlighting what our child can't do. The focus is on where he is falling short of his typically developing peers. Of course, the point of all this is to get him the services tht he needs. I know this and I'm grateful for it, but irrationally it almost feels like a betrayl every time I make note of my son's deficits.

I'm reminded of the tender baby years. All the talk about when so and so rolled over, first teeth, first smiles, and first steps. We love to tell people these things; to record and celebrate these milestones, especially if they're early. But what if they're late? We still need to talk about that and even record it, but this process is decidedly less pleasant. The polished Facebook world of firsts and glossy back to school photos suddenly seems foreign. At an IEP meeting you discuss what your child should be able to do but can't. You also feel a vague since that you're preparing for battle, even if you have the best IEP team.

This time, the stakes feel higher. We will be meeting a whole new team. In the fall, E will be transitioning to kindergarten, one of the biggest milestones.

So, am I prepared?

No. I wasn't prepared for any of the extra challenges autism brought into our world.

Yes. I'm E's mother. I know his needs, his strengths, his quirks, and his unique and infectious curiosity. I want his team to see what I see. I want them to see his value and strengths. I want them to see past his diagnosis.

The thing is, I also need them to see his difficulties. I need them to remember his diagnosis not for the "label", but to resist the temptation of pushing him through because "all five year olds do that sometimes". Yep, I've heard that. I've also heard that they don't see some of his more pronounced sensory seeking during the two hour school day. Kindergarten might be different. Kindergarten will be different. I need them to see the full picture.

Prepared or not, I will do everything to make sure my child has the tools he needs to succeed. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put on my (probably dog hair-covered) armor.




Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thank You For Your Optimism



Dear Daffodils,

The two of you stood tall in my yard today; your sunny yellow blooms unfolded, your leaves extended as though stretching after a long, blissful nap. I admired both of you, not only for your beauty but for your frank optimism. Winter isn't over, and yet you emerged because of the few days when the sun warmed the soil and stirred you from your slumber. Tomorrow, the strong, cold winds will bend your delicate stems, and the snow will cover you, but I am grateful to have seen you when everything else around me was dull and gray. Seeing your bright beauty among the sludge of a long, trying winter tickled me. I had forgotten the joy of a glorious spring day, one that invigorates all my senses; the scent of wet earth emerging from snow, the songs of birds springing from the trees, the vibrant colors blooming before our eyes, and the feel of the warm sun on my head.

In light of all the struggles I have faced personally and all the struggles our country and the world have endured, you are a reminder of a more beautiful day that will emerge. Even when everything appears ugly around us, there is the promise that beauty will sprout and grow. It's hard to be optimistic in a pessimistic world, but optimism is what holds us together, like glue. By sprouting early, you reminded me the dark will pass, and there will be a sense of victory that I have made it through the tough stuff.

I strive to be like you. Not only do I want to believe there is good even during the worst of times, I also want to be that person who inspires others to believe the same. I want to stand tall like you, focused on the day before me rather than worry about what tomorrow might bring. Without the guarantee of tomorrow, you took on today and shared your beauty, inspiring me to pass it on.

Thank you Daffodils, for your optimism. I will always remember your sacrifice to teach me that beauty lies just beneath the surface of our toughest times and that it will surface when it's ready, and it will be glorious.

P.S., You were right to be so optimistic since I took you in and placed you in a vase for everyone to enjoy. I'm pretty certain that the two of you will be the most treasured flowers of the season.

Love,

An Optimist In Training


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shhh...



Is it getting noisy around here or is it just me? I'm not referring to the literal noise that finds its way to our ears every day, but to the noise that happens in our media and on our electronics that we are constantly connected to.With so much technology at our fingertips today, we have opened ourselves up for a continual flood of information. What's the first thing you reach for when you wake (besides your glasses)? Except for some, most of you will answer that it's your phone. You check for missed calls, emails or Facebook posts. You might check your Instagram or send a "just woke up" Snapchat to a string of friends. For many, it's the new morning routine that doesn't end until you plug the phone back in just before falling asleep for the night.

It's great that we have so much at our fingertips, that is true. What would we do without all these apps that make our lives so much easier? I can't imagine using a paper map anymore or not being able to make or receive a call no matter where I am. I can do my banking, locate my children, get the latest sports scores, send emails, or get the latest news. I can also listen to my music, read or listen to a book or even watch T.V. or a movie. There's really not much that our phones can't do. But all these things it can do make it difficult to find some peace.

I remember when the high school my son attended decided to use Ipads as part of the curriculum. Every student received an Ipad and would use it to for educational purposes such as a replacement for their textbooks, a way to turn in homework and to enter chats regarding class content. At first, I thought this was a good idea. This would eliminate the heavy textbooks (more importantly, forgetting their books at school), and allow more connectivity to their teachers. But what I realized, over time, is that it made the students more connected to the device and its content and less connected to physical human interaction. No longer did they need to raise their hand in class to participate in a group discussion - they could just join the chat on the device. It seemed as though the students became more and more detached from human interaction and more attached to social media as a way of communicating. I even joked that the school would probably need to add a class on how to physically talk with one another now that the Ipad would be replacing that practice. Not only has personal device technology taken away the practice of physical intereaction, it is now the new norm of communicating and obtaining information, and with it manifested in their daily lives, it's almost impossible to turn it off.



Why do we need to tune out the noise? Noise only gets louder. When you're in a room and people start talking, the noise level begins to increase as the need to be heard increases. I think that goes for social media as well. My Facebook page seems to be filled with political rants that get more and more heated. Instead of people posting what's going on in their lives, they are spouting their anger which spawns more anger from others, increasing the negativity and noise on the page. As I scroll through, I can hear the shouting and I sometimes want to yell, "just shut up!" because the negative noise accomplishes absolutely nothing other than creating more anger. I miss the days when Facebook was just a nice place to visit to see pictures of cute puppies or friend's children doing adorable things. I guess that's why my kid's generation prefer Instagram because it's like the earlier version of Facebook.



So, to answer why we need to tune out the noise, it's clear. When it's quiet, we can hear our own thoughts and reflect on the best way to convey those thoughts. We no longer feel the need to shout over everyone else when the room is quiet. As a matter of fact, when the room is quiet, we sometimes don't feel the need to say anything at all. Negativity is all around us and if we listen, we can also become negative in our thoughts and words. Cutting out those things that deliver negativity or at least turning down the volume can help reduce the stress and frustration they create.



We all deserve some peace in our day so we can reflect on who we are and who we want to be. Do we want to be the loudest person in the room who riles everyone up or do we want to be the quiet one who, when we do speak, people actually listen? In today's angsty political climate, it might be hard to hold one's tongue, but I would like to believe more people would appreciate a quieter, more reflective room. I know I would like to see more pictures of babies and puppies and less about the negatives that surround us. Maybe, we all need to disconnect from social media and from the news from time to time and go do something that makes us happy and alters our negative thoughts into something productive. Don't like what's going on? Instead of complaining about it, do something about it. Feed the homeless, be a mentor to the disadvantaged, or go build a house for Habitat for Humanity. There is so much we can do to change the climate of our country that doesn't cost a cent - only our time.



Find the peace, be the one to quiet the room or excuse yourself from the room altogether and do something productive with your absence. It's not easy to disconnect in a world that is so easily accessible with just the touch of a button. But if we don't find some silence and solitude from time to time, we will lose ourselves in the noise of others.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chicken Soup for the Soul - Miracles and More

This new collection from the iconic publisher proves that miracles happen every day to people from all walks of life. From miraculous connections like Sheila’s, to answered prayers, divine intervention, inexplicable healing, angel encounters, and messages from heaven, these stories from ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences will deepen your faith and give you hope—that good things do happen to good people.

See Jan's story on page 189! This book goes on sale, February 6th, 2018 so pre-order your copy today.

Friday, October 27, 2017

When Your Friend's Child Dies

As a parent, I can't think of anything worse than losing a child. It is a fear that grips me at unexpected times, wakes me in the middle of the night and brings me to my knees in prayer. Children should always outlive their parents, yet every day, for the parents of some 21,000 children worldwide, this is their reality and their nightmare. It's easy to distance yourself from this statistic when it doesn't reach you. Yes, in some way we are affected when we learn of the news or in our social media threads of a child who has died, but if we don't know them, it's easy to shed a quick tear and/or say a quick prayer and move on with our lives. But when we know them...well, it's an unexpected navigation that has no clear direction and no clear destination.

This August, my dear friend, lost her daughter who was hit by a car three days after arriving at her university. I had just dropped my own daughter off at her university and was in the middle of a 12-hour drive home when my daughter called and told me the horrible news. I couldn't believe it. For the next 6 hours, I drove in complete silence, waffling between tears and prayer. I had planned to stop somewhere along the way and sleep, but after the news I had to get home, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. What do I do? Do I call her? Text her? Do I hop on the next plane and go to her? I was honestly paralyzed with a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing that it kept me from doing anything at all.

When someone dies, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to comforting those left behind, just like there is no one way to handle grief when it is you who is directly impacted. A person's faith, personality, and history all play a significant role in how they deal with their grief. And yet, even if we think we know them intimately, there is no guarantee we will know how they will react to the tragic event or what they need. So what are we to do? We go with our gut. We push through the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and do what we feel would comfort us the most if the tables were turned. For example, I would want to be surrounded by my friends. I would want them to just be present so I wouldn't feel so alone. I would appreciate the calls and texts, even if I didn't answer them, take in the hugs sent in many ways, (flowers, prayer cards, silly things that make me laugh), and I would want to hear every story they have about my child.

It has been over three months since my friend's daughter's death and I have taken my own advice yet, there are so many things I find myself struggling with as I navigate this new terrain. First off, I can't physically be there to help my friend due to my recent move across the country. While so many are able to bring meals, stop over with a smile or get her out of the house, I can only offer texts or phone calls. I want to be there and the fact that I can't makes me feel helpless.

Second,  I believe I am suffering from a form of survivor's guilt. I wasn't aware of it at first but as I reflect on these painful months, I see that this survivor guilt started the minute I heard the news. Normally, I would have posted the picture on Facebook of my daughter and I that I took just before I left her at school. But after the news, I just couldn't. And since the accident, I've only posted a handful of times, always concerned at how my post would affect my friend. I felt like any post I made, especially about my kids, would be a punch to her gut and I didn't want to cause her any more pain. But it isn't only guilt that has pulled me away from interacting on Facebook. It's also the shallowness and hurtful posts that make me think people have forgotten how precious life truly is and the impact their words can have on someone else. When your friend loses their child, all that bullshit doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that I am kind in a world where kindness is not the lifestyle of choice these days.

Third, depression has been my constant companion. Before this news, I was already going through some big changes. I was moving across the country, leaving my son behind and dropping my daughter off at college. I was going from a family of 5 to a family of 3 in two short weeks. It was as though I was wading in the shallow end of the pool and reached the drop-off, unsure if I could doggy-paddle my way to safety. It was all too much at one time and then add my friend's daughter's death. When I was in the process of packing up my house, I was asked if I was sad. I was asked if it was strange to see my house empty, to watch the moving truck pull away, to close the door for the last time. But I didn't have time to be sad, or mad or nostalgic--I was up to my eyebrows in logistics and I knew that if I lost my shit, I would never get through it. So I bagged up my emotions, figuring I would deal with them when the dust settled. I would have a good cry, feel sorry for myself for a few days and then move on. But when tragedy struck, those bagged emotions were sealed because there was something bigger than my own bag of crap.

I am still waiting to open that bag. I thought at some point it would explode, but it appears I am suffering from some kind of emotional constipation that keeps me from moving forward. It's been months since I have written a blog post or worked on my novels. But I am determined to put some holes in that bag, to unleash the contents, accept all that has happened and turn what has bound me into what will lift me. It will be a slow process, I'm sure, but as I have learned, there is always the opportunity to grow, to be a better, stronger, kinder human being.

Growth comes from our experiences, the good the bad and the deeply tragic. What we do with that growth, who we become from those experiences is up to us. We can either let them pull us down and make us into miserable people, or we can allow them to mold us into a more understanding, gentler person who can make a difference in this world. I will leave you with this saying I found on a plaque that I sent to my dear friend:



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Special Night

It was 5:00 on a Monday evening and I was done. The day had begun with some mysterious smell that only he could detect triggering my sensory sensitive eight year old's projectile vomiting five minutes before we had to leave for his homeschool class. This required a full outfit change and clean up. Not for the first time, we had to do the late walk of shame to the sign in desk. This meant that we were late getting home to meet my four year old's therapist. He was out of sorts and uncooperative. When the bus arrived at 11:25, he did not want to get on and the bus driver had to bribe him with music.

I took the dog for a walk and tried without much success to bring some sense of order to the house, quickly becoming overwhelmed as I tend to do. Nothing got done and the piles of papers and school books loomed. Hampers overflowed. The washer and dryer were full. The cat threw up a massive hair ball. You get the picture. Nothing earth shattering or noteworthy happened, but the trivial hassles were piling up and grating on my patience.

Consistent with the theme of the day, The bus was late dropping my four year old home, which meant I was late getting to my eight year old's homeschool class to complete my clean up duties. Since his musical theater class started this same afternoon (why is everything always on Mondays?) we made the forty-five minute trek to the church facilitating the class. When we pulled into the parking lot (you guessed it - late), A was not budging from the car. He was tired, his allergies were flaring, and he had convinced himself his stomach was sick again. After ten more minutes of cajoling, I gave up and we were driving toward home. The four year old began to cry because, why not?

By the time we got home A had diagnosed himself with every known illness. Do you see why he's in theater? I told him to put hi pajamas on. His brother wanted pajamas too. I declared a movie night. Camped out on the couch with blankets and stuffed animals, they watched as I scrolled through the free on demand movies, debating about the validity of super heros and the entertainment value of various animated characters. Finally, they agreed on Curious George Christmas. I wasn't going to be the one to point out that it was September.

While the puppy tried to steal blankets and stuffed animals, I looked at the clock and realized I had no dinner plans. I opened the refrigerator to make an unfortunate discovery. The raw chicken defrosting in there had somehow leaked on the bottom shelf and into the drawers. I closed the refrigerator, washed my hands, and busted out the popcorn popper to buy myself sometime before the hunger monster struck. My four year old when he's hungry's got nothing on salmonella, people!

I may have slightly overloaded the popcorn popper, which started to smoke in protest. I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen, but I managed to serve up a big bowl of freshly popped popcorn. To the boys' delight, I even tossed the "no eating in the family room" rule to the wind.

As I disinfected the refrigerator and snuck peeks of my kids (and the dog) eating mouthfuls of popcorn at 6:00 P.M., My inner voice began. Don't you just love her?

"This is a shit day," I thought. "We were late to everything, A missed his first theater class and now he'll probably get a leftover part, and he can only miss two for the session. Should I have made him go? He's not really sick. Am I sending the message that it's okay to not honor your commitments? Why didn't I put this chicken  in an extra bag? Look at them eating popcorn for dinner, and no bath! I really failed today."

In the midst of my inner monologue, my four year old suddenly came running into the kitchen. He wrapped his pajama clad arms around my legs. I looked down at his smiling face. Then he said the words that changed my whole perception. "Thank you, Mom, for the special night."

Before I could respond, E was racing back to the family room to catch up with George and his Christmas shenanigans. I stopped. I looked at the evening from his eyes. He was safe and warm in cozy pajamas watching a special movie with his favorite blanket, his brother, and his puppy. He was eating popcorn in the family room and no one was concerned with crumbs or a spoiled appetite.
What I saw as failing on my part he saw as making the night special. I hope he will remember it that way. If only we could always see things through the innocent, joyful eyes of young children. Often my children are the ones teaching me without even knowing it.

I leaned an important life lesson: Sometimes a mom's shit day is a child's special night.

https://youtu.be/QKWc_mMal1A