My heart doesn’t understand

From my journal dated June 29, 2002:

Joe seems to really be struggling. I don’t know what to do to help him. Saturdays are probably the hardest days. They just loom there empty. It’s just so hard to find a purpose right now. He doesn’t say a lot to me…and I just pray for him. I don’t know what else to do. I’m so worried about him.

I had to pick up a prescription last night at Albertson’s. The pharmacist is a guy I know and worked with. When I first got the sleeping pill prescription, he told me about the dangers of taking them, how they keep you from grieving or prolong the process. Last night he made comments along the line about me doing better, that I could hardly talk last time I saw him. He told me how he was taught that your brain takes six weeks to “get around” the idea of loss and that taking sleeping pills doubles that time. Six weeks…really??? It takes six weeks to reconcile yourself to the idea that your child has died???

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through a loss, particularly the loss of a child, has any idea. It’s been almost four months, and I can’t “get around” or get a grasp on the concept that Jason is gone. It’s like my mind refuses it; my heart refuses it.

I’m tired. Tired of trying to figure out how to help ourselves. Tired of being alone. Tired of people making suggestions or telling me things when they have no idea what they’re talking about. Just be my friend, be there for us. Listen. Care. Hug. Help.

This has been an eye-opening experience…an experience in lack of understanding (mine and everyone else’s) of how deep grief can be and all that it encompasses following the death of a child, in how crushed a person can be and not actually die, how much pain a person can be in and still wake up every morning and try to function “normally,” in loneliness, in alone-ness. People I considered to be adopted family – good friends to all of us – have disappeared. Even when I sent out an email about Joe struggling so much since Father’s Day, no one even called him. One respond email said, “Thanks for the reminder and update,” and one asked if things were better.

My mom has only called once and emailed me once since she went home after the memorial service…almost the same with David and Sandy [my brother and sister-in-law]. I think Mom just can’t figure out how to talk to me without crying. I know she cares. She’s dealing with a lot, too – death of her grandson and the pain of knowing what the rest of us are going through.

How can we be so alone? Maybe the gap Jason left is so huge it would take a lot of people to fill it. With people doing so little for any of us, it just seems like an even bigger void. I don’t consider a call once a month of so any real support…or people feeling sorry for us or doing something solely out of pity…or someone swooping down to “rescue” us by stopping by once or quoting Scripture at me like it’s supposed to solve everything…or saying things that clearly don’t help.

Maybe I’m too picky. I just feel like someone we know well should have walked with us from the beginning. Someone to care for us, hug us, pray with us. I don’t want to hear one more excuse about why someone hasn’t called or stopped by…or how they are too busy…or it’s too far to come to our house. Whatever. They just sound like excuses to me…they  mean nothing to me.

I know it’s tough to know what to do or say!!! But to leave us so alone most of the time is a travesty. As a person who sees both sides of the coin, there are things my head comprehends and understands…but my raw, hurting heart doesn’t understand any of it.

Something’s gotta give – If you stop up a boiling tea kettle, it’s gonna blow its cork

From my journal dated May 20, 2002:

Ohmigosh!! I messed up so badly today. I threw a glass of milk at the wall!!  What a stupid thing to do! It’s just not like me!! I never do things like that! Freaked Jenna out. Thankfully she was nowhere near! Gotta get a grip! What is the matter with me??? Such a knee-jerk reaction to a really stressful situation. [Explanation of stressful situation omitted.]

I’m just so mad. I’m mad at this stupid kid that killed Jason. How could he kill Jason and then just walk away? I’m mad at all these people who leave us so alone to handle everything by ourselves. I’m mad at God for not protecting my precious boy when I’ve prayed since they were born for Him to protect our kids. Why didn’t He protect Jason? He’s omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. I have trusted Him without question my whole life. I have tried to serve Him. Why didn’t He protect my precious boy? Why were Jason and Alina at that very place at that very moment? A few seconds difference and they would still be alive. Why didn’t God protect them? I trusted Him! Why didn’t He protect them? Why??? I don’t understand!!!

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Anger is a typical reaction in grief. In their book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, J. James and R. Friedman state that “grief is the most powerful of all emotions…also the most neglected and understood…by both grievers and those around them.” (p. 3)

The authors use an excellent example [in Chapter 8, “Short Term Fixes”] of a boiling steam kettle with a cork in the spout – the cork representing misinformation concerning grief, not being able to talk about emotions, or lack of support. As we try to control our emotions inside the kettle, the steam continues to build. It reaches a point of explosion or blowing the cork, which can lead to anything from untidy to disastrous results causing even more damage.

For me, I have always been the one to be strong, to support and take care of everyone, to solve problems, to help and not make demands. I see both sides of the coin and can understand both sides to a situation. As a teenager, it seemed like my mom used tears as a manipulative thing sometimes [although I later realized she just carried her emotions more on the surface than I did], so I determined not to do that. I determined that people would never see me cry and that I would not use tears as a tool to get a reaction from someone else or to play on anyone’s emotions. As a result of my personality and known behaviors, when Jason died, I tried to continue to operate as I usually did, to be strong, to handle my emotions myself, to try to support my family.

But I wasn’t strong; I was broken and heartbroken. I couldn’t help anyone – not even myself. I couldn’t solve anything. I had little support and felt like no one wanted to hear or could deal with my strong emotions. I asked for help and had very little response. I didn’t want people to see me fall apart or cry. I kept pushing things down, trying to stay in control. I was so frustrated, though, so mad, hurting so badly. I didn’t understand anything. My framework of understanding and coping was gone.

I found out, quite dramatically, that it’s very important to find a healthy outlet for grief, one where I felt safe and comfortable in dealing with my strong emotions of grief, with my anger. I couldn’t ignore my emotions; I had to deal with them. I tried to figure out some healthy outlets. I wrote in my journal, my thoughts almost exceeding my ability to put them on paper quickly enough. I wrote ferociously sometimes. When something was bothering me, I would grab my journal and write, sometimes for more than an hour at a time. My journal became my listening ear. I read. I bought and checked out scores of books from the library on grief, trying to find understanding and a connection or common ground with other bereaved parents who had walked similar paths. I walked. I cried. I gave God a piece of my mind when I was driving alone in my car. I figured He was big enough to handle my anger.

I can’t say I was always 100% successful or that my anger went away quickly, but that situation made me very aware of the fact that I needed to find a healthy outlet for my emotions. It was not good for me or for those around me to keep pushing them down. If you keep a boiling kettle corked, it’s gonna explode.

James, J. and R. Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Angry dream

From my journal dated May 19, 2002:

I had a dream the other night. I so seldom remember my dreams that it’s odd I remember this one.

I dreamed we were at C.S.’s* house for dinner. She was upset with us for some reason and put all of us [our family] at the old kitchen table to eat while she sat at the dining room table with all the fancy dishes and crystal. She kept glaring over at us. Her family felt she was wrong and came to sit with us. I needed to get a drink so I started to go get one for myself, but then thought I should be polite and ask C.S.* if that was okay. She made some kind of really rude comment to me when I asked, and I punched my fist down into a glass bowl full of whipped cream salad and started choking her in such a rage.

I woke up…and realized what anger I have in my heart toward [people] in general right now for making US feel like the bad guys when we’ve done nothing wrong. We can’t help it that Jason died and that they’re all uncomfortable. Why are we paying the price? Why do they not support us? Why do they avoid us? People have a hard time being around us…and especially have a hard time coming to our home. It’s more comfortable for them to avoid us, but where does that leave us? Alone…and paying the price for something beyond our control!! No family, no church support, no support of any kind on a consistent basis.

We’re paying the price. How sad! And I guess I’m just really angry about it right now.