On Saturday two of my best friends organized a Connor Strong Benefit / 50th Birthday Party for me at the Shelburne Falls Eagles, with the local band Lakeside Drive providing the entertainment. I was completely stunned by the amount of people that showed up. About 250 people were at the Eagles, dancing, drinking, socializing and eating. At first I was reluctant to dance and “look like I was having too much fun” after all this is a benefit for Connor and he has only been gone for just over 2 months. After I had been there for about an hour and Lakeside Drive was really cranking up the tunes, my toes were tapping and I was remembering how much I love to dance, and how much Connor loved to dance too.
I looked a everyone out on the dance floor, having a good time and the idea of having to stand on the side and “not have too much fun” and mourn all night, just sounded awful to me. So the next time they played a song I really liked I put my drink down and headed to the dance floor. Adding myself to the big group of people out there, enjoying the music, the lights and all the people there. I realized shortly that I could have fun and still carry Connor in my heart. A place that he will always inhabit. I wondered for a split second if anyone would judge me, and then decided that these people were here to support me and my family, judging was not on their mind.
There is nothing like being the center of attention, when this cake comes out, with your picture on it (picture supplied by Mom) and then the band and everyone sings you Happy Birthday.
Any thoughts of being judged flew right out the window just like my old life. I’m learning to live this this new normal. Not necessary liking it, but learning to live it and realizing that I will get through it. I am stronger than I ever thought I was, ever thought I could be or needed to be. I realized Saturday not only were we celebrating for The Connor Strong Scholarship and my 50th Birthday, but also celebrating my strength, and my ability to take on this new life.
My friend Tracy said to me shortly after Connor’s death, “I don’t know how you are able to let Kyle go off and drive without having a panic attack.” My answer was “He is almost 21 and I can’t keep him in a bubble forever, I have to let him have wings too.” Well the driving part I am still ok with but now Kyle is sick, cough, body aches, fever, wheezing (due to his asthma) generally feeling like crap. My mom instincts have kicked in and I want to put him in a bubble. I hear all this talk about the flu, how it is deadly this year and moves quick. I want to protect him, and keep him safe at all costs.
In the face of a husband who says, “It is just a head cold, give him NyQuil, let him rest and he will be fine.” That doesn’t make me feel any better, I want him to share my worry and concern. I need him to be know that this could be a dire situation. But it seems to not be as dire on his radar as on mine.
Granted last year if Kyle had these same symptoms and the flu was this deadly. I would have just done my normal sick protocol. NyQuil, lots of fluids and announced he was home until he feels better. But this year and last are about as different as Kyle and Connor were. My emotions are different, my reactions are different and things that wouldn’t bother me in 2017, send me overboard in 2018.
My life has changed, I am a different person. I need to accept that. Accept that I am now hyper vigilant to things that wouldn’t have even been on my radar before. Ambulance sirens make me break out in a cold sweat, specific songs make the tears flow like rain, and sickness makes me worry like the mom of a newborn. I’m hoping that the ambulance and the song effect will relax over time. But I think the worry and concern for Kyle may always be hyper vigilant. It is something he will have to get used to. His wings may be a little more clipped than he thought, because, As Long As I’m Living My Baby You’ll Be.
I came to the conclusion yesterday that I need to invest in some good Waterproof Eyeliner. I get dressed in the morning, do my hair, put my makeup on and look fairly presentable (most days). Some days are a challenge, I go from presentable to streaked makeup and puffy eyes in the blink of an eye. Those are the days that I wish my emotions had an on/off switch, or at least a “don’t blubber in public switch”. Unfortunately we as moms and especially Grieving Moms don’t have that function installed, or even an option in the beginning.
Someday I am confident I will be able to get through a day without looking like a reject from a bad horror flick. That day is not now, probably not tomorrow, but in the future it is there. I have support from friends, family, co-workers, amazing support from people that check in on me, but they don’t crowd me or make me feel uncomfortable. Those are the best type of people to have in your life. They instinctively know what I need and how to get it to me.
That is what I’m most grateful for, the friends that have and will continue to hold me up when my body and my heart won’t do the job. I talked to a family friend who lost a son 37 years ago at just 2 years old. She gave me some very important words of wisdom yesterday. “You will be happy again, I promise you. Winter is the worst time in New England, when spring comes and things aren’t so barren, you will find things to make you smile.” But her most important words were this “It is too big of a burden to put your happiness on the shoulders on a 17 year old.” That rang true to me, Connor can’t be responsible for our happiness, he will always be part of it, but not the sole reason.
I am looking forward to the days where every little thing doesn’t make me cry. But until then I am right here in the trenches. Digging out, just like a New England winter, knowing it takes time, work and patience to get there.
We all have heroes in our life. Sports Icons or Business Icons that we hold in higher regard than normal people. Most of us hold out our parents as our heroes and that is certainly true for me. My Business Icon has always been Warren Buffett. He is smart, well spoken, has amassed a fortune with Berkshire Hathaway, but expects his children to work for a living and doesn’t just hand them things because. That is my kind of dad, the same kind I was raised by (minus the fortune) and the same type of parents Mark and I have always been.
I encountered a new type of heroes during this whole ordeal, the kind that work 12 hour shifts, don’t get holidays off (unless they have serious seniority), deal with terrified parents and loved ones, demanding doctors and other department heads. They do this all with grace, smiles, stethoscopes around their necks, iPhones in their scrub pockets (so they can do correct calculations every time a medication changes). The fluent knowledge of every machine on the floor and yet the ability to explain it to terrified parents in normal English, the calming tone needed to tell us that the crazy beep we hear every (what seems like 10 seconds) is not concerning at all. Yet the ability to scoot us all out of the room gently when major shit is going down so they can all do their jobs and we don’t have to see the carnage.
These are my new heroes, the PICU nurses that we encountered for 12 days at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. From the first night when Carly found me multiple blankets (because that room had to be kept so cold) and showed me how to unfold the love seat in Connor’s room into a bed and found me extra pillows to make me as comfy as possible. Then she pushed 2 chairs together for Jordan and found some blankets to cover her in as well, so she could be right next to Connors bed and hold his hand. Mark slept sitting up on the end of the couch with his feet on another chair, covered in another blanket. All of these things supplied by these angel nurses.
For 12 days Carly, Hillary, and the rest of them took care of not only Connor but us as well. They reminded us to eat, sent us to the Parent Sleep Room when going 5 miles to the hotel was an impossibility. At one point in time we met with Dr. Steve Lieberman to get some clarity and more information on Connor’s condition. He said to us “if you want to know how things are, and the status of Connor, don’t ask the doctors, ask my nurses, they run this unit.” Dr. Lieberman started the PICU 37 years ago, he is a wise man, and truer words have never been spoken. Those were the hardest 12 days of my life, but I also found some of the best angels in the process❤️.
The problem with having a brain that works like mine does is, well having a brain that works like mine does. Today I just couldn’t , I just couldn’t get out of bed and function. Last night night terrors destroyed any hope of sleep that I had. While having a conversation with my best friend (who is also a licensed social worker) I explained my night terrors and said “but Why explosions and fire? I just don’t understand.”
There was a long pause on her end of the phone, she and I have been friends long enough (longer than my marriage, it outlived hers and she remembers the birth of both Kyle and Connor) that I knew she wanted me to think. But my literal mind just couldn’t think outside of the box so I just paused along with her. Finally she responded with “just think about Tamitha (her nickname for me; don’t judge) your brain isn’t always linear but it is sending you messages.” Finally the lightbulb dawned… “omg my life exploded, and that’s what it means.”
Bingo, ding, ding. You win the prize. Although I am not really sure what the prize is, or even if I want it. She and I talked for another hour, about what hurts the most, what I am grieving the loss of. The loss of Prom 2, High School Graduation, the Graduation Party I don’t get to plan. The Engagement and Wedding, the grandchildren from Connor that I will never see. These are experiences that I lost, and the loss of them hurts.
After more conversation, not all crying. There were some laughs too. I came away with a plan. A night time routine, some self care, loving myself, and being patient with me. Realizing that It hurts so much because I loved so deeply. Emotionally letting go of the guilt and the feeling that I am at fault even though I know I am not. This will take time, so patience is the first order. I am not naturally patient, so I need to understand that “Miracles take time Cinderella!”
I have always had issues with nightmares and night terrors. When I was getting my MBA, working full time and coming to Western Mass to visit my now husband I suffered from them. When the stress became to much my brain would say enough. But that nightmare I could handle. I was being chased by a large green fuzzy animal, until I woke up, out of breath and frazzled.
If only this set of nightmares was as easily dealt with. The first set dealt with caskets, the cemetery and the whole burial. I would wake up sobbing, “I can’t leave my baby alone, he will be cold and afraid.” After some meds to get through that set things seemed to calm down. That isn’t to say sleep was easy, or unbothered. By the time night time rolls around, I am tired, emotionally worn out and anything and everything will set me off. With a flood of tears or a short tempered response.
This new set of nightmares can best be described as night terrors. They deal with exploding and burning cars. Fire terrifies me, and it has no base in reality in this situation. Telling my brain that has done no good though. The brain is a funny thing, it takes what it wants and runs with it, reality based or not. I am nothing if not stubborn, I spent a week trying to “tough it out”, dealing with minimal sleep and being more worn out and crankier than normal.
Finally another call to the doctor,an adjustment in medication and for the time being the night terrors have stopped. But of course the adjustment came with a caveat. “These night terrors are fluid, and changing, this is a process and you just need to work through it.” Not words I wanted to hear. I know that this won’t be easy, that my heart is going to hurt for a long time, if not forever but the knowledge that I may encounter these or something like these for an unspecified time, terrifies me. I am learning to live with this grief, it is nothing I would have ever chosen. No parent ever would have, but the more you love, the deeper and stronger the grief.
S.T.U.G. not stung although that’s what it feels like. It is an acronym and it means
It is the psychological / therapist term for what I am experiencing. The times when I’m driving along and a song comes on the radio that reminds me of Connor (the most recent one was “Boy”, by Lee Brice). Or yesterday when I was scrolling through my texts from my boss looking for something specific. All of a sudden I was in the time frame of texts from Connor’s accident. The tears started to flow uncontrollably, and emotionally I was right back in the PICU for those 12 days. The emotional roller coaster of hell, even though I knew the final outcome. I just couldn’t help hoping that things would be different if I hoped hard enough.
Some of these upsurges I can predict and therefore deal with. Things like holidays, birthdays (my upcoming 50th) and Connor’s upcoming 18th Birthday in March. What would be his graduation from Franklin County Technical School. Those are all upsurges I can predict and prepare for. Ones like the text incident, songs, memories and pictures on Facebook. Those just catch me out of the blue. One minute I am fine, the next I am a blubbering mess. I realize I can’t live in a bubble, as much as I would like to at times. I need to inhabit the real world, the world that will often cause me pain and heartache.
This is the world that a Grieving Mom lives in, we get up everyday and we put one foot in front of the other. We plaster a smile on our faces and face the world. We fake it until we make it.