Crushed Like a Candy Cane

I am supposed to be wrapping presents, but instead I am sitting on the couch with a drink in my hand, The Hallmark Channel on and the express intent of quieting my mind. The drink is good, the movie is charming, but my mind just won’t stop racing. I had a conversation with my best friend Kathy today, she is not only my best friend from college, she is also my person. The one I can go to when the walls come crashing in, and I start to implode. It doesn’t hurt that she is a Licensed Social Worker with The State of Connecticut and is trained in this kind of stuff.

Not only is my heart crushed like a Christmas Candy Cane from the loss of Connor, it is sore from an upcoming hurt that I am steeling myself for. I have uncharacteristically held this one close to the vest, since you all know that this blog and these posts are my salvation and part of my healing process, but I can’t bottle it up anymore.

In October my father in law, Connor and Kyle’s Grampa and Mark’s Dad was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma. We have ridden this roller coaster for 2 months and now we are headed down to the end of the tracks. Hospice has come in, heavy duty pain meds are on board and things are both changing rapidly yet standing still all at the same time. What I do know is that I am not ready for this, I’m not ready to embrace another loss, and I don’t believe anyone ever is.

There is no blueprint for how to figure this out, we just figure it out as we go, sometimes we fly by the seat of our pants and hope for the best. What I have learned is that being surrounded by ones you love, great family members and fantastic friends can get you through the worst of times.

Unconditional

Last night I had a tearful text conversation with my boss. If you know Steve at all, you know that really isn’t abnormal. He may play the part of the hard-assed boss, but he is one of the kindest, soft hearted and loving people I know.

Not only was Connor my son, he was an employee of S Keyes Electric, Inc. First as a summer employee, then as a co-op employee through FCTS. He loved working for Steve, learned things in the real world that even FCTS Shop Class couldn’t teach him. He honed his work ethic, how to deal with customers and how to correctly do paperwork.

On the other side I think he taught us quite a bit too. He was serious about doing a good job and learning all he could about the trade. But he also had other loves in his life. Baseball, which during the season he would have to leave early for practice and games, and Jordan. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind how much he adored her, he would move heaven and earth for her. What has come to a surprise to me is how much my guys knew that he loved his mom. At the end of each work day, Connor would come into my office, empty my trash, sometimes bring me a soda, fill me in on his plans for the evening. Was he going home, or to Jordan’s, or maybe to Rusty’s to work on his car. Then before he left he would say “gotta go, love you mom.” My response was always “love you to the moon and back Connor, be safe.” He would roll his eyes at me, with the be safe thing and then out the door he would go.

In a lot of ways it was as hard for me to go back to work as it was to stay home surrounded by all his things. At my office he was there too, his time sheets, his paperwork, the “CP ornament” that he made out of copper when he was exploring plumbing that hangs on my wall. He is literally everywhere I turn.

His loss has taught us all that life is full of accidents, both good and bad. Sometimes we get second chances and sometimes we are one and done. Before this I always lived by the motto “there is no such thing as an accident.” It is something that my Dad always drilled into us, there was always something that was done to cause it. But for this I just have to accept the accident and let it be.

When I was in my early 20s I didn’t want children, now I can’t imagine my life without either Kyle or Connor. Children are unconditional love, even when they are being shitheads. They are proof that you can do something right, you can have a positive impact on this world.

I look at Kyle and see the strong, independent, hardworking young man we raised, and think we did good. I just wish that the world was able to experience Connor for more than 17 years, because I’m sure we did good with him too.

Just a Haze

Tonight I met Mark at Genden in Shelburne so we could go to Autumn Walsh’s Wake. I brought us both a change of clothes, and as I was standing in his showroom with my boots on and flats in my hand I asked him “Do these boots look ok, or do I need my flats?” He says “Jill won’t care or notice what you have on your feet. Think about it, do you remember what anyone wore to Connor’s Wake?” He is right, the only reason I remember what I had on is there is a beautiful but heartbreaking picture taken of Mark and I that day. We are standing at The Colrain Community Church watching the balloons that had been released float away. The grief and pain on our faces is heart wrenching, but at the same time you can see the love we have for Connor underneath the pain.

As I looked at everyone in that funeral home tonight and I fount back the crocodile tears. All that kept running through my head was, these kids just went through this a year ago. They are too young to be dealing with this much tragedy and grief. So many of them had the “deer in the headlights” look in their eyes, the look of shock mixed with grief and horror.

I wanted to hug each and every one of them, tell them that it would be ok, and eventually it will be. But that eventually is a while away. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and these wounds will be fresh, sore, bruised and bloody for quite a while.

This Village is STRONG!!

For everyone suffering the loss of Connor Powers and now the loss of Autumn Walsh. I wish I had words of wisdom to heal all of our broken hearts, to magically make the pain go away. But alas I am neither Mary Poppins nor Harry Potter with his magic wand. All I do know is that these losses will change us, in ways that we never imagined, both good and bad. They will make us stronger, and weaker, more resiliant and yet more vulnerable. With a stronger outside, but mored tender and soft on the inside, maybe just call us all turtles. Call us what you want, but we will survive this because we are fighters.

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Autumn

 

This path that we walk now sure isnt pretty, but we can walk it all together, leaning on one another when necessary, picking up the ones that stumble along the way, and carrying the ones that just can’t walk any more. We are a strong village, stronger than we ever knew, stronger than we ever thought we would have to be. The young ones among us, the friends and aquaintances of Connor and Autumn are feeling this grief in ways that I never imagined people that age would have to.

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They have been stunned and heartbroken in their late teens and early 20’s, by losing someone in their own age group. That type of loss didn’t hit me until I was well into my 40’s. This generation has grown up much faster, handling grief, addiction, gun violence and the perils of this grown up society that we have handed them at a much earlier age than most of us adults handled when we were that age.

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I have mo magic panacea to fix the perils of the society that we live in, guns, drugs, hate and other things that teens love.  What I do have is the idea that this community we live in, Franklin County , Massachusetts,  is pretty amazing.  We may the the county forgotten by the lawmakers and anyone east of Gardner, but we make up for it with an abundance of love, compassion, broad shoulders and the ability to make casseroles for grieving families and big listening ears. That may be why we are the forgotten county, we know that help and love comes in old fashioned ways, and for that I am proud of my village.

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One Down….

One holiday down, albeit the easy one, but it is the one that starts the holiday season. We spent Thanksgiving with my parents in Connecticut. Yes there was a missing chair and place at the table, but there were also laughs, and memories and very few tears. My meltdown came the night before, when it hit me like the Acela train that it really was Thanksgiving without Connor, that we would be traveling to Connecticut as a group of 3 instead of 4.

That is when the tears began to flow, Mark tried to help, saying “it was just another day, and we were going to have dinner with my parents.” As much as I knew what he was trying to do, it made me mad. It wasn’t just another day that we were going to have dinner with my parents. It was fucking Thanksgiving, and we were going to have dinner with my parents minus one of my children. Nothing was going to make that any better, any easier, or soften the pain. There would be an empty place setting (not actually set), but in my heart and soul. Kyle and Connor should be arguing that they can’t sit next to each other, but which one of them got to sit next to mom. And then they would be silly in the living room, both making my dad laugh. Then both of them helping my Mom with her walker, just like it was second nature. Then Connor watching football with my dad, and picking on Kyle that he really doesn’t know much about football. Those are the things that I missed, their poking at each other, both literally figuratively.

What I learned from yesterday is that those memories will live in my heart forever, just like them always having to have Ranch Dressing on their Turkey when they were little. But things change, that is the only thing constant in this world. I wasn’t ready for this change, but we never are, I don’t think I will ever embrace this one. But someday I will learn to live with it, and make it part of my new life. Little changes and movements at a time show that I am getting there.

I Made it I Think…

As I’m laying here on the couch watching The Hallmark Channel, I know it’s all sappy Christmas movies, but there is no real world drama and that is what I need now. What is running through my head is nothing but real world drama. Tomorrow is 11/17/18, the one year anniversary of the day we made the final decision, the day we turned off the machines and disconnected all the tubes that where keeping Connor alive.

The last pic I took of Connor & he groaned

I wish I could say that it was an easy decision but it wasn’t. It was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. One of my biggest worries was how was I going to tell Jordan, the love of his life and her his, that he was never coming back. She had spent 11 days in the PICU with us, she wasn’t ready to lose him and everything they had planned. I chickened out, I let her parents tell her, I wasn’t strong enough to tell her that he was never coming back.

My standard pose in the PICU waiting room

I second guessed it over and over in the hospital, looking for second, third and even fourth opinions. All of those opinions came back the same, that he would never be the same young man as before the accident. He was gone and now I needed to remove the medical intervention that was keeping him here.

For hours before we removed the machines I sat next to him, holding his hand and crying, crying just like I am now. I kept asking him to open his beautiful blue eyes so I could say good bye and tell him I love him. I told him all those things even when he couldn’t open his eyes for me.

All it takes is one day

I have pictures that I took of him hooked up to all those tubes, but they are for my eyes and memories only. The memories shared here will be of Connor being him, loving Jordan, playing baseball, doing all the things as a smaller child that made me both love him and want to strangle him simultaneously.

Senior Pic w Jordan

There will never be a day that I don’t miss him, at this point in time all I can hope is that I can make it through the holidays without turning into a puddle of mush, but I am not optimistic.

Watching the balloons they released at his services

Taking Care of ME

Yesterday was it, the day of the fateful accident. My day that forever will live in infamy. I can tell you exactly where I was, how I reacted, and how we got to Baystate in Springfield. Once we got there, it was a game of hurry up and wait. Then the “Team” came to talk to us and in less than 30 words my world imploded.

“His prognosis is grim, but we will do everything we can do”… Those words will haunt me forever, no matter what they did, my baby was too badly damaged and in the end we had to let him go. It was the right thing, the kindest thing and the thing that was best for everyone. That doesn’t mean that it hurts any less, because it doesn’t.

But what I have learned since this time last year is:

1. I have had more better days as time has gone by.

2. This time last year I was convinced that medical intervention would save him.

3. When that failed, I sunk into a hole, so deep I wasn’t sure I was ever coming out.

4. The grief and sadness overcame every part of me.

5. Tears became my constant companion, I went months without makeup because it was washed away by tears.

6. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him, or wish he was here with me.

8. I am able to talk about Connor without breaking out in full fledged sobs on most days.

I think of all of these as positives, I still grieve and cry and at times I still howl and scream. But one year ago I never thought I could ever go on. I am strong because I didn’t think had no choice, but to be honest I did have a choice. I could have stayed in that hole, cried, stayed in bed, not gone back to work, not showered, and drank myself into oblivion. I did none of those things because they wouldn’t bring Connor back, they would make me sadder, drunker, and stinkier. But they wouldn’t fix anything.

I’ve always been a fixer, the sad truth is I couldn’t fix this. I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t make the head injuries go away, and I couldn’t save him. But I can save myself, and that is the most important thing right now. I have to put me first, because I can’t pour from an empty cup to help anyone else.