8

Coping with Death and How to Help

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last family photo we took with mom – 2013

I have been wrestling with this post in my head for over a month now and it still doesn’t get any easier to think about so here I go, biting the bullet, making it happen. This is as messy as it gets…

My mom passed away December 18, 2017 somewhere on the cusp of midnight the next day.

I am still tearing up and holding back sobs as I write that. I am still in shock and disbelief when I REALLY allow myself to think about it. I am still expecting it to all be a joke and she will walk back into our lives and everything will go back to normal.

But it won’t.

Logically, I know this, but my heart doesn’t want to let go to this stupid, nonsensical hope that it could happen…

… so dumb…

When my sister called me, calm and collected, to tell me mom passed out and wasn’t breathing and was being rushed to the hospital my heart sank further than it ever has before… I think in that moment I knew.

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i literally both hate and love this photo. i look awful in it but it is also the only four generation photo i will ever have with my mom, grandma, and the Bean — Fall 2016

I struggled to get dressed as I was already in bed when my husband grabbed my in an immense hug and I just started to bawl. I just knew this wasn’t going to be okay but he told me that we didn’t know anything yet and to not give up hope.

I drove myself to the hospital with promises to call Patrick with developments and his assurance that he would grab the Bean and be there in a flash if we needed him. Seems they were just waiting for the rest of us to get to the hospital before they dropped the bomb on my dad and the rest of us.

I had watched a video posted by a friend on facebook, almost a month to the day earlier, from a chaplain about grieving and in this moment the video returned to my mind (I highly encourage you watch it; grab a tissue). I knew I had to see her but I didn’t want to– I wanted to remember her just the way she was… before… We walked down the long hallway together after hours of waiting and entered her room.

It was like she had fallen asleep except not… that’s the best way I have to describe it. I won’t go into further detail but will tell you it is not something I will easily forget. I couldn’t bring myself to touch her because I didn’t want to know how cold her skin was. I turned and buried my face in Patrick’s chest (whom I had called and arrived shortly after) weeping, really for the first time since we got the news.

“No… no, no, no…”, was all I could muster.

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bridal show for brother and future sister-in-law — Summer 2017

Eventually everyone left the room except my dad, my sister, and my brother. I brushed her hair with my fingers, whispered my last “I love you”s to her, and then the four of us held hands and prayed over my mom.

I can confidently say if you have not yet entered a storm of equal or greater ferocity as that of losing someone you care DEEPLY about, suddenly and unexpectedly, you DO NOT know what true faith is. Seriously.

Don’t try to tell me differently either.

The strength and confidence and hope you have to have in order to believe in a good and loving God when something like this happens is immeasurable. I am still wrestling with my feelings about God in light of this new age my life has entered– the age without my mother.

And guess what?

I don’t want to hear how:

  1. She is in a better place.
  2. She is dancing with Jesus.
  3. She is no longer in any pain.
  4. She was so proud of me, my siblings, little E, etc.
  5. (insert other common platitudes spouted at the grieving with the intention of giving them comfort)

You know why I don’t want to hear it?

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my mom made everything more fun and exciting and our trips to Disneyland are some of my best memories — Spring 2007

Because I already know it. In fact, I have probably been on the giving end of these phrases, and if I have said any of these things to you– I am INFINITELY sorry. For those of you who have never experienced this sort of loss let me just tell you… nothing you say to the people who are grieving is going to a) make them feel better about losing their loved one or b) snap them out of the grieving process and back to normal. We don’t want to hear it because as selfish as it is, for some of us, we would MUCH rather have them here with us– this is their place.

WAS their place.

I am struggling with this as we speak and as I continue to wrestle with my emotions, beliefs, and knowledge I do not need the cliche Christian sympathies to add to the inner turmoil in which I am already engaged.

Let me stop being a bitch for a moment and tell you what might be more helpful:

  1. Saying things like, “I have no words”, “we love you”, and  “I’m so sorry”. I am telling you, I would rather hear you are sitting with me in my pain and at as much of a loss as I am than hear you have all the answers– because chances are you don’t and, further, I probably know you don’t either.
  2. Letting your actions speak louder than your words. “Let’s do [insert various social mediums– coffee, lunch, dinner, a movie, girls night, etc.] soon” is not helpful to me unless you back it up with action. I am not at a place where I am going to reach out to you to set up this “lunch date” you have offered to take me on. I may need it. I may even want it. But I am not going to want to burden you– and don’t you dare say it isn’t a burden. You know how you SHOW me it isn’t a burden? You propose a date, you set up a time, you plan the outing and then invite me to it. That is how it works.
  3. Random texts and message letting you know you are thinking of me. My mom was really, I mean REALLY, good at making people feel known and valued and sometimes it was just small things. I won’t ever have someone in my life who thinks of me like my mom did but it does help when I randomly hear from people who care.
  4. Love on my daughter. One of the hardest parts of this whole thing for me is knowing little E will never remember this amazing woman and the incredible love she had for her. Help me keep my mom’s memory alive for her, so she can remember her grandma through your words, stories, and love you have shown her.
  5. This is kind of a don’t, but also a do– Unless I ask for resources on grief, death, etc., please don’t offer them up to me. If it comes up naturally in a conversation, great, but pushing something on me that I might not even want just yet is not helpful. However, I have recently started a new Pinterest board I have dubbed “The New Normal” where I am pinning quotes and articles and such that I may want to look back on when I decide I am ready. If you have any suggestions for that pin board, I would gladly take them to read later. Here is one quote from that board that has really resonated with me:

lost all of them

Man… This post became so much more convoluted than I had intended. I was going to write two separate posts but it just kept flowing so I just kept writing. Maybe later I will split them and make them more coherent and defined but for now this was more of a cathartic thing than anything.

If you made it to the end here I’d love to know, if you have experienced a loss, what are some ways people have best helped you during your time of grieving? I also want to know how to be better for people in the future.

(Featured Photo taken By Cherrie Lonkar of Hello, You Photography)

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2

The Scars We Carry

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The above photo was a Timehop I posted a year ago– meaning this is the 10 year anniversary of what has since been lovingly called my “sharkbite”.

People who don’t know the story or have never seen the “before” photo gasp in horror or awe or sometimes both. I know people stare at my leg and want to ask questions but are too afraid to ask. It doesn’t bother me much anymore but it took me a few years to get to that place. At this point, I honestly don’t mind the questions– I mostly make up stories about how it happened anyway since I get a kick out of watching people’s faces while they try to decide if I am telling the truth or not.

I’m a pretty bad liar, so I can pick out the most gullible listeners in a heartbeat; they are the best ones to tell the stories to as they usually accept what I say at face value and think I am pretty B.A. for enduring my circumstances– ’cause you know I always paint myself as hardcore when I tell the stories.

The thing is, when, on occasion, I do tell someone the REAL story, I rarely get that reaction– and that story is the one that really shows how truly resilient and “B.A.” I am.

The one that shows the real me.

If you’ve been holding on waiting for me to tell stories, real or fake, about my leg you can go ahead and stop reading now (I only tell them face to face) but if you are interested in reading about my reflections the 10 year anniversary of this injury has given me, read on.

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My dear friend Libby feigning disgust at the hideousness that is my leg after it had been grafted. (2007)

I have learned a lot about myself through this scar over the years…

2007: I learned I am stronger than I know. I persevered through the initial incident, the multiple surgeries to debride (spell check keeps telling me that is wrong/not a word but I am not and it is) the wound and graft in new skin, the emotional pain of being, yet again, on crutches and missing another season of soccer, and the idiotic comments of people (including doctors) with no filters/people wanting to touch it (ew!). I learned how to get back up.

2008-2009: I learned about how real post traumatic stress is and how difficult it can be to combat it. I learned that dwelling on the “what ifs” does nobody any good– especially myself. I learned to not let fear control my life (sometimes I have to be retaught that last one).

2010-2012: I learned that my scars don’t define me and even though I saw this as a hideous disfigurement that no one could ever look past that the people who truly love me and care about me don’t care about it. I learned I can still find love even with the scars and emotional baggage marring my skin and heart. My beauty isn’t skin deep and even it were I would still be beautiful if only to the people who really matter. I learned how to be light-hearted about it and move on from the pain (it still weirds me out though when people want to touch it).

2013-2017: I learned that people want to connect with you in your pain. I still hesitate when people ask to touch it but ultimately I realize that they want to feel what I feel and they a curious about this piece of my story that is so vividly displayed for the world to see. I learned that this is not the worst thing that could or would ever happen to me and that while the trauma of the moment seems daunting, time rolls on and, as they say, “heals all wounds”.

This last little cliche has always been interesting/vexing to me. For people who have endured serious pain (losing a loved one far too soon, receiving a terminal diagnosis, never being able to bear children, etc.) the wounds don’t feel all that healed. I believe, however, my before and after picture of my leg says it all:

Sure, scabs form, the skin grows back, or maybe you even had skin grafted in place to decrease the length of time it takes to heal but when all is said and done your leg never looks the same. Time rolls on, you pick your life back up slowly one piece at a time with the help of loved ones– maybe someone new even enters your life to help speed along the process– but you will never be who you once were.

And you have to learn to live with that.

I had to learn to live with that.

So happy 10 year anniversary to the beginning of a weird path of self discovery, understanding, and forgiveness. May those of you at the beginning of your journeys find comfort and peace along the way.

We a pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but are never destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4: 8-10 (NLT)