Raw

Grief can be described in many ways and with many words, none of which fully capture the experience of grieving the death of a child or close loved one.  But right now, if I had to pick one word to describe my state of being, it would be raw.

I am raw.

When I first began riding motorcycles, I had a minor accident that resulted in what bikers call “road rash” on my right arm and hip.  My arm took the brunt of the fall and the skin on the back of my arm was shredded from my elbow almost to my shoulder by the pavement when I hit on my bare arm and kept going.  When the paramedics arrived and treated my injuries by washing them out with water, the pain was so excruciating that I began to faint.  I’ve had my share of injuries, but in terms of sheer agony, none compared to that injury.   I would guess there were thousands, or perhaps millions of nerve endings left exposed when my skin was torn off my body.  Nerves are not designed to be exposed.  They are meant to be covered, allowing us to feel sensations to a certain acceptable limit, as the nerves are shielded and protected by our skin.  That is, until there is a trauma that rips away that protection.

The experience of my grief for Kai feels similar to road rash, except that this trauma has broken my heart and shredded my soul.   There is no comparison to my physical injury.

The pain of a broken heart is intense.  I have real, physical pain in my chest when my sorrow is at its most acute.  The pain of my shredded soul is even worse.  It is as if all my skin is gone, exposing every single nerve ending.   I thought by now the raw pain might begin to diminish, even ever so slightly, but the opposite seems to be happening.

Perhaps this is why I have developed what I consider to be an odd obsession in the last seven months since Kai died.  I am utterly obsessed with soft blankets.   I look for them in stores, I search for them on the internet.  I found a small, throw type blanket for $15 at the local Walgreens and so far I have bought seven of them.  When these blankets are new, the fleece side is the softest thing I have ever felt in my life, softer even than Kai’s blue blankey, the one we buried with him.  Once I wash one of these blankets, the initial incredible softness of the fleece that I bought it for is lost so I buy another one.   I have one on my reading chair, one on my kitchen chair where I work on my computer, and every night I sleep with the newest one, the one that has yet to be washed.  I will not go to bed without it.  When I wake in the night and reality washes over me, I wrap it around me all the way up to my head.  The softness of the fleece soothes me in a way that nothing else seems to and often I am able to fall asleep again.  But it doesn’t make the agony of my longing for Kai go away.

My arm and hip healed in time.  I have gravel and dirt permanently embedded in the scars, a reminder of the trauma of my motorcycle accident, but they do not hurt any longer.   Will the same ever be true for my soul?

Color

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When Kai died, instantly the color went out of my world.  I mean this literally as well as figuratively.  Literally speaking, my vision changed.  Everything appeared to me in dull, muted shades; mainly shades of gray, brown, beige, and pale green.  I could still tell that something was red as opposed to blue, for example, but the world looked faded, ugly, dirty and monochromatic.

I have always loved color.  To this day, I love to look at a giant box of crayons or colored pencils.   I love colors like cornflower blue, sunshine yellow, bright magenta.  I love to look out my back window in the early morning and see the richly colored purple flowers that bloom every night in abundance on the Mexican heather at the base of the palm trees in my backyard.  When I visited Arizona and the Grand Canyon, I was mesmerized by the rich terra cotta and deep red colors of the rock formations and canyons, and by the endless blue of the sky at 8,000 ft. above sea level.  Color is important to human beings.  We need color in our lives.

Kai loved color.  Everyone who knew Kai knew that his favorite color was red.  After all, what respectable firefighter wouldn’t love red?  I think he also loved fluorescent orange, because he drew all over his playroom walls with a pen of that color.  I didn’t mind so much.  It was pretty.  It still is, and as long as I live there, always will be.

Life has seemed so cruel since Kai died, and part of the cruelty of my new life was losing my ability to see and be moved by color.  I am told that this is a symptom of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  I’m sure that I have PTSD.  No mother that I know could see her child the way I saw Kai that day and not have PTSD.

Slowly, very slowly over the past couple of months, color is starting to return to my life.  The world still looks pretty dim to me most of the time, but I am starting to begin to see colors in nature again. I can see them most clearly when I look at the sky.  A gorgeous sunset brings tears because once again I can see the exquisite shades… the beautiful blues and golds in particular.  I like to think that while I am watching the sunset from this side, Kai sees even more magnificent colors from his side, where the Sun never sets.

Wanted

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There is nothing I wouldn’t give, do or pay to have you back.

Tea Cup Ride

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Since the day he left us, I have been longing for Kai to appear to me in a dream or vision and tell me how much fun he is having in heaven and how he is waiting for me and loves me.  I just want to see and hear him, even if only in a dream. But this has not happened. 

I have a lovely young coworker who has experienced great personal tragedy of her own and who has been quietly sympathetic and supportive of me during this time.  Yesterday she respectfully sent me an email letting me know that she had dreamed of Kai, who she never met, and asked if I would like for her to share with me what happened in her dream.  Of course, I wanted to know.

She wrote the following:

We were all at the picnic party, then I saw him riding the tea cups.  He had on a polo shirt, brown and beige stripes, or brown and white, can’t remember.  He had a big smile on his face and he looked at me and he told me to tell you:  I’m ok where I am, I’m not scared, not afraid, I love you and I want you to be happy.  He looked really happy in the dream, he was smiling all the time.

Kai did have a brown and white striped polo shirt.  We rode the tea cup ride at Disney World a little less than two months before he died.  He loved that ride.  The faster we spun, the more he laughed.   He smiled the whole time we were on that ride.  He smiled most of the time in life.

I know he is smiling in heaven.  I know he is happy and beautiful and bursting with life while he waits for us.  And riding the tea cups. 

 

Reprieve

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We’ve had several days of rainy, dreary weather in South Florida and the weather, coupled with the seven month anniversary of Kai’s death on Monday have contributed to make the last week or so particularly difficult for me.

Grief is a terrifying journey.  Just when I think I have hit the bottom, I sink even lower.  At this level of sorrow, very little can be done to blunt the pain or distract from the feelings of utter despondence.   Focusing on anything is difficult, anger boils to the surface quickly and easily, and crazy thoughts present themselves with alarming frequency and intensity.  During these times I’m too raw to even form any kind of prayer, so I just simply say, God, help me.  Do something, anything to help me or I will not make it another day.  What’s happened is simply too much to bear.

And then yesterday afternoon, I was driving home from work and realized to my surprise and relief that I felt slightly lighter and more stable.  I felt a shift in energy from black to gray.  Nothing happened to cause this shift that I could pinpoint, no change in my circumstances.  But I knew what it was… a reprieve.

I’ve had a few of these reprieves in the last seven months.  Some have lasted only an hour or two, some have lasted a few days.  None will last forever.  I know this now.

Those who are unfamiliar with grief might say that this lightening of my mood is a sign that things are getting better or that I am “healing.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no healing from this, not yet anyway.  I hope that someday I might heal, but I believe healing will come in the same way that an amputee heals.  The wound may not bleed unless something irritates and reopens it, but the limb will never return.

We do not expect an amputee to heal and move on with his or her life as it was before.  This is impossible.  The amputee goes on living, but with major and permanent limitations and often lifelong phantom pain, the body’s way of mourning the limb that should be there but was taken away unnaturally.

Why then do we expect people to “heal” or “move on” from the death of a child or an extremely close loved one, a loss exponentially more profound than the loss of a limb?  I do not believe that I will ever truly heal nor move on from Kai’s death, but I am thankful for the occasional reprieve.

The Ring

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I have been struggling recently with the feeling that I am losing Kai.  That is, the feeling that I am living while he is receding further and further behind me and the reality that he was alive and with me is somehow fading.   I feel a bit like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away when his beloved companion, the volleyball he named Wilson that kept him company while he was stranded on the island for years, floats away from him.   He cries out for Wilson but Wilson drifts away, never to return.  The feelings of loneliness and desolation are evident upon his face when he realizes that he will never see Wilson again and that he is completely alone on the sea with no land in sight.

I know I will never see Kai again in this life, and I fear losing many of the memories I have of him; memories like the sound of his voice, his sweet smell, the way it felt to hold him first thing in the morning when he was warm and sleepy.   I don’t want to lose one bit of how it felt to have him close to me, but he feels so far away, so gone.

Then the other day I was looking through my little jewelry box where I keep some silver rings and costume jewelry that I rarely wear.   That’s when I saw the ring.  It’s not an expensive ring; in fact, it’s not silver and probably not even silver plated.   The little green and amber jewels in it are cheap crystals.  But to me it is more valuable and beautiful than the most expensive diamond ring I could ever imagine.  This is because Kai (with the help of his grandma) picked it out for me, probably for my birthday, Christmas or Mother’s Day, although I don’t remember which one.  I had forgotten I even had it, and now there it was. 

Kai loved to pick out pretty, sparkly little gifts for me.  I would have loved whatever he picked out for me, but he always seemed to pick out exactly what I would have picked out for myself. 

When I saw the ring and put it on and it fit perfectly on a finger I usually wear a ring on, I realized that a bond as strong as the one we have can never be broken.  We may be separated for now, but although I continue to live, I will never leave him behind.  He will always be a part of me, woven into the very fabric of my being, and I have a beautiful gift from him to remind me of this eternal truth.

 

Candles in the Dishwasher

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Grief makes you lose your mind, and by that I mean literally, lose your mind.  Fortunately I have been able to continue to function relatively normally at work because I love what I do and I work in a very supportive environment, but the rest of my life has been a struggle.  My memory for ordinary, non-work related things is failing me… often I have absolutely no memory of what I did two days ago or even two hours ago… and my decision making capacity is frighteningly impaired.  Case in point, about a month ago, during the six month anniversary week of Kai’s death, I put candles in the dishwasher.

Most sane people know that there are certain items that should never be washed in a dishwasher, and a candle is such an item.  But my “grief brain,” as I like to call it, told me that putting two large pumpkin spice scented candles in the dishwasher would be a great way to remove months of dust and cat hair from the surface.  I was shocked when I opened the door to unload what I thought would be squeaky clean dishes to find a waxy orange mess.  I turned on the kitchen sink faucet and my heart sank when the sink began filling up.  Starting the garbage disposal didn’t help, either, as pieces of orange wax and dirty water bubbled up from below.

Grief consumes your life, and so little things that go wrong seem overwhelming and insurmountable.  I thought for a few brief moments about cleaning out the trap to spare myself the embarrassment and expense of explaining to the plumber just how it came about that I clogged the sink with candle wax.  After all, I had done this once before, when Kai decided it would be a good idea to help Mommy by pouring liquid wax from a burning candle down the bathroom sink.  It’s not a particularly difficult job to remove the u-shaped section of pipe underneath a sink and pop out the hardened wax.  But for a grief brain, it was too much.  So I turned off the water, closed the dishwasher door, and decided to live with a sink full of pumpkin spiced water for a few days until I could summon the energy to call a plumber.

Turned out that the wax had so thoroughly coated the internal dishwasher components that I needed to buy a new one.  Not only can grief brain make you feel silly and incompetent, it can cost you money.

These days I am in simplification mode.  I am trying not to make many decisions or come up with new ideas, whether they be small or large.   Until such time as the fog passes and my mind is functioning again, it seems wisest to try to stay in a quiet, steady routine.

Tears

For most of my life, tears have not come easily to me.  Even in times of extreme sadness, I did not or could not cry.  Now I think the tears will never stop.  I hide them from almost everyone in my life, but they are always there.  They are there every day and every night, often for a few seconds or minutes, sometimes for hours.   I feel most free to let them fall in front of those who I know are enduring the same magnitude of loss that I am.  But most of my tears are shed in private, hidden away from everyone.

Kai would be very upset on the rare occasion when I did cry.  His huge brown eyes would get even bigger and become serious and sad, and he would say, “Mommy, please don’t cry,” and then he would hug me, and of course I would stop.  Now I don’t know if it is possible to stop.

I have read and heard people say that tears are healing, but these tears are not healing, at least they don’t feel healing. They are tears of suffering and sorrow.  I wish I could make them stop, just as I wish I could make this sorrow stop.  It’s exhausting, all of it.   At almost 7 months, I thought that I would be crying less.  Instead, I am crying more.

Will it get better?  Some say yes.  Others, perhaps more honestly, say no.   But I fear bitterness, so I let the tears fall in hopes that they will wash away the anger and sorrow and let me mourn my son so that some day I will be able to think of him, smile and feel joy that I was blessed with the gift of having him in my life for almost six years.

Kai

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This blog is dedicated in loving memory of my son, Kai Samuel Gonzalez. Kai was taken to heaven suddenly and tragically at 4:30 PM on Saturday, February 16, 2013, in a drowning accident. He was 17 days away from turning 6 years old.

That day changed my life forever. It is my hope that by recording my thoughts about Kai, his death, the months since then, and my life as I attempt to learn to live without Kai, I may somehow be of some encouragement to someone else who is walking this same dark path. Continue reading