Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Changes

It's hard to believe, but another Christmas has come and gone.  This was the third one without Eddie, and each has been different.  I expected the first one to be hard, hoped the second one would be a little easier, and didn't know what to expect this year.  Of course I was right about the first year - it was a very difficult, emotional time.  I didn't want to decorate, shop, bake, or do any of the things I had done in the past.  I managed a scaled back version of all of these things because of Trey and Emily.  If it hadn't been for them I probably would have skipped Christmas altogether.  We had a lot of company on Christmas Eve that year which helped.  Then Trey, Emily, Mama, and Daddy all spent the night.   Emily had her Santa Claus Christmas morning, and that kept us all busy.  As the day went on though everyone gradually left, and I spent Christmas night alone for the first time in my life.  It was then that I gave in to a little period of self pity, which I think is okay as long as you don't do it too often or for too long.

I had read and heard from others that the second year after a loss is sometimes harder than the first, so I tried to prepare for that.  I wouldn't say the second Christmas was any harder, but it wasn't easier either - it was just different.  This time we were having Emily's Santa Claus and all of our company on Christmas day, so no one spent the night on Christmas Eve (though Mama did offer).  Again I did something for the first time in my life - I woke up alone on Christmas morning.  I know there are plenty of people who do that every year, but when it happens for the first time in 49 years it's a very lonely, empty feeling.  Of course, once everyone arrived the rest of the day was very busy so there wasn't time for self pity, which was a good thing.

No one ever says anything about the third year after a loss, so I was on my own to find out what this Christmas would be like.  I took it as a good sign that I wanted to decorate more than in the past two years, and I certainly didn't scale back my shopping this year!  I also made a decision to do something special for Trey, which ended up helping me a great deal in the process.  I put together a photo album of Eddie starting with our wedding day.  I spent hours going through old pictures deciding which ones to include.  This was the first time since his death that I had really looked at pictures of him (other than the ones around the house), and I actually found myself smiling and even laughing at some of the memories.  I didn't want the album to be depressing for Trey, so I wrote a lot of funny captions and added some silly stickers to the pictures.  Once I finished, I looked at the album from beginning to end several times before I wrapped it.  The memories brought tears to my eyes but made me feel good at the same time.  I gave the album to Trey on Christmas Eve while Eddie's dad was here so they could look at it together.  Of course it made them cry, but they also shared some laughter, which I think was good for both of them.

The big difference in this Christmas was that we spent Christmas morning at Trey's house.  Another first for me since we'd had Christmas at our house from the time Trey was born 27 years ago.  It was a good change though because it gave us the chance to start making new memories in a new place.  Sometimes traditions need to be changed after a loss, and I think it made Trey proud to have us in his home Christmas morning.  There was a lot to be thankful for with my 96 year old grandmother, my mother, my father, Trey, and Emily all there - five generations together at the same time isn't something that many people get to experience.  I know these are new, happy Christmas memories that we will all cherish for the rest of our lives.

"Every day we live is a priceless gift of God, loaded with possibilities to learn something new, to gain fresh insights."  Dale Evans Rogers

"This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 112:24

"Today is unique.  It has never occurred before and it will never be repeated.  At midnight it will end, quietly, suddenly, totally.  Forever.  But the hours between now and then are opportunities with eternal possibilities." Charles Swindoll

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Moving Forward

I went back last night and for the first time read what I've written from the beginning.  There's been so much else going on lately that I couldn't remember where I left off in telling my original story.  I was surprised to find that reading it all wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.  I cried a few times.  I even laughed a couple of times.  But mostly I just remembered, and as I read I realized how far I've come since "that night".  I know that I'm still not over what happened, and I probably never will be.  I really don't think you ever get over losing someone you love.  Actually I'm not even sure what being "over" it means.  It's not like reading a book or watching a movie.  When those are over you're finished with them.  You don't dwell on them, and they don't stay with you for the rest of your life.  But life isn't a book or a movie - when a loved one dies, we're not finished with them.  They do stay with us for the rest of our life.  They become a part of who and what we are, and that's a good thing.  So getting over what happened isn't a goal of mine anymore. 

My two goals when I started writing were to help myself move forward with my life and to possibly help others who might be going through something similar in their lives.  I think I've made a great deal of progress toward the first goal.  Writing about what happened, what it did to me, what I did and said, how I felt and still feel has truly helped me.  I've written things that I never shared with anyone before - not my family, not my closest friends, not even the counselor or pastor I was seeing.  Sharing these things has lightened some of the burden I was carrying and has allowed me to start moving on with my life - not my life as it was before but a new life.  I know I can benefit from continuing to write though because I'm not where I want to be yet.  Hopefully I'll know when I get there!   

Sometime in the near future I would like to focus more on the second goal.  I've heard from people over the past few months who have read what I've written.  Some of them have told me that something I said inspired them or gave them strength.  Some said they were just relieved to find out someone else thought or felt the same as they did.  Others have shared similar experiences they had in their life.  I'm thankful for any little bit of good my story has done for someone else, and I would like to find a way to do more.  I don't have a counseling degree, so I can't professionally counsel others (and at this point I don't have any plans of going back to school for another degree!).  But I would like to speak to individuals or groups about alcoholism, suicide, or both.  I want to continue to share my story in the hope that my experience will help someone else.  The thought that something good can possibly come out of something so bad helps me keep moving forward.

The Lord says, "Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now shall it spring forth; shall you not know it?" Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV

I'm eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other. Romans 1:12 NLT

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Head of the Table

One down (Thanksgiving), three more to go (Christmas, anniversary, New Year's).  I actually did pretty well on the first one.  We had our family get-together Wednesday instead of Thursdy.  Trey, his girlfriend Candace, Emily, my mother, my dad, and my grandmother were all here.  We had the traditional Thanksgiving meal (and way too much of it).  My mother came early to help me cook.  I had intended to let her help, but once I started cooking I just kept doing everything myself.  I've found that I get through these days better if I stay busy.  I only had two difficult moments, and thankfully they were brief.  The first was when we stood in the kitchen to pray before eating.   I remembered the Thanksgiving after Eddie came home from rehab.  That day we went around the room and everyone told something they were thankful for.  I remember Eddie saying simply "I'm thankful to be alive."  My second moment came when we went in the dining room to sit down.  I assumed Trey would sit at the head of the table, but when I walked in he was sitting on the side between Emily and Candace.  The only empty chair was the one where Eddie always sat, so I sat there, even though I didn't want to.  I realized that no matter how much I like to be in control and in charge of things, I don't want to be at the head of the table.

Since we'd had our Thanksgiving on Wednesday, we didn't get together again Thursday.  I stayed home and decided to get started on my Christmas decorating.  The first Christmas after Eddie died, I really didn't want to decorate at all.  I would have liked to just skip the holiday altogether.  I knew that wasn't possible though because of Trey and Emily, so I put up a tree, decorated the mantle, and hung wreaths on the doors.  It was so much less than what I normally did, but it was the best I could manage.  Last Christmas I did a little more but not much.  This year I spent all day yesterday and all day today decorating.  When I finally finished I was surprised at how much I had done.  I hadn't started out to do much more than last year, but I kept seeing "just one more thing" I wanted to do.  Before I realized it I had decorated almost as much as I used to.  Hopefully this is a sign that Christmas will be a little better this year just as Thanksgiving was ... as long as I don't have to sit at the head of the table.

Be Glad by Helen Steiner Rice

Be glad that your life has been full and complete,
Be glad that you've tasted the bitter and sweet.
Be glad that you've walked in sunshine and rain,
Be glad that you've felt both pleasure and pain.
Be glad that you've had such a full, happy life,
Be glad for your joy as well as your strife.
Be glad that you've walked with courage each day,
Be glad you've had strength for each step of the way.
Be glad for the comfort that you've found in prayer.
Be glad for god's blessings, His love, and His care.           

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Meaning of Prayer

I still think about Eddie every day, but he's been on my mind much more than usual this past week.  I know part of it is the time of year.  My birthday was last month, Thanksgiving is this week, then there's Christmas, our anniversary, and New Year's.  This is always a difficult stretch to get through.  But it's also because three years ago this past week I spent five days and nights with Eddie at the rehab center in Statesboro.  We came home the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  I remember the time spent there like it was yesterday.  I remember every class we attended, every meeting we went to, every speaker we heard, every movie we watched, every counseling session we had both separately and together.  I learned things that week that I never knew before.  I heard stories that I would have preferred not to hear.  I told things to total strangers that I had never told my own family.  I will remember that time for the rest of my life.  It had a very strong, lasting, positive effect on me.

Every meeting in rehab began with the Serenity Prayer and ended with the Lord's Prayer.  Of course I knew both of them and had said them many times in my life.  But I realized that up until that week I had only been reciting the prayers.  I had never really thought about the words and their meaning.  I know now that no matter how many times I said them, there is one line of each prayer I was never able to follow - God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and Thy will be done.  In all the years of my marriage I never accepted that it wasn't up to me to change Eddie's behavior.  I was convinced I could make Eddie want to stop drinking.  I thought that if I kept at it I could eventually make a difference.  It was all about my will and what I wanted to be done.  Now I know there are some things we simply cannot change or maybe that just aren't meant to be changed.

I don't like what I've learned.  I don't like the things I've had to accept.  I would much rather be in control of every aspect of my life.  My family and friends tease me about being "OCD" because of the extreme order I keep in my house and in my classroom.  I know I'm excessive about some of it, but in some ways I think this is a result of what I've been through.  I wasn't able to control what happened with Eddie, so I've looked for other things in my life that I can control.  I know the next six weeks aren't going to be easy, but I'll try to accept them for what they are and make the best of the time I have with the rest of my family.  Maybe I'm realizing the meaning of the last line of the Serenity Prayer - the wisdom to know the difference - between what I can and cannot change.

"In this manner, therefore pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name ..."
The Model Prayer - Matthew 6:9-13

Sunday, October 30, 2011

But Where Does it Go?

I celebrated my 50th birthday this past week, and I have to say that it was one of the best birthdays I've ever had.  My family and friends went out of their way to make it very special.  I had two of my best friends from high school visit and spend the night with me.  We talked about old times until 3:00 AM, and then picked up right where we left off when we got up the next day.  It was so nice to talk about the past and relive the times when our lives were so much easier (too bad we didn't appreciate then just how easy it was).  My family and some of my friends surprised me with a party the next night, and I was genuinely surprised - I had no idea they were planning anything.  My class gave me a party at school along with gifts, flowers, and cards.  In all I had three different birthday cakes - and no I didn't eat them all myself - I shared!  I couldn't have asked for anything more, and it really made me realize and appreciate who and what I have in my life.

If anyone had asked me 25 years ago when I was just starting out as a wife, mother, and teacher where I would be at 50, I don't know how I would have answered.  But I feel pretty sure I would have never predicted where I actually am now.  I never thought I'd be a grandmother before I was 50.  I wouldn't have predicted that at 50 I'd be a college student again.  I certainly in my worst nightmare wouldn't have dreamed I'd be a widow at 50.  But here I am celebrating 50 years and all of those are true.  The grandmother part is wonderful.  I wouldn't trade that role for anything.  The student part, while not so great right now, will be worth it when I finish and have my specialist's degree.  It's the widow part that I could definitely do without and would love to be able to change.  Unfortunately that's not possible.

The question now is where do I go from here?  I guess you could say I'm content with my life right now.  I don't know if I would say that I'm necessarily happy, but I'm not sad either.  I've just accepted the way things are.  I stay very busy with work, classes, family, and friends.  I really don't have time for anything else.  But I won't be a teacher forever - I can actually retire in just under four years.  I definitely won't be a college student forever - this is my last degree, and I'll be finished with it in less than a year.  I'll always be a mother and a grandmother, but Trey has his own life now, and I know as Emily grows up she'll need her Nana less and less. 

So what do I want for the rest of my life?  Do I want a relationship sometime in the future?  I really don't know.  Sometimes I think yes, it would be nice to have companionship, someone to talk to and do things with.  Sometimes I think no, I'm not sure it's worth the effort it takes to make a relationship work.  A part of me still loves Eddie and always will.  But his alcoholism and suicide had an effect on me that I'll never completely get over.  In some ways the effect has been good - I'm stronger now than I ever was before.  I'm a survivor, and I know I can make it on my own.  On the negative side what Eddie put me through has caused me to build a wall around myself, both to keep me from getting too close to anyone and to prevent anyone from getting too close to me.  I don't know what the future holds now anymore than I did 25 years ago.  The one thing I do know though is that I don't intend to ever be hurt again the way I was when Eddie died. 

A Birthday is a Gateway
by Helen Steiner Rice

A birthday is a gateway
Between old years and new,
Just an opening to the future
Where we get a wider view.
For it takes a lot of birthdays
To make us wise and kind
And to help us judge all people
With our heart and not our mind.
Every year brings new dimensions
That enable us to see
All things within a kinder light
And more perceptively.
So birthdays are the gateway
To what the future holds
And to greater understanding
As the story of life unfolds.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Flood of Memories

I traveled to Trion, Georgia yesterday for my uncle's funeral.  I made the trip alone because my father was already there, Trey is working in Gainesville, and my mother was getting ready to return to Atlanta today for her next chemo treatment.  I don't really mind driving somewhere by myself.  Sometimes I use the time to think about things, and other times I turn the radio up and try not to think about anything.  I knew my uncle's service would be an emotional time, but I wasn't prepared for the memories that came flooding back during my trip.  I was born in Trion and lived there and in Rome until I was almost eight years old.  Both sets of my grandparents lived in that area while I was growing up.  I spent many nights and weekends with them over the years.  I remember playing "Mother May I" on the steps in front of the house, going to Lake Winnapasoka (a local amusement park), and playing with my Barbie dolls when I was with my father's parents.  When I stayed with my mother's parents we made home-made ice cream, went to the lake, and attended church where my grandfather preached.   I used to sit on the bench beside my grandmother in church while she played the piano.  I hadn't thought about any of those things in years until yesterday. 

At some point on the drive, I think it was somewhere between Bremen and Rome, I came to the top of a little rise in the road and for the first time could really see the north Georgia mountains covered with trees in different colors.  It was then that all of the memories started.  I remembered a place in the road between Rome and Trion called Taylor's Ridge that I was always scared to travel across because I thought the car would go over the side of the mountain!  My parents have told me about one time in particular when it had snowed, and I pitched such a fit about crossing the ridge that they had to take the back roads (which added MANY miles to the trip) to take me to and from my grandparents' house.  When I reached Taylor's Ridge yesterday I still felt a little flutter of nervousness as I went around it.  I think I actually held my breath until it was behind me.  As I drove through Rome I looked for the pond where I used to go to feed the ducks when I was little, but I couldn't find it.  When I went through Summerville I thought about the times I used to go to school with my grandmother who was a teacher.  I slowed down but didn't stop as I passed the church in Pennville where my grandfather preached.

The hardest part was when I got to the cemetery in Trion.  I arrived early so I had a little time there before other people came.  When I reached the Magnolia tree under which my uncle was going to be buried I could see the graves of my cousin Hugh who died in 1970, my grandfather who died in 1982, my grandmother who died in 1983 (the day before my birthday), as well as the spot that had been prepared for Kenneth.  As I stood there looking at so many family members together I wondered for the first time if I had made a mistake in not allowing Eddie to be buried at the cemetery in Fleming where his family plots are.  I thought I was doing the right thing at the time, but now I'm not so sure.

After the service and a get-together at a cousin's house, I started the trip back home.  I made one stop on my way at a small park just outside of Summerville called Veteran's Memorial Park.  At the entrance there is a monument similar to the Vietnam Memorial Wall with the names of veterans from the Trion and Summerville area.  My grandfather on my father's side was a war veteran, and I knew his name was somewhere on the wall.  I searched the wall until I located his name.  I stood there looking at it for a long time then said a final good-bye and left.  I didn't want to think on the ride back home so I put in my Zac Brown and Kid Rock cds and turned them up as loud as I could.  As I pulled into the driveway of my house and turned off the car, I thought about how lonely, empty, and quiet it would be when I went inside.  I realized this was what it was going to be like for my aunt Brenda now, too, and my heart ached for her.  I've always heard the saying "silence is golden" - sometimes this is true - but not always.

Memory Rendezvous by Helen Steiner Rice

Memory builds a little pathway
that goes winding through my heart.
It's a lovely, quiet, gentle trail
from other things apart.
I only meet, when traveling there,
the folks I like the best,
For this road I call remembrance
is hidden from the rest.
But I hope I'll always find you
in my memory rendezvous,
For I keep this little secret place
to meet with folks like you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Will to Live

My uncle Kenneth passed away two days ago after complications resulting from his treatment for cancer.  I had not been as close to him in recent years as I should have been.  As happens in all families, we each had our own lives that kept us busy.  We kept up with each other through my father (Kenneth was his brother) and exchanged Christmas cards and occasional phone calls.  But there was a time when I was much closer to him.  When I was growing up I called him "Uncle Kinky".  I really don't even know where the name came from, but it stuck until long after I became an adult.  I have many memories of my uncle - some I can recall on my own and others that are from stories my parents shared with me.  The first story I remember is them telling me that when I was born he asked the doctor to go back and look to see if there wasn't a boy "in there" - apparently he wanted a nephew instead of a niece!  I also remember them telling me that when I was a toddler they went out one time and Kenneth babysat.  When they came back home, they found he had tied me to the leg of a chair with a belt.  When they asked him why, he said because I kept crawling away.  Of course I wasn't hurt, and this became something they never let him forget!  The last story I remember them telling me was about the time Kenneth came home from the service and brought me a doll as a gift.  It wasn't just any doll though - it was about three feet tall and was African American (though he insisted it wasn't).  The funniest part was that he made the trip home by bus and because of the size of the doll had to ride with it sitting in the seat beside him - a white man in the 1960's riding the bus with an African American doll sitting in the seat with him - a priceless image!  These three things show just a little of what my uncle's personality was like.  You couldn't spend much time around him before you were laughing at something he said, something he did, or a story he told.

Unfortunately, my uncles' life wasn't as easy as his personality.  He (and his wife) suffered through more than anyone should ever have to in a lifetime.  After Kenneth married my aunt Brenda, they had a precious little baby boy.  His name was Hugh.  When Hugh was two years old, he and my uncle were in an auto accident.  The accident killed Hugh and almost killed my uncle too.  Kenneth spent a long time in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries.  Brenda was pregnant at the time and had to be hospitalized herself.  Neither she nor Kenneth was able to attend their own child's funeral.  I was young at the time (less than 10), but I still remember it myself.  I guess the funeral for a child is something you just don't forget. 

As if this wasn't enough, the baby (another boy they named Benji) was born severely mentally handicapped.  He was later diagnosed with profound Autism.  Kenneth and Brenda kept Benji at home with them as long as they possibly could.  They cared for him and loved him just as they would any other child.  However, there came a time as he got older when they were no longer able to care for him at home.  He became too big and too strong for them to handle and required more help than they were able to provide.  So they made an extremely difficult decision to put him in a group home.  It was the best thing they could have done for him, but it was very hard on them.  He still lives there today, and I can't help but wonder if he will even know that his father's gone. 

At some point during all of this Kenneth became an alcoholic.  Considering everything he went through, it's almost understandable.  His drinking went on for many years and very nearly killed him - but not quite.  He apparently had a very strong will to live, despite everything.  He eventually became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and at the time of his death had been sober for over 25 years.  He and Brenda had another baby - a boy they named Clay who looked very much like Hugh.  Clay was born healthy, grew up happy and safe, and today is married with three girls of his own.  Kenneth bought a farm in northwest Georgia where he loved to spend time relaxing and "piddling" around with his cows.  He also joined a group that does Civil War reenactments and enjoyed traveling all over with them.  Despite some health problems, things finally seemed to be looking up.  Then Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer.  He went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  He improved for a time but then got worse.  He went from the hospital to a rehabilitation center to hospice.  He lapsed into a coma, his kidneys shut down, and he passed away without ever waking up Thursday evening, October 13, around 6:00 PM. 

Kenneth never gave up on life - he endured and withstood everything it threw at him.  There have been many times over the past few years that I've thought about him when I was having a hard time and felt like giving up.  I always told myself that if he and Brenda could live through everything they had, then I certainly could make it through my difficult times.  Without knowing it, he was an inspiration to me.  I just regret that I never told him so.

The Comfort and Sweetness of Peace
by Helen Steiner Rice

After the clouds, the sunshine,
After the winter, the spring,
After the shower, the rainbow -
For life is a changeable thing.
After the night, the morning,
Bidding all darkness cease,
After life's cares and sorrows,
The comfort and sweetness of peace.

Rest in Peace "Uncle Kinky" 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still Searching for Acceptance

I was rearranging some pictures in my bedroom last night when I realized I had stopped and was just staring at two particular pictures.  One was of Eddie and Trey taken at the beach several years ago.  They were so obviously happy, both smiling and laughing, and it struck me for the first time how much they looked alike.  The other was of Eddie and Emily at a softball game when she was not quite a year old.  Eddie was holding her, and she was waving.  Emily looked so serious like she was really concentrating on what she was doing, and Eddie looked so happy and proud.  Looking at those pictures made me realize I still don't understand why he took his own life.  I know he was depressed about not having a job.  I know he was still struggling with his alcoholism.  I know he had some issues from his past that he had never dealt with or resolved.  But I also know how much he enjoyed life.  Eddie loved to exercise and work in the yard.  He liked to watch baseball and football on T.V. and still played softball occasionally.  He enjoyed hunting and fishing.  He loved the beach as much as I do and liked taking the boat out on the lake.  He enjoyed going out to eat, grilling at home, and spending time with family and friends. 

Knowing how much he had to live for, I just can't accept that he chose to give it all up.  And that's where my problem lies ... after two and a half years, I still haven't reached the "stage" of acceptance.  I know I need to accept what happened in order to completely heal, but I haven't been able to do that yet.  I know Eddie is gone.  I know he's not coming back.  But I haven't accepted the circumstances of his death, and I'm not sure that I ever will.  I read that while we may not understand the why of a loved one's death, it did not happen by chance - God knew it was going to happen because our days are determined even before we are born.  I have a hard time with that idea.  It may be true, but believing something and accepting it are two different things. 

Acceptance involves being able to say goodbye.  While Eddie's absence over the past two plus years has been painfully obvious to me, I haven't actually said a final goodbye to him.  Both my counselor and the pastor I was seeing suggested I write a letter to Eddie expressing my feelings - the hurt, anger, love, and questions - then read the letter to him as a way of saying goodbye.  I started a letter at the time, but I never finished it.  I wrote pages and pages, to the point that I was beginning to repeat myself, but I could never make myself bring the letter to a close.  I knew closing the letter would mean saying goodbye, and I haven't been ready for that yet.  I still have the letter in a drawer beside the bed.  I take it out now and then, reread it with the intention of finishing it, but always put it back without writing any more.  I know the word goodbye originally meant "God be with you" or "Go with God."  It was intended as an expression of love with the wish that God would be part of the journey.  While that is of course what I wish for Eddie, I haven't been able to bring myself to say the word.  Maybe one day I will.

"Acceptance is not a gut-wrenching attempt to look peaceful.  It is a calm assurance that the person we have lost will always be with us because of the contribution that person has made to our lives.  It is an acceptance of God's will for us even when His plan and ours don't match up.  It is a "Yes, Lord, and amen" even when we don't get our own way.  It is our final step toward healing."  Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love  by Raymond Mitsch & Lynn Brookside    

Sunday, September 25, 2011

But No One Wants to Talk About It

In September 2009 Eddie's dad turned 70.  He and his wife Susie invited the immediate family, Cathy, her husband, and their girls, and Trey, Emily, and me to celebrate his birthday with them by spending the weekend at Tybee Island.  Unlike the weekend of the memorial service for Eddie, I never even considered not going to this.  It was something I had to do even though I knew it wouldn't be easy.  This was the first time I had seen any of Eddie's family since his funeral.  I had talked to them on the phone fairly regularly, but they hadn't been back to Columbus and I hadn't been to Hinesville.  Trey had some of the same feelings of apprehension that I did, but Emily was just excited to be going to the beach.

I was glad to see everyone - Eddie's stepsister Brynn even came on Saturday night with her boyfriend and children - but it was a hard weekend just as I anticipated.  It was so obvious that Eddie was the only one not there, but it was like the elephant in the living room - no one wanted to talk about it.  It had only been six months since Eddie's death, but I had reached a point where I wanted to talk about him and what happened.  Susie and I talked some on Friday night, but as soon as the conversation started Cathy left the room and Ed followed soon after.  Neither of them said anything.  It was nice being at the beach on Saturday and Emily had a ball, but all I could think about all day was how much Eddie would have enjoyed it and that he should have been there.  Of course, again we went through the entire day without anyone mentioning him though.  That night we watched the Georgia game, had a big supper, gave gifts to Ed, ate cake, and sang happy birthday to him.  The entire evening it felt like everyone was going through the motions and trying to put up a happy front for Ed's sake.  By the end of the night I had reached a point where I wanted to scream at everyone that it was OK to acknowledge that Eddie wasn't there, that it was even OK to be mad at him for not being there - but of course I didn't.

When Sunday morning arrived it was difficult to say good-bye to everyone, but at the same time it was a relief to get away.  The weekend was fun but tense at the same time.  I had the feeling then (and I still have it today) that Cathy blames me for Eddie's death.  I may be completely wrong, but that's the impression I get when I'm around her.  Unfortunately we never talk, so I can't address the issue with her.  The family got together again this September for Ed's birthday, but Trey, Emily, and I weren't able to go.  I really regretted having to miss it this time, but I was in Atlanta with my mother for an outpatient procedure she was having.  Trey and Emily couldn't go because Emily had her first game as a cheerleader that Saturday.  Brynn was there again on Saturday night and she posted pictures on Facebook.  Looking at them brought back the same feelings I had when I was there two years ago.

It's been two and a half years since Eddie died, and I would very much like to talk about him - not so much about his alcoholism and suicide, but about his "other" life - about the good qualities, the good times, the happy memories.  My mother and my friends are willing to talk with me about him, but his family and even Trey don't seem to want to or be able to.  He lived for 48 years.  We were together for almost 30 years.  I don't want it to be as if he never existed.  

        Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Yesterday's dead, tomorrow's unborn,
So there's nothing to fear and nothing to mourn,
For all that is past and all that has been
Can never return to be lived once again.
And what lies ahead, or the things that will be,
Are still in God's hands, so it's not up to me
To live in the future that is God's great unknown,
For the past and the present God claims for His own.
So all I need do is to live for today
And trust God to show me the truth and the way,
For it's only the memory of things that have been
And expecting tomorrow to bring trouble again
That fills my today, which God wants to bless,
With uncertain fears and borrowed distress.
For all I need live for is this one little minute,
For life's here and now and eternity's in it.

-Helen Steiner Rice

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Same Feelings, Different Situation

My mother started her chemotherapy treatments for the cancer two weeks ago.  She's taking her treatments in Atlanta, so I'm not there with her for a lot of what she's going through.  When she left for her first treatment it reminded me so much of the day Eddie left to go to rehab.  I remembered the mix of feelings and emotions I had as I watched him leave.  I was sad that things had reached the point where he had to go away to get help but also relieved that he had finally agreed to seek the help he needed.  I was angry that he had a disease he couldn't control but glad there were others who could help him learn to control it.  I was scared because I didn't know for sure what the results of the treatment would be but hopeful that the results would be positive.  I had those same feelings when my mother left - sad, relieved, angry, glad, scared, and hopeful.  

Although the feelings have been the same everything else is very different.  I knew when Eddie left that his treatment would last for about six weeks.  I have no idea how long my mother's treatment will continue.  I knew that I wouldn't be able to see or talk to Eddie while he was gone, but I talk to my mother every day and see her every week.  I've met the doctors who are helping my mother but I didn't see any of the people who were helping Eddie until the end of his stay.  My mother's treatment will be physical whereas Eddie's treatment was mainly psychological (although attitude and state of mind are important factors in both cases).  While Eddie was gone, my mother was here to help me get through it.  Eddie isn't here to help me with what my mother is going through now.

I know how things ended with Eddie, but I don't know what the outcome of my mother's treatment will be.  I hope and pray that it will be different from Eddie's.  Although his time in rehab seemed to have helped him initially, the positive results weren't lasting.  Hopefully the results of my mother's treatment will not only be successful but permanent.

"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts."  Romans 5:3-5      

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Same, But Different

Even now, two and a half years later, I still have times when I wish I could build a cocoon, crawl inside of it, and shut the rest of the world out.  I'm not sure how much of that is related to Eddie's death and how much is because of everything that is going on in my life now.  I had actually started to feel pretty good about the way things were going until my mother's cancer returned.  I was moving forward with my life, enjoying time with friends, working, going to school, and even adjusting to living alone.  Then I was thrown a curve ball, just as I was when Eddie died.  I've been surprised to find that so many of my feelings now are the same as they were prior to and just after Eddie's death.  When I was dealing with Eddie's alcoholism and then his suicide, there were times when I wanted to pretend that none of it was happening.  I feel the same way now ... I want to pretend that my mother isn't sick, that she isn't beginning chemotherapy treatments next week, and that everything is going to be OK.  Unfortunately pretending that things don't exist doesn't make them go away.  It didn't make Eddie's alcoholism disappear.  It didn't make his suicide not true.  And it's not going to make my mother's cancer any less real.  No matter how hard I try, I can't hide from the truth.

After Eddie's death I didn't really want to do anything.  I didn't want to see or talk to people.  I didn't want to go anywhere.  I couldn't work.  If I had had my way I would have isolated myself completely (thankfully I didn't get my way!).  While my feelings about my mother's cancer have been very similar to my feelings about Eddie's alcoholism and suicide, my actions have been the complete opposite.  Since finding out about my mother's cancer I have kept myself as busy as I possibly can.  In addition to doing my regular job as a teacher, I went from being on just one committee at school last year to being on four this year.  I decided to continue with classes towards my specialist's degree (Mama wasn't happy when I told her I was going to take a break).  I'm going out and doing things with my friends, as well as spending time with Trey and Emily.  Then last week, I joined a gym.  I felt like I needed a way to relieve the stress in my life and exercise seemed the best way to do it.  I'm not sure how I'm going to fit that in, but I guess I'll just have to make the time.

I'm sure there is a happy medium somewhere between how I reacted to Eddie's death and how I'm reacting to my mother's illness, but I haven't found it yet.  For now, just as I've done many times over the past two years, I have to do what works best for me.  Sometimes I feel like I'm so busy that I don't have time to breathe, but I guess that's better than just existing and literally reminding myself to breathe.

"A Word of Understanding"

May peace and understanding
Give you strength and courage, too,
And may the hours and days ahead
Hold a new hope for you.
For the sorrow that is yours today
Will pass away; and then
You'll find the sun of happiness
Will shine for you again.

-Helen Steiner Rice             

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Time for a Change

For several months following Eddie's death, I did everything I could to help myself through that difficult time.  As I've said before, I met regularly with a pastor, attended counseling sessions every week, read practically every book I could find on grief, and finally started seeing a psychiatrist.  I also read daily devotions from several different books, made notes of uplifting sayings and bible verses, and wrote fairly regularly in a journal.  I was still going to the cemetery almost every week, even after six months.  Then one day it hit me - I needed a break.  I realized there was actually such a thing as going overboard with the grieving/healing process.  I had to stop trying so hard and let myself just "be" for a little while.

I ended the meetings with the pastor (he agreed we had covered everything anyway).  I talked to my counselor, and we decided I would see her on an "as needed" basis.  I put away all of the books on grief, even if I hadn't finished reading them.  I chose one book to read devotions from each day.  I stopped making notes of sayings and verses.  Instead I put what I had already written in my purse so I would always have it with me if I felt the need for something uplifting.  I quit making myself write in my journal every day and started writing only when  I really had something I wanted to talk about.  I stopped going to the cemetery except on special occasions.

Over time I've managed to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little.  I went back for counseling a few more times, mostly to help me get through the holidays and the first one-year anniversaries.  I sometimes refer to one of the books on grief when I start having certain feelings or questions again.  I still carry the notebook of sayings and verses in my purse "just in case".  I've switched from keeping a journal to writing a blog.  Now I go to the cemetery if I want to - not because it's a special day or because I feel like I should.

The road to recovery is a winding, up and down one.  It's full of potholes, but you'll also encounter smooth patches as you go.  You will make wrong turns and get lost sometimes, but you'll eventually find your way again.  As with any trip, it will probably take longer than you want.  Just as I did when I was a child, I find myself now wanting to ask someone "Are we there yet?"  I'm not sure if the journey we take after losing a loved one ever actually ends, but I do know it helps to stop and ask for directions along the way.

"Words to Live By"

We all need words to live by,
To inspire us and guide us,
Words to give us courage
When the trials of life betide us.
And the words that never fail us
Are the words of God above,
Words of comfort and of courage
Filled with wisdom and with love.

-Helen Steiner Rice       

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's OK to Laugh

I'm sure I smiled or maybe even laughed sometime during the first six months following Eddie's death.  It wasn't until September of that year that I was actually aware of it though.  I had attended a birthday get-together with a group of my friends.  We talked, ate, and watched the birthday people open their gifts.  I was glad to be sharing time with my friends, but what I was going through was always in the back of my mind.  A few days later I received a thank you card from one of the ladies whose birthday we had celebrated.  She said she appreciated the gift I had given her, but that more than anything she was glad to hear me laugh again.  That took me completely by surprise.  Although I had enjoyed the evening, I didn't even realize that I had been laughing. 

At first I felt guilty.  How could I laugh when Eddie had only been gone for six months?  Wasn't it too soon for me to be laughing and having fun?  Then along with the guilt I also started to feel scared.  If I could laugh, did that mean I was forgetting about Eddie?  How could I possibly forget that quickly?  As usual, I looked through the books I had been reading for any information on laughing while grieving.  I found that almost every book addressed the issue (which told me my feelings weren't any different from everyone else's), and they all said the same thing ... it's OK to laugh.  God gave us the ability to laugh as well as to cry because laughter is as healing as tears, both emotionally and physically.  It relieves stress, stimulates healing, and gives us hope. 

I gradually started to accept that laughter and grief can exist together.  Just because you have one doesn't mean you can't also have the other.  It wasn't too soon for me to have fun, and I hadn't forgotten Eddie.  I learned that it's not wrong to feel good sometimes, even after a tragic event in your life.  Feeling good didn't mean that the grief had ended, but it did give me hope that I could enjoy life again.  I wasn't being disloyal to Eddie by going on with my life.  I found that the good days would come and go, just as the bad days still did.  The grief went on, but I learned to enjoy the relief that came with being able to laugh again. 

"A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones." -Proverbs 17:22

"He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy." -Job 8:21

"Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains." -Proverbs 14:13

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Nothing Stays the Same

My granddaughter Emily started to school this past week.  Wednesday was her first day of kindergarten.  It doesn't seem possible that she's five years old.  It seems like only yesterday that she was born, yet so much has changed during that time.  Trey and Emily's mother are no longer together.  She is married to someone else now and has a new baby.  Trey is in a serious relationship with someone, and they just recently moved into a house together.  My grandmother came here to live, fell and broke her hip and is now in North Carolina with my aunt.  I've been back in college working on my specialist's degree for a full year now.  One of my best friends at work retired from teaching, and I really miss seeing and talking to her every day.  Other friends have married, gotten pregnant, and one has passed away.  My mother has cancer and will soon begin chemotherapy treatments.  Eddie died, and his family and I have started to gradually drift apart.  Life goes on after the death of a loved one but in a very different direction.

I couldn't stop thinking about Eddie all day Wednesday, the day Emily started to school.  I couldn't believe he wasn't here to be a part of it.  This was just one more thing in a long list of events that he's missed out on because of the choice he made.  I know how much he loved Emily, so I know how excited and proud he would have been.  I couldn't help asking the why question again.  Why did he choose to leave and miss out on Emily's entire life?  She was only two when he died, so she didn't have long to get to know him.  She recognizes him in pictures and occasionally says something about her "Papi".  (Whenever she does I still feel a physical pain in my chest.)  She remembers that he drove a truck, liked to hunt, played softball with her daddy, and took her for rides on the 4-wheeler.  Whenever he rode her on the 4-wheeler she would sit in front of him with her legs propped up and tell him to "go faster".  In time I'm sure she will forget what little she does remember though.  I regret that he's not here to spend time with her because I know she would have enjoyed it.  She loves to be outside just like he did.  I can only imagine all of the things they would have done together if Eddie had lived.

There's no way to predict what the future holds, just as there's no way to go back and change what has happened in the past.  We just to have to accept the hand life deals us and do the best we can with what we have.  There are times when I feel like I've really moved forward and am going to be OK.  But then there are others when I still feel tired, sad, lonely, and even a little scared.  This past week has been one of those times.  I guess this is what one of my books called a "grief spasm".  I know it will pass, but I have to wonder if it will ever completely go away.  

"You can never change the past.  But by the grace of God, you can win the future.  So remember those things that will help you forward, but forget those things that will only hold you back." -Robert C. Woodsome

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Beginning of Recovery

Once I started sleeping at night I found that I was better able to face what I had to go through each day.  I was still sad, I still missed Eddie, I was still lonely and angry, and I still didn't understand why this had happened.  But at least I now had the energy I needed to make an effort to move forward with my life.  The shock and numbness had worn off, and I knew I had to allow myself to feel the pain of my loss in order to get through it, but I was ready to begin the recovery process.  ("There is no way to the other side of this storm but through it." - Raymond Mitsch & Lynne Brookside, Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love).   I wanted to do something constructive with my grief rather than letting it destroy me.  I gradually began to feel a desire to live again, even though I knew it was going to take time and energy to rebuild my life.  I had to realize and accept that I wouldn't get through this rebuilding all at once.  It was going to be a step by step process, one in which I had to pick up the pieces of my life one at a time and move on. 

I said earlier that taking a leave of absence from work for the remainder of the school year after Eddie's death was one of the hardest things I had ever done.  It was the right decision because I needed that time to cope with what happened and get myself together.  But I realized that summer that I didn't want any more time off.  For the first time in my teaching career, I actually wanted the summer to end so the next school year could begin.  I needed a schedule, a routine, something to keep me busy and my mind occupied.  I started going to the school during the summer gradually getting my room ready.  Thankfully I had to change rooms because our grade level was moving into the new wing of the school.  It made it easier not having to go back to the same room I had been in for so many years.  I remember thinking one day when I was putting up a bulletin board that this was one place I had absolutely no memory of Eddie because he had never been in that room.  This was a welcome change amid so many unwelcome, unwanted ones in my new life.

When it was time for preplanning to begin, my room was completely ready and so was I.  I was anxious to get out of the house and be around people again.  I was even looking forward to spending seven hours a day with 20+ nine and ten year olds!  They didn't know it, but this class was going to benefit from what had happened in my life.  Once school started I went in at 7:30 every morning and stayed until 5:00 or 6:00 every evening.  I took work home with me at night and over the weekends.  I planned extra activities for my students and bought things for them whenever I could.  I poured all of my energy into making that year the best I had ever had as a teacher.  As much as I felt like I had let my previous year's class down, I intended to give this class everything they needed and more.  I guess in some ways I was trying to make up for leaving my students the year before.  Those two classes will always be the two I remember the most ... one for being with me at the worst point of my life and the other for helping me recover from that point.

"Think of a painful feeling as being like a bonfire in a field.  At first it is hot, unapproachable.  Later it may still smolder.  Even later, you can walk on the ground without pain, but you know there is an essence of the fire that still remains.  Take your own time, but be sure to walk over the ground again.  You must do so because whatever you run away from runs you." - Gay Hendricks, Learning to Love Yourself  


Friday, July 29, 2011

A Decision I Never Dreamed I Would Make

As part of my effort to make sense of what had happened, to regain some control of my life, and move on after Eddie's death, I continued to see the counselor and the pastor on a regular basis.  While they helped me with many things, there was one area they couldn't help me with - sleep.  After two months I was still sleeping only two to three hours a night, and it was really starting to take a toll on me.  My family doctor gave me a couple of different things to take that were supposed to help me sleep but neither of them worked ... one made me sick and the other made me feel like I was in a daze all of the time.  I knew sleep was important and that lack of sleep could have negative effects, but I never knew just how much until I experienced it myself.

While some people sleep as a way to escape the reality of what has happened in their life, others find they can't sleep at all.  I was one of those people - my mind and emotions wouldn't turn off when I went to bed at night.  The darkness seemed to make the fear, doubt, sadness, dread, and loneliness worse.  My worries were magnified at night, and my stress level increased as the night went on.  I did some reading on sleep deprivation and found the following information: 1) Sleep is needed to regenerate the body, especially the brain; 2) A lack of sleep visibly affects a person's behavior; 3) Verbal language is affected, resulting in slurred, monotone, slow speech; 4) Sleep deprived people have difficulty forming new ideas and often repeat their words and actions; 5) Reflexes are slowed, judgment is impaired, and the ability to control impulses is reduced; 6) Lack of sleep affects the ability to focus and make decisions; 7) The immune system is weakened without sleep; and 8) In extreme cases hallucinations occur and can even lead to temporary insanity.  I realized I was experiencing most if not all of these symptoms (I truly felt like I was going crazy), so I made a decision I never dreamed I would make in my life - I decided to see a psychiatrist.

My counselor was the one who initially suggested this, and she even made the referral and appointment for me.  Of course I had no idea what seeing a psychiatrist would be like.  My only ideas were based on things I had seen on TV - Bob Newhart meeting with a group of patients who had weird fears and habits or Frasier Crane giving advice to callers on the radio.  I pictured myself going into an office, lying on a couch with a box of kleenex beside me, while the doctor sat in a chair, notepad and pen in hand, writing and saying things like "I see" and "How did that make you feel".  I couldn't believe I was going to go through with it, but by this point I was willing to try anything.  I knew psychiatrists usually prescribed medication, but I was very wary of taking anything after seeing what addiction had done to Eddie.  The night before my appointment I searched for medications on the internet.  I typed in all of my requirements - mild, non-addictive, few if any side effects, sleep aid, anxiety relief.  No matter where I searched, one particular medication kept coming up at the top of every list.  I wrote the name on a slip of paper and put it in my purse to take with me to my appointment the next day.

The psychiatrist's office was located on the second floor of a medical building downtown.  On the drive there I kept coming up with all kinds of reasons to call and cancel the appointment.  Once I got there, I sat in the car in the parking lot working up the courage to go inside.  On the elevator I rode past the floor because I was afraid to get off.  When I got to the office door I looked around to make sure no one saw me go inside.  When I finally made it into the office, I was pleasantly surprised.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I was relieved to see that it looked like any other doctor's office.  It was small, nicely decorated, comfortable, almost cozy feeling.  After a short wait I was called back to see the doctor.  I didn't think I would be in there very long because I assumed the main thing she would do would be to write me a prescription.  Again I was pleasantly surprised.  The doctor listened and talked to me for almost an hour.  She didn't bring up medication until the end.  When she did she said that based on everything I had told her there was one thing she wanted me to try.  Before I had a chance to get my slip of paper out of my purse she said the name of the same medication I had written down the night before.  I took this as a sign that I was meant to give this a try.  The doctor had me make an appointment for two weeks later so she could see how I was doing on the medication and also told me to call her if I had any problems or negative side effects at all.  This eased my mind and made me feel much more comfortable about taking something.

I filled the prescription as soon as I left her office but didn't take it until I was ready to go to bed that night.  I lay down to read, expecting to be awake off and on most of the night as I had been every night for the past two months.  As I turned off the light that night I looked at the clock - it was exactly 12:00 PM.  The next time I opened my eyes I looked at the clock again - it was 8:00 AM.  I couldn't believe it.  I thought the clock must be wrong so I got up and looked at my watch.  There was no mistake - I had slept soundly for 8 solid hours without waking up once!  The medication wasn't a miracle drug - it didn't take away the sadness or the loneliness, it didn't speed up the grieving process, it didn't bring Eddie back.  But it did allow me to start sleeping again which in turn made it possible for me to focus on dealing with the loss and getting my life back together.  I know some people don't agree with or approve of taking medication, but this proved to be a major step on my road to recovery.

"God is aware of your circumstances and moves among them.  God is aware of your pain and monitors every second of it.  God is aware of your emptiness and seeks to fill it in a manner beyond your dreams.  God is aware of your wounds and scars and knows how to draw forth a healing deeper than you can imagine.  Even when your situation seems out of control.  Even when you feel alone and afraid.  God works the night shift."  Ron Mehl, God Works the Night Shift

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fighting Resentment

Sometime after Eddie's death I remember watching a television special on Farah Fawcett.  It detailed her long battle with cancer and all that she went through trying to beat the disease.   I couldn't help but wonder why one person would fight so hard to stay alive while another would give up so easily.  I'm asking the same thing again now in relation to my mother and her cancer.  Now that she has decided to pursue treatment options, she is very determined to do what it takes to beat the disease.  She is seeking a second opinion from a surgeon in Atlanta before she makes a decision about exactly what she will do.  But she will do something - surgery, chemotherapy, or both - what she won't do is give up.  So why was Eddie willing to give up so easily?  Alcoholism is a disease just as cancer is.  There's no cure for alcoholism, but you can recover from it just as you can recover from cancer.  There are treatment options for alcoholism just as there are treatment options for cancer.  You don't have to choose to die from either disease.  My mother is willing to fight, so why wasn't Eddie? 

I've been surprised to find that I'm having so many of the same feelings about my mother's cancer that I had about Eddie's suicide.  I experienced the same shock and numbness upon hearing the news.  I've felt anger and asked the "why" question.  Now I'm dealing with another common feeling - resentment.  I do not resent my mother, nor did I ever resent Eddie.  My mother didn't ask to have cancer, and Eddie didn't ask to be an alcoholic.  I don't blame either of them.  What I resent are the diseases and what they do to our lives.  I resented what Eddie's drinking did to him, to Trey, to me, and to our family.  Our schedules, our plans, our routines, our entire lives changed when he was drinking.  The same is happening now because of cancer.  I resent the cancer and the changes it is making in our lives.  My mother had just gotten my grandmother settled into living here with her ... now that has changed.  She was taking care of Emily before and after school every day ... now that has changed.  Trey has always depended on my mother to be there when he needed help with Emily ... that will have to change.  My dad counts on my mother to check  on him and take him places ... that will have to change.  There will be changes in my life too.  I have been working on my specialist's degree for the past three semesters.  I was on track to finish next summer.  I have decided not to take any classes this semester though because I don't know how much time I will need to spend helping my mother.  This is in no way her fault, I don't blame her for what's happening, but I resent having to make the change.

I hope my honesty doesn't make others think less of me.  When I first started my blog I said I would be completely honest about everything.  If I'm not honest, writing this won't help me or anyone else.  I waited for two years to start writing about Eddie's death.  Once I started it helped me a great deal.  My hope is that writing while this is happening with my mother rather than waiting will help me to get through it.  I want to continue my story of Eddie's suicide, while relaying what we're going through with my mother at the same time.  I just have to figure out how to manage everything on my plate at one time!

He Asks so Little and Gives so Much - Helen Steiner Rice
What must I do to ensure peace of mind?
Is the answer I'm seeking too hard to find?
How can I know what God wants me to be?
How can I tell what's expected of me?
Where can I go for guidance and aid
To help me correct the errors I've made?
The answer is found in doing three things,
And great is the gladness that doing them brings.
"Do justice" - "Love kindness" -
"Walk humbly with God" -
For with these three things as your rule and your rod,
All things worth having are yours to achieve,
If you follow God's words and have faith to believe. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Times Like These

The shock of learning that my mother's cancer has returned hasn't worn off, but the numbness has.  In its place is another old, familiar feeling - anger.  I'm angry at Eddie for not being here to help me through this.  I'm angry, once again, at a disease that I have no control over - first it was alcoholism, now it's cancer.  I'm angry at what I see as the unfairness of life, and I'm also angry at God again.  I said that I was afraid to admit that after Eddie died, but this time I'm not.  If I didn't believe in God I couldn't be mad at him.  In addition to the anger, I'm also asking the why question again.  Even though I know from past experience that there isn't an answer, I'm still asking.  I know that everything happens according to God's plan, but that doesn't mean that I understand.  I don't understand why, when our family was just reaching the point of recovery and moving on with our lives, something like this had to happen.  I don't understand why someone who has done so much for others should have to suffer.  I don't understand why God would even consider taking my mother away when so many other people depend on her.  Just as I did before, I will try not to let myself become bitter, but right now it's hard not to feel that way.

This is just the beginning of another journey for my family.  There's no way to know right now when or how it will end.  My mother has decided to undergo chemotherapy treatments, so we will hope and pray for the best possible outcome.  Whatever that outcome may be, though, it's not going to happen overnight.  We all have a long road ahead of us, especially my mother.  It's not going to be easy, and we will all have to make sacrifices along the way.  I'm sure there will be times when we want to quit trying and give up.  I'm not going to lie and say I'm looking forward to any of this.  But if I learned anything from my experience over the past two years it's that no matter how hard and hopeless things may seem, there's always a reason to keep going.  Following Eddie's suicide I somehow found strength I never knew I had.  I survived before and I will again.

"Times Like These" - Kid Rock

It's times like these we can't replace.
It's times like these we must embrace.
And even though it's bittersweet
And brings us to our knees,
It makes us who we are
In times like these.


Thursday, July 7, 2011


I had a visit from an "old friend" this week.  The wall of shock and numbness that went up around me the night Eddie died has returned.  It came a little more slowly this time, but it's here now just the same.  In my first blog I said my story began on March 16, 2009, but I actually had another story that began six weeks earlier.  In February 2009 my mother went into the hospital for what we thought was going to be an emergency appendectomy.  However it turned out to be much more than that ... she had her appendix, a mass, and a portion of her colon removed, and she was diagnosed with cancer.  The surgeon at the time felt like he got most of the cancer, but the oncologist still recommended chemotherapy in case there were any remaining cancer cells.  Once my mother recovered from the surgery itself, she went for a second opinion concerning the chemo.  The second doctor agreed that she should undergo treatment to be on the safe side.  My mother wasn't really in favor of having chemo, but she hadn't made a definite decision about it when everything else started happening.  Once Eddie died, she forgot about taking care of herself and took care of Trey and me instead.  After we began to recover from the initial impact of what had happened, we tried to get her to go back to taking care of herself.  By this point though she was feeling good physically, so she was convinced there was no need for treatment.  She never even went back to the doctor for a check up once her follow-up visits for the surgery were completed. 

For the next two years my mother devoted herself to caring for others.  She continued to help Trey and I heal.  She took care of Emily before and after her preschool hours, as well as during holidays and the summer.  Even though they've been divorced for over 30 years she still kept a close check on my father who suffered a stroke several years ago.  This past March her 96 year old mother came to live with her.  None of us knew until this past week that she had started to feel bad again.  After several days of running a high fever, having an upset stomach, and feeling a lump in her abdomen she finally gave in and went to the doctor, who sent her for a CT scan.  I was with her this week when she got the results of the scan.  As I heard the doctor saying "The cancer has returned, it's spread through your abdomen and is also in your liver" I felt that wall going up around me again, just as it had the night the deputy told me my husband was dead.  I was hearing the words, but I wasn't believing or accepting them. 

We were sent directly to the hospital because my mother was dehydrated and still not able to eat.  For the past three days we've basically waited in limbo.  First we waited on the surgeon, only to finally hear he wasn't even coming because he had determined surgery wasn't an option.  Today we waited on the oncologist, who finally showed up at 9:00 PM.  He gave a little more hope than the other doctors and promised to return tomorrow to discuss her options in more detail.  He believes she can benefit from chemo, if she's willing to undergo the treatments.  Now I'll wait for my mother to make up her mind what she wants to do.  I know all of this is happening, but just as it was two years ago, I feel like I'm watching it happen to someone else.  I know the wall will eventually disappear, but for now I'm glad it's back.

"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:4     

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Day at a Time

The last line of traditional wedding vows is "til death do us part."  If you're like me, you probably didn't think much about those words when you said them.  When you're young, in love, and just starting your life together, you think your future will last forever.  Death is the furthest thing from your mind on your wedding day.  But when you lose a spouse, those 5 little words suddenly have meaning, they become real.  I learned their meaning after Eddie died.  Death had parted us; it had disrupted and ended our life as I had known it.  There was no longer a future together to look forward to.  My identity, purpose, and place in the world had suddenly changed, and I had no idea how to handle the change.  

The motto or slogan for Alcoholics Anonymous is "one day at a time."  I soon realized that was how I would have to approach my "new" life also.  It was too painful to even think about the future because of the emptiness I felt.  Instead I had to focus on surviving one day at a time (sometimes it was one hour or even one minute at a time).  In the beginning I felt like I was just existing rather than living.  My grief was overpowering and consumed my life.  It took all of my time and energy.  I realized that nothing in my life had prepared me for the feelings grief would bring.  There were times when I tried to suppress my feelings, to hide from them, or to ignore them.  I would tell myself that I wasn't going to think about what happened, I wasn't going to be sad, I wasn't going to cry, but of course that was impossible.  I found that my feelings were going to come out whether I wanted them to or not.  God gave us our emotions along with the ability to express them.  Keeping our feelings bottled up inside isn't healthy.  Releasing our feelings and emotions through tears and even anger is beneficial both physically and mentally.  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4

There were many times early on when I felt like I was stuck in the grieving process, like I couldn't move forward.  There was no straight path from the beginning stage to the ending stage of grief.  It was more like working my way through a maze.  I would go forward for a time, then have to turn around, retrace my steps, and go backward.  Most of the time I felt lost and like I would never reach the other side.  Going on with my life meant adjusting to so many changes and coping with so many new things that there were times when I just wanted to give up.  That's when I realized there is another step or stage not listed in the grieving process - apathy.  I went through a period where I didn't care about anything.  I didn't care if my hair was fixed, if I had on makeup, or even if I got dressed.  I didn't care if my house was clean, if my refrigerator was empty, or if my laundry was done.  There were times when I didn't care if I saw or spoke to anyone all day. 

In addition to this period of not caring, I also experienced what one of my books called "grief spasms."  Just when I would think I was making progress and beginning to feel a tiny bit better, without warning it would hit me all over again, and I would have a meltdown.  I would burst into tears for what I thought was no apparent reason.  I would become angry, sometimes to the point that I wanted others to feel as badly as I did so they would understand what I was going through.  This made me think of the scene from the movie Steel Magnolias where Sally Field says "I don't think I can take this.  I just want to hit somebody 'til they feel as bad as I do.  I just want to hit something.  I want to hit it hard!"  I didn't understand why this was happening, but I eventually realized there didn't have to be a reason for these breakdowns.  They just happen - it's all a part of the journey.

At some point I knew I couldn't dwell on my loss forever.  I couldn't ignore it or pretend it didn't happen either.  I had to find a balance between the past and the future.  I had to accept that Eddie was gone but I was still alive.  I needed to start making decisions about what parts of my life should stay the same and what parts should change.  I needed to find some form of hope if I was going to recover.  I read that recovering doesn't mean going back to what was before, but going ahead to something new and different.  I was going to have to relearn how to live.  I didn't have a choice in the loss I had experienced, but I had a choice in going on with my own life.  It was going to be a struggle to regain control of my life, and it was going to take faith to continue dealing with the pain along the way.  "I will turn their mourning into joy, and I will comfort them and make them rejoice." Jeremiah 31:13

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is Forgiveness Possible?

Forgiveness means giving up the need to punish or get even with someone, no longer blaming them, or holding something against them, pardoning or excusing them for something that was done.  It doesn't happen overnight - it is a process that takes time.  I have worked very hard on not blaming myself for Eddie's death.  I've tried to get away from the why and what if questions.  I don't feel as guilty now as I did in the beginning.  But have I forgiven myself for things I did or didn't do, things I did or didn't say? ... I'm not sure.  Have I forgiven Eddie for what he did? ... definitely not.  That's something I still have to work on, and the first step is recognizing what I need to forgive him for.  Obviously I have to try to forgive him for taking his own life.  But there's much more to it than that.  Forgiving him for committing suicide means forgiving him for giving up on his fight with alcoholism, forgiving him for taking away my chance to help him, forgiving him for not giving me a chance to say goodbye, forgiving him for not giving me a say in the end, forgiving him for leaving Trey without a father and Emily without a grandfather, and forgiving him for permanently changing who I am.

Suicide was a choice Eddie made about his own life, but it affected me, Trey, the rest of his family, and everyone who knew him.  His death will forever be a part of who I am.  I will never be the same person I was before his death.  Sadness and regret will always be a part of my memories of him (but hopefully with time happiness will also become a part of those memories).  Forgiving him means resigning myself to the fact that I wasn't able to help him and accepting that I cannot change the way things are now.  Forgiveness also means giving up on trying to understand why he took his own life.  But I know this is necessary because I can't move on with my life as long as I'm still searching for answers that don't exist. 

I don't know if total forgiveness will ever be possible.  I'm sure I will continue trying to forgive in some form for the rest of my life.  But I cannot allow Eddie's death to define my life and who I am.  It has been a struggle not to let myself become bitter, not to let my beliefs be changed, and to allow myself to begin to heal.  I've had to walk away from my own guilt and from the shame associated with suicide in order to give myself a chance to go on with my life.  I've also had to realize that forgiving doesn't mean forgetting.  I will always remember Eddie, and hopefully in time I will remember more of the good and less of the bad.  An important thing to know is that forgiveness does more for the one who is forgiving than it does for the one who is being forgiven.

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13

"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Mark 11:25


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Difficult Decision

We held Eddie's funeral and burial in Columbus, which had been our home for 25 years.  As far as I was concerned there was never any question that it should be anywhere else.  Eddie wasn't originally from Columbus though.  He grew up in Hinesville, Georgia and still had family and friends there.  Hinesville was his home, too.  All of his immediate family and many friends traveled to Columbus for the funeral, but there were people who weren't able to come.  They wanted a chance to say good-bye also, so Eddie's family planned a memorial service for him there.  I completely understood their reasons for wanting to do this.  I supported their decision 100 percent.  They had every right to hold a service in his memory in the place he grew up.  There was just one problem ... I knew I couldn't attend.

The service was planned for May 16, exactly two months from the date of Eddie's death.  It was being held in the church in the small community of Fleming where he grew up.  I had been there with him many times over the years.  I had been to services in that church, and had attended the funerals of two of his grandparents there.  I loved the area and knew the community and the people well.  But there was no way I could go back at that time.  The memorial service was going to be too much like the funeral.  I gave his family the same pictures I had used for the video.  Many of the same hymns were going to be sung.  They wanted me to read the poem and Trey the letter that we read at the funeral.  There was no way I could go through that again so soon.  I hadn't made much progress since Eddie's death, but I knew what little I had made would be gone if I went.  Starting the grieving over from the beginning just wasn't something I could do.

I talked to my counselor and the preacher about how I felt.  They both agreed with me - I shouldn't go.  I talked to my family and my close friends.  They agreed with me too.  I hated to tell Eddie's family that I wasn't coming though.  After all, they had traveled to Columbus and attended what I had planned.  I didn't see how they could possibly understand my reasons for not attending the service they planned.  The decision was made for me when I talked to Trey about it.  He said, "I don't know if I can go through that again this soon."  That was all it took for me to make up my mind.  I would have managed somehow if he had wanted to go, but there was no way I was going to put him through it if he didn't want to go.  So the weekend of the memorial service Trey and I went in the opposite direction.

I got tickets to the Georgia Aquarium and a Braves game, and we headed to Atlanta.  We left on Saturday morning and went to the aquarium that afternoon.  That was my first trip there, and under different circumstances I'm sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  As it was it was just a relief to get away from home.  We went out to dinner that evening, then went to a motel near the stadium because our tickets were for Sunday's game.  I know we could have shared a motel room, but Trey was almost 25 years old.  I didn't think he would really want to stay in the same room with his mother, so I got separate rooms.  He stayed with me for awhile, watching TV and talking then went across the hall to his room. When he first closed the door, I started to panic.  I had never spent the night alone in a motel room in my whole life.  I know he would have come back if I had called him, but this was something I had to do on my own.  I knew I would be doing a lot of things alone in the future, so I had to start somewhere.  I made it through the night, and though I can't say I was happy the next morning, I was pleased - I had survived.  This was one small step towards moving forward with my life.

Sunday morning we went to breakfast then to the stadium.  Unfortunately, it was raining by the time we got there.  We waited around for a couple of hours before they cancelled the game.  I was disappointed, not so much about not getting to see the game, but because I didn't want to go home.  I realized that being away, even for a short time, had been a relief.  I hadn't forgotten what was going on while we were gone, but the pressure of everything had seemed a little less intense.  The closer we got to home the more I felt it returning.  I also knew that whether I wanted to or not, I would have to call Eddie's family and ask how the memorial service had gone ... and that wasn't something I wanted to hear about.

"Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again."  Psalm 71:20-21

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Escaping the Silence

One of the hardest things to adjust to after Eddie's death was the silence.  Even though he was gone from the house a lot before his death, and even though we didn't always talk when he was home, the silence now seemed intensified.  When I was in the house alone every noise seemed to echo - the tick of the clock was 10 times louder, I could hear water running into the ice maker, the water pipes in the walls popped, when the phone rang I nearly jumped out of my skin, I could even hear the cat walking through the house.  I wanted the TV on to drown out the silence, but it was so hard to find a show that didn't make me think of Eddie.  I wanted to have the radio on, but I was afraid I would hear a song that reminded me of him.  I had to find a way to escape the silence.

I started to think that maybe I should get away for awhile, but I didn't really know where to go.  I thought about the beach because it has always been the most relaxing place in the world to me.  Maybe the waves breaking on the beach then washing back out into the ocean would carry my troubles away.  I came very close to packing my things and heading to Panama City but never did.  I was afraid it would be too hard for me because that was where we had always gone for our family vacation.  I knew it would be impossible to be there without thinking about Eddie and missing him even more, so I didn't go.  I thought about going to a beach that we had not been to together.  Although Eddie's family lives near the water on the Georgia coast, we never went to Jekyll or St. Simon's Islands.  I seriously considered going there but never did.  I realized it wasn't which beach I went to, the beach itself was going to be a reminder of Eddie, so I didn't go.

My mother suggested that I go back to where I had grown up - Hazlehurst, Georgia.  She told me that when she was going through a hard time in her life it had always helped her to reconnect with her past.  This made sense and sounded like a good idea, but I wasn't sure I was ready to face "old" friends and tell them the truth about what had happened.  I didn't go back then, but I did return to Hazlehurst a little less than two years after Eddie's death.  As is often the case, my mother was right.  Getting back in touch with people who knew me separate from Eddie and seeing places that weren't a part of my life with him were a great help.  Reconnecting with my past has allowed me to move forward with my future. 

I decided maybe I could get away without actually going very far.  We live about 20 minutes from Callaway Gardens, so I thought I would go there for a few days.  They have motels as well as cabins.  I could go to either and stay for as long as I wanted.  I went as far as packing a suitcase for this trip but never went.  I wanted to get away but at the same time was afraid to leave.  I wasn't afraid of going somewhere alone - I had been alone quite a bit over the years.  So what was I afraid of?  I was afraid Eddie would come home and I wouldn't be there.

In the end I only went as far as my mother's apartment in Columbus.  I could stay there and be away from the silence of my house but still be close enough to go home every day if I wanted.  I drove back and forth many, many times over the next few weeks.  Often on the way back to my house I would look at the road ahead of me and think "if I just keep driving as far as I possibly can I'll eventually reach a place where none of this is happening."  I've quoted a Kid Rock song before - like him or not, some of his lyrics have a lot of meaning ... "Into the Purple Sky" says "I just want to drink til I'm not thirsty, I just want to sleep til I'm not tired, I just want to drive til I run out of highway into the purple sky" ... and that's exactly how I felt.

"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." Psalm 37:5

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Led to All of This Craziness?

Eddie and I met in 1980 during our second year of college in Douglas, Georgia.  He was a baseball player, and I was a basketball cheerleader.  The first time we officially "went out" together was on a double date with another baseball player and his girlfriend, who was also a cheerleader.  We went to see the movie "Blue Lagoon."  I remember how embarrassed I was because I hardly knew Eddie, and there was (for that time) a lot of nudity in the movie.  It obviously turned out OK though, because we never dated anyone else after that.  Just like Eddie and I, the couple we double dated with ended up marrying each other several years later.  Sadly, I recently learned that her husband had passed away the same year as Eddie.  I couldn't help but be struck by the irony of this - the four of us started out dating together and 29 years later we each lost our husbands within seven months of each other.

Eddie and I continued dating for three years then married in 1983.  We had moved to Columbus, Georgia by that time because of school (Eddie had continued his baseball at Columbus College).  During the time we were dating, I knew Eddie drank a lot, but I didn't think too much about it.  After all we were in college and that's what a lot of people did.  I assumed once we married, settled down, and went to work that would change - and it did for awhile.  Eddie was always a hard worker and made a good living.  He enjoyed hunting, fishing, exercising, and playing softball.  He would do anything to help a friend.  When Trey was old enough to play ball, Eddie helped coach several of his teams.  He loved his family.  In the beginning, he didn't drink every day.  Most of the time he only drank on weekends.  But I began to see that when he did drink he drank too much.

Over the years I began to notice that no matter how successful Eddie was or how much he accomplished, it never seemed to be enough for him.  He always thought he should be making more money, buying more things, impressing more people.  He didn't have to work at making others like him.  He had a great personality, and everyone liked him for who he was.  But he never believed this.  Eventually he started drinking more.  He thought he needed to "loosen up" every time we went out with our friends.  In time he was drinking every day.  It was then that I realized Eddie was an alcoholic. 

During the last five to six years of our marriage, Eddie's drinking took over his life (and mine too).  He still managed to keep a good job though, until the last year.  I learned through my reading and counseling that he was a "functional alcoholic."  He was able to hide his drinking from most people and to function like a "normal" person.  Only family and close friends knew he had a problem.  During this time Eddie went back and forth between believing he was an alcoholic and denying he had a problem at all.  He would go to counseling for awhile then quit.  He attended AA meetings then stopped.  He went through an outpatient treatment program but didn't stick to the follow-up plan when it was over.  It wasn't until he lost his job as a direct result of his drinking that he finally admitted he was an alcoholic and needed help.  He entered an inpatient treatment facility, and I thought this was finally the answer ... he was going to get the long-term help he needed.  He received help, but it wasn't long term.  He stayed for six weeks.  I spent the last five days and nights there with him.  I tried to tell the counselors and doctors that he wasn't ready to leave, but they insisted he was.  I had known him for almost 30 years.  They had known him for 6 weeks, but according to them they knew best.  Eddie had said all of the right things, made all of the right promises - he was always good at convincing other people.  So on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 2009 we came home.

I knew the first week Eddie was home things weren't right.  He wasn't drinking, but he wasn't following through with his responsibilities for continuing his treatment either.  He was supposed to attend AA every day, no excuses, no exceptions.  He went to three meetings that first week.  He was supposed to get a sponsor but didn't.  He was encouraged to see a counselor but he never did.  He met with our preacher one time but never went back.  This continued for the next several months.  He focused less and less on his alcoholism until he finally stopped going to AA at all.  He was having trouble finding a job during all of this, and that began to eat away at him.  Finally in February 2009 he started drinking again.  This time, I didn't have anything left.  I had done everything I knew to do.  I had encouraged, supported, begged, pleaded, threatened but nothing had worked.  So I gave up and ignored it as much as possible.  I saw his old habits return - hiding his alcohol, lying about where he had been, disappearing for hours.  This time I didn't even bother trying to cover for him.  I knew he was drinking again every day, but obviously what I didn't know was how depressed had become.  It was that combination of alcoholism and depression that led to his decision to take his own life.

I no longer tell myself that I could have done anything to make a difference in the end.  Eddie had been on a path to self-destruction that I didn't have the power to change.  I regret that I wasn't able to do more, but I've worked hard to accept that I did all I could.  I've always heard the expression "hindsight is 20/20", but if I had it to do all over again, knowing what I know now, I honestly don't know what I would do differently.

          Serenity Prayer
God grant me ...
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Different Kind of Grief

The word suicide comes from a Latin word which means "to kill oneself."  The dictionary definition says "the act of a human being intentionally causing his or her own death."  Suicide ranks as the 6th-8th overall leading cause of death in the United States and as the 3rd leading cause among those 15-34 years of age.  It occurs more often with males than females.  In the U.S. 52% of suicide deaths involve firearms.  Depression and alcoholism are two of the major contributing factors in suicides.  There is plenty of information and statistics available about people who attempt/commit suicide.  There are books, medical texts, internet sites, magazine articles, essays, and videos devoted to the causes of suicide and the prevention of suicide.  But there is very little information and very few resources for those who are left behind.  Most of the focus is on those who commit suicide rather than the survivors.  As a result, there is more guilt, shame, isolation, loneliness, separation, withdrawal, and frustration experienced by survivors of suicide than by those who have lost a loved one in some other way.

The loss of a loved one by any means is devastating to those who are left behind.  The surviving family members and friends all go through their own form of grief following the death.  I don't in any way intend to sound as if I think my grief was worse than anyone else's - but it was (and still is) different.  The American Psychiatric Association classifies the stress level associated with a suicide as "catastrophic".  Accepting the suicide victim's decision to die is worse than accepting the death itself.  It is virtually impossible to understand that a loved one left of their own free will.  Following a suicide, there is no disease, accident, or act of violence for the survivors to be mad at for taking their loved one away.  You have to be mad at the one who died, because they took themselves away.  The immediate reaction following a suicide is one of disbelief.  Even if your loved one had experienced prior problems, even if they had talked about suicide, even if they had a previous unsuccessful suicide attempt, accepting that they actually did it just isn't possible.  I found that I had to get through the initial impact of how Eddie died before I could face that he was gone.  Only then was I able to begin grieving for him.

After Eddie's death I didn't try to hide how he died, but I didn't volunteer the information either.  Family, neighbors, and close friends all knew what had really happened.  I didn't lie to others about his death, but if they didn't know I let them believe he died as a result of the wreck.  I guess in some ways I was embarrassed or ashamed to admit that he had committed suicide.  I felt like there was a stigma associated with suicide and that some people would look at his death as having been "preventable" in some way.  I felt as if my entire world had exploded, and my life was shattered into a million pieces.  I didn't have any idea how to start to put things back together again, much less how to deal with people who didn't understand suicide (I didn't even understand it myself).  Over time I became more open and honest about what happened and to my surprise and dismay found that the statistics about suicide are true - it happens way more than we want to believe.  I didn't think I knew many people who had personal experience with suicide, but I was wrong ... a friend's brother, another friend's son, a coworker's sister, an in-law's husband, an acquaintance's husband, a nurse's father.  I wasn't happy that they had experienced the pain I was now feeling, but I was relieved to know that I wasn't alone.  It's unfortunate for the survivors that suicide is dealt with in such secrecy.

The following are quotes I found in two of the books written specifically for survivors of suicide - (1) Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors by Edward Dunne and Karen Dunne-Maxim and (2) No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One by Carla Fine:

"We do not believe in ascribing 'responsibility' for suicide to anyone other than the victim.  The failure to choose life is the failure of the deceased, not of the survivor." (1)

"We believe that suicide occurs in all types of families: the functional and the dysfunctional, the very good, the not so good, and the just good enough." (1)

"Gradually, I came to understand that while it may be possible to help someone whose fear is death, there are no guarantees for a person whose fear is life." (2)