Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What to do With the Anger

I had admitted that I was angry.  I had identified some of the reasons for my anger.  I knew who I was angry with (sometimes it was everybody around me!).  Now I had to figure out what to do about my anger and how to express it in appropriate ways.  My counselor, the preacher, and the books had many suggestions ... exercise, garden, go to a secluded place and scream, beat a pillow, start a journal, vent with a friend or counselor, join a support group, pray.  Every outlet they suggested doesn't work for every person, though.  I had to take the TIME to find which of these worked for me.

I knew without even trying it that gardening wasn't for me.  I've never been very interested in planting things or working in the yard.  Eddie always took excellent care of everything outside so there was never a reason for me to.  I've always enjoyed walking, so I gave that a try.  I realized quickly that I had to find somewhere other than our neighborhood to walk because that was where Eddie had always done his walking (he was always big on exercise).  So I started going to a park in town that had a walking trail.  I didn't want to go to a gym because I needed to be outside.  The walking was good exercise but it didn't really relieve my anger.  I went to a support group meeting one time, but decided that wasn't for me.  I knew before I went that I wouldn't like it.  I probably should have gone with a more open mind, but I had been to Alanon meetings in the past and hated them.  I didn't want to talk to my family or my friends about the anger because I felt like they were already hearing enough from me about my grief.  I tried sitting in my car with the windows rolled up and screaming, but that just gave me a headache.

I found that I benefited the most from two things that were the complete opposite of each other - writing in a journal and beating on something.  Writing gave me a calm way to express my anger.  I could put my feelings and the reasons for them on paper, then do whatever I wanted with them.  Sometimes I kept what I wrote.  Sometimes I ripped it up and threw it away.  A couple of times I even burned what I had written.  The more I wrote the better I felt.  It was like yelling at someone without making any noise.  The beating and punching gave me a physical way to express my anger.  Sometimes I beat on the pillows in my bedroom, but most of the time I took it out on Edde's recliner.  I think I was still trying to make myself angry at Eddie himself.  I used my fists, my blow dryer, other pillows, even Emily's ball bat.  The beating and punching exhausted me, so I didn't have the energy to feel anger after I finished. 

Finding the right outlet for my anger doesn't mean that I never took it out on others, though.  Looking back I realize there were times that I snapped at family and friends, times I said hurtful things, times I withdrew, and times that I was probably downright rude.  I had to hope that others realized that wasn't the real me, that it was just the grief "talking".  I was finding out that at least for a time grief turns you into a totally different person - sometimes I didn't even recognize myself.

"In the midst of your daily storms, make it a point to be still and set your sights on God.  Let God be God.  Let him bathe you in his glory so that your breath and your troubles are sucked from your soul.  Be still.  Be quiet.  Be open and willing.  Then you will know that God is God." -Max Lucado

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anger - OK or Not?

Most of us are taught when we are growing up that it isn't appropriate or acceptable to express anger.  We learn that while it may be OK to feel angry, we're not supposed to act on those feelings, or at the very least we should be extremely careful about how we express our anger.  I believe this to be the case even more so for females than for males.  It's not considered "lady-like" to get mad, show frustration, express negative feelings, or act on feelings of anger.  However, this was apparently not something that I learned very well because I have always been very vocal about expressing my anger.  That didn't change after Eddie's death. 

Once I started counseling sessions and visits with the preacher I had to admit and explore my feelings of anger.  I learned from them as well as from my reading that anger is a normal response to the loss of a loved one, and that holding it in, not expressing it can lead to depression.  It is a natural reaction and sometimes appears suddenly.  It can be expressed outwardly or through withdrawal, and is usually related to what we see as the unfairness of the death.  Our anger may be misplaced or misdirected because we are looking for someone to blame, and if we are completely honest we want someone to "pay" for what happened. 

I've always known that anger was a step in the grieving process, but I never knew for sure who you were supposed to get mad at.  I assumed it was the person who died - you should get mad at them for leaving - but my anger wasn't directed at Eddie.  I tried to make myself mad at him - after all he abandoned me by choice.  But every time I tried all I could do was picture him on the side of the road, at night, in the rain, alone, feeling so desperate that he felt his only solution was to end his own life, so I only felt pain and heartache.   My feelings of anger toward him never developed.  They did develop towards everyone else though.

I was mad at Eddie's family for a time.  They all lived anywhere from 2 - 4 1/2 hours from us, so they didn't have to see his drinking problem on a daily basis.  I lived with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I experienced his drinking and everything that went along with it for years.  I was the one who sat up at night worrying about him when he didn't come home.  I was the one who went out looking for him at all hours of the day and night.  I was the one who went into bars and night clubs at midnight or 1:00 in the morning if for no other reason than to take his keys away so he couldn't drive home.  I was the one who made excuses to his friends and mine when we didn't show up to invited events.  I was the one who experienced his anger when he had too much to drink.  All his family knew was what I told them, and to protect them (and him) I hid a lot of what went on.  For a time I felt like they thought I was exaggerating when I did tell them things.  It wasn't until he had to go to rehab that I think they all truly accepted that he had a serious problem.  I was also angry that I was here when Eddie died and they weren't.

I was mad at my own family for a time, though I don't really know why.  All they ever did was be there for me and support me.  But they were also closer to the situation than Eddie's family was.  They knew more what I lived with and what I put up with.  They were more realistic and honest about what was going on.  I think in a way it made me angry that I couldn't hide things from them.  Despite everything, I always wanted to defend and protect Eddie, and I couldn't do that easily with my family.  After his death, for some reason that I'll never understand, their support and protection made me angry for awhile.

I was also mad at myself after Eddie's death.  I was angry that I hadn't been able to do more to help him with his drinking problem.  I was angry that I hadn't gone out looking for him the night he died.  I felt guilty that I hadn't told him I loved him before he left that evening.  I felt regret over all of the unresolved issues that we would never have a chance to address.  I was angry that I had lost control of my own life and was having such difficulty moving forward or even functioning at this point.

Finally I was mad at God.  We're not supposed to admit that are we?   I wanted to know where He was the night Eddie died.  I wanted to know why He allowed this to happen to our family.  I thought He was in control of everything, so I felt like He could have prevented this.  It was the preacher who helped me realize that it's OK to be angry with God, as long as you admit your anger to Him and ask Him to help you through it.  Anger at God does not mean a lack of faith, it is just one more way that we respond to our loss.  In the Bible Job was angry at God for all that happened to him that he felt was unfair.  He expressed his anger many times ... "Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 7:11); "I loathe my very life, therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me" (Job 10:1-2).  Anger with God can also be found in many Psalm verses ... "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:1-2); "My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me and so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer" (Psalm 22:1-2).   I had to accept that it was OK for me to be angry with God too...

               Angry at God
I told God I was angry,
I thought He'd be surprised.
I thought I'd kept hostility
quite cleverly disguised.

I told the Lord I hate Him.
I told Him that I hurt.
I told Him that He isn't fair,
He's treated me like dirt.

I told God I was angry
but I'm the one surprised.
"What I've known all along," He said,
"you've finally realized."

"At last you have admitted
what's really in your heart,
Dishonesty, not anger
was keeping us apart.

"Even when you hate Me
I don't stop loving you.
Before you can receive that love
you must confess what's true."

"In telling Me the anger
you genuinely feel,
it loses power over you,
permitting you to heal."

I told God I was sorry
And He's forgiven me.
The truth that I was angry
Has finally set me free.

-Jessica Shaver (Angry at God, an excerpt from Under His Wings, by Patsy Claremont)


Friday, May 27, 2011

It Takes Time

I have to admit that I was disappointed with my first counseling session.  I don't know exactly what I expected to get out of it (wishful thinking was that I would be "cured" after one visit), but I left thinking that I wouldn't go back.  Part of the problem was that I didn't feel comfortable with the counselor.  I'm sure he was good at what he did, but he wasn't right for me.  When I shared this with one of my friends she told me not to give up but to try someone else.  It never occured to me that I might have to look around for the right person.  I guess I just assumed that all counselors were basically the same.  I called the counseling center again and asked to see someone different.  I was more specific this time about what I had been through and what I was looking for.  I specifically asked for someone who had personal experience with death and grieving, though it didn't have to be suicide, and I requested a female.  If counseling is going to be beneficial, you have to be willing to be totally honest, to bare your heart and soul, and you can't do this with someone you aren't comfortable with.  Finding the right counselor is just like finding the right outfit or pair of shoes - you have to shop around and find the one that fits.

Thankfully the next time I went for a session I knew immediately I had found the right person.  She had lost her own husband in a tragic accident several years earlier, and I could tell right away that she understood how I was feeling.  I was very comfortable talking to her right from the start.  As expected our first session was filled with a lot of tears.  I did most of the talking while the counselor sat and listened.  I was surprised at how easy it was to tell her the whole story.  I realized that in some ways it was easier to talk to this stranger than it was to talk to my own family.  She didn't know Eddie or me so there were no opinions about either of us one way or the other.  I felt safe sitting in her office and was actually disappointed when our time ended.  I had barely begun to tell her everything I wanted to share.  This time there was no question that I would be going back.

In addition to the counselor I also started seeing the preacher around the same time.  I hadn't been comfortable with the male at the counseling center, but I was surprised to find that I was very comfortable with this man.  He was kind, caring, understanding, compassionate, yet objective at the same time.  Just like the counselor, he didn't know Eddie or me so I didn't have a problem being honest with him about everything. I could tell he was going to bring a different perspective to the situation than the counselor, but I felt that between the two of them I was going to get what I needed to help me through this process of grieving.  My only regret was that it wasn't going to happen faster.

I continued reading the books I had bought and found out one very important thing - contrary to what I thought, I wasn't going crazy!  I learned that exhaustion, distraction, denial, anger, physical symptoms, withdrawal, and fear (just to name a few) are all a part of grief.  Though I felt like I was alone, the only one to ever feel this way, I wasn't.  Everyone who loses a loved one, regardless of the circumstances, has these same feelings in varying degrees and for different lengths of time.  Grief isn't just something for us to get through, it is like an injury or a sickness - we have to take the time to heal.  There was that word again - TIME - I had to accept that I wasn't going to find a way to rsh through this.

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A New Plan

I survived the weekend after my total meltdown, then made arrangements to take medical leave for the remainder of the school year.  Thankfully my doctor was more than willing to fill out the necessary paperwork for me.  I still have a copy of it - he cited the reasons as anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.  I never thought I would see those words written or hear them said about me.  I hated to leave my students.  I don't like giving up or quitting anything, but I didn't feel as if I had anything left to give them.  I truly did not think they would benefit from my being there in the shape I was in.  At this point it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other each day.  I still wasn't sleeping more than a couple of hours each night, so I was exhausted before I ever got started each morning.  There was no way I could successfully teach a class of 9 and 10 year olds for the next 5 weeks. 

Once this was taken care of, I decided it was time for a new plan.  I did not want to grieve, but if I had to then I was going to do it RIGHT (ha ha).  I went to the book store and bought several books on both suicide and grief.  I called a counseling center and made an appointment to see someone as soon as possible.  One of my friends told me about the pastor of a small church near me who had recently helped her through a difficult time.  He had just completed his counseling degree, so I called and made an appointment to see him too.  With all of this help, surely I would be able to get myself straightened out soon!

The first thing I learned from one of the books I had bought was that there is no "right" or "correct" way to grieve.  Everyone's grief is different, and everyone handles grief in their own way.  There is no time frame for getting past a death.  You never truly get over a death - you just learn to cope with it - and tragic deaths are usually more difficult to recover from.  I had been right about the stages of the grieving process, but I was wrong in thinking that you went through them in order or that you could devote a specific amount of time to each.  Some people move through the stages more quickly than others, people go back and forth between the stages, sometimes people experience more than one stage at a time, and sometimes the beginning stages come back (shock, denial) months or even years later.  I did not like what I was reading!  I wanted this to be done quickly and according to a plan.

The good part of what I read was that I wasn't alone in the way I was feeling.  Though these feelings weren't "normal" under everyday circumstances, they were "normal" for someone grieving the loss of a loved one.  I also learned that whatever I was feeling at the time was OK - there was no reason for me to be guilty about the feelings I was having.  One book said that a person who has just experienced a death, especially a tragic one, should treat themself as if they were in "intensive care".  It said first and foremost I had to take care of myself, admit that I needed help, and let others do things for me (which I knew wouldn't be easy for me).  I was willing to try anything though if it meant beginning to move forward with the healing process.

"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Losing Control

As far back as I can remember I've always been a very independent person.  I like to take care of things myself without asking others for help.  For the most part I've always seen myself as being strong, in control, and able to handle most situations.  So what was happening now?  Why did I suddenly feel so weak?  Why did I feel as if I had lost control of everything in my life?  It was hard enough for me to understand that I hadn't been able to help Eddie with his drinking problem.  It was even more difficult for me to believe that I hadn't seen the signs or found a way to prevent him from taking his own life.  It was almost impossible for me to accept that I hadn't been in control after all.  This was all so different from anything I had ever experienced, and for the first time in my life I had no idea how to handle something.

As it came close to the time I had planned to return to work I began to realize I wasn't ready.  Thankfully my principal agreed to let me return the first week after spring break for half days.  That way I could be there to administer the CRCT to my class, ease myself back into working, and hopefully work my way up to full days the following week.  I have worked in the same school for over 20 years - everyone there was like a second family to me.  But the first day I returned I felt like a stranger in an unknown place.  I knew all of the people - faculty, staff, students - but I didn't feel like I belonged there with them.  I was self conscious walking down the hall, wondering what people were thinking as they saw me.  No one said or did anything to make me feel this way.  Everyone was caring and supportive just as they had always been.  I was the one who had changed.

Instead of gaining strength as the week went on, I felt weaker and less in control every day.  I tried not to let it show as long as I was at school.  I waited until I left each day to "fall apart".  By the time I left Friday afternoon I knew I wouldn't be back on Monday.  I went out to eat that night with my mother, father, and granddaughter.  As we left the restaurant what little strength and control I had been holding on to completely disappeared.  The wall that had been around me protecting me the week of Eddie's death  had crumbled.  The numbness I felt that week was gone, and I had never experienced the type of pain I was now feeling.

I went straight to bed when I got home.  Not because I thought I could sleep, but because I didn't have the energy or desire to do anything else.  That night I cried like I've never cried before in my life.  I reached a point where I wondered how I could possibly have any more tears left in me, but still I cried.  In addition to the crying, I started to experience feelings of panic.  I was terrified that I was slipping into a state of depression that I wouldn't be able to get out of.  I tried to read devotionals and the Bible, but I couldn't.  I tried to pray, but couldn't.  I had that same feeling I had in the car the night I found out Eddie had died - I felt like God had abandoned me ... but why?

"For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me, and I will listen to you."  Jeremiah 29:11-12


Monday, May 23, 2011

Drifting ...

I pretty much just drifted through the next few weeks.  Where I remember every detail of the week of Eddie's death, these weeks are a blur to me.  One day ran into the next, and the nights seemed to last forever.  I slept very little, maybe a couple of hours off and on each night.  I was exhausted during the day, but when I tried to sleep my mind wouldn't "turn off".  I know I had phone calls, cards, and visits from friends and family during this time.  My friends from school checked on me often, brought me meals, took me out to eat, or invited me to their house.  I went because I didn't want to be rude, and I knew I needed to get out of the house.  I really appreciated their efforts, but I was just going through the motions.  Whenever we would go to a restaurant after a short time I would start to feel as if the crowd and the walls were closing in on me.  I wanted to ask the people around me how they could be sitting there talking, laughing, and enjoying their meals.  I couldn't believe the world was going on as if nothing had happened ... my life had stopped, so why hadn't everyone else's?

I remember falling into a daily routine during this time.  I was still getting many sympathy cards, so I would go to the mailbox each day, then take the cards to the front porch.  There I would sit in the rocking chair and read the cards over and over.  It brought me a small sense of comfort to read the words people wrote to me about Eddie.  After reading the cards, I would try to read the newspaper or work the crossword puzzle in it while I sat on the porch.  It always seemed to help a little to be outside, so I would put off going back in as long as I could.  Unfortunately, I was never able to concentrate on what I was reading, so the paper proved to be a waste of time.  Then I would go inside and turn on the television, but I had the same problem - I couldn't concentrate.  I could sit and stare at a program for 30 minutes but not have any idea what was going on.  My plans for getting through the next three stages of the grief process had disappeared.

I also spent a lot of time at the cemetery during these weeks.  Each day that I drove through those gates I had that same tightness in my chest, and it would be hard to breathe for a few minutes.  I spent my time sitting by Eddie's grave alternating between crying (yes the tears had finally come), praying, and talking to him.  I asked him repeatedly why he had chosen to leave us, but I never got any answers.  I asked God why He had allowed this to happen, but again I never got any answers.  Somtimes I just sat and watched the other people coming and going in the cemetery, and I wondered if they felt as lost and confused as I did.  Every time I left the cemetery I felt like I was leaving a part of myself there too.

"I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy."  John 16:20

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What to do Now???

After the constant stream of visitors and the non-stop activity that had come with the past week, I didn't know what to do with myself on Saturday.  Just as suddenly as everything had started, it had now ended.  The last of the family from out of town left for home that morning.  There were a few phone calls from neighbors checking on me, a couple of friends came by to make sure I wasn't alone, and Trey, Emily, and my mother were still at the house with me.  But compared to the last four days, it was extremely quiet and lonely.  I spent a lot of time just walking around, both inside and outside, wondering what I was supposed to do next.

I knew life was going to be different now, but I was sure I could handle it.  I knew I would miss Eddie, but I didn't think his being gone would be extremely hard for me to adjust to.  After all, I had been alone many times before.  Why? ... because Eddie was an alcoholic.  He had battled the disease (and yes it IS a disease) off and on for many years.  Just a few months earlier he had spent six weeks in a rehabilitation center.  During that time we couldn't see or even talk to each other.  Our only contact was through letters, and Eddie was never one for writing very much.  Even when he was home, I was still "alone" much of the time because his drinking took him away from me.  I had survived that, I would survive this too.

I had my plans laid out (those who know me know that's how I do everything - with a plan).  I had been out of work for the past week.  There were two more weeks of school before a week of spring break.  I would take those next three weeks to get my life together then return to school in time to give the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) to my class.  I would be fine by then.  That would be a month since Eddie's death.  That should give me time to grieve shouldn't it?  After all, I had made it through the first two stages of grief - shock and denial - in only one week.  I could devote a week each to the remaining three stages - depression, anger, and acceptance.  I could handle this with no problem - or so I thought.

          When I Must Leave You

When I must leave you for a little while,
Please do not grieve and shed wild tears
And hug your sorrow to you through the years,
But start out bravely with a gallant smile;
And for my sake and in my name
Live on and do all things the same,
Feed not your loneliness on empty days,
But fill each waking hour in useful ways,
Reach out your hand in comfort and in cheer
And I in turn will comfort you and hold you near;
And never, never be afraid to die,
For I am waiting for you in the sky!
We part with our loved ones but not forever
If we trust God's promise and doubt it never!

-Helen Steiner Rice

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waiting to Wake Up

I think it bothered some people that I didn't cry during the funeral.  It's not that I didn't care or that I didn't love Eddie.  I was just still in that state of shock and numbness I had been in all week.  I honestly did not believe this whole thing was real.  I was sure I was having a bad dream that I would eventually wake up from.  I kept thinking that if I could just get through this day it would all be over, and then I could go back to life as I had known it.  I left the church after the funeral the same way I entered, telling myself to hold my head up and be strong.  I still had the graveside service to get through.

We rode in "that car" again from the church to the cemetery.  It was late Friday afternoon by then so there was a good bit of traffic.  I remember watching as we drove to see how many people actually pulled over on the road as the funeral procession went by.  I realized that people today don't show respect the way they used to.  As we entered the gates of the cemetery it felt like something was squeezing my heart to the point that it couldn't even beat any more - maybe this was really happening after all (to this day I still have that feeling when I go there).

The graveside service was short.  The preacher read the 23rd Psalm, we all said the Lord's Prayer together, then it was over - just like that.  Everyone came by to pay their respects one last time, then left to go back to their own families and their own lives.  I suddenly started to wonder what I was supposed to go back to when I left.  I started to have the same feeling as the night before when I had to leave Eddie at the funeral home after visitation.  Only this time it was worse because I knew what the workers who had been standing off to the side were going to do once we were gone.  The rest of Eddie's family got into the car to leave while Trey and I stayed behind for a few more minutes.  Then I went to the car and let Trey have some time alone.  I remember sitting in the car, looking out the window as Trey said good-bye to his daddy.  There was nothing I could do to ease his pain, nothing I could say to explain why this was happening - I could only sit and watch.  

"Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. 
I did not die"

-Hopi Prayer

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tears Aren't Always Necessary

Friday, the day of the funeral was beautiful ... sunshine, no rain, not too warm, not too cool ... a total contrast to the way I was feeling.  I had set the funeral for 3:00 PM.  I wanted it to be after school so my "other" family could attend (I would find out over the following weeks and months just how important this other family was to me).  Because Eddie's family wasn't from here, a lot of people had come from out of town for the funeral.  Since the funeral was late in the day, a lot of them came to the house before the service.  I am normally a very social person who loves being around a lot of people - but not today.  I couldn't take the people, the noise, the food (everyone ate lunch at the house) so I shut myself in my bedroom.  I spent a long time at the computer watching the video the funeral home had made.  I needed to spend some time with Eddie.  I knew when "the car" was supposed to arrive to take us to the church.  I kept watching out the window praying that it wouldn't come.  If it didn't come, then I wouldn't have to go.  Of course, it finally came.  I remember standing outside in the driveway trying to decide who was going to sit where in the car.  My nerves had been stretched to their limit by this point, and I wanted to scream at everyone  - "just get in the car - it doesn't matter who sits where - we're all going to the same place for the same reason!"

When we were finally settled in the car we headed for the church.  I remember staring out the window watching the trees go by as we rode.  It was the weekend of the air show in Columbus and I could see and hear the planes practicing in the sky.  Why was life going on as usual for everyone else when I was on the way to my husband's funeral?  It's only about a 15-20 minute ride to the church, but today I was hoping it would take us forever to get there.  Unfortunately it didn't.  When we pulled up in front of the church there were people still outside waiting to go in the doors.  All I could think was that I didnt want to get out of the car and have those people looking at me and feeling sorry for me.

Once we got into the church I was determined to be strong - that has always been an important trait to me.  As we walked down the aisle to the front row of seats I was telling myself all the way, "Hold your head up, don't look at anyone and you'll be okay."  I had carefully chosen and planned every part of the service.  The music included everyone's favorites: "Amazing Grace", "How Great Thou Art", and "Because He Lives", as well as a special song "I Can Only Imagine" which was performed by my friend Peggy's son Andy, who played the guitar and sang.  Andy was also a friend of Trey's and his willingness to play and sing at Eddie's funeral was made even more special by the fact that he had just lost his own father only a short time before.  The minister delivered a heartfelt, moving message, which I appreciated very much.  Trey and I had decided that we wanted to take part in the service also.  I planned to read a poem written by my grandfather and Trey was reading a letter that he had written to his dad.  The preacher had already told me that if I couldn't read the poem or Trey couldn't read the letter, he would give them to the minister of music to read, but I was determined to do it myself, as was Trey.

When our time in the service came Trey and I went up together.  I was to read first, and I remember Trey putting his arm around me and squeezing my shoulder.  That gave me the strength I needed.  I told everyone that my grandfather, who was a preacher, had peformed the ceremony when Eddie and I married 25 years before, so I thought it was only right that he should have a part in this service.  I then read the following poem which my grandfather had written many years before:

                         All Things Work Together for Good
All things work together for good, to them who love our God,
And live according to is word and follow where He trod.
At times the road is rough and steep and burdens too great to bear,
But lest we fall beneath the load, our Lord is there to share.
He does not promise an easy way that's ne'er without a cross,
Nor does He tell us in His word that we shall know no loss.
He's never told us we'd understand the mysteries of this life,
Nor has He promised a golden road that's free from pain and strife.
But He who is touched with our feelings infirm knowing, oft, that our way is grim,
Has said, that if here we'd bear our cross, up there we'd reign with Him.
So now, though oft I see not the good in the trials that come my way,
I know that up there I shall understand in that land of eternal day!
-Charles W. Crowe

When I first started to read, I remember looking out over the crowd of people for just a second.  I knew I would only be able to do this if I didn't look directly at anyone.  I remember focusing for just a moment on my grandmother then finding a spot on the back wall to look at while I read.  When I finished it was Trey's turn.  I'll be honest and say that I didn't think Trey would be able to get through this.  He had written a  letter to his father straight from his heart.  The only thing I could do was what he had done for me - put my arm around his waist and hold on while he read.  I've never been as proud of my son as I was at that moment.  He read his letter without faltering, pouring his hurt and his sorrow out in his words.  He talked about his father's guidance, the times they shared, and the bond they shared when he himself became a father.  Our hearts were breaking during that time, but neither of us shed a tear.

"Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1:9

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thank God for Family and Friends

Throughout the week I had so many visitors at the house (and more food than I knew what to do with), and that didn't change the night of visitation at the funeral home.  There were people I usually saw on a regular basis, people I only saw occasionally, people I hadn't seen in years, and even people I've never seen before in my life.  Of course family members were there, as well as neighbors, co-workers, friends, and church members.  Many of the people Eddie had played baseball with during college were there, reminiscing about all of the good times.  There were local people and there were people who had driven hours to get there.  A former co-worker of Eddie's had even flown in from another country to be there.  The evening was filled with hugs, kisses, condolences, tears, and even a few smiles and laughs.  In many ways it was like attending a reunion rather than a visitation.  I don't in any way mean that I enjoyed the evening, but all of the people and activity made the evening bearable - as long as I didn't stop to think about why we were really there.

It's funny the things that stick out in your mind during a time like this.  I remember a friend of mine bringing me a diet coke with crushed ice.  I remember someone asking me if my calves were hurting from standing on my tiptoes to hug people for so long.  Someone else pushed a chair up behind me and told me to sit down because they were worried I was getting too tired.  These were little things, but looking back I realize they must have stuck with me because they show how much people cared about me.  I know I've never thanked everyone for all of the little things they did, but I am very grateful for the help and support I received during this time.  I've always been a very independent person, but even I know that I never would have survived without my family and friends.  "We will always need other people and even more so in the darkening hours of personal tragedy." -Robert W. Williams

The crowd of people eventually dwindled until only the family remained.  Then gradually the family members left, until only Trey, my mother, my father, and I were still there.  Because we had a closed casket, I had placed many photos of Eddie all around the room.  I remember how hard it was to go around and pick up those pictures before we left.  Besides the pictures, Trey and I had also put Eddie's camouflage hunting pants, shirt, and boots on a chair by the casket.  I started to pick those up too, but Trey asked if we could put them in the casket instead - he said his daddy might need them in heaven.  I was so thankful that the funeral director said he could do that after we left.  Leaving there that night was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  There were no more people, very few lights, no more noise - just silence.  I had to walk out of the funeral home and leave Eddie behind - just as he had walked away and left us behind.

"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Hebrews 11:8

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The "Little" Details

One of the things I still had to do was order the blanket of flowers for the casket.  This may seem like one of the less important things compared to everything else, but to me it was one of the most important.  Eddie loved giving me flowers.  I got them for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, my birthday, and our anniversary.  I even got them when he needed to get out of the "doghouse".  Sometimes he was so excited about sending them to me that he couldn't wait for them to be delivered and would go ahead and tell me they were coming!  It was very important to him that I liked them, and he was always proud of himself when I told him that I did.  This was going to be the only time in my life that I gave flowers to Eddie, so they had to be perfect.   I had help choosing other things, but this was one that I wanted and needed to do by myself.  I couldn't just tell the florist that I wanted a blanket of roses or carnations or anything like that.  These had to be special and they had to fit who Eddie was.  So I went through the cooler at the florist and personally picked out every type of flower, greenery, and ribbon that I wanted in the blanket.  I chose items that looked like the outdoors, things he might have seen when he was out hunting.  The colors were "woodsy" - yellows, browns, and greens.  In the middle of the blanket I placed three red rose buds - one for Trey, one for our granddaughter Emily, and one for myself.  When they florist called me to look at the finished product, she told me it was probably the most beautiful blanket they had ever made (of course they may have said that to everyone).  It didn't matter though, because I was very pleased, and I was sure Eddie would have been too.

The other thing I still had to take care of was finding the right thing to wear to the visitation and funeral.  I   don't want to seem petty or vain, but that was important.  I needed to be dressed in something that Eddie would have liked.  He always told me whether or not he liked my clothes.  He always wanted me to wear things that he thought looked "like me".  This was another thing I had to take care of by myself.  I went to my favorite clothing store in town.  I'm sure the saleswoman wasn't prepared for my answer when she asked if she could help me.  I simply told her that my husband had died and I needed something to wear to his visitation and funeral.  She was obviously taken aback at first, but she recovered quickly and helped me pick out the "perfect" outfit.  After purchasing my clothes, I took them home and hung them up in my room.  When my mother came in later, I showed her what I had bought.  Her response told me that I had made the right choice - she said "It's you."

I took care of these two things by myself because they were so important to me.  But I have to say that doing things alone at a time like this is not really a good idea.  Driving under those circumstances wasn't very smart.  Looking back,  I don't know how I got to and from these places in one piece.  My mind certainly wasn't on my driving.  There were times when I actually forgot where I was going, as well as times when I would look around me and have no idea where I was or how I got there.  The only explanation for how I made it through these trips safely is that God was watching over me.

"I praise you, Lord, for being my guide.  Even in the darkest night, your teachings fill my mind."  Psalm 16:7  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Doing What Has To Be Done

The next three days were filled with phone calls, flowers, food, visitors, plans, arrangements, and decisions.  Let me say here that if you don't have a will, get one written.  If you don't have a cemetery plot, purchase one.  If you haven't made your wishes for your final arrangements known, tell someone.  The people you leave behind when you die have to make some of the most important decisions of their lives at a time when they are the least prepared to do so.  Thankfully, I was still in my state of numbness (and probably shock too) so I just went about what I had to do kind of like a robot.  I felt like I was off somewhere else watching myself go through the motions.  I have always been a very organized person who likes things done right and that wasn't about to change now.

Eddie's family was in south Georgia and not planning to arrive here until Wednesday and Thursday.  I didn't want to exclude them from the planning, but the arrangements had to be made before then.  So, with the help of Trey, my mother, and my father I began to take care of things.  This may sound strange, but my first call was to our insurance agent.  I had to make sure there would be money from the life insurance before I could begin to plan a funeral.  Once that was taken care of, the next step was to choose a funeral home.  Thankfully, once that was done they walked me through the rest of the arrangements.  We had to set a date and time for visitation and the funeral.  I had to choose music and scripture and contact the preacher for the service.  I had to gather pictures from home that I wanted included in the slideshow that would be played during visitation and prior to the service.  I had to provide information for the obituary.  Then came the almost impossible tasks of choosing a casket and picking out a burial plot.

I had never given any thought to how someone went about purchasing a casket.  I guess I thought you just looked at a brochure or catalog and picked out the one you wanted.   I never dreamed you actually shopped for one like you would shop for clothes or shoes.  We were taken into a room at the funeral home that was filled with samples.  When I first stepped into that room my insides froze - I know my heart skipped a few beats and I literally couldn't breathe.  It took a few seconds before I could make myself move.  Trey was with me, and I can only imagine that he was feeling the same way.  We had to move around the room and choose the style, color, and lining we wanted.  They even had decorations and ornaments that could be added to the outside.  Trey chose to add handles with baseball, hunting, and fishing to the outside.  He said his daddy would like that.

As if that wasn't enough for one day, we then had to choose a plot in the cemetery.  The funeral director drove us around, pointing out available spots in various areas they called gardens.  It was like looking for land to build a house on - we wanted an area that wasn't too crowded, preferably with some shade, definitely with a nice view, and with available plots around it for family members to use in the future.  We finally agreed on a spot that we all liked and that we thought Eddie would like too.  The ride back to the funeral home was totally silent.  We were all wiped out, emotionally and physically.  We had taken the first steps, but there was still much more to get through.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." Isaiah 43:2

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Nightmare Continues

I know a day only has 24 hours in it - half daytime and half night.  But I'm positive this night lasted at least ten times that long.  Once I heard the news, time seemed to stand still.  For the rest of the night it was like I was watching a movie in slow motion.  I guess the deputy finally realized I was still sitting there with my foot on the brake, because he told me to put the car in park and move to the passenger's seat so he could drive me home.  The ride home was less than two miles, but it seemed to take forever.  All the way I just kept thinking, this isn't happening, it isn't real, it's just a bad dream.  When we finally pulled into my driveway the state patrol and a friend from the neighborhood were standing under the carport.  I stopped and talked to them on the way inside, asking myself the whole time how I was going to tell Trey his father was dead.

I found Trey in his bedroom and broke the news (only that Eddie was gone, not that he had taken his own life).  I think he knew before I even said it just from the look on my face.  He had what I assume was a fairly normal reaction .. he yelled "no", punched his bedroom door, pulled off the t-shirt he was wearing and ripped it apart, then fell in the floor crying.  I've never felt so helpless.  For the first time in my life I had no idea what to do to help my child.  I patted his back, tried to hug him, told him I was sorry and I loved him, then just stood there.  I was at a loss for what to do next.  I finally called his best friend, and thankfully he and his wife came immediately to be with him.  Once they arrived, I left them in the bedroom with Trey and I went back into the living room.

By the time I came out of Trey's bedroom, several of the neighbors had arrived.  There must have been ten people in my living room including the deputy and state patrol.  Everyone started hugging me, telling me how sorry they were, and asking if there was anything they could do.  I remember looking around at everyone thinking "what are you doing here in the middle of the night - you should all be home in bed - you have to go to work in the morning - I have to go to work in the morning."  Someone asked if I wanted them to call anyone for me.  I told them I would do it.  I took the phone into the kitchen and called my mother.  Standing at the kitchen sink I asked her to come to the house because Eddie was dead - he had killed himself.  I don't remember being overly emotional when I talked to her or even crying when I said the words.  Soon after that my mother, grandmother, and father arrived.

I knew everyone that was in my house, until a strange man walked in.  I was sitting on the love seat as I watched him put Eddie's wallet, watch, and keys on the mantle.  I was wondering who this man was and why he had Eddie's things.  He introduced himself to me as the coroner, then sat down - in Eddie's recliner.  He proceeded to tell me what he knew about the events of that evening.  All I wanted to do was to tell him to get out of Eddie's chair because he would be home soon and would want to sit there, but he wouldn't stop talking long enough for me to say anything.  He told me it appeared that Eddie was heading towards home when he hit a mailbox on the right side of the road which spun his truck around backwards.  He then went off the side, up a small embankment, where the back of his truck hit a utility pole.  His truck was damaged and it was possible that Eddie was injured, but not enough to prevent him from getting out of the truck.  He said he knew this because the truck door was open and Eddie's keys were out of the ignition laying in the driver's seat. 

They found Eddie lying outside the truck with his shotgun beside him.  He said he knew Eddie had been drinking because there was the smell of alcohol and a beer can in the truck.  They had taken blood for a blood alcohol test, but the results wouldn't be in for several days or even weeks.  He asked if I wanted to be called about the results of the test.  What a stupid question to ask at a time like that!  How was I supposed to know then if I wanted to hear those results days or even weeks down the road?  The only thing I wanted to know right then was if he could tell me what time Eddie died.  He said they couldn't pinpoint the exact minute of his death, but that he could tell me when the 911 call came in from the people across the street who heard the wreck - 10:45. 

I later learned from the man who placed the call that it was only a matter of minutes between the time he called and when he heard the gunshot.  This man (I don't even know his name) started across the street immediately after placing the call to see if he could do anything to help until the emergency services arrived.  Before he could get across the street he heard the gunshot.  He said he went on over anyway, knelt beside Eddie, and because he didn't know if he was still alive or not, began to pray for him.  I know all of this because my mother talked to the man and his wife several days later.  One day, I'm going to find the courage to go see this man myself and thank him personally for what he did.

Eventually around 4:00 AM the police and neighbors began to go home.  My mother, father, grandmother, and Trey's friend Mikel and his wife stayed.  At some point I went back into Trey's bedroom to tell him the truth - that Eddie had committed suicide.  That was even harder than telling him his father was dead.  You're not supposed to lose a parent when you're just 24 years old, and especially not that way.  I didn't know what to do with myself after that.  The house was suddenly very quiet.  I walked around, sat in the living room and stared at nothing, until I noticed the red spots on the carpet.  If you live in Georgia you know what a mess wet, red, Georgia clay makes.  I couldn't leave those spots there.  I'm very particular about how things look, so I had to clean.  After all, I didn't want Eddie to see the carpet like that when he came home.  So at 5:00 AM my mother and I were on our hands and knees in the dining room and living room cleaning the carpet (in case you didn't know, Windex works as an excellent spot cleaner on carpet).  By the time we finished, another day had started, and with it came all of the plans I would have to start making.

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A True Nightmare

I went on with my normal evening activities - eating supper, taking a bath, ironing my clothes and fixing my lunch for the next day.  Those who know me know I like my sleep, so on school nights I'm in bed by 10:00.  Prior to going to bed, I had talked to my husband on the phone twice.  Both times he told me he would be home soon, but I had heard those words so many times before that I knew not to hold my breath.  The first time I talked to him he sounded OK, but the second time I could tell things weren't OK.  I practically begged him to come home, to get off the wet roads.  I even offered to go get him - wherever he might be (I had done that many times before, even if it meant missing my 10:00 bedtime!).  He said no and wouldn't tell me where he was, just that he was on his way home.  Many other nights I had gone out looking for him, but because of the weather this time I chose not to.

Even though I was worried and had an uneasy feeling, I went on to bed.  My cat Milo curled up next to me in the bed, which was unusual.  He's not normally an over-affectionate animal.  He'll sit by me for a few minutes, but then jumps up to go do his own thing, as most cats do.  This time though he stayed right beside me in the bed, almost as if he sensed something wasn't right.  I fell asleep sometime just after 10:00 watching CSI: Miami.  Then I woke up suddenly - I could've sworn I heard a loud noise and someone calling my name.  I guess I startled Milo because he sat up in the bed and started meowing.  I looked at the clock - 10:45.  I didn't get up.  I didn't turn off the TV.  I just stayed there feeling a sense of dread and fear slowly building up inside of me.  I knew something was wrong.

I was still lying there, wide awake and full of dread when my son Trey came in from work just a few minutes after 12:00 AM.  He slung the bedroom door open, flipped on the light, and said "Mama get up - Daddy's been in a wreck!"  I almost responded by saying "I know" - of course I didn't know - I just felt it.  Trey explained that he had passed the scene on his way home from work, less than two miles from our house.  He came up on police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance.  Then he saw his daddy's truck on the side of the road.  He was too afraid to stop, so he came on home.  He wanted me to go back with him to see what had happened.  I told him we needed to stay at the house in case someone called or came to tell us what was going on.  He wasn't satisfied with that, though.  The longer we waited the more upset he became.  I finally told him that if he would stay home, I would ride up the road and see what was happening.  He agreed, so I left just before 1:00.

As I was heading out of our neighborhood I passed a state patrol car driving down our street.  I knew he was going to my house, but I kept going anyway.  I had to see for myself what had happened.  As I got out on the main road, I saw the flashing lights up ahead.  I kept driving until an officer stopped me.  It turned out to be someone I knew, who had previously lived in our neighborhood.  He told me to turn around and go back home, that the state patrol (who I also knew and currently lived in our neighborhood) was on the way to the house to talk to me.  I told him no, that I wanted him to tell me what had happened.  I told him I already knew my husband had been in a wreck.  I remember I never put my car in park.  I sat there with my foot pressing down harder and harder on the brake as the deputy told me my husband was dead.  My initial reaction of course was to shake my head no and begin to cry.  I then told him I wanted to go to the scene and see for myself.  I told him it couldn't be true because Trey had said the wreck didn't look that bad.  That's when he told me, as I was still sitting in my car with my foot on the brake, that my husband didn't die as a result of the wreck ... he died from the gunshot wound he inflicted on himself after the wreck.  Eddie had committed suicide. 

When I heard those words, my tears stopped and I felt a numbness start to take over.  I felt a wall going up around me, insulating me from what I was hearing and from what was happening.  Sitting there in the middle of the road, in the rain, at 1:00 in the morning, after hearing that my husband was gone, I felt totally alone.  I believed that God had abandoned my family and me.  Looking back now though, I know that He never left me.  I didn't realize it at the time, but He was there with me in the car ... He was the one who put the wall around me protecting me so that I could survive what lay ahead of me during the next few days.

"I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Rainy Monday

I remember that day like it was yesterday.  Every detail is etched in my mind, probably forever.  It was a rainy Monday (reminding me of the song "Rainy Days and Mondays" - always get me down).  The day started like any other, getting up early, getting ready, and leaving for work.  I'm a teacher, and we had a teacher in-service day instead of regular school that day.  I was scheduled to be at a workshop all day on school improvement plans.  However, there was a group from my school that had to leave the workshop early to attend the funeral of a friend and former co-worker.  The funeral was held that afternoon in the chapel of a local funeral home.  Little did I know as I sat there remembering Mrs. Flowers (who had also been my son's first grade teacher) that I would be back in that same room three days later for my husband's visitation.

As we were leaving the funeral, my friend Janie asked me if I wanted to go eat with her and her daughter.  I told her I couldn't because I needed to go to the grocery store before I went home.  I remember talking to my husband on the phone while I was in the store, and our conversation ended in an argument.  I felt badly after that, so I bought his favorite - fried chicken from the W. D. deli - to take home for supper.  Just as I arrived home, he was getting ready to leave.  The rain was getting heavier, and I asked him to stay home and help me take the groceries inside.  I didn't really need the help and the rain didn't matter because I was parked under the carport, but for some reason I had an uneasy feeling about him leaving.  He left anyway, just as I knew he would.  I'm not sure why, but I sat in the front seat of my car watching in the rear view mirror as he backed his truck out of the driveway.  I remember seeing him stop and thinking "Thank goodness he's changed his mind," but he only got out of the truck to pick up something in the driveway (to this day I don't know what he picked up).  That was the last time I ever saw him.

Looking back on that day I constantly ask myself what I could have done differently.  I wonder if I had changed even one little detail of the day would the events of that night have changed.  Was there something else I could have said to keep him at home?  Should I have insisted on going with him?  Why didn't I tell him I loved him before he left?  It's been years, but the whys, what ifs, and if onlys haven't gone away.  I don't know if they ever will ...

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Beginning

In March of 2009 my husband of 25 years committed suicide.  It's still hard for me to say or write that word ... suicide.  The word never had any real meaning to me before.  It's something I never knew anything about - until it happened to me.  I used to think that there must be something terribly wrong in families where a suicide occurred.  I never understood why someone wasn't able to stop it before it happened.  I never even considered it happening in my life.  But then it did, and my entire world was turned upside down.  It took me years to even begin putting my life back together, and to this day there are still things I struggle with.  I promised myself that if and when I survived this, I would make an effort to try to help others - either those who have experienced a suicide or someone who might be considering it for themselves. 

After some thought, I chose to write a blog recounting my experience.  I don't want to cite statistics or quote "experts" about suicide.  I only want to share my personal experience, from my lowest point on the night the suicide took place to where I am now in my life.  I don't have any great words of wisdom.  I don't have a magic pill to make the pain caused by a suicide go away.  I can't tell anyone how to prevent it or recover from it.  I just want others who have experienced or considered suicide to know they are not alone.  

I don't proclaim to be the most religious person or the most devout Christian in the world, but I do believe in God and prayer, so most of my entries will contain some scripture or quote that I believe helped me (once I decided to ask God for help).  I think it's best to start with something short and simple - "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phil. 4:13

My story begins March 16, 2009 ...