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) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When the Time is "Right"

It's difficult to know when it's time to get rid of things that belonged to your loved one.  After Eddie's death, I talked to people who got rid of everything immediately, then regretted it later.  I also talked to those who held on to things for years, and they weren't sure they had done the right thing either.  I guess there is no right or wrong answer, no perfect time - you just have to do what feels right for you.  The first thing I decided to get rid of was Eddie's gun cabinet.  It had been sitting empty in our bedroom for over a month.  Eddie's dad and stepfather had taken the guns out of it the weekend of his funeral.  I couldn't stand the sight of the guns, and as far as I was concerned they could have thrown them in the lake.  But a month later the empty cabinet was still sitting in our bedroom, and I finally couldn't stand it anymore.  I called a neighbor of ours who had been a hunting buddy of Eddie's and asked him if he knew anyone who might want the cabinet.  He said he didn't need it but his son could use it.  So on April 23rd, 5 weeks after Eddie's death, Jim came to get the gun cabinet.  I don't guess I ever really knew the meaning of the word bittersweet until that day.  It was a relief for me to get the gun cabinet out of our bedroom, but at the same time it was very hard for me to see something that Eddie had loved being taken from our home.

My mother had moved Eddie's hanging clothes from our closet so I didn't have to deal with those right away.  But he still had drawers full of clothes in our bedroom and personal items in our bathroom.   I soon realized I had to do something with those.  The summer after Eddie's death I decided to clean these out.  I packed up most of the things as quickly as I could in bags to take to Goodwill.   I knew if I took too much time I would change my mind.  There were a few things, however, that I just couldn't let go of.  I kept the pajamas that he had slept in the last night we were together.  I kept his hairbrush, toothbrush, blow-dryer, and razor because these were just too personal to give away.  I kept his wallet, cell phone, and car keys.  I kept a pair of camouflage pants, a Georgia Bulldogs t-shirt, and a Boston Red Sox shirt with Big Papi on the back - Emily called Eddie Papi.  These were all things that in some way showed who Eddie was.  I still have these in the bottom drawer of a dresser.  I occasionally open the drawer and look at them.  Sometimes I even take them out.  In the beginning I could still faintly smell Eddie's cologne on them, but that smell has now faded.

Another thing I had to deal with was the pictures.  I've always kept lots of family pictures all over the house.  I even get teased sometimes about my "arrangement" of pictures on the refrigerator.  Every picture is in a magnetic plastic covered pocket and placed on the refrigerator in neat rows.  Initially I didn't change anything about the pictures, but eventually I realized I was walking through the house looking at the floor to avoid looking at the pictures.  So many of them were right at my eye level, and I suddenly couldn't stand staring into Eddie's face everywhere I went.  I decided to take a few of the pictures down and to move the others either up or down, just as long as they weren't right in my line of vision.  This made it easier for me to walk through the house again.  I still have a lot of pictures, but they're all family - Eddie with Trey, with Emily, with me, with all of us - none of them are of Eddie by himself.  Today, over two years later, I still have 14 (I counted them today).  Is that enough, is it too many?  I don't know.  Again, I don't think there is a right or wrong answer - I just do what feels comfortable for me.

I didn't have to do anything with Eddie's truck because the insurance company totaled it after the wreck.  I know a lot of people have trouble with insurance companies after some type of loss, but I have to say I had nothing but positive experiences during all of this.  Both the auto insurance company and the life insurance company were extremely helpful and easy to deal with.  I guess this was a little something I could be thankful for in the middle of all of the bad that was happening.  I did however still have Eddie's car.  I knew I would never drive it, and Trey didn't want it either, but I couldn't make myself get rid of it.  I did move it to the side of the house so, like the pictures, I didn't have to look right at it every day.  But it took more than a year for me to finally let go of it.  When I did list it for sale part of me hoped it would go quickly, but part of me hoped no one would buy it.  I did get an offer after a few weeks, and thankfully it came from someone I knew, so I felt good about selling it.  Watching the people who bought it drive away from my house was like watching the day I gave the gun cabinet away - bittersweet.

I've done a few other things like cleaning out the storage closet under the carport and giving away some of Eddie's smaller hunting items.  Trey took most of his fishing rods and supplies and kept his favorite camouflage jacket.  There is still a lot left to do though.  I haven't touched the attic or the storage buildings.  Those are big jobs that I haven't felt ready to tackle yet.  There is also one thing inside that I have to take care of - the closet where my mother moved Eddie's hanging clothes to hasn't been touched.  I know I need to clean it out.  It's crazy to hold onto the things inside, but every time I walk into that room with the intention of cleaning out that closet I turn around and walk back out.  I keep telling myself that I'll take care of it another day ... when the time is right.

"Not until each loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the pattern
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
For the pattern which He planned."

-Author Unknown 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Darn Those Special Days!

I knew that holidays would be difficult after Eddie's death.  I expected the "major" ones like Thanksgiving and Christmas to be hard because that's when we always had our biggest family get-togethers.  But I soon learned that big or small they're all difficult.  Because Eddie died in March there was some special day or holiday every month for the next four months ... April - Easter, May - Mother's Day, June - Father's Day, July - Trey's birthday.  Each of these proved to be hard in a different way and for a different reason.

Trey had to work on Easter Sunday, so I went to church with my mother.  As I said before, church was difficult for me, and this time was no exception.  I had to get up and leave when communion started.  I hadn't thought ahead of time about having something to take to Eddie's grave that day.  All of the florists were closed so Mama and I went to K Mart and bought an artificial arrangement to take to the cemetery.  I felt bad when I got there because I hadn't gotten something alive for him.  I didn't have the desire to cook that day, but for Trey's sake I thought I should make an effort.  He was bringing Emily to the house for a little while that afternoon, so I bought a small ham and something sweet on my way home.  When Trey got there with Emily it broke my heart.  She looked so pretty and sweet in her Easter dress, and all I could think was that Eddie wasn't there to see her.  We hid eggs outside for her, and she hid them from us.  I remember saying that I didn't want to take any pictures because I didn't want any reminders of our first Easter without Eddie.  Mama told me I needed to take some anyway because my feelings would change, and I might regret later not having any.  She was right - I took some, and today they are some of the most precious pictures I have of Emily.

I didn't think Mother's Day should be hard because, after all, I wasn't Eddie's mother.  Of course I was wrong.  It didn't matter that I wasn't his mother.  What mattered was that he wasn't there to share the day with me.  Trey had to work again on that Sunday, so I went to church with my mother (I was still trying).  We went out to eat and walked around the mall after church.  I felt like I was in a fog the whole time.  I wanted to do better because I didn't want my mother to have a bad day, but I was miserable.  I also couldn't stop thinking about Eddie's mother.  I knew what losing a spouse felt like, but I couldn't imagine the pain of losing a child.  Trey took me to dinner after he got off work and gave me a gift certificate for a massage.  Even he knew how badly I needed to relax!  I enjoyed the time with him and appreciated his thoughtfulness, but I was so glad when the day was finally over.

Father's Day nearly killed me because of what I saw it do to Trey.  Regardless of differences and disagreements over the years, I knew how much Trey loved his father.  They weren't just father and son, they were friends.  Even though Trey knew Eddie was an alcoholic, he still looked up to him and went to him for advice.  Despite his drinking Eddie did his best for Trey, and they were very close.  Trey didn't have to work that day so we went to lunch.  Afterwards we went to the cemetery and Trey put a letter that he had written to his daddy on the grave.  I also hurt for Eddie's father, because just like Eddie and Trey, Eddie and his dad were friends.  They had always enjoyed hunting and fishing together and still talked on the phone several times each week.  Trey had lost his father, Ed had lost his son, and they had both lost a friend.

Before Eddie's death we had gone to the beach the week of Trey's birthday for the past 12 years.  We always stayed in the same condominiums and had met a group of people that we became friends with over the years.  I couldn't bear going back there that first summer though without Eddie.  I knew we all needed a vacation, so we planned a shorter trip to the beach and stayed in condos on the opposite end.  For the first time in my life, I didn't set foot on the beach the first night we were there.  I went out for a long walk the next day and cried the entire time.  The trip felt more like a chore than a vacation.  It was something I just had to get through before I could move on though.  The day we left to come home was Trey's birthday.  I remember him sitting in the chair in the living room looking out over the ocean as we gave him his cards and gifts.  He looked so sad and lonely and all I could think was that no one should be that down on their birthday.  This was one of the few times I actually felt anger towards Eddie.  I was mad a him for what he had done to Trey.

Excerpt from Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth ... Glory in the Flower

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Do I Have to Worship in Church?

When I was planning Eddie's funeral I never even considered having the service anywhere other than in a church.  The funeral home I had chosen had a very nice chapel which was fine for visitation, but I just felt that the funeral itself should be held in church.  For quite awhile afterward though I was afraid I had made a mistake.  I found that it was extremely difficult for me to attend church services on Sunday mornings in the weeks following Eddie's death.  Every time I set foot in the sanctuary I was immediately taken back to the day of his funeral.  I couldn't participate in the singing because of the constant lump in my throat.  I couldn't focus on the sermon because I kept hearing what the preacher said during the funeral.  I couldn't stand to look at or smell the flower arrangements.  Every Sunday that I went to church I relived the day of the funeral, so eventually I just quit going.

I talked to my counselor about this, and she told me that it wasn't unusual to feel that way.  She said that following the death of her husband she spent many Sunday mornings holding her own "service" in her son's backyard.  She assured me it would get easier and encouraged me to find another way to worship in the meantime.  She said that while it is good to worship with other people, to participate in singing, and to hear a preacher's sermon, that what God cares about the most is what's in our heart.  I had been trying to read a devotion and pray every morning when I first got up anyway, so I decided to begin doing this outside.  Sometimes I sat on the deck and other times on the front porch.  There were even a few times that I drove to Pine Mountain and sat across the road from the Country Store where I could look out over the valley.  During these times my mind seemed to be clearer, and I was able to concentrate on reading and praying.  There was something about being outside surrounded by the things in nature that made me feel closer to God than I had in church.

In time I was able to return to church without being bombarded by bad memories.  Although I am no longer attending the church where Eddie's funeral was held, I have been visiting others and hope to find one where I feel "at home" one day.  I still get choked up when we sing certain hymns ... "Amazing Grace", "How Great Thou Art" ... and my heart skips a beat when I realize someone is about to sing "I Can Only Imagine", but the sadness goes away more quickly now.  I do not regret my decision to have Eddie's funeral service in the church.  I know I was right to begin with - that's where it was supposed to be.

This is my Father's world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres. 
This is my Father's world: 
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise. 
This is my Father's world: 
he shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world. 
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet. 
This is my Father's world: 
why should my heart be sad? 
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! 
God reigns; let the earth be glad!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Help is on the Way

I've said more than once that I didn't like to ask for help, partly because I didn't want to bother other people and partly because I've always been a very independent person who likes to take care of things myself.  I finally learned however that help was going to come from others whether I asked for it or not.  Now I am grateful that it did because it was the little things others did for me without my asking that helped me the most.  At the time, I didn't even realize that what some people were doing would prove to be a help in my effort to move forward with my life.  I now know it is true that it's the little things in life that mean the most ...

Eddie and I shared a closet in our bedroom for all of our hanging clothes.  After his death, I couldn't stand to walk into that closet to get myself something to wear.  When I did, I was overwhelmed by the sight and smell of his clothes hanging there.  I finally reached a point where I just quit going into the closet and resorted to wearing only those things I kept in my dresser drawers.  I mentioned this to my mother, so one evening when she was at my house she volunteered to move Eddie's clothes to the closet in the guest bedroom.  She knew I wasn't ready to get rid of his things, so she didn't suggest giving them away, just moving them.  She told me to find something else to do while she moved them so that I didn't have to watch or see them.  This wasn't easy for her to do because she was hurting over Eddie's death also, but she did it to help me.  It only took 15-20 minutes, but this small gesture made a big difference for me.

I mentioned in an earlier entry how much the sympathy cards I received meant to me because they showed that others had cared about Eddie and allowed me to share others' thoughts about him.  Those cards didn't continue coming forever, though.  I remember how sad it was the first time I went to the mailbox and found that there weren't any cards there.  My routine of taking them to the rocker on the front porch and reading them ended without warning.  I never said anything to anyone about this, but to my surprise a few days later I received a card from my friend Peggy.  It wasn't a sympathy card from someone who wanted to share memories of Eddie.  It was a "Thinking of You" card from someone who cared about me, and they continued to come about once a week for a long time.  Sometimes there was a note included, sometimes it was just an inspirational card, but it always lifted my spirits. Over time the cards came less often, but to this day (over two years later) they still come occasionally.  I can't even put into words how much this small act of kindness has meant to me!

Sometimes help came in the form of another person making me do something I didn't really think I wanted to do.  I've already said that I don't garden or do yard work.  That didn't stop my friend Janie from making me get out and plant flowers one afternoon though.  I remember being especially down the day she came to my house.  I was just sitting on the couch watching TV, still in my pajamas.  She had called and told me she was coming, but I was determined that when she got there I was not going out to plant any flowers.  When she came in she refused to take no for an answer.  She made me get up and get dressed.  She had already been to the store and bought the flowers and potting soil, so I couldn't argue that I didn't have anything to plant.  We planted flowers around my mailbox, and put the extras in pots all around my deck.  It couldn't have taken more than an hour, but it apparently had an effect on me because now every spring I go out and buy flowers to put around the mailbox and on the deck without anyone making me!

Over time I've learned that whether you want it or not, help is going to come.  It will come in different forms and often when it is least expected.  Sometimes you won't even know until much later that something was actually helpful, so it pays to be open to others and what they want to do for you.  It took time for me to understand and accept this, but now that I have I see what a blessing the help of others can be.

"Be on the lookout for mercies.  The more we look for them, the more of them we will see.  Blessings brighten when we count them." -Maltie D. Babcock


Friday, June 10, 2011

I not We, Me not Us

Something that I had not thought about but suddenly found that I had to adjust to was the fact that I was no longer a part of a couple.  Everything from now on would be I instead of we or me instead of us.  I had friends of my own who were single, but almost everyone that Eddie and I had been friends with together were couples.  Although they all told me that nothing would change, that we would still be friends, that we would still do things together, I knew it wasn't so.  There was no way things could be the same because half of me was missing. 

Eddie and I had been together for almost 30 years, and losing him left a huge hole in every part of my life. There was emptiness everywhere I looked.  He wasn't sitting in his recliner anymore.  He wasn't in the car beside me.  He wasn't with me when I went out to eat.  He wasn't on the other end of the phone when I dialed his number.  He wouldn't be there for our annual summer vacation to the beach.  I had no idea how to fill this void in my life.  I hadn't just lost Eddie - I had lost everything that we were and did together. 

I also lost what I had always assumed would be our future together.  Our plans for what we would do when we retired were gone.  We would never celebrate another anniversary.  I thought I had the rest of my life planned, but now those plans were gone.  I suddenly realized that I didn't have anyone to grow old with, and that scared me.  As a result of all of these changes, the uncertainty, and the fear in my life I went through a period where I "removed" myself from everyone around me.  I didn't see the use in continuing other relationships because they might end just as suddenly as my relationship with Eddie had.  I never wanted to experience this kind of pain again, so wasn't it better to start protecting myself now?    

Of course I finally realized that it's not possible to live completely isolated from everyone.  I found over time that as expected my relationships with other people changed.  Some of the friendships that Eddie and I had together gradually disappeared, but in their place some new, closer, and stronger friendships were formed.  I have gradually learned that while I'll never be the same person I was before Eddie died, I can be a different person now, possibly even better and stronger than I was before.  It doesn't happen quickly, though.  There are still times when I feel the loneliness and the emptiness, and I get scared again.  It's during these times that I try to remind myself of all of the good I still have in my life - my family, my friends (old and new), a secure job, a home, my pets (who are part of my family), and faith that my life will continue to get better one day at a time.  Despite how I may feel at times I know that I am NOT alone!

          A Consolation Meditation

On the wings of death and sorrow
God sends us new hope for tomorrow -
And in His mercy and His grace
He gives us strength to bravely face
The lonely days that stretch ahead
And know our loved one is not dead
But only sleeping and out of our sight
And we'll meet in that land where there is no night.
All who believe in God's mercy and grace
Will meet their loved ones face to face
Where time is endless and joy unbroken
And only the words of God's love are spoken.

-Helen Steiner Rice


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Would You Like a Glass of Water?

In the middle of grieving, looking for answers to the why question, expressing my anger, and dealing with the guilt I realized there was still business that had to be taken care of.  By this time Trey had returned to work, my friends were busy teaching, and my mother was keeping Emily every day.  I didn't want to bother anyone, so I decided I could take care of things by myself.  These weren't things that I felt I needed to do alone like picking out the flowers and my clothes the week of the funeral.  I just didn't want to ask for help.  I didn't want to appear weak or needy.  I was on my own now so I might as well start handling things myself - right? 

The first thing I did alone was go to the cemetery office to order a marker for Eddie's grave.  I never knew there were so many names for the same thing - tombstone, headstone, marker, monument.  I also never knew there were so many different types of stone or so many different shades of grey to choose from.  I thought I would go in, tell them what I wanted, and be done with it.  I wasn't prepared for the pages and pages of choices I had to look at.  It never crossed my mind that I would have to choose the writing style, the shape of the stone, and any pictures or designs I wanted engraved.  I knew I wanted to keep it fairly simple.  I wanted something tasteful, not gaudy (which believe me was a choice).  After what seemed like an eternity, I settled on the type of stone, the color, and the style of writing I wanted.  But when it came time to write down what I wanted engraved, I froze.  I could not make myself pick up the pen and write Eddie's name, date of birth, and date of death.  This was too real.  Putting his name on that marker was going to make his death final.  I guess the panic showed on my face because the man helping me suggested we take a break.  He had me move to a more comfortable chair, brought me a bottle of water, then left me alone for a few minutes.  When he returned I couldn't get everything finished fast enough.  All I wanted was to get out of there.  I could hardy breathe, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was going to faint.  Once I got out to my car I had to just sit in it for a long time before I was able to drive myself home.  Doing this alone was a big mistake!

The second thing I did alone was deal with the life insurance money.  The envelope with the check in it had arrived in the mail several days earlier, but I couldn't make myself open it.  I knew what was inside, and I didn't want to see it.  This was one more thing that was going to make Eddie's death real and final.  I said I did this alone, but I actually had a wonderful financial advisor who helped me through the process.  What I did alone was drive myself to his office.  Once I was there he opened the envelope for me, helped me write checks for the things I needed to pay off, and helped me choose where to invest the remaining money.  The whole thing took a couple of hours, and by the end I was feeling the same way I had when choosing the grave marker.  I couldn't breathe, I felt faint, and I suddenly burst into tears.  My advisor was very patient and understanding.  He said we could take a break, he got me a kleenex, and a bottle of water.  Once I got myself back together we finished quickly.  When I left his office I had to again sit in the car for a long time before I could drive home.  Doing this alone was another big mistake!

Looking back now on these two events I've wondered one thing - does water have some kind of healing power?  Both men gave me a bottle of water when it became obvious that I was upset.  Since then I've noticed on TV shows whenever a person is being given bad news someone always offers them a glass of water.  I know it seems silly to think about this, but it's one of those things that sticks out in your mind after you've been through a traumatic event.  Wouldn't it be nice if something as simple as a glass of water could take away all of our pain?! 

"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Revelations 21:4

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"When It Rains"

I've quoted the Bible, Max Lucado, and Helen Steiner Rice in many of my previous writings.  I'm going to do a 180 degree turnaround and quote someone totally different in this one ... Kid Rock.  I don't like all of his music, but some of his songs are very good with very meaningful words.  I've listened to one in particular many times and always feel like the words could have been written about me.  "When It Rains" ...

"Like a deer in the headlights, I stood frozen in my tracks
And the weight of the news, it nearly broke my back ...

Now when it rains it pours
Wish I didn't know now the things I never knew before ...

Like a deer in the headlights, I stood frozen in my tracks
And the weight of you not here nearly broke my back ...

And the tears they felt like a monsoon
Underneath the cold fall moon
Somehow God put his hands on your shoulders
Way too, way too soon ...

Now when it rains, it pours
Wish I didn't know now the things I never knew before ..."

This song pretty much says it all about how I felt in the beginning and how I still feel about some things now.  When I first found out what had happened I was literally like a deer in headlights - frozen, unable to move or comprehend what was going on around me.  Hearing the news that Eddie was dead was almost more than I could bear, and over time it nearly killed me along with him.  I wish now that I didn't know the things I never knew before all of this happened in my life.  I wish I didn't know about alcoholism.  I wish I didn't know about suicide.  I wish I didn't know about grief.  I'm by no means an expert on these subjects but I now know way more than I ever wanted to know.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Am I Crazy?

"I'm past the point of going quietly insane.  I'm getting quite noisy about it.  The neighbors must think I'm mad.  The neighbors, for once, think right." -Peter McWilliams, How to Survive the Loss of a Love

About six weeks after Eddie's death, I came to a conclusion - I was most definitely going insane.  I seemed to have lost the ability to do even the simplest things.  I couldn't write a check, address an envelope for a thank you card, make out a grocery list, feed the animals, fold clothes, find the channel I wanted on TV, put on my make-up, fix my breakfast, change a light bulb ... the list goes on and on.  I remember one night in particular when my mother had to help me change the sheets on my bed because I had no idea how to get them on!  I had been doing this basic chore for 30+ years, but suddenly I had no clue how to accomplish the task.  My memory seemed to have disappeared.  On more than one occasion I got lost while driving.  I would either completely forget where I was going, or I would suddenly look around me and have no idea where I was or how I got there.  I couldn't concentrate or think anything through.  I couldn't focus on what was going on around me.  I seemed to be "floating" through each day.  I had no concept of time - my time was measured in how long it had been since Eddie's death (one day since he died, one week since he died, one month since he died). 

I became extremely irritable during this time.  I went from wanting to talk to others about what had happened and how I felt to not wanting to speak to anyone about anything.  I didn't want to answer the phone or go to the door.  I became obsessed with replaying and reliving the events of the day and night that Eddie died.  I went back to denying that he was actually dead.  I believed he was just away on a trip.  I thought I heard his truck in the driveway.  I thought I saw him working in the yard.  I thought I smelled his cologne in the bathroom.  I was paranoid about losing someone else, especially Trey.  By this time he had returned to work and had started doing things occasionally with friends in the evenings.  I couldn't stand the thought of him being out on the road especially after dark.  I paced, prayed, and cried until he came home.  I couldn't find happiness or enjoyment in any activity, even spending time with my granddaughter.  I believed I was suffering from depression beyond what is normal for the grieving process.

I also had increased, intensified physical symptoms.  I was exhausted from a lack of sleep.  I felt sick from not eating right.  I experienced anxiety/panic attacks where my heart would race and I would have trouble breathing.  Sometimes I actually had to remind myself to take the next breath.  My nerves tingled to the point that I couldn't stand for anyone to touch me.  At times I felt like I was literally going to crawl out of my own skin.  I've watched legal shows on TV where people pleaded not guilty to a crime due to temporary insanity.  I began to understand what that meant - I could have done something during this time and not known how or why I did it.  My entire world was turned upside down, and I had no idea how to straighten it out.      

"Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Guilt

It wasn't your fault.  There's nothing you could have done to change what happened.  You couldn't have known.  Don't blame yourself.  You have no reason to feel guilty.  I heard all of these repeatedly from family, friends, and counselors during the days and weeks following Eddie's death.  I knew in my head they were right.  Common sense told me I didn't have the power to control what happened.  But my heart wasn't listening.  My heart told me I knew Eddie better than anyone so I should have seen this coming.  I had lived with him for over 25 years.  I knew he was an alcoholic.  I knew he was depressed.  I should have known what he was planning.  I should have been able to do or say something to prevent what happened.  I should have gone with him that evening.  I should have insisted he come home when we talked on the phone.  I should have gone out looking for him like I usually did.  If only ...  I should have ... Why didn't I ...

Whereas anger, if expressed appropriately, is a positive emotion during grief, guilt serves no purpose at all.  It is a natural emotion following a death, particularly an unexpected tragic one, but it doesn't help you recover from the loss.  Guilt can occur for many reasons ... regret over things that weren't said or done; unresolved feelings; a need to take responsibility for the death; the belief that it's more acceptable to blame our self than the one who died; the need to take control and make sense out of what happened.  During the grieving process, our thoughts are not very realistic, so it's easy to get caught up in blaming our self for the death.  For a time we may actually believe that we had the ability to change the past, to alter the course of events that led to the death.  We may even feel guilty that we are alive and our loved one isn't.  Guilt results from our hurt and anger.  If it's just a passing emotion, it's not detrimental to the healing process.  "It is a great grace of God to practice self examination; but too much is as bad as too little." (Teresa of Avila)

If you can't let go of the guilt though, it prevents you from moving forward.  I know because that's what happened to me.  I not only blamed myself for Eddie's death, I blamed myself for not being able to help him overcome his drinking problem.  Through my counseling I realized that my guilt went way back to a time long before Eddie died.  I loved Eddie; I supported him; I helped him; I encouraged him; I stayed with him through the good and the bad - but he never stopped drinking.  In my mind there must have been more I could have done.  I failed at helping him, and I felt guilty about that.  I had to work through that guilt before I could even attempt to get through the guilt I felt about his death. 

I had been to AA meetings, group sessions, and counseling sessions.  I had read all of the books on alcoholism.  I even spent five days in a rehab facility with Eddie.  So I knew all of the things about living with an alcoholic - drinking is their choice; nothing you say or do will make them stop; you can't love them into not drinking; you can't guilt them into not drinking; what they do is beyond your control.  Despite hearing, reading, and experiencing all of that for years, I still felt like I could/should have done more.

It has been over two years, and I sometimes still struggle with the guilt.  When I least expect it and for no apparent reason, the questions will suddenly pop back into my mind.  I start to ask myself again why didn't I, what if I had, shouldn't I have done this, couldn't I have changed things?  If I let myself dwell on it, the guilt will begin to take over again.  I have to push it from my mind, refuse to listen to the questions, and force myself to concentrate on something else.  I can't tell anyone how to get past these feelings of guilt.  I can only tell you that you have to, because if you don't they will eventually destroy you.  It may take counseling, prayer, constant reminders from family and friends, reading, meditating, repeating phrases to yourself (It wasn't my fault; I did everything I could; It was out of my hands).  Whatever it takes, you have to find it, do it, and stick with it until you are able to forgive yourself for what you think you did or didn't do.  Only then can you continue to move forward in the grieving process. 
"My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear." Psalm 38:4

"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but worldly sorrow brings death." 2Corinthians 7:10

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Why ... such a short, simple, little word.  The dictionary defines it as "for what reason, cause, or purpose".  Unfortunately the answer is not nearly as simple as the word.  When we lose a loved one we immediately ask why.  We want a reason for their death.  We want to know what purpose their death serves.  In the case of a suicide the need to know is even more intense.  We not only want to know why our loved one died, we also want to know why they chose to end their own life.  I spent a lot of time asking myself, my family, my friends, my counselor, and God these questions.  No one could give me an answer.

I wanted to know what I had done to deserve what was happening in my life.  I wanted to know if I was being punished for something I had done.   I wanted to know why I hadn't been able to stop what happened.  I wanted to know why God hadn't stopped what happened.  I have always been used to having some control and power over my own circumstances.  Most of the time I had answers to my own questions.  This time however I was helpless.  I didn't have power, control, or answers, and this made me mad.  I soon learned that not having an answer to this why question added to the anger I was already feeling. 

I knew Eddie was an alcoholic.  I knew he was suffering from depression over his inability to overcome his drinking problem.  I knew he felt like a failure for letting his family down every time he started drinking again.  I never knew it was serious enough for him to end his own life though.  For anyone who has never considered suicide the idea of choosing to end one's own life is beyond comprehension.  Through my counseling and the reading I've done, I learned that in most suicide attempts it is more about ending the pain than it is about ending the life.  Unfortunately when the suicide is successful both are ended for the victim, and the pain begins for those left behind.

Just as I wasn't sure whether it was OK to be angry at God, I also wondered if it was OK to ask God why.  After all, He does have the power and control, so if I asked Him why then I was questioning His wisdom, wasn't I?  I soon learned that while it was OK to ask God why, I had to be ready to accept that I might not receive an answer.  I had to be willing to accept silence from God, and that's a hard thing to do.  We pray for things we want, things we desire, and things we think we need.  We expect most of our prayers to be answered.  But if we are realistic we know that many prayers go unanswered.  We pray for safety for others, peace in the world, an end to hunger and child abuse, yet there are still wars, natural disasters, pictures of starving children and news reports of children being abused every day.  The only answer we have to these is that we have to trust and have faith that one day in another place we will either understand or lose the need to understand.  I eventually realized that having an answer to the why question wouldn't change anything.  No answer would be sufficient to ease my pain or lessen the hurt.  No one could ever give me an explanation that would help me accept or understand what had happened, so what was the purpose in continuing to ask?  So instead of asking God why, I had to start asking God to help me make my own peace with what had happened.   

"Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Psalm 10:1

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  1Corinthians 13:12