Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Beginning of Recovery

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

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

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

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


Friday, July 29, 2011

A Decision I Never Dreamed I Would Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fighting Resentment

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Times Like These

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

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

"Times Like These" - Kid Rock

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


Thursday, July 7, 2011


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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Day at a Time

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

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

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

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

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