Category Archives: anniversary

Getting through…

My friend, Robin, pointed out that I wrote a comment  on a blog post regarding the death of my friend, Derek.   The comment was “Why do people come into our lives if it is only their intention to leave?” She said that comment shredded her, as she often feels the same way.  I tried to back my thoughts up to five years ago, in reflection of why I might have said that.   It was a comment made in the midst of grief, but it is a question for the ages.  Why do people come in, allow us to get attached to them and then, suddenly, they are erased from our lives?  Death, estrangement or just a simple case of growing in different directions.  People that you love just sometimes…go away.

I told her, people come into our lives to teach you lessons.  Lessons that are either great or small.  Everyone has an expiration date in the lives of others.  Whether it is due to physical loss or emotional detachment, we all run our course.  There are friends I needed long ago that I just don’t need any longer.  They were there for their reason at the time.  To support me, to love me, to be by my side while I went through something or for me to be there for them.  People I thought would be in my life forever suddenly vanished.  But, when I look back on it…it was a moment in time that bonded us.  Something we shared.  Something that we related to and we needed each other to figure out the equation.  Once the problem was solved…it was time to move on, for both of us…or just one of us.

But when one is not ready for that sudden absentia, it leaves pain in its wake.

And questions.  Lots and lots of questions.

I am no stranger to loss.  I have lost a great number of people in my life from death.  I have lost a parent.  I have lost a child.  I have lost friends who I thought I could never survive without.  I have lost pets who were like children to me and I grieved them more ferociously and vehemently than I have some actual human family members. 

It’s never an easy process.   Ever.

I have become nearly superstitious when it comes to death.  I won’t let any one leave my house without saying “I love you” before they go.  We could be in the middle of a heated fight…and if they leave my home without a hug or a kind word, my stomach always knots up.  I think, I am going to lose them now.  Now that we parted harshly, those words will be the last words we ever speak to each other.  I think this is because my last words to my friend Derek were “I’ll see you tomorrow…” when he asked me to please come out and hang out with him, and then, tomorrow never came for him.  Or, perhaps because the last words I ever said to my father were “I hate your fucking guts.  I never want to speak to you again.”

Guess what?  I didn’t ever get to speak to him again.  He died a week later.

So, it has become a life mission of mine to make sure that I never part harshly with any one.  I don’t think my heart could take another memory of someone leaving this world with the last thing having been said between us being something cold or hateful.  It’s a huge burden to live with and a bigger one to die with.  I find myself apologizing and justifying constantly to people who no longer walk this earth. 

“You know I didn’t mean that, right, Daddy?”

“I should have come out to see you, Derek.  I should have found a baby sitter.  Maybe you would still be here, if I had.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you goodbye, Snoop.  I’m sorry I was too busy to kiss you goodbye.”

I keep hoping for validation in a situation where I know I will never get any closure.

Of course my Dad knows I didn’t mean that.  I was a teenager.  19 years old.  I was angry with him because I needed help with something and, in form with the lousy father he was, he didn’t come through for me.  I think now…who really owes whom the apology?  Why aren’t YOU sorry that you didn’t do what I needed you to do for me?  Why was I constantly put in the position of begging you to be my father?  Why am I making myself feel perpetually guilty for saying such a terrible thing to you before you died.  I didn’t kill you.  YOU killed you.  YOU chose to get into a car, loaded up on drugs and alcohol, careening into an oncoming truck, potentially robbing the driver of that car of being a good dad to HIS four children.  He was probably a great dad, just out for the day, driving to or from his job so he could get home to his wife and kids that he valued.  YOU, Dad, were the bad guy in this scenario…so why am I feeling guilty?

Because words spoken cannot be unspoken.  Simply put, you can’t un-ring a bell.

And of course, Derek has forgiven me a million times for not having a baby sitter to go out on other nights.  So why is this one eating me up…getting the best of me?  Because this particular night…he killed himself.  How could I have possibly known that your request for my time was to be spent talking you out of ending your life?  You were a drug addict.  You put those drugs in your body.  You chose to take more than your body could handle.  You died.   I have to continue living knowing that if something would have changed that night, it could have altered the course of your life.  You might still be here. 

Then again, you might not.  And, as I always said, you were dying since the day you were born.

Only this time, you took my heart with you.

Why am I angry with myself, when you chose to make me walk in the pain of losing you over what I will only ever believe could have been “fixed” had I just been there.  Why shouldn’t I be mad at you, Derek, for causing me this never ending grief and turmoil over those last moments?

Why?  Because you’re not here.  I am.  And you can’t blame something that no longer exists.

So, how do you get through the guilt?  You don’t.  No matter how many times people say, “don’t blame yourself”, it’s hard not to.  It’s hard to gloss over the obvious…that the last things you said to these people are what you are going to have to live with.  It’s strange.  Most of us don’t even recall on a day to day basis what the last thing someone said to you was.  But, let that person die…and suddenly, you have no recollection of anything else but that.  I can scarcely remember any other words uttered between Derek and I, or my father and I, save for those last words.

Why do I only dwell on the fact that the day my precious dog, Snoop, passed away, I was too busy with work to give him a little pat on the head before he went to the kennel?  We were leaving for vacation that afternoon…and I was so busy playing catch up, I just yelled out, “Bye Snoops!”   I never got up from my desk to give him a hug and a kiss. 

And now, he’s gone too.

I can flip the switch on this, you know.  I can remember my best friend Norman dying.  I held his hand.  I kissed his lips, dry and cracked as they were, as he lay in a hospital bed while the leukemia ravaged his already small, frail body. He knew I loved him desperately and he said to me, “I’m not afraid, you know.”  I said, “I am.”  He said, “Don’t be.  It will be grand.  Gay pride day in Heaven, can you imagine?”  The vision he conjured in my mind of angels in rainbow wings and gold lame loin cloths made me laugh out loud.  He laughed too, and that laughter is what I remember.  That, and my husband leaning in to kiss him goodbye.  I will always remember those moments when I think of Norman. 

Then, there’s my grandmother.  I can remember stroking my grandmothers hair just a mere few months ago, her telling her that she loved me so much and patting my cheek.  I knew at that moment, I would likely never see her again.  She was so sick.  The dementia and the Alzheimers were eating her mind and body away slowly.   But I was there.  I held her.  She knew she was loved…and she was able to let go.  She usually asks me when I leave, “are you coming back soon?” to which I always reply, “Of course I am, silly.  I love you!”  But this time, she didn’t ask me.  She just smiled at me and went back to sleep.  Maybe she knew she was leaving…maybe I did.  I pulled a flower hair clip from my own hair, and put it in hers. 

Maybe that was our goodbye. I don’t know. 

The mind chooses to remember what it chooses to remember.  Sometimes it is terribly cruel.  Other times, it is graciously merciful. It shames me to say, I barely remember my son, those last moments before I had to hand him away.  I barely remember his face.  I don’t remember the smell of his hair or the feel of his fingers wrapped around mine.  There was no time to remember.  No time to ingrain that moment into my memory.  And, ironically, I find that to be both cruel and merciful. 

So, how do you get through the anniversaries of the deaths of those we love?  How do we stop the self fulfilling prophecy of relegating yourself to a life of wallowing in guilt and anguish for the things we did or did not do while that person was still alive? 

The truth is, we don’t. 

We make mountains out of molehills in our minds.  And, on the opposite end of that, we make molehills out of mountains…just so we can cope.  We have to force ourselves to cope in the best ways we know how.  For some, it helps to allow yourself a day of grief.  It almost feels contrived.  I felt great yesterday.  I will feel great again tomorrow.  But, right now?  Right now all I feel is pain, devastation, anxiety and the ever looming fear that I will add something else I said to that list of regretful final words. 

It’s truly a source of anxiety for me.

The other night, on Facebook, my son wrote a status:

“I don’t think I can deal with this.  Please tell me this isn’t happening again.”

I read it at 3 am and immediately, I flew into panic mode.  To hear your teenager say, “I don’t think I can deal with this…” conjures up every news article we have ever read as parents of teens taking their lives over things that would scarcely disrupt the life of an adult.  I knew from that statement, something had happened between him and his girlfriend.  Did she break up with him?  Did she cheat on him?  Hurt him in some way?  Is he REALLY not able to deal with it?  Am I going to go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to a phone call that he was found hanging in his closet, a note to his girlfriend on his bed and his Facebook page open to a status that says, “goodbye”?  Sleep was done for me at that point.  It wasn’t going to happen.  I was FAR too afraid that if I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, I will hear those words that no mother ever, ever, EVER wants to hear.

I’ve already heard them once before.  I couldn’t live through it a second time.

Admittedly, I panicked hard.  I called his fathers house, where he was staying, at 3 am and crying into the phone, begged my ex husband to please, go check on him.  Make sure he’s asleep. Please watch him.  Please keep an eye on him. 

Because in my heart, the terror of “last words” looms large.

It is terrible to be a slave to what if’s and what could be’s.  Yet, I still find myself scared to death of those last words before someone leaves the house, hangs up the phone or walks away from me.  It is my own cross to bear, my own personal problem that I have made into a much bigger monster than it honestly is.  But, when you are living a life that includes a lot of loss, you can’t help but feel that way sometimes.  Especially after a fight with someone. 

So, ridiculous as it may be…I make sure that I tell everyone how much I love them.  It’s really something we should practice any way, the fine art of letting the people in your life know how much they mean to you.  It should not take estrangement or death for those words to finally find their way to your mouth.  It should not take fear.  Instead, it should be part of living.  Nothing is more important in this world than the love we take and the love we make.  Nothing.  Mistakes become regrets very quickly and while I know I can’t walk around 24/7 telling everyone what they mean to me, I can make sure that the people who are in my life daily know how well loved they are…so that if their time should come, or mine…we all can remember that our last words were “I love you”.

They say that there are some things that should just go to the grave with you.

“I love you” should always be one of those things.

song inspiration
“it’s only love. it’s only pain.  it’s only fear that runs through my veins…
it‘s all the things you can’t explain, that make us human.

RIP Derek Wollen, the inspiration for this post…and the pain that accompanies it.
August 25, 1980 – November 15, 2007  i miss you so much.  so, so much.

And to Debra Wollen, who left to find her son on November 24th, 2007. 
A mothers love leads to a mothers death.  i pray you both found each other…and peace.

Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes…

How do you measure a year?

The song would suggest you measure in sunsets.  Perhaps daylights?  Cups of coffee? 

I would have to go with their ultimate conclusion of love.  And there has been a lot of that in my life.  Never more than there has been this past year.  2008 saw me falter.  2009 saw me climb.  2010 will be the year that I surfaced from under the drowning pool I was swirling around in for the past two years.  It is the first year that I rose up and gasped for air.  The first time I can recall my head being above the surface.  It marked the birth of my second grandchild in January.  My 10th Valentines Day with my husband in February.  It saw the reuniting of myself with many old friends and my letting go of some who should have never had the privilege of even speaking my name.  It marked my triumphant return to school on a career path that will both help me, heal me as well as allow me to share my special gifts with the world. 

There were amazing trips:  Israel.  California.  New York. 

There was the foreclosure fiasco of 2009 that led to the final goodbye to our home in March, 2010.  Our new home is far more beautiful, far more homey and has none of the haunting horrible memories that plagued our old home.  Nothing was more terrifying than not knowing if today would be the day you pulled up to your house to find chains pulling the front doors closed.  Though it was through no fault of our own, it was still a cringe-worthy way of living. 

May of 2010 marked one full year of sobriety.  An accomplishment that back in 2008 wasn’t even in the cards for me and in 2009 seemed like it would be an unattainable goal.  I am still on that path. 

August was my 44th birthday and sometime in September, I chose to forgive myself for a lot of things I had done wrong.  I gave myself that as a gift.  I am sincerely looking forward to my 45th birthday, as I have always considered that number to be the mark of “halfway through” my life.  Only halfway there.  I’m still a baby.  I still have so much more to do. 

October of 2010 saw me have to confront the very real prospect of not having full control over the things that happen in my childrens’ world.  It was the first time I had to protect either of them from bullies and it was entirely too terrifying in light of all the suicide induced bullying incidents that it coincided with during that month. 

November.  Sweet November.  November would bring my parents, Esther and Harold, back into town.  It would be the month of the Turkey.  It would be final exams, final projects, final papers.  It would also be the last and final time my blog would ever be so uninspiring.  My friend in love, Janice, would turn my plain Jane blog into a bucketful of beautiful, where a princess would be happy to flounce around in once more.  Since she changed it, I have begun writing again.  That is always a beautiful thing. 

Then, finally…December.  I hate the holidays.  If you’ve read me for any length of time, you would know that.  But somehow, this year was a little different.  This year, there was hope in the air.  Laughter in my home.  And, to sound entirely too cheesy, perhaps a song in my heart.  My grandson celebrated his first Christmas/Hannukah.  My kids are happy.  Healthy.  My marriage is good.  So, so so so so good.  We went on our yearly anniversary cruise.  11 years together, 8 of them married…both taking place in December.  It’s a special time for the hotband and I.  A time of reflection.  A time to bond.  A time to kick back in the sand of some tropical island, look over at one another and realize…we made it.

Wow.  We made it.

Through tears.  Through pain.  Through strife.  Through uncertainty.  All the while, never letting go of each other’s hands.  Together…we survived it all, weathered the storms and sailed away on seas of contentment and joy.  We made it, my love.  We truly made it.  And look at all we have to show for it. 

Sitting perched on the precipice of a new year, I can’t help but reflect and can’t help but rejoice.  More than anything, I can’t wait to see what else the future brings.  So, yeah…it begs the question:

Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes…how do you measure a year?

In love.  Definitely, in love.  

One year…Sober.

A quick glance at the calendar told me everything I need to see.

One year clean and sober.

I cannot believe it has been two years since I blogged about losing my job because of my addiction to drugs, namely opiates. That first year was horrible. The inability to put down the drugs, the multiple withdrawals every single time I tried. Losing friends. Losing family members. And of course…almost losing my life.

This past year, since the day I said “no more”, has been the most incredible year of my life. I celebrated by going back to my drug counselor to visit him. I had not seen him since November of last year. I was doing fine on my own and while I had every intention in the world of continuing to go back after formal classes were over, well, life just got in the way. Thanksgiving came and went. Then Christmas. The birth of my grandson in January. February was hectic. March was visits from family. April was filled with excursions and trips with my husband.

Finally, May. And it was time.

I bought him an “Angel” plant and a card detailing how often I think of him and how I give him so much credit for saving my life. He spent so much time with me over those months. He let me come in for private sessions when I needed to without charging me. He made himself available by phone any time I needed him.

When I came into class tonight, he teared up. He greeted me with the warmest hug. He had me sit next to him at the front of his new class, a group of addicts I had never seen before. Each of them was exactly where I was a year ago. You could see the pain, anguish and sorrow in each of their faces. Stories on women who lost their children because of their addiction. Men who lost their jobs and the ability to support themselves and their families. Mothers, grieving mothers, who were at the end of their ropes sitting alongside their precious babies who were so heavily addicted they could barely keep their eyes open.

I empathized with each of them in my own way.

Finally, toward the middle of class, Tom says, “Does anyone want to know who this lady is sitting to the right of me?”

A young lady named Jessica spoke up. “Yeah, I do. Why are you here,” she said to me. “You don’t look like you have any issues.”

You don’t look like you have any issues. My heart absolutely soared hearing that. Translation? I no longer look like a drug addict. I had my life back and apparently, you could see that in my appearance.

He had me share my story about my addiction to opiates, how I lost my job from stealing pain meds on the job. He had me talk about all the deceit and lies that I told in order to get more meds from the various doctors that I knew. All of it…out on the table and in front of an enraptured audience.

“So why are you here now,” she asked.

“Because today, today I am clean for one full year…and I couldn’t fathom being anywhere else but alongside the man who saved my life.”

Tom took my hand. I cried. He cried. The moms in the room cried and hugged their kids.

“It can be done,” I told them. “Patience, faith, hope, God…and Tom.”

We talked about other subjects. I listened to them, all the stories so familiar. I found myself nodding my head quite a bit. I relate. I understood. I get it. I was there.

And by the grace of God, I am not there any more.

I told Tom I was heading back to college in the fall, driving towards my Masters degree in Social Work and getting licensed as an Addiction Counseling Specialist. He was beaming like a proud father.

“You know I will be hitting you up for an internship,” I said.

“We need you here, CP. There will always be a place for you here,” he replied.

I gave him and some members of the group hugs as we disbanded. One mom came up to me. She gave me a hug. She touched my cheek.

“I just wanted to say, God Bless you. I think my daughter really heard you. She won’t open up to me. I’m just her mom. But I think she really related to you.”

I wrote down my phone number and handed it to her daughter.

“If you feel like you are going to use. If you feel like you are climbing the walls from withdrawals. If you are up at 3am pacing the floors and don’t know what to do with yourself…you CALL me. Day or night. I don’t care what time it is. I will be there for you to talk to. We can work through it together. You don’t need to use. You are 17. You have your whole life ahead of you. One day, you’ll be someones mom, wife…and this will all be just a blip on the radar of your life. You can do this.”

She hugged me and thanked me, her sad, tired green eyes were brimming with tears.

“I’ll call you,” she said.

The empty words of the addict. I understand that. I will probably never hear from her…but I know she will carry that number with her, perhaps put it on her bedside table. She’ll look at it every once in awhile and remember that someone made it through. And that gesture alone might keep her off the pipe for at least one more night.

I left there feeling lifted by God. I got in my truck and drove home with my heart lighter. A full year. An amazing year. A gift. Every single day is a gift. I know and appreciate that now…

and I will never, ever look back.