The Hiatus

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My dearest Zach,

It has been over a year since I last wrote, but mere seconds since I last thought of you.  One year ago I posted saying that I was going to do better, write more, process more, handle my grief.  The exact opposite has happened.

A year ago I lost my voice, my ability to speak.  I lost the ability to process what I was going through.  I lost my words to you, which were the only thing keeping me functioning.  A year ago I succumbed to the weight of my grief and everything just stopped.

Three months ago my best friend begged me to write something.  Anything.  One sentence.  She saw, she recognized the darkness that had taken over me.  She knew I was giving up and that if I wasn’t talking to her about what was going on and I was not writing then something was wrong.

It has taken me this long to take her advice and to write something….. anything.

Was something wrong? Worse? Worrisome? I don’t know.  All I know is everything just stopped.  I didn’t know how to describe what I was feeling or thinking anymore.  Not that I stopped feeling or thinking, but it was almost as if my brain threw its hands up in frustration and said, “Well I don’t know WHAT will fix this!!”

I still don’t know where to start, but I recognize the need to return to my feeble attempt at processing my extreme grief.  It isn’t getting better.  It isn’t fading away.  It lives with me every single moment of every single day like a cancerous tumor eating away at my very existence.

I lost my words, my voice, my ability to process….. but I am still grieving.

So this is my prayer to you, my desperate plea.  Help me to find my voice.  Help me to find my words because I can not continue this way.

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A Different Kind of Post ~~ “The Fault in Our Stars” Book Review

My best friend for the last 24 years and I are obsessive readers and writers.  We have been our entire lives.  Something we started doing together last year was to write book reviews together since it was the perfect combination of our favorite things to do.  Somewhat recently we read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green which flooded the market by storm and it is completely understandable why.  I have decided to include this review here because it is a tragically beautiful book about life, love, death, and grief – – all things typically discussed here.

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The Fault in Our Stars
http://thelobstercommentary.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/a-fault-in-our-stars-by-john-green/

Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy.  Outlasting death.  We all want to be remembered. I do too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease. I want to leave a mark.

I had a hard time reading this book and have oddly super procrastinated writing this review.  I sat down to write it this morning and shuddered at the fact that I had made my notes while reading Fault in Our Stars on March 18th.  This book was exceptionally written and I poured through the pages in no time at all.  I felt countless emotions while reading it: humor, sadness, anger, devastation.  John Green has depicted life and death and love so honestly that his words resonated with me and you felt like you were living through the characters.  You empathized with them, you laughed with them, and you mourned with them.

But I had a hard time reading this book because of my own grief I am currently living with following the tragically sudden death of my fiancé in October 2011.  Hazel, Augustus, Isaac, the parents… all were living and breathing life and death so realistically that it hit incredibly close to home.  Hazel’s story put into words the wretched nature of grief that so many of us live with and so many aspects of the story felt like they were my own story.

The pain was always there, pulling me inside of myself, demanding to be felt. It always felt like I was waking up from the pain when something in the world outside of me suddenly required my comment or attention.

At times I felt like John Green was writing my story, writing this directly to me, and describing my grief in a way only I could understand.  That is the powerfulness of his words.  But I guarantee there are thousands of other people who felt the same thing as they read it.  The beauty of this book is that you can take it personally, see yourself within the pages, and completely understand the depths of what Hazel’s story is.  So many times I thought….. this is me!

The waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliffs, leaving me floating face-up on the water, undrowned.

As Hazel describes her journey with her illness and her impressions on the futility of life, you find yourself drawn in and you almost cannot comprehend how this young girl is so wise.  Her illness, her brushes with death, and her losses have made her wise beyond her years in a way that only pain can.  Any one of us who has experienced tragic loss or lived with a disease, either personally or through a family member, understands how dramatically pain changes you.  John Green captures all of these emotions with ease and I think anyone who reads this would find it completely relatable to their lives.

What a slut time is. She screws everyone.

Even the concept of time was described in such a simple way and yet anyone who has experienced loss will understand it completely.  There is never enough time.  There are never enough tomorrow’s.  When you have lost someone you understand the obsessive desire for just one more tomorrow.  John Green captures this through his compelling words and you can’t help but be reminded how fleeting time is.  I think that was the best part of this book for me  — not how beautifully it was written, not how honest he describes the reality of life, not how intriguing the characters were, but how he tells life how it is in a no bullshit kind of way.  There is no sugar coating loss, death, suffering, and struggle.  Green is able to write this amazing story with complete honesty and makes no excuses for the reality of pain and one’s desperate need to cling onto time.

And then there is the love.  While the main focus of this book is about understanding death, tragedy, and genuine courage, there is love.  A sweet, romantic, teenage love story that can be seen as beautiful by a reader of any age.  This is no sappy childish love story.  This is one inundated with the harsh reality of their suffering and their unity over understanding the lurking sense of death.  This especially resonated with me and I understand Hazel’s anguish of loss and her unfailing love even after a harsh separation.

I want to close by saying that I fully recommend this book to absolutely everyone, but prepare yourself to be changed, to feel sorrow, and to come away from it with a new appreciation of time, life, and love.

I close with five final quotes that I cannot help but share.  I dedicate these beautiful words to my love, my sweet Zach whom I will forever love and will always wish for one more tomorrow.

I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things.

It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouln’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.

The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.

I missed the future. I felt robbed.

The Paused Life

photo (15)~~ Ian McEwan in “The Comfort of Strangers”

Zach,

Yes, I am still here.  I am still here thinking about you, missing you, and grieving for you.  For those of you who faithfully follow my writing and have graciously messaged asking if I am still writing, still out there, still functioning….. technically yes.  Back in May I attempted to promise myself that I was going to make some changes and make time for myself.  I told myself, and any of you reading this, that I would start by taking the time to sit down and write out the ten million thoughts that race through my mind daily.  It would appear I have failed again.

I came across this picture quote the other day and I can’t think of a better description for how I feel right now.  Sleepwalking from moment to moment, months have slipped by without even registering their existence, and nothing has made an impression on me in a really long time.  Grief has completely stolen my concept of time, which I know I have talked about before, but is it seriously August 19, 2013?  Where have the last almost two years gone?

I will convince myself that I am doing alright and paying attention to what is going on around me, but then one of my best friends says he moved into his new house a month ago.  I hadn’t even asked how that went or how it looked.  My best friend’s little girl turned four and I didn’t even remember that her birthday was upcoming.  Another best friend’s baby girl is eight months old now and I haven’t even remembered to ask if she is crawling yet.  Friends will call me out on not texting or calling, but while I feel like I just did yesterday it has actually been weeks.  Semesters of school have come and gone.  I feel like I just wrote something for this blog, but it has been months.  Nothing registers.  All evades me.

I don’t care so much about myself.  I have become so numb to my own life that I just go through the motions of the day.  I work, I go to class, I do homework, I cry myself to sleep.  Repeat.  I am probably failing myself in every sense of the meaning, but as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other I am okay with failing myself.  I’ve given up on myself.  But failing my friends and my family is something I am not okay with.  How do I fix this?  How can I stop allowing the grief to control me and leave me so detached from life?  It is so selfish and I hate it about myself.  My friends deserve better.  My family deserves better.  But the person I used to be is gone and I don’t know how to do better at being there for other people.

Zach, when you and I moved into the house we switched to Direct TV and loved it.  We got NFL Sunday Ticket free for one year, we got all kinds of channels, and better yet we got a DVR.  Oh the joy of recording TV shows, pausing, fast forwarding commercials… oh the power! I’ve started to think of my life as being on pause.  October 9, 2011 someone hit a giant pause button on my life and the person I used to be came screeching to a halt.  To say I am in a rut would be an understatement because nothing has changed.  I feel just as lost as that day with the only difference being that I have become better at hiding it and getting done what needs to be.  The world has gone on around me and life whirls by faster than I can process.  Life has gone on without me and left me stranded in this misery of a life without you.

The paused life.  It is a life that can be seen from the outside and yet all action, forward momentum, and progress has been paused.  Looking at the screen we can see the TV show waiting to be turned on again, but nothing is happening to our favorite characters or with our beloved sports teams.  They are just there.  Frozen in place.  Doing nothing.  Lacking a complete inability to do anything else until someone presses pause again and releases them from their frozen state.

Zach, who has the power to hit pause again and restart my life?  Will it ever restart?  Or will I continue to live this paused life forever?

My Fourth Guest Post ~~~ No Drive is Too Short for a Seat Belt

I was recently contacted by Hello Grief, an amazing website with countless resources for grievers, and was honored to be asked to write another article for them.  They have received a grant from State Farm to work together on Auto Safety Awareness and the online editor thought of me to write the article for them.  As a writer, I am truly honored by this opportunity and am blessed to be able to share my message.  As a griever, it devastates me that I even have the knowledge to write this.  But I know Zach would be so proud and I pray that my message will reach someone who really needs to hear it.  Writing this was painful and much harder than I anticipated because I dreaded going back and thinking about a night I have tried to ignore.  But my precautionary tale, our families loss, and the pain of losing someone should speak volumes to anyone out there who is willing to take that chance.

No Drive is Too Short for a Seat Belt

http://www.hellogrief.org/no-drive-is-too-short-for-a-seat-belt/

Most of us have probably seen the car commercial where the father gives his toddler daughter some last minute tips before she drives off on her own for the first time.  “Check your mirrors, no highways, no texting while driving, be careful, call me but not while you’re driving,” he says.  Of course, only the father sees his baby girl as a toddler because she is, in fact, a teenager, but what parent doesn’t still see the toddler inside of their teenager?

The commercial resonated with me. We can tell our loved ones to be safe one million times, but in the end we have to let go, say goodbye and hope they never come face-to-face with danger on the roads.  But the road is a crazy place, full of people talking and texting on cell phones, checking Facebook, reaching for something in their backseat, eating while steering with a knee or two, putting on makeup, and driving too fast.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 34,080 motor vehicle fatalities in 2012.  I think we can all agree this unnecessary and preventable loss of life is way too high.  Dave Barry wrote, “The one thing that unites all human beings…is that deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”  We trust ourselves and blatantly ignore our own bad driving habits, and can be quick to blame other drivers for unsafe circumstances.  As a society, we often believe we are invincible, the masters of our own destiny, and completely convinced that those terrible accidents we hear about could never possibly happen to us.

I am here to tell you that it can.

On October 9, 2011, I got that phone call.  The one we hope to never get, the one that causes your life to crumble.  That night was the worst night of my life, an unimaginable hell that I would not wish on my worst enemy.  My fiancé Zach’s best friend came to town to spend the night at our house and watch some football.  The three of us spent some time together, but I was suffering from a brutal migraine. Zach tucked me into bed and went with Rob to a friend’s house that was just two minutes down the road we lived on. After an hour, they left to return home. They never made it.

This is a story of two beautiful lives brought to a tragic end by no seat belts, rain, a dangerous curve  and speeding. Individually these factors might not add up to an accident, but combined they made for tragedy. And if it weren’t for a migraine, it was a tragedy that might also have claimed me.

I want to ask everyone to take the utmost care while out on the roads and driving the cars we trust so much, because overlooking even the smallest safety factors are often what leads to tragedy.  This accident has left me, both of our families, all of our friends, the entire community and education system shell-shocked, hurting, lost, and grieving.  This is an accident that could have been prevented… if only.

Sitting down to write these words was unfathomably hard for me, because I live with this grief every single day. I would give anything to undo that night, to get back my fiancé, to have never lost. But I write about his accident because I know it is what Zach would want me to do.  He would want me to share my story, to use my writing and my words to share with others the risks they take if they don’t respect the road and the vehicle they use to travel down it.

I write to caution you to take care with your safety each and every time you drive your own car.

So when you hear yourself think, “It’s only a mile down the road, I don’t need my seat belt,” or “The roads are slick, but my car can handle it,” or even “A car accident would never happen to me,” please understand that it can happen to you or someone you love. Cars are big, heavy, powerful machines, and someone who loves you is counting on you to take every measure of safety when you get behind the wheel of one. If you don’t, it could change your entire life, and the life of people you love, in a blink of an eye.

Let my cautionary tale speak volumes to you.  Wear your seat belt.  Slow down in bad weather.  Don’t trust your car to handle speed on slick roads. Know that no one is immune to an accident.  Act now and talk to your loved ones about safe driving.  Talk about seat belts and bad weather and speeding.  Talk about respecting the road.  And from the bottom of this broken heart of mine, I beg you to respect the life you have been given.  Cherish it with every action you make, every word you speak, and every moment you are blessed to live one more.

A Thought for Fellow Grievers: A Picture Says a 1000 Words

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They says a picture is worth a thousand words and as an obsessive photographer I have always agreed with that.  I have also always been a big fan of quotes in that I am constantly saving ones I see or writing them down from the books I read or posting them on my fridge or sharing them with my best friend, Lauren.  Since I lost Zach, my fiancé, I have either come across or been sent various pictures with quotes about grieving that have so strongly resonated with me that I now have an extensive collection of them saved in my phone or in my email.

I would like to share them here with you today because maybe you also have found yourself trapped in a similar journey with grief and you feel like me in that it gives you a small degree of comfort to know that other people are thinking and feeling the same way as you.  Maybe you can also look at a picture of someone who has experienced loss, recognize the raw emotion, and know exactly what they are feeling in that moment.

That’s the worst part about grief: to feel like you have lost your mind, that no one could ever feel the way you do, and that what you’re feeling isn’t normal.  Our grief stories might be different, our loss can have a completely different face, but grief is grief and we experience it together.  So maybe you have already seen some of these pictures or heard these quotes or maybe you won’t even get anything out of me sharing them, but I am doing this today because I need the same reminder that grief is shared by all….. even through the pure kindness of faceless online supporters.

These pictures depict, describe, define, and demonstrate grief whether it be through words or just a picture.  I hope you draw the same thing from them as I have.

From me to you,

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The Advice We Give but Do Not Take

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She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it). ~~ Lewis Carroll

Zach,

I have realized that so many of us, myself included, are capable of giving wonderful advice to our family and friends but are also wonderfully able to ignore our own advice.  Even since I lost you, I am still able to occasionally pull myself out from under the rock, AKA grief, that I live under and offer solid advice to my family and friends.

“I think talking to someone would really help you.”

“You have to take some time for yourself.”

“You have to eat.  Not eating will magnify everything and make you feel worse.”

“Getting some sleep would really help you.”

“Try not to think that way; you could not have changed anything.”

“Just ignoring it won’t make the problem go away.”

“Drinking yourself to sleep every night isn’t the solution.”

“You can’t just hide from this.”

Oh, the advice we give but do not take.  Most days I feel like I am exactly where I was October 9, 2011.  Most days I don’t feel like anything has changed other than that I manage to get through my day a little easier at this point.  This is probably because I am working myself to the bone between my extremely hectic job, my teaching schedule, my own classes, and my homework.  Denial, denial, denial.  If I keep running, I won’t have time to think.

But is that the same advice I would give my struggling friend, my best friend having relationship problems, a mutual friend of ours having severe coping difficulties, to someone I love whose marriage is quickly failing?  No, not at all.  When it comes to them I take on an air of wisdom.  I become the wise one who imparts snippets of wisdom that will help them face their problems.  I can offer that outside perspective that is just what they need to hear.  But do I do any of it myself?  Nope.  It is the advice I can give, but I cannot take.

They say, “Those who cannot do, teach.”  Maybe that is what is happening.  I can’t do it myself.  I can’t let go.  I can’t take care of myself.  I can’t take a moment to breathe for fear of completely and utterly falling apart.  I can’t take the time to go talk to someone.  I can’t make myself eat, sleep, or live like a healthy human being.  I cannot do it, so I guess I will teach.  But Zach, that is so hypocritical, right?  How can I expect my loved ones to take care of themselves if I cannot take my own advice?  Does it only apply to their situation and not to mine?  Is it easier to help fix their problems than to confront what is going on in my own world?  Probably.

Zach, I know I can’t continue like this.  I am broken down, beaten up, and in a state of perma-exhaustion.  My body constantly hurts, I never feel caught up, and am always struggling to keep moving.  And yet I still cannot take my own advice, or any from anyone else, because I am afraid of what will happen if I stop and just let myself breathe.  I’ve kept going for so long now that if I put everything else on hold I am sure that I will collapse into the million tiny shards of what remains of me which is only being held together by a busy schedule that necessitates being held together. If I let go, even for a second, I think it would be irreparable.  And then what?  I just don’t know nor am I even fractionally curious to see what would lie behind that closed door right now.

I came across two quotes a few weeks ago about how to give advice to someone who is grieving and they truly resonated with me.  It is hard to see clearly when you are deep in the throes of grief and even harder to see a way out of it.  But I have been blessed to have family and friends who understand that I am just not there yet.  I think they understand that I don’t ignore their advice on purpose or intentionally act hypocritical by offering advice I don’t take myself, but instead they show their support and love for me just by being there.  Zach, I am truly blessed to have the people who have stood by me through all of this so I close with these two quotes as a thank you to them.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.   -Henri Nouwen 

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At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me-some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it,” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it. – Harold Kushner, Living a Life that Matters 

The Lost Me

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“I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.” ~~ Gayle Forman in If I Stay

 

Zach,

Lost doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel right now.  I somehow managed to finish the spring semester and even more insanely somehow managed to finish with straight A’s again.  Dean’s List for the third year running…. yay, right?  But there is no yay.  There was no joy.  There was just a weekend of relief then back at it again.  The summer semester is already one week underway and it is brutal.  The great thing about the summer semester is how wonderfully quickly you can get through a full class.  Who needs the typical five months to complete a university class when you can accomplish the same thing in a matter of mere weeks?  Of course that does mean work and teaching 8-5:30, class every night from 6-9 PM then home to read a full textbook chapter, take a quiz, do an assignment and somehow be up at it first thing in the morning again?  Hell.  Is it any wonder that I feel lost?  Probably not, but this is an ongoing thing since I lost you.

There is no concept of time anymore.  Wasn’t it just Christmas?  Or Spring Break?  Or last year?  The other day I told someone that I lost you last year.  It hasn’t been a year.  That’s just not true.  It is has been over a year and a half now so why would I say that?  I have not only lost myself, but I have lost my grip on everything.  What I haven’t lost is the ability to fool everyone into thinking I am coping better than before.  My mask has been pretty firmly in place for awhile now, but by now I just am the mask.

I go to work, I do the job and I am great at it.  I’ll pat myself on the back for that because I do good work and I love my job.  I teach my students, they learn, they enjoy class, and they love me as much as I love and am indebted to them.  I go to class, I succeed, I learn, and (without sounding like I am tooting my own horn since it is their words and not mine) the professors are impressed by my work.  And yet there is still nothing there.  It is empty.  It is vapid.  It is meaningless.  It is lost.

But am I actually lost?  Like the picture says, in order to be lost you have to know where it is you are supposed to be.  I definitely don’t know that.  I am supposed to be with you, living my life with you, and without that?  I just don’t know.

Zach, I started this blog and began writing in this space, not only to help process some of the thoughts in my head, but to share my story so others might know they are not alone, and to maybe help someone else one day.  Now I feel I am even failing at that because I cannot pull myself together, cannot overcome the constant exhaustion I feel to sit down and write.  I am so lost, what I used to be is so lost that I don’t even know where to find a smidgen of a piece of me.

But aren’t we all lost?  Isn’t that what grief does to us?  Spins us around, dumps us upside down, twists our realities, and makes everything tainted with a bitter disdain for our own lives?  I know I am not alone in this.  All of us found in excruciating vortex of grief have felt the same way at one point or another.  I don’t know how to find my way back, but I think this space is a good place to start.  This space was the only place I could be myself and express myself when my grief was the freshest.  So this is the space I am going to try and find that one small smidgen.