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

A-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words

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

advice

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 

 ~~~~

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 Loss of Your Confidant

z and me

Grief is a solitary journey. No one but you knows how great the hurt is.  No one but you can know the gaping hole left in your life when someone you know has died.  And no one but you can mourn the silence that was once filled with laughter and song. It is the nature of love and death to touch every person in a totally unique way   ~~ Unknown

Zach,

I use this space to tell you what is going on, what I’m struggling with, things I wish I could actually tell you.  Maybe it is stupid or pointless because it is a poor replacement for the real thing, but I do draw some comfort from being able to “talk” to you.  Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to share my secrets with my childhood imaginary friend; my invisible, untouchable, and out-of-reach confidant.

When you lose your confidant, it becomes a one-sided conversation.  I still think all of these things; they don’t just go away.  I still want to say them and quite often I do still say them out loud to you.  I can’t tell you the amount of times I have gotten strange looks from people as I say things out loud to you.  So how do you shut off all of the things you are used to talking about?  You can’t.  This just means I have a lot of one-sided, empty, unfulfilling, and tragically lonely conversations with myself.

Zach, we talked about anything and everything all day long.  I see something funny and I still reach for my phone to text you.  I am annoyed at work and I want to pick up the phone and call you.  I want to hear about your lunch break, about your funny students making you laugh, the female teacher drama you so desperately tried to avoid at work.  I want to tell you when I’m sad, hear you encourage me when I am overwhelmed, to be told everything will be OK one day.  I want to listen to you talk about our future, excitedly dream about getting your Ph.D., passionately drone on about History I could never understand the way you do.  I want to people watch and make sarcastic comments quietly to each other, talk about the family property and our big plans for it, strategize our next travelling adventure.

When you lose your confidant even the monotony of daily life, the trivial things, the insignificant things become something you desperately wish you could say.  It isn’t just the big things that you want to talk about, discuss, and analyze.  The small things become huge when you are faced with the reality of not being able to say it to the one person you want to.  Of course I have my family, friends, and coworkers that I can talk to, but it isn’t the same.

You are the one I am used to sharing everything with: the mundane, the important, the major, the minor.  And now I don’t have that.  The silence is excruciating and it constantly reminds me of how alone I am.  I want my partner, my confidant, my best friend.

I’ve been brutally reminded of this inability to talk to you this week because I want to tell you both the good and bad news I got.  They say everything gets easier with time, but it doesn’t feel that way.  Every day it seems to feel worse.  Every day I am slapped in the face with the reality that I can never tell you anything again.

The silence is deafening.

The Man and His Dog

zach and lusie

Dogs’ lives are too short.  Their only fault, really ~~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Zach,

I feel like I am writing this on your behalf.  Either that or just to tell you what is going on.  I can’t really decide which it is, but either way it is sad.

Weekends with your family are the only sense of comfort I typically feel during my weeks of insane scheduling.  I am truly blessed to have them and they are the most wonderful in-laws one could ever ask for.  Your family is my family and I love each of them as if they were my own…… but I digress and that is not what I set out to write tonight so I’ll start over.

Weekends with your family are the only sense of comfort I typically feel, but this weekend was inundated with a profound sense of sadness.  I walked in the door on Friday after a long day at work followed by a two hour drive to start catching up with your mom after three weeks of being unable to come home when I laid eyes on two green plastic bottles on the counter.  Noticing me notice them, your mom hesitantly informed me they were Lusie’s.

I should mention that this is a really strange sensation for me right now because I feel like I am having to break the news to you knowing how upset you will be.  Obviously strange because you are not here, but I hope that anyone reading this would understand how horribly you would take this news and how hesitantly I would approach this.  No matter what has happened and how death has tragically separated us, I still feel it is my place and my responsibility to tell you.

Zach, Lusie is sick.  Your beloved little basset hound that you picked out so many years ago to surprise your mom and sister is not doing well.  Your parents noticed two weeks ago that she was breathing heavy and not eating much.  They only told me this weekend because they know how brutal my last couple weeks have been and they were waiting for me to be able to come home, but now that I know…. I am just so sad.  The vet showed your mom the x-rays and Lusie’s lungs are full of cancer which they say is common for basset hounds, but it doesn’t make our sadness any less.

I sit here contemplating how I would actually break the news to you if you were here.  I already feel such a sense of loss with knowing she is so sick, but I know you would be that much more upset.  A man and his dog.  It is a relationship that cannot truly be defined.  A dog is a man’s best friend; what more is there to say?

Lusie is like your doggie child, the same as Dakota (my husky who lives in Canada with my mom) is mine.  This is the pooch who howled in excitement anytime you came home and would do so louder than for any other family member.  This is the pup you trained, hunted with, rode with, explored with.  Man’s best friend.

This is the dog who grieved with us after we lost you.  They say dogs can grieve themselves to death if their master dies suddenly and we were so afraid this would happen to Lusie.  The first day or so that I was in Eastman, she kept sniffing me in way that made us all realize she was associating my scent with you and that she was confused why you weren’t there.  Literally any time the door would open and someone would walk in, she would limp over to the door (she had been hit by a car the week before and was quite injured at the time) and once realizing it wasn’t you, she would come over and sniff me again.  She wouldn’t eat, she didn’t sleep much, she constantly paced searching for you, and she kept coming to me to either just lay with me or to roll around on my lap asking to be pet like only you could.

I found it really strange how Lusie responded to me after we lost you.  She is such a beautiful little pup and such a sweet girl, but after you were gone she really started coming to me more and looking for some loving.  Is that because I was willing to give it or because she associated me with you?  I’m not sure, but I have adopted Lusie as my own just the same as I have adopted your whole family.

Zach, I’m so sad to tell you that she is sick.  I know you would be heartbroken.  I know you wouldn’t take the news well.  You might not be here with us anymore, but I’m still sad to tell you about her.  I am just so sad about her.  The vet has given her some medicine to make her more comfortable and we hope she won’t be hurting/struggling as much, but it doesn’t look good and I’m not sure how long she has before she is up there roaming with you….. if that is how it works.

I love you, Zach, and even if you aren’t here it still breaks my heart to tell you something that would cause you pain and sadness.  Like my opening quote says, dogs are amazing and become a part of the family, but their lives are too short.

Poor Lusie has had a hard year and five months with getting hit by the car, loosing you, and now this.  Poor little girl has been so strong, but maybe it is time for her to be with you.  Maybe she has missed you long enough.

But we aren’t ready to say goodbye yet 😦

 

A Lusie and Krista snuggle moment.

me and lusie

The Times When You Actually Have Too Much to Say

how grief works

 

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak ~~ Henry Wordsworth

 

Zach,

I feel like this is my life right now.  Clearly my life is no longer on a straight progressive line through life, but instead it has become a clusterf**k of a disastrous rollercoaster ride.  Spinning, swirling, confusing, overwhelming, excruciating.  I have said it so many times before, but between work, teaching, and my own university classes I barely have time to think.  Every single day, from 8 AM until 2-3 AM, I alternate between working in the office, attending class, teaching, studying, doing homework, making lesson plans, grading, etc. that I barely have time to even sleep.  Since January I have not felt like I can catch a break.  And I am so tired.

The worst part about it is that I have so much I want to say.  Things I need to say, to get off my chest, to get out of my mind.  I have so much I want to say to you, to write about, to process.  I just don’t have time.  I need to make more time because there is so much more I feel like I need to do.  My every intention behind starting this blog was to one day help somebody in some way with their own grief.  To show them that they are not alone.  So many people have shared their very personal experiences with grief with me and they tell me that my words have helped, but I know there is more I could probably do.  I have ideas, I have the words…. I just don’t have the time.

And for a writer?  Not having time to do what we love, to do what is our biggest outlet, to do what helps us process so much?  Having so much to say but no time to get it written down? Zach, having no time to write is excruciating for a writer.  All of these words are just piling up in my head and I want to sit down and dedicate a whole day to writing.  But I can’t.

I don’t know if you are actually watching over all of us or if you can see how we are struggling.  But more than ever I need you to show me that I am doing the right thing, that I am on the right path.  Because right now I feel so lost that none of it seems worthwhile and I don’t know why I’m still doing it.  Especially school.  School is hard, I can never get caught up.  I am just so tired.  There are not enough hours in the day.  I don’t know if you are watching, but I need something to show me that this total lack of time is worth it.