Hello dear friend,
Over the course of the next few posts, I will be discussing my journey from being entirely shattered to loving myself as I was, am, and will be. I freely admit that I’m a bit nervous about writing these posts – I know they cover a lot of darkness in my life and I’m a bit afraid of delving back in to those moments, but I…well, I just know, somehow, that it is important for me to share my journey because I am living proof that it does get better. It is worth holding on. That said, the following few posts deal with grief, suicidal ideation and other depressive thoughts, and anxiety and panic attacks in detail. If you find that is difficult for you to read at this time, please feel free to skip the posts from now through April 21. I do invite you to return for my post tentatively planned for 4/22, when I discuss coming out of the dark and finding myself again. Okay? Okay.
So the thing about shattering is it doesn’t happen at all once, or at least it didn’t for me. It came as the result of several impacts that broke me bit by bit until I felt like there was nothing left to break – I felt like I was walking around with a soul made of shattered glass that would slip and slice without warning. When not dealing with those sudden sharp moments of pain when the glass would slip, much of the rest of 2013 is covered in a grey mist in my memories. I can pull positive memories from that year, too, especially around Gunny and my friends, but a great majority of that year is lost to me.
Let me set the stage…
The year is 2012. Susie and I have moved out of Mom and Dad’s house into a condo about half an hour away. Our new home is so, so quiet after having lived with Sammy-puppy for several years. The silence is almost an entity of its own and Susie and I find we don’t enjoy being at home, so we spend a lot of time just walking around the local Target and going out to dinner. Mom recently messed up her hand by falling against some scalloped brick around one of garden sections in her yard while taking Sammy out. I am eagerly counting down the days to the end of January, when Mom, Susie, and I would be traveling to Walt Disney World – I am beyond excited to see New Fantasyland. Beyond the silence, living in the new condo is challenging in other ways – it seems like every time we fixed something, another thing would break. As the year draws to a close, Susie and I decide we can’t handle the silence any longer and we begin looking for a puppy of our own. We say the following to each other many times in November, December, and January – “I know we said we would wait a year, but we need something good. Something’s gotta give. We need something good. A puppy will help, I know it will.” We do our research and decide to look in to bringing home a bulldog puppy. November is pretty normal – Susie and I participate in NaNoWriMo as usual (we don’t win that year, but that’s okay) and things seem to be getting better – or at least settling down.
Point of Impact 1: It is the afternoon of December 3rd, 2012. Susie and I learn from Mom that our Grandpa has been sleeping 20+ hours a day. His wife has taken him to the hospital for testing. We don’t know what exactly is wrong, but Mom shares the doctor thinks it may be a tumor or the result of a stroke. We learn later that the symptoms had been going on for a week before Grandpa allowed Ivy to take him to the doctor. Susie and I try to go about our usual routine, but the worry stays at the back of our minds as days drag by with no clear answers.
Point of Impact 2: It is December 16th, 2012. Mom calls with the news that a dear family friend has passed away. I…God, I don’t know how to react. It has been a few years since I last saw Patty, but she and Mom were like sisters when they worked together. Patty was like another aunt. I am numb for a few minutes before it feels like a fist wraps around my throat and another strikes my heart. Susie and I cry on and off all week. We attend the service in Patty’s honor on Saturday, December 22nd. There are not nearly as many people as I expect to be there, given how many lives Patty touched while working as a crossing guard. Mom, Susie, and I sit toward the back and cry, trying to stay as quiet as possible.
Point of Impact 3: It is Christmas Eve. Susie and I are working, knowing we need to save our leave in case we have to fly to visit Grandpa, given the ongoing health issues. We decide to go out to lunch as a treat and we head to The Cheesecake Factory at the nearby mall. We have ordered our food and just had our drinks and bread delivered to the table when my cell phone rings. I am told that my manager’s manager was killed in a hit and run drunk driving incident on Sunday. I feel myself choke on lack of air before Isuck in a breath and end the call. Susie asks what’s wrong and I can’t stop myself from breaking down. I just spoke to him on Friday. I just spoke to him on Friday – he called about the loss of the contract and not speaking to the media. I just spoke to him on Friday and we wished each other a happy holiday season. I just spoke to him on Friday. Oh God. Oh my God. His poor family. I just spoke to him on Friday. How…the waitress comes back. I explain we need to leave as quickly as possible, still unable to stop crying. She rushes to pack our meals and get us the check. She rests a comforting hand on my shoulder as I sign the check, and pulls me into a half hug before she backs away. I don’t catch her name but I know I will never forget her kindness. The rest of the day is a blur. I honestly don’t remember what happened between that lunch and the first week of January. I know we must have gone to Christmas Eve Service. I know we must have had family Christmas the following morning. I know this, but I can’t remember it.
Point of Impact 4: It is the first week of January. Dad calls and asks us to sit down as he tells us we have to cancel the Disney trip. He has cancer. He needs Mom to be home to drive him back from the radiation appointment. How long has he known??? Three months. Why didn’t he tell us? God, why didn’t he tell us? He didn’t want to worry us. He thought the appointment wouldn’t happen until after Disney. His doctor moved it up.
I am instantly reminded of my boss making a joke in recent weeks about how “this one thinks she’s going on vacation at the end of January” while we were meeting with an internal client about additional training they need me to develop. I have already been working overtime several days a week on this project since November. My manager is aware that I am dealing with grief over Patty, he is aware of our colleague’s passing, he knows Grandpa is still in the hospital. He knows I save my leave and spend much of each year planning my Disney trip. He makes the joke anyway. All I can think is – at least he will be happy now.
I tell Dad not to worry about it. I end the call with Dad and call Disney Guest Services. I explain why I need to cancel. The gentleman I speak with is so kind and so apologetic. He tries everything he can to help us cancel and reschedule for any week between February 1st and March 31st. Knowing Grandpa and Dad’s health situation, I have to decline. I know my voice keeps breaking. The Guest Services rep helps me cancel the hotel, our park tickets, and our flights. He mentions I will need to send in proof of Dad’s diagnosis to get the full refund. I verify my email. He tells me to stay strong and that he will pray for Dad and for everything to work out. I don’t remember his name but I remember his kindness.
Point of Impact 5: It is January 6th, 2013. I post the following, knowing we plan to fly to see Grandpa and say our goodbyes later that week. “I feel numb. I should be shattered but I just feel numb. Is this what happens when too much bad happens? Do your emotions just shut off? I…I think I should sleep. Maybe tomorrow I will have something left to deal with everything. But then again numb is so much nicer than shattered. I hope I can stay numb for a little while longer. I am so sick of feeling sad.”
Shattered: It is the morning of January 7th, 2013.
Susie and I are at work. Susie gets a call from Mom. Grandpa passed. Susie and I wrap each other in a hug. One of our work friends comes over and hugs us both tight. Minutes pass. Susie and I separate to go let our managers know we have to leave. I stumble to my manager’s office. My voice breaks as I tell him “Grandpa’s dead. I – we are flying out as soon as we can get a flight.” He tells me: ”Go. Just go.” I don’t remember much of that day. Mom and Dad must have boarded Sam at daycare, but I don’t remember when. Susie and I must have packed, because I know we had a suitcase we refused to open for several years after we came home. Dad arranged the flights – Mom, Susie, and I would fly out first, he would fly out a few hours later – oh, that’s right. He had to fly out later so he could board Sammy. It’s still a blur.
I can barely breathe, though I take puffs of my rescue inhaler over and over and over again. I cry but I feel like I have very few tears left to give. I feel like I am wrapped in a blanket of sadness that weighs me down until every motion feels like swimming through something thicker than water. I feel like I hear everything through a distorted telephone line – missing words and odd echoes in every conversation. I keep thinking “I can’t handle any more than this. I can’t handle this. Please, God, no more. No more. Don’t let any more bad happen. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I have nothing left to give.” I can’t shake a sense of impending doom even as I beg for nothing more to happen. I make it through the rest of that week somehow. We spend time with Ivy and her daughters and their families. For the first time since Grandpa and Ivy married in 1996, it feels like we are truly family with her side of the family. Susie and I feel like we officially gain two aunts who we love dearly that day, as well as another cool uncle and two cousins we vaguely remember seeing as little kids. At some point, we all end up eating tacos from Taco Boy, spread around Grandpa and Ivy’s house, avoiding chairs that were Grandpa’s.
One morning, Dad takes Susie and me around town and shows us where he grew up, where Grandpa worked, where Great-Grandpa worked, the house where Dad grew up and the house next door where Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma lived. At the end of the drive, Dad takes us to visit Grandma’s grave. It is the first time he has been back since visiting after Grandpa and Ivy married. He cries. This is only the second time I have seen him cry in my entire life – the first was when Grandma passed away, when we went to the viewing and he saw her in the casket. I want to comfort him, but he tells Susie and me to walk away. Susie and I obey, moving to the end of the row, turning away to give Dad space while he composes himself – and to give us a chance to wipe away our own tears. A few minutes pass and we pile back in the car. Dad takes us to get donuts after visiting her grave – because Grandpa would take Dad to that donut shop every week as a kid. I wonder if Dad knows Grandpa would take us there every year when we visited Grandma’s grave after 1996? Does he know Grandpa tried to keep that connection going even when they were barely on speaking terms, both of them too stubborn to heal the breach, even though they both regretted it? I don’t know. I hope he knows Grandpa loved him even when they were so angry at each other they couldn’t have a civil conversation. I find myself thinking a lot about the past two visits to see Grandpa – how it seemed like he finally realized how much he missed of our lives while he and Dad were angry at each other. I can’t help the thought that it isn’t fair to lose him now, not when he only recently went back to being the Grandpa I remembered from childhood. Susie and I spend a lot of time walking around Meijer. We buy a lot of dolls (though they don’t make it out of the suitcase until 2018), falling back on the habit of trying to make ourselves feel better by adding to one of our collections.
There is no service, but there is a celebration of life at the funeral home. Michelle, who has been a best friend to Susie and me for years, drives a few hours from her town to be there for the celebration of life. Her mom comes, too. I’m going to break out of the present tense memory train here to say – I still to this day cannot express how much that meant to Mom, Susie, and me. I know we weren’t great company that day, but please believe me, Michelle, we were, and we remain, so very grateful that you came.
At some point, Dad drives us to Arnie’s Bakery to buy all the banket they have available. We come out with 11 loaves – he eats one for breakfast each day we are there and brings the rest home in his suitcase – Mom ends up freezing most of them for birthdays and holidays the rest of the year. We fly home and try to resume life. I watch Susie closely – she walks slowly, her shoulders hunched, her eyes lacking their usual sparkle. I know she is shattered, too. We look at each other day after day and say “We can’t do this. Something has got to give. We need something to hold on to. Something has got to give.”
We check with a few shelters to see if any bulldogs are available – there aren’t any within three hours drive. We start looking at breeders listed on the AKC website. We reach out to a few and end up settling on a darling little bully baby named Jack. Of course, it had to be Jack, right? Susie has always wanted a bulldog and here was a darling boy she could name after her favorite character, since he was already used to the name! We started counting down the days to our little Captain Jack Sparrow coming home. As the day to bring him home came closer, we got a message from the breeder that Jack had developed a rash, so they would have to push the date to bring him home back by a week. They called again a few days later. The vet said the first type of treatment wasn’t working – Jack’s rash was getting worse. Okay, it will be another week until Jack can come home. A few days later, they called again. Jack has taken a turn for the worse. The vet has tried everything he can think of and the breeder implies they have been told that Jack may not get better at all. Susie breaks again. I am somehow numb. Okay, what are our options. You can pick another puppy. Susie and I ask for a day to think about it. She cries for a few hours. I convince her we still need a puppy. We need that fur angel to brighten our days. She agrees. We contact the breeder and select Gunner, our wonderful Gunny, who can come home the day before my birthday. We also state we still want to bring Jack home if he gets better. The breeder agrees.
So there it is – Point of Impact 7: Susie’s puppy passed away. We keep Jack’s collar and dog tag by our keys to this day. That is Susie’s shattering point. I am sad but somewhat detached. It is hard to feel much of anything beyond the shifting of shattered glass that seems to be all that remains of my soul.
I’m not sure how it is possible to keep walking, keep talking, and keep moving forward when you feel like you are made of millions of pieces of intensely sharp, shattered glass, but Susie and I are proof that it is somehow possible. When shattered, Susie and I keep moving forward because there is no other choice. We go through the motions. We make sure we pay our bills and put food on the table – though it is take out more often than not because we can’t bring ourselves to care.
And that’s where I’ll end this post. Shattered. Broken. Not quite sure how we are surviving. Tomorrow I’ll discuss coasting along through the rest of 2013 through much of 2015.
If you or someone you know is grieving, please reach out for help. This is one resource that was useful to me:
Wherever you are today, and however you are currently feeling, I am sending you love and a really comforting virtual hug if you’ll accept it.
Until next time, and with love always,