There was a time in my life when I was incredibly confident in my abilities as a mother. I knew exactly what it took to be the perfect parent who raised perfect children. AND THEN…I actually had kids. One unexpected day, (sometime around the beginning of June 2011) I became pregnant and nine months later birthed a REAL LIFE child and holy fuck, shit got real. FAST. I was no longer just using my imagination to raise my future non-existent children…I was officially a MOM and responsible for another human life. Whose idea was it to trust me with this!?! And if that wasn’t crazy enough, I decided to gamble a little bit more and have a second one 2.5 years later. Because if you screw the first one up, it’s always good to have one more try at it, right?
There’s so much you can’t prepare yourself for until you’re actually in the trenches of parenthood. Have you ever caught diarrhea mid-air in the palm of your hands? Well I have, and it’s definitely as awful as it sounds. One time I actually watched my daughter dip her head in a toilet full of pee. She LITERALLY gave herself a swirly. Tiny humans really are appalling and fascinating all at the same time. In the midst of the crying, whining, puking, poop, mischief and boogers, they can still manage to turn you into an instant puddle with a simple “I wuv you mom.” I wish I could tell all the soon-to-be parents out there that there’s a handbook to get you through every crazy adventure of parenthood, but I truly don’t believe there is any way of predicting or preparing for all of the crap that gets thrown your way.
The moment I had to tell my 5 year old son his dad died was one that will be permanently burned into my memory forever. Watching his little chest move in and out so fast and hard as he tried to choke back his tears and hold it together in front of me..it was one of the worst moments of my life, and I’ve spent every day since worrying about what’s going on in his little mind. I’ve been told he’s reacting and responding like any kid his age would, but naturally as a mom the reassurance of a “professional with decades of experience” isn’t enough. I still over analyze everything he says and does and wonder daily if I’m totally screwing him up.
T loves to talk about his dad, and it’s been through our conversations that I’ve realized our lives are now forever divided into a before and after. In his little mind, we have the “Before my dad died” memories and then the ones that have come after. He’ll look up at me out of nowhere while he’s playing some days and say, “Hey mom, remember before my dad died” and rattle off some random thing that must have popped into his head. The boy’s memory is insane, he remembers things I don’t, and the wonderful thing about a 5 year old’s perspective is that they typically choose to remember the good.
In the first three months after Jesse’s death, I found myself drowning in the memories that were tainted by addiction, substance abuse and depression. It wasn’t what I wanted to focus on, but grief is a bitch and unfortunately there is no way of avoiding whatever particular stage you’re in. What is fortunate though, is that I have my boy to remind me that in spite of the bad, there was also so much GOOD. His conversations about the “before” include things like our camping trips, the rope swing at one of our favorite lakes, packing up half the house just to spend a day fishing, how much we loved living on the farm, Sunday morning pancakes and the fact that his dad was a much better driver than me. Jesse was more than his struggles. He was a husband. A dad. A son. A friend. The type of guy who pulled the car over to help a turtle across the road. His presence and his time here mattered.
It’s scary and overwhelming right now to think about our “after” without him, because so much is unknown. But I do have a huge support system, and even though some days are incredibly lonely, not once have I felt completely alone. When you experience a loss of this magnitude, it’s like you become a part of this club full of really cool and amazing people. A club that no one actually wants to be a part of, but we are due to no choice of our own, so we instinctively learn how to take care of the newbies…those who have been suddenly thrust onto this walk that they never wanted to take.
My best friend Bri is pretty much like a soulmate if friends could be a soulmate (SORRY HUSBANDS). She’s the Cristina to my Meredith. The PB to my J. The chip to my guacamole. That one person I can say anything to and not be judged no matter how twisted it is. In fact, she finds my awkwardness and inappropriateness hilarious because we are one in the same in that sense. And when Jesse died, she was just there. Most days it felt like all I had to do was give her a look and she knew exactly what to do..because she gets it.
Bri very tragically lost her first child, a daughter, to SIDS when she was only 2 months old. She’ll tell you that what I’m going through is way worse, and I’ll tell you there’s no way because what she went through had to be worse, but in reality they are both unimaginable things that shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s life story. Parents shouldn’t outlive their kids and wives shouldn’t lose their husbands at 32 years old. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
A day or two after Jesse died she, myself and my sister were driving in my sister’s Tahoe on our way to get our outfits for Jesse’s funeral (because EVERY occasion is a shopping occasion), and I remember looking back at her and letting her know that seeing where she is now, 7 years later, knowing how far she’s come and how she was able to find her happy again, it gave me hope that I was going to survive this. I WOULD survive this. Isn’t it incredible how even the tiniest humans can have an impact on someone else’s life? I still think of sweet little Autumn every day. She is proof that your time in this world matters, no matter how long or short it is.
Jesse suffered terrible trauma as a kid at the hands of someone who was supposed to be one of his number one protectors. It was unfair and something that can’t be made sense of. He let it define him well into adulthood and unfortunately his sad story would end up having an even sadder ending.
The day my husband took his life I felt like his abuser had won..like he had officially stolen Jesse’s entire life from him. And I know that if I stop living, then he keeps winning, so I won’t. If there is one thing I get right as a mom, it will be mustering up enough inner strength to show my kids that the terrible things that happen to us don’t have to define our whole life. That it’s ok to be sad, because the pain of missing their dad means we loved him, he was real and his presence in our lives was significant; but it’s also ok to laugh and to feel joy in our after. And that we can find our groove and our happy again.
Because life is hard. And then it’s amazing. And then it’s tragic. And then it’s good again. And we do have a choice where we go from here.