The Perfect Kind of Crazy

…my life as I know it

Mail

Mail is a daily reminder that Jeff is not longer living. Junk mail, expired magazine notices, credit card offers, Cabelas…and Sirius…even tho he hadn’t had it in a couple of years and I’ve told them to stop calling. 

It’s about 8:45 pm and I just got home after working all day and then going to class. It’s dark and rainy so I quickly grab the mail and dash inside. This is what was on top of the stack. We’ve never even ordered anything from this company. I’m done with this crap. Like how long am I going to get mail for him? I feel like writing I. Every piece of junk mail return to sender recipient is deceased. 

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Grief is Different 

The first time I said these words was to my mother in law in the hospital waiting room. We were talking and sharing memories and praying for a positive answer. She looks at me through tear filled eyes and says, “I can’t imaging what this must be like for you. It has to be so much harder than it is for me.” I looked at her and said, “I can’t imagine what this is like for you. That’s your baby boy laying in that bed.” She said, “I know but it still has to be harder for you, he’s your husband.” I grabbed her hand and through tears I told her, “My pain isn’t any more or any less than yours, it’s different.”

Since that day in the hospital I have repeated that sentence to her many times. No one should have to bury a child. Yes, I lost my husband. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I still can’t imagine walking in her shoes. My grief isn’t any more or any less than hers, it’s different. Just as my brother in law’s and my children’s is different. 

I have also said this same thing to friends and family who are experiencing a loss of some kind. A few months after Jeff died one  of my closest friends separated from her husband and is now gearing up for what potentially is going to be an ugly divorce. Her grief is not less important than mine. It’s different. She’s grieving the loss of hope for what could have been. I can’t imagine what she’s going through anymore than she can imagine what I am going through. 

In August when I met with my doctor he said I was still experiencing acute grief. When I got home I looked up exactly what acute grief was… this is one of many similar definitions. ~ This is a state of shock or numbness, and usually happens for the first week or two after the death. Acute grief also includes intense emotional and bodily distress occurring in waves lasting from 20 to 60 minutes. ~

The first week or so?!? I was coming up on NINE months. My waves are measured in DAYS not minutes. Intense emotional and bodily distress is an understatement. How about crying so hard that your body aches when you wake up. It hurts like you’ve been put through the wringer for a few days. Your throat is raw from whatever sound that comes from deep down inside you. Your eyes are so red and swollen that no amount of Visene or Witchazel is going to help. Your face is so dry and flakey from wiping your tears that short of slathering Crisco on your face, nothing is working.

My point is… no matter your loss…no matter your situation…your pain and grief are different from mine. They aren’t less. Everyone’s journey is different. So please don’t apologize for venting or sharing with me what is going on in your life because you think mine is so much worse. Maybe it is in some ways. I’m not the first nor will I be the last to have lost a spouse. I care about what’s going on in your lives. 

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It Could’ve Been Worse

A few weeks after Jeff passed away I began the dreaded, horrific process of taking care of the “business” end of things. Step one, contact Jeff’s union to figure out what documentation I needed for his life insurance and pension. Step two, call our personal life insurance, which was actually the easiest thing to take care of. Step 3, go to vital statistics to get multiple copies of his death certificate, a certified copy of our marriage license and my birth certificate…I also picked up a copy of Jeff’s just in case I really didn’t remember where he kept it. Cha Ching….  Like the cost of dying isn’t already expensive enough. I swear…we live in the most expensive state…when I ordered my step dad’s death certificate for my mom…it was less than half the cost in Alabama. Seriously!!

We opted to have a celebration of life for Jeff in the summer…that helped to ease the immediate cost of a funeral or memorial service and allowed us the time to truly think about the best way to say good-bye. Jeff thought all of that stuff was a waste of money. He thought purchasing burial plots was a waste of money. He was cremated and placed in the standard black urn. This was something we had discussed a few times over the years. Since we were still young we hadn’t really started planning or talking about what we would want when the time came. He would rather that I used the money for things he considered more important. Everyday living expenses, house repairs, bills etc.

Everything is more overwhelming and exhausting than you can ever imagine when you lose your spouse. Your soul is shattered in ways you never thought possible. My step mom had warned me it would be and encouraged me to take it easy and only do one thing a time…and I believed her…until I was in the trenches of grief I truly had no idea how overwhelmed or exhausted I would be. Physically and emotionally. Every part of my body ached from the kind of crying that leaves you completely hollowed out. That leaves your insides raw. That leaves your eyes swollen and red. That leaves your skin so dry from wiping your tears and blowing your nose. That leaves you feeling dehydrated.

Prioritizing all of the “business” stuff is a must. I would do one task at a time making sure not to have more than that task out and on the table at once. I would fill out the necessary paperwork, include the required certificates, double and triple check it, then Nichole would check it again before I sealed the envelope and took it to the post office. This business stuff is exhausting. It drains everything that you have left in you and more. It would be a week or more before I could go onto the next task. I would have to mentally prepare myself prior to pulling out the next thing on my list. Sometimes it would take a couple of days.

Files are a must. Files for life insurance(s), banking business, union stuff, in our case organ donor information, EOBs (estimate of benefits), bills….etc… Lock up the death certificates and whatever other important documentation you need and pull out one at a time. I didn’t have a fire/lock box of any sort because we kept everything in the gun safe. Which I had never opened and didn’t know where the combination was. Ironically just hours before he went into SCA he was taking his hunting rifles and ammo out of the gun safe since he was leaving the next day for Elk Camp and when he came back inside I mentioned that one of these days he should show me or tell me where he kept the combination and how to open it in case I needed to get in it while he was gone. In his Jeff way he gave me that look…the one that said that’s my space. Little did I know that the following week how true that would be. Thank God for our guy friends. The garage was his domain. Every tool has a place and he knew exactly where it all was.

My niece, Cally, works at our bank. Thank you sweet Baby Jesus because I couldn’t imagine having to take care of our accounts and the other financial business I had to handle without her. She was amazing. Her managers were amazing. Making the process smooth and easier than it could have been.

I don’t have the words to express my appreciation for my daughter staying here for the first two months after Jeff died. Or for her husband’s selflessness and unwavering understanding that she and Mayleana needed to be here. That I needed them to be here. She dropped her whole life. Her job, her plans. She drove me everywhere that I needed to go so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. She checked and double checked every piece of documentation and form that I had to send off to different places. She would hold me while I cried. When I was cranky and irritable and would lash out at her…she took it with grace. She was my rock. I could have taken care of everything on my own because it wasn’t a choice. It certainly made things more bearable having her here.

Choosing to not take care of the “business” side of death wasn’t an option. In order for me to survive financially, physically and emotionally, there was no other choice. Just like getting up everyday isn’t a choice for me. Putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward is not a choice. I was only 47 when Jeff died. Our granddaughter was only nine months old. Our youngest child was 18…Our oldest was getting ready to propose to his girlfriend during the holidays. I have a lot of life left to live. Life that I don’t want to miss out on.

My husband having the foresight to plan for the possibility that he wouldn’t always be here to take care of me was the best gift he ever gave me. Because he did…I am able to live in the home we created together. Where we raised our children. Where our granddaughter came home from the hospital to. Where we have celebrated countless birthdays and holidays. Where we fought and made up. Where we played with our kids. Where we cried and laughed. Where our door was always open to friends and family. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I had to sell our home and move right after losing him. The thought of living anywhere else is almost unbearable. The thought of renting is nauseating. The thought of having to move in with a friend or family member is mortifying. Worse than any of all that is the thought of having to go through EVERY. SINGLE. THING. in this house. The garage. The attic. His stuff. My stuff. Our stuff. Paying off the house was never an option. It was what he had insisted happen in the event that he wasn’t here to provide for the kids and I. He made sure we would always have a home.

Paying cash for a brand new vehicle of my choosing along with oil changes and mileage checks was bitter sweet. I had severe survivor’s remorse. I wasn’t excited about it. I didn’t share with anyone or post pics on social media. In my mind, the only reason I had it was because he was dead. He was in the process of looking for a new truck the week he went into the hospital…it was his turn for a new vehicle. It should have been him. He should have been here driving that damned truck. I felt so guilty because I got what he deserved. He was a hard working, family first, loving man who deserved his stupid truck. It took me a few months to get out of my head and realize that this is what he would have wanted for me. This is one of the reasons he planned ahead. I still don’t get excited about it…I still sometimes go back to that survivor’s remorse mode…but I don’t stay there for very long.

On the days when I think that life couldn’t get any worse I remind myself that it could’ve been. I could be homeless. I could be driving a piece of crap car. I wouldn’t be able to just take off to Hawaii or Georgia to visit my kids. I could have had to find a new job doing something that I hated and had to work year round. I could have had so much more stress. When I ask Jeff for strength to continue moving forward, I also thank him for still taking care of me. Right along with, “I would give it all up to have you back. I would be homeless and living in a piece of crap car just to have you here. God, I miss you.”

When life is weighing you down and you think things couldn’t possible be worse, remind yourself that “It Could’ve Been Worse.”

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The Dance

Last night I was one of the lucky ones and got to go see Garth Brooks in concert!! Jeff always had a big interest in music…country, rock, classic rock…he liked it all. We played a lot of Garth’s music in our early years. So I knew that some of the songs he played at the concert would strike a note with me, especially, The Dance.

As soon as G started playing The Dance the tears started running down my face. That reaction I didn’t expect. Memories flooded my mind. Love filled my heart. Chills ran up my spine. God, I miss my husband and best friend. I miss it all…the good, the not so good. The crazy busy times and the comfortable silence times. I miss hearing him sing along with the radio. I even miss sports and stupid reality shows on the TV.

I could have missed the pain of this last year but I would have had to miss our twenty-seven year dance. Our dance was beautiful. It was amazing. It wasn’t without heartache. It wasn’t without angry words tossed around. It wasn’t perfect but it was perfect for us. Our dance was filled with love through it all. Twenty-seven years was more than half my life at the time he died. It seems like a long time. But in the broad spectrum of things it really isn’t. I wanted the next twenty-seven years damn it. We deserved to have them.

We should be sitting in our matching recliners watching our grandchildren growing up. We should have been planning those next twenty-seven years…taking trips, getting to know each other as a couple again….not just as parents. We had started “dating” each other again. It was fun and exciting. This empty nesters business wasn’t so bad after all. Our love was growing and changing into something even more beautiful than it already was. We were so freaking happy. Happy to be grandparents. Happy to be planning our future. Happy to just be in each others presence. I never once doubted Jeff’s love for me and he never doubted mine for him. Our trust in each other was unwavering.

Hard work goes into making a marriage work. I think even more so now then 20+ years ago. There are so many more outside stressors now with social media and the need to not only keep up with the Jones but to surpass them. To have more, do more and be more. It isn’t enough to just love somebody. It takes trust, compromise, understanding, patience and forgiveness. There will be fights and misunderstandings. There will be hurt feelings and tears. There will be pain. But the pay off….is immeasurable. It’s rewarding and worth it. It’s The Dance.

I’m not an educated expert by any means. I haven’t studied marriage and relationships and how they work. What I do have is experience. Experience with loving someone so much it hurts and then losing that someone far too soon. If anyone that is reading my blog ever wants to talk…don’t hesitate to contact me.

The Dance

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have to miss the dance
Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance
Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but I’d of had to miss the dance

 

 

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The Last Day

As I am sitting here tonight watching The Hallmark Channel, my mind has begun to wander back to Jeff’s final day. Along with the buckets of tears that were shed there were beautiful, touching moments. We made memories that will last a life time that were equally sad and amazingly beautiful. How I made decisions with absolute clarity during that time is a mystery to me. Before I get into his last day, I want to share with you that the afternoon before I was given a message…Richard (the nurse I have spoken about before) had called to say he picked up an extra shift. He requested to take care of Jeff for his last night. He WANTED to take care of my husband because he mattered. Jeff would be his only patient that night. Richard is a kind, compassionate, beautiful person. My cup runneth over.

Life Center Northwest’s family support person was sensitive, compassionate, genuine. She said and did a lot of the right things. She made sure not to overwhelm me more than I already was. One of the times we met with her she offered me a quilt that was made by a volunteer. These quilts have one blank square so that a hand print of your loved one can be added to it. She also offered to make copies on plain paper for whomever wanted them. I had a moment of complete clarity and I asked if we had fabric could we put the print on that….she said of course. I looked at Justin and Lauren and asked if they could run to JoAnn’s and pick up the fabric so that we could have quilts made later… Lauren, her sister and mom are all quilters…they offered to make the quilts. We are blessed.

When the hand prints were being done we had a little fun….we laughed a little…cried a little. The boys got a little creative and made dad’s signature gesture…they made copies for his buddies as well. We put handprints on fabric, canvas and paper. For our kids, the grand kids, or nieces who are like our own, his mom and his brother. The quilts have yet to be made….I still have to purchase some of the fabric. This summer when the kids were all home we went through Jeff’s clothes and we picked out shirts and sweatshirts that had meaning to each of us to use on the quilts.

thefinger

The Finger

Jeff loved music of all genres. He took a history of music class in college and the knowledge he had about music and so much more never ceased to amaze me. So, when our family support person told us that we could play music when the time came to remove the ventilator… we all looked at each other and said Grease. He would sing along to the movie any time it was on. He knew every word to not only the songs but the movie. It would drive us crazy….a good kind of crazy. Jeff left this world listening to the soundtrack from Grease.

I don’t recall when Nichole told me that she did this…if it was that day or later. How she thought of doing this, I will never know. It’s another one of those moments of clarity. When one of the doctors or nurses was doing Jeff’s vitals she asked them if she could record his heart beat. They were more than willing to help her make it happen. She was able to make a few different recordings using different methods. Her reason, still brings me to tears. She wanted her daddy’s heart beat so that she could transfer it to a heart that goes into a Build a Bear for her baby girl.

Another thing that Life Center does for donors and their families is give them two necklaces…one to keep and one to leave with their loved one. The one I was given was a smaller heart cut out of the center of a larger heart. Like the quilts, these are made out of clay by volunteers. That afternoon I had Nichole take photos of me tying Jeff’s on his wrist. I explained to him what the heart represented and that I had the other piece. I told him that I didn’t need a piece of ceramic to remind me how much he loved me and that he would forever have a piece of my heart. They also gave us a cloth bag full of ceramic hearts. Different colors, some had texture and imprints. Later the following week I began giving them to family.

Earlier in the day I had asked his nurse, another male nurse who was amazing, if he could clean up Jeff’s beard and trim it up so the patches that were shaved for the ventilator didn’t stand out as much. Jeff was a prideful man. I wanted him to die with dignity. I wanted his kids and mom to remember him looking like their dad and son. I didn’t want smelly fluids and blood stuck in his beard. I wanted to kiss his lips for the last time and for them to feel like his lips.

These last few hours were some of the longest that we had spent in the hospital…then, the time to remove the ventilator was pushed back a couple more hours. A oporating room had opened up on the CCU floor making the walk so much shorter for the team. Everything is counted down to the second. The route is mapped out. It is walked repeatedly. It is timed. Everything is about timing. Jeff’s heart had to stop within a certain amount of time in order for his organs to be viable. It would be up to him once the ventilator was removed.

The volunteer Chaplain, that I have spoken of before, said a prayer. We all said our final good-byes. Our kids, his mom and brother, Carleen and the girls, and two of our closest friends. We stepped out of the room as the surgical team removed the ventilator. Once it was removed we were all able to enter again. We had a plan to place Mayleana on grandpa’s bed and Lauren would take the last pictures of her with her grandpa. The words that I spoke to everyone in that room and to Jeff are too personal to share. They are mine. They are theirs.

Death doesn’t just have to be heart wrenching sad. It can be beautiful. We gave him the most beautiful send off that we could. We gave it to each other. Everything that we did that day was intentional. It showed the depth of our love for this man. It showed the depth of the love that he had for all of us. He loved deep. He loved hard. He loved unconditionally. You could feel his love. You could see it in his actions. I could see it when he would look at me. Family was everything to him. Blood did not define his family.

On November 3, 2016 at 5:53 pm, Jeff’s heart stopped beating. He was rushed off to the operating room as my soul shattered into a million pieces.

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