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“Happy?” Birthday

Last week for my birthday some of my friends weren’t sure it was appropriate to say “happy” birthday. I felt loved and grateful for their concern. It’s hard to know how to care for someone on celebratory days who’s trying to live with such a huge void.

Sometimes people say, “Drey would want you to celebrate and be happy. Drey would want you to put up a Christmas tree. Drey wouldn’t want you to be sad on Mother’s Day – he’d want you to enjoy a delicious dinner and relaxing day.” My own husband has said these things. Sometimes I’ve even asked Robbie, “Drey wouldn’t want me to cry all day, right?” Desperately searching for some kind of direction – for some kind of peace – maybe even permission to not feel the pain as intensely – even if just for that day.

Mostly when people try to kindly say, “Drey would want you to be happy,” I want to verbally spar with them. “If Drey didn’t want me to be sad on my birthday why did he kill himself? If he wanted me to enjoy future Mothers Days why did he choose this horrible violent death over life? Can you answer those questions?” I don’t say these things but sometimes I think them. I know people mean well. I know my husband means well. He saw my son and I together and he knew Drey loved me. Robbie is sure Drey couldn’t possibly have wanted me to suffer through special days. And I know he’s right. But it doesn’t matter. Being right about that just isn’t helpful at this point in the grief. I’m still left facing years of celebrations to come without my boy.

With all of that said I did have a happy birthday. “Happy” looks and feels different than it used to but it was still a nice day. My Mom made me feel like the most wonderful person in the world. And I was and am grateful for soooo many dear friends – and for people who don’t know me that well! – who care enough to say happy birthday 🙂 I’m blessed beyond belief in spite of how this life now looks for me. I was always amazingly blessed – but temporarily losing what I thought was most important has helped me find what is truly most important.

“Man up! You survived your son’s suicide!”

I am having minor shoulder surgery tomorrow.  Not really a big deal… but I’m still feeling anxious about it.  Not so much the procedure itself (although I may be saying something different tomorrow morning just before the procedure)… but the recovery is what’s got me uneasy.  I’m afraid I’ll be in a lot of pain.  Enough pain that physical therapy will be too hard, that I won’t be able to start running again right away, that the procedure won’t work and I’ll still have pain and limited motion.  But at the root my anxiety is a lack of trust.  Does God even care about something so small?  Of course He does – I know that.  But do I believe it?  Can I trust that even if my “worse case scenario” plays out that God is still good, that He can still work in me and through me, that He still wants to give me the desires of my heart, and that He knows better than I do what is best for me?  That’s a tall order.  I often find myself asking God, evening begging Him, to help me in my unbelief.

The feeling of anxiety also triggers me.  I associate feeling this way with my son’s death.  Not that the anxiety I’m feeling today is anywhere near as intense.  But it’s an association thing I guess.  Even feeling just a smidge like I did on that day – that horrible awful day – is enough to have me shaking, uneasy, and sick to my stomach.  Then I hear the voice… “Man up, Denise.  You survived your son’s suicide.  One of the worst things ever.  How can you be such a wimp heading into a simple little surgery?”  That argument sounds logical to me.  It makes a ton of sense.  And it’s completely unhelpful.  Our enemy is like that… he wants us to focus on fixing ourselves under our own power rather than acknowledging our weakness and crawling up into our perfect Father’s lap.

So here I am.  Facing a minor but unpleasant situation that is viewed through my new life lens.  Sometimes I don’t like my new lens.  And what I really don’t like is that every single decision – from watching a TV show to choosing what to wear to the bigger stuff like attending a memorial service or a minor surgery has to be filtered through this damn lens.  It’s not fair.  I don’t deserve this.  Why me?  I just want my normal life back!

God help me to not feel sorry for myself.  Teach me gratefulness.  Teach me to live life with eternity in mind more consistently. 

Lord thank You for the ability to have surgery – for the financial means, for the access to skilled surgeons.  Thank You for the family and friends You’ve blessed me with.  Thank You for my eyesight as I look forward to extra reading while I’m recovering on the couch.  Thank You for chicken and rice soup.  Thank You for anesthesia and pain killers.  Thank You for the women I’ve already met during physical therapy.  Thank You for laughter with them as I drop F-bombs in my pain… they’ve been such good sports in spite of my mouth!  Thank You for the reminder of when Drey broke his arm and how speedy his recovery was.

Still grieving the loss of my son to suicide

Grief is not a process. There isn’t an end. It evolves. It’s shape, size, weight and density continually change. I don’t know if it’s like that for every death or for every person. My grandma died several years ago. We were close. My best childhood friend’s Mom was killed several years ago. We weren’t close but it was hard seeing my friend hurt so deeply. But I was quite clueless as to the depths of true pain until Drey died.

It’s still hard to type that… “Drey died.” Will I ever get used to saying that? Will it ever truly sink in?

How has my grief changed over the past 18 months?

In the beginning I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep (without sleeping pills), I cried every day, I prayed non-stop about everything. Everything. I read books about suicide, grief, and heaven. I couldn’t drive faster than 55 (I drove 100 mph trying to get to Drey after I got the call that Wednesday morning. So after that driving fast sent me immediately back to those long, desperate minutes of driving to my son in hopes he was still alive). I was damn angry at a handful of people that weren’t supporting me “the right way.” I couldn’t answer the phone. I shook so badly that I couldn’t shave my legs. I had a non-stop headache for 5 months that Excedrin couldn’t touch. I didn’t care about anyone’s grief or pain except mine and Drey’s Dads. I couldn’t put up a Christmas tree. Every “first” resulted in my heart racing, shallow, fast breathing and rubbing my leg non-stop (weird right?). The first dentist appt, the first time I heard a certain song, the first time driving past the high school. Every first. I thought I was going to die. It was the heaviest, darkest pain I had ever felt.

But somehow I’ve lived just over 18 months without Drey. Wow. “Without Drey.” That’s hard to type too.

I’ve gained back 10 of the 22 pounds lost. I sleep now – not like I did before Drey died but it’s definitely better than the first several months. I can drive 75 mph without melting down. My headaches are less frequent. I don’t depend on God for every single step and breath 😦 I read books about suicide, grief, heaven and recently squeezed in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I still get angry with people sometimes… But I’ve learned to forbear more. I cry off and on. I ache but it’s more tolerable… Sometimes it’s more of a flat, blah, numbness that dominates – not the heavy, dark pain. I talk about Drey often. Sometimes I answer the phone. The Ladies Bic is back in use. I genuinely care how other people are coping. I still didn’t put up a Christmas tree… Maybe 2014? We’ll see.

So the grief remains – it’s shape, size, weight and density has just evolved. Am I “grieving right?” Is my timetable in line with what it “should” be? I had to let go of trying to answer those questions. I had to let go of others expectations of my grief. Most importantly I’m learning to let go of my own expectations of my grief. “Surely 6 months from now I should be able to…” type of thinking has set me up for disappointment in myself again and again. God help me to let that shit go!

Matthew 5:4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Do you know the pain you’ve caused? DO YOU?!

A parent feels responsible for their child. And to some extent for their child’s choices. That’s normal.

A parent who loses their child to suicide has an especially heavy burden. It can eat them up – literally destroy them from the inside out.

For several months this burden took a subtle, general role in my grief, in my thoughts. “Why didn’t I drive to his Dad’s that morning?” “Why didn’t I see his anger was a sign of depression?” “Why didn’t I talk to him more about Alex’s death?”

As time has passed the sharper thought is “I caused this because I moved from Worthington and because I quit my high-paying job.” As I was trying to follow what I thought was God’s will for my life I put a spiritual target on the whole family. It’s my fault you’re gone.

I read the last four months of your tweets yesterday. I haven’t decided if that was a smart move or not. “My parents are telling me I have to learn to be financially responsible but you quit your job because “god told you to” fuck you.” Wow. Really Drey? My worries that my decisions had impacted you negatively – at least in your mind – were now confirmed.

So did you see me sobbing after reading that, son? Did you?
Did you hear me call your Dad asking him if I had been a good Mom?
How about when I asked him if he thought you knew how much I loved you? Did you hear me ask that question?
Did you hear your Dad choke back tears?
Did you hear the song lyrics he shared with me?
Did you hear the other things your Dad said, son?
Did you?
Do you see the lives you nearly ruined?
Do you see us fighting for air? Trying not to drown in this?

DO
YOU
SEE
IT?

What an entitled, privileged, spoiled man you had become. It was probably just a phase… You would’ve matured. But you robbed us of getting to see that.

Dear God help me rest in You during this new, lovely phase of grief I seem to have entered. My son – the person I loved more than life itself – was at times a little jackass. Grace abound. Thank You God.

One year and six months

One year and six months ago you left us. It’s simply not possible for a Mom to love her boy more than I did you. I would have died for you. Some days I feel like I did.

Today has been hard. Harder than I anticipated. Today Robbie told me he feels like he lost both his stepson and his wife on 8.8.12. I told him through sobs that I hated you for doing this. I never thought in a million years that I’d have a thought like that. But I never thought in a million years you’d give me a reason. God, I miss you.

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Tell me one more time, God. Where were you? I want to believe!

This morning I was able to look at the journal I had been writing in before everything came crashing in on Aug 8, 2012. Drey was constantly on my mind. I was worried, fearful, and missing him. I hear it as I read through my words. I sounded desperate. I remember feeling desperate. I was crying out to You, God. Praying for Drey repeatedly. Where were you on August 8th, God? I don’t understand.
The week following Drey’s graduation Robbie said, “honey – you are walking around here like you just came from his funeral rather than his graduation.” I’ll never ever forget those words. Just 10 weeks later Drey would be gone.
Robbie was right. I was adjusting horribly to not living with my son and to him transitioning into adulthood. I was trying to let go of my idol – my everything. That’s what Drey had become over the years.

Here is some of my journaling in the 11 weeks prior to the tragedy…

Whatever Drey does may he work at it with all his heart as working for You, Lord, and not for the approval or attention of his parents or friends.

May 20, 2012: Drey graduates in a week, God. Please guide his decisions. Please convict him of his need to pursue You and Your input. Save him from foolish decisions and give me peace that You love him far more than I do. You promise You’ll never leave him or forsake him.
Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have for He has said I will never leave you or forsake you.”

May 22, 2012: Dear Lord thank you for the unexpected visit from my boy. I love him so much! You know I don’t want him to be put in harms way so his desire to pursue the military worries me. I want Your will for him, Lord. You know how much I love him, God.

May 27, 2012: God I pray for Drey’s heart – that it would stay soft towards You. I pray for his eyes that he’d seek You and not worldly things. I pray for his ears – that he’d grow weary of temporary praise and would crave instead delighting in You. God I love him so much. I want him to be safe emotionally, physically and spiritually. Please help me to trust you with Drey.

May 28, 2012: Lord father please be ministering to Drey giving him wisdom beyond his years. Wisdom from You. Please bind Satan from Drey. Please show him Your love for him.

May 29, 2012: Dear God I give you Drey. I ask You to guide his decisions, to love him, to care for him. Please give him ears to hear from You. Psalm 37:23,24 “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall for the Lord holds them by the hand.” I want to trust Drey with you, Lord. I know I am so inadequate but sometimes I doubt Your goodness and I am so so sorry for that. You gave Your son for Drey, for me.

May 29 PM: I’m feeling better this evening. I saw Drey, that helped.

May 31, 2012: God, I am grateful for Drey’s new job. Thank You. Please keep pursuing him. I want him to be a man who loves You.

June 3, 2012: God thank You for helping me relax today. You know I am worried about Drey. I pray he pursues You. I pray he can stand firm against lies, against distractions. Help him to see that You are the only true answer.

June 5, 2012: Dear God I am feeling so afraid. I know my anxiety is wrong. You are perfect. You can comfort me. Nothing can happen to me, Drey, or anyone without Your awareness but somehow I fear You are unhappy with me and You’re going to allow something bad to happen because I’ve made You unhappy. I know this thinking is wrong. Help me to KNOW it’s wrong. Help me to BELIEVE it’s wrong.

June 12, 2012: Dear Lord I continue to be anxious. Always anxious. I pray. I try to take my thoughts captive. I read Your Word. But here I am again and again. Dear God please guard my mind especially with regards to worrying about Drey.

June 14, 2012: Dear Lord I find myself searching. I’m desperately searching for what You are trying to say to me. I look at little coincidences and I wonder if they are signs from You and I start to ponder their possible meaning. God when will I hear from you? You’re not a God of confusion that is keeping me guessing. You are clear, consistent. You are loving, holy, truthful and You’re merciful.

June 20, 2012: Dear Lord I’m feeling very crushed in spirit and under a huge pile of lies only I’m not sure what’s a lie or what’s the truth. I’m missing Drey, Lord. I worry about his choices. I miss him so much. I just want to stay in bed until this season is over.

July 16, 2012: Just because I haven’t journaled in a few weeks doesn’t mean you aren’t on my mind, Drey. God please protect my baby. It’s hard that I don’t see him as much. I know now that he’s an adult and I’m trying to trust You, God.

July 20, 2012 my last journal before Drey took his life: I don’t want Drey to hurt or experience pain. I want to protect him. I know that’s not always possible. You love us perfectly and we reject You all the time. Your perfect son who never rejected You died for us. You poured out Your wrath on Him. How hard that must have been. I simply can’t fathom it. God please help me to trust You with Drey and with all my circumstances. Help me to draw close to You. Please comfort me Holy Spirit. I hurt. I’m confused. I’m fearful. Please comfort me.

Scrappy and needy – all rolled up in one

Last weekend at a concert a 20ish year old dude got mouthy when Robbie asked (well – told) him basically to shut up. Robbie’s words weren’t that harsh but he was frustrated and that came through in his tone. The guy had been talking loudly, non-stop through the first 4 bands that played. We really wanted to hear the music. After Robbie spoke and the dude began to retaliate I turned around and told him the concert was important to us. That I had lost my son and the music we were there to hear meant a lot to us (yep it was a Christian music concert. The light of Christ was shining oh so brightly during this exchange!). He said that didn’t have anything to do with him – I was projecting my issues on him. Needless to say I didn’t take that comment too well. My inner sense of “that’s not fair!” was triggered and I was ready to fight. I’ve always been a bit scrappy. Apparently I think I’m tough enough to take on anyone. Thankfully the friend he was with apologized to us and they changed seats.
Big tough me that was ready to fight then spent the next 45 minutes sobbing in the middle of the concert. I was crushed. Crushed that someone didn’t care enough about my son’s death to simply be quiet during a concert. Crushed that God allowed that exchange to happen. I found myself wishing Drey’s friends were there – they would’ve kicked his ass. They would’ve shown him what it looks like to care about a Mom who lost her boy. Wait. Stop. Where did that line of thinking come from?? It caught me a bit off guard. I didn’t realize there was this thread woven into the “new, bereaved me” that wants others that loved Drey – besides my husband – to defend and protect me.
Yet another loss to grieve. The loss of Drey as an adult man that would’ve looked out for his Mom. I’m brought to my knees yet again asking God to be my protector, my defender.
I’m tired, I’m sad, I ache. This grief is still heavy. I miss you so, baby.

Be Still

Be Still

Grateful to meet Plumb

Grieving the death of my boy has been and continues to be indescribable.  And through the depths of this despair I have found God continually.  Loving me, comforting me, crying with me.  I’ve found Him through His Word, through friends, through running, through music. Plumb’s song Need You Now came out just after Drey had died. I’ve sobbed and belted out that song repeatedly. In my car, in the bathtub, everywhere. It is healing.
It’s helped me to be able to tell people how much they’ve helped me during this difficult 17 months and 13 days. In the depths of my pain I’ve also experienced a sense of gratitude that is so precious. Grateful to God for all of His provisions in the midst of this pain (I’ll save that for another blog). Grateful to my Mom and Dad for loving me, hurting with me, letting me stay with them and vacation with them. Grateful to my husband for his love and patience. Grateful to Drey’s friends who hurt and miss him and take the time to share that with me.
And last weekend I got to tell Plumb how healing her music has been for me. This picture shows her and one of her band members listening to me tell them about Drey, sharing a card with my blog on it, and showing them my tattoo of his name. Plumb was so kind to ask me questions about Drey. Thank you Plumb. For sharing your talent and the inspiration behind your lyrics. ❤
Got to tell Plumb how healing her music has been for me.

Plumb

Plumb

As time moves on its a blessing and a curse

I just went through all your FB pics again baby. I do that every so often. In part because I still haven’t looked at any of the pics or videos I have of you here at home. It’s still too much to handle.
As time keeps marching forward I’m slowly integrating this – your very short 19 years and 21 days of life and your horrible, tragic death – into my life. Others who are further along than me in their grief journey tell me that in time I will slowly absorb you into my very being. The pain, the happy memories, everything. I’ll absorb it. You’ll just be part of me. I don’t fully understand that. But I might be getting slight glimpses into it now that the acute pain doesn’t throb 24/7. Over time it’s becoming a dull, lonely ache with the sharpness only flaring up instead of being a constant. As I look at your FB pics on my iPad I zoom in and touch your face. I play out memories of your laughter, our conversations. I try to remember your smell. The acute pain feels real good sometimes. Necessary. The sobbing flows freely. I wish I could hold you.
One of my favorite memories was our last vaca – especially of riding the go karts. I remember you asking me about the cost of all the park tickets – Disney, Busch Gardens, Sea World. You chuckled and said it was amazing how much less expensive the night racing go karts was but it was your favorite night of vaca. I wish I would’ve taken a pic of you racing – but I was too busy trying to kick your ass on each course! I’m grateful for the pic Robbie took just as we were leaving though. It captured a precious memory. Your smile was genuine. It was a great evening. I love you.

One of many wonderful memories of my boy.

One of many wonderful memories of my boy.

Learning to talk to people who don’t know…

I have a job interview next week. My first in years. I’m grateful that God has me in a place to be picky with what I do next. It needs to be right for me. The culture, the role. I have far less concern about me being right for them. That feels really good! I’m blessed to be able to think out loud with my husband and a few close friends who know my performance-junkie tendencies about what it might look like to move back into the working world. I don’t want my career to be an idol. I don’t want it to be where I attempt to find my identity.
I’m giving thought to what I want to know about this organization with little worry or concern for how I’ll share about my experience. I feel confident with what I bring to the table. But but but…
There’s that question that’ll be asked. I worked full time for almost 30 years (omg – when did I get old?). But I’ve been unemployed for 9 months now. I’m not worried about how to respond to the question. I’m concerned about the “transition” questions. “My son died in August 2012. I immediately went back to work then decided in the Spring it’d be best to take some time off.” Easy enough, right? But I’ve been in this situation enough now that I know “my son died” can be a conversation stopper. The person typically searches for a “transition” question… “Oh, I’m so sorry. Do you have other kids?” “No. He was my only child.” They were hoping – without even realizing it – that the answer would be, “yes, my other children are Bob and Susie.” “Oh – how old are they…” And the conversation has been successfully and smoothly transitioned. Or another one has been… “Oh, I’m so sorry. Had he been ill?” “No. He died suddenly.” Again – a conversation stopper. I’m coming into these conversations more prepared than the other person. So I try to be ready to let them off the hook. But depending on the person that’s not always easy. It’s often downright awkward. And “awkward” is not a word I want to use when reflecting on how this interview went! So I have a plan for how to keep the interview moving forward by steering the transition direction myself. We’ll see how it goes. If it flops, it flops. That’s the freedom that comes with living through a tragedy by the grace of God. An ability to live with a humble confidence because after all, what’s the worst thing that’ll happen?