Tears in Heaven

My best friend’s mother passed away very suddenly. Growing up, she was like a second mother to me. I always called her “Ma” and she always called me a special nickname. It happened so quickly…like after years of battling one health problem and thriving, she was diagnosed with a second, unrelated disease and within 48 hours she was gone.

Almost every single loss I have suffered in my life has been unexpected and sudden. A good friend died by suicide. He jumped off a bridge in NYC. My ex boyfriend, M., of ten years had a heart attack and was found dead in his apartment. I have lost other friends to drug overdoses, which even though you know they are struggling with addiction, you still think they will ultimately survive. The only deaths I have dealt with that were not huge shocks were the loss of my grandparents, who were in their 90s…and even with them, they were in such good health for their age and died peacefully in their sleep.

It is really hard to write this without sounding and feeling so selfish, but the loss of my Ma has made me feel so scared to lose my own parents. My father’s health has been so bad for so long that it is easy to think that he will continue to beat the odds. I literally can’t even think about something happening to my mother without feeling ill. Watching my best friend go through having to tell her children that their Nanny is in heaven and plan a funeral was heartbreaking. I honestly don’t know how she got through it and is making it through each day as a functional person.

I logically know that eventually my mom and dad will no longer be here with us. And I understand that it is the circle of life and children are supposed to outlive their parents. I just honestly don’t know how I will be able to get though it. I had a complete breakdown with my panic disorder over the summer and contemplated going to a mental institution to get help and literally nothing was even wrong in my life (I mean that’s a whole other story really…) I can’t imagine how I will survive losing my mother.

I feel comforted by the fact that my Ma was such a religious and spiritual person. I really am not, but I do believe that she is in heaven, reunited with her husband, and is no longer in pain. But she was only 64…she was supposed to be here to watch her grandchildren grow up. Life just seems very unfair sometimes. My mother just turned 75 and although she is so youthful and energetic and healthy, I am so so scared of losing her.

My best friend confided in me that she feels so angry that her mom is gone. I remember after M. died, I read so much about the stages of grief and I was stuck in the anger phase for a really long time. It was like as long as I stayed mad- at his family, the circumstances, etc- I didn’t have to face the fact he was really, truly gone forever. I would never see him again. I would never talk to him again. That was it- the end of his life. At 37 years old, his story was over.

But I eventually started to work through it and I found an article about the Herschel Theory. It essentially explains grief like a big box with a “pain” button inside of it. There is a giant ball that is almost the size of the box and as it bounces around inside the box it always hits that button, and you always feel pain. As time goes on, the ball gets smaller and smaller. It can bounce off the walls of the box without always hitting the pain button, but occasionally it still hits it. That is when grief just hits you out of nowhere. That is how I feel now with M. I am not consumed by his death anymore- the ball is pretty small. But occasionally I just remember he is gone or a memory or something and I am flooded with grief. My best friend’s “grief ball” is humongous, but I hope that with time, she will be able to think of her mother and remember all the happy memories without the lightning bolt of pain from her loss or the deep, dull sadness of her mother’s absence.

And someday, I will be her in shoes and I dread that day so much. Today, my family went out to lunch- my dad, mom, sister, two nieces, and me. I can count on one hand how many times we have done that- certainly never when my dad was actively drinking. It just reminded me again why I made the decision I did to try to forgive my father and allow myself to make new memories with him and our family. I know one day when he is gone, I will be grateful to have them.

A picture is worth a thousand words

I needed to do an update on my MacBook and when I looked at the storage option, the majority of it was being taken up by my massive amount of photos. I transfer all my photos from my phone onto my computer and organize it all into folders based on the event, person, place, etc.

I realized that I really needed to go though them and purge to clear up some much needed space. One of the albums was all of the photos of when my exboyfriend was in the hospital. I documented everything- the tubes and machines, the ventilator, the collage of pictures and letters I hung up on the wall, the flowers my sister brought to cheer us all up, the mural painted above the bed…and many of his unconscious body. I know that probably violated some kind of law, but I needed proof to show him when he woke up. And I did show him. I showed him the photo from the day his parents arrived and his dad stood over his body, his head bowed in despair. I showed him the photo of the dozens of wires connected to his head to test his brain activity. I showed him the photo of our baby niece in the waiting room wearing her “world’s best uncle shirt”. I showed him all the photos and it did not have the impact I wanted. I expected him to be horrified, to cry, to remember anything from that month. But he didn’t. He said it felt like he was looking at photos of someone else.

My therapist asked me why I still kept the photos on my computer. I didn’t have a great answer except that they provided some kind of validation of what I (and be) went through. She gently pointed out that I did not need the photos for him anymore because he is gone. They are of no use to him or his family anymore. And I am sure that his parents can no more forget those memories when they close their eyes and think about them than I can. I realized those pictures aren’t serving any purpose anymore for me. They just bring back pain to look at them.

So, without over thinking it, I deleted them all. And I didn’t stop there. I went through all my pictures and erased all of our vacation photos (minus any of just him or the two of us) and all the photos of his family. I have no relationship with them at all and I know I never will again. His sister’s children are years older now and probably don’t even remember me. I hope that they remember him. I hope his mother still has photos of him in their house and they talk about him and reminisce about him the way my family does.

I don’t need the photos of that terrible time to remember it. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to. And when I think about him, I want to remember happy times, not traumatic ones. I actually went even a step further and erased photos of my father after he had a stroke and some pictures from when he was actively drinking and damaged things in our house (holes in walls, broken vases, etc).

I have albums and albums full of happy things- my beautiful nieces, my cute house, my decorated classroom, my great friends. It was time to make space on my hard drive for more positive, future memories instead of letting bad, sad ones take up so much room. Now, if only it was as easy to erase them from my own memory as it was to remove them from my computer….

Running into (and away from) your ex

I got divorced in January of 2010, walked out of the courtroom, hugged my ex husband one last time, got in my car and drove away and never saw him again. Welll, that’s not 100% true, because there was one time about seven years ago that I saw him in the food store and hid in the bread aisle until I could run out, but that had more to do with the fact that I looked like a slob and was in my pajamas, rather than not wanting to see him because by that point I could have cared less.

When M. and I broke up, I was still very emotionally invested in his health and his life, but I knew any interactions with him encouraged him and that was not fair to either of us. I did not want to give him false hope that we would get back together. Neighbors would tell me they saw his truck on our street by my house, so I knew he was around, but it seemed harmless. Strangely enough, we didn’t run into each other anywhere, even though we lived only a couple miles apart. However, I was very aware of my surroundings, sort of knowing that us running into each other was inevitable and mostly dreading it.

It finally did happen last December. I was coming out of the gym and he was going in. As with most things, it was not as bad as I thought. We chatted for a little bit. In retrospect, I am grateful for this happening because he died less than two months later. It was the last time I ever saw him.

My gym was closed for a long time because of covid, and then because of flooding from a terrible storm. It just recently reopened and I finally started going back. It was weird because I felt like I kept looking at the door, thinking he was going to walk in. I feel like that happens a lot. I see someone who looks like him from behind walking or I see the same color truck as his and I have to remind myself that he is gone. I will never have to think about running into him again. How strange life is…one of the things I used to worry about is now something I wish could happen.

My boyfriend (also an M. name so I need to find an abbreviation for him….maybe Dr?) has an ex wife with whom he coparents, so she is very involved in his life. Luckily, she and I get along well, minimal problems and she is accepting of my relationship with the kids. But it is weird to me to be with someone who has baggage who is still present. Like they text about the kids and see each other multiple times a week. I can’t imagine what that is like because I have literally ZERO interaction with an ex at all.

It is like you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I never wanted to run into M. until he passed away and now I wish I could run into him, to see him one more time. As far as my ex husband, I hope he found a new food store really far away…preferably another state! 😉

Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

RIP Tony

I babysat my little nieces the other day and I asked the four year old if she wanted to FaceTime her grandmother. She replied, “Mama’s dying”. I couldn’t help but laugh. My mother had a stomach virus, so I’m sure she FELT like she was dying, but she certainly is very alive. I had to explain “exaggeration” to my niece. We then got ready to FaceTime my mom to say hi. Before I could finish setting it up, my niece continues with this:

“My uncle is dead.” I know my sister talks about my exboyfriend/her uncle/her godfather with her a lot and has explained death in a child appropriate way to her. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, so they talk about him often.

“I know. Unc did die,” I responded, not really thinking too much about it. But then she continued, “Do you want to know how?” That stopped me in my tracks. “How?”, I asked, having no idea what her response was going to be. She confidently replied, “he drank too much alcohol.”

Now, obviously she was repeating this from my sister. My niece is four and does not even know what alcohol is. I was very shocked at her response and didn’t know what to say, but luckily the FaceTime call connected and she started talking to my mom, the conversation already forgotten (by her).

When my sister got home from work I told her about the conversation and we talked about it. First she seemed surprised too and thought maybe my niece overheard an adult conversation, but later she said that she does try to tell her the truth about questions she asks. I wasn’t mad or anything, more just surprised I guess.

My sister and I have had discussions about eventually talking to my two nieces about alcoholism and how much to actually tell them about our father. They LOVE my dad. They only know their Papa as a sober man. And I hate to admit this, but one of the driving forces in my breakup with M. before he died was not wanting my nieces growing up with an active alcoholic in their lives. I am so close with them and spend so much time with them, I just do not want them exposed to alcoholism as children. I am relieved that they do not have anyone in their lives now that drinks.

But I also know that there is a genetic element to alcoholism and it is important for them to know the dangers of addiction. I don’t think they necessarily need to know everything from our own childhood or about my dad being abusive. I feel like that would just be so damaging to them. Growing up, my paternal grandfather was one of my very favorite people. He passed away when I was 12 years old. Many years later, my mother confessed to me that my grandpa was very much like my father- that he was an alcoholic and very, very mean. Obviously he was able to control that when I was around him because I had no idea. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and angry when I found out and I think it marred his memory some. I hated thinking about him in a negative way. I am very appreciative that my sister involves me in these decisions, although I would obviously support her and I know that as their mother she has the right to make all of her own decisions when it comes to the girls.

Last night my sister called me, whispering into the phone. “Tony’s dead! What should I do? Should I go get another fish to replace him or do I just tell her?” Tony is (was?) my niece’s blue and red betta fish. She said she was going to talk to her husband when he got home and they would decide what to do. I quickly googled an article from a psychologist about what to say to children when pets that pass away and sent it to her. It said that most children can handle the loss of their pet and it is important for them to talk about it, feel sad, etc. It is a part of the circle of life.

When asked my personal opinion, I half jokingly said, “well if you can tell her the truth about her Uncle dying, I think you can do the same about her fish.” I guess it kind of bothered me more than I thought that she knew the circumstances of M’s death. But I think more than anything, I just still feel so sad. It’s still SO hard. And I am glad that they still talk about him and loved him so much. I want his memory to stay alive and for everyone to remember him. It is coming up on the one year anniversary of his death and it still feels so raw.

❤️ This post is in memory of Tony 😆 He was a really cool little fish 🐟

Mad

I’m so fucking angry all the time. This is not a comfortable emotion for me. I have always historically been a crier. No matter what the situation, my gut reaction was to get upset and cry. Not anymore. Sometimes I think I just have no more tears to cry. And when they dried up, I became filled with rage instead.

I feel so shut off from everyone right now. Part is that is self-preservation and protection. I am escaping into myself by withdrawing from people and situations and emotions. The other part is that I find myself just wanting to lash out. At times when I would normally be sympathetic or be able to show that I care, I feel myself harden, the anger percolating dangerously close to the surface.

This started- no surprise- right after M. died. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, at least to me. People tell me that “it doesn’t matter HOW he died, the end result is the same”. I am consumed by it. I still NEED to know. I drive to work drafting emails in my head to send to his mother, sometimes demanding the truth, other times begging for it. I read so much after he died about the stages of grief, desperate to understand. Denial…check. That lasted a couple of weeks. Then came anger aaaannnnd I’m still there. Stuck. I kind of feel like I moved through the other stages, but kept anger tucked in my back pocket. It is a weird comfort, years of pent up anger finally being unleashed, but it is directed all the wrong places. It is like a firecracker- scalding hot and bright red and then it explodes and just goes everywhere.

I have always avoided anger. The absolute worst feeling is knowing or thinking someone is mad at me. And I seldom get mad at anyone, even if I have just cause. It just has never been my go-to emotion. Now, I don’t know how to stop being mad. And I get angry at the dumbest things. I feel like I have been pushing people away, especially my boyfriend. And I don’t even know how to explain to them why because I don’t understand it. It seems too simple (or like a lame excuse) to say, “I’m angry because M. died”. But I’m SO ANGRY BECAUSE M. DIED.

The worst part is I feel mean. I know I’m hurting people who care about me and who genuinely want to make sure I’m okay. And I know I’m doing it in the moment and I don’t care. That is the complete opposite of who I normally am as a person. The person I am pushing away the most is my boyfriend, who is so lovely and wonderful and probably so very, very confused. I just don’t know how to articulate how I feel (which is also very unlike me). My anxiety is so bad right now I just want to be left alone and I know if I continue to act like this, I am literally going to be left and alone.

There is always something to be thankful for

Dear M,

Happy Thanksgiving in heaven, love. I have been thinking about you SO much lately- more than usual. As you know, before you moved in with me, this time of year was always difficult. I had so many bad things happen in November- filing for divorce, my grandparents passing away, my dad having a stroke, my sister getting sick- I dreaded the month and Thanksgiving went from being one of my favorite holidays to just another day. Then, it became “our” holiday. Do you remember the first time we made a turkey? I can’t think about it without laughing. We must have watched 15 youtube videos and called my mom ten times! The best part was when I made the herb butter mix and you figured out how to get it under the skin. I was crying from laughing so hard. By the second year, we had a lot more confidence, but it was still a lot of work. After that, we were pros! And then, of course, there was the annual (and very epic) turkey leg photo. How that became a tradition, I have no idea, but those pictures are some of my favorite of you.

I know I am feeling nostalgic and not remembering everything. We definitely had some pretty bad arguments, my family always added a layer of stress, and I always worried if you were drinking before and during them being here. But I think for today, I just want to remember the good memories of all of our Thanksgivings together. It is still hard to believe that you are no longer here. After you got sick and we broke up, I made my sister start hosting Thanksgiving at her house. It was just too hard to do it without you and I was too sad. But there is a world of difference between us not being together and knowing you are with your family and I am with mine and you being gone.

It breaks my heart to know that you will never have another Thanksgiving. That there will never be another turkey leg photo to add to the collection. We aren’t having a traditional dinner this year, my sister wanted to do just appetizers and desserts (which would have been right up your alley) and I am secretly glad. I feel like I would have seen a turkey leg and cried. It is pretty weird and funny that something like a turkey leg can make me think of you.

I have so much to be thankful for this year (M, you should see our niece- she is amazing and you would love the baby!) Rather than being sad today, I am going to try to smile and think about you and the happy moments we shared together on this day.

Rainbow bridge

My sister’s cat passed away early this morning. It is just so sad and so awful to lose a pet. I have never experienced this myself (I have been a part of putting family pets to sleep, but not my own). I have two cats and they are the loves of my life.

My female cat is 15 and is equal parts beautiful and mean. She has never really ever warmed up to anyone else besides me. She is a “one person” cat. I got her shortly after I got married. I was having a hard time with anxiety- it was the beginning of my issues with panic attacks and agoraphobia. I would beg my husband daily to get a cat. He was firm in never wanting a pet (this should have been a red flag). He never had one growing up, but I always had animals in my family. Finally, after going to Vegas on a trip that I was nervous to be left alone during, my husband left me a card saying to get a cat while he was away. I was at the animal shelter within an hour. She picked me, as it often happens. I got rid of the husband after about five years, but the cat is still my baby. Even if she bites me every time I cut her nails.

My boy cat is the sweetest, funniest cat ever. He is so playful and personable. He is basically a dog trapped in a cat’s body. He is able to make people who claim to not like cats convert. I got him after I got divorced. I kept the house and was all alone with just my first cat. I went to a pet store to get her food and there was a sign “spend $25 and get a free cat”. I am against “shopping” for pets, but the manager told me that it was a stray kitten someone found behind the store. It was love at first sight. I spent the $25, collected my free cat and then proceeded to spend close to $1,000 on all his various health issues (still the best money I’ve ever spent!!)

I dread so much the day I have to say goodbye to them. I try not to even think about it. But my sister losing her sweet girl cat was a harsh reminder that we unfortunately usually outlive our fur babies. Needless to say, they are getting so many extra cuddles and treats today.

Life and Death

Dear M,

I don’t know what to do, so I am writing you. I sent your father an email for Father’s Day telling him how much you looked up to him and how much it made you happy when you made him proud. Your mother wrote me back a week later basically telling me in a “nice-ish” way (for her, at least) to not contact your father again because it is too hard for him and she also told me that your official cause of death was concluded to be a “heart attack caused by hypertension brought on by alcohol abuse” and she hopes that brings me some closure. Something still felt off with that, but I knew it was very plausible, especially with your history of high blood pressure.

Last weekend, my sister and I were at a store and ran into your uncle. As you know, he is just an open (very talkative) book and he told us that you died from an overdose of pills. When I managed to ask if it was on purpose, he said, “oh yeah, there was a note and everything….” I swear, it was the closest I ever came to passing out. I could not get out of that store fast enough. My sister was so upset, too.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

My head has been spinning ever since. Without question, the most difficult aspect of your death is not knowing the details. Since day one, all I have wondered is when you died, how you died, how long you were alone, did you know what was happening, did you suffer? Those questions have plagued me. Not knowing how you died has made it very hard to move on or to properly grieve you. There is just no closure, especially without a service or obituary or anything to memorialize you.

But this? This is a whole new thing. You dying of a heart attack (or any other medical reason from years of alcohol abuse) is VERY different than you choosing to take your own life. And that means it is possible your mother has been lying to me for five months. I know you are rolling your eyes and thinking about how much she sucks, but can she really be THAT awful? I need to know the truth.

And a note? A NOTE??????? I feel like if I am in that note, I have a right to know that. I know that we were not together, but I took care of you for the almost decade we were together and then some. Even after I ended our romantic relationship, I was still the one who was taking you to the doctor and helping you when your family was in another state. I know, without a glimmer of doubt, that I was the closest person to you EVER in your life and yet I am the one who is being kept in the dark about your death.

Everyone keeps telling me that HOW you died does not change anything…that you are still gone. I understand that, I truly do. But, things have changed in my mind and I cannot just accept not knowing the truth. I just don’t know how to get it.

Gone, but never forgotten

Dear M,

One of the things I have had a lot of difficulty with since you passed away is the fact you did not have an obituary. At the time, I think your parents were so overcome by grief and the logistics of dealing with your apartment that they just were not even able to think about that. I know you said you did not want a service, which I reiterated to your mother, but I never imagined that you would not have an obituary. I kept waiting and checking online to see if one was posted. It feels so unfair. You had so many accomplishments, so many people who cared about you and it feels like your family just wanted to keep your death so private…almost like they were ashamed of you. I have never been ashamed of you, my love. Meg passed away a couple of weeks ago. She suffered much the same way you did and her family wrote and printed an obituary. She deserved that. You deserved that.

Many people, including my sister and my therapist, have recommended that I write one for you. Not to publish or for anyone else to read, but just for myself…and for you. I have put it off because I thought it would be too hard, too sad, but in a weird way it wasn’t. I kind of enjoyed writing it because I am proud of how much you accomplished and it reminded me of so many of your wonderful qualities. Just because someone struggled with addiction and mental illness does not take away from all of their positive traits and doesn’t diminish their achievements. Those things ultimately did not define you. But these things did:

MCH (1983-2021)

            Son of C. and C. Brother to A. and her husband, D. “Funcle” to G. and J. Godfather to M.E.J. M. is survived by many cousins, friends, coworkers, and the A. family.

            Growing up in BT, M. attended MLHS and the U.D., receiving a B.A. in Sociology. He later attended W.U., receiving an MBA. After successfully becoming a PMP, M. landed his dream job with MLB., where he was able to travel to Europe several times.

            An avid Yankees fan, M. attended games regularly. He loved bowling (and once scored a 298!), scuba diving with his father, and listening to music.  M. could often be found sitting on his deck, smoking a cigar, and streaming a baseball game, while simultaneously blasting songs by The Rolling Stones or Biggie Smalls.  M. was famous for his extensive shoe, sneaker, and watch collections and loved showing them off with pictures on Instagram (#sofreshandsoclean).

            M. is predeceased by his grandparents and his beloved black Labrador retriever, J.  No doubt she was waiting to greet him, and they are now reunited, playing ball for hours, taking long hikes, going for rides in his truck, and swimming in a beautiful lake. M. loved dogs “more than most people” and volunteered with the SPCA. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in his name to that organization.

♥️