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child loss forever changed

FOREVER CHANGED

Submitted by Jenny Robbins

*You can more of Jenny’s blog at www.heworeflannel.com

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t), or ventured onto a grief group page (like this one), then you’ve probably heard the adage that after experiencing profound loss you are forever changed.

My nineteen-year-old son, Kade, accidentally drowned on June 29th, 2012, three and a half years from my writing this. I haven’t questioned or reflected much on being forever changed because I’ve found it to be so true.

There are some changes in my life right now. That’s probably why the other day when I was taking this grief thing out, and examining it from all angles, I thought about change: The change of the new year, the changes in my life, and how I’m a different person now than before Kade died. I know it in my heart. I see it in the mirror. I live with it every day. But how would I describe being forever changed?

Early grief is a different animal. It’s a level of change unto itself. I had no idea. [click to tweet].

Thankfully I don’t feel all those feelings as acutely as I did then, let’s say, the first year. The rawness and sharpness of the pain have gotten a bit…softer. So as I talk about each way I’ve changed, I’ll compare that nearly indescribable time of early grief with now, over three years out.

 He lives on through me  

Early grief

I couldn’t get in enough memorial gatherings. I couldn’t order enough star-shaped (one of my symbols for Kade) products to wear, hang in my home, and give away. It was a drive within me, to makes sure others didn’t forget him. That his life mattered; that everyone understood that his being in the world made it better. To continue his legacy when he couldn’t. His legacy of his adventurous spirit, love of animals, and being there for his friends. Of having fun, living out loud, and smiling big.

Now

I still think of Kade so incredibly much. Each day. He is still very much a part of me; a constant companion. But my compulsion to memorialize him has mellowed…a little. I feel as though I’ve arrived at more of an equilibrium. I’m satisfied with the annual rituals that have sustained: whitewater rafting on the anniversary of the day he died and volunteering, pizza party, and sky lantern release on his birthday. I still leap at chances to get his name out in the world as opportunities arise, but don’t feel that sense of urgency to create them. I rest a little easier in the knowledge that he won’t be forgotten any time soon.

 I live in my own head 

Early grief

Every thought of Kade was linked to anguish and longing. Most often when I thought of my son there were tears, not laughter.

Now

I can’t say that the amount I think of him has changed. I can say that the intensity of feelings has. My thoughts of Kade are not always linked to the anguish and longing of early grief. I can even think of him and smile or laugh first.

Did I live in my own head before Kade died? Probably; that’s just introspective me. But I also think that I do so more now than before he died. My life is also experienced through the lens of, What would Kade think? He would hate it. Or love it. Or, I wish he was here to ask him. Or, Isn’t it a damn shame he isn’t here doing this?

 My innocence

Early grief

I don’t think I need to extrapolate on this too much. The worst thing I could imagine happening, happened. I lost the dearest thing to me—poof, gone. What else could erase my naiveté so swiftly? Life is precious. And fleeting. And the world as you know it can change in an instant.

Now

I don’t think my loss of innocence has altered at all from early grief. At this point in my journey I struggle with fear for my surviving son. Probably irrationally (but is it?) This struggle goes in waves. Some times are worse than others. I’m careful not to make sweeping absolute statements. So I won’t say that my innocent bliss will never be restored. But I can’t imagine it being restored…

 My energy 

Early grief

The physical exhaustion of early grief was more severe than today. I can compare it to the hormonal changes of the first trimester of pregnancy when I was just ZAPPED of energy.

Now

I still think long and hard about everything that goes in my calendar. School conferences: I can’t do Tuesday because I already nanny for two hours that day. Grocery shopping: I can’t spend hours at the store where everything’s a trigger and I forget half of what’s on my list, anyway. I’m ordering online. Meeting a friend for coffee in the morning: I can’t that morning because I have something that afternoon.

I’m much more exhausted by…life. I’m in awe of people with busy schedules. Who are engaged fervently in life. And with the fact that I used to be one of them.

This seems to be at least one change that a bar graph might show steadily increasing. Though I’m sure there could be setbacks, I feel as though I’m gaining back my energy…which I can see one day even reaching “before” levels.

 My level of, for a lack of a better word, happiness

Early grief

Probably don’t have to explain this one too much. Early grief was hell, not happy [click to tweet]. Sure, there were points of happiness and joy. After all, I had a bright and funny toddler at home. But the overlying feeling was grey and dismal.

Now

I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer. I’m just being honest. Yes, I can laugh, and like to laugh. I seek out funny movies that make me laugh, and even know when I’m due for some hearty laughter. I love being with old friends who I can let my hair down around (though we don’t get together as often as before). I like vacations (though we don’t go on as many as before). My younger son gives me immeasurable joy. But I think something I read of Billy Bob Thornton, of all people, describes it well. After his brother died, he said that while he has the capacity for joy…it is at around 50% of what it used to be. Yes! That’s it! When I think of that today, the percentage might be a little different. Some days, 75%. Other days, a meager 25%. And some experiences, nearly 100%! Nearly.

 My memory. Wait, my what?

Early grief

I felt I was in a scattered and panicked state all the time. I felt as if my brain was “slippery” and I couldn’t focus.

Now

My memory still feels compromised; but like my energy, is on a forward trajectory. I feel oh-so-grateful that I didn’t have to go back to a full-time job, and have much admiration for those who have. I still have trouble coming home with all the items on my grocery list, and following every step of a recipe. And those things are written down! Tasks that just got done without a second thought require more effort today.

 I’m a hot mess without the hot 

Early grief

Forgetaboutit. Consumed with surviving I wasn’t too concerned about my appearance. With some insane exceptions. The night Kade died; yes, the night he died, when I wasn’t sleeping and my husband and surviving child were, I painted my toenails. I knew family was coming in town and I painted my toenails. I was in shock at hearing, maybe nine hours before, that my son died. And I painted my toenails. Coral. I knew when I was doing it how crazy it seemed.

I decided to grow out my hair to donate in Kade’s name. It involved growing out all my highlights. Considering I’m more of a short hair girl and don’t really know what to do with long, Colorado-dry, ash-brown hair, it was not a pretty sight. For a couple years. My darker hair brought out the lovely dark circles under my eyes…and I was OK with that. It fit my state of mind.

The winter and spring before Kade died I trained with my neighbor for a sprint triathlon. We swam, biked, and ran nearly every day. After Kade died…Get up? Follow a regimen? Leave my couch, much less my house if I didn’t need to? Wasn’t gonna happen. Exer-what? Who cared about a healthy lifestyle for living longer? My son died. I know I put on weight from seeing my face in pictures.

Now

At about two years out I did begin to do yoga. I went to a smaller studio, that was quiet, where I knew the owner. It was a safe place for me to get out and begin to move my body after it was used to being on the couch for so long. And as so many do, I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s just right for what I can tolerate. My threshold for loud noise, bright lights, crowds, and stimulus is still not the same.

Yoga has helped with my overall strength, my pants fitting better, and my face appearing a wee bit slimmer in photos. I can see yoga being a gateway exercise for getting back into making other exercise a part of my life again. After starting yoga I even trained for a 5K…with a grief group, of course. I mean, let’s not get crazy or anything.

The just not caring is slowly changing. My hair finally grew long enough to donate and this New Year’s Eve I got a sassy new cut. But even better than that—highlights!

 My motivation  

Early grief

That was one of the hot topics with my counselor. How to get up off the couch. How to turn off the mindless trash TV. How to clean my bathroom. I seriously spent mind-numbing hours playing Candy Crush Saga and Words with Friends. Not a lot of discipline. Not a lot of motivation.

Now

I’m making strides in this department, as well. I’m following through with a few hefty things. Some better habits are taking root.

I want to write Kade’s memoir (or mine—I haven’t quite figured that out yet). I joined a writer’s group. These girls mean business and we submit and meet every week. This stay-at-home mom and part-time-nanny can’t tell you how much I enjoy being a part of The Charming Characters! The intellectual stimulation, the spark ignited to work on my memoir. Because of my writer’s group I participated in National Novel Writing Month. The goal was to write about 5 pages per day in one month to equal a completed manuscript of about 250 pages. And I came pretty darn close! If it wasn’t for an out-of-state family vacation at the end of the month, I dare say I would have. I carved out time nearly every day and now have almost 250 pages more of Kade’s and my story than I had before the exercise. I showed myself that I’m capable of flexing those hidden discipline and motivation muscles.

I am glad to say I feel more of an ability inching forward to get things done. Which will be key with the biggest change in my life…

I’m applying to grad school! I’ve begun the application process for my Master of Arts in Counseling. It’s something I’ve thought about since earning my undergraduate degree in Psychology…20 years ago. There’s nothing like a traumatic event to make you re-examine your purpose and your future (not promised). Since making the decision I am thoroughly convinced it’s the course for me. It’s such a natural progression for my interests, my personality…and my life experience. I feel that my having experienced child loss could help someone looking for a counselor that gets it. Who’s been in the trenches. I feel compelled to help others in the grips of early grief to see that this is survivable, and living a meaningful life…albeit changed…is still possible.

Guess what I’ve discovered? If how I feel at three and a half years out is so different than how I felt during early grief, then there’s a good chance that three and a half years from now I will feel very different than I do today.

I’m a different person than I was the day before my son died. Some parts of me are forever changed. And it seems that others will be forever changing.

*You can read Jenny’s blog at www.heworeflannel.com

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