My first introduction to death was at the tender age of 18. This
was before I knew the first thing about living, so I sure didn’t know how to
process the fact that people could just stop doing it. Especially important
people, like my Daddy. He was bigger than life to me, and his life seemed way
more important to me than mine. I threw myself face down on the floor and began
my first attempt to barter with God.
Apparently, God wasn’t interested in reversing the process and taking me
in Daddy’s place, because I’m still here, and writing about it after all these
God has a way of giving us just what we need to survive at the
time, and sometimes scarcely more than that. Somehow, I managed to get up off
the floor and scrape together just enough of whatever it is that it takes to
survive. I had to make a lot of hard decisions that I wasn’t ready for back
then. It was like going from zero to sixty—I grew up fast. I didn’t have much
of a choice.
The tragedies in my life have continued. I have not only buried my
father; I have also buried three sons. Two of them were infants, one was almost
17 years old. I am forever changed. Some days I find the courage to talk about
it and some days I don’t. It would be easy to wallow on the hard days, but
today I choose to honor life by talking about what grief has taught me, in the
hopes that it will help someone else when they go through the darkness.
PEOPLE ARE MORE
IMPORTANT THAN THINGS.
This seems like a no-brainer. I can’t elaborate too much on the
obvious, but if I have learned anything it’s to put the people you love and
your relationships above material possessions and the pursuit of them. The
Bible, in Mark 8:36, asks, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole
world and forfeit his soul?”
Don’t sell out your family for money or recognition. Don’t trade your time with them for anything that seems glittery and beautiful. You can’t get the moments that you lost back again. You can’t even get the moments that you spent back again, but at least you have the memories of those. Let your memories be full of laughter and joy when you can, but also go through the hard stuff with the ones you love. The darkest night spent with someone you care for is better than the brightest morning alone with your things.
2. WE ARE NOT IMMORTAL.
Surprise! Life here on this earth does not last forever. We die. Our forever is not going to be spent here in these bodies, doing this stuff. There’s really no need to save the best for last! Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Use them! Get out your best dishes, wear your best clothes. Have dessert first if you feel like it (I don’t recommend this all the time though. It’s not that great for your waistline).
3. TAKE YOUR MOMENTS WHEN YOU CAN GET THEM.
Embrace the precious times of your life. You don’t know what the
future holds! The Bible talks about this too (a very wise book), when it says
in James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such
and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ yet you do
not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Love on your family. Stare at your children. Watch them breathe. Take a moment to revel in their smiles. Say all those words you’ve been holding back. Just in case this is all you will ever have; make it the best moment it can possibly be!
4. IT’S OKAY TO LIVE AGAIN.
You are not betraying anyone by going on with your life. Continuing to breathe is not a curse, and you have no reason to feel guilty for it. God has appointed each of us a time to be born and a time to die (Yep, that’s from the Bible too). If you are reading this, it wasn’t your time to die. It’s hard and it hurts and it’s unfair and all of that. But it’s the truth. Oh, and you aren’t God. It wasn’t your choice. You can let go of that now. Keep breathing. Keep going. Keep trying. Make it a great life. Do you know what the absolute best thing is that you can do for the ones who have stopped living? For you to keep on living, and to lead a victorious life.
5. LAUGHTER REALLY IS GOOD FOR HEALING.
Don’t feel guilty for finding enjoyment in your life. Let the joy come back. It doesn’t mean there isn’t still heartbreak. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten. Joy and pain can inhabit the same house. Let them.
6. GOD KNOWS YOU’RE MAD AT HIM.
He can take it. This is His world. Nothing happens without His knowledge and permission. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Everyone dies. Also hard to get down, especially when that someone is your child or parent, spouse or sibling. Or grandparent. It doesn’t mean that you are insignificant to God that He allowed it to happen to you. It also is not a small thing that He gave His Son to die, knowing that He would ultimately beat death. I mean, that was the point. He kicked death’s ass so I could see my kids again someday. Yeah, I was mad at Him for a long time. Sometimes I still am. Then I remember that, and I get through. I know where my hope is.
7. WE AREN’T MEANT TO DO THIS ALONE.
Don’t isolate and expect to get through it all on your own. There’s no need in it. If you don’t have friends or family who will walk through your grief with you, find a recovery group. Celebrate Recovery is a great place to go. If not that one, then another. There are moments when you need to shout, cry, fall apart, and vent. You might just want to share some funny old memories. You might not know what to do with your anger and unforgiveness. That’s what these groups are for. People are better than things and substances for helping you to get through. They need you too.
8. LIFE IS A MIRACLE.
Do you know why you are still here? Neither do I. It’s a miracle. Treat each breath as the gift that it is. Embrace the fact that you are alive and go dance in the rain.
9. ALL WE LEAVE BEHIND IS WHAT WE GIVE TO OTHERS.
No accomplishment, no amount of money, no possession will matter after you are gone. When people think of you, let it be because they remember what an impact for good you made on their lives. Stand up for what is right. Fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Love everyone the same. Don’t discriminate because of color, social status, or wealth. Give everything you can give to other people. You can’t take one thing with you where you’re going anyway (no matter which direction that is).
10. IT’S OKAY TO CRY.
You can grieve for as long as you need to grieve. I believe that there are some losses that you will always grieve for on this earth. The loss of a child is one of those. If you need to cry, don’t let anyone tell you that you should be “over it.” Your grief is your grief. Feel it and live your life anyway.
11. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND YOUR LIFE TRYING TO MAKE THEIRS MEAN SOMETHING.
Their life was not in vain, and neither was their death. It has already taught you so much! You have precious memories to hold forever. Their lives already had meaning, and they always will. Don’t spend your whole life setting up foundations in their name, donating to causes in their name, furiously trying to immortalize them. Let them rest in peace. You don’t have to make their life mean something. The best thing that you can do to honor them is to make your own life mean something! Work on that. Take responsibility for you. Get better so you can help other people.
12. THE NEXT “YOU” WILL BE DIFFERENT.
This journey that you are walking through grief will change you.
That’s okay. You might think that you were meant to be that other person who
was never touched by loss. Things would have turned out another way. Perhaps
you can make a case for that, but I doubt it. Life, death, and God did not
steal anything from you. Remember that everyone’s time is appointed to them.
That means that you are meant to be the person touched by loss. The question is
Use the things you have learned to help other people. Sure, you are
different, but you’re not lesser than. You have a world of experience now that
was very hard-earned. Don’t let it go to waste. Use it for good. When the
opportunity comes, take it.
These are some of the surprising things that grief will teach you that you actually need to know. Somewhere down the road, you will have the chance to share them with someone else in a way that helps their heart. Doing it will help your own.
RIP Samuel Allen Dowden, born dead, July 17th, 1998
Sometimes we’d rather believe the worst possible lie than face the truth.
The thing about the world is, you can’t change it. No matter how much you want to. It doesn’t matter how much you wish it were different—or easier—or less frightening and ugly. You just can’t change it. It’s like an out of control freight train on a track that heads straight to hell.
To love, to live, to forget, to pretend, to dream, and to die—human beings have so damned much capacity, even in a world that we can’t do anything about.
Sometimes I wonder if we actually have the capacity to draw the line between what is real and what never was—to distinguish between real life and fantasy or even dreams as we hold on for dear life, speeding through space, darkness, and time.
Do we ever really know what reality we’re living, or what even constitutes reality?
What is it about the truth that makes us lie so desperately to ourselves?
What keeps us yearning and trying so hard to reach for something more than the actuality that we face?
Why do we constantly strive to get to a place—any place—that is different than the one we are currently in?
I have a lot of questions like these, and by rights, I
should have. I can’t think of too many people who should ask them more than I
should. Because I’m dead. Lifeless.
All this time—all this time! I believed that I existed! That
I woke up unprovoked one morning and found your cold and stiff body. As
horrifying as that was, I could make some sick and twisted sense from it.
The very idea that you had left me had my mind reeling in shock—oh, but hadn’t you prepped me for this very moment by asking me in advance to forgive you? “Will you forgive me, Mother?” you said. “Will you ever forgive me?” And in my innocence, I answered you with a mother’s true love and said, “You’re my child, I’ll forgive you anything!”
I, in my small mindedness, had the audacity (or you could
even say, the CAPACITY) to believe that was true! That I would forgive you for
anything! I wasn’t thinking about the comment you had made earlier in the week,
when you said that you’d often thought about sneaking into my room at night to kill
me. I knew you were just talking—of course you were! You’d never do such a
thing. But you did, didn’t you, Son?
Never would I have believed that you would follow through on your casually spoken words! No one could have ever made me believe that you would be a threat to me! I brought you into this world—I did! As your mother, I loved you so much more than anyone else (past or present) that you might purposely or accidentally encounter. I’m your Mama—you didn’t mean it! You could not have, because that would mean that you were someone that I didn’t know—had never known—and that just is not possible. You’re my baby. I love you more than my own life.
I wish that clarity could have come in some other less
unforgiving way, that on the day that I was destined to find the truth there
would be a laughing acceptance and the flippant toss of the head and “I knew it
all along,” spilling out of my mouth.
Oh, if only I wasn’t standing here invisible, looking at
you, and what you have become in this world and screaming, “NO, NO, NO, NO!!”
This is my BABY!! It cannot be the way it is and yet—my mind knows now, and I
do not have the ability to make it any other way. You have done what you threatened
to do—in fact—you reached that goal long ago. I thought I found you dead,
instead they found me.
How can the dead refuse to be dead and even insist that
there is life and recovery and all the things that most human beings strive for
after a loss so complete? How did I get to this place where I thought that the
worst that could happen had already done so? Capacity. I lost the capacity to snatch
the truth out of the swirling particles of reality and fear in front of me. When
you are dead, you cannot know the truth.
Proof of Life
What about those babies that I love so well? They scream my
name and run into my arms when they see me! They grab my leg when I try to walk
and say, “I don’t ever want to let you go!”
None of this seems odd to me. I have been there! I have! I
have lived! You did not kill me! You could not have! You are my Son! I cried
for you, for years on end—how can the dead just not stay dead and slip into the
infinity that we claimed would be consumed with our love for each other?
Even more—how can I not now find that my greatest wish has come true—that YOU are alive?? Because if I am the one who died—then YOU LIVE!! You live! My baby lives! I know this must be true in the same moment that I realize that I am not alive, and do not live, and indeed, have not for many years.
Can the dead be crazy like the living? Does the mind just
continue to fabricate an existence to protect us from the things we cannot
face? But—maybe I am wrong! I must have found some OTHER way to die—some accident
that no one saw coming and never thought to warn me about—That has to be true.
I could NOT have died BY YOUR HAND! Not the hand of my Son—the hand that was
once so tiny and fragile and the only thing of you that I could hold when you
first made your entrance into this world.
The truth is such an elusive (and in some cases, abusive)
creature. We can tell ourselves anything—we all have the capacity to believe
our own lies and act on them. Somehow though, if our foundation is steady, we
make our way back to the truth eventually. Whether we like it or not.
I did, indeed, die by your hand. I died a million times
inside, remembering what you said, and knowing you could never take it back. I
died when I found you asleep forever, lying as if you might get up any minute
and argue with me about who was going to cook supper or wash dishes.
I died as they tore your body away from your Mama’s hands
and loaded you up to take you away from me forever. I died with the flood of
memories which took me back to every single thing that I had ever done to hurt
your heart—each time I yelled at you—when I snatched your cap off your head
because it annoyed me—when I gave it back to you because it annoyed someone
You Killed Me
I died when I realized that I could never make it right. I
died when I remembered telling you that I would forgive you anything and realizing
that it was not true. I died a million times and in a million ways and it was
by your hand—because it was your hand that held the pills. Your hand that
lifted them to your mouth to swallow them. YOU killed ME in that moment, more
effectively than if you had actually snuck in my room and cut my throat.
I have so many memories of you, my son. So that one
statement that you made to me in that one moment shouldn’t weigh so heavily on
my heart—and if you were here now, laughing with me over something silly that
you said almost 13 years ago—it wouldn’t be significant at all.
Instead, you are not here, and I am alone in my room, my pen
moving across this page so fast that I can barely read the words while my mind
tries to make up ANY scenario that keeps you breathing on this earth—EVEN IF IT
MEANS THAT I AM NOT.
The Capacity to Love
Because Mikey—I love you. Whether you are dead or I am dead,
that does not change. I love you even though you killed me by killing yourself.
Even though it wasn’t an intentional act
on your part, it forever changed things. Still, it did not even remotely touch
the fact that I LOVE YOU. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will love you
forever. God gave us the capacity to do ONE thing eternally—to LOVE.
He also gave us the capacity to forgive, and I forgive you—on
most days. I forgive you for killing us both that day, and for not killing us
both that day. Regardless, I know that God has resurrected us both, but not in
the same way. You are in your place that God had ready for you, but I am here
in this one—struggling to overcome and live a life of purpose. You left this
world, Son, but not in vain. Because God always has a plan. He alone has the
capacity to turn destruction into beauty.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound–that saved a wretch like me…
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.” John Newton
“I guess I finally decided to tell my story to somebody who would write it down pretty much like I said it. Before I get too deep in it though, I better set the record straight, in case it comes out somehow and you catch on to me.
really from around here, at least not before about twenty years ago, and how I
got here was from a job I took to take care of my babies. I used to move around
a lot because that’s just what I learned to do. You chase the money when you
can’t do anything else, and you have three little kids looking at you for food
and clothes and toilet paper, and other stuff that they need and you’re the
only one they can really count on to get it for them.
It Don’t Matter How Smart You Are if You Ain’t Got a Pot to Piss In
I always tried to better myself, just about every way I could, but nothing I ever did seemed to amount to much in the end. I got myself a college degree, and I ain’t gonna lie, I don’t have to talk like this. I just do it because it’s easier to dumb myself down than to take the trouble I get into for acting like I’ve got sense sometimes. It’s different around here. It was a pretty big culture shock when I hit this part of the state, and I’m not sure why I didn’t just turn around and run. Well, that’s a lie right there. I am sure, and it’s because it don’t matter how smart you think you are if you ain’t got a pot to piss in.
So anyway, I
have a story to tell, and I ain’t gonna tell it all. I’m just going over the
part that I think might do some good to help somebody else that might get in
the same predicament that I got myself into. Maybe they can find the courage to
get out before it’s too late. I guess I waited too late, but I didn’t know it,
and I pretty much went back for seconds. That’s the part that doesn’t make sense
unless you know the whole story. I’m gonna try to tell just enough to make you
I got down here around ’98, and it wasn’t long before I met a man. To say that I was always “meeting a man” would be putting it mildly. I swear, there’s one around every corner when you decide that you can live your life without one in it, and I have come to that conclusion many times. Unfortunately, they always seem to be around the corner I’m rounding, and I run smack into them and fall head over heels in love every time.
To clarify that point, I don’t usually fall in love with the man, just in love with the idea of being in love with the man. This time was different though. I had never met anyone like Johnny before. He said I was his “meant to be” and I believed him. Of course, I did. I was a single mother with three little kids and I was looking for salvation. Not the kind that God gives you—I had that already—but something a little more down to earth and touchable. We got married pretty quick, and I thanked God for him every time I thought about it.
He Could Pick a Deer Off at Just About Any Distance
Johnny was a
strong, working man, and I thought that he was everything that I had ever
wanted. When he wasn’t working, he would grab me and the kids and we’d go
fishing, or he would hunt with his buddies. Most of the time he had a whole
pack of boys following him around, trying to learn everything he knew about
huntin’ and fishin’. Everybody said he was the best shot around, and he wasn’t
too worried about killing the deer legally, just mowing them down every chance
he got. He could pick ‘em off running through the woods at just about any distance
and he’d do it driving down the road or walking—didn’t matter to him.
It wasn’t that bad of a deal. He made you think that it was the law that was wrong, not him. He didn’t do it for selfish reasons like filling our freezer, don’t think that. Maybe it was just for the joy of killing or maybe for the joy of giving the meat to people who needed it, I ain’t quite sure. We never really had any extra fish or deer meat because he gave every bit of it away so he could go again. That’s just the man he was, and everybody loved him. Mostly me. I don’t think I could’ve loved him more if I tried. And he loved me too. He said all he needed in life was ‘you, the kids, a smoke, and a Coke.’ That’s a pretty simple life right there. It would have been enough for us.
Johnny didn’t believe in drugs or drinking. Well, he would drink, but only once a year. He’d go to the bar and get drunk on New Year’s Eve, and I would drive him home. He would do ridiculously funny things like put his toe prints on the windshield in the morning dew as the car warmed up and say, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t,’ or sing the National Anthem in Donald Duck’s voice, or something equally crazy but normal for Johnny. Then, the next day he would get up like always and go build a fence, or help somebody wrap their pipes, or fish, hunt, or something. He never just laid up with a hangover. That just wasn’t the kind of man he was.
Then Johnny Got Hurt
He was on the
job and working just like he always did. He worked hard enough for two men, and
one time he actually did do the job of two men. Bob was an old guy who needed to retire but
couldn’t afford to, and he couldn’t breathe very well, so my Johnny would finish
his work and then do Bob’s work too. It wouldn’t have been that unusual except
that my husband was the foreman of the job. He could have sent Bob home at any
time, or even had someone else do the extra work. That just wasn’t him though. He
was always doing for other people.
sure Bob was retired or dead by the time all this took place. If I remember the
story right, a machine should have been doing the job that the hands were
doing, but the bosses couldn’t wait, and they were told to go ahead and do it themselves.
Somehow, they were supposed to pick up sledgehammers and knock some pieces in
the track—I guess I forgot to mention that he worked for the railroad.
Johnny had always told me, ‘If you get hurt on the railroad, you just as well better pretend you didn’t, because they’ll fire you so they don’t have to pay you.’ The railroad was always bearing the brunt of lawsuits filed from people getting run over by trains and maintenance of way hands who weren’t looking when they stepped off backwards onto the tracks and a train was coming, and other reasons like that. Instead of waiting around for you to decide to milk the situation for all you could get, they would just go ahead and fire you on the spot. You were gonna sue them anyway, so it didn’t really matter. At least that’s what I understood their position to be.
It was for
that reason that he waited a day before he told them that he was hurt. Well,
just like he always said, they fired him. He had worked there for 12 years, and
they just up and fired him like he didn’t even matter. Didn’t even give him a
chance to get better, not that he could have. They said that it was because he
didn’t tell them right away that he was hurt.
We knew they’d
have fired him either way. Turns out “hurt” didn’t really cover it. Johnny
broke his back. In the process of many X-Rays and MRI’s, we found out that the
reason his back ended up broke and nobody else got hurt is because he had degenerative
back disease. He was out of the game for good. Not just that game, but also the
hunting and fishing one. Truth be told, he was out of the game of life for good
too. We just didn’t know it for another ten years.
The Switch Got Flipped
When a man has everything that he loves taken away from him, or at least everything that he feels like makes him a man, it changes something inside of him. He lost his identity somehow–all the things that made him who he was to himself. That little switch that was flipped might have a lot to do with why everything else happened the way that it did. But whatever way you look at it, it wasn’t Johnny’s fault.
lawyers got involved, like they’ll do. The railroad’s doctors and Johnny’s
doctors. The railroad’s lawyers and Johnny’s lawyers. They all had different
opinions on whose fault the accident was, and what should be done about it. During
all of this, I kept on working and taking care of my babies. Johnny got money advances
from the lawyers and pain pills from the doctors. I tried my best to hold our
lives together. I wasn’t doing a very good job.
addicted. Like I said, it wasn’t his fault. When they send you to pain management,
they don’t try to “manage” your pain. They give you a huge bottle of opiates,
synthetic ones mostly, and a date to come back. After a while the vultures
start circling the parking lot. As soon as Johnny would come out of his pain
management appointment, someone would meet him in the parking lot to buy some
of his pills. Then he’d be short what he needed, and he’d do the same to
someone else. I guess he was dealing drugs, if you want to look at it like
that. I felt like I just turned my head and let it happen. I tried to stop it,
but what could I do? I couldn’t put my own husband in jail, and he never seemed
to hear anything I said to him anymore. It became a vicious cycle that there
was seemingly no escape from.
Pain Meds–the Beginning of the End
was. Somebody told Johnny of an easier way to manage his pain, or his
addiction, or something. I guess that was the beginning of the end. Pretty soon
he was taking pain pills, drinking, smoking marijuana, and doing meth. I knew
about all of it but the meth. You couldn’t have convinced me of that to save my
life. Or anybody else’s. Also, no one tried. I never had any idea that my
husband was addicted to meth. It never crossed my mind. I still don’t know if
he smoked it, ate it, shot it, drank it, or what. I never saw him do it one
time and wouldn’t even know it if it jumped up and bit me in the butt.
I could tell
you about the part where my youngest son got ahold of some morphine that had to
have come from Johnny, either directly or indirectly, if I had the guts to do
it right now. It’s a whole other story for a whole other day. I will give you
the short version. He didn’t make it, and I lost my mind. I have to live my
entire life without him now, knowing that I didn’t save him from a ship that I
didn’t know was sinking. Because I was just working and paying bills and taking
care of my kids I thought. I was just surviving and hanging in there and waiting
for a better day. And a better day was not coming. And it is never coming now.
Did I blame
Johnny for my baby dying? Of course, I did. He was only 16 years old. And
Johnny had been the love of my life, and I couldn’t make it work in my head. I
could say a million things to him and about him, but I couldn’t make any of it
work. I didn’t know that Johnny was already dead himself. Or if he wasn’t, that
was the last thing that he needed to send him over the edge. When the boy died,
Johnny died too. He just didn’t know it. Hell, none of us knew it.
Johnny Wasn’t Johnny Anymore
I bet a lot
of people don’t even believe that you can’t tell when someone who is addicted
to meth checks out on you, and someone else takes their place. Johnny wasn’t Johnny
anymore. He was already dead and gone. Pretty much a zombie to tell the truth. He
didn’t get buried for another ten years, but he never showed up again. There was
an imposter inhabiting his body after that. He fooled a lot of people. I can’t
believe that one of them was me.
get through the death. I guess I should say that I couldn’t get through it. Truth
be told, Johnny wasn’t really feeling anything. That body learned to fake everything
that Johnny used to be. It would laugh, or cry, be happy or sad—pretty much
anything you would expect from a real person, but it wasn’t one. I know that
now, but I sure didn’t know it then.
We split up—divorced—went
our separate ways. I struggled to get over the loss and the betrayal. I didn’t
want to live most of the time. But I had the other two kids, and they were young
adults by then, and putting pressure on me to live my life again. They didn’t
know Johnny was dead already, what with him walking around and all. They
harbored hopes that we would get back together and that things would be the way
they were before. Everybody loved Johnny.
You Can’t Give Me Back My Son
I moved on with life and relationships and reasoned out my forgiveness of Johnny. I didn’t know the truth of how it had all happened. I didn’t know really if he had been responsible. Perhaps I had misjudged him. Perhaps it wasn’t his fault. To this day, I still don’t know the truth. The source of the morphine is still a mystery to me, one that I will never solve. I don’t need to solve it anymore though. I have released that need to God. “Why” is not a question that I need an answer to, and neither is “how.” It doesn’t even matter. My child is dead, and no amount of forgiveness or unforgiveness can bring him back.
After a few
years of separation, my heart softened toward Johnny again. I remembered how I
had loved him, and how my kids still did. He told me about the meth, that he
had been addicted. I was shocked—it was unbelievable to me that he could be
doing all that right in front of me and I wasn’t even smart enough to know it.
See, I told you that my college degree was pretty much useless. Well, if that’s
not what I said, I meant to. I was blind where he was concerned.
MaybeI Saw What I Wanted to See
I believed him when he said that all the drug use was over. He told me, ‘I can’t imagine how bad I made you feel,’ and I just knew he had changed. Johnny cared about my feelings—he wanted me back! I moved back in with him, once I shook off the guilt. It took a while to get past the idea that I was somehow betraying my son by going back. I still don’t know if I did or if I didn’t. The truth is in the ground with Johnny, and it’s best that it stays there. I’m finally getting better myself. It has been almost 13 years.
about what it took for me to leave the second time. There wasn’t much doubt
after I had been there a little while that something was still very wrong. Johnny
would sleep for days at a time and then he would stay up for days at a time. He
would take things apart that he couldn’t hope to put back together because there
were so many pieces. Trash would pile up around him as he sat in his chair. He
stopped taking baths, and brushing his teeth.
I tried to
save him. Even after everything. In a way, I think that’s why I was there. Maybe
I knew all along that he wasn’t better. Maybe I knew that he was still on
drugs, even though I didn’t know it was meth. I think I must have had some kind
of inflated opinion of myself, or of what love can do.
Love is Not Always Enough
I’m here to
tell you that it isn’t enough, no matter what you think. Love can’t beat
addiction. Love can’t go down into hell and pull somebody out who doesn’t want
to come. You think you can be a savior to someone you love who is an addict, but
you can’t. You aren’t enough and you never will be. If they don’t want to be
saved, nobody can save them, and God won’t do it either. He already sent His only
Son to do the job. If Jesus ain’t enough, you sure aren’t. The only thing that
happens when you go down to hell to get somebody out who doesn’t want to come is
that you stand the chance of dying there too. I’m sorry to have to be the one
to tell you.
cleaned up his house and made it beautiful, because I thought that stuff like
that mattered. I told him when to bathe and brush his teeth. I became his wife
again. I took care of his bills, and other things that needed tending too, and
I was glad to do it. I don’t regret going back out there, even though it turned
out badly. I needed to do it. I needed to know that Johnny was gone, so I could
let his memory rest in peace in my own heart. Everyone said how glad they were that I was back.
Everyone was glad but me.
hard with my own feelings. My anxiety was out of control, and I had PTSD from
finding my baby dead. I had taken to cutting myself to get some kind of relief
from the hurts inside of me. I was angry and hurt and drinking all the time to
try to make myself feel better. I’m just telling you all of this so you know
that I’m not trying to make myself out to be a saint who always had it all
together. I sure didn’t. I was barely hanging on to life, and I don’t think I
was sane all the time. Still, you do the best you can do with the hand that you’re
dealt. If I could have thrown those cards back in God’s face, you can believe
me when I tell you that I would have. That ain’t the way things go sometimes
though. Sometimes you gotta stand up, whether you want to or not, and when you’re
the least able. And you do it for the same reason that you try to go down into
hell and rescue someone.
But Sometimes It Is
one motivation that’s powerful enough to make you forget your own pain and
heartbreak to the point where you will do as much as you can to spare somebody
else from the same. That motivation is love. Don’t forget that. There might be
a day when you need to call it to mind.
never laid a hand on me before—hardly ever even got angry with me. Now the guy
who pretended to be Johnny was violent and angry. He was paranoid and
suspicious and controlling. I didn’t know that Johnny, but I couldn’t allow him
to control me. He shoved me, threatened me, and pushed me out the door. He told
me to leave, but when I would try to go, he would beg me to stay. I cried every
day, but I stayed.
I would think
about how good he could shoot. There was never a deer that I could remember seeing
that Johnny didn’t gun down as it ran through the woods, and it didn’t matter
how far away the deer was. He didn’t need to look in his scope to shoot it
either. He would just look down the length of the side of it and use that as a
guide as he lined the gun up in motion. It was an amazing thing to see—not so
amazing to imagine yourself on the other end of it if he went crazy and you
tried to run.
I guess the
catalyst for leaving came when my little grandbaby came over to see me, and he
scared her by yelling. I thought about how much I used to love him. And I
thought about what it had cost me. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what the
truth is when it comes down to it. It only matters what happens. And what happened
is, I lost my son. I wasn’t going to lose anybody else. I wasn’t going to let
my daughter lose her little girl. I was going to protect my family with my life—the
way I would have done back then if I had known I needed to. So, I thought about
how much I used to love Johnny. And then I thought about how much I loved my
precious grandbaby. There was no comparison. There wasn’t even a choice to be
Whose Fault is it, Really?
There’s a lot more to the story, and maybe one day I will let somebody write that part down too. But for now, I told what I needed to tell. There ain’t nothing good that’s ever gonna come from meth. The doctors that hand out those prescriptions for bottles of pills are finally getting regulated, but it’s not enough. I can look at some of my own relatives and know that they aren’t doing enough to staunch the flow yet. The blood of addiction is directly on their hands, theirs and the big pharmaceutical companies that make a profit off the misery they deal to hundreds of thousands of victims who just want some relief from the pain.
It didn’t have to end the way it did. Johnny didn’t have to die of a meth overdose. He didn’t have to die an addict. He wasn’t that guy. He didn’t believe in taking drugs and he only drank once a year. He was a hard-working and hard-playing man who loved to hunt and fish, and he loved me and the kids, a smoke and a Coke. And by God, we loved him too. And now you know the price we paid for it, and the one we didn’t.”
There was no way that I could miss that something was really wrong with this girl. She was upset, not thinking straight, unable to make a decision. It was time for her to answer basic questions about her life, and she was having problems. That’s when she called you.
I heard your voice on the other end of the phone. I don’t
know why she put you on speaker, but I think it’s because she was afraid to go
through the moment alone. A child should never be afraid to call his or her
Mama. There’s something wrong with a world where that is a reality, no matter
what the cause of it.
Addiction Causes Heartache in Families
I don’t have any idea what she has and is still putting you
through. I’m pretty sure that’s what you would say to me if given the chance. And
of course, you are right. There’s no doubt about it—I don’t know. But here’s
what I do know for sure: She’s still your baby.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off her hand as she pressed the
buttons on her phone. She was trembling, visibly shaken at the very idea that
she would have to ask her own mother for a small favor. She didn’t want money,
or a ride, or even a place to stay for her and her children. She wasn’t trying
to use you.
The reason she was calling was to ask your permission. Not
because she had to! No one would have known the difference but her. She just
wanted to write down your address. She wanted to be able to call it her home.
What Does it Take to Answer the Call?
Before she hit the last button, she said, “If she doesn’t
answer, I understand,” and “If she says no, that’s okay.” I saw her eyes fill
with hope when you did answer. Then I saw that hope die when you wouldn’t even give
her time to ask the question. “Teresa,” you said. Actually, you didn’t call her
Teresa, you called her by her real name, but I won’t use it here for her
protection. “Teresa, I don’t have time to talk to you. I have to get in the
You had to take a bath. And because your bath was more important
than your baby, I watched your grownup baby’s heart break right in front of me.
As the light went out of her eyes, I felt the tears forming in mine. I had to
swallow the pain with her. I felt the hurt in my own heart. The very thought of
being rejected by the one person who should always stand beside you no matter
what was enough to bring me to tears. I can’t even imagine how shattered her
heart must have been.
It Doesn’t Matter if Addiction is a Disease or a Choice. Our Children Are Dying.
Even as you turned her away, she kissed her children and
told them that it would be all right. But I know that it won’t be—because she’s
lost, and addicted, but she’s still your baby.
Everything leading up to this point is none of my business. I
know it isn’t, but I got a little of the story anyway. She’s acting “crazy” and
is being sent for a psychiatric evaluation. Her friend says that drugs are how
she copes with life—that life is what’s wrong with her. From Teresa I found out
that it’s more than life. It’s also death.
I may not be able to understand how a person’s life can lead
them to this point, but death? Now THAT I can wrap my mind around. When I found
my son dead, I went crazy too. I reached for any and everything that would take
my mind off the reality that my child was gone. I could make a list of the
things I tried if I thought it would do any good. I have a feeling you don’t
want to hear any of that. Your mind is closed. Maybe you haven’t suffered a
devastating loss. I’m afraid that you are about to. I need you to wake up and
prepare for battle, if you even care. Because she’s dying, and no matter what, she’s
still your baby.
Overdose, Suicide, Disease, Isolation–Things an Addict Might Experience
I don’t even know if you can reach her now. I saw her
mentally close the curtains. She’s in a different place than we are, inside,
looking out. She slammed the door shut on her feelings. She will refuse to
trust anything or anyone. Since her own Mama won’t give her the time of day
when she is clearly desperate, she feels worthless. In self-defense she has separated
herself from the rest of the world. She’s in there by herself now—but she’s
still your baby.
According to everything I’ve read (including an article at
this site: https://www.centeronaddiction.org/prevention/addiction-women)
women get addicted faster than men and suffer more health consequences because
of addiction. I think it’s safe to say that no one benefits from addiction. I
also know that people who become addicted to methamphetamines have about a one
percent chance of getting off the drug and regaining their lives.
I don’t know where Teresa’s addiction started. I never laid
eyes on her until today. I do know that her husband died recently. Maybe she
already had a problem—maybe not. I know that she was recently released from a
psychiatric hospital where she spent three weeks. Apparently, they couldn’t
straighten out the mess in her head. I don’t think you can unravel grief and
addiction in three weeks.
It’s possible that she started using drugs as a coping
mechanism to get through the grief. Like I said earlier—a person will do just
about anything to keep from looking loss in the face. I’m sure that you have all the answers to
these questions. After all, she was born and is still your baby.
She Used to Be Your Baby….
I know I keep reminding you of the fact that Teresa is your
baby. It’s funny—when other people’s children are drug addicts, it’s easy to
say that they are lost causes. I’ve gone as far as to call them “methheads,” or
“zombies.” Assuming she’s on meth, you may not have much of a chance of helping
her anyway. It would be really tough for her to crawl out of this hole. She
sure can’t do it on her own!
Hey, you remember when she was little, and you dressed her up
in all those cute clothes and put her in bows that were as big as her head? You
got her ears pierced way too young and carried her around with you everywhere
you went. You called her a princess and bought her stupid stuff just because
she asked you for it. The Dollar General cart would be level full of crap you
knew was going to be broke by the next day, but you didn’t care because your
baby wanted it, and what your baby wanted, she was going to get.
And she could do no wrong! Or if she did, you just
overlooked it, or laughed at it because she was so darned cute. You clapped for
her first step and you praised her when you taught her how to ride a bike. You
cried when the bus rode away with her on her first day of kindergarten, and you
verbally whipped more than one teacher who gave her less than the grade you
thought she earned. You would have fallen in front of a train for her then! So,
what changed? Isn’t she still your baby?
Is Love Conditional?
When you told Teresa that you would love her forever, did
you forget to say, “Unless you become addicted to something, then you’re not my
baby anymore.” Did you really mean it when you said, “Baby girl, your Mama will
always have your back,” and “I will always be here for you.”
All of Teresa’s life, I bet you have told her that you would
stand by her, no matter what. I don’t have proof of that, but I’m thinking that
it’s a reasonable assumption, judging by the look on her face when she got the
nerve to call you. She wore that hopeful expression that was an expectation
that Mama would live up to her word. But you didn’t, did you? You fell flat on
your face, and right in front of the person you need to be standing up for.
Does addiction change who your daughter is in your eyes? Does
she suddenly belong to someone else? What if cancer were the demon she was
battling? Would you turn your back on your baby then? Would you say, “I’m tired
of you calling me every time you need something!”? If our kids can’t call us
when they need something, why are we their parents? Isn’t that what parents do?
Aren’t we supposed to answer the call, and do all we can for our babies? No
matter how old they are, or how addicted they are, if we give birth to them—they
are still our babies.
A Mama Ought Not Have to Bury Her Baby
What if it’s not too late? It might be. I don’t know. I sure saw that light die in her eyes. What I do know is that if Teresa was my child, I’d be fighting like hell for her life. I’d turn over Heaven and earth for the answers. I’d go down into the pits of hell and wrestle her away from the devil if I had to. I’m hoping for both of your sakes that you wake up to the reality of what that moment in time may have cost you and fight with everything you’ve got to right that wrong before it’s too late. The next call you get might not be from your baby. It might be about her.
And it’s true. I don’t know what you’ve gone through. I don’t know what it has cost you. Teresa is an addict. But you can’t just let her go. You can’t just let her die. She’s still your baby.
I think that the easiest day to lose hope is Monday. When
the week starts, it should be full of great possibilities, but the reality is
that Monday is the day the cold hard truth usually slaps us in the face. It’s
the day we are forced to stop pretending that everything is great. We often need
to go back to work and leave our dreams behind again. It gets hard.
It isn’t just work though. The whole world will come against
you sooner or later. Maybe it will set up a pattern all your life. Things and
people that you count on will be snatched away from you. Just when you feel the
most secure, something will happen that will set your world on tilt.
Quitting On Tuesday
Maybe it’s Tuesday that makes you want to quit on yourself
the most. The struggle to get through Monday has taken its toll, and you just
don’t have anything left. Hard things happen, and you don’t feel like you are
equipped to deal with them anymore, if you ever were.
At first, when the hard things happen, you may want to give
up on God. It’s easy to throw the blame on the Almighty. He is ultimately in
charge. But, when you think about it, you realize that God hasn’t failed you in
any way. You may begin to ask yourself if you have failed God.
Being Angry With God
It’s hard to always stay positive in a negative world. I get that. I really do. I’ve had my share (and more) of tragic circumstances. I have not handled much of it very well. I did not turn to God in my pain and loss like I should have. I turned away and blamed Him instead. At least I did for a while.
It was when I was the angriest at Him that I realized that I still believed in Him. Of course, believing isn’t enough. I also had to get to a place where I remembered that He was good and that He loved me. I had to realize that He still had a plan for my life, even though my own plans had crashed and burned. Coming to that point was the hardest after I buried my 16-year-old son. This kind of loss makes you question all that you have ever believed.
During my trek through the chaos and confusion of the worst
of my grief, I learned to see the world in a different way. What was ordinary
to me before became extreme. Casual beauty became exquisite when I realized how
temporary it all is. I learned to focus on the smiles of my children and to
take in every breath that they breathe. I learned that the imperfections that I
once saw as flaws are what makes something beautiful and unique. The world irrevocably
changed for me, but it wasn’t all good.
What Our Children Face
I looked at our world and what we have made of it. Sin and
ugliness have run rampant through our societies. The children that we bring
into the world are forced to grow up in fear of what tomorrow will bring. If
they are living unaware of the potential danger of the future, then they are
ill-equipped to face it. On the other hand, to tell them what it may be like is
a betrayal of their innocence. How do we know what to do? How do we tell them
that the walls protecting them are made of glass?
The problems we face seem to be insurmountable at times. Human
trafficking, the threat of war, and the divisiveness of our country due to
political affiliation, religion, race, and economics to name a few. We get
mixed messages from the media and don’t fully understand what the truth is and
how to teach it to our children. Like my Mama always said, “Babies don’t come
with blueprints stamped on their butts.” Do we protect them with the truth, or
protect them from the truth? I don’t know.
Who Failed Who?
All I know is that God didn’t fail us. That leaves the obvious
answer. If He didn’t fail us…. We failed Him. With that realization,
hopelessness can start to creep up on you.
Depression. Anxiety. Feelings of worthlessness and fear. The
idea that you can never get it right because you never have before. The overwhelming
sensation that you are about to drown in your sorrow, anger, and helplessness.
I’ve been there more than once. If you have ever felt like
that, you aren’t alone. Don’t give up on yourself.
A Life of Abundance
Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came so that we would have abundant
life. An abundant life is a life full of meaning and joy. That is the kind of
life that God intends for you to have. He didn’t say that you can only have
this kind of life if you deserve it and never do anything wrong. He didn’t say
that you’ve got to operate in a realm above the human realm to create and
achieve this life for yourself. He simply said that He came so that you could
Your abundance is found in God through Jesus Christ. No
matter what the world throws at you. No matter what Monday brings. It doesn’t
even matter if you need to leave your own dreams behind. Whatever heartbreak
you have faced has not changed the truth. Grief and loss can’t take away what Jesus
came to give you. Your abundant life is in Him. Not in yourself! Not in your
circumstances. Not in your loved ones, your dreams, your hopes. Abundant life
is also not lost in the outcome of a failed plan or dream. What an eye-opening
thing to finally learn!
The Freedom to Keep Trying
This doesn’t mean that you should quit trying to achieve anything on your own. It means just the opposite! Now you are free to pursue your hopes and dreams without the fear of failure because your worthiness and your abundance was never meant to be found in any of your personal accomplishments anyway. You are free to love with all your heart because death can’t steal your hope! You can dance in the rain because no storm can wash away the sacrifice already made for you.
Take your focus off yourself. That’s not what your life is
supposed to be about. All you could ever hope to be can be found in your
relationship with God. Yes, I said it. It’s not about you. You may be
dangerously close to quitting on yourself. Don’t do that. The problem is relational.
Pursue a relationship with God if you want to add meaning to your life.
Matthew 6:33 says to “Seek
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be
added to you.” If our focus is on Him, where it should be, and off ourselves,
our lives will be full, and everything will fall into place just the way it’s
supposed to. If our focus is on ourselves, we will always experience chaos and
a feeling of off-centeredness because we were created for Him and by Him, and
not to be self-serving.
I believe that this is the truth that we should teach our
children. If we want to equip them to be warriors in whatever battle comes
their way, we must first introduce them to the source of their hope and life.
We need to teach them as we learn ourselves that our identity should be first
understood as a “child of God.” Whatever is next is not only secondary, but it’s
Here’s what I believe to be the truth: the things you do for
yourself on this earth are going to die with you anyway. The only things that
you leave behind are what you do for other people.
Knowing that my abundance is in Him is just the catalyst
that I need to keep going, to keep plugging away and staying in the race even
when it feels like I’m defeated. I can never be defeated if I’m running the
right race—the one for His kingdom and in His design. It’s easy to fall back
into the temptation of seeking to define my worth by earthly standards and how
I feel, but the actual cold reality is none of that matters. The only thing
that matters is that I keep my eyes on the prize.
Not a Roll of Cookie Dough, but One of Those Tubs.
Or Eat Five Gallons of Chocolate Ice Cream with a Package of Oreos–No, Girl Scout Cookies! I want Thin Mints, and I want them fresh out of the freezer!
Are you wondering why I want a tub of cookie dough, or something else sinfully sweet? In case you are, I will tell you. Because I’m stressed out. When I’m stressed out, all I can think about is taking something sweet and bad for me and shoveling it in my face.
Food is where I go for comfort.
It sure hasn’t failed me yet! Well, it hasn’t failed me in
the moment, when the cookie dough is in my mouth and my endorphins are through
the roof. I only reach failure status when I step on the scale a month later
and I’ve gained 20 lbs. Or I would reach failure status then, if I ever really
got on the scale. See, if you don’t acknowledge it’s happening, it’s not
I’ve lived most of my life in just that way. The struggle to
maintain a weight that made me feel comfortable with my own body has been
life-altering and mind-consuming. I’m a good weight now—just ask any
specialist. My BMI is perfect I’m told. “You are a great weight right now. You
can continue to lose if you want to tweak it, but that’s just for you.” I
thought it was all just for me.
It’s not my body that’s the problem. I don’t know if you know this or not, but it rarely is. It’s the mind that has all the issues. Every single morsel I put in my mouth comes packed with a load of guilt. I’ve written about this before in another blog, https://moodyoops.com/how-you-see-yourself-determines-who-you-are/, and you may want to check that out! It’s a big deal to me.
Think about it like this. If you were an alcoholic, and you quit
drinking, you would feel better. You would find other ways to gain comfort and
peace—perhaps you would learn to pray more, read, fish, exercise, or do
something creative. You would never have to pick up the bottle again if you
chose not to, and that’s fantastic! Your addiction may be slightly easier to
understand and control when you realize that you can actually live your entire
life without one sip of alcohol.
But What If You Are a Food Addict?
You are addicted to food but you stop eating in unhealthy ways, you start exercising, and you start taking better care of your body. That’s a great victory! There’s only three problems that I can think of that might hang you up on a consistent basis: breakfast, dinner, and supper.
Yep, that’s right. You can’t go on for the rest of your life
without eating! So even though you’ve beat the unhealthy patterns, it’s harder
to let go of the guilt that you have always associated with eating. It comes
unbidden the second you start chewing and increases with each bite. By the time
you are finished with your meal, you are filled with remorse!
With guilt comes the desire to cover that guilt, and what’s
the first reaction your mind has to that desire? It wants to go back to that
old comfort that it’s so used to, and put it on again. Guilt is crying, “Cover
me,” and food is answering, “I will!”
It Becomes a Pattern.
It happens over and over. Once or twice at the ice cream trough and you’re okay, a week’s worth and it starts to show. It’s a vicious cycle of doubt, guilt, and confusion that runs through your mind like a hamster on a wheel. The more you obsess over what you eat, the more you want to eat it. The more you try to avoid something, the more drawn you are to that very thing!
Are There Any Answers?
So what are some of the things you can do to break the unhealthy cycle of food guilt? Hmmm….I go through times off and on where I think I get this right. Of course, they don’t last as long as they should, but I am going to keep going back there until “off and on” becomes a tendency, and a tendency eventually becomes a habit, and a habit finally becomes a way of life that’s not even considered thought-worthy anymore.
I never tell myself that I can’t have something. Why? Because if I tell myself “no,” I think about that food all day long every day and eat everything in sight until I finally break down and just go get what I’m obsessing over! If I want it, I eat it. However, one thing that I will do is tell myself that I can have it “tomorrow.” Sometimes when tomorrow rolls around I don’t even want that whole roll of cookie dough (or tub). Sometimes I do. Either way, I give myself permission to have it. Maybe not the whole thing, but some of it for sure!
I try to take responsibility for my own diet. I don’t mean diet as in “I’m on a diet,” I mean diet as in “the food choices that I make for myself.” No matter what plan someone else is on and thinks is better, no matter what they have had success in, no matter what food they put before me, and no matter what anything else you can think of, since I am ultimately responsible I make it my ultimate responsibility to choose what goes into my mouth and what does not. Even when a health professional pushes an app at me and says, “You need to count calories if you are going to lose weight,” and I know that I lost 65 lbs and didn’t count the first calorie, I’m going to politely say, “That’s not how I do it,” and move on with life. It’s my life, my health, and my body. I’m responsible for its upkeep. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. Counting calories will have me (a) starving, and (b) obsessing. I’m saying NO! to both of those ideas and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing for the rest of my life. Thank you very much.
I try to notice how I feel after I eat something. If it makes me feel good physically, I’m good with it. If it makes me nauseated, headachy, sluggish, or any other negative physical outcome, I will probably not want to have that food again real soon. Since I deal with food guilt, I don’t let my emotions dictate to me what I will and won’t eat. At least, I don’t when I’m working on it.
I also try to notice the taste the food leaves in my mouth. I know that sounds crazy! But to tell you the truth, that chocolate frozen pie that was so dang good when I ate it left a really bad taste in my mouth! I really didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. I was just so used to liking it that I thought I still did. So the next time I want to take a bite of it, I will remember the taste it left in my mouth. Maybe I will still take a bite of it, and maybe I won’t. It has gone both ways.
I don’t always eat every meal, or I just eat during a certain number of hours in the day. They call this intermittent fasting. I probably don’t do this the textbook way or for the textbook reason. What it does for me though, is relieve some of the guilt of overeating because if I’m skipping a meal now and then, I’m not overeating! It’s a pretty simple way to trick your mind into believing the truth.
Now I’m not offering up any of my methods as advice, because
I’m not an expert or a health professional of any kind. I’m just saying what
works for me. There are studies that say that you can’t skip meals because it
lowers your metabolism. What I have learned is that when you get over a certain
age, the rules all change. If I hadn’t skipped some meals, I wouldn’t have lost
a pound! You have to do what is right for you and your health though. It’s
always good to check with a doctor or other health professional before starting
any kind of health and wellness program!
I don’t know if anyone can relate to my food struggles, but
this is what was on my mind tonight. We all have different areas that we battle
every day—this just happens to be one of mine. Feel free to leave a comment if
you have been there, and you can also share my blog to your choice of social
media if you think it might resonate with others. You can follow the blog and
sign up with your email so that you will get a notice every time I post
Today I was reminded that I am not the only one who grieves.
I read a post on Facebook from someone I have known a very
long time who has lost three sons, just like I have—two as infants, one not. That
child got killed in a tragic train accident, and there was no way that anyone
could have stopped the train or pushed him out of the way. It was not an
accident that anyone could have predicted. Sometimes awful things happen, and
we can’t make sense of them because we live in a broken world. My friend said
that today he felt like a failure, and I tried to muster up the words that
would somehow make him see himself as I see him, while at the same time understanding
from my very soul exactly how that feels, because even though he was in no way
to blame, he is a Daddy. A Daddy always feels responsible for his child, as
does a Mama.
I say “Daddy” and “Mama” because that’s what we call our
parents here in the South, and that’s what our children call us. Anyway, we
love our babies and all their lives we believe it’s our responsibility to keep
them safe. If something happens to them, we blame ourselves. It’s what parents
do, right or wrong, and something did happen to our kids.
I call it a “Failure to Protect” as it relates to me, and of
course I don’t see it the same when I look at my friend’s situation. It doesn’t
matter if this is rational or not. When your child dies, rationality flies out
the window, and only flies back in once in a while.
I wrote out a little bit of my story one October, and here
It had rained so much that week that we were stuck at the house and I had just had surgery, so I wasn’t doing much anyway. We got tired of watching the trash float by so my husband set up a stuffed bear in the yard, and we sat on the front porch and took turns shooting his eyes out. It’s astonishing where the mind will take you when it needs some stimulation! Mikey walked back and forth, cooking steaks on the grill and shaking his head, muttering to himself about who was really crazy–us or him. He stopped a few times to take his own shot at the bear though, sometimes laughing and sometimes just handing the gun back with no expression after he made the “kill.”
Those were the best steaks that I had ever had, and ever WILL have now. Mikey had a secret ingredient that he used in everything he cooked. I was pretty startled when I found out what that secret was. It didn’t always work out for the best, but it made a steak that day that my mouth still waters for—as do my eyes.
It’s hard to believe how much detail I can remember from that week and how little I remember from the next couple of years!
We missed one Dr.’s appointment because of the rain, so we combined our appointments that day and went together. After I got out of my appointment, Mikey wanted to shop for a guitar. I didn’t have the money to buy one, but we decided to look anyway. We found a music store and right away Mikey spotted the Warlock. The cashier said that for that day only they would let us put it on layaway for $20.
I had started out with money, but we had eaten, then I had bought Mikey a couple of green drinks—something energetic I think. I had $18 and he wanted the guitar so bad that I went to my truck and scraped up all my “gummy money” and gave the sticky mess to the sales girl who was very gracious about it and laughed with me. I’m pretty sure that Mikey was both embarrassed and relieved. He was so EXCITED about that guitar that I had to choke my tears back, because he hated it when I cried.
The next day I went to get Mikey’s prescriptions filled, and this time he stayed home. He was agitated and angry and when I got home, we argued, but later he came into the house and lied down on the couch, because he just couldn’t keep his eyes open.
A lot more happened that day and that week that I have shared at times with others, but what I remember right now is the way it got cold overnight—much like the way it felt this morning when I woke up. Because it’s THAT week, and tomorrow is THAT day.
I got up that morning to get myself a blanket, and so I got Mikey one too. I had checked on him all night long, but when I threw the blanket over him, I accidentally brushed his back with my hand—and the horror that would become my life started when I realized that he was dead. I could not scream him awake, could not shake him awake, could not join him in that place to even simply ask him how he could leave ME like that.
I cried and cursed and screamed to GOD that I had PRAYED, I had STAYED, I had done EVERYTHING that I thought He was asking me to do, so then “WHY did He take my CHILD—my —BABY, one of the reasons that I existed and found the courage to let my feet hit the floor each morning??”
Sometimes there is no answer for things. I still don’t know, although God and I have made our peace and I do know that Mikey is safe in His Hands where we all long to be. But…I am only human, and at times I forget the GOODNESS of God, and only remember that He ALONE had the power to save Mikey yet chose not to do so. That’s when He reminds me that HE DID. Mikey was rescued from a world that he did not belong in, and taken to God’s Kingdom, where he never has to worry about being labeled this or that and can just be “Mikey.”
I love my son, and I miss him, and no day goes by that I don’t still say a prayer for him. So now, as always, I whisper, “God, please take care of Nic, Tiff, and Mikey and keep them safe,” and He whispers back that He is….
So that’s my struggle,
at least my biggest one. It’s the heartbreak of the thing that has led me finally
to reach out to others in their loss and desperation. To embrace the
semi-colon. To say that we will live to fight another day. To cry with those in
the depths of their own sorrow and notice those who, just like Mikey once told
me, are out there and just like him. The people on the outside–the fringes–
the remnants–the ones left behind. It might be the guy sitting on the side of
the road with a dog and a sign, the lady standing in line at Walmart with
hollow eyes, the desperate addict with nowhere to turn, or the homeless and
jobless person who everyone has given up on, but it’s always either someone
seeking something but not knowing what it is, or someone who has long since
given up the search but is still here.
I want to reach them
because I know what some people didn’t know and couldn’t know—that the train
is coming. The train is coming, and I have the responsibility to push as many
people as I can out of the way before it gets here. Wouldn’t you do that if you
could? I know someone who would have, but never got the chance. Today I am
asking God to give that Daddy and Mama comfort and the peace of knowing that
there is nothing bigger than God. Not even that train.
I forgot about the coat I used to wear. I was brushing my teeth this morning when I remembered it. I was in eighth grade, and it was too hot for a coat, but I wore it anyway because I needed protection.
I felt awkward inside. I felt embarrassed, like at any minute people (specifically, my friends) would find out something about me and start laughing at me. Like the fact that my breasts were under-developed, or maybe my clothes weren’t keeping up with the latest trends. That awkwardness I felt is the same reason that I took my hair down out of the beautiful bun that my Mama had spent time creating for me one morning, and why I didn’t give out the class presents that she and I both stayed up late at night to work on. I always felt like my contributions were somehow not “enough,” and I would be laughed at. I thought my hair made me look different–too different to be accepted. I didn’t want to be noticed–to be set apart for any reason. So I wore the coat.
I also knew that I was getting “that age.” I was actually late getting to it. Other girls would ask me all the time, “Did you start yet?” and I hadn’t, but knew I would soon, and what if there was blood on me and someone saw it?
Protection. But I forgot.
So when Mikey wore that leather jacket in the summer, it never crossed my mind. I didn’t remember that girl who was so awkward–so socially impaired and afraid that I needed something to cover me so I would feel better. I was the one person who should have understood, and I didn’t. He wore it everywhere, and it was hot, and it made me angry.
He wore a knit cap too. He needed protection even more than I did.
It was right there for me to see, and I missed it. Now that leather jacket hangs in the closet as a reminder of the protection that I did not give my son.
Social Anxiety is a very real thing. It can cause you to make choices that you ordinarily wouldn’t. The toughest person in the world might be too afraid to go into a grocery store and talk to a cashier for fear of embarrassing himself. That is a classic, identifiable symptom of the disorder. I didn’t know. I looked it up when I started to notice patterns in my own life and in my family of things that we were failing to do that most people took for granted. Some of us have pretty much beat it. Many others cannot.
I forgot about the coat, but I never forgot the fact that I didn’t take my ACT test for college (like my Mama thought I did) because I was afraid that I wouldn’t know where to sharpen my pencils. There’s a lot of shame that goes along with the crippling fear. People who don’t understand (which is most of the general population including people who are inflicted with the social anxiety themselves) hurl judgment at you, like, “Why doesn’t the boy get a job like everybody else?” and other perfectly reasonable questions that don’t have reasonable answers from someone who didn’t ask where to sharpen her pencils because of extreme anxiety.
I don’t have the answers but I know that this is a real thing, and I have watched many members of my family struggle with it through the years. The turning point for me was knowing I didn’t take that test, and I had to lie to my Mama for the first time in my life. I looked at what my future would be like if I kept on denying myself opportunities because I was afraid. I decided way back then that I was more afraid to get to the end of my life having not done all the things than to go ahead and try. I can’t say that the anxiety doesn’t still win a battle or two, but I know it will never win the war. I don’t consider this courage–just the other side of fear. They call it “doing it scared.” To me it’s like closing your eyes and backing up. Whatever happens, happens.
I can’t go back and change anything–not my past as a child nor my past with my child. I can only go forward and try to do better. I know that I will be watching more closely to see if someone is needing protection. Hopefully I will be able to share my story with them and maybe give them some hope that it doesn’t always have to be that way.
I’m better now. I put up a tree every year. This year, I sang some Christmas songs without crying. I want to feel Christmas in my heart again. It’s still hard, and I know it always will be.
People who haven’t buried a child don’t understand, and I’m hoping you never will. Mikey loved Christmas. I loved Mikey. It’s really that simple. You can’t replace a lost child with other children, grandchildren, alcohol, drugs, work, distraction, church, ministry, or anything. It is okay to feel how you feel.
If you have lost a child, don’t be ashamed if you need to take time to grieve—again. It doesn’t matter how long it has been, or whether your child was born when they died, not born yet, a child, teenager, or grown! That’s your baby. Your flesh and blood—the child of your heart. Take your moments, and take your moments with you. Sorrow and joy can live in the same heart. God made us human, yet in His image, which means our hearts have the capacity to carry both sorrow and joy and to do this with LOVE. Instead of letting your pain cripple you, let it strengthen your resolve to forgive greater hurts, show more grace, walk the extra few miles, and speak to others the truth in love.
We are equipped because God has equipped us. We are victorious because He teaches us how to fight. We are safe because we are engraved on the palms of His Hands…one nail at a time. God bless you, and Merry Christmas! Isaiah 49:16 forever.