Signs of You

Last night I laid in bed and my stomach itched. I went to scratch it and for the first time since you died I touched the stretch mark I got when I was pregnant with you. With each one of your brothers and your sister it got bigger but it started when I was about eight months pregnant with you. I looked in the mirror at my 16 year old body and saw it. I was mortified. A STRETCHMARK!

I remember the feel of your knobby baby knees scraping against the inside of my body. I would watch you flip around in there for hours. I had never felt less alone in my entire life. I would talk to you and tell you about my day even though you were with me the whole time so you already knew what had happened. I could also tell when the body part that was making an appearance was your tiny butt because it had a certain look to it that was different than your knees. It would make me laugh. I was st my absolute happiest when I was pregnant with you. You saved my life. I told you that a million times while you were alive and I never really could tell you why I felt that way because the words would escape me. But you made me a mom and you also became my side kick. I had been so alone before you came along.

I sit here thinking about your entire life. I do not just mourn the man you were the day you died, I mourn the baby in my womb. I mourn the newborn who was so tiny I could lay you in the space made when I sat indian style. I mourn the six month old who I would put in a car seat and take driving around to show everyone how cute my baby was. I mourn the adventurous you, the you that hated my boyfriend and threw away my cell phone. The you that shaved off your eyebrows and got your brother to do it too. I mourn the you that was strong and encouraging. Maybe I depended on that you too much and that’s what made you sick.

I mostly mourn the you that lit up when you looked at your children. The dad you was by far the best version of you.

I love you so much Anthony. I will miss you forever.

Love,

Mom

Advertisements

Rebuilding

Suicide destroys your life. It robs the person who died of their future and it robs their loved ones of everything else. I can’t think of Anthony (my 22 year old son who took his own life over two years ago) without it taking my breath away. He was such an amazing human being. I’m not just saying that because I made him from scratch. I don’t think I have ever had anyone say anything to me about Anthony other than how awesome he is in his entire life. Or death.

I was prepared on how to plan a funeral thanks to my Tio and Tia dying 10 months apart before Anthony died. Plus, I’m Hispanic. We start learning how to plan funerals as toddlers. Death is not foreign to us. We are expected to go to funerals as children and learn how to fall in line to pay respects to the grieving family. We have rules. Who sits where and what time you are supposed to be at the funeral home. If you are a child of the dead person then you get there as soon as the funeral home opens the doors. Then from there are the siblings and nieces. My Tio’s obituary caused a huge scandal for mentioning me in it because I was one of a million nieces and my whole name was listed with his children. My entire family, including my mother, flipped the eff out because that is against the Hispanics of America Funeral SOP. So death is no stranger to me. I have been in training on how to plan a funeral since I was three years old.

What has caught me by surprise (well, one thing, because let’s face it, I say “what caught me by surprise” in a lot of my writing on grief. I know.) is how I have had to rebuild my life. I feel as if I’ve been in a two year long coma and I’m barely waking up. Or like I have been living on another planet while everyone on this planet has just kept on going.

I no longer want the same things I wanted before Anthony died. Which really sucks since I’m 4 classes away from getting a Bachelors in Philosophy and it turns out that I don’t really care all that much about a lot of Philosophy stuff. My kid is dead, I do not care that all these men sat around thinking of new ways to disagree with Aristotle.

I also no longer want to be a Catholic speaker who goes around saying things like “but in the end I know God has a plan for my life” because the truth is, I know He has a plan for my life but it would be great if I didn’t have to bury my kid in that life. But then again, a lot of mothers bury their kids. Some mothers have their children ripped from their arms by our Government and have no idea if they are ok. So why do I think I should somehow be spared from this level of horrific suffering? Why do any of us think that? Because it is easier to live in that space of ignorant bliss than to know the horrible things that could happen to us in life even though God does have a plan for us that requires us to survive those things.

I just want to tell my story. I want to tell it honestly, openly, freely and with some dark humor because life without laughter is just depressing AF.

I will tell it to Catholics or non Catholics, atheists or Buddhists. I don’t care. Suffering is a part of the human condition and suicide is a plague robbing us of our children. We have to start listening to the stories of those left to rebuild their lives after suicide has burnt them to the ground.

So yeah, rebuilding. I am having to rebuild every one of my relationships. And first I have to rebuild myself. What do I want? How do I want to do it? What is my first step in doing it? And then I have had to change my entire view of motherhood. I no longer see my children as burdens. Ever. No matter what. Because when you go two years wishing for nothing more than to have your dead kid annoy the fuck out of you, you start to appreciate the alive kids annoying you anyway they want to.

I am rebuilding my marriage. Which isn’t easy. And it’s even more difficult when it’s the thousandth time you have started over with the same person. Spoiler: Stacey and I have rebuilt this relationship a dozen times. You would think it would be easier by now. It isn’t.

And then I have to learn how to be a friend. It’s challenging to be a friend to others when you think nothing is as big of a problem as finding your kid dead in the garage. But I have to figure it out because 1. I need friends, I’m a extrovert and 2. I don’t want to be a self-centered asshole. I didn’t have a good handle on how to be a good friend before losing Anthony so this is more of just building than REbuilding to be honest.

All of this takes up a lot of energy. Energy doing a lot of thinking and laying in bed staring at the ceiling. Energy that doesn’t look like I’m doing anything which makes me feel lazy and like I’m wasting time. So I am also rebuilding how I talk to myself and how I treat myself. I give myself time and space and love to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. I give myself permission to go out with a friend and drink 6 shots of whiskey and have fun. I give myself permission to tell my kids to make dinner some nights. And I give myself permission to take a bubble bath at 3 in the afternoon if I want one. For me, being kind to myself and taking care of myself is not easy. I have to fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m selfish, lazy and do not deserve the luxury of an afternoon bubble bath. As if I have not had a hand in the work it took to get this house, with this bath, or this life. As if some fairy just came and handed it to me. As if, I didn’t wait tables, help with company paperwork, raise kids, cook dinners and build a readership with my writing to make this life reality. That voice is rooted in the belief that I do not deserve good things or happiness. And that voice does not come from God. So I am rebuilding my relationship with myself which is part of rebuilding my relationship with God.

So here we are. The biggest relationship of all. The one with God. *deep breath*

Before Anthony died I thought I knew God. I thought I knew what being Catholic was all about. I thought if I just did all the things that good people did, I would be a better person. That meant not being me because anyone with a brain could see that who I was was not a good person. Who I was was a person who made terrible choices that landed me in terrible situations like the county jail for a DWI. Who I was liked to drink until life was fun. Who I was liked to sleep with strangers, sometimes more than one stranger at a time and sometimes both female and male strangers and in public. Who I was liked to feel good but believed that the only kind of feel good I deserved was the kind that happened in clubs full of smoke and sketchy people. The kind of places that Good People do not even know exist. Because I was not good. Everywhere I looked I saw that message. I did things that Good People called sins and Good People said because I did these things, I deserved all the bad things that happened to me. Because God punishes people who do those things. That’s who I thought God was and so I thought when I forced myself to not be Who I Was anymore and had the sense to mimic The Good People that God would stop punishing me.

Then Anthony died.

Then I knew God as the asshole who can perform miracles in the Bible but somehow didn’t perform one for me or my son and just let him die alone in the garage. God allowed me to stand on the other side of the wall where my son’s body hung lifeless and discuss what I was going to make for dinner an hour before we found him. To me, after Anthony died God was both the only place I found peace and the One I was the most angry at. And that reminded me of my first marriage. Where I was in a relationship with a man who loved me deeply but beat the shit out of me when he was high. So God became an abuser to me.

Rebuilding that relationship has not been easy. For one thing it means accepting that I do not control anything, especially the Creator of the Universe. It means that suffering is possible and none of us are special in not facing the worst kind of suffering but some people do get off the hook on having to face much more suffering than “oh no, my pool isn’t working UGH” or some other Not Dead Kid crisis. And I will never know how exactly the suffering lottery works but I do know that in the lives of a lot of people in the world, I am on the winning end of it because so many people in this world have it so much harder than me. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of all the rules that make it easy for me to count myself in the Good People club and others out of it. It has meant knowing that God does not care about my opinion on who is not worthy of His love. He has my back, but He has the back of my enemy just the same. He is God, not my body guard. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of a lot of things: expectations, beliefs, judgements and control. It has meant learning that God will die for me but He is not mine to control. He calls the shots and I can cuss about it and kick and scream about how unfair it is, but that isn’t going to change it.

I am still figuring out exactly how to have a relationship with God which means all my other relationships are also still under construction. I do not know what is going to happen but I know that rebuilding takes time and patience and love, so that is what I am giving myself. That is what I am allowing God to give me. Finally.

Life 18 Months After Suicide Loss

Grief is a living thing. It starts one way and then it changes and changes. That is what I am learning as I get further and further down this journey. It does not go away, get better or ever become less painful. It is like ground zero and life goes on all around it, but it is still there like a crater in the ground where the bomb went off.

Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts about grief.  (Having a favorite grief podcast by your favorite grief memoirist is part of the weirdness of this new life of mine. Only people who have their own new grief life will know what I’m talking about. )

Well, today the episode of Nora McInerny’s podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, was about suicide loss. Apparently, September is Suicide Awareness month. I hate that name because I am more than aware that suicide is a thing and that it fucks up everything it touches. Suicide threatens to ruin my life every single morning when I wake up and remember that my son is in a grave up the road from me or every night when I fall asleep knowing that I can mark down one more day of this life which is one day closer to me seeing Anthony again.

This new life sucks. I am not going to even try to sugar coat that. Things are weird here. We talk openly about dead people, they are still a part of our daily reality, we talk to kids about those dead people and we have our own rituals that help us keep the memory of the dead person alive. We also have an irrational fear of forgetting our dead person and it is not weird for us to refer to them as our “dead person”. Anthony is my dead person. He is ground zero. He is gone but yet he is everywhere. He took his own life and in doing that, he blew up the lives of every single person that he loved more than anything.

I listened to a widow on this podcast talk about her husband’s suicide and her ground zero as I sat in my gym parking lot. That parking lot used to be a Garden Ridge. My husband and I bought our first Christmas tree there when we first moved to the suburbs a decade ago. Anthony was so excited about how life was so much better than it had ever been. We bought the biggest tree we could find and hundreds of dollars of Christmas lights to go with it. It was black Friday and Stacey was so happy to buy all the kids Christmas presents. It was the first real Christmas my kids had in their whole lives.

This morning I sat in that space where we bought all those decorations and listened to a woman talk about her husband’s death by suicide relating to what she was saying because my son, the same son who was so happy just ten years ago, is also dead by suicide.

Anthony had driven past this spot in town a lot in his life. It was the way to his apartment from my house. He must have driven down this feeder road the morning he died as he drove Dan to work that morning. One day he was here driving on these roads and then one day he was dead. And the world kept turning.

This morning the highway was full of cars and people going on with their lives. Red mustangs zoomed by.  I am sure he passed by this corner of town a million times in his red Mustang, but today he is in his grave and I am sitting here listening to a podcast building a life around ground zero.

Part of the reason that I ended up deleting all of my old social media is that I realized I am not the same person I was before Anthony committed suicide. Not at all.  I am a completely new person, this is a whole new life and in order to accept that and begin building a life around ground zero, I needed a fresh start. Not one without Anthony but one with the grief that his suicide left behind. Staying stuck in the in-between of my old life and this new existence was exhausting.

I woke up one day fed up with it. I was fed up with my front yard looking like this house had been abandoned a year ago, I was fed up with being overweight, I was fed up with feeling like my chest was going to explode from anxiety and I was fed up with waiting for Anthony to come back. God, I would do anything for that to be possible but it isn’t and being stuck in this mess was not going to make it happen.

I was also pretty pissed off at God and I needed a change in that relationship too because I was also tired of just going through the motions but not knowing what I really believed anymore. I had to ask myself what I wanted out of life. Before Anthony died, I thought I knew what I wanted but after his suicide, that was all blown up with everything else.

So what exactly do I want? Who am I now? Who was I then? Where am I going from here? Where did Anthony go in all of that? Where did God go in it? Where did the rest of my family and my husband fit in it? 

It felt as if I had been stripped of everything and I was starting life over. I almost felt as if I was losing my mind for a little bit, but what I knew was that I needed to take a break from life on social media and do this on my own without opinions or influences or jealousies of mine or my own flaws of thinking that everyone else has a better life than I do.

In my rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. The first thing I did in this new prayer closet was to have a phone conversation with a wonderful priest who I trust to be honest and blunt with me. I told him that I was devastated and could not see a way out of the anger, despair, and grief.

He gave me a lot of great words of wisdom on how to begin to rebuild. First, he validated my pain which he said made perfect sense because a child becomes a part of their mother while she is pregnant so to be separated from my son is the most painful thing I will ever endure in my life.

I left that conversation with a plan.

I needed to find an outlet for my anger, find time and space to sit in the presence of God for two minutes a day and I needed to find a support group. I also needed to return to the Sacraments. So I joined a gym to release my anger, I’ve been spending time with God more, I went to confession and I have found a support group and plan to begin going this month.

Then my husband and I cleaned our front yard. We cleared the flower bed, planted some plants and we mulched our backyard. I also began to clean the inside of the house and eventually will get around to cleaning the kids’ bathroom which will be a penance I can offer up for the Church. It is so disgusting that it should bring us all a lot of Grace! I am also slowly returning to social media, mostly with new accounts.

And from there I have begun to feel alive again. Alive and still grieving but alive.

That is where I am at 18 months after burying my son, the love of my life and my best friend. I miss him every single second of every single day. I wish he was here. I hate the thought of life without him and all the new gyms that will be built in his absence or the fact that I am eating organic oatmeal and he is not here to make fun of me. I hate not being able to text him a joke I find funny and he responds by telling me how old I am. But this is my new life and I can control how I build it in his honor. It is the only choice I have because going back is not an option and giving up would only add to the pain of my family.
What do I want out of life? I want to help people heal and I want to do it carrying the memory of my son with me every step of the way.  It starts by allowing myself to be healed first.

I miss you Anthony and I hope you know how much I love you.

IMG_3017