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

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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.

One Step At a Time

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Grief is different for everyone and each loss is also different. There is no worse grief or easier grief, it is just different. Some people seem to be “fine” but they are really in denial. Their brain will not allow them to think about or face the loss of their loved one. They are not choosing to ignore the fact that their loved one is dead as they go on with life, as usual, it is a defense mechanism. Some people dive into work to distract themselves and they do really well at whatever they put all that energy into, some people have brain fog and forget to make sure the slow cooker is plugged in. I am the latter.

My grief is very specific. It is suicide loss of a child who took his own life in my home with a side of the trauma of leaving him in my house and finding his body hours later. Not to mention that I was already riddled from the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, verbal abuse and being bullied most of my childhood. Anthony’s suicide was trauma on top of a mountain of trauma. I remember the exact moment that I saw my husband in the kitchen screaming and I knew that he had found Anthony and that Anthony was dead by suicide. The information all just came into my brain like it was being uploaded onto a computer. I told my husband to get himself together and then it was like a switch went off in my brain that turned me into a robot. I instantly started making a list of things that had to get done: I needed to get dog crates, secure the dogs, call 911, call our priests and then when I was sure that Anthony was dead I had to call into work to tell them that he, his brother and I would not be in the next day. We all worked together, and I had to call in for us.

I had to call in dead for Anthony, which is so crazy and whoever thinks they will have to do that? But my point is that I did it and I did it all calmly and matter of factly. I asked the paramedic if Anthony was really dead and when he said “Yes Ma’am, he is”, I just took a deep breath and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. This was not an action that I choose to do, my brain decided for me that accepting the fact that my son was dead in my garage was too hard to face so we were going to do something else. I didn’t finish the dishes because the police had questions for us and I was rerouted after that to my mission to have our priests bless Anthony’s body. It was on the list of things that had to be done. Then I had to drive to my mother’s and check on her and Anthony’s little family. All of it was on a list in my mind that is still going to this day twenty-two months later. My brain and daily routine have been forever changed by that switch that flipped the moment that I realized what was happening.

I finished the dishes the next day. In the sink was the plate that still had the food Anthony had not finished at dinner less than 48 hours before. He was dead but there I was washing the plate with food that he had served himself on it. Again, my brain flipped a switch because that fact was too difficult to look at and feel. Typing it makes my heart race and I can feel the switch flipping.

This was the second year that I and my family celebrated the Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s since Anthony’s suicide. The first year we all tried so hard to pretend like it was ok and to keep his memory alive in our celebrations. This year we did not try to do anything. We all knew that Thanksgiving was missing the crazy person who would click his fork on his giant teeth at the table until one of us told him to knock it off. It was so quiet and that was more depressing than anything, so we decided that Christmas was going to be very low key. We were going to lean into the depression. And we did. We went to eat Chinese Buffet for Christmas dinner, we laid around and watched our favorite family movies like Nacho Libre, Shaun of the Dead and the Big Lebowski. My daughter and I also watched Birdbox which was so good but a bit triggering.

Losing my amazing son Anthony to suicide has been the hardest thing I have ever lived through. I look back on the past twenty-two months and I do not know how I made it. I see so much love from people, I see a lot of meltdowns, I see moments when I could not think or breath, but I also see that I made it. Somehow, I am not sure how I have made it from that day when I was figuring out how to call into work because Anthony was dead to today. One breath, one prayer, one moment, one word of encouragement from a friend, one hug, one mass and one step at a time.