Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Oh Yes! It Is Holiday Season Again...

This time of year is especially difficult for grieving mothers. It is all about family gatherings, good times, food, fellowship and lots of memories. It is a time when we stop working and we gather at each others houses and we try to put aside differences to be together for the holidays. For the grieving mother however this takes on a whole new meaning as we know we can never have our entire family together again for the holidays. The Norman Rockwell picture of everyone seated around the holiday table while mom brings in the big turkey will never happen in our lives again. We are always the one on the outside looking through the window at other families that have everyone together.

The holidays for me as a grieving mother have been especially difficult we go right from Thanksgiving into Heather's birthday on December 10th, and then into Christmas. Depression usually hits in between Halloween and Thanksgiving and stays until after the first of the year. But this year seems to be a little bit different with my new job. I think that I have been so busy working and then trying to get a jump on setting up Christmas before the  Thanksgiving shopping weekend that I haven't really had time to think about what's coming up. However something happened on Friday that shouldn't really have affected me but because of the season that it is it sent me into a depression that I am now trying to fight off. To anyone else this would not have been a big deal but, to me, given the time of year and I am a grieving mother it hit me differently then it would most people. While I am not as depressed as in years past, I can certainly feel that a small amount of Mr. smelly depression has come in and settled for the holiday season.

Last October I began preparing for an all family vacation to Walt Disney World and then a short Disney cruise. I wanted to go at Christmas because even the cruise ships are decorated for Christmas plus I really wanted to see this. I decided to go during Heather's birthday time. We have friends from South Carolina that will be joining us on the special trip. Recently it dawned on me this week when I looked at my calendar countdown that we leave on December 10th and this is really a countdown to what would have been Heather's 27th birthday. While I am extremely excited about our vacation plus all of us being together as a family and making wonderful memories it is still very difficult to know the one that is always missing won't be there. Now I have a daily reminder of just how many days it is till her birthday.

Nothing about Thanksgiving and Christmas will ever be the same and I should not expect more from myself than I can give. Currently it seems I am just exhausted between working, preparing for Christmas and grieving. Many grieving mothers work and I honestly do not know how they survived the first few days, weeks and months back after their child died. I am nearly 6 years down the road and I still struggle some days. But I am hoping that Heather is very proud of me for following my dream and hers to work at Disney. She loved Disney so much and I am extremely happy working for Disney. I really feel this is a perfect fit for me, but it is still exhausting. While this season is all about family, food and memories I am always thinking about the one that will be forever 21 and forever missing from my holidays.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A System That Failed...

Grieving mothers are survivors the moment their child dies and for the most part friends and family will say that we are the bravest strongest people they know. For me personally, I don’t feel that I am all that strong or brave, I just get up, get dressed and continue each day the best way I know how.

Being a survivor is nothing new to me, I have been one nearly from the day I was born. I have been trying to decide whether or not to write this blog, but it keeps coming to my mind. Also, writing is cathartic for me and helps me move forward one word at a time.

So here goes…I am not just a grieving mother, but I am an adult survivor of child abuse, child sexual abuse and adult sexual abuse. WOW! There I said it. It has been said recently that I feel like I have no boundaries, that I say whatever I feel and think no matter what it is and to some extent that is true. I have said that the day Heather died changed everything and I don’t care what people think of me. While that really is not true and I do deep down inside care about what people think about me, I do feel I can say or do what I want to now.

My adopted mother, Jo Beth, was a cruel and evil woman that victimized me from the time I was 3 months old till the day she died when I was 9 years and 5 months old. I was emotional, mentally and physically abuse at her hands for my whole time with her. I laugh and say I was grounded for the first 9 years of my life which really was true and I was whipped, spanked and beaten with belts, yard sticks and fly swatters. I became so nervous that I began a terrible habit of biting my fingernails of which I still do to this day. I become very nervous that I have upset someone if they do not speak to me and I am always looking for the approval of others. There was no bonding with Jo Beth and I felt there must be something wrong with me that I felt like I hated her. When I received my adoption files this was something that was watched by the case workers for 2 years that we never bonded and the home should have never been approved for the placement of a baby. So the system failed me from the very beginning.

Jo Beth worked as a school teacher and of course my Daddy, Jim, worked so that meant I had to go to daycare. My earliest memory of a daycare is an extreme argument between my parents and the Self Nursery Child Care. I never returned there. The next was a baby sitter that had two kids of her own and decided to take on a few more. One day all us kids were left in the car while she went into the old Safeway and the baby pulled the car into gear and we rolled into oncoming traffic on the busiest street in my hometown. The third and final baby sitter was very different.

At first, we all loved our new babysitter, Jenny. She was happy, made great homemade meals and we kids could play among the sheets drying on the clotheslines. We could watch her wash clothes in an old ringer washer and we had our own playroom as their two sons were grown. Everything was wonderful, until her husband came home. He was a city of Farmington employee and he came home for lunch and at about 3:30-4:00 pm each day. At first we thought he was great that he would play with us and have fun, but then it all changed the longer we stayed there.

Miller would catch me behind the sheets drying on the line or running through the house and he would grab me, kiss me and force my mouth open as he stuck his tongue in my mouth. He would also come up behind me and fondle me and force me to fondle him. This would continue most days of the week for years. I can remember his words very well as he told me that no one would believe me and he would deny it and I would get into trouble. Trouble was the last thing in the world I needed so I kept my mouth shut. Remember this was about 1969-1973 and sexual abuse was not thought about among anyone let alone talked about. So the system I had some trust in, which was adults, failed me again.

My adopted mother died in February, 1975 and I was a part of it and saw things that no nine year old, little fourth grader should ever see or hear. But for the first time I felt free, like I was released from prison. My Daddy let me run wild for that time as he was free as well. I was a fourth grader by day and then sleeping part of the nights till 1 or 2 am on ladies couches as my Daddy was off with them in their bedrooms. There were several women, but the most memorable was Wilma. I walked in to see her naked with my Daddy when I stayed the night with a neighbor and came home early and then her high school aged son repeatedly sexually molested me for several months. He told me that my Daddy would be mad at me and send me away. I had no one else in the world but him so I kept my mouth shut. Remember I was nine years old at this time.

My Daddy remarried and my life as I knew it changed and changed drastically. The friends that we had were gone, I had to change schools and I also had two step-brothers. My freshman year in school my older step brother took a nice interest in me and tried to have sex with me. Of course this made living in the house together real fun. I was never treated like I was a sister or a new daughter by my step mother. I wasn’t abused but I was ignored and made to feel like I was nothing. Again, the silence makes me feel like I have done something wrong and I began to have explosive moments of anger. My older step brother lived at home for a really long time and was still there when I came to announce I was getting married. There was an argument between me and my step mother and it ended with my step brother pushing me up against the wall with his first ready to hit me. 

So fast forward…I got married when I was 18 and thought the past was behind me. What I didn’t realize is that my past shaped me into who I was and am. I was a survivor of a horrible, horrible childhood. But now that I was married and began having my own family all that would change right?? The only member of my in-law family that I felt close to was Bill’s mom, Margaret. She actually taught me how to cook, bake and I have modeled my decorating at Christmas and parties after her as well.

My Daddy, Jim, died when I was 7 months pregnant with Wendy at the age of 24. The only living person that had my past was gone and of course I have only my memories of my past no real hard solid witness. It was my need to belong and fit in that made me search for my birth mother. Of course I found her and I wish I never had. I was the product of a 2 ½ yearlong affair she had with a married man in a small town in Iowa.
She got pregnant on purpose to force this man to marry her and when he didn’t she dumped me. Once I found her she was filled with lies and trying to make herself look like the victim. Now I know that she was both the instigator and the victim. My birth father was a very, very, very good manipulator. After years of trying to create a relationship I broke my relationship off with my birth mother. I wanted to feel special and loved for once by a parent, a mother. When my Heather died, her granddaughter, she sent me a generic card and never has had the nerve to call me.

I have no idea why, but I just could not leave well enough alone and I had to find the nagging answers to my identity questions, so I found my birth father. I am a very good judge of character and I can spot a fake and a phony 10 miles away. I can get a gut feeling about someone and 9 times out of 10 I am usually right. However, I allowed this man to become part of my family and I loved him and he used that to his advantage. In the middle of our relationship Heather got cancer and then died and my world as I knew it was upside down and inside out. Honestly, I did not know what way was up. My birth father told me he didn’t feel like he wanted to be my dad, but he wanted to be my lover. I  tried talking to him, but the final straw was to wake up with him kissing me and trying to crawl into my bed one morning during one of his visits form Iowa. Yes, I called the police and we tried to pursue charges but he was very good at abusing women. Once again I was a 5 year old little girl caught in the bed sheets, he victimized me but he did not win.

Recently I learned that I am to blame for lives being a total mess and that Bill should have completely walked away from me and our 32 year marriage instead of working things out and continuing together. This is not the reaction that should be coming from so called “Christian” people let alone “family.” While I am a forgiving person I am not one that forgets and I certainly can be pushed too far. Once I am done with you, I am done and there is nothing you can do to regain my love and respect. I have enough respect for myself to not cast my pearls before swine. Just because you are blood doesn’t mean a thing to me anymore. The system that I trusted and believed in failed me my whole life.

I am a survivor!! I have survived and I will continue to survive. Being a grieving mother just adds to the mounting emotions and the things I have had to endure in my lifetime. I will say that having Heather die was the big one, the worst one and the one I wish I could make go away and never come back. I stated once that women, especially mothers, are like teabags, they don’t know how strong they are till they are dipped into hot water. I have endured a lifetime of hurts and events that no one single person should have to survive. These events make me who I am and I think I am pretty terrific and I have the most amazing husband, daughters, granddaughters and son in laws. It is your extreme loss not to have a relationship with me and my family. While that is a choice you can make sometime the choice is made by me to protect the ones that I love.

So why this blog and why now…there have been so many news stories about child abuse from Brooke Shields and sexual abuse at the hands of Bill Cosby. I wanted to share my story to show that you never know what a person might be keeping to themselves or what events shaped their lives in the past. The most “normal” people can be the ones that had the most horrible past events. I share my story to say abuse of any kind can and does happen to children and adults. Being a grieving mother just makes me more vulnerable because I so want to be understood and loved and accepted.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Metaphorically Speaking...

No mother I have ever met has asked to become a member of the “Grieving Mothers Club.” This club is not fun or normal and yet I am finding that mother by the 100’s are being forced to join this club on a yearly basis. While I am not happy about being a card carrying member of this club, I am so very thankful that I am not at the beginning of this journey, a newbie to the world of grieving the death of a child. I have come a long way in my 66 months and 10 days. To some who stand on the outside of my world, judging and telling me how to do this, I look very foolish and pitiful, but to those who have accepted the new me they know I have come a long way, baby!

While some mothers are further along and other are just beginning to come out of the fog, I have learned many valuable things along my journey. I have tried to share my feeling with everyone as best I know how; to a world that cannot comprehend what I am going through. I have tried to describe my journey in very descriptive details, more than most normal people want to read, but the words that other grieving mother can read, relate to and breathe a sigh of relief to know they are “NORMAL.”

I am reading a new book, a biography, and I found something that the author said very enlightening and felt it applied to me and all other grieving mothers. If you are new to this journey you may feel I am silly with my words and how can that be possible, but if you are further along you will understand me, metaphorically speaking.
The fall wreath on my door-I made it...
I have learned that I have times when I “take off the grieving mother and hang her in the closet,” I can put the grieving mother on a hanger, and put on a “semi-normal” me to face the world. There are times now when I can literally “be” Sherry, without feeling conflicted with who the world thinks me to be from my title of grieving mother. I have learned it is OKAY to be both—I don’t ever get rid of the grieving mother; I just need to know when to wear grieving and when to hang her up, metaphorically speaking.
Mimi and Snook
I know you think I am insane and I have really lost my mind now. What in the world am I talking about and how is this possible. I have shared with everyone that I recently went back to work after 29 years away from the working world. I did not go applying for every job that came along, I had a very specific job in mind and I went after it and I got it. I have been on the job for 5 weeks and I LOVE IT! I am happy! When I go to work I am a Disney Cast Member and not a grieving mother. For a small amount of time being a grieving mother is not my main title. I have been able to “hang-up” the grieving Sherry for the Cast Member Sherry. NO! Heather is never very far from my thoughts, but for me when I am working, I am focused on the guest and making their visit magical.
What do you mean I am dressed like Minnie and I am NOT seeing my Mimi? Lil E 6 weeks old
Many of you will say okay, Sherry, I work and I don’t feel happy or magical. I would say then you don’t work for Disney…kidding. For me personally, I have needed to be away from the house with something specific to do. The Cast Members for the most part do not know me or my situation. I have shared with a few new friends the quick version of 21 yr old daughter died 5 yrs ago..blah, blah, but they know the “new” me and not the old me that was I was. All they know and see is the ‘new” me. I also needed to focus on something. When I was raising the girls, they came first, then Heather got cancer and she came first, and then she died, leaving me to wonder who I am and where do I fit. Working at The Disney Store I feel I have found myself, the new me. I am using Disney language in my everyday life, and it feels good! I find myself feeling and being very positive and others around me are noticing how happy I am. 
My name badge-My character is Rapunzel for many reasons
Honestly for the first time heading into the holiday season I am okay. This is not to say that smelly old man depression isn’t going to show up this year, I am just at a better place right now in this moment. I am terrified about working my first retail holiday season. I have listened to the girls tell about their experiences and I would be foolish if I thought this was going to be easy. Here it is Halloween and I have skipped forward into Thanksgiving and Christmas. I realize that my decorations and Christmas letter need to be done the week before Thanksgiving. Our store is open for 26 solid hours the Thanksgiving weekend beginning on Thursday at 8ish.While I am racing towards the retail season I also know that I am racing towards Heather’s birthday as well. But this year as with all the other years is different and that is okay, metaphorically speaking.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It is Just A Job, Right?...

What is a job? Have you ever really thought about that beyond the meaning of money to supply your basic needs?
          A job is defines as:
            A regular activity performed in exchange for payment, especially as one's trade,
                        occupation, or profession.
A position of employment.
A task that must be done.

My first job was in the summer of 1981, when I was 16 and under the delusion that I needed a job so I could pay to drive the car that sat in front of our house. (That was not my step-mother’s plan as I was never allowed to drive any vehicle while I lived at home.) My Daddy knew the owner of the local Orange Julius fairly close to our house and this was my first job. I was thrilled to be working and feeling like I was gaining some independence.

Sadly, I worked this job for 2 days and then I quit. I am normally not a quitter however, in this case the manager thought I was a spoiled, rotten person and she worked me to the bone to prove her point that I would never last in the job. WOW! Imagine how crushed I was to have to quit this job to find out she did this to me on purpose. I was made to wash everything, mop, sweep and empty the trash my entire shift. I was not allowed to work with customers or learn how to make anything. The breaking point for me was when I was coming to the end of a 5 hour shift and I was informed by the other worker I needed to sweep and mop and take out all the rugs while she sat there and did nothing. I was defeated, deflated and of course I felt like a total failure to have only worked 2 days. But I was never treated fairy or like I belonged.

Because of my first job experience it took me a very long time to try again for another job. In January 1985, I applied and got my second job. I honestly had no idea what I had applied for and I didn’t know the place I was working. What a dumb way to get a job. I worked as a part-time TBS operator for The Navigators Organization. (All that means is I solicited money on the phone for different Christian organizations.) Because I was part-time I was not treated like the full-time employees were. They were allowed a 15 minute morning break and I was not. I could not be on the phones alone as it was a computer driven system with 4 people on the system at a time. So I was made to find other things to do during those 15 minutes. I was given a 30 minute lunch break and then I was supposed to be off before the afternoon break. BUT, they always were behind in their call totals for the week and I usually ended up working till 3-4 pm every day four days a week.

Sadly, I worked this job for 9 months and then I was let go. I was pregnant with Jenn and had planned to work up until closer to my due date. This did not happen as my boss’s daughter had died in June in a car accident and she couldn’t stand to look at me. (This is totally understand now.)  I had been extremely sick and decided to turn in my 2 week notice. When I told my boss she told me to make that day my last day and I could go home. WOW! While I was happy to go home and sleep and rest it was not the plan as we were buying our first house and I needed to be employed for those two weeks. I was not considered part of the team of girls that worked there as they had a long history together and I was the outsider, newcomer.

You would think that I would have gotten the hint by now that I am not ever meant to be part of anything not a work place, not my step family, never by my birth family and certainly not my in-law family. I have been thrown under the bus and blamed for just being on the planet in every aspect of my entire life. Of course I am a very unique person and sometimes I am very hard and very hard to love. I also have a tendency to be a perfectionist and a my way or the highway sort of gal. Not that this is bad, I know that about myself and I am a work in progress.

The day that Heather died I once again I was thrust into the “I don’t fit in” group. It is not a happy place to be and many misunderstandings have happened. I refuse to apologize anymore because I AM DIFFERENT! I am the round peg trying to fit into the square hole. My entire life has been this way and this is just the icing on the cake. Being a grieving mother is not easy and I can’t just let it go and “be myself” again. The old me is gone and the new and different me is what is left. For the most part not many people want to come along on this journey with me and why would you? I wouldn’t want to either! I never wanted to think about one of my children dying. I understand that I am once again the weirdo that just doesn’t belong.

Roughly 2 years ago I began toying with the idea of getting a job, but not just any regular job. I wanted to work at The Disney Store. Honestly I would love to work at Disneyland but since I am a 6 hour drive away the morning commute seems a bit much. I did not go out and apply at every place I could trying to get work experience before I applied to The Disney Store since I have not worked in 29 years. I kept looking and watching the online Disney job site for an opening. I first applied in the summer and made it to the final interview but because I was not willing to break our cruise in December, I was not hired. I was crushed and wasn’t sure I wanted to have my hopes so high again only to have them dashed again.

Bill, my husband, works in Chandler and goes into the mall almost every day to eat lunch. Well, there is a Disney Store there and not just any store, but the only one like it in the state. I knew the manager at that store that had come from the San Tan Disney Store when they opened the Chandler mall store. Bill also knew the manager and told her I had applied and had been turned down. A few weeks later when Bill was in the store I received a message that seasonal jobs for the Chandler Mall Disney Store had just been posted and I should go online and apply. Long story and process later and I am now a seasonal Disney Cast Member hoping beyond all hope I get to stay beyond seasonal.

I have finished my training and have had two shifts “on stage” so far. Both of them have been amazing and to say I love it is an understatement. Maybe I have drunk the Disney kool-aid, but I feel like for the “first time in forever” I actually fit in. (that is a song from Frozen by the way.) I feel really good and I am loving my coworkers. With that being said, something happened on Monday that I know the Cast Member has no idea she touched my heart and soul with her kindness. It all has to do with the Blue Aurora doll. This CM (Cast Member) wanted the blue doll and no one else had said anything about wanting the doll. At this store when just one person wants something they usually get to purchase it. Otherwise they would have a drawing so it is fair to all CM. This CM was on vacation when I asked about the doll and they offered to do a drawing. I said no way I would try online or buy from Ebay, I would not take this CM’s doll since she was on vacation and not able to be contacted to tell her what had happened. Monday, she was back and had wondered if she got the Blue Aurora. I told her yes she did and then I told her I got mine online and showed her the photo of Heather in the blue dress. The following words still to this moment are probably the most moving words I have ever heard: this CM who has never worked with me and knows very little about me told me if I didn’t get my Blue Aurora she would give me hers. WOW! Really! Did you hear her words or did you just read them? She was willing to sacrifice something she wanted to make me happy. She has no idea that those few words have shown me more love and support than I have had in a really, really long time. (To my inner circle, I do not mean you.)My Blue Aurora has been shipped and should be here late this week or early next week.

I come home and I am flying and talking non-stop. I love the whole thing. Yes I know that “Magical” Friday is coming and I will be pushed to the limits, but somehow working for Disney is different than I have ever felt before. I can’t wait to go to work and be “on stage” and help to make our guests have a little bit more magical day. It feels good to me. For the first time in forever I feel HAPPY. Maybe because I am not focused on myself. So…for the first time in 5 years as the fall season has come, I am not depressed. As I am thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas I actually have some joy. Not to be too over optimistic as I know old man depression will make his arrive sometime, I just hope he goes quickly and maybe for the first time in over 5 year I can breathe this holiday season.