Saturday, June 28, 2014

It's the Small Things....

It isn't the big things that get you it's the small unexpected things. Here it is five years down the road and I can still be brought to tears by an unexpected event. For the last several days I have been preparing for Wendy's graduation from PIMA medical in phlebotomy. It never dawned on me how I would actually feel to see everybody in cap and gown this evening. 

We began the evening by going to Peter Piper Pizza, a regular hang out in the past for our family. Lots of parties and special events had taken place in the one by our home. (It closed about a year ago so we went to a different location) But of course I was flooded with a ton of memories as I walked in the door but that wasn't what got to me tonight. I did just fine for dinner and as we headed to Gilbert high school for the graduation. When we pulled into the parking lot I began to see some of the graduates in their caps and gowns and my heart began to hurt. We were supposed to get the happy ending! Heather was supposed to graduate from PIMA in October 2009 in medical coding and billing! Heather was supposed to have the cords for perfect attendance and highest honors! This was so not fair.
gifts for pretty girls
I kept my composure together as I walk in the parking lot and  saw more of the graduates. At that moment in time I was so flooded with memories of Heather I could barely breathe or think. My mind was racing to how happy she was to have been enrolled in PIMA, how she wanted perfect attendance and to graduate with the highest honors. I also remembered the night that she died how every classmate in her class came to her ICU room to say goodbye as well as three of her teachers.
The ring with Snooks photo bombing
Graduation began normal just like any other one until they got to the point where they did the memorial for the massage student that got killed last year. It was an accident in which an elderly lady hit the gas instead of the break and drove through the wall of the PIMA massage school killing the student. The staff had taken a cap and gown, the pins, the cords and a certificate bearing the students name and put them in a framed shadowbox and presented it as a gift to the mother. My heart began to hurt as I did not have a cap and gown or cords or certificate with Heather's name on it from PIMA and I began to feel the sting of knowing that I might not ever have that. 
Graduation ended and I couldn't decide if I should write a letter or if I should actually go up and talk to the president myself. I tried to reason in my head that it really didn't matter and I should just let it go but to me Heather's mother it did matter. I wanted to see her in her cap and gown! I wanted to see her walk across the stage and receive her certificate! We had not been invited when Heather's class graduated and there was no mention of Heather which meant she was forgotten and that is every mother’s nightmare. I finally decided I would go up and talk to the president and just explained him how hard graduation has been for me to sit there and watch someone else's child be remembered when mine was forgotten. He was very moved by my story and I gave him my phone number and email, but wasn't really sure if I would hear from him again. When I checked my email tonight I had a very lovely email from Mr. Luebke telling me he was going to make things right and honor Heather. I just cried when I read these words. She wasn't forgotten after all and I would get her cap and gown, pins, cords and certificate. 
My beautiful Wendy ready to walk the stage
I could think of nothing better to give Wendy as a gift for her graduation from PIMA than the blue topaz stone from a pair of earrings that Heather wore to the ball. (The earrings were a gift to Heather from Harry and I could not keep them but thought it would be a lovely way for the girls to have her birthstone and something that belongs to Heather.) I chose a setting from the Shane Co that had black, rose and white gold to have the stone set into. In a way it would be a gift from Heather as well since the earrings belong to her. I am very proud of Wendy for her accomplishments at PIMA, she graduated with honors and with perfect attendance, and she also did it to give back to the medical community that help to try and save her sister that she loves so much.
The ring made from Heather's earring
 Honestly to me tonight was more emotional than the fifth anniversary of Heather's death. I have learned in this journey that it isn't the big days that you expect to be the hard ones, it's life's little unexpected moments that can send you crying and falling to your knees. Something as simple as a graduation brought back a lot of memories and may actually give me a gift that I wanted but thought would never happen.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Confessions of a Grieving Marriage...Part Two...

When a child dies there are noticeable physical changes that happen with the parents; weight loss/weight gain, gray hair, aging almost overnight, very little smiling, thinking in a fog, forgetfulness, emotional outbursts, nightmare/bad dreams, crying or the inability to cry, nervousness, and depression to list a few. Learning to live with the death of a child is a lifetime process, not a one day fix. If only it was as easy as waking up one morning and “moving on,” but it isn’t.

Marriage in the best of situations takes work and nurturing, but add the stresses of life and it takes a toll on even the strongest of marriages. However if you have a family argument, husband loses a job, daughter has cancer, husband finds and begins a new job, another daughter is pregnant and then the daughter with cancer dies all within an 18 month timespan, even the most put together and cared for marriage is going to suffer a huge hit. During that 18 month time there was not time to work on a marriage it was doing what we had to do to survive. At the end of those 18 months we experienced the toughest death and loss of our entire lives.

All this to say that even the most put together grieving parents may not be as put together as they seem. To the outside world they look like they are doing very well and moving forward when in reality they are putting on a front that after time cannot be put on any longer. Bill and I are not the same 18 and 23 year olds that got married in 1983, but we changed slowly and over time with the events that happened in our lives that made us the couple we were. Then we changed again on April 10, 2008 and then again on April 20, 2009. Our lives had been turned topsy turby and upside down for so long that we could not begin to see which way was up. Suddenly the world stopped for me anyway and I could barely breathe let alone live or work on my marriage. Jenn recently told me that she hated watching Bill and I during that first year after heather died. She really did not think that we were going to survive the first year together as we were shattered people.

Here we are at the five year mark and things have changed and I especially am not the person I was in 2009 or even in 2010. I have lost weight and gotten healthy and tried going back to school. I see and hear everything different now from even a year ago as things change for me it seems at a rapid pace. Not that changing is all bad, but in a marriage when we don’t change and grow together the only way to grow is apart. Bill and I have grown and changed so much that we do not know ourselves let alone who each other have become. A few weeks ago I made a change, Bill and I have separated, BUT…there is not another person involved for either of us. We are taking this time to really discover who the new Bill and the new Sherry are. Then we are working on coming back to be a new couple, better and stronger than ever. This was not easy and I did not do this lightly or without a great deal of thought and prayer. Honestly I feel this is the best thing I and we have ever done. We have talked more, shared more and been more open and honest in the last few weeks than we have been in over five years, which is a very sad thing to say. Neither Bill nor I are throwing in the towel, we are finding out who we are and making ourselves, our lives and our marriage better and stronger.

Sherry and Bill on their "date"... Yes we are dating right now

Open and honest communication is the only key and answers to fix a grieving marriage. If couples keep talking and sharing through their grief, the tragedy can actually turn their marriage stronger than even. But sometimes it takes a separation to really open up the communication lines. Both spouses must come open and exposed to each other and then the healing can begin.  There are no quick fixes or answers for couples dealing with the death of a child. What works for one may not work for another. Recovering from the death of a child is long and painful process that only time can help heal the loss

Mark Twain once said, "Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable." In the face of tragedy, ignore public perception and allow patience, compassion, and tenderness to fill your marriage until solid footing once again takes hold.

Confessions of a Grieving Marriage...Part One

The moment your child dies the husband and wife begin a whole new and different type of marriage, everything has changed. As parents we never “get over” the death of our child, but we learn to adjust and live with the massive void in our lives. The death of a child still to this date remains one of the most stressful life events imaginable. It has been found that nearly 65% or greater of marriages fail and end in divorce within the first five years after the death of a child. The problems that many couples encounter while dealing with their grief usually include:
  • Lack of communication with one another.
  • Being overprotective of other children.
  • Differences in how to grieve.
  • Putting blame and guilt on self and/or on spouse.
  • Turning to alcohol and drugs.
  • Looking for someone or something to blame.
  • One wants to talk about the deceased child, and the other doesn't.
  • Wondering when and where and how to deal with a child's belongings.
  • Decision about whether or not counseling is needed.
  • Turning away from one another.
  • One spouse may tend to feel anger sooner than the other.
  • One may tend to feel sadness sooner than the other.
  • One may want to "do" something to make things right again.
  • One may just want to "be."
  • If a couple had problems before the child's death, those problems can become more difficult to deal with.
Immediately after the death of a child both parents are in “the fog” of shock as terror fills their days and nights become a never ending nightmare of trying to sleep. The only way to survive “the fog” is to put our brains on auto pilot. Our brains do not really function, but our bodies continue going through the motions of our daily lives. The mundane tasks of doing laundry, making dinner, washing dishes, doing housework or going to our work place is simply things we have done a million times and require no thought process. We have to carry on for the sake of our families and the other children that may be living at home. Our hearts and spirits are in severe need of an intensive care unit; our lungs keep breathing, our muscles keep working but our thoughts and heart are frozen in shock.

In the beginning friends and family are around helping out and bringing meals, but we all know that grieving lasts well after the meals stop coming. The emotional pain from the death of our child is incredibly distracting, consuming and exhausting. Our entire focus is simply getting through the worst till the next wave hits and then the next. Just surviving the day is exhausting, leaving little to no reserves for anything else which includes working on our marriage or dealing with our spouse. 

Add to the fact that men and women are just simply different and we grieve differently. As little girls we are taught to share our feelings and it is okay to cry, while boys are told to man up and don’t be a sissy, hide your emotions. So the very way that we deal with our grief and emotions is very different as women tend to want to talk and share their feelings and emotions while men shut down and find solace in working or being alone. Right from the beginning this conflict in grieving is a recipe for problems and issues in a marriage....