My Roo

My Roo

My Roo,

Woke up early this morning to pick Rin up from the airport.  Woke up earlier today than I did on this day last year.  Last year I woke up to make sure you had breakfast before you left for work.  Last year I made you chocolate milk breakfast, made sure your lunch was packed and we talked for a few minutes.  You said you were going over to your new girlfriend’s house after work.  I told you not to stay out too long.  I gave you a hug, you hugged me back.  I told you I loved you.  I watched you walk down to your truck.  I took my coffee out on the back porch to smoke and listen for you to start your truck.  I stepped around the back of the house to watch you pull out of our street.  I listened as you drove your truck down to the next intersection and stop – turn left – stop again – turn left and watched as you drove your truck south on the highway.  I could hear you better than I could see you, but seeing the top of your truck and the American flag go by was enough – I did that every morning, I don’t think you ever knew that.

That was the last morning I was happy – the last morning I could sleep without fearing my dreams, the last morning Rin could leave the house without me afraid she wouldn’t make it back…  Those simple, every day, normal things mom’s do.  I knew I was meant to do those simple, every day things.  You may have been an adult technically, but even 18 year olds still need their moms.

Rin and I spent the day at home in the air conditioned house.  We ventured out once for a blizzard from Dairy Queen.  We watched the movie Spirit in her room and waited for the weather to cool.  We talked about silly things, we talked about what it was going to be like when you left for the Marines, we just enjoyed being together.

The weather cooled, we had some dinner, Rin went to bed around 10ish, and Joe turned in about midnight.  I stayed up waiting for you, but I fell asleep – the TV was on some science channel and I fell asleep.  I can’t believe I fell asleep… The police knocked on the door about 4:30am and my life fell apart.

All day today the tape of this day last year plays on repeat.  I put it on mute to answer questions, to hug my girl when she gets off the plane, to eat lunch, to listen to the great things she did in Hawai’i.  I put in on mute to function – all the while the video is playing – the pictures keep coming.

Your friends are remembering you on Face Book, posting pictures and memories.  The videos of you on the Fat Cat, the day you went to school dressed as a girl, the All-Stars Football game, riding quads at the sand dunes, four-wheeling in your truck, graduation… I know they miss you, but I truly don’t think anyone could miss you more than I.  I hear your voice, feel your arms around me, see the lopsided smile, the sparkle in your eyes.  I trace your face in my mind every day missing you.  Wishing you were here to see Rin grow, wishing you were here tracking mud through the house.  I miss the late night talks, I miss watching you work on your truck and trying to be a help.  Often a truck will drive down the street and I think it’s you for just a moment…then I remember…you won’t be coming home…and my heart breaks more.

My heart breaks even more today – knowing that tonight will come, knowing that the tape of tomorrow will be filled with the first days of grieving your loss.  The tapes are cruel, vivid, and never-ending… I will continue to mute when I need to, continue to function and even pretend…

I miss you, Roo…  I love you.

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Countdown

Countdown

The one year anniversary is two days away… There are only two days left to remember that this time last year was filled with happiness, summer plans, late night conversations in the back yard, early mornings full of quick breakfasts, hugs on the way out the door, retelling of football stories from his senior year, happy banter and joking about differences in politics… a hippie, environmentalist, democrat mother loving her redneck, big truck driving, republican boy…

Tomorrow morning I’m going up to the cemetery to place flowers and make sure there are no branches and things that need to be picked up.  I want it to look nice for the people who will be visiting this weekend.

My mind is like a game of ping-pong… my thoughts move back and forth between hoping Rin is having fun in Hawai’i to the internal countdown to Saturday night at 11:50pm.  Rin’s plane lands Saturday morning so we will leave for the airport early.  I want to hear all the good things about her trip, the fun she had, the new memories she made, look at pictures that she will treasure forever.  At the same time that internal clock will be ticking – for all of us.

I know the feeling of my heart being ripped out of my chest, torn to pieces and shoved back in my body – the loss of a child is a loss like none other.  I don’t know what it feels like to lose a sibling.  I don’t know what Rin’s pain is like.  Losing the one person she was counting on to be there with her through her whole life – her big brother, a protector, a pest, a friend, a confidante.  I don’t know what it is like to go from watching her brother make those adult decisions first – paving the way for her – and now she is all alone.

I worry sometimes that I get too caught up in what my loss feels like, what my pain is, how I feel like I can’t handle it – and at the same time here is my Rin feeling her loss and pain.  Grief feels selfish sometimes.  I don’t know how she does it… I think we are close, we talk about nearly everything, but I know it bothers her to see me cry.  Sometimes I can hold the tears back so she can release hers.  Sometimes I can put mine on the back burner because I know she needs to vent hers and needs a mom to catch her.  Sometimes we can cry together.  I don’t know… I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing…

When I don’t know what to do I pretend.  I feel like I pretend an awful lot – pretend things are ok.  See, my house is clean, clothes are washed, and I am out of bed – therefore I am ok.  I pretend like life is ok, that I am ok, that we are ok.  “Fake it ‘till you make it” is the motto of the day.  It is sometimes only late at night, or if I am up before everyone else in the morning, or when I am alone that the walls come down.  Those are the times I will go into his room and smell him.  Touch and hold his clothes, hats, old school work.  Those are the times where I allow myself to remember, hope and wish for just one more second with him.  Giving him one more back rub after a long day of school or after a game.  One more second to feel his soft hair when he was trying to let it grow – or the stubble just after he shaved it.  Wishing he would walk through the door, tracking in mud and calling for me to come look at his truck caked in mud from a day of four-wheeling.  I could spend years telling you all the amazing things this boy did… They may seem like trivial things that a lot of people do, but you wouldn’t understand.  This boy did them differently; he was amazing because he was mine.  Every parent probably feels this way, but mine was special because he was mine.

Juxtaposed

Juxtaposed

Small towns… those places where sometimes it feels like the ability to be anonymous is so difficult.  Sometimes I strive to be anonymous.  It may all be a figment of my imagination, but to be able to go to the store for milk dressed in whatever was at hand in the morning, with my hair not brushed for days and socks that don’t match is a freedom that I want to embrace.  Small towns, or maybe just this town, it feels that when I leave the house I am in a fish bowl – my life lived on display.

This town holds so many memories that I keep safely boxed and on a shelf.  The memories find their way out and I work to quickly put them away, back in the box to be taken out in the privacy of my own time.  This town harbors memories – both beautifully treasured and painful.  This is the place where children were born and grew.  This is the place where marriage, began with hopes and dreams began falling apart at the seams within months.  Marriage that was painful, hurtful, and finally I freed myself of the daily pain and heartache.  This is the place where newfound wings were born only to crash-and-burn when Gem born and died in three short months.  This is the place where I learned that people may say they love you, but often those people don’t know what love truly is.  This is the place where I learned that heartache is physically painful.  When the heart breaks sometimes the mind does too.

This is the place I fled from to create happy memories with my children elsewhere – where I could start out in anonymity.  This place holds memories of court appearances where people form judgments of you from words on a paper written by people who don’t take the time to learn who you truly are.  This is the place belongs to the “ex”.  This place is pain.  This place is eleven years ago.  This place is filled with mistakes, misgivings, mis-steps.

This place is also a juxtaposition.  This is the place I lived where when all my children were born and two where two died.  This place is also where my Roo came home.  This place is where my Rin came home.  This place holds their steps to freedom, where their hopes and dreams were found.  This place is where I learned that there are rare people who take the risk and give second chances.

Without this place I wouldn’t have been able to witness Roo takes his first tentative steps of freedom, experience a life that he directed, made plans and had adventures with best friends, girlfriends, and planned for the future.  Where he struggled with two dreams that could be fulfilled and how to choose the one he wanted to experience first.  How often does that happen?  A young man carving his way in the world presented with two paths, both of them paths he wanted to travel.

His senior year was filled with college applications and Papè internship papers.  He wanted to work for Papè and go to school – and he was afforded a scholarship and less than a month out of school a job.  His hard work and vision became a reality.  His best friend was planning on enlisting in the Marines.  Roo also wanted adventure and worried about his friend.  We had had many a conversation about the horrors of war and how experiences can change a person.

One summer night Roo came home from an evening filled with quad rides and fun at his friend’s house.  Rin was playing Guitar Hero and Roo looked nervous.  I asked him what was going on and he replied with, “Mom I need to tell you something you may not like.”  He was the sweetest boy, he was worried I would be mad or angry.  He said, “I want to go into the Marines.”  My heart dropped, my baby enlisting.  He was 18 and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  But here he was nervously wanted to let me know.  Holding by my tears and fears I asked why when he was working at Papè with scholarships waiting in the fall.  He said he had already spoken with Papè and they would hold his job and scholarship for him until he came back.  He had already thought about his plans – he was set on going.  He was also worried about his friend and didn’t want him to go in alone.  His friend, he said, was so tender hearted and was worried his friend wouldn’t know how to handle the harshness of the Marines.  Roo and Rin have gone through rough times, you see, and had learned resiliency.

This young man was my boy.  This was the same boy who was only nine on the first anniversary of Gem’s death, sat with me on the front stoop with me while I cried of a broken heart and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.  I love you.”  This boy was worried his friend would need him, someone who felt he knew how to handle hard times if things got bad in the Marines.  Roo also said he was looking for adventure and wanted to see the world.  What 18 year old doesn’t wanting adventure?  I looked at my boy and all I could do was smile through the fear in my heart and replied with “let’s talk about this in the morning.”  He grinned his lopsided grin – he knew I wasn’t going to stop him and he knew I was scared.  He gave me one of his Roo-hugs, he had to stoop down to his Mom’s level (he was so tall) and his long, lanky arms enveloped his mom with love.  Picked up his ever-present cell phone and walked off to his bedroom.  I choked back tears and retreated to the backyard to smoke and call my mother.

My mom – my rock.  I called her crying and relayed the news.  She reminded me to be proud of the sacrifice he was making.  I didn’t think Roo actually knew what was being asked of him.  At least Roo wasn’t enlisting for the money or a way to pay for college, that was already taken care of.  He was enlisting to be with his friend and for adventure.  He was being a typical 18 year old who loved his country.  I remember my mom trying to waylay my fears of him not coming home or coming home a different person, someone with PTSD and gruesome visions in his head.  She said to me, “don’t worry, he could get in a car accident tomorrow, he will be ok, he is a good boy.”  She didn’t know that her words would come true within the month.  I don’t know if she even remembers that conversation, but it sticks in my mind.  I sometimes wonder if she does, but I wouldn’t ask her – it’s something people say every day in passing… maybe as a way to try to minimize the fear, but this time it was almost an omen of things to come.

Roo and I talked about my fears of him enlisting and I was able to express my hope that he would be able to hold onto the important integral things about himself in the face of possible devastating experiences.  He listened, like the amazing person he is, and began to get things in order for the recruiter.  He was so excited, a little scared, and looked forward to being able to serve his country.  One day as we were both tearing the house apart to find his birth certificate (I am not well organized) Rin, Joe and I raced to the storage unit to see if I had stored it away there all to no avail.  We dropped by the recruiters office so I could ask all the “mom type” questions.  I was in my sleeveless tie-dyed shirt my tattoos showing for the world to see complete with tie-dyed bandana and braids (I must have look like an “old hippie”) sweaty and dirty from rummaging through the storage unit and there was Roo and a couple of his friends standing out in front talking with a recruiter.  I stayed in the car for a bit waiting for the office to open and not wanting to embarrass my son in front of his friends and the recruiter.  Well, it was a hot day and we decided to leave and I would call with my questions another time.  I got out of the car and motioned for Roo to come over.  Can you believe he walked right over to his “old hippie” mom and gave her a hug?  In front of his friends, too.  That’s the kind of kid he was.  I don’t know how he explained me to his friends, but to me it meant the world – he loved me in spite of myself.  He had self-confidence and love that continues to amaze me.  He had found freedom to live his life the way he wanted and exuded confidence in his choices like none other.  Sure, he made mistakes, but he didn’t run from them.  Sure, we didn’t see eye to eye on politics or religion, but I think we respected each other’s perspectives and we surely loved each other even though we didn’t agree.

See, this young man and I learned to talk about our different views and love and laugh with each other about these differences.  He was an amazing young man who had a way of seeing things differently while still maintaining integrity in his convictions.  He could disagree fiercely and love that person fiercely at the same time.  I didn’t learn how to do that until I was in my late 20s – early 30s.  How did this young man on the doorstep to adulthood know how to do that?  What a difference he could make in the world with that under his belt at such a young age.

This small town is the place where these things happened.  So, while I don’t want to be here – I still want to be here.  This is where the most recent memories of him are, this is where memories of Gem are… As time passes I know these memories will change – the brain has a way of changing them – and I am so scared of them being changed by time… I write them down as a way of trying to preserve them so I can come back to them and remember just what the lopsided grin looked like.  What that hug felt like, just how he had to lean down to his mother’s height.  What he smelled like after a day of working in the field, in the shop, or out swimming.  How he used to bite his nails while watching a movie.  How he used to leave his hair in the bathroom sink after shaving his head.  How he would “ruin” a perfectly good shirt by cutting of the sleeves… The grin on his face and clothes under his arm as he headed out the door to his friend’s house… He sweat-drenched football uniform after a game, but how his eyes shone when he would retell one of the plays where he tackled another player… How he could down a whole glass of chocolate milk before school just to make me happy because I didn’t want to send him out the door with an empty stomach… How he would deliberately put his pop cans in the garbage instead of the recycle, knowing I was watching, just so he could get a rise out of me…  He was the most amazing kid you would ever have known… I wish you could have met him; he would have changed your life.  He changed mine.

 

 

Tapes on repeat

Tapes on repeat

I get so scared thinking that the “other shoe will drop.”  It comes in waves that I can’t stop whenever Rin is out by herself, when Joe (my SO) is late coming home, whenever anyone is late… It feels like unreasonable, yet reasonable, fear…

It goes something like this:

I send a message to Rin asking when she thinks she will be home.  I don’t get an immediate reply.  I wait as long as I can to check the time I sent my message – sometimes I can wait a whole minute.  There still is no reply.  I hear sirens in the distance, this is a small town, there’s probably an accident somewhere.  I check my phone again, still no reply.  The sirens are about Rin.  The police won’t contact me right away.  Which direction are the sirens coming from?  Would she be coming into town from the North, South, maybe she took a backroad and will come in from the East side.  Do I go find her?  Should I stay home?  Wait.  It may not be about her.  She is probably busy and can’t check her phone.  Maybe she’s hurt.  All this takes place in the span of a few minutes and I check my phone again.  This frenzy of fear circles in my mind like a cruel tape on repeat until I hear back from Rin.

I tell myself I’m being irrational and nothing will happen – but I am never quite sure.  Sometimes I can’t sleep.  I was waiting up for Roo to come home the night of the accident, but I fell asleep on the couch.  The doorbell woke me up at 4am.  It was the police.  It seems that I cannot let go, let loose, loose control or escape from the moment or something bad will happen.  I get jealous of those who can drink themselves into oblivion to escape reality for just a moment.  I get too scared that if I escape it will be that moment or that time that Rin will need me and I won’t be able to help her.

I call it “the tape.”  I have many of them that run at different times.  I have a tape that runs for Gem, the daughter I lost eleven years ago.  A tape for Jim, my step-dad that passed four years ago.  Now one that seems to run constant for my Roo.  Each tape is different, but they all include versions that revolve around their death – the moments leading up to it, what I was doing before and during, and what (if anything) I could have changed.

The tapes for Roo are triggered by just about anything – white Ford trucks, boys in cutoff tee-shirts and ball caps, the sound of big trucks going down the road, fresh tilled dirt, chocolate milk, pop can tabs, the Army, the Marines.  Face Book can be particularly hard – his friends moving on with their lives, posting pictures and moments of engagements, going mudding with their trucks…

I was diagnosed with PTSD following Gem’s death.  I started seeing a counselor after her death and have seen him off and on over the past eleven years.   My insurance doesn’t cover his visits anymore, but he cuts me a break to see him, but it doesn’t feel right to take up his time without adequate compensation.  I know it has been compounded with losing Jim and Roo.  I recognize some of the patterns with grief with each one – the tapes, regret, pain.  Although each is different they are also the same.  How many times can a heart be ripped in pieces and glued back together before it can no longer mend?  With so much glue can it even be called a heart anymore?  Each break results in pieces lost… I worry about worrying too much for Rin, but how can I not?  After I lost Gem I worried for ten years that something would happen to Roo and Rin – and it did.  Maybe my unreasonable fear is very reasonable…

First birthday without her brother

First birthday without her brother

Yesterday Rin turned 18… I woke up remembering last year:

I woke up with Roo late in the morning.  It was going to be a busy day for him meeting with the Marine recruiter and getting paperwork in order for him to formally enlist the following week.  I reminded him we would be having cake and ice cream for his sister later that evening and the cake would be ready for him to decorate by about 4ish.  One of the birthday traditions in our family has been for brother to decorate sister’s cake and vice versa.  This has resulted in some great cakes – Roos’ eleventh birthday cake was filled with Polly Pockets on a fashion catwalk, Rin’s 17th birthday cake was filled with pocket knives and shotgun shells – they became more outlandish with the years.

 

I have pictures running through my head of Roo getting a kick out of putting his pocket knives blade first all over her cake… she appreciated his humor and the resulting very masculine cake.  The year before he had used G.I. Joes to create a battle scene on her cake complete with fresh blackberries from the backyard used as fake blood.  He had such an imagination…

 

Before serving the cake I removed all the “decorations” and set them on a plate to clean off later – I never got to it before the accident and now they are sitting on a windowsill in my bedroom forever covered in icing.  I can’t bring myself to clean them off – he touched them and was grinning ear to ear putting them on the cake – he was happy and alive.

 

Rin is celebrating her 18th birthday in Hawai’i with her best friend.  It was so hard for me to send her away all by herself on a plane, but I hope she creates some good memories for this first birthday without her brother.  I hope she will learn to be able to look forward to her birthday someday.

 

How do you teach someone how to be a little sister with no big brother?  How do you teach someone how to grieve?  I don’t know.  Becoming an adult is hard enough, how do you do it with a heart full of grief, regret, and pain from such a huge loss?

 

This last year was Rin’s senior year of high school and my senior year at University.  I went back to earn a Bachelors in Sociology with a minor in Gerontology.  It was the most difficult year for everyone.  She graduated from a community college dual enrollment program with the high school.  I am so proud of her for finishing.  I walked, I have five incompletes to finish this summer.  I can’t focus to finish my papers.  It seems every time I try to concentrate on one of my subjects my mind moves to Roo.  I feel like a hypocrite having told Rin how important it is to work on her studies and here I am pretending to study.  The courses I need to finish just seem so trivial in comparison to the loss of my Roo.

July 23, 2016

July 23, 2016

It has been almost one year since the death of Roo… The anniversary date, July 31st, flashes neon in my mind’s calendar.

 

This last year has been like a play – I pretend the role of mother – do the things I am supposed to do, all the while my mind seems to be on repeat… Reliving what was being done on this day last year…

 

My Roo was 18, just graduated high school the previous month and was planning on signing papers for enlistment into the Marine’s with his best friend the next week, August 5th.  His sister, Rin, had just had her 17th birthday a week earlier.  It was a beautiful summer night and the whole world changed, rocked off it’s axis by the loss of the world’s most amazing person – my son – a brother, nephew, grandson, cousin, friend… the world’s most amazing person that so many people never got to meet… though not perfect, he was perfect for me, perfect for my family…

 

This last year has been a year of repeat – another high school graduation, Rin’s, another 18th birthday party to plan, Rin’s… she got her driver’s licence and is driving the car Roo found for her… it’s just a sick, sick play on repeat…

 

The reason I started this blog is to get my crazy thoughts on paper and hopefully someone out there can understand the craziness that is grief with me… Maybe this will help to quiet the tape that continually plays in my mind… maybe.

No Stranger to Loss

I’m no stranger to loss and sometimes it feels like I should be able to handle this.  I lost my youngest child eleven years ago when she was three months old , my father over twenty years ago when I was still in high school, the man I considered my dad (my step-dad) passed away four years ago… I should know how to do this.  Eleven years ago I sought counseling have been seeing the same counselor off and on for the last eleven years.  He has helped me through loss, custody battles and relationships of all kinds.  I returned to college to pursue a career in the field of gerontology and have taken classes on death and dying… I have the book knowledge, but living through loss is completely different.

I have drowned my grief in overeating, isolation, and compartmentalization and yet… sometimes it still becomes just too much.  How am I supposed to get through this?  How am I supposed to let my almost 18 year old daughter become an adult, drive at night, go to Hawaii all the while I am petrified something will happen to her?

Roo had just become an adult himself, making decisions and beginning to navigate the adult world by himself when the accident happened… For those of you wondering, he fell asleep while driving late at night and hit a tree.  How does something like that happen to such an experienced driver?  He had been driving farm equipment since he was 13…  He was my oldest, the child who managed his finances better than I manage mine – that boy saved money so well…

How in the world am I going to let my girl spread her wings and learn how to navigate the adult world and stay out late?  The last time I did that my Roo died…

So, in an attempt to quiet my fears I will put them on paper.  “They” say (those who write books on grief) say writing can be therapeutic and cathartic so we will give it a go.  Forgive the grammatical errors and the like.  Emotions, memories, and fears don’t follow the rules…