A Wreath On A Grave

This morning, I dropped my daughter off at school and then headed out to the cemetery to place a wreath at my son’s grave. Last year, our first Christmas without him, I hadn’t thought to do this, but to be fair, we were still reeling from the shock of his death, still struggling through all those firsts that one must go through those initial twelve months after an unexpected and tragic death. Luckily, my mother-in-law came to the rescue (as she so often does) and placed a wreath at his grave, even adding a blue ribbon instead of the traditional red, because that was his favorite color.

I admit, that hadn’t occurred to me as something we had to do after a loved one died. Probably because until last year, my husband and I were blessed with not having had to manage the death of a close loved one. Now we’ve discovered not only are we supposed to put a wreath at his gravesite each December, but we’re also supposed to maintain the area in the summer, too.

Okay, “supposed to” is a strong way to say it. You see, we chose to bury his ashes in a natural (aka green) cemetery. This means they don’t cut the grass, they don’t use pesticides to make it look perfect and pristine. The grave markers are boulders dug up from that very site, and you can either let the natural landscape (aka weeds) take over or you can plant your own flowers, so long as they’re native to Michigan.

I’ve had intentions since last spring to plant flowers: Bulbs for spring color and perennials from my own yard, selecting varietals that would ensure something was blooming for the entirety of the growing season. And it seems terribly appropriate that the flowers would come from my own yard, the one he played in, the one he grew up in.

Those intentions haven’t yet turned into reality because, well, I’m good at coming up with excuses to avoid doing things I don’t want to do. And kneeling in the dirt, digging into my son’s gravesite ranks damn high on the I Don’t Want To list. One of these years I’m sure that perspective will change. Hopefully, eventually, I’ll find some sort of comfort in doing that. If I keep telling myself that, it’ll come true, right?

And then there was the drive home. Taking my daughter to school has become routine, a new one created after my son died. She’s at a different school from the one he attended (on purpose), although we do have to drive past his old school every single day to get to hers. Today, because I dropped her off and then went to visit him, as I headed back to the house, my mind suddenly delved into territory I don’t often go into.

If he were still alive…

If today was just another day, and I’d dropped them both at school instead of have them take the bus. He would be in high school now, a freshman, so he’d get dropped off first, since high school has an earlier start than middle school. I would have made a giant circle, as the high school is further away from home than the middle school, and there are a couple lakes in between. The kids would have argued over who got to sit in the front seat. He probably would have won because he’d use the argument that he would get out of the car first, and then she could get into the front seat for the ride to her school. She would have acquiesced because she always deferred to him. He was the big brother, after all; larger than life, her idol.

Until he wasn’t.

That’s as far as I could get into that particular daydream. Not surprising. First, I’d just come from his gravesite, which is a guaranteed cry. Then, I’m thinking about things that simply cannot be, no matter how hard I wish for them. And when I think about it like that, it gets reeeeaaallly depressing, so I have to deliberately cut myself off and mentally change the channel to avoid that scary, dark path.

I sure wish he’d had that ability. Then I wouldn’t need it today.

 

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

Tami Lund is an author trying to juggle the various aspects of real life, some of which are damned depressing. That’s probably why she insists upon writing happily ever afters. Because everyone deserves them, and since life isn’t always so accommodating, she ensures her books are. Check out her website at: www.tamilund.com.

Trying to Figure Out the Hardest Job in the Universe

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the universe. Some would argue it’s the hardest. And when something goes wrong–say one of your kids commits suicide–well, it makes you question everything you thought you learned. Everything about yourself, your abilities–as a parent, as a human being.

All those years of trying to get it right, of working toward a positive outcome, of reading, studying, planning, hoping, praying; all of it was washed away over the course of one tragic evening during which the child I raised made the ultimate bad decision. In my case, it was thirteen years’ worth of on-the-job training.

To make it worse, while I’m grieving the loss of one kid–and doubting everything about myself–there’s still another to take care of. My son left behind his sister, who happened to have idolized him like any self-respecting younger sibling would. For the last nineteen months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance my own grief with ensuring she’s happy, well-adjusted, managing her way through this new life we’ve been forced to forge.

My daughter is now twelve. She’s in seventh grade. A year younger than he was when he made that horrible decision, but now in the same grade. I have no idea if it was the age or the grade or if both had a factor in his choice, but that hardly matters. I’m left to pick up the pieces—we’re left to try to make our way down a new path that has been twisted beyond recognition, and the suspension bridge leading to the way back has been cut, collapsed in on itself and plummeted to the ground a thousand feet below.

We’re all changed since that day; that’s inevitable. And none of us have changed in the same way. My husband golfs more—a lot more. I blog—a lot more. And cry. A lot more. My daughter, well, she’s quieter, more reserved, but bits of harsh, teenage personality flair up every now and then. I suspect these startling flair ups are as shocking to her as they are to me. I also believe they are a bit of stress relief, which I know she needs, because like her father, she keeps everything bottled up inside, tucked away near her heart, in a tiny box reserved specifically for emotions she doesn’t like to deal with. Unfortunately for her, those emotions aren’t very good at listening and following directions—much like the teenage mind she’s trying to lock them into.

I, of course, don’t think it’s a bad thing to let those emotions out. I believe they need to escape every now and then, they need to breathe, they need to cry, shout, scream, whatever it takes to help her find her equilibrium again. As much as I hate crying, I admit I always feel a bit cathartic afterward. I find I’m better able to handle tough situations such as when my daughter tells me she doesn’t like having anything to do with me because I’m so different since “it” happened nineteen months ago.

Thank God for that random, out-of-nowhere crying jag while I was driving in my car earlier in the day, because otherwise there was no way in hell I would have been able to hear something like that without losing my shit.

But I didn’t break down or go ape shit, much to my own surprise as well as my daughter’s. She fully expected me to have a meltdown or scream at her; I’m still not sure which. All I know is I took her completely by surprise by talking about the subject entirely rationally and calmly, and hopefully with a bit of intelligence to boot. Maybe I’m finally managing to become the parent I thought I was before my son died.

I told her everybody grieves differently. It’s okay if I cry at the slightest provocation or if her dad golfs all the damn time or if her grandma visits her grandson’s grave on a weekly basis or if her grandpa talks to him every night before he goes to bed—even if it’s a one-sided conversation. It’s okay because we aren’t curled up into balls in the bedroom, hiding from the world. We’re living, even if it’s differently from the way we were nineteen months ago. We’re making our way in this world, we’re figuring it out, and the process isn’t really something to be concerned about so long as we’re doing it. I let her know that if she wants me to do something differently, I’ll give it my best shot, because that’s what parents do. We try our damnest to make our kids’ lives easier/better/safer/happier. That’s part of why our jobs are so freaking hard, because we don’t have all the control; all we can do is our best and hope it’s good enough to overcome some of those external factors.

And sometimes good enough isn’t enough.

She left the table after my little spiel, and I didn’t call out to her or yell at her and demand she stay or even ask for a response. I finished my dinner and then began to clean up. And a little while later she came back, hovering in the hallway outside the kitchen, and said, “You know how you said everyone grieves differently? Well, I grieve differently than you, and I need you to respect that.”

And you know what? She’s right. And I told her so. And I promised to try.

This grieving process has turned into a learning process. Learning how to live again. Learning how to be a parent and a daughter with the dark cloud of a lost son/sibling hovering over our lives. Learning how to communicate with my remaining child, the one who is suffering as much as I am—just differently.

Because we all grieve differently. And that’s okay.

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

Tami Lund is an award winner, wine drinker, and writer of happy endings. Because life sometimes sucks, and we all need an escape. Check out her website here: http://tamilund.com

Ghosts & Graduation

The era of family graduations has begun. My oldest niece graduated from high school last weekend.

I have eight nieces and nephews; four in my husband’s family, four in mine. Next year will be another niece, then a nephew the year after, then two more nephews the next year. After that, we’ll have a small break in high school graduations, which is perfect, as we’ll start to celebrate the college grads at that point. Then, over the next few years, there’ll be three more nieces and my daughter.

It’s pretty cool how little has changed about the ceremony itself. Although the one thing I found fascinating about this graduation that I don’t recall from my own was the trend of decorating the tops of the caps. Many proclaimed the logo of the college they would be attending in the fall; some wrote funny or sentimental sayings, while a few simply pasted sparkling gems to add a bit of bling.

Everything else was pretty much the same. Including how looooooooong the ceremony was. How hot it became with so many people packed into the facility for all those hours. By the time it was over, it felt like the air hadn’t even been on, yet when we arrived it had been almost cold in the building.

The pics with family were the same as they had been back in the day, too. And we managed to capture one of all the grandkids; a rare occurrence, actually.

Well, almost all the grandkids.

While we sat at dinner afterward, my father-in-law said, “Five more to go.” And then he paused. “Well, four. Should be five, though.”

Yeah, it should be. And if I could pinpoint one aspect of this grieving process that sucks beyond all others, it’s that my son’s ghost now puts a damper on every event in our lives. Moments that should be full of joy are tampered by the fact that there will be no more memories with him in them.

This was the second event recently where I noticed that sensation, that frustration because I couldn’t simply enjoy the moment. Where he hovered in the background, reminding me of what I lost, and not allowing me to simply revel, live my life.

A couple weeks ago, there was an awards ceremony at my daughter’s school. She’s at a new school this year, her first year of middle school. And she managed to make First Honor Roll, as well as was one of only two kids in the whole school with perfect attendance. We were so freaking proud.

And the next day, as I drove to the day job, I started crying. It was one of those moments where it hit with no forewarning. Because two years prior, we’d attended a similar awards ceremony for my son. The one and only one we’d ever attend for him, because he was gone before the end of his seventh grade year.

Now, the school year is almost over, and my daughter will be a seventh grader. I’ll live the entire year in fear, no doubt. His ghost hovering in the shadows, eclipsing everything that happens. It makes me so angry because I don’t want to detract from her successes, from the fact that she’s still here with us, living, moving forward every single day. Growing. Flourishing. Being happy.

That’s what my husband said the other day. “The biggest difference between him and her is she’s always happy.”

Just like I want to be.

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Tami Lund is an author, wine drinker, and award winner. Despite the sometimes depressing blog posts she writes, her books all have happy endings. Because that’s how it should be. Check out her website at: http://tamilund.com

Mind Over Matter with Tami Lund

Participated in my first 5k marathon this past weekend. No, no I didn’t run—don’t be silly. I did walk fast, though, and that counts for something, right?

It was the annual Mind Over Matter Marathon, or better known as “MOM.” It’s been around for a while, twelve years, actually. The goal is to raise funds and awareness for the prevention of, and to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. A cause that’s pretty near and dear to my heart, as you know.

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I did it. The race is over and I crossed the finish line.

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But I didn’t participate in any of the activities they had planned for afterward, didn’t stay to listen to the live band or enter to win any of the raffle drawings for some really cool prizes. I didn’t pick up one of the colored bracelets—each one signifying exactly how your life has been touched by suicide—either. Didn’t write my son’s name on any of the banners or the big paper hearts people were carrying around. Didn’t write a note and stick it to the giant M-O-M set up near the registration booth. I didn’t tell anyone my story; no one knew why I was there, other than to support a worthy cause.

I couldn’t. For one thing, I don’t want a badge that proclaims me as the mother of a suicide victim. I don’t want strangers to talk to me about it, even if they have had the same experience. Not because of the stigma, but because I don’t want to.

I don’t want to deal with that reality. I can’t stand the fact that other mothers have gone through what I went through—am going through. It makes my heart hurt knowing there are so many people suffering in this world.

I also can’t talk about it. I’m not there yet. Hell, I spend half my sessions with my therapist dancing around the subject because I hate it. I hate talking about it because that makes it even more real, brings it to the surface, forces me to acknowledge it. And acknowledging it generally makes me cry, and I don’t like crying and certainly not in public.

And ultimately, talking about it makes me wish for something I can’t have: My son.

Despite all this, I’m glad I participated. There’s a definite sense of accomplishment to completing a 5k, even if you’re a walker. And this organization promotes a worthy cause. Maybe, just maybe, the work they do will save a life or a few. Maybe another family will be made aware early enough, and someone else’s son will live out his life the way he’s supposed to. Maybe. I hope so.

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

Tami Lund is an author, wine drinker, award winner, and now, apparently, marathon walker. She also believes in supporting worthy causes because if they can save even one life, it’s worth it.

Check out her website for other stuff she writes. You know, like books: http://tamilund.com

Today’s the Anniversary by Tami Lund

It’s an anniversary today. One year ago, my son died, and my life was turned upside, forever altered in a way I could never have imagined, not even in the deepest, darkest part of my overactive imagination.

This date has been hanging over our heads since March first, a depressing sort of anticipation building as each square on the calendar was crossed off. I’ve dreaded it for two reasons: 1) because, well, it’s The Day and this date will suck for the rest of my life; and 2) because this means beginning tomorrow we will enter Year Two of Life Without My Son, this new reality I neither wanted nor expected to be forced to live.

So what does one do on the first anniversary of one’s son’s death?

Well, my husband and I both took the day off work. I did because I wanted to have the inevitable emotional breakdown in the privacy of my own home (or at his graveside, as it were) and not in front of my co-workers, even as supportive as they all have been. My husband did it because he feels this overwhelming need to be there for me.

As I drove my daughter to school this morning, I asked if she wanted to visit her brother’s grave with us. She looked at me and said, “Why are you visiting today?”

“Well, it’s the day this all happened, so it seems appropriate.”

“It is? Huh. I thought it was later in the month.” She paused and said, “Is that why you and Dad both took the day off work?”

“Yes.”

“Awe, how come I don’t get to take the day off school?”

“You didn’t even know what day it was. How can I justify you taking a day off?”

We both chuckled, a nice deviation from the usual half-awake state she’s normally in each morning as we head toward school.

I spent the morning writing. If you’re a fan of Sexy Bad Neighbor, you’ll be pleased to know we’re up to chapter nine of Sexy Bad Daddy (and hoping to release it in June). My husband, I don’t know what he did. I was too busy getting lost in a reality in which I know without a single doubt there will be a happy ending.

I took the dog for a walk. The poor thing hadn’t had one in two days, thanks to crazy weather and my emotional breakdown last night.

We checked up on the grandparents, made sure they were making it through this horrible day.

And then, around noon, we headed out to run errands, including an amusing stop at the drug store to buy the necessary supplies to prepare for a colonoscopy (not me—him, although I’m sure the experience will be part of a future blog post—never fear).

And then we headed out to the cemetery, to visit my son. The temperature was in the twenties, with a bitter wind that made it feel more like single digits. The sun was shining, and there were sandhill cranes slowly wandering about, which my husband informed me are the ‘filet mignon of the sky’ and whoever manages that sort of thing is considering allowing people to legally hunt them. Yes, this was a conversation we had while standing over my son’s grave.

And then we talked about depression and mental health and the frustrations we have as the ones who were left behind; the ones who didn’t know anything was wrong until it was too late. The state of mind neither of us can imagine, that leads someone to convince themselves death is the optimal solution to making the demons in their head stop screaming.

We talked about my daughter, my sadness over the fact that she doesn’t have a brother anymore, that her future children won’t know their Uncle Brady; that she now goes to a Catholic school and that it’s entirely likely she’s the only kid there without a sibling. We gratefully acknowledged that she is generally happy, a glass-half-full kind of kid, and that we do not have to worry about any demons in her head. My son, on the other hand, had been largely miserable for the last year or so of his life, and we’d attributed it to “typical” teenage angst, when in fact, it was much, much more than that.

And then we had a late lunch, ate at a small sports bar that we didn’t start frequenting until after my son’s death. I commented that I liked this place because it was a new fave for us, and I’m a big fan of starting new traditions instead of holding onto the old. My husband pointed out that the first time we went to this place was the day we picked out our own gravestone, at which point I’d commented, “This feels more binding than even getting married did.”

After that, we picked up my daughter from school. She was thrilled to see us and chatted all the way home, exchanging snarky comments with my husband and laughing each time, even telling us a bit about her day in between. That seven minute ride was the highlight of my day thus far.

Now we’re off to dinner, going back to an old tradition. My therapist suggested we do something to honor Brady on this day, perhaps make his favorite meal. Instead, we decided to go to his favorite restaurant. Hopefully, we’ll have a nice, relaxing dinner and we’ll laugh through the tears.

And tomorrow, we go back to reality, this new reality that, while it was forced upon us, we’re doing our best to make as happy and satisfying as we can.

Tami Lund Talks Dragons & Loss

Almost a year after his death, we’re slowly beginning to use my son’s bedroom again. Not surprisingly, it’s being taken over by my daughter. Her Lego dragons are on the shelves; there are pictures next to the computer monitor. We’ve moved the dog’s crate in there, too, which is nice if only to get it out of the living room.

We offered to move her in there entirely (it’s bigger than her bedroom), but she declined. I think it’s a combination of it being “his” room and the fact that she isn’t keen on change. Moving her bed is one thing; firing up the computer in there is entirely another. And the dragons are there because she’s run out of room in her own bedroom.

My husband and I refer to it as the “annex” now. My daughter recently said, “Why do you call it that? It’s Brady’s room.”

I replied, “Because honestly, saying his name hurts. It’s easier this way.”

And she said, “Why can’t you remember the good times? Why can’t you enjoy the time we had with him, instead of wishing it never happened?”

That hurt, because I admit, sometimes I wish he never had been born, but only because that way I’d never have had to suffer this immense pain that never quite goes away, now that he’s dead, far, far too soon.

When I think that way, my overactive mind goes a few steps further, and tries to analyze what the world would be like if my husband and I had not tried to get pregnant for those six months; if I had not gone to my gynecologist and she had not prescribed a pill that would (finally) make me ovulate. If we had not had sex on that specific day, at that specific moment.

My daughter came around when she did because of the timing of my son’s birth; we wanted them roughly three years apart, and we got lucky because they were two years and nine months apart. It was Halloween, eleven days after his second birthday, when I found out I was pregnant with her.

If we had not had him, would we still have her? We never intended to only have one. If it had taken us another six months to get pregnant, we might have had an entirely different kid. Maybe even a girl first. And then we probably would have waited another six months to try to get pregnant with number two. And maybe she would have been a boy. And since I cannot fathom my life without my daughter in it, I suppose I cannot say I wish my son had never been born, because then I might not have her, too.

So after a few moments, I responded, and I said, “I don’t wish it had never happened. I wish it were still happening.”

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

Tami Lund writes funny, award-winning books and depressing blog posts. But the blogging helps her deal, so she can do everything else in life–like write more books for your reading pleasure. Check out her books here: https://www.amazon.com/Tami-Lund/e/B00AXJH5MY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_2

Tami Lund Talks Babies

I’ve been thinking about having another baby.

Okay, relax. I said thinking about, not I’m taking my temperature daily and purchasing a giant bottle of pre-natal vitamins and new lingerie (sorry, honey). And when I say thinking about, what I really mean is, Oh my God, look at that adorable baby! Oh, look at that sweet little toddler. Oh, that chubby cheeked smile. Oh, that little-kid voice. Oh, they’re all so darn adorable when they’re somewhere between utterly and completely helpless and, say, middle school.

Let’s be real here, though. As much as I try to deny it, the cold, hard reality is, I’ve passed my fortieth birthday. More than a year ago. More than a couple years ago. Hell, I don’t even know if my ovaries still work. I didn’t ovulate often when I was in my prime, and I’m pretty sure I’m peri-menopausal.

I also have a love affair with wine that I’m not keen on breaking off, even for what would amount to a short period of time. And if wine and I are calling it quits, I’d better be shedding pounds, not growing a basketball in my belly. Because let’s face it, the only reason I can’t let go of those extra ten has everything to do with that giant bottle of red on my counter. Well, actually, it’s the ones in the recycle bin that are to blame, but that one on my counter will be added to the ranks soon enough.

And let’s get even more real… I once had two kids. Now I have one. And one is so much easier than two. So much. Compound that with the fact that my husband and I feel this need to put our remaining child in a bubble, to bestow upon her all the love and attention and focus that perhaps we had not given enough of to my son.

She seems to be thriving as a result. So far, she isn’t turning into a spoiled little princess, which I admit, was a fear. Not that we’d do it consciously, of course, but I worried we would put her on a pedestal in an attempt to keep her from doubting her own self-worth, and then she’d develop an attitude or personality to match the attention showered upon her.

Lucky for us, she’s simply becoming more confident, trying a little bit harder, suffering the spotlight more than she probably ever thought she’d have to. Once upon a time, she hovered in her brother’s shadow, and she swears she was happy there. Now there is no shadow, and she’s figuring it out, one day at a time, helped along by one hundred percent of mine and my husband’s focus and love. No more sharing our time, no more hiding behind the bigger personality.

Six months after we were forced into this new, smaller family unit, I’d say we’re doing okay. We still have some lows, and actually, they feel really, really low when they hit, because there are longer periods of normalcy, even highs, in between. But we’re working through them, figuring it out, living our lives. We’ve found a comfortable place for the moment, and given the obscene amount of change that’s occurred in my life this year, I’m not overly keen on shaking things up again any time soon. Not even nine months down the road.

So yeah, when I say I’m thinking about having another baby, what I really mean is… Can I hold yours? Just for a minute? I’m more than happy to give him/her back when I’m done.

Cinderella

 

 

Tami Lund is an author, wine drinker, and adorer of other people’s kids. She’s written a few books, if you’re interested in checking them out HERE.