Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

She is mom. Wife. Business woman. Delicate flower. Steel tower. She struggles to raise grounded amazing little people in a world of chaos, to contribute to a highly competitive career world, to tame the mom guilt that is a bi-product of her career, to maintain a hot, steamy relationship with her spouse of umpteen years, to convince her pig-headed toddler to eat the damn peas…and then she, one day, finds herself pining away for that sassy young anti-pea eating activist after he becomes a surly teenager with an endless array of new challenges to present to her. So many balls to keep in the air. So. Many. But she does. She may falter along the way. She may doubt herself. A ball may slip here or there. But she’ll catch it, and she will toss that ball back into the ring with grit and gusto. Because she is a circus juggling phenomenon. It IS her circus. It IS her monkeys. She is juggler and ringmaster.

She is every woman.

These are just the given day-in and day-out struggles. She may also find herself going head to head with some of life’s more generous and bountiful gifts…like the gut-wrenching death of a close family member, a debilitating depression following childbirth, a life-altering cancer diagnosis, a messy minefield of a divorce, a 2-headed monster called co-parenting, that famed mid-life crisis she keeps hearing about, a moment of pause when she looks in the mirror and wonders “Who the hell are you…and why didn’t you bring a younger, hotter, bouncier body with you?” The list of hits just keeps coming for her, as she incessantly treads water…both familiar, and not.

But she is every woman.

At times, she will feel inadequate. Alone. Unsuccessful. Terrified. Unqualified. Misunderstood. Taken for granted. Lost. She will join the sisterhood of bathroom hiders, wine soothers, and private sobbers. She will cry it out. Confirm to herself that life is over…that she is all alone. Once she feels she has successfully won this argument with herself (and the wine is gone), she will pull it together. She will regroup, refocus, and reassess the situation. She will understand that balls drop because of the gravity of life. She will wipe her tears and put in check her fears. And then she will realize that she was never, in fact, alone.

Because she is every woman.

She is stronger than she knows. Braver than she feels. Smarter than she thinks. More badass than she believes. And more resilient than she ever thought possible. It is her strength, her bravery, and her brains that will pick up the dropped balls and get them back into her juggling act. But it is her resilience that will restore her confidence after the fall. It is her resilience that will bring her back to her center, back to herself, ringmaster. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It is the act of “bouncing back” post traumatic event. And bounce back, she will. Each and every time. Back into the ring.

For she is every woman.

Speaking as a mom who has had more than a few balls to juggle, I can attest to the excessive and rotund plumpness of some. For example, the depression after the birth of my extremely premature one-pound son who wasn’t supposed to make it, the doctor’s emotionless newsflash that this very stressful pregnancy would be my last, the impossibly devastating decision to help my baby sister pass in peace after months of suffering on life support, the mid-life crisis complete with a career hop into the medical field (fueled by my sister’s passing) and the struggle of knowing that I had absolutely zero medical knowledge at the time, the ever dreaded breast cancer diagnosis that derailed everything familiar to me for a short time, and even the narrowly escaped divorce. Throw in there raising a beautiful adopted daughter who has challenged everything I thought I knew about life, and you have the new me.

She is me.

The new…older and more tired, yes…but more self-aware, more attuned to my own mental strength, more experienced, more confident, more determined than ever…me. She has learned what she never knew about herself. When faced with adversity, it is our instinct to look externally for strength, for peace, for advice. But true resilience comes from within. She has only to look in the mirror to find what she’s looking for. That woman looking back at her…she has always been there…just past the insecurity and fear. Just past the veil of uncertainty. She is brave. She is strong. She is smart. She is resilient. And the sooner she knows this, the sooner she can get back to her juggling act. Her monkeys are waiting. They are in place…most likely the wrong place. But the show must go on.

And it needs its ringmaster.

She is you. She is me. She is we. And we are resilient.

Juggle on.

Chick Hughes

The damp, dreary black of night, heavy with humidity, mirrors the state her heart. She buries herself under the bundle of bed sheets and blankets as if they shield her from the outside world. The sounds of raindrops dancing on the rooftop aren’t enough to help Madeline sleep tonight. But they never are anymore. She remembers when they were enough to make her forget where she was, even who she was, as she lost herself in the tantalizing tango from above. When they were soft and soothing…her eyelids their puppets as they willed her to sleep. But the rain no longer has that effect on her.

Since he left…every sound, every sensation was a reminder that he was gone. She could no longer disappear dreamily into the rain dance over her head. No longer sway gently in her dreams to the romantic raindrop rendezvous. Now it was different. Now she was a prisoner trapped inside the tango, unable to dance along…being tossed around in the chaos that is her heart. The raindrops and the metal rooftop colliding with heated intention and frustration, building her up only to let her down over and over again in cyclical misery.

There was pain in the rain. Pain in everything, now.

He was her best friend, her soul mate. Though she had never believed in soul mates, her connection with Trey challenged everything she thought she knew to be true. It was one of those things that a girl doesn’t believe in until it stares her square in the eye, stands its ground, and double dares her to doubt. Double dare or not, she did doubt. It wasn’t in her nature not to question. She could no sooner ignore her skepticism than she could stop breathing. So doubt, she did. Her heart and her gut, all the while, whispering to her that he was her soul mate, that the magnitude of this connection could be nothing less. But her brain, more trustworthy, continued to cast doubt with a louder, more authoritative inner voice. Surely she was just clouded by love and infatuation. Surely. How could she have fallen so hard, so quickly? She tried to convince herself that he had fallen just as hard. That he had to be feeling the same thing she felt. And she did for a while. But somehow she knew that her heart would pay the price for the charges her brain kept tallying. And just as she knew it would, the bill had finally come. And it was heftier than she thought. She wasn’t sure she would ever pay it off.

They had met 4 years ago. It was an accidental meeting. Right place, right time. Neither of them was looking. Yet it seemed they were drawn together, as if they were the last two creatures alive. The spark was instant. The flame, inevitable. From the moment they met, she craved more. Each hour spent with him only fed her addiction. She was starving and he was her nutrition. And she was sure she was his. Each time Trey touched her, she felt electricity that she had never known before. Each time he spoke her name, she felt she had never heard it spoken with such command and desire. With every meeting of their eyes, there was his soul…greedily drinking hers in as if his life depended on it. The sound of his voice was intoxicating to her…making her drunk with anticipation. They spent the next 4 years learning everything they could about each other. They needed to know every detail, big or small. Every flaw, or strength. Every humiliating story, or triumph. Every ambition, or disappointment. Every fear. Every laugh. Every turn on. Every turn off. He was the only person on Earth who knew her deepest, most private thoughts…with whom she trusted her innermost self completely. They shared the darkest of secrets they both knew could never be uttered to another living soul. And then there was the sex… When they made love, it felt as if she was more naked than she had ever been. Both physically and emotionally. They connected on a level so transcending, it seemed to defy possibility and mock all of their previous human interactions.

Trey and Maddy had quickly become a dance. When one moved, the other moved. When one reached, the other grabbed hold. They trusted one another with anything. With everything. They seemed to have no choice. Feeling bigger than the two of them, the universe had connected their cores. It had connected their hearts. There was some gravitational pull that kept their souls dancing along to a song only they could hear.

For Maddy, everything made sense with him around. Her purpose. Her existence. Life not only made more sense with Trey. It made her happier than she ever knew she could be. She never imagined something so perfect would ever end. Not really end.

But on a regular Monday, with no forewarning, it did just that.

Suddenly, Trey just disappeared from her life. She didn’t realize this immediately, of course. She called him, sent him flirty texts. But nothing. After days turned into weeks with no response, she became increasingly worried. Increasingly empty.

She did finally get one text from him, but only one. Three words, to be exact.

“I just can’t.”

She tried to talk to him…ask questions, beg for answers. But nothing. She had no idea what had changed. Nothing had happened, nothing she knew of… One day they were dancing along perfectly in sync. And the next, he had left the dance floor.

Time passed.

Trey didn’t call. He didn’t text. No apologies, no reasons, no regrets, no maybe laters, no anything. He just walked away. Why? Had she done something? Had he done something? Why didn’t he say goodbye? To Maddy, this was what hurt the most…the nothingness. Just. Nothing. Everything they had shared, the intense connection that rocked her existence, the love that followed…seemed to mean nothing. She had put her heart, raw and dependent, in his hands, with complete trust and confidence that he would keep it beating. He hadn’t. Everything they had, everything, had vanished.

It took, with it, all of her.

She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. She could only feel. But feeling was too painful…too debilitating.

Her brain had convinced her heart of only one possibility. One possible explanation that flipped her insides upside down, stole her breath, and suffocated her heart with callous malice.

He had never loved her…

The raindrops are getting more intense. Maddy is trapped inside the, now, one person tango that is her heart. Unable to sleep, she tries to make sense of her heartbreak. It never comes. Frustration and loneliness. These are her dance partners now, as she steps on her own toes and falls time and time again. She lies in bed, predicting and dreading each and every treacherous raindrop.

Maddy pulls the cover over her head to escape the rain…to escape the dance…to escape Trey.

The drops are slamming into the rooftop as if begging to be let in. As if the world outside is too intense. And they, like her, need to escape.

The rain continues. The pounding on the rooftop. The pounding on her heart. No peace. No rhythm. No purpose.

She surrenders to the tears that are now refusing to be restrained. To her heart that is refusing to be silenced. Her tears become the rain. Her rain drags on, exhausting her.

And just like that, the rain stops.

The dance is done.

She lies there in the heavy darkness…listening to the silence.

Longing for sleep.

Longing for the dance that once was.
For the music she may never hear again.

Sleep found her…

Maddy woke to the chirps of her resident blue jay. He was at his usual post…a branch nestled inside the towering red maple tree outside her window. His chirps were an insult to the sadness she had committed herself to indefinitely. Damn bird. Damn happiness.

She rolled over to check her phone. Her phone illuminated one single text. From Trey.

“Hi.”

~Chick Hughes

Birthdays are celebrations of life. But even in death, one’s life and memory can be celebrated.  My baby sister would have turned 40 today.  Five years ago, she celebrated her final birthday in a hospital, hanging on to life support.  She left behind her precious kiddos and family who miss her more than she probably ever thought possible.  As my sister and I were learning to juggle kids and family in our 30s, we were also slowly learning to appreciate this complicated dynamic called sisterhood…which had been strained for so many years.  We were only beginning to understand that the little things are just that…little things.  That the big things are what matter…the memories we create, the unwavering support through life’s trials, the understanding that sisters are the ties that bind…no matter the little things.  One summer, just as we were figuring this out, not long before we lost her, Mandy and I took a getaway trip to a casino.  No kids.  Just the two of us.  The first time we had ever done a sister trip, we had more fun than I ever imagined we could together.  It was as if we suddenly remembered what it was like to laugh together, like we were the only two in on a joke.  We hysterically giggled our way through getting lost, losing money on the slot machines, finding that the valet had left our sunroof open for the 2 rain-filled days we were there,  and a very wet ride home on squishy, puddled seats.  We even giggled at our girlish giggling.  I regret that this was the one and only time we ever got away as sisters and left all of life’s noise behind.  Now, there are only memories…memories that make me smile or laugh and, of course, memories in the end that hurt beyond words.  But the real pain lies in the fact that there could have been so many more good ones, given the time.  There were so many things she never got to do, to experience, to see.  I find that with every new experience I have, with every new place I travel, with every new life development…regret finds me…regret that she isn’t here to do it with me.  That she was cheated of so much that life has to offer.  It’s in these moments that the familiar grief washes over me once again.  The loss.  Her loss of watching her children grow, of having grandchildren, of seeing the world, of everything we take for granted.  Her children’s unimaginable loss of having a mother to turn to, to rely on, to love.  My loss of a sister, of a friend, of opportunity to build on a foundation we were just learning we had.  So much loss.

Five years out, the loss is still so tangible.  Today that loss lies in the inability to wish my baby sister a happy birthday on a day we celebrated for so many years.  Her day.  This grief is a roller coaster of memories, tears, and regret.  Regret that instead of birthdays, all I have of her are yesterdays.  But after some thought, I have realized that throughout our life, I never shied away from giving her my two cents, often times two cents more than she wanted.  It may sound silly…it may be silly… but one thing that can live on is my two cents.  The one thing I have left of our sisterhood is that behind closed doors, whenever the mood strikes, I can still talk to her.  She may not answer me with words, but her memory lingers.  Memories of her answer me when she cannot.  So, with that, I’d like to wish her a happy birthday. What I would give to celebrate it with her today.  What I would give to have, with her, birthdays…instead of just yesterdays.

 

It’s been just over a month since the day my sister passed away…August 28th.  “Time of death… 6:37.”  The doctor’s face as she announced this single solitary moment in time will be burned into my memory for each and every future moment hereafter.  Before losing her, I was rarely at a loss for words, ever ready with sarcastic commentary and not easily shaken.  Since that day, however, I’ve tried to write.  Many times.  But each attempt left me overwhelmed with emotion and fumbling for literary dignity … seemingly bound by some invisible force that mocked every word, every thought as undeserving and insignificant.  I could barely think, let alone write.  Perhaps avoiding a mental confrontation with her death.  Perhaps existing in an emotional tailspin void of inspiration.  Perhaps paralyzed by this all-encompassing monster called grief, with which I’m becoming far too familiar.  Whatever the binding excuses were, they now take their rightful and inferior place behind my infinitely stubborn need for analytical dissection.

And dissect, I have.  Having tirelessly studied and analyzed the cutting edge medical treatments she endured and why they couldn’t save her, the agonizing days leading up to her death, how she may or may not have felt, what she may or may not have been thinking, what she may or may not have been aware of, and the excruciatingly final moment in which she slipped away…I am completely lost trying to comprehend an incomprehensible world without her in it.  A world without her won’t-back-down bulldog in-your-face protection of those she loved, a world without her impossibly stubborn know-it-all attitude, a world without the sister I’ve known, loved, hated, fought with, cried with, and turned to my entire life.  A world with no stubborn baby sister with whom to butt heads.

A stubborn streak was one of the few things I had in common with her.  Aside from that, we were different in every way, shape, and form.  And regarding areas we may not have been so different, we were both too damn stubborn to fess up to.

As children, we learned, we played, we experienced, we dealt with life together.  Side by side. Good times and bad.  Triumphs and failures.  Birthdays and fall-outs.  Love and hate.  Protection and rivalry.  Stories and secrets.  These are the things that define sisterhood.  I knew her inside and out, as she did me.  As adults, we just never got along. And if, in some rare weak moment, we found ourselves succumbing to the evils of sisterly amiability, we were quick to rectify it.  But, family is family.  And as two sisters in an incredibly small family circle, she was my constant…and I hers.

So, whether we saw eye to eye or not, whether we laughed together or declared war on the other, whether we stuck together or stuck it to each other, whether we liked it or not…we were a team in this world.

I only wish I’d known that.  Death has this backhanded way of teaching its spectators life lessons while simultaneously revoking any opportunity to act on their newfound knowledge.

After fighting a losing health battle for most of a year, she was, at last, able to receive a surgery that we hoped would change her life.  The adage “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.   Her surgery proved unsuccessful and resulted in two subsequent surgeries.  Each brought with it more and more challenges for her to overcome as she slowly deteriorated before our eyes.  After the 3rd surgery, she could no longer go on without life support.  Two weeks on the ventilator were met with little success as her lungs progressively worsened and she was diagnosed with ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome).  The deterioration of her lungs got the best of the ventilator, and that too began to fail.  So, in addition to the ventilator, she was placed on a machine called ECMO.  A machine we had never before heard of and one that only 6 adult patients had been placed on in the history of the hospital where she was receiving treatment, it was essentially an artificial lung.  A beast of a machine, it removed her blood from her body, filtered out carbon dioxide, oxygenated it, and sent it back into her body.  The doctors referred to it as a medical “last ditch”effort.

This marked a turning point for my sister.  One that rendered her void of responsiveness…one in which she slowly slipped further and further away.

By her side as much as possible, I talked to her, sang to her, yelled at her, made promises to her, begged for her forgiveness, nursed her, cleaned her, treated her to mani-pedis, and learned everything I possibly could about the machines her life depended on.  Machines that never seemed to yield definite answers and only fueled my 101 questions to which doctors responded with evasive non-answers.

After 3 weeks of depending on not one, but two, forms of life support, brain scans revealed scattered bleeds and damage in her brain caused by the continuous pressure of the very thing keeping her with us.  Respiratory medical advances had kept her alive…defeated death…but the side effects of said advances would produce the same outcome.  Through the weeks of poking, prodding, tests, and unknown pain that we subjected her to, we thought we were saving her.  That we were prolonging her life.  As it turns out, what we were actually doing was prolonging her death…I suspect subconsciously we needed time to come to terms with what was happening.  Time to process the inevitable.  We each needed our own journey of acceptance before we could come together as a family and set her free.  Without meaning to, we were stripping her of her last wishes, her dignity, her right to pass on in peace.  She was facing hurdles impossible to climb.  Her body was worn down.  Her lungs had given up.  Her brain had paid the price.  The time to fight had come and gone.  It was time to give her what she needed most…peace.

Time to turn off the machines, to let her go.

Coming to this conclusion mentally is a vicious internal battle fought by each family member…one that precedes the actual war.  Giving up on hope.  Ending a life.

Heart-wrenching in theory.  Unimaginable in execution.

Being present for the death of someone you love is something one is never prepared for…and something that forever changes a person, I believe.  As a family, being forced into a decision to remove life support from one of its own grossly extends the limits of any manageable emotion, any possibility of soothing, or any realm of rationale.

As her last moments approached, I was by her side, as were my parents and brother.  We were circled around her as she left our family for whatever awaited her.  As a family who rarely (or, in fact, had never) gathered in one place at one time, there we were…sewn together at the hip by family ties, to see her through.  Through her battles with the life support that would eventually take her from us, through her last physical struggles, through her last moments of consciousness, through her last gasps of breath…we held her hand.  Or maybe she was the one holding our hands, easing us into acceptance of what she knew to be her fate.  Inches from her face, I sang to her, pledged my love to her, apologized for regrets I will never be able to undo, cried into her hand, and rubbed her face as the machines were turned off, as she took her last breath, as our tears drenched her lifeless body.  We were allowed more time with her after her passing…to hold her, to clean her, to look at her face one last time…before she was taken out of our lives forever.  Her struggle was over.  But ours was just beginning.

I still wonder what her thoughts were, if any.  What she could feel, if anything.  What she was aware of, if anything.  Did she know we were gathered around her?  Could she feel our love, our regret, our tears?  Hoping, hoping, hoping that she did.  Yet, hoping she felt nothing as she peacefully drifted off to sleep for the last time.  And wrestling with the knowledge that we couldn’t have it both ways.

Watching my baby sister leave this world was…

Truthfully, I don’t know how to end that sentence.  There just aren’t words that do the experience justice.  The love, the pain, the fear, the regret, the loss, the guilt, the realization that a piece of me which was never appreciated enough, never spoken to enough, never loved on enough,  is gone forever ~ no do-overs, no make-ups, no second chances.  Just gone.

Game over.  Nobody wins.

All that’s left is grief.

A monster whose reputation I have only heard horror stories about until recently.  A monster who comes with unthinkable force, obliterates its victims, and leaves quietly, only to plot its next debilitating bodily invasion.  A monster one can only straddle like a bucking horse gone mad, ride out its fury, climb down from, and wait…with one eye open, dreading its return.

A monster I have now gone toe to toe with…

As I mourn the loss of my sister, as I try to cherish her life, as I gather every precious, and previously unappreciated, memory of her I can scrape from the depths of my mind for my emotional consumption…as I struggle to make sense of her very short and difficult life…as I continue to straddle the monster that is grief ~ wild, terrifying, and unpredictable…

I hold on tight and hope the monster tires soon.

And to my sister, I say…You are forever a piece of my heart.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

 

~ Chick Hughes