Fathers Day, grief, Life After Loss, Loss, Single Parent, survivors guilt, Vulnerability

Fathers Day after Loss

The start of summertime means pool days, bbqs, family vacation, and Fathers Day. The day we celebrate all those amazing Fathers in our lives. I couldn’t have created a better Father for my children if I sat down and wrote out a list of everything I wanted him to be and somehow manifested him into human form. Literally. Nate was patient, and kind,  and yet, he was consistent and firm. He taught them that life wouldn’t be easy, but provided them with tools to navigate it. He was working hard to shape them into strong, independent little people who love God, and love others. Their Father was busy, but he tucked them into bed every single night with prayers and heart to heart conversations. Every.Single. Night. Not going to lie, I was sometimes jealous. By the time he made it in to me, sometimes hours later, he was ready for bed. I knew Fathers Day was coming, and yet, I chose not to acknowledge it until it was literally crumbling me. I seem to have a way of doing that.

I remember our first Fathers Day together. It was around the time we had just found out I was pregnant. I was terrified. This was not how my life was supposed to look. He wasn’t terrified at all. He had the same calming ways about him that he did until the day he died. I remember going to my first appointment, he came to pick me up and brought me the book “What to expect when your expecting,” professing that he had already read the part talking about what to expect today, and presenting me with our baby’s first outfit, an orange striped Tigger character onesie. I was 19, still very much a child, but I knew in that moment that with this man, the Father of my child, I would be okay. Celebrating your first fathers Day was easy.

Celebrating this first Fathers Day though, is crushing my soul.

What now? Here we are 13 years later. Two children, and me. Alone.

Im tired.

I’m overwhelmed.

I can’t be him, and me.

So what do we do now? How can we celebrate Fathers Day when our hearts are shattered? This is just the first of many, and I know it isn’t going to get easier. I tried to buy Fathers Day cards for the other Fathers in our lives, to celebrate them, and I couldn’t.

I

couldn’t

even.

walk.

down.

the aisle.

I realized days later that wasn’t fair, so I went back. I cried the whole time, ugly cried, publicly. No one bothered me. They just went about picking their own Fathers Day Cards.  I didn’t want to be bothered and yet, it made me feel even more alone. The kids picked out their cards for Grandpas, and uncles, and a few others.

Without a beat, they also picked out several for their own Father.

I guess this means we will celebrate Fathers Day, as we always did. It will just look a little bit different this time.

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#CharlieMike, Faith, grief, Loss, Vulnerability, Words to Live By

Grief is like an Onion

Grief is like an onion, sounds cliche right? It is, but it truly is like one. I strongly dislike onions, and I strongly dislike grief too. There is an exception, I’ll eat a blooming onion from Outback, no idea why, but that is the only way I will eat an onion. I am finding that everyday more and more layers are peeled back, some make you cry harder than others, much like onions. You don’t know what each layer is going to uncover either, so you could be just getting comfortable with the last layer and BAM! It smacks you right in the face again. For me, its the simple things, I can finally say, “he died,” and not skirt around it by saying things like “when all that happened,”

I am still having a hard time saying i’m not married, I still very much feel married to him, present or not. Saying i’m a single parent, can’t do it, even though I very much am. The word single in and of itself terrifies me, I haven’t been a single person since high school. That is terrifying.

This past weekend we went to Colorado and I got to meet my newest niece, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never have Nate’s baby, ever again. We spent years trying, we really thought this would be our year, we finally had a doctor who was figuring it out, long story short,  it had to do with brain stuff, and hormones, and the production of male hormones, something that no one really wanted to treat, or talk about, and at first we were just going to allow whatever happens to happen, but we finally decided to address it, and things were looking positive, and then he died. I carry a lot of guilt with that, it took me longer to decide we needed to work on this than it did him, and I can’t help but think if maybe I agreed sooner? Who knows, its a rabbit hole.

So that opens up another layer of onion, one I didn’t want to think about but my brain went there. Will I EVER have another baby? The thought makes me want to throw up, but I have time, and I don’t know what my future holds, what will that look like, how will I ever explain to another man that he will never be Nate, and Nate is my true love, and yeah, too much, I can’t right now,  it just opens layers and layers of onion that I just can’t even think about. I told Nate once if he died before me, that I couldn’t go on, I would have to die first because I literally wouldn’t be able to stand, and if he died first I couldn’t guarantee I would want to live. He told me that would be a complete waste, that if he died first I better just live my life, and do it well.  I couldn’t imagine my life without him, and yet, here I am, standing, on my own two feet, I’m okay, most days. Some days I crumble, but I pick myself up, and move forward. I feel a little stronger every day.

With Memorial Day coming up, I think i’m carrying a lot more this week, I’ll be out of town, but I’ll be able to go to Arlington and pay my respects to some friends that I haven’t been out there to see yet. I have worked through not being here to be part of that with Nate, I think he would be okay with this, we have amazing friends who are going to make sure he is taken care of here, so that helps too. The kids and I are attending the TAPS National Seminar, so it will be a good time to heal, and grow. I am going to meet up with a friend that I awkwardly avoided the last time I was in DC too, (loooong story, but a very onionesque one that I may blog about in time, )  so I am looking forward to that. I can’t help but  wonder though, is there ever a time you peel back all the layers of the onion? What happens then? Does the onion just go away?

#CharlieMike, grief, Loss, Single Parent, Vulnerability, Words to Live By

It’s not Okay!

May will be month 5 without him. I feel like I’m finally starting to slow down.  Things are finally starting to settle, and yet, i’m drowning. Seemingly worse than before. I had tasks daily for months, phone calls that had to be made, paperwork to be  sorted, appointments to go to, and now, now that its mostly all settled, I don’t know what to do. Honestly it hurts worse.

Everyone is ready for me to rise up, and become the person I was before, to stop letting it consume me, and just live my life.  Honestly, I don’t know that it will ever happen like that. I don’t know that there will ever be days that I don’t think of him and cry. I don’t know if there will be  days where I don’t want to leave home, or days where I can’t be home. This is a marathon for me.  This isn’t “over.”

Adjusting to being an only parent has been the hardest transition for me. I was so blessed in the person that my husband was as a husband and a father. I took a lot for granted, just little things that you don’t always think about like holding my hand while driving, or bringing me water in the morning. Things that you don’t always realize are happening until they are gone.

I have really really good days, but sometimes, it’s almost like those days make the bad days worse. I have a lot to work through still. The kids and I are rebuilding our whole life. Our life and our hearts literally shattered that day, and we will probably search for the pieces forever. So, if you see us out, and we are having fun, don’t assume that the next day will look the same because it doesn’t. Don’t assume that 15 minutes later I’ll still be ok, because sometimes, I’m just NOT okay, and thats ok. I wrote a piece years ago dealing with my life after Nate was injured, and I’m finding a lot of similarities. I said,

“Sometimes, I think I just need to talk. There are days I bring up my husband being injured in conversations about Tupperware. I think I do that because I want someone to ask, I want to tell someone. To cry, to laugh, just to get it all out. I want people to ask if I am okay so I can say…… NO, I am NOT okay.”

I have a lot of guilt because I really struggled during that time, I was lost, I was alone, I was angry.  Granted, I feel like we came out on the other side, but even in that article I questioned whether it was all worth it.

“Was it all worth the price so many of us have paid? As selfish as it sounds, sometimes I think it might have been easier if he didn’t come home at all.”

Looking back, I see it now.  It was worth it.  He was supposed to die on January 13, 2007. He didn’t. I got 10 more beautiful years with him.

This is NOT okay, it never will be. I’m NOT okay either, and thats Okay. it’s okay to not be okay. IMG_0229-1bw

 

 

#CharlieMike, Faith, grief, Loss, Shaken, Vulnerability

Trigger Warning: Suicide

I guess, now that things have settled some, I should take some time to address the elephant in the room. I’ve been asked, friends have been asked, it’s been said in front of a large crowd, there is this quiet buzz kind of going around. The topic no one wants to talk about, but everyone wants to talk about. Cryptic messages, slight side eye looks that come with phrases like, “Did he….was it….was he one of the 22? ” No one ever wants to outright ask, Did he what? Was it what? Did he kill himself? Was it suicide? No, the answer is NO, my husband did NOT take his own life. Does this mean that I won’t continue doing the work I do in the space of Veteran Suicide Awareness and Prevention, absolutely not. This is a cause that has been important to me for a very long time, and will continue to be, let me take you down a rabbit hole really quick…

I wrote this in 2011,

I wanted to write you a letter, but I don’t even know your name, I didn’t take the time to get to know you, to know your story, to feel your pain. There is no way I could have known. The closest thing to Military I ever knew was the ex Army guy who drank with my Dad, oh and there was a Marine I messed around with the summer before my senior year. In my naive teenage brain, they certainly were not hurting, or maybe they were. Looking back they certainly were. They were trying to burry they hurt.Is that what you were trying to do? Soldiers are supposed to be strong, I thought I was strong,I was doing my job, but you, I thought you weren’t. I didn’t know. I thought you were so stupid, so ignorant, what could ever be so bad that you had to take your own life. If it sounds like i’m making excuses for myself, I am. I think about you all the time. I can’t get you out of my head. Your half smile, your eyes and the way they closed so peacefully,your smell, that god awful stench that is forever imbedded in my nose. The way your barracks room was left in perfect order, nothing out of place. Did you do that on purpose, or is that just how you were, I want to know, I want to know you. Its cold here today, when it gets too cold and my feet start to change color I think of you, you looked cold the way the blood pooled in your feet. Where were your friends that night did they care? Maybe they didn’t know, or maybe they ran at the first sign of shit hitting the fan. That’s what people do I guess, we run, run from our problems, from our fears, we run as far and as fast as we can never looking back. Now, now… I get it. I get that you tried to run and no matter where you went or what you did these images, these thoughts, the guilt, it haunted you, it chased you down until you couldn’t run no more; until the light at the end of the tunnel, the sacrifice of the very breath you breathe was the ONLY way out. This is me… running, from you, trying to escape the image, the guilt I feel for not even knowing your name, for not taking one minute out of my life to TRY and understand what several combat tours did to you, for jumping to conclusions about your selfish motives.The images, the the thoughts, the smells, they never left did they? I saw a picture today of a young cowboy, reminded me of you, he was rounding the corner of an old brick building, light behind him and darkness up ahead, I can’t stop looking at it, not for a second.His clothes, the way he wrapped his bandana around his neck just like you did, like it was comfortable, you probably did it all the time too, but this time would be different, THIS time it was a tool to cover the weapon that ultimately took your life. Anytime I see those cords I choke a little bit, I don’t keep them in my house, I can’t. Life…and Death for that matter are crazy, every moment preparing you a little more for the next, this moment being the start of a journey I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined. I think you may have saved my marriage, that moment of self realization that occurred within me, that moment I realized that it could be me, it could be anyone, that moment was my saving grace. I owe that moment to you.

This cause, will always be important to me, but this is NOT Nate’s story. Nate fought hard, were there moments where he questioned his purpose, I won’t lie to you and say no, we had our moments, there were times I thought he was going to be come THAT statistic, but he didn’t. He became another one.

I’ll dive deeper into this brain stuff in another post, but for now, this needs to be said.

My husband  did NOT commit suicide, he died of heart failure. His heart failed due to hypertensive heart failure, directly linked to his brain injury. He lacked the ability to regulate his blood pressure even on extensive medication, he was hospitalized several times in the last year for low blood pressure, for insanely high blood pressure, and for uncontrolled fluctuations. No matter what medication they put him on, they couldn’t fix the damage to the brain that controlled this. It was only a matter of time. We knew this, sort of, we didn’t have a number of days, but we always knew it was a possibility. He chose to love deeply, live like it mattered, and live every day in a meaningful way. Now all that is left to do is for me to fight at least as hard as he did. Helmuth(5of227)

#CharlieMike, Community Service, Faith, grief, Loss, Shaken, Vulnerability

What’s best for three.

About a thousand times, I have heard, “Just do what is best for you and the kids,” Or “you have to do what feels right.” Does that mean what I think is best,  or what you think is best, which definition and whose opinion are we basing this off of? Is it what feels right to me, or to you, and when? Because we all know, I am currently a minute by minute kind of person, I have to be. Sometimes, things are really good, and other times I crumble, and there truly is no rhyme or reason to it.

You begin to second guess yourself when you have a thousand opinions in your ears, a thousand people who think they know what is best. I am grateful for those who truly know me, and who truly knew my husband beyond small glimpses of things. You see, there was a lot people didn’t know about us, about our life, and about my husband. He struggled way more than most of you know, but we kept it within the confines of our 4 walls, and those closest to us, because he truly wanted what was best for us, and that for him was to be a provider, and to be strong, to lead us to Jesus, and to put aside his own struggles for the three of us. He never wanted the attention to be on him, not for a second.

I often wonder what many would have said to him, if they knew how much he struggled on a daily basis, if they knew how much pain he was in daily, if they knew he fought to do basic human things, and yet he was the first to work, and the last to leave every single day. He worked alongside me in the community despite his pain and struggles, he supported the kids whole heartedly at all of their activities, even beauty pageants, he was an amazing pageant Dad! He painted an image, he paved a path, he made his life what he wanted it to be despite struggles. More importantly, despite the opinions of others, Nate did what Nate wanted to do. We were told in 2008, he would never hold a job, that he would never have the mental capacity to complete school, that we needed to accept that he served honorably, and now it was time for him to rest. That wasn’t what was best for him, or us, so we fought it.

Almost 10 years later, Nate had the life he fought for, he graduated from UF and fulfilled his dream of becoming a Gator, he had one of the highest GPA’s in his class, and was excelling in his career. He still was in the same position health wise that he was 10 years earlier, and in retrospect, even worse. If we listened to everyone’s opinions then, where do you think we would be? The move to Florida for Nate to go to school was the best decision we ever made, and the judgement was laid on thick for that one. We literally sold everything we owned to take a chance, for him to make his life what he wanted it to be. In his eyes, this is what he fought in Iraq for, for the freedom to choose, for the freedom to make life what he wanted it to be,  for the freedom to do what is best for three. MM_0175-1.jpg

 

Faith, grief, Hero Missions, Shaken, Truck, Uncategorized, Vulnerability

Spoiler Alert; This wasn’t supposed to happen.

I’m not good at talking, I can’t find the words to say when we sit face to face, probably because I’ll crumble, maybe I fear the reaction, maybe I fear judgement, I don’t know, but I can write. I can write because I can spew, no reactions, and then, I can walk away and be done with it. There is so much of this that can’t be fixed, nothing that anyone can do or say can fix this. I have to work through it on my own. Im angry, everything hurts, everything. Just breathing somedays hurts because I can’t understand why it had to be him and not me. We talked about this, we talked about how I thought he would be stronger than me, and he could live without me, but I could never live without him, and yet, here I am without him. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Simple everyday things were not supposed to feel like this.

The list of things I currently hate includes, but is not limited to;

Restaurants we have been at together

Restaurants we have never been at together

Driving his truck

Not driving his truck

Having his things in the house

Not having his things in the house

Living in the house

Thinking about NOT living in the house

The fact that he is soooooo loved

How prepared he was for this

Sleeping

Not Sleeping

Not being able to have stupid arguments

The fact that we EVER had stupid arguments

Hearing songs that remind me of him, or special moments

Bonfires

The VA

Putting things in JUST my name

Kids activities, this week Dads and doughnuts, we avoided it.

Math- that was his deal, and I am not smart enough to help my kids.

Going to Church

Not Going to Church

Meeting People who will never know him

Working

Not Working

Hanging out with couples without him

Traveling

Not Traveling

Leaving my kids for even 5 minutes

Not being able to leave my kids

Being far from my siblings

The list is not all inclusive, but that should give you an idea of the plethora of emotions I go through on a daily basis just trying to get through every day tasks.

The one thing though, that I hate more than anything else in the whole world right now is the fact that he knew the real me, the me I am so good at hiding, the me that is not as well put together as you all see. He held that together because when I fell apart he picked me up, he he was my punching bag, my voice of reason, my everything. I keep people at arms distance so I don’t have to let them in, I’m really good at that, always have been, I let him in, and now I’m here, without him, and I don’t know which way is up.

 

Spoiler Alert; this happened, we are here, and now I’m stuck.

 

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grief, Loss, Uncategorized, Vulnerability

Tearing Down Walls

I started blogging years ago, as an outlet, some place I could go to word vomit, someplace I could put things and share them, or not. It was more about the physical process of typing the words, getting them out of me and to somewhere. Eventually though, I felt like I ran out of things to say there, so I stopped. In the last few months, I began to feel like I needed that outlet again, but I didn’t feel like what I needed to say was worthy of being read by my friends, family, strangers. Today, I went back and read some of those old posts, and in attempts to share more of our story with you, I am going to share some of them.

This one brought me to my knees this morning, this one…was written by Nate, and I told him that he should write something, so that others could see the other side, so it didn’t seem like this was just about me. He said he didn’t think his words were good enough, HE felt unworthy of sharing his words, and I encouraged him, that even if they helped one other person that it IS worth it, it is ALWAYS worth it. I’m really good at offering up advice and not taking my own.

Lots of things stood out, and I am grateful.

Tearing Down Walls

“Hello, most of you who follow this blog know a decent amount about me. I am the other half or in some cases more like the one quarter compared to Kristle’s three quarters. I would venture to say that a large majority of you have a spouse who is like me and needs at times to be coaxed like an adult child or lead by a leash to get things done and done right, or just you simply decide to do it yourself. For some of us warriors, I guess is the word to call us, it takes a lot of swallowing pride to watch this. I speak for myself here but I believe that I had been a strong, confident and mostly successful soldier and person before my injuries and ailments. I always felt like the best was the only success and that I was always strong enough to do it all, not only perfectly but also with out help. Now skip forward a little to my time after I had returned home from Iraq, early 2008, and on my way into a Warrior Transition Battalion(WTB).

All I wanted was to beat this diagnoses of TBI and PTSD (among other less significant injuries), but it seemed the harder I tried the worse I got. So I reached a point in my life where I had to come to terms with the idea that what I knew best and where I wanted to be was ending, I was medically retired. While this was an honor in some ways to be given the rights and benefits of a soldier who committed their life for 20 or more years to our country, I truly was sad, disappointed and ultimately depressed. The good though in all this was Kristle and our family. I would never have to leave them again to go fight a war, I could be their to help raise them, to watch them grow and be involved in their lives. Boy did I not see the bright flashing signs telling me to get help or things will be worse. Now, I could argue that I did go through “therapy” of many sorts and was on a slew of medicines, 17 or more at one point, so I should be doing good. I also decided I could fix my problems at least on the outside by just saying “I wont be like that anymore” or saying “I changed, look at how good I am”. EHHHH EHEH! In the voice of some crazy sketch comedian on one of those shows…… I truly hadn’t changed nor fixed things at. In fact I had built a pretty thick wall around me that no one could see past or feel my pains issues or burdens, accept of course the one person who I cared most about. That wall was paper thin to her. I still tried to hide behind it but she could feel the pains and see the shadows. No I was not hiding it from her, I was simply denying it. Denying it to the point that it has shredded our marriage, or trust and her personal sanity.

Denial is a powerful thing. While I was busy trying to be perfect and hide from failure, Kristle has been left following behind me picking up the damages. Denying herself along the way, dropping her life so that I could pretend to be Nate.  Until enough was enough. I always swore I would do anything to get better, or help my family or be “normal”. That is anything but what would put me out of my comfort zone; deep intense therapy, in-patient therapy etc. What a croc of bologna, I did just enough to get by, put on just a enough of a front to keep people happy. When inside I was dying, and I was only hurting myself and my family more and more. I guess where I’m going is that us “warriors” try and maintain this perfect, prepared and tough exterior at all costs. But is it worth it? Warriors even wives would you sacrifice the very thing you want to protect and love for the pride of appearing perfect or together? Would you accept, I mean truly accept, the help that is out there to help you cope in a healthy way so that the you that your loved ones need can really be there? Can you give up the pride, break down and say HELP! PLEASE HELP! So those of you closest or that know how to help can help. I know now finally after four years of hiding that this is what I must do.

It is not easy for you or even anyone around you, but it is necessary. Learning when to say enough, learning to accept success even if it’s less than perfect, learning to accept the gifts that your loved ones give to you by their personal sacrifices daily.  I know that’s what I want. I want to be able walk into a busy place and handle my fears, to learn how to communicate effectively when I need a break or just expressing myself with out anger or rage, to learn how to treat my wife so she knows I love her everyday not just the good ones, I want to follow through with my life plans, to pave a path for my son and daughter to follow and be proud of, I want to be the real me for me. I want to learn to be Me so everyone knows who I really am, not just what I what them to see. True change has been a long time coming, trust will be a structure built again with my wife once again, not just patched long enough to stay dry.

Some times breaking down to your most raw vulnerable state is the best, maybe even the only way to begin to build yourself back up. That is where I am finally, fours years later, one badly damaged marriage and family later, one extremely hurt and burdened woman still holding it together.”

Nate

 

 

Faith, grief, Loss, Vulnerability

Vulnerability

vul·ner·a·bil·i·ty
noun
  1. the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

The loss of a spouse does something to you, aside from ripping your heart out over and over multiple times a day, it forces you to be vulnerable. Things I would ordinarily need my husband to do, i’m either forced to figure out, which honestly, is my first choice, or I have to ask for help, and in most cases I would rather rip out my own eyes before asking for help. Im stubborn as mule, and i’m not afraid to admit it. It’s made me who I am. My whole life.

Right now, everything feels HUUUGE to me. Whether its, buying dog food, I had not personally bought dog food in I can’t even tell you how long, because Nate did that, every single time, I am so spoiled that I walk to the container, scoop out the food, and it was never ending. Well, it ended. I didn’t know what kind to buy, and I had a total meltdown. Doesn’t seem big, but it was to me. Then, I had to admit that I was hurting to someone I didn’t know as I cried over dog food. It’s hard! I am

Every Single thing about my life right now is hard. There is not a day that I get up, ready to take on the world feeling like myself. I feel anxious, terrified, sad, physically, and emotionally drained, and every other feeling in existence all at once, I really cannot handle much more than just getting me and my kids through, minute, by minute, sometimes second by second. That said, I felt like in my vulnerability I needed to just get a couple things of my chest today.

  1. I still do not know exactly what happened, so just as you are waiting for answers, so am I, and more importantly my children, so when I know, if you are someone who should know, you will too, if you never know, well then i’m sorry but it probably wasn’t your business to begin with. So while this means continued curiosity for you, this means my children and I have a very uncertain future. There is very little you can do without a death certificate, so mull on that a minute before you ask me again.
  2. No, the VA does not cover THAT, whatever thing it is I may be asking for help with, or when people make scholarships for my children and you want to question it, if you have never worked with the VA, be thankful, but again, don’t speak unless you know, because as mentioned above I have zero answers, and until I have those the VA can’t do a thing for me, and even when they do, it will NOT be a smooth process. They probably won’t even mail it to the right place, you know the one you have lived at for 6 years. Yes, that already happened.  If you have not noticed, my husband’s services were weeks ago, and of course there are costs associated, so you do the math. If you need a class in VA i’d be happy to break it down for you.
  3. No, there are not a million non profits out there who can help me because guess what, while he was wounded, its been made perfectly clear to me that he is “no longer wounded” of course he isn’t, he is dead, so thank you for that friendly reminder of the thing I must not have known prior to calling you. We have never been ones to ask for help, and I remember why now. Someone dropped the ball on us once years ago, and we committed to doing whatever it was we needed to do to make it, because you fall through the cracks so easily. So, that is what I will do, I will find a way for me and my kids.

 

I am going to go snuggle my babies a little longer before we go to church today, but I challenge you, not just with me, but with all people, just think before you speak, you truly never know when the person you are encountering is dealing with really huge things, when something you take for granted has been ripped from their lives.

 

You can’t always see what others are seeing, but this, this is what I saw the first time I walked in the Church of Eleven22, far before my husband was ever there, and this is what I will continue to see.

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