Monday, December 28, 2015

What Isaac taught me about love

I'm going to start at the beginning because as Julie Andrews suggested, "It's very good place to start." After our first date, Isaac was so sneaky and left a note on my car the next day thanking me for our date. I thought it was a hate note from my neighbors for parking in "their" spot (they thought they owned parking spots even though none were assigned). I was in shock. I can't tell you how many times that I had been told to "let him know you had a good time," "text him," "reassure him." I remember talking to my mom about two weeks after Isaac and I had started to go on dates and I started to cry. I felt so silly but the truth is no guy had ever treated me that way. Isaac was brave. He wasn't waiting for me to reassure him or decide for him. He was going to jump in and see what happened. So many young people hesitate to show love for someone. They want to feel certain first. But Isaac gave when he didn't know I'd give back. From the very beginning Isaac "loved" me. It's not that he had fallen in love with me. Love is a verb, and he decided to love me and see what happened.

When I first became friends with Isaac on Facebook I noticed that his profile picture was of his parents. I thought that was kind of strange but if you know Isaac, then you would understand that Isaac loves his parents, and Isaac is his family. Isaac really looked up to his parents and the love that they had cultivated through the years. I could see that Isaac really believed in marriage and that the greatest happiness in life would come from loving one woman really well. Isaac is a much more private person than me. If something good happens, I want to tell everyone. If I'm feeling love, I want to shout it from the rooftops. Isaac showed me that I didn't need to share everything for my happiness to be real. I didn't need to tell everyone on Facebook how much I love my husband or post each time he did something nice. He taught me that those things are personal and that I don't need the world to validate my happiness or love. It's not that he looked down on people who share these things but it did help create intimacy. Rather than sharing things with others, we became really good at sharing our feelings in person with each other. I can't really describe it but there is something really special about your spouse opening up and sharing his feelings with you for only you to know. 

Isaac was good at apologizing. When I first got with Isaac, I never saw an angry bone in his body. But kids change things. Ha! And he is latino, so I'm pretty sure he gets his hot head from all those hot peppers he likes to eat! Isaac would be stressed out from work and sometimes he would take it out on me. I would get mad at him for his attitude. And we had fights about real issues too. We went through a very difficult time after Rose was born. But Isaac was always good about apologizing when he acted in a way that wasn't loving. That built trust. I knew that I could trust that no matter what we disagreed upon, we would always come back together. I learned that even though we lost our cool or got lost in a fight, we both wanted this to work and we both loved each other.

Isaac always made me feel beautiful. Isaac never compared me to other girls. He never criticized my body. He didn't look at other women. It's so hard as a woman in today's world to feel like enough, but I always felt like enough with Isaac. 

Isaac cherished my role as the mother of his children. He was so great about being supportive through my pregnancies and expressing gratitude for the physical burden of carrying the children. Maybe because he wanted six more! But still, I'll give him credit for making me feel appreciated. 

Isaac has also taught me things about love through his death. When I look back on my marriage, I realize that there were times that I held on to hurt or amplified hurt because I would let a moment define our relationship. Sometimes after a disagreement, I would start to doubt that Isaac felt the same way I did. In marriage, you aren't always kind and you aren't perfect. I realize now that too often when we disagreed, I would worry that something was shifting in our relationship. And while that can happen in a marriage, I realize now that the worry was unnecessary. When Isaac died, everything in our relationship flashed before my eyes and now I'm not sure why I ever doubted him. I hope that if/when I remarry that I can be better about not letting the emotions of one moment define what I think about how my spouse feels about me. I feel like I could have avoided a lot of hurt if I had just taken a step back and looked at the whole relationship rather than focusing on what was happening in the moment. It's easy to feel good about your marriage in the good moments but it's more important to trust that your marriage is good even in the difficult times.

And now, I'm trying to learn another lesson about love. Maybe a broken heart doesn't love less. Maybe a broken heart can love more. In some ways, I feel that I love my children more now than I did before. They bring so much happiness and purpose to my life. I'm not sure that I needed that as much as I do now. I love my friends and family more as I've seen them sacrifice for me and support me. I feel more compassion for my clients. I am more aware of pain and the process that goes along with it. I feel more gratitude for the people and blessings in my life. I have felt of God's love more. So even though my heart aches, maybe the aches are just growing pains. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

There are no bad days

I joined a Facebook support group for widows and widowers. And while I enjoy being part of the group, I find that sometimes my experience is different from others' experiences. I often see people say, "Today was a bad day..." or "The holidays are bad..." I'm not sure why it bothers me so much but I hate using the word "bad" when talking about grief.

My Thanksgiving break was hard. I cried a lot more than I normally do when I'm at home living my everyday life. Isaac's absence hit me really hard. The space he used to fill felt so huge. I felt myself anticipating what he would say and do but nothing ever filled the space. At times I felt bored without him. I felt lonely. I felt alone. I'm beginning to understand what it means to truly miss a person. This experience let me see what I'm in for as I get further and further from the time when Isaac was alive in my life. But it wasn't bad. It was sad. It was really, really sad. But for me "bad" has such a negative connotation. I don't think that the pain I feel is "bad." It's good! I should feel this way. It should hurt this intensely. The pain reflects the loss of something great. It isn't wrong to feel this way. I feel this way because I loved Isaac with all my heart. And, I know that he loved me. It makes me sad because I know our future together on earth was going to be bright but now our future is very different from the one we had planned. And if there are days that I cry or can't pull myself together, I'm not going to feel bad about that. I gave all I had to our marriage and there is no way, no way, that I could ever turn off the grief that I feel.

Sometimes I think people talk about these being bad days because others can't tolerate their grief. I've heard many comment on how others have said things to indicate that their grief should be over or less weepy. No one should ever tell you how to grieve. One thing I see supportive people say is, "Be strong!" or "Stay strong!" What does that even mean? When someone says that in response to me expressing grief, it confuses me. I don't think sadness and longing negate strength. I'm not weak because I cry. That is a funny thing about our culture. If you refrain from crying when you are hurt, you are considered tough or strong. But if you have ever really let yourself truly feel all your emotions, without letting your emotions consume you, you will know what it is to be strong. Most of the time we avoid difficult emotions because we worry they will overtake us. And often that ends up being the case. If we put off grief, it eventually will consume us. Allowing ourselves to feel requires the courage to be vulnerable without knowing what will happen. So my goal is not to be strong for myself and my kids. My goal is to just be, just be whatever it is that I am today. But one thing I know, today will not be bad because there are no bad days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Pain

     It has been a while since I have written on the blog. Mostly because I have been really busy. I moved and then I went out of town to visit Isaac's family and a dear friend of mine. I've been wanting to write about some of these things for sometime now. I find that I often learn more about myself and the world through talking and writing.
     I've observed a few things about my grief process. I have learned that the first week or two of grief is just shock and survival. Following that was a period of adrenaline. That time was filled with busyness and visitors. But once all the business is handled and the visitors dwindle, the loss settles in and the void makes itself known. The truth is that I didn't have room to miss Isaac before now. There was too much chaos, too much to do. As things settle down, his absence is so loud. And it hurts. There are different parts to the hurt. There is the loss I feel for my children. There is the loss of the future I thought would be ours. The loss of my dreams being shared with Isaac. The loss of marriage. The loss of my best friend. The loss of Isaac, the individual. I've heard some people talk about how surprised they are when they continue to grieve even after remarriage. But that makes sense to me. Remarriage can't be a replacement. You can't replace a person. You can simply create new nurturing relationships.
     When someone dies, there is part of you that says, "I want to say goodbye one last time or have one last kiss, or one last whatever." But I don't dwell on that because the truth is that no one last anything could make it better because it would still be a "last," and that is what hurts. I remember that a few days after Isaac died I had to drive somewhere. While driving I thought, "If I wanted to be with Isaac, I could just crash the car and die." And here is the struggle: I could die and be with Isaac or I can live but the truth is that I want to live with Isaac. And what I want, I can't have. And what does it mean that as I move further from that moment that my desire to live is stronger than my desire to be with him? These aren't questions that I need to answer. These are simply the raw emotions that I have felt.
     When Isaac first died, I felt so sad for my children. One of the reasons I married Isaac was because of his loyalty to family. My parents divorced when I was about six-years-old and my relationship with my dad has more often than not been a source of pain and disappointment. I wanted to be sure as one can be that the father of my children would always be there for them. So when Isaac died, it felt like the most important thing that I wanted for my children was ripped from them. But a dear friend told me something that has brought comfort to me. Someone had told her this when her family was grieving the loss of a young father. She said that it is important to remember that God loves my children more than me. Just think of that. If I truly believe that God is my Heavenly Father and the Father of my children, then why would he allow for this tragic loss? If God is love, how is this an act of love? I don't know why and I don't know how, but there is something in me that tells me Isaac's death was necessary.
     A couple weeks after Isaac passed, I found myself watching a cartoon movie, "Joseph in Egypt," while babysitting my friend's children. I had actually thought it was the movie "Prince of Egypt" and felt a little disappointed by the music, ha! But as I watched the show with the kids I learned something about life and God. As I watched Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery I started to cry in empathy. How awful! Can you imagine your siblings hating you so much they sold a slave? I'm sure that Joseph had a hard time praying, "Oh yeah, this is totally for the best God. I get it." He probably spent many nights wondering why God allowed for this to happen. But years later when he saved his family (and many more people) from famine, he got it. Now, I'm not going to save anyone from famine (at least I think not!), but I could relate to parts of the story. The first part being that sometimes horrible things happen for seemingly no good reason. The second part being that faith in God is the only thing that makes it possible for us to endure hardship. The third part being that in time God will show us all things and will manifest His love in greater ways than we can imagine. My favorite scripture is 1 Corinthians 2:9 "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Each time I read that it blows my mind. It is so hard to comprehend that there could be this whole other plan for my life that is so much better than my plan. I mean, I've always thought that I can dream up some pretty amazing stuff. When I read this scripture, I know it is true. God has always been merciful to me. He has always provided. He has never disappointed me or let me down.
     As I had been thinking about Isaac's death and how it felt like I was losing the most important thing I ever wanted in life, a devoted husband and father, I thought of Abraham. I thought of how much Abraham had wanted a son from his dear wife Sarah. After so many years they were finally blessed with Isaac. And then God, asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Whenever I've thought about this bible story I've always felt so much empathy for Abraham. How awful to be asked to sacrifice your son. I can't even imagine. At the same time, to some degree I can relate to having to give up the thing you wanted most. It was a little ironic and upsetting that I too was asked to give up my Isaac. Abraham was blessed that God then said that he didn't need to kill Isaac and provided a ram for sacrifice. I don't know why Isaac had to go. I don't know why that sacrifice was necessary. I can't explain why I'm not angry at God. It doesn't make sense. I should be angry. Instead, I feel like a little child, submissive. I trust Him. And this trust or faith surprises me even though it obviously lives in me. Mainly because you can only trust someone as well as you know him and it overwhelms me to think that I know God, that I know Him well enough to wade through these murky waters.
      I think another reason I trust God is because God gave me Isaac. It's hard for me to conceive that a God that would bless me so immensely would take away a blessing and then never bless me again. That doesn't make sense. It makes me think of Job from the bible and how God took everything away but then after Job proved his faith, he gave him twice as much as he had before. Now, I'm not hoping for two husbands but I do believe that God will bless me. And that blessing will feel more than sufficient. I have felt very blessed already. I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful family, friends, and in-laws. I seriously have the best support system anyone could ever have. Despite the blessings, I still feel and will feel pain. Pain is a feeling, and one thing I always tell my clients is that feelings are information. Pain is information that something isn't right. So as much as I want the pain to just go away, I know that I need to let pain teach me. So that's what I'm going to work on, letting the pain teach me. I think it will be hard to not postpone or push emotions aside but I believe that as I allow myself to sit in this place and rumble with these feelings I will find strength.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The kids

One of the first things people ask you is, "How are the kids doing?" The truth is they are doing pretty good. Today broke my heart a little. As I was getting Wyatt ready for church he kept asking if his friends were going to be at church. He then asked if his daddy would be there. I reminded him that Daddy was in heaven with Jesus. Then, he told me that he wanted to go up there with Jesus. And then he said, "I want my daddy back." I just hugged him and said, "Me too." I finished getting him ready and I told him he looked handsome and he said, "Like Daddy!" Yep! I wasn't surprised that it took about six weeks for Wyatt to realize that Isaac was gone and not coming back. Children process things very differently. It will be interesting to see how the children grieve as they grow in understanding. When Isaac first passed away, Wyatt asked a few times about Isaac. But after telling him a few times that Isaac was up in heaven with Jesus, he stopped asking. Rosie would say "daddy" when she saw his picture or his truck. Rosie hasn't demonstrated understanding beyond that.

Right after Isaac died, I was mostly sad for my kids. Maybe that's just typical mom behavior, worry more about the kids than yourself. It breaks my heart that their dad won't be there for so many moments of their lives. It breaks my heart because Isaac wanted to be there and we'd talk about the things we could do with the kids when they were older. I sometimes can't get over the fact that Rosie barely knew him. He had such a special love for her. You could just see it in his eyes. And I know that maybe someday they'll have a stepdad who will love them. And I know that they have grandpas and uncles who love them. But it is just painful to think that they won't be able to see or feel that love from their father the way I could when he was here. Luckily, we have lots of pictures and videos. I hope that those help the kids to feel close to him. Wyatt and I often look at videos and pictures together. I feel like it is a positive way for him to connect with his dad. When we went to the pumpkin patch Wyatt made sure that we got a daddy Isaac pumpkin, and a mama pumpkin, and two baby pumpkins. I also caught him the other day playing with his spidermen. He has a small one and a bigger one. He told me the big one was "daddy Isaac spiderman." And the small one was Wyatt spiderman. It's kind of funny how he says "daddy Isaac" a lot. But he also calls me "gegecca" a lot now too! I guess that's what happens when you have a lot of company!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The day Isaac died

It was a Wednesday. We had been home about a week since our family vacation to Utah and Idaho. The night before we had homemade pizza and Isaac played with the kids while I cleaned up. I was really tired and had wanted to go to bed early but Isaac really wanted to watch this movie on TV so I stayed up to watch the movie. And for those of you who know Isaac, yes he did fall asleep! Haha. The next morning I remember waking up and Isaac would usually cuddle or hold me in bed for a while before we actually got up. So he had started to do that when we heard Wyatt wake up. I was potty training Wyatt so I jumped out of the bed and rushed to get him on the toilet before he wet his diaper. Don't worry, I was too late. So since I was up, I decided to make Isaac some breakfast burritos. He was still chillin' in bed, so I asked him if he wanted to have breakfast in bed. So Isaac ate breakfast, Wyatt drank his milk, and I sat next to them in the bed, and we watched Fox News (not my choice! Ha!) Then Isaac needed to get ready for work so he showered and Wyatt decided he wanted to shower too. My morning got busy as I had to get Wyatt ready after the shower. Isaac told me that he thought he would take the day off after he checked in with work because the other employee was off that day and they had something that they needed to work on together. I remember that as he was leaving Wyatt started shouting, "Park! Park!" Isaac told him we'd go to the park. I double checked because I had already planned to go to the park in the morning. Isaac said to take the kids anyway and that we'd go again if he got the day off. Isaac said he would call pretty soon to let me know if he was coming home.

The morning got hectic and I thought it was strange that Isaac hadn't called yet. I was trying to gather up the children so we could get to the park and I would just call Isaac while I was on my way to the park. After I had gotten the kids in their car seats, I ran to grab the trash and noticed two cops walking up to me. They asked for me by name. Oh guys, I thought I was being served! I was like, "Oh no! I'm being sued!" I'm a marriage and family therapist so I always worry that a lawsuit could be possible if someone commits suicide or something goes wrong. But then they told me Isaac had been in an accident and asked if they could come in and talk to me. I was like, "Yeah, of course." Then my mind started trying to figure out what I should do with the kids when all of a sudden I thought to ask, "Is he alive?" They said no. Then I just remember weeping, "No!" And then I straightened right up and would alternate between sobs and getting my kids situated so that I could talk to the cops. It is such a strange experience to receive this kind of news. They talk to you like you are going to respond to what they are saying but the truth is that a million things flash before you. One of my first thoughts was, "Oh no, it's here." Isaac had always thought he would die early. Not this early, but earlier than typical. The cops kept asking me about who they could call or if someone could come over. I kept thinking, "Why would I have you call my people? Why do I need someone here? I'm going to be so busy calling everyone." Well, about three phone calls in I understood why I needed someone there. Listening to the sobs on the other end of the line was the worst kind of torture I've ever experienced. I just couldn't keep calling. As much as I wanted to be the one to notify family and friends, at some point I was just done.

Slowly, people started pouring into my house. I was so grateful for the support. The kids were probably wondering what was happening. The next couple days were such a whirlwind. I felt like I was going to throw up and I had a really bad headache. I stopped wearing any make up for a few weeks. No point, I'd just cry it off anyway. I was so grateful to have so much support but each time a new person came to express condolences it would just hit me like a wall. Those first days were some of the worst. I'd have dreams where Isaac was just doing normal every day life stuff. When I would wake up my brain would tell me, "No, he's dead."But following those first days, I began to move away from the shock and devastation. I started to see the support I had and the generosity of others blessing my life. I became overwhelmed with gratitude as miracle after miracle came into my life. I no longer get upset by my dreams and feel pretty okay when I wake up. A lot of people have been concerned about if I am sleeping but I actually haven't had any problems with that yet, thank goodness!

We still don't know a lot about the car accident as it is still under investigation. Isaac was killed on impact. And that brings me comfort to know that he either didn't suffer or didn't suffer for very long. It's still so strange that he is gone. It was really hard to believe that he died until I saw his body. It was so strange to touch his cold skin. Isaac was always so warm. I was the cold one. It brought some closure when I saw his body but it was also sad. When you see the body, you realize that the body is nothing without the spirit. So it was him, but it wasn't him. I think I kind of expected him to look like he was sleeping but he didn't even look like that. I never realized till that moment how much of a person is their spirit. In our society, we judge so much based on the body but the spirit is really the larger portion of who we are. So realizing that helped me to let go of his body. But I think that is also the hard part. As I move forward I am sure there will be times that I will feel his spirit near. But there is something so special and irreplaceable about being with someone while his spirit is still in his body. And that's what I miss and will miss.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What I'm learning

I don't know how much I will share on my blog but a blog seems like a more appropriate place to share the complexity of emotions that follow the death of a loved one. I have seen several clients who are dealing with grief. Often, they come in quite depressed. I assumed that I would experience something quite similar. I empathized with their struggles and agreed that the people that act like death is no big deal are out of their minds. But here I am today and I feel good. Great, now I'm that annoying person who is still happy even though my world should be falling apart!

Shortly after Isaac's death, my friend sent me a christian song where the lyrics read, "your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place." Say what?! It seemed so horrific to say that Isaac's death would lead to my world falling into place. But as time goes on, I do realize that my life goes forward and there are many important things for me to do. It's not that I don't have sorrow. The truth is that I have hope. Hope that our God is really as merciful as I've been taught. Hope that Isaac's death was not in vain. Hope that I can find meaning and love in a life following Isaac's death. And I think that hope makes all the difference.

My stake president (my church leader) who happens to be a therapist, explained to me that grief is not depression. I think I expected to be depressed. But grief isn't depression. It can trigger depression but it is not the same. I've experienced a myriad of emotions ranging from loneliness to excitement. The truth is, at some point, maybe before I came to earth and certainly while on earth, I committed to putting both feet in the water. Sometimes that means that the water goes above my head. But I never wanted to sit back and just watch.

A couple years ago I met an inspiring woman. She was so kind and cheerful. The more that I got to know her the more shocked I became as I learned that she had lost a son (at the same age Isaac died), had some health issues, and had an extended family experiencing lots of difficulties. I noticed that there was a depth to her, that she knew something I didn't. And after I thought that, I immediately thought, "Don't think that! Now you'll lose a child." I never thought it would be Isaac. I realize that I'm strange in that way, that I would look at others and envy their grief. But I am learning so much. So much about myself and so much about God. So much about the goodness of the people around me. The world only got brighter when Isaac left. I feel like I've learned more about Isaac as well. It's almost as though I can even see Isaac more clearly, who he was as a man. And although he is gone, his love still carries me.

I want to share a few things I've learned and I'm sure the list will continue to grow.

Things I've learned about God:

  • God blesses us with many small miracles and those can be just as miraculous as the big miracles
  • God will help you remember scriptures that will bring peace and understanding to your soul
  • God's plan is bigger and better than your plan
  • God loves me. If God was gracious enough to bless me with Isaac, then it would only make sense that all of God's following actions would bless me
  • God is guiding me and has been preparing me for a long time
Things I've learned about me:
  • the emotional work that I have done is now blessing me
  • my relationship with God is what gives me strength
  • I'm stronger because I have let others help and support me
Things I've learned from Isaac:
  • how to relax
  • people matter (and apparently horses do too)
  • compassion, generosity, and acceptance 
  • simple things are what make us happy
  • what it means to cleave to your spouse
  • how to put family first
  • The Office really can make a bad day better
  • beef really should always be what's for dinner
Things I've learned from marriage:
  • marriage is compromise, like all the time
  • love is a verb
  • love is a choice
  • trust is something that grows over time
  • it's fun living with your best friend
  • life is best shared
  • sometimes we take each other for granted
  • most of the time your spouse is doing his/her very best
  • it's not fair to expect your spouse to meet all your needs
  • listen, listen, listen
  • examine the opportunity cost of your actions. You might be doing the least important things for your spouse.
  • time is all you really have
Things I've learned about death:
  • death feels very strange, like someone vanished
  • death is part of life and it isn't all bad
  • death creates new opportunities and relationships
You know, Isaac and I weren't a perfect fit. In fact, about a week before he died, we met a man on the plane and he asked how we got together because we had told him that I was a therapist and Isaac was a cowboy. To be honest, I was like, "For real, how do we work?" But I think that is the amazing thing about our relationship. We are so different. I once heard someone say marriage is 60% compromise. Well, our marriage was like 80% compromise. But as hard as it was to figure out what we would do when we wanted different things, we were able to do it because we chose to make it work. Sometimes I think that is what will make it hard about Isaac's death. He changed my life in a lot of ways and he changed me. Sometimes I felt bad that I wasn't a cowgirl because I knew Isaac had to give up a lot of the things that he wanted. But as different as we were, neither of us could have ever said, "you'd be better off with someone more like you." The first thought I ever had about Isaac was that he was so interesting to me. His was such a random combination of talents and personality traits. I couldn't help but be drawn to him. He really was a good guy. And I can't be mad that he is gone because I just feel so lucky that I had him at all. And even though he is gone, I still have so much more than I had before I married him. I have two beautiful sweet children. They really are the best. And I have the best in-laws you could ever imagine. It's so strange to feel blessed at a time of such great loss but I truly believe that God has filled my heart and that the prayers of so many really do lift me up. And now I need to go throw away all the kleenex I just used, so I'm gonna go do that.