Tomorrow it will be 6 months since Joe died. I want to type “left us” but I honestly think he is still here sometimes, giving me little signs that he is here by my side. I live for those signs because I just miss him so very much.
I have been traveling a lot this summer. I have been gone more than I have been home. Even as I type this, I am not at home, but in Indiana, helping my parents get to see my sister and her family. I have been traveling abroad the last few weeks and will put some photos up in a few weeks when I have them processed and my parents are back home. I will be driving all day tomorrow, on the 6 month anniversary of Joe’s death, so I thought I would write this now, while I have the opportunity.
My life completely shattered when Joe died. Am I better now than I was then? Maybe. I wouldn’t say better…just different. A lot of friends and family have backed away to give us time to grieve and collect ourselves. I am sorry to say that doesn’t help. I am grieving my child…and it is not a process or a step-by-step program that has an ending point of a rainbow and puppies (although I still appreciate and marvel over both). I have learned that this utter devastation…this deep-seeded grief for the loss of my son, will never leave. I will carry it in my heart, on my soul, as long as I breathe. It is not getting easier, but it is getting different. I don’t think you ever get over the loss of a close loved one, but you learn to live with that loss better. I am meeting with a Stephen Minister from a local Methodist church once a week. It is a ministry of listening. She asks me questions and then just listens. There are tears, there is laughter, and in the end, there is prayer. I have missed the last 3 weeks due to travel and I am looking forwards to meeting with her again. I have signed up for a child loss program through a Catholic Church in a town near Omaha called Jesus Wept. I am looking forward to it because I have so many questions….why did God chose to take Joe? Is God punishing me? I was ready to go because of my advanced cancer diagnosis. Why did God take him instead of me? My faith is in a desert right now. I pray and expect nothing. I go to Mass and leave sadder than when I arrived. I thought facing my own mortality was hard…it is nothing compared to this. Please don’t leave a comment about God having a reason that none of us know. I already know that and it doesn’t help to have it repeated over and over again. Just like it didn’t help when I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and people told me, “God has a reason for this.” That is a hard pill to swallow while you are sick on chemo.
I have spent much of the last 6 months trying my best to comfort Michelle, Joe’s wife, from afar….in the best way I can. We are both deeply hurting, but in different ways. I have lost my son….she has lost the love of her life. I have tried to reach out to his friends through letters or social media, because I know they are hurting too. I try to talk about Joe a lot….to his brother and sister and my husband. The memories may sting a little bit at first, but more often they end in laughter, because Joe did that for me….made me laugh. What a beautiful gift! So I love to talk about him…because memories are all I have now and I don’t want to forget them. When I was first told I was going to die young, I was so afraid that my kids would forget me. I am not sure I ever told anyone that, but that was it. Rich would eventually remarry, life would march on, and I would be forgotten. Pretty selfish, right? Well, I don’t want Joe to be forgotten, so it actually makes me mad when people won’t mention his name. Yes, I may cry. I cry all the time in private. I cry much more in public now and just don’t care. But those tears are cleansing. I guess I wouldn’t say if you aren’t willing to see those tears, say your goodbyes and stay away because it is my life now. I can’t help it. I want to mention that until you lose a child….you can’t understand. I can be distracted for awhile, but it will all come crashing down again.
I don’t say all of this to bring you down, but to let you know where I am coming from. Grief is very lonely. Being deserted by friends and family until they think you might be happy again? Well, makes it even more lonely. If I turn down an invitation to lunch or a Bible Study….I am just not ready. It takes so much work and energy to try and be “normal” out in public. I feel like I am standing still while the world marches on around me. I am often more comfortable in the company of strangers because they don’t know the “old” me….the one that smiled all the time. I now feel it when I smile….as it isn’t as automatic as it was in the past. I try very hard to not make people around me feel uncomfortable….but again, that is a lot of work. Grief is exhausting. With my cancer and the meds I am on, I just have to pick and chose how exhausted I want to become. Sometimes going to a cardio class with strangers at the YMCA is less exhausting than being with friends I know. It is weird…but I am just letting you know how it is.
So Joe. I miss him so very much and I can’t believe it has been 6 months already. Six months ago I would have said that my heart couldn’t take continuing to live for 6 months…yet here I am….still putting one foot in front of the other. There are a lot of other “firsts” coming up pretty soon that will be hard to go through. But I can’t borrow worry for another day. This one is big enough. So I end with some favorite photos of my Joe…