Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Level 2

Today, I received notice from my CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer) that the Safety Report from Rhea’s death has finally arrived.  All of the reports given to me, I have chosen to be filtered first through my CAO.  I have the choice to have him or a general read through them with me, or have them hand-delivered, or sent certified mailed, etc.  I always choose for them to go to him first.  I ask him to review the documents and tell me if there is anything in them that I’m unaware of or that will take me off guard.  He always gives it to me straight, but with an extreme level of sensitivity.  This man, who has walked me through every difficult step of the military’s casualty process, probably knows me, and my thought process, better than I know myself.  He has gone through every briefing with me, inventoried every personal item Rhea had overseas, walked me through funeral details, gone through incident reports, benefit packages, every single piece of paperwork, and answered my tireless amount of questions.  He gets it and he gets me.  He was given the task of walking me through the most difficult moments of my entire life.

When he called today and told me of the arrival of the report, he asked how I would like to proceed.  I asked for him to review them and let me know of any standouts, in which he replied that he figured I would say that.  About 45 minutes later I heard back from him.  Where the reports are pretty straight forward of what I already have and know, he said that the only thing he saw that was going to be out of my current knowledge is that there are pictures of the site, Google Earth type pictures, but nonetheless, pictures.  And it was in those words that took me crashing.  Grief took the driver’s seat and wrapped it’s fingers around my airways, squeezing the breath out of me.  My breathing shallowed, heart raced, limbs shook, and the walls came closing in on me. 

There are different levels of pain that come with my grief.  The pain I felt the day I was notified was Earth shattering.  I can remember hysterically heaving with tears, but all other feelings were void to me.  The level of pain is so high that my brain would not allow me to feel it.  I was numb.  I’ll call this Level 1.  Most, but not all, of my Level 1 days were at the beginning, these are the days that leave a hole that absolutely nothing can fill.

Level 2 occurs after the shock wears off and your brain allows you to process what has occurred.  This pain shakes you, leaves you helpless, and affects your normal processes of life.  Ok, I have to breathe.  Did I eat today?  The physicalities of every day life are a chore.  Things you don’t think of to do and automatically do, your brain can’t figure out to do them, because you are spending so much time processing this new information.  There is no such thing as triggers at this point, because your mind is consumed with the grief of the knew knowledge.  It damages the soul and leaves a scar that will ignite triggers later.

Then there is Level 3.  I would say that after nearly a year and a half, I spend most of my time, now, at Level 3.  This is “I can do life.“ There is always something that comes up, every single day that makes me think of him not being here that hurts and pushes it’s way up to the surface, but I can handle it.  It leaves a mark, and yet I’ve done this so many days in a row now that I’ve learned how to live with this type of pain.  Level 3 involves a lot of emotional ups and downs and triggers.  Plus, you are normal enough that everyday life is a factor in this level, too.

Now, this is my own little theory of pain levels, and it only pertains to my grief.  I have no idea if there are more levels yet, but I’m assuming that there are.  If I look at all of my days and moments of grief as a whole, I can sum them up into these 3 different levels so far. 

Today’s moment was a Level 2.  I stopped remembering how to breathe and think.  I caught myself holding my breath and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t breathe.  My hands and shoulders shook with tremors, my heart physically ached, and my mind went spinning.   Hearing the words “pictures of the site” pushed me almost back to a Level 1, but not quite, because I could feel it.  The tears streamed down my face and I tried to make sense of what was making me react so adversely. 

Pictures.  I’m going to see the place.  I’m going to see where he was.  I’m going to see the earth, the view of the land and the curves of the canal, the place that took him away from me.  I have pictured the site.  Dreamed very vivid dreams of the site, but in all actuality have no idea what it looks like.  I never thought I would ever see it.  All I’ve ever gotten were reports and other accounts from those who were there.   But those views and those reports are not from the view of his wife.  Would I have seen it differently, because of who he was to me and what it took from me?  Probably.

And now, with this report, what I’ve pictured in my mind for well over a year is going to be altered with pictures.  Do I want to see it?  Of course I do.  But, do I really?  What will the new view do to me?  Will I go backwards in my process?  Will my anxiety attacks return?  Will my sleep leave and nightmares replace peace?  Or, will it do nothing?  Will it help me move forward even more?  Will it give me something I needed?  

I have a few days to decide.  I doubt there is anyway I will not look at the pictures of the area.  I know it will consume my thoughts as I wait for the report to be in my hands.  In the mean time, Level 2.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What helped: Part 2 – Jameson

***This post is not about alcohol.  It’s about symbolism.   Though, there isn’t much better than Jameson. :-)***

After I made the choice to start living life again, it wasn’t that I just woke up one day and all was well.  In fact, I can’t say that about today even.  Life is hard.  Doing new things is hard.  Doing old things is hard.  Holidays are hard.  Milestones in the girls’ lives are hard.  Vacations are hard.  Every day moments are hard.  It feels like I can’t have a moment of happiness, because I’m feeling guilty to be happy in the moment.  Then, if I’m upset or sad, I feel guilty, because I should be happy and live my life and enjoy the moment.  My counselor calls this, "survivor's guilt."  Everything has deeper meaning and seems to be double edged. I had no idea how hard every single day and every single moment would be.  Then and now, it is just so terribly difficult and I would never wish this on anyone.

Erica has been around for many of those moments and has seen me battle with my guilt and emotions of choosing to live my life and choosing happiness.  She was with me when I decided to get my “Rhea” tattoo.  

My “Rhea” tattoo was a symbol for me to feel like he was with me, and a reminder of his love for me.  Right after getting it we walked across the street from the tattoo parlor to McCoy’s and another symbolism began. 

Rhea was and considered himself an “Irish Man.”  While at McCoy’s, Erica, introduced me to Jameson, an Irish Whisky.  There, with tears in my eyes she said with our shots held in hand, “An Irish Drink for an Irish Man.”  

That moment was the start of another symbolism.  Now, when there are moments where I battle the guilt of him not being here, moving forward with life, wishing he was here for the moment, I will have a shot of Jameson or have a drink with Jameson in it.  It’s a rare occasion, but important to me.  It’s my symbolism that he’s in that moment with me. 

Now, please don’t misunderstand, and think “My goodness, she’s resorted to drinking!”  Easy there…it’s not like that.  That’s not what this is.  It’s simply a symbol and a thought of him.  I’m thankful for the symbolism.  I’m thankful that Erica could see my battle and helped me through those hard moments.  She probably had no idea that one shot would turn into something that has helped me through many, many moments.  One single drink of something with Jameson, makes me have a personal moment that allows me to connect with him.  Rhea was with me in San Diego, 4th of July, Abigail’s 1st day of Kindergarten, moving into my new house, our anniversary, laying his brick in multiple memorials, this past weekend visiting his mom, brother and our new nephew in Colorado, and other moments.  No one is aware that it's my moment, I just simply order a drink with Jameson, and it allows me my moment with him or for him.  And, in my head I'll say, "An Irish Drink for an Irish Man."

It is still a daily struggle that I have this "survivor's guilt."   It robs me of happy moments and is absolutely exhausting.  But, I'm trying.  I'm trying to live life fully and wonderfully as he would want me to and more importantly, how I want to.  It's hard.  It's truly very, very hard sometimes.  Few understand the battle of "survivor's guilt," I'm so thankful Erica did and allowed me a way to feel like those moments had him there in them, too.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Series On What Helped: Post 1

I was challenged by my counselor to discuss what helped me the most after the loss of Rhea.  I’m supposed to do this for a couple of weeks.  So here is week one. 

After the funeral, I had about a months worth of meetings, briefings, enrollments, memorials, military personal inventories of his belongings from overseas, appointments, etc. to get life as a “widow” set up legally for the military world and the federal government.  Not only did I have to do all of their stuff, I also had to change all of my documents, as well.  Every single thing we owned had both of our names on it, was deeded to one another, cars, my will, power of attorney, healthcare directive, etc. were all incorrect now.  Bills, cell coverage, work documents, insurance, every single piece of paper with his name on it or was in his name had to be switched to my name.  This is a massive, massive job folks.  I was swamped, overwhelmed, no one understood what I was going through or knew how to help me, and I started to recluse a bit.  I pulled in and started to build my walls.  I didn’t want to see anyone who was a couple.  I didn’t want to look at Facebook and see all the happy families on the beach smiling.  I didn’t want to see dad’s pushing their kids on bikes outside.  I didn’t want to go to couple’s YA Sunday School where I so obviously was no longer a couple.  I didn’t want to do family things when my family was no longer whole.  I didn’t want to do it, any of it, period.  Life, at this point, hurt.  All this life was going on around me, and it made me sick. 

Then one day, after a day full of appointments, I get a phone call from one of my favorite people.  Heather. 

Here’s our conversation, the best I can remember.

Heather:  "Hey, how you doing?"
Me:  "Fine." (This is before I was banned from using the word fine anymore.)
Heather:  "Need anything?"
Me:  "No, I don't believe so." 
Heather:   “So what are you doing tonight?”
Me:  “Nothing.”
Heather:  “You got the girls?”
Me:  “Yep, got the girls.”
Heather:  “Great!  I’m going to take you all somewhere.”
Me:  “Ok???  Where?”
Heather:  “I’m not telling you.  But Cara and her kids and me and my kids will be by to get you later on.  Be ready in comfy clothes.”
Me:  “Seriously, Heather?!? Where are you taking us?
Heather:  “I’ll see you later.” And she hangs up.

Seriously!!!  By the way, you can’t reason with Heather.  Once she says something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.  So the girls and I got ready, I fed them, and we waited to be picked up.  They came and got us, and told us we were going to Worlds of Fun.  The girls were ecstatic!  Me…not so much.  Not a big rides girl, get motion sick, don’t like big crowds, don’t like to be hot and sweaty.  Super.  But, I was being kidnapped, and the girls were excited, so I did my best.

We get there, it’s just 10 minutes away, and there are so many flippin people.  My anxiety starts to rise, but I’m still doing ok.  First ride, the carousel.  Fantastic.  Up and down and circles.  Meet motion sickness’s best friend.  I lived.

Second ride.  Some ride that looks like a log.  You go up to the top in a log and then splash down into water.  Great.  Hot, sweaty, too many people, and now my clothes are going to get all wet, too.  Heather looked at me and said, “you going to ride it?”  I looked at Joanna and Abigail, smiling from ear to ear leaning on the railings of the ride line and couldn’t’ say no.  So in line I went.  

After waiting in line a bit, it was time to ride.  I braced myself for the plunge into the water, and got ready for the dive.  To the top we went, and then….something happened, yes the log went down with us in it.  But I was smiling, I was splashed with water and I was laughing.  My heart was racing and I couldn’t stop laughing.  The rest of the night continued in this fashion.  I rode all the rides with my girls.  I laughed with them, ate funnel cake, threw plastic balls at them in the plastic ball toy throw place thing.   That moment of getting splashed with water changed me.  One moment.  I made the choice to live my life again. 

I know it sounds silly, and there’s no way it actually changed just like that, but it did.  I didn’t have to stay in the gloom that I was in.  I didn’t have to look at every challenging moment that was thrown at me daily as the way the rest of my life would be.  Yes, life was going to be challenging.  Life IS challenging all on it’s own.  Throw in losing your spouse in war and you can pretty much quadruple that challenge.  But, it’s the life I got, and no one and nothing is going to stop me from living it.  Not every dream, hope, and plan going away.  Not wondering what life is going to be like now.  Not being a “widow” at 30.  Not nothin.  Not even motion sickness.  This is my life.  I will not let those things take it from me.  In fact, I won't let any thing, event, person, or idea take it from me.  It is mine.

So, what helped me?  A little push, or a kidnapping, out of my comfort zone, helped get me to where I am now.  My friend, Heather, gave me that moment.  Life, MY life, I chose to live again.  I just needed a little splash of water and some laughter to get me to realize that I needed to start living it again.