Strength in our Storm

christmasI don’t even know what to write about tonight…I just feel the need to write. I feel the need to express my thoughts and my feelings, but I don’t know where to start. Grief has become my way of life since October of last year when my brother died from his four month battle with lung cancer. I watched him struggle the last few days of his life and it left a lasting impression on me. I saw him struggle to breathe…I saw him talk “out of his mind”…like he didn’t know where he was or why he was there. All he knew is that he was frustrated and agitated. The day he was sent to the hospital…Wednesday, October 28th…I was actually going to visit with him that day. He had just been told over the previous weekend that he had 2-3 weeks left to live. So, I was going to try to spend some time with him. On my way there, I received a call that he was being sent to the hospital…my sister-in-law and her son couldn’t control him. He was confused with his surroundings and constantly wanted to get up and down, even though he was very unstable. My nephew was trying to take care of him, but he just couldn’t keep up with his dad…trying to lift him  up and to help him make his way back and forth to the couch. So, the only thing left to do was to take him to the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was completely taken back with his condition. He was so out of it. His eyes were closed, but he was constantly trying to open them and he was in a continuous state of unrest. He couldn’t get settled or comfortable. The one thing he did respond to was…I said, “I love you Stevie.”….and he replied, “I love you too, Carmie.” Those were the last coherent words we spoke to each other. Things moved quickly from there. That same day he was placed in hospice. On Saturday morning around 6 am, Steve left this world to live with our Savior. I’ll never forget his struggle to breathe and the things I saw cancer do to his body. Those things have left an image seared in my mind that I wished wasn’t there. On the morning of his death, I had left the room so that everyone else would have room to rest. I had gone into the room about 10 minutes before his passing to get another blanket and to cover up my mom. I heard something different…the room was more quiet….he was still breathing, but it was quiet. I left the room, not giving it much thought, and laid down on the couch in the family room. About 10 minutes later, Mike came to tell me that Steve was gone. I will never forget the feeling I had at that moment….my brother was gone and my heart was broken. What was even harder was watching my other brother, Mike, my mom and dad, Steve’s son, his wife, and my daughter say goodbye to him.

steve-11bI struggled with that grief for months. I missed my brother…and JUST as I was beginning to get back into the groove of going to work and “doing” life…Tom’s mother passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 3rd. It was another blow to our family. And exactly one week later, the inconceivable happened…on February 10th, 2016, my son of 23 years died. I had suffered enough grief…this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was a grief that I shouldn’t be feeling at this point in my life. This was more than I could bear…and often it still is. It felt as if the ground beneath my feet was falling out from around me. You know that feeling when you’re standing on the beach in the surf and as the water washes around you and you feel the sand shift beneath your feet….leaving you unstable and vulnerable to the displacement of your strength and your security. My family hadn’t had time to process the death of my brother before the death of my son. So, now we were dealing with cumulative grief…multiple losses in a short time frame. How do you process all that loss? I don’t even know…I just know that I’ve lived through it. And I continue to live through it on a daily basis.

Grief not only leaves you unstable, it complicates relationships. Today, I was thinking about this…the grief my family has experienced, has affected every relationship I have. People don’t know how to react to me, how to “be” around me, or how to handle me when they are around me. My erratic emotions have made me such a different person…little things set me off very easily…I try to avoid social situations, because they make me extremely uncomfortable. It’s almost like I don’t know how to interact with others, because small talk isn’t for me anymore. Small talk is trivial and almost exhausting to me now. It’s like I don’t know what to talk about other than my grief…so I often just don’t talk, which makes others uncomfortable as well. A storm has settled over our family…and quite frankly, all of our sails are torn. They’re beaten, battered, and broken…but they are still sailing even though they are fragile from the onslaught of the storm against us.

aaron-1So, this makes me think about my boy. He had his struggles…and sometimes depression was one of those struggles. Despite the smile you see on his face in all of the pictures I’ve posted, he struggled with feelings of adequacy in many ways. Somedays, his depression wore me down….I really didn’t understand his struggle until now. The one thing I can say is that he kept on going through his depression. I understand now how hard that is now. I wished I could voice that to him. The one thing I find quite amazing is how Aaron was quick to share his depression to me, but to others he was quick to share positivity and complete affection for the burdens of others. He was quick to reach out to others in their hours of desperate need and to encourage them…this was unlike the side of Aaron that I got to see. I feel fortunate to get a different perspective from his friends. I can’t tell you how many friends have told me about the impact Aaron made on their lives. He was there to encourage them…to lift them up with is sarcastic humor….to talk them through life changing decisions when he couldn’t talk himself out of those decisions. He was one of a kind…despite his struggles….he was there for others, even when he didn’t have the strength to be there for himself. I see that in my daughter, Taylor as well. She often puts aside her needs to help others that are in emotional distress. She has been there for me often times during this process, when really, she needed me to be there for her. I find much comfort in the fact, that I have been fortunate to have two wonderful children that both developed a compassion for people that exceeds their own needs and desires.

What also amazes me is the support that Katie and Sarah have given during this time. I know they are technically Taylor and Aaron’s step sisters, but in reality, they have shown a love that is indicative of blood relatives. They have been there for me…and they have been there for Taylor in her darkest moments. They have listened to me cry….have hugged and have cried with me. They have loved us just like their own family…and they miss their brother Aaron.

So, while grief has been debilitating and utterly life changing….I have seen strength in my 3 daughters that I haven’t seen before. They have been there for each other…And I have seen strength from Aaron even in his death..that despite his depression, he was there for others in their time of need.

What a blessing that is….even in my saddened and depressed state…I see a blessing in the midst of the storm.

 

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