Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some A's to your Q's


  I am a curious soul, and I am sure I am not alone in that. It occurred to me that if I were lucky enough to be one the people reading my story instead of living it, that I would want to ask questions. So, I posted a status update on Facebook asking just that. I asked what you wanted to know. Some people commented that it was a brave move, but don’t give me too much credit. Obviously, if I felt something was too personal or offensive, I didn’t have to answer it. Luckily, nothing was surprising or offensive (to me). So, I am going to try to answer them all. It helps to sit and answer this stuff on (virtual) paper, so thank you for participating in my own brand of therapy!


So here’s what I got:


Q: Are you afraid of forgetting Jason and feeling the emotions of love you had for him as time passes?
A: Yes. I am so very glad I took a lot of pictures and videos of him, particularly with our girls. I look at them often and listen to his voice and watch his facial features move in unison with his laugh. However, I hope to live a long time past today and I know (as much as I don’t want to admit) that memories become foggy as time passes and our brains let go of some of the essences that used to be so deeply etched in the heart. I fear I will forget his quirks, his mannerisms and even what we talked about on a daily basis. But there are also certain things about him that I will NEVER forget and of that, I am certain. So, I do what I can now and try to just not forget the rest. 

        (Getting our marriage license) 


Q: Are you angry? Do you find it hard to be strong in your faith at this moment?
A: Yes I am angry. I am mad this happened to my family. I am sad for what Jason is missing and furious for what Lila and Harper will miss. I am mad that I see people alive and well (and even some of great detriment to their own community and family) who are seemingly more deserving of Jason’s fate than he was. It is so maddening that I HAVE to rely on faith. It isn’t my place to determine when it is anyone’s time. I remind myself that God is the Great Redeemer. He doesn’t write our stories. He redeems them. So, I have no choice but to keep trying to be better at being Christian. I am soooo far from perfect, it would take light a billion years to return to “perfect” from where I am. But then again, so is everyone else. Yes, it is very hard to keep faith and yet the thing that makes the most sense in the world. Does that make sense? Clear as mud? That’s how I feel, too!

Q: Did you ever believe that "everything happens for a reason?" If so, how does that quote relate to your life now?
A: I don’t know if I ever bought into that. There is just too much senseless stuff happening in the world. But now that I have had time to really consider what that means, I think a better way to look at that phrase/belief system (?) is that things don’t necessarily happen for a reason and they don’t have to. Shit just happens. There doesn’t have to be a “reason”. BUT, often in life, certain unexpected chains of events can lead you to new horizons on which you wouldn’t have previously ventured or even considered. The good and the bad. Take what you can from it and write the best story you can. I am trying (trying!!) to not allow the ugly to completely blind me from the good (check back in a week).

Q: Are you scared?
A: Absolutely terrified. Terrified I am the only guardian keeping these two beautiful girls cared after, fed, clothed, sheltered, safe, warm, happy and thriving. Terrified something will happen to me and leave them without either parent. Terrified that I will not be able to provide the life that I planned for them to have. The life beyond the basics. I want them to be doctors and lawyers and such. I want them to play musical instruments and attend college and be professional athletes or marine biologists. And now that is all on me. But I also think that if parenting doesn't scare you, you aren't doing it right.



Q: Do you think you'll ever get over him? Not him per se, but be able to move on?
A: Ah, this question. I will never get “over” Jason. I will always love him. He will always be part of my life, even in death. But what I think you meant was about a romantic life? I am not going to give up on love, ever. I don’t know who or what will be in my future, but Jason will be there, too.

Q: Was he sick prior to this? I was wondering if his incident months prior (where he was hospitalized for that week or two) had anything to do with this?

A: He did have a surgery months prior to his death and it got infected. This was not the same kind of infection as the one that was found in his blood at the time of his death, and I have been assured that the two events are not related, but then again, I am not 100% sure. I don’t know that anyone really can be 100% sure, even if they say they are.

Q: Are you going to be able to keep the house?

A: Sure hope so and doing my damnedest. I am optimistic.

Q: What has surprised you the most out of all of this, as far as people's support and response to you?

A: I could (and likely will) write an entire post just about this. Just when you really feel like you are going to give up on humanity, there it is. I was moved to absolute shock and tears many times at the love, support, care, and generosity we were shown. People who didn’t “owe” us anything stepped up and showed compassion and caring. People read my blog, people gave time, money, their services and some still are doing so for us. I was surprised to see certain faces at the funeral come just to show their support. I was shocked at the people who drove an hour to bring us dinner. I was blessed to have family fly across the country and stay for weeks. The financial support was a game changer for us. If you gave my family ANY thing during this time, whether it was a pack of diapers, a fundraiser, a small token of affection, watching the girls, $5 or $500, I am forever grateful to you. It was a deal maker or breaker type of thing for us. You need to know that. I think of you all often and thank you for doing God’s (even if your God is different than my God!) work. Because I do believe you are. And I will FOREVER remember this when I hate people again; perhaps in traffic tomorrow.


Q: How are you? Really? No sugar coating it.
A: REALLY I have good days and bad. Sure I get red hot mad at the universe often, and wonder why, of all the people, did it have to be Jason. Why now? I cry. I feel sorry for myself sometimes. BUT, I really do try to be grateful for what I have. No sugar needed. I have these two beautiful girls and I have my health. I have a home, a handful of people who love me, and I am educated, insured, and employed. Some of that comes by blessing, some comes from the work others laid down before me, and some by laying down my own. So, I get on my knees and pray and then I get on my feet and work. As best I can, every day.

Q: Are you angry at God? (I still am by the way)
A: Mad and grateful all at the same time. It’s a bizarre emotion. But someone is carrying me through this. Strength comes from loving someone, courage comes from being loved. Let that one sink in for a minute.

Q: How do you get through every day? I'm not sure I would be able to function and you look like (and are) super mom.
A: I honestly don’t feel like I am doing anything that any fantastic, hard-working, tired mother wouldn’t do. I know I want to give my kids the world, and I am smart enough to know that includes a happy, whole, sane mother. I believe happiness is a choice, even if it takes work. I believe I was given the CHOICE to sink or swim, even though I was not given the choice for Jason to live or die. I refuse to sink. I did not die with him that day. He wouldn’t want me to. And if I soon do, it will be while fighting. No white flags. It really isn’t just tough talk I tell myself in the mirror for my morning affirmations. It’s pretty real at this point. Do or die.

Q: Has Jason's death made you reevaluate your relationship with your dad at all?
A: Yes. I was suffering after my mom died less than 2 years ago, and my dad was, too. But I didn’t understand a lot of his actions or words… until now. Losing a spouse is NOT the same as losing a parent, and I don’t appreciate that comparison when people (unknowingly and well-meaningly) make it. Just like I did myself! Shame on me. Some of my frustrations with our situation at that time now have a new light shed on them.

Q: Are you numb? Does it feel like someone's ripped your heart out of your chest?
A: I do feel like my body is protecting me a bit by blocking some of the pain and allowing it to come in waves and phases. I think that is normal. It absolutely feels like someone ripped my heart out. I still stare at his clothes thrown in the laundry basket in our closet, the ones he wore that night to dinner. And then I stare at the hat he wore to the ER and I can’t believe this happened. I am still shocked on a regular basis. Is this real life?

Q: Are the people who said "we're always here for you" still there for you?
A: Mostly, yes thus far. I think a lot of people just say things during a time like this because they don’t know what else to say. And with that comes a handful of empty offers of support. But, I do feel like I have the majority of the people who said they are here for me are still on my team and in my corner. I have what I need.

(Jason's best friend, Matt, invited us to Easter at his house and didn't forget the egg hunt & candy! Jason's mom was also helping Harper hunt Easter eggs) 


Q: What do you do when the girls go to bed?
A: Honestly, by the time my girls go to sleep, there isn’t much time left before I need to go to sleep myself. I do chores, prep all their stuff for the following day, shower, eat, and go to bed. On occasional fun days, I have a friend or sitter come stay with the girls so I can go to dinner with a friend, or I have a friend come hang out for a while at my house. If there is something I am lacking, it’s free time. 

        (Lila with her friend Emma)


Q: I know your house is a place full of memories, but it's also a place full of what you wanted in life and is no longer possible. Do you ever think of moving?
A: I have only briefly thought of moving to be closer to family and friends. But, I work here. I do NOT plan to leave my job. I don’t have any serious plans to move as of today. However, I also have not moved a single thing of Jason’s in our house. I haven’t changed anything. His side of the dresser still houses his wallet and his glasses. His nightstand still holds his phone chargers and back scratcher. His toothbrush is where he left it. I haven’t gotten rid of, or even disturbed, a single item. So, I don’t know what the future holds for that. I do think that I will consider refreshing some rooms in our home first.

Q: Did finding out the cause of death actually bring you closure? Or is that all bullshit?
A: It’s bullshit.
Ok, maybe not bullshit. But definitely not “closure”. I think that just isn’t the right word. I needed to know for the sake of knowing. But it was underwhelming, and he was still gone.

Q: If you had five minutes with Jason right now and you knew it was the last five minutes - what would you tell him?

A: That is a really good question. I feel like I would be crying and in shock the entire time, so surely I wouldn't get a word out. But if I could, I would first tell him I knew about that new mountain bike he secretly bought! And that I would have killed him anyway! Then, I would tell him how hard this is to do alone and how I miss him more than I can tell him. I would tell him thank you for letting me take so many naps and for loving us all so much. I would ask him a ton of questions about the afterlife and how he was, and he would surely not be descriptive enough for my liking and we would get in a quick tiff about that. Then I would tell him I love him and that Lila asks for him nonstop. Of course. I would tell him 5 minutes never seemed so short in my life and I would say goodbye. We never got to say goodbye. 

Q: Are you guys going to be okay financially?
A: It’s a little early to tell exactly where we will land, as some things are still being worked out, but I think so. A lot of that is thanks to good people who have helped us. We are so grateful to so many people in that respect. Also, Jason worked hard and we were not completely foolish.  We will not be homeless or hungry (as long as The Lord says the same!).

Q: Have you seen any "signs" from Jason since he passed away?
A: I did hear a song by Linkin Park that just felt like he was talking to me. It was one of those times when a song just spoke to you and you felt someone meant for you to hear it. It is called "Leave Out All The Rest" and the chorus says:
When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I've done
Help me leave behind some
Reasons to be missed
Don't resent me
And when you're feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest,
Leave out all the rest  

Q: How do you deal with making sure Lila and Harper know who he is, and how do you remind them?
A: Pictures, videos, relationships, and stories. Lila asks for daddy every single day. It hurts every single time. But I answer her. I pull out his phone and show her the silly video he took of himself one day whilst attempting to prove to me he made record time to the FedEx pick up location. I show her videos of him singing to her “little bitty Lila, you’re the one” and throwing her up in the air. I tell her daddy is in heaven with Jesus and that we will see him again one day. We see Jason’s best friends and his family so that they can share their own memories of Jason with them. I have pictures of him hung around the house and I will always have them out for the girls to see. I even have cards Jason wrote to me, and one he wrote to Lila on her first birthday. When the girls are much older, I hope to spread his ashes with them. Until then, he is safely in our home, with us. I will always talk about him and I hope to one day show them this blog. I won’t allow him to be forgotten. I promised him that. 



Q: What is your favorite memory of Jason?
A: Absolutely any of the moments he played with the girls. I've never seen people more happy. Christmas everyday. I know it sounds like I'm just saying that, but truly he loved playing with them so much. 

Q: What advice do you have for other grieving widows?

A: I'm no expert at this early point in my journey. But the best I can tell so far is don't give up on yourself and YOUR life. It would be so easy to just quit caring. But you have the gift to be here. Use it. Breathe deep. Use your lungs. Yell. Run. Use your legs. FEEL things! Feel pain. Feel pleasure. Get out of your climate-controlled state of mind. Be hot. Be cold. Sweat. Listen to loud music. Be alive. Do what feels right and believe in something, whether it's God, your kids, whatever. Something out there is greater than you. 
Know that, and you're going to make it.

                 Love, 
                   Claire 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"How are you doing?"


  A lot of people ask me how the girls and I are doing. I am not sure if they really want to know or if they’re just making small talk. I can’t really sum it up in a short little sentence to say in passing to each inquiring mind.  “Ohheywearegoodbutbadbutaliveandprayerfulbutsadtoo.seeyaatlunch!”

I highly doubt they would like for me to lie on their couches and talk their ears off about the complexities of what is going on in my mind today. Unless he or she does that for a living. Then they want me to pay them $300 for an hour of lying on their couch talking about my feeeeeelings. “Don’t worry, your insurance will pay for some of that.” Nah, I’m good. I already joined a young widows group on The Facebook and what could be more legit than that?

So, in case you’re wondering for more than small talk’s sake, read on. I should insert a disclaimer here that I am still new to this particular brand of grief and most definitely not adequate enough to uncover for you more than just the tip of the glacier. There is so much more under the surface of the water. I try to remember that about all people. I would love to get into that chunk of ice with you, but you would fair about as well as the Titanic did and surely drown in my icy waters. So, like I said, just the tip (stop it, you know what I mean).

 
First, of all the comforts I have lost, my sense of humor isn't one. See above. If I can't laugh in life, there is no point in living. I found reasons to laugh on the day of Jason's funeral and I hope to do it on the day of my own. It may be inappropriate to some, but it reminds me that I am here and I promise Jason would be laughing at this stuff, too. Don't take yourself too seriously. Nobody makes it outta here alive.
 
Second, I am proud of myself. I have a choice to sink or swim. That is life, not just a poster in your high school locker room. It is real. Life is hard. We all have our anchors. And I get to choose. It is my humble opinion that this is the part of life so many people don't get. You get to CHOOSE some things. Not everything; I am more than aware of that. But you do get to choose if you want to give up and sink with the ship or if you want to pump your little out-of-shape arms and chubby legs for dear life and freaking swim. See what you're really made of! I am not giving up. I am swimming... with two babies on my back trying to drown me, God love 'em. But I am doing it today. For today, I choose to swim above the wreckage and not among it. (But check back with me in a week...)
 
What number am I on? Third, I am not giving up on LIFE! "Everybody dies, but not everybody lives." I want to live, not just breathe. If you knew Jason, you would know he lived his life turned up loud. When my mom died, I was just sad. It didn't make me want to go experience things or better myself or even move off the couch. It just made me sad. I don't know why. I'm not sure if it's because Jason was my equal and my partner, or because we have two kids who deserve a real mom and not a zombie, or that I have realized I really AM going to die and it will be soon in the grand scheme of things, but it has ignited in me a reason to LIVE. I know he would want me to. So, I'm working on that part. Working on myself and what I really want in LIFE. Ya only get one (so I'm told).

 
Fourth of all, God. He is the reason I can do this. My maker is very likely different from yours. And that is ok with me. But if you're wondering how I get up after 4 hours of sleep, shower, pack diaper bags and extra clothes for a toddler, take them and their entourage of crap to school everyday and pick it all up at the end of the day, wash all of said crap, work full time in a public service job, and raise two babies alone, and still manage to laugh at least once in a day (usually), it's because of God and the character he chose to carve into me. (And the fact that it has only been 2 months... check back in a week)
 
As for the girls, they are resilient and doing well. Other than Lila's frequent cries for daddy (stab me in the heart with a million knives), I feel like they are thriving like any toddler and infant would be and should be. I will continue to do anything I can for them to have the life they deserve. Even at the price of mommy's sanity. Seriously. And I'm not special for that. Any momma worth her salt would do the same. 





 
So, for those who care, that is how we are TODAY, but check back in a week.
 
Love,
Claire

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Verdict

  The afternoon was sunny and breezy.  A perfect spring day in Texas. The air smelled fresh, the breeze was just cool enough to stop you from complaining about the Texas sun in your face, but you could still feel its warmth on your cheeks and forehead. I was taking my slow stroll to the mailbox with my tiny golden mailbox key in hand, when my phone rang. It was that all too familiar number. The medical examiner's office. They're calling me. It must mean they finally have made a ruling on Jason's cause of death. My fingers froze just long enough to miss the call. DAMMIT! I immediately checked the voicemail just to make sure of whom I needed to be calling back. The second the doctor said her extension number, I ended the voicemail and I couldn't call her back fast enough. She sounded very pleasant and was promptly ready to discuss what she had found. So I held my breath and told her to "go for it."

Jason's cause of death is "Streptococcus Pneumoniae Sepsis". 
You are free to google that, but I can tell you what I know and save you the trip. First, it's not pneumonia. The name is a little misleading to those of us who aren't medically educated. Basically, the bacteria organism called Streptococcus Pneumoniae found its way into Jason's blood. And he couldn't fight it off. He went into sepsis and his organs shut down. This is rare.
Was there any way to save him? I don't know. Possibly with antibiotics if immediately administered. 
Why or how did he get this and why haven't I heard of this happening before? 
That one I can answer for you. 
Jason was an "at risk population" for this infection of his blood and I didn't even know it. Here is the backstory. The story of Jason's other love. 

Speed. 

See, Jason had a love affair with motorcycles. The man owned at least 20 of them, likely more. Some he crashed, some he sold or traded for the new model he had to have. He used to drive all the way from Fort Worth/Dallas to Houston weekly, in order to participate in racing on a track in a race series. He loved to ride. 

He rode them fast and hard. He was careful in that he wore full protective gear ALWAYS. If you ever get a chance, don't get him started on bikers in shorts and sandals, or those without helmets, as a helmet saved his life many times. He was not, on the other hand, always careful in the speeds he enjoyed or his exhibitionism. 



However, it wasn't high speed or motorcycle tricks that night in June 2000 that almost killed Jason. It was an inattentive driver. She pulled out right into Jason, crashing into the left side of his body. Jason was flown by helicopter to a trauma hospital in Dallas where they said he would not live. He was on life support for weeks, lost his spleen, his left kidney and required metal rods and pins in his left arm, left leg and left ankle. The doctors told his parents he wouldn't make it, but he did. He shocked them. He walked out of that hospital... and immediately bought a new bike. 



Jason continued to go on road trips with his friends and enjoy his pursuit of adrenaline. 





They called him "Panda Man". And as usual, he was just a big kid. Even after all he had been through. 



Jason had cheated death at least once, but he wasn't stopping there. In 2006, Jason wrecked again, this time at a high speed. It should have been another horrible accident, but he miraculously slid to safety, without encountering a tree or oncoming vehicle, and walked away unharmed! Here he is after the accident, with his bike. He told me his brother was watching over him. 




So, what's the score at this point? Jason 2, Death 0? Roughly. 

After I got my hands on Jason, I tried my best to stop the madness. We had children and I couldn't risk them losing their daddy to motorcycle crashes anymore. He stopped riding years ago and took up mountain biking and other less dangerous hobbies. For almost 14 years, Jason had no lasting effects of his accident other than occasional pains in his joints and setting off metal detectors at airports. Well, at least that's what we thought. 
  Let's talk about that accident again. Like I said, he lost some organs. One of which was his spleen. Prior to 2 months ago, I couldn't even tell you what a spleen does! Who knew it was so important? Apparently it is. It helps your body fight infections. Infections like Streptococcus Pneumoniae. Without his spleen, Jason couldn't fight this off. At least not this time. He had cheated Death so many times before (that score of 2 to 0 was my being pretty conservative on Jason's end), but not this time. Unfortunately, Death only has to score once. 



I'm not sure what Jason would have to say about all this if he could weigh in on it. I can think of some four-letter words he would likely choose. As for me, I recommend you hold your loved ones close to your heart, take care of the one body you get in this life, pray to whichever maker made you, and hold on tight, y'all. It can be a rough ride.




Rest in peace, Panda Man. 







Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Death & Taxes

  There are some things you need to be doing. Today. Now. This moment. Particularly if you have children. Some of these things, I've been pretty good about, and some I had to learn the hard way. The way nobody wants to learn. I call it the "it's too late" way.
You can't make too many plans in life because the course that you've prepared is sure to change right under your feet. Like quicksand. The strong will adapt to the change and the rest will sink down under the suffocation of the sand, never to use their own two feet again.
However, there are a few things you can count on with 100% certainty in this life. You've heard this before, right? Death and taxes. You're going to die. Yes, YOU. Not if. Not maybe. Just a matter of when. So, don't let that last pinch of fine sand slip through to the bottom of the hourglass before you evaluate what will be left behind when you are gone.
Here is what I have to impart onto you... so far:


1. Take pictures. Sounds simple enough, right? How about make sure you're in them. You will want your children to remember you. They will want to see you. They will want to see you with them.  One day, you will wonder how there are so few pictures of you and your kids, you and your parents, you and your spouse, you in your 30's, and so on. Ignore the blogs ripping "selfies" and take lots of selfies. Every crappy cell phone has a camera nowadays. It doesn't cost you anything to freeze that little moment. Take holiday pictures, birthday pictures, plain ol' Tuesday pictures. You'll be glad, and possibly even desperate for them, later.








 



2. Don't be stubborn... unless you're willing to die with it. There was someone in Jason's life with whom he had not spoken in much longer than should have been allowed. It was one of the first things I thought of when he died. How will this person take this news? What would Jason say if he knew this? He loved this person so much. If you have things to say, don't leave them unsaid. That corny saying about not staying mad at someone has been said for a reason. Like most annoying cliches, they got their basis somewhere, from someone. Someone who has lived through it before you.


OK, HERE COME THE BIG ONES:



3. Be insured. All of you. Unless you AND your spouse can each pay your own way, and that of your children, alone, of course. Why am I talking to so many people who still don't have life insurance? Go and call today. Get a plan. If you think it won't happen to you, you are gambling with your family's future. Ask me if I could have imagined or expected what happened to my life 6 weeks ago. Ask yourself who will be left in devastation when you die, and particularly if it happens tomorrow. Only then you can assess how important it is to have and how much you need to get. Hopefully you won't need it, but one thing I can promise you is that death doesn't have to give you a heads up. It creeps up unexpectedly. Accidents happen. Violence happens. 32-year-old widows with two babies happen. And if you're lucky (?) enough to know it's coming, you won't be insurable then anyway. So, like I said... do it. Now.
Of course, my grandmother always had her own kind of life insurance. She said she knew she would never be a rich woman, so she made sure my grandpa was insured... and my grandpa is still a young 85 years, so maybe she was right. Either theory, you're gonna need the insurance.


4. I am going to piggyback on #3. Have a will. Again, particularly if you own anything at all (home, car, retirement account, investments, savings accounts, CDs, bonds, stocks, property, land, businesses, etc) or have children, you NEED a will. And you need to assign beneficiaries to your bank accounts and insurance plans.  Why are so many 30-somethings telling me they "need to get to that soon" or that they simply don't have one? I am hoping it is because of ignorance rather than invincible delusions. And I hope to clear that up some today. Make your wishes known. Know the wishes of your loved ones. Does he want to be cremated? Do you want to be buried? Does your mother's mother's mother's fine china go to your daughter or to good will? Who gets to raise your children if the unthinkable happens? Who will decide how they celebrate Christmas or if they go to church, or temple, or synagogue? Who do you want making your final decisions? Who do you want to have all your Rolling Stones vinyls? Then, after you address all the major and minor things that matter to you, write that shit down. Yes, I said a bad word. I really wanted to project an affect here. So, like a sailor, I chose cursing this time. Seriously, stop reading this and go to legalzoom.com, or you big shots call your lawyers, or notarize a piece of notebook paper. There are a lot of easy do-it-yourself templates online. Just make sure you at least have it notarized. All states have different rules, so please look into them. I hope to not know anyone who would be so arrogant as to think he or she won't be the one something happens to. Jason did not have a will. So, I guess I know one... God love him.


P.S. As for the taxes, I'll just say this: Al Capone.
The gangster, bootlegger, organized crime boss who killed half of Chicago in the 1920's finally ended up in federal prison for one thing. Tax evasion. You are gonna pay them both eventually. Death and taxes.




                                                                 Sincerely hoping to help others,
                                                                  Claire



(Extreme close up!)