Time heals all wounds. Sounds nice. But I’m not sure I believe it. In fact, I don’t. Because I’m living proof. It takes more than time. At least it did for me.
When my Dad died in 2000, it sucked. Trust me. It still sucks. But that wasn’t the moment that really challenged me.
That moment came 10 years ago — to the day as I type this (June 11). That’s the day I got the call from my brother Tom that his twin, my brother Tim, had collapsed in rural Massachusetts and was being transferred to a hospital in Springfield and that things “didn’t look good.” Oh, and that I should get there as soon as possible.
Well, normally, that would be easy to do. The challenge this time was that when I took the call from Tom, I was already in a hospital for an absolute joyous moment — the birth of our beloved Erin Margaret. She arrived early enough the day before, the morning of June 10, that Renee and I were actually getting ready to be discharged when Tom called. His call just sped up the process.
Many of you know this story. For those that don’t, it’s all here on the blog, but essentially, the month of June, prior to last year, looked like this for me.
June 10 — Erin born
June 11 — Tim collapses
June 12-15 — basically a blur with Tim on life-support until my nephew gets home from Iraq
June 16 — nephew gets home, Tim comes off life support
Oh, and that’s right. Father’s Day is around this time, too, so due to all this, the memories of Bob come flooding back.
As if that wasn’t a challenging week enough, my Mother died June 13 last year. So, this year, my previous June hell week becomes a bit rougher, especially on the first anniversary of her death. It could have really made this an absolutely horrific week for me.
It hasn’t. And for that I am immensely proud.
Please, don’t misunderstand. Today was tough. The 13th will be tough. The 16th will be tough. Father’s Day will always be tough.
Tough is one thing. I can handle tough. And that’s the point. I’ve learned how. But it took me a long time. Before I learned, I was miserable. I had some very dark times in my life. From this point 10 years ago til 2010, so a total of three years. I was in the most challenging point of my life. I was letting loss overtake me in many ways.
It would go like this. Dad’s birthday in July, must be miserable because he’s not here to celebrate. January was rough because Tim’s birthday is that month. It’s also the month in which Dad died. June. Oh, June. Erin’s birth, which should be so joyful, ‘ruined’ by Tim’s collapse and death. Get right through that and then it’s Father’s Day. Oh, that’s right, my father’s dead.
It was brutal. I couldn’t escape the cycle. Thank goodness I did because adding Mom’s death into that mix would not have been a good situation.
But, I made the call year’s ago. I’ve written about it. I made the call to the Employee Assistance Program through work. That was the best phone call I ever made. I’m not sure I can say that it saved me, but it sure did change me. For the better.
I know I wasn’t myself during those few years. Some of you as much as told me that.
But, now, I can look back on it and celebrate the success. So why am I writing about this? One of the things I learned in counseling was how to anticipate the moments that would negatively affect me and then deal with those emotions. My triggers were similar. And if I could understand them and deal with them, then I can handle situations much better than focusing on the absolute negative.
Because that’s what I was doing. Only focusing on the negative. And it was bringing me down. Way down.
So this year, being the 10th anniversary of Tim and the first anniversary of Mom, there was the opportunity for a lot of triggers. But, I anticipated them. Found a way to deal with them and accept them. And, I thought, you know what, I have things to say. I need to blog. And one of those things — and perhaps the most important thing — is that I’m proud of myself.
You could have been dealing with a very different me this week.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’ll have some sadness this week. How could I not? But the key is that I will also have perspective and understanding. I will also find ways to utilize this week to remember happy times. My Mother, as many of you know, left letters behind when she died. I’ve read that letter twice already this week, and I’m sure I’ll read it again. And again.
When Tim died, there was a huge outpouring of emotion from his work. Those people showed a completely different side of him I didn’t know existed. So I’ve read some of that, to be reminded of the person I didn’t know as well, but wish I did.
And, on Father’s Day, while I am incredibly blessed to be Aidan and Erin’s Dad, it reminds me now of how blessed I am to be Bob’s son. It’s not negative any more. It can be sad. And it should be — to a degree. It just isn’t negative. I’ve let it be too negative in the past.
And, on this occasion, in a week that offers so many memories, emotions and feelings, I am reminded of how grateful I am — and for how proud I am — for picking up that phone, putting pride aside, and asking for help.
Doing that has allowed me to relive memories and cherish them as a way to honor my family. Whereas, before, I was allowing the death of my family members to consume me and to take away the positive memories and influences and impacts they had on my life. It was all about the negative.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. So incredibly worth it.
Accept those things you can’t change, and move on.
That what a dear friend said to me today after I sent an email that I wouldn’t be at work for most of the day due to the latest sickness to have found its way into the house. I was frustrated in my email. Heck, I was frustrated in general. Missed work. My daughter sick again. Me still sick.
So much for starting the year off on the right foot.
Yet, the above is so appropriate for me — on so many levels. Not just dealing with the issue of the day.
Let’s just say that when I look back on 2009, I hope it becomes something I learned a lot from — and not suffered a lot from. This head of mine, while still spinning today, was spinning almost out of control in parts of 2009. Things that had been buried for a long time surfaced and are still being dealt with. And, I suppose, they always will be dealt with.
I just want to make sure now that I’m better equipped to deal with feelings, fears and emotions than I have in the past. I’m not out of it by any means, but I’m trying. I really am.
The stress I put on myself has impacted the way I interact with others — family, friends, colleagues. It was a shortly after Thanksgiving when a colleague of mine said to me, “Wow, Mike, you’re in a good mood lately.”
That sort of hit pretty hard. It’s one thing when those very close to you notice something and say something, but at times I put that on the back burner. How could they really know? How could they really see? Well, turns out they did know and they could see. Because when someone who I’m not as close to mentioned my mood, then I was like, Hmmm. Maybe there is an issue here.
I’ve taken some steps I never expected to take in my life. And that’s what I have to focus on now — steps. The journey, not the finish line.
I’ll be candid. With the amount of loss in my life, which as you know has been one of the hardest things for me to understand and deal with — there have been moments where I have focused more on my own death than my own life.
It’s even hard to write that sentence — let alone try to explain it or deal with it. But, if you are close to me, you’ve probably heard me say the following:
“Well, my dad was 65, my brother was 45. That makes the average life span in my family for men to be 55. I just turned 40. If that holds true, I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle.”
Are you kidding? Seriously.
Well, for a while, I wasn’t. Still aren’t.
I won’t lie to you, it scares me. But I need to get off that crutch. I’ve leaned on that too much. Way too much. And I need to stop that.
Not an excuse, but this month is hard — Tim’s birthday and Dad’s 10th anniversary. And I’m trying to find the tools I need to handle some of these feelings better than I have in the past.
More importantly, I need to focus more on the journey to the end — not the end itself.
There are still things to be worked on. Still things to be figured out. And they aren’t minor things.
But, the point is, I need to find my way back to being the person people expect me to be.
No, that’s not right either.
I need to find my way back to being the person I expect myself to be.
And that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, but it’s so beyond necessary. I can’t let it eat at me the way it did in 2009. I can deal with it now, but I cannot be consumed by it.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I was also in the middle of a project. You know that I turned 40 last November — another issue that caused a great deal of stress. One of the ways for me to celebrate? I’m throwing myself a party. It just happens to be next month. Almost four months later? So what.
Point is, it’s going to be a fun party and it’s going to be the party I want — with the people I want. And that’s a good feeling.
Another good feeling about the party? My friend Mike is putting together a power point that is going to kill me. Why? Well, he’s got basically every picture of me known to man — from when I was a year old to just two weeks ago. And, let me just say, I haven’t always been this handsome or fashionable. And, well, if you are on the party invite list, you’ll laugh your ass off at a lot of the pictures. I know I will.
I also know that I will smile at a lot of them and recall happy times associated with each picture.
And that’s the point — collecting these pictures has been a very appropriate exercise for me. It’s given me the chance to do just that — to re-visit the journey I’ve taken along the way. To focus on what’s happened — not what might or might not happen.
To remember things like going with my family to pick out the perfect Christmas tree — something I still cherish to this day. To all of the good times I had in the backyard pool. To school pictures — yup, even including the velour shirt I wore in sixth grade with a dickey underneath. To the many places Renee and I have travelled. To the union of friends along the way. To celebrate the arrival and birthdays of new family and friends — and always remembering the departure of the same. To see myself standing next to people that are so much more than friends.
I suppose now you want to see some of these pictures? Well, it’s the least I can do. Here’s a tease. And if you’re coming to the party, there’s a lot more where these came from. (Invites to the party, by the way, out soon.)
Afterall, I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without having taken all of those steps along the way. Each one being so much more than a step — each one being part of who I am.
And that’s what I’m trying to do — to reclaim who I am. Not just for you (though I know you’ll appreciate that), but, more importantly, for me.
And, you know, like my friend said, to accept those things you can’t change and move on.
If I can do that — all of that — then 2010 will be so much more than 2009 ever was.
Is it a resolution? No, it’s not. Because it’s not something for this year.
It’s something for life.
…to write what I really want to write.
It’s why I haven’t written it before, quite frankly.
Nervous about putting it out there. Nervous about your reaction.
Don’t want people ‘worrying’ about me.
But, the (amazing) fact is, people do. Which is why I’m not going to hide it any more.
And for those of you that know me best, I know I haven’t been hiding it at all — you’ve seen it all along.
It took a while to come out, but now that it has, well, it’s sort of been wreaking havoc on me in more ways than one.
But, yeah, my brother’s death — finally starting to deal with it. And it hasn’t been pretty.
And it’s not so much about Tim’s death as it is about the timing of his death. Not to say it would have been easy to handle his death at any time, but when it comes literally within days of my daughter’s birth, well, yeah, can you say world turned upside down? Because I can.
But I’ve told you about this before. This isn’t new.
What I haven’t told you is how it has changed me. Some of that I know and some of it I don’t — I think because it hasn’t finished changing me yet.
No more patterns. No more routine. No more questions about what could have been or should have been. No. Life is too short. Truly. Don’t want to ask myself any more of those questions.
I don’t want to be mad at Tim for ruining Erin’s arrival — and, well, to some extent I am. I don’t want to be upset about the loss in general — but rather try to celebrate what was, not what might have been.
That isn’t easy. None of it.
And I’m not smart enough to do that on my own.
Which is why I asked for help.
From a counselor.
There. I said it.
Yes, I saw a counselor for about six to eight weeks. And it helped — a lot. And I’m planning to do it again, especially since I’ve learned of a new kind of therapy that is different than traditional talk therapy (no, it’s not shock!). I need to learn more about it, but what I’ve learned so far is encouraging — that it can help ease the pain of traumatic situations and refocus on the good, not the bad.
And, yeah, imagine that, more of my time has been the opposite — on the bad, not the good.
Why now? Good question. I think it’s just taken that long for me to realize that I never really grieved. I never really handled it well when it was going on. Because, quite frankly, I didn’t know where to focus.
But, again, why now? My mood has suffered, as you’ve probably noticed. You’ve told me that. You’ve told me I’ve been more irritable. You’ve told me my temper has flared more than before. You’ve told me my fuse has gotten shorter.
But you’ve also told me that you are with me. That you support me. That you are my friends first and foremost. That you will listen when I need it. That you will encourage if necessary, listen if necessary, talk if necessary, walk if necessary. That whatever it is, you will do it.
I can’t tell you how much that means to me — someone who doesn’t always understand why people would offer that.
What I can tell you is that I am blessed with truly amazing people in my life — all of whom are ready to help.
And while I’ve needed the help so far and will need more in the future, I realiz there is one very important place for me to find strength — and that’s from within.
I need your support — as you’ve given it to me. And I will see a counselor again and seek that help. But at the same time, I need to pull myself out of some of this, too.
And call it an early New Year’s Resolution, but I’m trying.
I really am.
It’s hard to believe you are two years old today. Sometimes you seem so grown up! I know that’s happening every day. And I know I can’t stop it (as often as I wish that I sometimes could).
But, the fact is, no matter how fast you do grow up, you will always be Daddy’s little girl. Always. Even the day — especially the day — when I get to walk you down the aisle on your wedding day. Yes, Erin, I do think about that. About ‘giving you away’…which is hard to think of already. Especially a girl who has given me so much — in just two years.
Your eyes, Erin, continue to captivate me each and every time I look at you. Your voice and your growing vocabulary impress me so much. You communicate so well. So easily.
Your sense of adventure. No fear. I’m so admirable and envious of your spirit. Your laughter — contagious — or at least it should be. Everything about you, Erin, speaks of joy. Because that is what you bring to all who love you.
Sure, you’ve grown a little more toddler like with your new bedtime behavior, but, overall, you are an angel. A sweet little angel.
And, Erin, while this day is always about you and always your day alone. Please know, too, what gift you bring me — every day.
Each time I look at you, Erin, your uncle Tim is there. You were such a gift at such a horrible time. A time, quite honestly, I still struggle with a lot (more than people think — at least until now). So on a day that should be totally yours, I thank you for sharing it with the uncle you’ve never met. There will be enough sorrow to share in the next few days about that. But on this day, your day, you share in all the good of not just yourself, but your uncle, too.
And for that, Erin, I thank you.
I do get frustrated, Erin. And I apologize for that. I try and do the best I can every day. Some days are much harder for me — and that’s my own patience level I have to deal with. But just please know that Daddy loves you so much, and you truly bring joy every single day.
Happy Birthday, Erin.
No excuses for not being here. Life has been beyond words crazy. More work than ever. More stress than ever. Just, well, more of everything.
And, had I known Molly was going to post about my kids (she’s watching them for a few days), then I would have had something fresh here for the 300 of you that popped in for a visit. I only hope you’ll come back from time to time.
And, it’s interesting, this wordpress thing. Because I know a lot of what you looked at. And quite a bit of it was about my brother’s death and all that I went through at that time — especially since it was timed horribly with my daughter’s birth — nearly two years ago.
And, it’s somewhat ironic that that topic is what is bringing me here tonight. So after reading Aidan a story, we went through prayers. We did all the usual, and then it went like this:
“And God bless Great Mimi O, Papa O and Uncle Tim — especially this time of year.”
“Why specially Dad?”
“Because the day Uncle Tim died is coming up very soon — just like Erin’s birthday. In fact, bud, it was the day after Erin was born that Uncle Tim got sick. And one of the reasons it always makes me sad is that Erin and Uncle Tim never got to meet. Do you remember Uncle Tim?”
“A little. He’s in one of the pictures from my party.”
“Yup, he sure is. And pictures are how we keep memories alive.”
“Well when will Erin get to meet Uncle Tim?”
I actually had to collect myself a bit before I could muster this…you know, not only talking about the death of my brother, but also now the death of my daughter.
“Well, bud, one day, that will happen. When Erin goes to heaven, she’ll get to meet Uncle Tim and Papa O. And that’s when we’ll all be together again. But that’s going to be a long time from now.”
By the time we were here, he had moved down to the floor where his train table was.
“You want to drive the train and I’ll drive the cherry picker. And then if I want, we can switch.”
“I’d love to.”
Happy Easter from Aidan and Erin.
They promise Dad will be back soon with more.
“He” in the above title is Aidan.
And “it” is death. It amazes me how he picks up on things. And here’s the latest example from the not-yet five-year-old.
Typically, I put Erin down and Renee puts Aidan down. Renee was out tonight, so I was on double duty.
Erin goes down no problem. Aidan and I read stories, and then I start in on prayers.
We do the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, after which we go through family and close friends with “God Bless Mimi, God Bless Papa” etc.
I just finish the line “And special prayers for Uncle Tim and Papa O” when the following exchange occurs:
“Is there room up there, Dad?”
“Room up where, buddy.”
“Up there. Where Uncle Tim and Papa O are.”
“You mean heaven, Aidan?”
“Is there room up there?”
“Yes, Aidan, but no worries. We won’t be visiting soon.”
At this point, I’m thinking I’m in the clear. Then:
“How did Uncle Tim die, Dad?”
“His heart was sick, buddy.”
“Well, bud, we’re not really sure why, but his heart got very sick, and as hard as the doctors tried, they weren’t able to fix it.”
“But what about Mimi O?”
“You’re right, Aidan. Mimi O’s heart was sick, but we’re very thankful the doctors could fix it.”
At this point, I’m again thinking I’m in the clear. Then:
“How did Papa O die, Dad?”
“He had Cancer, Aidan.”
“What’s that, Dad?”
“Cancer is something that gets different people sick in different parts of their bodies, and Papa O’s skin was sick. The doctors tried to help him a lot, but he was just too sick. And that’s how Papa O died.”
“Is there room up there, Daddy?”
“There sure is, buddy, and Papa O and Uncle Tim will save you a spot.”
“Good night, buddy.”