Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fine Again

I suppose I have no one to blame. I took a few important steps the past six months that outwardly have me on a much better path.

I bought a gym. I started a contract job as a part-time Strength & Conditioning Coach for a university here in Philadelphia. Shit, I actually showed up for Thanksgiving dinner and ate half a turkey by myself.

I even got a few essays published on topics unrelated to grief. One of these pieces had the word "Happy" in the title.

Ergo, I must be happy. I guess I'm doing fine now. I started acting a little normal, at least to the extent I haven't booked my third relocation ticket to Hawaii yet, so I can't really blame folks for treating me like I'm normal.

Except that I do. I mean really, what the actual fuck is wrong with you dumb shits??? You think because I finally grew some balls and quit that shitty desk job that somehow makes it all better???

Yeah sure, I teach people how to lift weights for a living, and that's certainly an improvement over whatever paper pushing charade I was faking my way through before, but my kid is still dead. And I still think about that not just every once in a while but basically between every goddamned set.

So pardon my dismay when all of a sudden I'm being invited to holiday gatherings and asked what I'm bringing to the present exchange. An uzi. I'm bringing an uzi to the white elephant and I'm mowing the room down in the name of collective stupidity.

Jesus H. Christ, did you forget I'm the guy who wrote a diatribe about ruining Christmas? What? You thought that wasn't real? You thought I was just hurt and didn't mean it and that it would all pass one day when the tears stopped flowing? Nope, I fucking meant it, and you can still shove that candy cane straight up your ass - crooked end first.

You know what goes on at many of those gatherings you're so eager to get me to attend? Your kids giggle, open presents, and run around showing off. My kid rots in the ground silently. See the difference?

So no, I'm not interested in coming to the holiday party, and I'm definitely not exchanging presents. You can buy presents for your own damned kids.

Here I am at the only holiday gathering I'm likely to attend
this year - the annual candle lighting ceremony for dead babies.
As for you yourself... well, you're a goddamned adult, with a job, living in a developed country. Go out and buy your own stupid ass present. Go buy 50 of them for all I care.

I don't really see how that'd be much different from any other time. We're a nation of "treats" and "deserves," and from my point of view we treat ourselves liberally, not just on holidays but regular old days too, to all this stuff we supposedly deserve because we work so hard.

To each his own. I don't care what you think life owes you or what you buy. I used to think maybe life owed me a little more time with the daughter I loved, but it doesn't.

So do whatever the hell you want on Christmas, but just save me the trouble of handing me a gift card to some overpriced department store so I'm compelled to hand you one of exactly equal value to a different overpriced department store. And if, heaven forbid, my lame gift card doesn't quite measure up to yours, you get the added holiday joy of gossiping to anyone within earshot about what a cheapskate I am.

I'm not really a cheapskate, though. I'm just a bitter dick, and a sensible one at that. I'd rather give my money to a homeless guy on the street than to you. At least he needs help.

When did we start measuring our love by how much money we spend anyway? Money isn't where you find love. It's about that time I naively thought I was owed and would get.

I love cold weather and snow because if you're lucky you get stuck in the house once in a while with your family while a big storm rages. They have few choices other than to snuggle up under a blanket and watch a movie with you. Time sort of stops for a bit and you just enjoy being together.

I'd give anything for time to do something simple like that with Ruby. I'd scooch up as close to her as I could get and squeeze her tightly. That'd be worth more than any stupid present.

I did get my mom a card and a small gift. She raised me. She loves me. She puts up with me. She deserves to be remembered even if I don't feel like doing anything.

I got my girlfriend a small gift and made us a dinner reservation. She didn't cause any of this. She just has to endure it every year.

I wrote a card for my nephews. I told them I love them very much but that their parents can shop for them. I might have messed up there. They're little and they probably won't understand that I can't walk in the toy store.

Roo only said a few words. One of them was "toy." All children love toys.

Remember the island of misfit toys from the Christmas special? Roo had like six or seven talking Elmo dolls. Why so many? Because we're rich idiots? No. I wish.

She thought they could swim because of this one DVD where Elmo goes swimming, so she kept throwing them in the pool or in the bath tub. She was quick and we couldn't save them. So we just kept buying her new ones at sixty sickening bucks a pop every time she shorted one out.

All Roo's toys were misfit toys. I think that's why she loved me. I'm a misfit and she knew it.

And now I'm really a misfit. Before I was just kind of a weird guy who thought lifting heavy stuff was more fun than drinking, though drinking isn't too bad either. Now I'm the social pariah who hates Christmas.

Yeah, well, I only hate it because I'd have loved it so much with her. When I let myself, I picture what it might be like, but it just messes me up worse to linger there for too long.

It's better for me to just hate Christmas and get through it than to dwell too much on what might have been. It's probably that way for most parents who've lost a child.

So try to let us do that. If we decline the party invitation or pass on the present exchange, give us a fucking pass even if we're twenty years removed and you don't get it. You're not going to get it because you haven't lived it, but you can still have compassion. You can realize it's not always about you and your happiness. Sometimes it's about another's survival.

When you treat me like I'm fine and that your normal should be my normal, I don't know if that's what you naively believe or if you just can't deal with the ugliness of my pain. Either way, I feel even more alone.

The reality is that I'm not fine, even as I take steps to build a new life. Most days, I'm still just barely hanging on and stumbling through as best I can while missing my daughter and wondering if I'll ever see her again. I doubt anyone who has lost a child is ever really fine again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Grief Leads

Grief leads a lot of places, and you don’t want to go to most of them. I’ve written blog posts about how my daughter’s death led me on a Roller Coaster and Down in a Hole.

I think it will probably always lead me to these dark places. Rather than fight to not go there, I’ve decided to just make darkness a part of who I am - to live with it and do the best I can. I choose to walk around inside-out and vulnerable.

For me, that works much better than burying my truth. I’ve buried enough already. So, rather than hiding it or sugar coating it with nonsense like “time heals all wounds” or “everything happens for a reason,” I embrace my darkness in hopes I can help someone.

Such idiotic statements had to be made by someone who doesn’t know anything about losing a child anyway. By sharing what this journey is really like, maybe someone out there who is experiencing the intense pain and hopelessness of child loss - a pain which doesn’t ease even long enough for you to catch your breath - won’t feel quite so alone.

Maybe they’ll even be comforted knowing someone else is enduring a similar experience. Maybe they’ll hang on and fight to see what’s next.

Because there is a “what’s next.” Until we’ve drawn our last breath, new challenges, new experiences, and new mysteries will continue to unfold whether we’re ready for them to or not.

Life might not be at all what we pictured, but there’s more to the story than just the darkness. In fact, maybe darkness and light can’t exist without each other.

Perhaps out of desperation, grief also led me to Just Try. It led me to realize she’s Gone, she’s never coming back, and I have to grab all the good moments and cherish them right here and now, before they too pass like she did.

And guess what? I have something really good to share. It’s so good I’m still almost scared to speak of it for fear of jinxing it.

Time to just blurt it out. My girlfriend and I are buying a gym and will be the official owners on August first! We’re scared shitless, too, and we barely even comprehend how we got here.

Roo died May 18, 2013, just shy of her sixth birthday and a little over four years ago. Life has been a whirlwind since then, as my mind and events have spun at a rapid pace.

I met Christina at a seminar in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, only a few months later. I don’t even know why I went. My friend Marty didn’t need me there; he’s a training guru. He probably dragged me along out of pity.

As you might imagine, I was mostly a disaster and have no idea why she liked me, but she did or she didn’t but decided to fake it and see if things might improve. I’m not sure they did at first, except in little glimpses.

One of those glimpses occurred when she asked me to vacation with her on Maui. It was a gorgeous week, and I loved soaking in her knowledge of the islands she’d been amassing over many visits dating back to her childhood.

Sometimes I vacillate between almost irrational self-confidence and crippling self-doubt. For some reason still unknown to me, in this instance I was supremely confident I could land a job in Hawaii and said as much aloud.

I'd been a professional fundraiser for nonprofit organizations for the last ten years and needed to get out of the small town where my daughter died and start something new. Where better to do that than Hawaii?

It took a few tries but I soon made good on my claim, landing a fundraising position at a Honolulu homeless shelter. Having known me all of six months, Kris picked up and moved with me. She probably figured I needed a caretaker for the inevitable crash.

Hawaii offered plenty to like, but I only lasted a year in the job. Turns out I still hated being a fundraiser, even in paradise.

The best thing about Hawaii wasn’t the gorgeous scenery; it was a crash course in getting to know Kris. Dating someone is easy when you only see them on weekends and have the whole week to look forward to it. Try being around them every moment you’re not working and with no other relationships to divert attention. You find out a few things about compatability real fast.

One thing I learned is that we’re both way into this strength training thing. One of our happy places is in a gym, sweating and straining and forgetting everything else for an hour or two.

Maybe to fill some time and maybe because it’s where our energy gravitated, we talked incessantly about our dream of opening a gym. When we weren’t talking, I’d ask her what she was doing and she’d look up from her laptop to reply, “Working on my business plan.” I’d never seen so many danged spreadsheets.

She even took the step to rent time at a small gym and begin teaching a kettlebell class in hopes of building a following, but I didn’t last long enough in my job to allow her to grow it. We also trained at two independent gyms with interesting operating models that seemed insignificant at the time but would become important later.

Okay, so maybe not everything happens for a reason, but maybe some things do. I’m still trying to work that one out in my mind and arrive at a conclusion that isn’t a cop out.

The problem I’m having is that you can’t say the good stuff happens for a reason without acknowledging the bad stuff, even the really bad stuff, does too. Serial killers and war lords rampage for a reason? Children die for a reason?

Maybe some events are just random and some are about opportunities that present themselves and our free will in taking advantage of them or taking a pass. That’s all I have for now.

Anyway, when I couldn’t make Hawaii work, I moved back to Pennsylvania for a series of missteps as I tried to maintain an income to support myself. I had two, maybe three, fundraising jobs in a little over a year. The fact I don’t even know how to count these follies tells you all you need to know.

When a second opportunity arose in Hawaii, I had nothing compelling enough happening at the time not to jump again. So it was back to paradise in fall 2016 for another fundraising job; this time at a health center.

Kris was in a good administrative job by this time and had learned her lesson about my whims. She decided to "wait and see" how the new gig panned out before joining me.

Good thing she did, because I was back in Pennsylvania in seven short months. Duh, I hated it again and wasn't raising any money.

When I returned this time, we still talked about the gym but didn't really see it as a realistic option. Instead, I started focusing my efforts on writing. To finally get out of fundraising, I'd build a small portfolio of published works and apply for communications jobs.

Though I didn't get any offers as a full-time writer - a blessing in disguise - I did manage to get five articles published in the span of a few months. True to form, I like writing what I want to write, not what some twit tells me to write so he can make money while I do his bidding.

While I click-clacked away at the keyboard, a great opportunity dropped into our laps. My friend was closing his gym to focus on other pursuits, and we saw a potential opportunity to make the prospect of owning a small business a little less daunting. This gym, you see, was already turning a small profit.

On top of this, our financial picture had improved with my latest Hawaii jaunt. Kris had paid down some debt; the health center had given me a small severance package (probably to get rid of me without a hassle); I was eligible to collect a few months of unemployment at fairly generous Hawaii rates; and Pennsylvania now had an option for domestic partners to count as family members for health insurance purposes.

These details might sound rather mundane, but I point them out for a reason. People often gloss over the story of how they travelled from point A to B, sort of implying they’re so much smarter and harder working than the rest of us.

I’m not saying I’m not smart and hard working, particularly when I’m immersed in a project that interests me, but I also had plenty of luck and timing to help me along here. I may have made a few of my own breaks, but I didn’t make them all. As a good friend pointed out, however, plenty of less deserving people have had more luck so maybe it was just time for me to cash a decent hand.

If I was in complete control though, don’t you think I’d have made this move years ago? The health insurance component, over which I had absolutely no control, was particularly critical for me to even think about working for myself, as I've been diabetic for over a decade and take some astronomically expensive drugs.

All this to say, if we squeezed and if Kris held onto her job for the time being, we felt we'd have just enough money to buy the gym and pursue our dream. Serendipitously, I was also offered a job as a part-time strength and conditioning coach this fall at the University of Pennsylvania.

That added bit of good fortune will help with gym expenses and will also give me some cachet as a trainer. The dominoes had fallen into place, making the next logical move obvious even to a guy with the intuition of a shower caddie.

So here we are, though we’re still making sense of how we got here. In four short years, my precious daughter had died; I'd fallen in love with someone who shares my dreams; I'd moved to Hawaii and back twice; I'd found a small voice as a writer (I co-wrote a book somewhere in there, too); and I'd stumbled into an opportunity to finally do something I'm passionate about rather than just trudge to work to collect a paycheck.

All we had to do is reach out and grab it... and scrape together a tidy sum of money to make that happen. Courage, fear, or desperation? Maybe they're all the same sometimes.

Everyone’s grief journey is different. A big part of mine has been my quest to lead a more authentic life. So here I am throwing caution to the wind and starting over with something brand new.

I’m just as scared as anyone else of taking chances. Emptying my bank account to buy a gym has kept me awake many nights and will probably keep me awake many more. Since the rug was ripped right out from under my vision of how I pictured the next couple decades of my life, I’m also probably a little more determined than most people to try to “get it right,” whatever “it” is.

The page turned and the next chapter began, whether I wanted it to or not. When I threw out the manuscript and started over, I detested the thought of beginning with, “After he buried his child, he kept right on doing the same boring job and being miserable about it. The only thing that had changed was that he no longer had a reason to justify enduring the drudgery.”

Believe what you want about fate and the amount of control we have over our own destinies. I’m just trying to write part of the story myself and have a hand in how it develops, rather than letting someone else write the entire thing for me.

Maybe I also have a little less to lose than most people in making a change. For sure some important people in my life will be impacted if I fail, but I’m not throwing away a college fund or dragging an entire family down with me.

For many years, I almost led some kind of split existence. By day, I was a mid-level manager. I was okay at it but just okay. I certainly never excelled, and most of the stiff way in which I conducted myself in order to fit in with corporate culture felt fake and oppressive.

After hours, I became a different person. I trained with weights and wrote about training. I swore when I felt like it. I could be louder and sillier and rougher around the edges without offending my gym friends. I tried to help people along the way, and I just generally felt more like the “real me.”

I think about Ruby every day. My lasting impression of her is the immediate sense I always had when I was in her presence of how much she loved her life. She attacked every little activity with everything in her and was always present right in the moment - a lesson we all could heed rather than trudging through our lives like zombies or slaves to our social media accounts.

Her infectious laugh immediately let you know she was fully engaged in whatever she was doing. Even small tasks, like inspecting a bug no bigger than a speck of dust as it crawled across the concrete, would capture her full attention. Her little forehead would bead with sweat from her determination to learn to eat solid foods; a skill most of us take for granted but one that didn't come easily for her because of some of her developmental delays.

A lot of my thoughts now revolve not so much around specific memories, although I certainly smile and agonize all at once over those on occasion too, but around what she might think if she could see me. I guess she'd see me trying to move forward and live a good life to honor her, but she might also giggle at my sideways and backwards stumbles.

I’m sure I still do things that would disappoint her, but I also think I’m closer to being on a path that would make her happy for me. She knew me. We had a bond that is difficult to explain. If anyone could understand what I’m trying to do and where this grief has led me, it would be her.

One day, it will all lead back to you. But not now.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Today marks the four-year anniversary of Roo's death. To me, anniversaries are occasions to celebrate, so maybe that's the wrong term. Her life is a celebration of innocence and exuberance, but there's nothing to celebrate about the grim details of her final days.

I was going to let the day pass without writing anything. I was blocked and feel like I've said most everything I have to say. There's no point writing, or doing anything else, if a sense of obligation is your driving motivation.

You've heard my thoughts on how grieving the loss of a child is different from grieving any other loss - how it stays with you always; how it negatively impacts relationships with family and friends; how things that used to be tolerable, like a dead end job, suddenly become completely revolting.

I've also written about how you're damned if you do and damned if you don't when trying to comfort bereaved parents. Case in point: I received one phone call today inquiring how I'm doing. ONE. My only child - my soul - died, and one friend thinks enough of me to remember the date and check in on me.

It doesn't really matter. I didn't pick that lone call up anyway. I didn't want it, and I didn't want your stupid call either. If I did pick it up, I'd have bitten the caller's head off just for fun. But you can bet I made a mental note of that single call, and I won't forget the gesture.

In addition to feeling like I didn't really have anything new to say, the week was also progressing in a positive direction. My new t-shirt business isn't going gangbusters, but there's a steady buzz of interest. My training has certainly been going well. Maybe I could just let the day slip on by without harping on it.

Then things started rapidly deteriorating. On Tuesday, Kris' parents' seven-year-old beagle died completely unexpectedly. Beagles don't die at seven.

I was in the house that morning with the dog while everyone else was at work. I wasn't paying close attention, but I didn't notice anything abnormal.

I left around noon, and Kris' mom came home for lunch shortly thereafter and found KC dragging her hind legs. They went to the vet, and he put her down early that evening.

We dug a little grave in the dark while the cat meowed forlornly in the background, placed her body in the hole, covered it with dirt, said a few brief words, and that was that. Here one minute and gone the next.

By morning, most evidence of the dog's existence had been put away. Gone were the gates used to keep her from wandering into random rooms and ransacking them in her never-ending quest for food. Her leash no longer hung from the door. Gone also were her bed and toys.

In truth, I felt more guilt than any other emotion. I mostly ignored KC and certainly never bonded with her. To say I'll miss her would be a lie. To say I regret treating her largely with apathy would be far more accurate.

I wonder sometimes if losing Ruby has made it more difficult for me to feel empathy for what I consider to be lesser losses. It may have, or maybe I'm just not much of an animal person. No point dwelling on questions for which I have no answers.

Kris' mom was by far closer to the dog than anyone else. KC was her pet. She walked her daily, made sure she was fed, talked to her in a silly voice, and did all the things you'd expect.

I felt bad for her. This next statement sounds odd, but I was relieved to feel something. I may not have loved the dog myself, but at least I related to her owner's loss. The ability to grasp another's pain hasn't completely left me. A heart still beats.

I scuffed through the next day-and-a-half, processing that KC suddenly wasn't here anymore. Several times going to the kitchen I caught myself stepping over the dog gate that wasn't there. Leaving an upstairs room I shut the door, realized I no longer needed to worry about keeping her out, and reopened it.

Nothing too earth-shattering for me here. They were even already talking about adopting a new pet, so maybe I'd soon be back to these slightly annoying routines. Maybe I'd even try to pet the new one once in a while instead of just breezing by. I got this, I thought.

Then I awoke to this morning's news of Chris Cornell's passing. I love Soundgarden's music and most of the music that came out of Seattle's early 1990's heyday. And now he and my daughter are oddly linked in my mind forever.

Any group that managed not one hit song, but two, with "Black" in the title leaps to the top of my list. We were a match made maybe somewhere darker than heaven, but a match nonetheless. Before I get too teary-eyed, however, perhaps I should share something I posted a few months ago in the wake of another celebrity's death.

Ah yes, more feel-good sentiments from yours truly. Seems I hate your dog and your celebrity crush. Well now... that's not entirely true. If you went into a tailspin about Patrick Swayze, I didn't have much love for you. If you lamented his loss reasonably, and are willing to admit Roadhouse is way better than Ghost, I feel you a little.

In that spirit, I'll share my favorite Cornell story. Anybody remember Temple of the Dog? Cornell put this group together in 1991 with a couple Soundgarden band mates and a couple guys who would soon form Pearl Jam. They released only one album, but that lone gem contains one of my favorite songs, Hunger Strike.

Cornell, gifted as he was, was actually having trouble with some of the vocals during rehearsals. Eddie Vedder, with his signature booming baritone, jumped in and turned it into a duet. Egos took a backseat to collaboration, and a great rock song was born. Have a listen:

Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike

Temple actually toured a bit in 2016 to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of Hunger Strike's release. That's how a proper anniversary is supposed to work; not by placing flowers on a child's grave or writing some dreary shit to try and keep her memory alive. Too bad I didn't make it to one of Temple's reunion shows.

Too bad I didn't make it to one of Temple's reunion shows. That's worth repeating, so I did. Too bad I didn't pet that damn dog. See what I'm getting at here?

KC didn't give us a bit of warning. One minute she was being the little pest she always was - sniffing around for food, turning over waste baskets, and eating dead bugs. The next minute she was gone.

Cornell didn't give any warning either unless something comes out later. Sure, he had his struggles with drug addiction like all those guys did, but he seemed to have made it through that. Hell, he played a show that was, from the accounts I read, completely normal just hours before his apparent suicide.

I haven't written much about the days leading up to Roo's hospitalization for pneumonia. Those final days, and her week-long hospital stay that ended with her death are sort of a blur in my mind. That I might recount something inaccurately has made me reluctant to talk much about it.

One thing I do remember clearly is the feeling of optimism I was starting to have about Roo's development in her final days. She had a lot of catching up to do, but I remember seeing little signs it was starting to happen.

I found some journal notes I made literally hours after she died. I was frantically writing down all kinds of memories, scared to death I'd forget them and her along with them.

In my notes, I wrote about our last day together at a local park. She loved going there to chase the ducks, swing as long and high as I would push her, and swish her hands in water streaming from a large fountain I probably shouldn't have been letting her anywhere near.

She was apparently so giddy to go that she went and sat in her buggy while I washed our breakfast dishes. I don't remember that, so I'm glad I wrote it down.

Here's the hopeful part... I wrote that she was learning to listen better and held my finger patiently as we walked across the large field together rather than excitedly running ahead toward the swing set. If you'd ever met Roo, you'd know what a monumental accomplishment any sort of self-restraint represented.

I didn't write a single word in that journal about ragged breathing or lethargy. I know I didn't see any signs of her deteriorating condition just days before she was so sick she had to be ventilated.

Maybe she was so tough she hid the fact she couldn't breathe so she could play some more. Maybe we all just missed it. Maybe it just overtook her out of nowhere. Like I said, no point dwelling on questions for which I have no answers.

A daughter, a dog, and a damn fine musician. I was trying to get another "D" in there for alliteration and couldn't come up with one, so I threw in a swear word. Any excuse will do, I suppose.

All three were here one day and gone the next. None of them gave us any closure. They just went away. They were gone, nearly literally, in the blink of an eye.

Is there some trip you've been meaning to take?

Do you have some silly grudge you need to settle with an old friend?

Is there someone you just want to hug or spend time with who you miss?

And man, if you have kids, do you spend time with them? I'm not talking about basics like feeding and bathing and shuffling to and from activities and doing homework.

That's baseline. That's shit you have to do. As a matter of fact, fuck the homework once in a while.

I'm talking about really being present and spending time together. You know... talking to them, listening to what they have to say, playing a silly game together, and just getting to know who they are and what makes them tick.

I could continue, but I'm sure you get the idea. Now comes the cliche. Maybe I really don't have anything new to say, but this simple message is one that bears repeating.

We can't buy time back, so don't wait for a more convenient day. Whatever it is you're not doing even though that little voice inside your head is telling you to, start listening.

Do that thing now. There is no tomorrow. There's only today.

I love you. I wish we had more time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Just Try

Oftentimes, turmoil in one area of our lives can lead to upheaval in other areas as well. Why is that? Is it simply that bad luck really does come in threes?

Probably not. I’m guessing the snowball effect of bad luck, at least in the case of child loss, can be traced to our mental state in the weeks, months, and even years after the loss.

We’re not ourselves. Or at least we’re not our former selves. And this can lead to some unintended outcomes.

Relationships are the big one. Relationships change after the loss of a child. And I mean all of them - romance, friendships, employment - it’s all different.

Sometimes the different nature of our relationships after the loss of a child can actually bring a small measure of comfort into our lives. For example, some marriages are strengthened by child loss, as couples cling to each other for support.

Some friendships get “more real” in a hurry, as bereaved parents are often willing speak their minds more freely. With seemingly little left to lose, we’re more willing to tell others how we really feel; how we may have been hurt or betrayed by past actions. This new openness sometimes brings long-festering issues out in the open and allows meaningful discussion that leads to healing and a closer bond between friends.

Unfortunately, sometimes relationships go the other direction. A spouse or romantic partner may feel alienated by our grief. A frayed relationship may completely unravel with this added stressor.

Friends may not appreciate our candor and may be hurt by it. Even if we don’t overtly do or say anything, friction often develops with friends and family simply because we’re not the old us.

Almost four years into my grief journey, I’m still sorting out these relationships. I’ve lost some and held on to some. The jury is still out on others, I suppose.

In at least one area of my life - employment - I had some significant issues lurking beneath the surface that I was able to keep tamped down while Ruby was still here. Like a good soldier, I trudged to a job that wasn’t a good fit, because I had mouths to feed. I made it work.

After she was gone, the incentive to walk this line was gone, and I began to seek something else. I sought it not once, but twice, by moving all the way from the East Coast to Hawaii. I might despise fundraising - all the fake smiling and fake relationships - but surely I’d despise it a little less in paradise, right?

Umm, no. And I’m so thick-headed I had to earn double frequent flier miles to learn this lesson.

In 2014, barely six months after Ruby died, I packed up my few belongings and moved to Honolulu to be Development Director for Oahu’s largest homeless shelter. If I was looking for some kind of downshift from the hectic pace of East Coast life, I sure as hell wasn’t going to find it working for a social cause as polarizing as homelessness.

We were in the news nearly every damned day for something! And most of it didn’t make my job as a fundraiser any easier.

Oh, did I mention I brought my brand new girlfriend out here with me? Yep, did that too. Sign me up for Mensa!

Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well. I was a nervous wreck. All I really wanted to do was shut that stupid office door and cry over my daughter. I wasn’t ready to handle PR crisis after PR crisis.

So I didn’t. I packed my stuff up after a year and went back to Philadelphia.

Only things didn’t go so well there, either. In a tough big city employment pool, I was just another small fish. I get that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but could I just get a small patch of green somewhere???

I thought that patch came in the form of a second chance in Hawaii. I landed a job doing fundraising for another social services agency. It must be destiny, right? You don’t get two pretty good jobs in Hawaii with no significant connections if you’re not supposed to be here, right?

That’s what I thought, anyway. So back on the plane I climbed in September of 2016. Only this time, the girlfriend and I decided to play it smart. I’d come out here and check it out - make sure it was a good fit - and after a few months I’d give her the go-ahead to quit her job and join me.

That day never came. I got fired after six short months. They said it wasn’t for performance - that they had an unexpected and significant financial crisis - but who knows.

I’m still distracted. I’m still not passionate or even really enthusiastic about fundraising. Building those relationships is a process that takes time - probably longer than six months - but the fact remains that I wasn’t raising much money yet.

So now I’m flying back to Philadelphia to start over again. Is it really even starting over if you didn’t get started? Probably not. I guess I’m flying back to Philadelphia to start.

Do I have any positive takeaway from this mess? Sometimes even a realist like me (okay, fine, pessimist) needs to see something positive - just a little sliver of hope.

Well, for one, I’ve finally accepted that fundraising is no longer the path for me, and any moment of clarity is a win when you’re typically as decision-paralyzed as I am. I just don’t have the energy to continue faking it in any area of my life - not in my relationships and not in my so-called career.

I don’t know what’s next, but it’s going to have to be something for which I have genuine interest. I like to write. I like fitness. I’m really good at thumb wrestling. We’ll see.

And the girlfriend… her name is Christina and shockingly, she’s still around! I don’t even know how or why sometimes, but I feel lucky. And I feel like I’ve been careless with our relationship with all this bouncing around the world.

I’m going to try to change that when I get back. I might not find career stability for a while, but I’m going to have to find a way to be present so that something in my life can grow.

This is my grief journey - the first four years of it anyway. I’m not in the habit of giving advice. I’d rather just share my experience and let you take what you will from it.

I’m sure some “expert” will say not to shake up your life too much the first couple of years after you lose a child. That sounds like pretty reasonable advice.

At the same time, I’m grateful for my time in Hawaii… both times. I’m grateful for the friends I made, the lessons I learned, and the beauty I saw. I’m grateful I shared the first experience here with Kris and that she got to visit me twice on this go-round.

Just by expressing gratefulness, something that doesn’t come particularly naturally to me after losing Ruby, I think I’m slowly making peace with some of my mistakes. I’m gradually letting just a smidgen of bitterness go and telling myself I’m allowed to have hope.

I’m certain I’ve pissed a few people off. But my daughter’s not mad at me. She’s looking down or up or sideways or whatever you believe, and she knows her dumb dad is trying, even if he moves at a snail’s pace. That’s all I can do.

Here’s my pathetic attempt at giving some miniscule piece of advice after saying that’s not really my thing. Don’t shoot yourself in the face?

Well, sort of, and now you see why I don’t give advice. I’m kind of terrible at it.

I saw this show about a state-sponsored program in Thailand where prisoners can be released by winning a Muay Thai fight. This guy fighting for his freedom had stabbed a complete stranger in the neck with a knife - a man he’d never met before - and killed him.

He won the stupid fucking fight and was set free with an absolute pardon, wiping his record clean. They showed the slain man’s mother sitting at his grave thumbing through pictures of him.

Watching this, I realized something profound, for me anyway, about why bereaved parents have such a hard time fitting into the world. We cling to the past with every fiber of our beings. Any little memory is cherished and replayed over and over in our minds as we try to extract every little detail about our child. The past is our lifeblood.

But we live in a world where the future is everything, so much so that a cold-blooded murderer’s life has more value than the life he took. That’s over. Bury it and move on.

There’s no bringing the dead one back, so let’s give the one who’s still alive and who happens to have a five-year-old son a chance at redemption even if he clearly doesn’t deserve it and there’s zero evidence he’ll use it well. And, let’s throw salt in the wound by rewarding a violent murderer’s skill at inflicting more violence.

That’s when it hit me. The future is everything in our world. The past is nothing.

No one really cares what happened to my kid. I can get 100 social media likes for a picture of myself posing with a giant cheeseburger dripping with grease that I’m about to stuff in my fat fucking face. Post a picture of my kid - especially something real where she was in the hospital looking sickly - and no one gives a fuck.

This future-centric world is the world in which I have to live. I can point out how I disagree with this perspective until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t change anything. The past is really just an impediment to forward momentum. Experience a profound loss and you’ll find this out, too.

I’ll remember her, and I’ll do my best to keep those memories alive for others, but it won’t work for anyone except the small circle who loved her. And even most of them won’t care as much as me and her mom.

So where does my great Muay Thai revelation leave me? That they should have put me in the ring with that guy and not called the fight until someone was dead? Yeah, maybe. That this world really can make you feel like shooting yourself in the face sometimes? Yeah, that too.

But remember that gratefulness and hope I was just getting to the point of allowing to creep into my thinking? Maybe I’m ready to cling to that a little, too. Maybe a few of you are as well.

I think I’m onto something with this not shooting yourself in the face thing. I just need to polish it up a little bit. How about this?... Drag yourself out of bed and just try something.

That may not sound like much, but it’s everything when doing it takes every ounce of energy and will to live you can muster. When the voice inside your head screams, “I’m not going to shoot myself in the face, but I really wish someone would do it for me,” getting out of bed and trying is indeed monumental.

Even doing the wrong thing is better than giving up hope and trying nothing. Move to Hawaii and back twice in three years if you have to. You tried something. Gold star for you.

Even if you don’t know what the point of trying is since the one who made trying important is gone...

Even if the past often seems more important than the future…

Even if your decisions seem doomed to fail before you implement them…

Just try.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Down in a Hole

Fuck EVERYTHING! Fuck birthdays. Fuck flowers. Fuck smiles. Do you even read this shit??? Do not make me talk about Christmas and sunshine anymore!!! Ah, fuck them too, just in case there was any remaining ambiguity about my real feelings. Fuck ponies and puppies. And fuck hugs. Glad I didn't forget stupid hugs.

Fuck this little shit. She sucks.
Okay, got that out of the way in one paragraph, and you made it. Gold star for you.

I'm going to try really hard with the remainder of this one not to be quite my usual ranting and raving self. I have an important message - a little life coaching, or maybe it's death coaching - and I don't want it to get lost in my usual barrage of insults and anger.

You know all that anger is just misdirected love, right? At least that's what a dear friend told me. Come here. Step a little closer. That's right; closer now. Slip your hand just inside the cage. Let me show you a little bit of this love up close and personal. Kiss, kiss.

Okay... deep breath... little slip-up there on my promise about the ranting... less cray-cray and more focused on the topic at hand. I got this!

I'm a member of a few grief coping discussion groups. Most of them are specifically geared toward child loss. Interacting with others who have had like experiences can be pretty helpful. They tend to "get" you, and you don't have to explain everything.

It can also be pretty draining. The life events these people have endured are often-times shocking. They've lost their children - sometimes more than one child - in the most random and heartbreaking ways imaginable and unimaginable.

If you had any small doubts about the existence of a good and peaceful God, spend a few hours perusing the posts in one of these groups and those nagging questions become a banging drumbeat in your ears. How could a God who loves us possibly let these things happen?

I won't try to answer that one, by the way. No, I reckon I'll spend the rest of my life asking it instead.

Many of the posts on these grief discussion boards are exactly what you'd expect - people struggling to find any sort of direction in their lives after losing a child. They post pictures, share memories, wonder aloud how they can possibly go on, search for any sort of meaning in their new world order, and try to support each other.

It's not the blind leading the blind. They've all seen plenty. It's the broken leading the broken.

In addition to the posts I expected to see, I also noticed a significant number that are entirely different and not at all what I expected. A lot of the most passionate discussions are about the significant conflicts group members have had with family and friends following the loss of their child.

Here I was naively thinking profound loss would draw us all together rather than tear us apart. Yet I have to admit, my own experience points to a more grim reality. The ripple effects of losing a child are far reaching and often unpleasant.

The common theme: disappointment.

In nearly all of these conflict posts, group members express dismay at the lack of compassion and understanding displayed by those who are supposed to be their closest allies. They talk about how friends and family have consistently disappointed them with insensitive comments and omissions.

Admittedly, I can see how we - and I say "we" deliberately because I want to be sure to include myself here - are sometimes hypersensitive. I thought I was crazy when I first noticed who was "liking" Facebook status updates I made about Ruby and who was seemingly ignoring them.

Years ago, a friend once quit speaking to me for months. I didn't notice until, about six months into the silent treatment, another friend told me how pissed this person was. Yet here I was after Ruby died - formerly Mr. Oblivious, himself - counting likes. This uncharacteristic behavior served as just another reason for me to feel really fucking pathetic.

Were these friends really even purposely ignoring or am I maybe just not the center of the universe? Is it possible my post just slipped by accidentally and wasn't overtly ignored?

No matter, because blinded by grief, I didn't see it that way. All I saw were people I thought were my friends liking a bunch of stupid status updates about what someone had for dinner or what shitty store they just checked into, while ignoring my anguish.

If I wasn't the center of the universe, well then I demanded to know why the hell not. What could possibly be more important than my dead baby? Your uninformed political opinion? Don't think so, asshole.

As you can see, I was livid over some pretty small oversights. I still am, sometimes. I also thought I was nuts, until I saw other bereaved parents reacting similarly all over the grief support groups.

It isn't always hypersensitivity, either. Sometimes the lack of simple common sense and decency family and so-called friends display is shocking.

I could relate countless examples, but most boil down to these people telling us how we should think and behave. You need to put your own heartache aside and show up for this or that function. You need to check in with me at such and such intervals. Stuff like that.

Oh, really? Is that so? Let me get this straight. I need to make you feel better? Got it. Now fuck right off. In fact, in retaliation I'll be sure not to call in hopes you actually feel worse.

See how it works? Both sides are really at fault, whether they mean to be or not. One messes up, and the other goes out of their way to let them know they messed up. As if this situation wasn't bad enough already, now we add the cluster fuck of human emotions and frailties into the mix.

Why in the world is there such a big disconnect between our expectations and the ability of friends and family to measure up in our time of greatest need?

It certainly can't be that they take joy in throwing salt in an open wound. People can be stupid, but most aren't knowingly and purposefully cruel. Only a psycho like me is cruel for cruelty's sake. In fact, I'm certain friends and family desperately want to be helpful, despite their miserable failings.

So where the hell did the ship veer so far off course? I have a theory, and like most theories, I didn't entirely make it up. I read some stuff smart people wrote, like the article I linked at the end of this essay.

My theory, as simply as I can put it, is that timetables just don't match up. Most of our well-intentioned friends and family have experienced some sort of loss in their lifetimes, whether it be a pet or a parent or sometimes even a spouse or sibling.

I don't want to minimize these experiences. Loss is loss. I know a good friend who struggled for months when his dog died. And while I was too young to really remember the death of my father, I can only imagine that the death of a spouse or a parent (at least one you are actually old enough to remember) is a traumatic event that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

But these losses follow the natural world order. Parents die first. Pets are with us for a decade if we're lucky. Even a spouse or siblings... we're all going to go sometime, and we just hope those closest to us make it to old age before that happens so we have plenty of memories of their full lives to cherish.

While all of these losses stick, we can generally at least make some sense of them and move forward as changed people. And because grappling with these sorts of losses is most people's frame of reference, they expect that forward momentum from us as well. The problem is that there's no making any sense of losing your kid - not after a year, or five, or ever.

I may have told this next story before, but these are the memories I cling to fiercely like a wino strains to get those last few drops from the bottom of the bottle. One night I was lying in the pitch black with Ruby trying to get her to fall asleep before me. The struggle was real. In utter darkness, she was compelled to reach over and begin stroking my eyelashes with her fingertips.

MY EYELASHES! I couldn't see anything, and this rambunctious baby with all the dexterity of a moose, who once accidentally head butted me so hard she loosened a tooth, somehow steadied her little hand enough to strum her fingertips over my eyelashes without poking my eye right out. Magical.

She did this for several minutes while I didn't dare move and spoil the moment. And then she reached down, took hold of my index finger, brought it up to her own eyelashes, and began moving it back and forth so I could experience what she just had.

That was at once one of the most beautiful moments of my life and, in retrospect, a source of immense pain that will never ease. I have laid in bed alone in darkness many nights since her death and replayed that sequence over and over in my mind's eye, tears of frustration streaming down my cheeks.

Where is my little baby now? How do I get to her? Will we ever touch eyelashes again?

The chain is broken and unbroken all at once. All our hopes and dreams for the many milestones in their lives - driving and prom and graduation and marriage and a career and family of their own - are extinguished with their death. The story just cuts off somewhere in the middle with no resolution.

And yet the chain of love transcends time and space. Those questions I ask in the darkness have no answers. I don't know where she is or how to get to her or whether I will ever hold her again.

But the love is as strong today as it was that day. It will be as strong tomorrow and next week and next year. Lying on my death bed, I will be thinking about touching her eyelashes in the darkness.

Maybe I was just trying to be nice above, and that's not really my strong suit. Maybe loss really isn't loss. Maybe this loss is different. When family and friends expect the wounds of our loss to scab over like theirs have, maybe they are expecting the impossible.

When our wounds remain gaping wide open even three or four or twenty years later, they don't understand. They can't, because they haven't experienced it. See, timetables and expectations just don't match.

Or my kid died. Same difference.
So what is it that bereaved parents really want from friends and family? I'm kind of speaking for myself here, but also hopefully for the collective group I've come to know.

We live our new lives down in some hole. Maybe we even get to a point where we can come out once in a while, give a glimpse of our old selves, and see an old friend. But the pretending to be okay or to be thinking about anything else for very long is exhausting, so at some point, undoubtedly before friends and family are ready for us to, we retreat back into that hole.

If you really want to help, stop trying to drag us back out before we're ready. Stop telling us it will all be okay when clearly it won't. Instead, come down here and join us just for a little bit. That's what we really want from you more than anything else.

We won't lie to you; it's bad here. We know it frightens you to see it up close and that you're petrified of something like this happening in your own life. Get too close to the leper and maybe you'll catch it too. We get it.

Does that really seem like the decent thing to do, though? Turn your back and look away because you can't handle it, or because we're such an unpleasant reminder of the worst thing that can happen.

Are you that fucking soft? Man up. Deal with it. We're not asking you to bear this oppressive burden every minute of every day like we do, but you can't ask us to be free of it in order to spend time together.

What is that??? I'll see you on your good days and we won't mention your dead kid, because that might make you sad again and then I'll be sad too. Fuck that. Don't bother seeing me at all if you can't handle sadness (and anger). I'm better off without you if you only want the version of me that you want.

A friend contacted me for advice on what to say to make a recently bereaved parent "feel better." I guess this friend thinks I'm some beacon of wisdom on this topic, seeing as how I'm now well over three years into the journey and am doing so fucking peachy. I was immediately incensed, and I know I have to watch that seething anger.

But c'mon. You really think you're going to utter some magical words that make the person feel better? That shouldn't even be your goal; compassion should.

All child deaths are bad. There is no good one. In this case, however, the person's daughter committed suicide, and the family found her hanging from the basement rafters. That's their last mental image of their beautiful teenage daughter.

Did you ever stop to think this probably won't get much better and that there's not much hope you can offer? In fact, offering hope is sort of insulting. "Oh, time will help. Things will return somewhat to normal."

No, they won't; not when your kid dies. Not when you have to cut the rope and let their lifeless body fall to the floor or pull the plug and let their last bit of life force dribble away to nothing.

You're stuck dealing with this forever, and it's likely never going to soften much. It's survival mode now. One day at a time takes on a whole new meaning, as you literally grit your teeth and fight like hell just to get out of bed for days, months, and years on end.

You're never going to feel like celebrating holidays like other people do. It's not just that first year or two. It's all of them.

So if you're going to talk to a bereaved parent, my advice is to keep it real. False hope only serves to minimize the person's grief experience. They're dying inside. The last thing they want to hear from you who couldn't possibly know is that it will all be better someday.

They didn't miss a fucking tax deadline. They were robbed of a life they created. A piece of their soul died. Acknowledge that, not just once, but over and over again, and you'll be well on your way to real empathy.

And for God's sakes, listen to some Alice in Chains. Jesus, all this hand holding puts me in a dour disposition. I need some happy music to break out of my funk... or not.

Further reading on this topic:
Grief is NOT Self-Pity, Joel Osteen

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Special Christmas Wish

How are you?

Goddammit, that innocuous little question somehow irritates the hell out of me, especially this time of year.

How am I? I'm fine, motherfucker. Worry about yourself.

Something else that irritates the shit out of me... sunshine. I fucking hate the sun. Ironic that I live in Hawaii, isn't it?

But seriously, I don't get this infatuation people have with sunlight. All that shit does is get in your eyes and make you squint. And if you're in it for long, you sweat your balls off.

I'd much rather drink a glass of milk for my vitamin D and head on back down to the dungeon basement for some more squats. Lactose intolerance... ahh, nevermind. Don't even get me going with that one. My plate is heaped full of hate aplenty already.

I wish the sun would go behind a permanent cloud. These last three rainy and overcast weeks have been absolute bliss for me.

If the sun disappeared forever, I'd get the added bonus of reveling in the misery of all you light worshippers. It'd be sort of like that dark cloud New England winning the Super Bowl... miserable fucks all around to make me feel great!

I wonder if that's how conservatives feel about the liberal reaction to the election? If it is, I might actually have something on which I can agree with them.

A light bulb just went off; a moment of inspiration if you will. I know what I'm going to do next time someone asks, "How are you?" I'm gonna shift positions before I answer so the sun is glaring right in their eyes, and I'm gonna pause for a good long time to think about my response.

Blinded with an instant migraine... that's the reaction I'm going for. You know, similar to my own reaction to just about any political post these days.

Maybe I can even find a way to weave TB into my long-winded answer to really ruin someone's day. Part of the reason I like him so much is because I know how much you hate him. Yep, I'm thinking it'll go something like this:
"Oh, I'm great, since Brady won... ho-hum... again. It's nearly automatic when you're smart and sublimely talented, with a gorgeous wife and loads of money, and you're willing to out-work everyone else.  
Makes you jealous, huh? Makes you hate him a little, right? Makes you wish he'd fail.  
He doesn't care if you like him or not, though. He might even prefer you not to. You know, motivation and all. That's one small thing Tommy and I have in common besides great hair.  
I'd say thanks for asking how I'm doing, but I wouldn't mean it, just like you didn't really care about my response when you asked - you fake motherfucker - so I won't bother. You probably shouldn't have either."
I don't really have great hair. That was a joke.

Now this cat, on the other hand, has spectacular hair.
I guess what it comes down to is that I hate pretending, yet that's what most people do all day and expect of others. Why are you pretending your life is so great with all your little memes telling me how I should think and behave?  Did you even read that stupid shit or do you just regurgitate others' thoughts?

You're really so perfect you have all the answers?  Bullshit. Anyone with half a brain can see through your lunacy, so just stop.

It's like adolescence all over again, worrying about what others think and trying to win some popularity contest that I can only hope doesn't really exist anymore. I'm so tired of all the perfection, filtered and photo shopped to make everyone look prettier than Derek Zoolander.

I'm so hot you're probably touching yourself right now.
Y'all think I'm miserable? Maybe, but not half as miserable as you pathetic fucks burning all this energy lying about how great you are. C'mon, we all know you eat your own boogers. Show us your warts.

I've always had a mean streak. There's a side of me that enjoys your misery, if it's self-inflicted or I just don't like you. Maybe it's more pronounced since Roo died, but maybe not. 

Remember the very first Rocky movie? You know, the good one. It's on TV three times a week, so not shaving or not getting your period yet is no excuse for not having seen it.

Anyway, part of the premise is that Rocky is too nice of a guy to be a very good mob collector. There's a scene where he's supposed to break a guy's thumb who owes Mr. Gazzo some money, and he lets the guy run off with a feeble threat. Spoiler alert... Rocky's giant heart is supposedly part of the reason he's able to take that horrific beating from Apollo and keep getting up.

This guy looks scared, but he knows that big ole teddy bear hugging him isn't really going to do shit.
Oh sure, he could beat the hell out of a dead carcass,
but he had no stomach for breaking live bones.
Eight-year-old me wasn't buying it. I figured if Rocky'd been a little meaner he'd have whooped Creed's ass in the first one and saved us all the admission price we had to shell out for the sequel and for the other twelve after that. I mean, it's not like Mr. Gazzo was stealing from those dope heads. He loaned them money. They owed it back, with interest. 

Too bad he didn't hire me as his collector. I'd have done the job right. Hell, I'd have enjoyed breaking thumbs all day.

Snap-snap. Mr. Gazzo and I would have never had this awkward conversation.
If only I could go back and be an innocent eight-year-old again. Oh the things I'd do differently. By now, if Roo was still alive, I'd have built a successful little business enterprise I could pass on to her.

My dad would have taught me just what to do to people who owe us money.
I also remember cold days as a kid waiting on the school bus in West Virginia. It made me happy to see people's teeth chattering. The more they whined about the cold, the warmer my black heart felt.

If you're so soft you can't handle waiting for the bus on a cold day, well, I have no sympathy for you. Your toes can freeze and fall the fuck off for all I care. Throw them in the pile with your fingers if you were dumb enough to borrow money from a mobster.

And if you're so miserable you have to constantly post crap about how awesome your life is to try to make me feel shitty, well, I don't feel even a little bit bad about turning the tables by fucking with you.

Maybe this post won't resonate with a soul. A good friend whose opinion I respect told me to sleep on it. That was her kind way of saying not to share it.

Obviously, I didn't listen. I'm stubborn like that. I happen to think there's one audience who might get it. This one is for all my fellow bereaved parents who just aren't into it this year.

Holiday blues? Try a news feed filled with pictures and videos of families cutting down trees, decorating them, and enjoying the holidays together when you don't have any of that.

My kid is buried under a tree somewhere. Does that count? Do we have some common ground? Nah, not so much.

All this lead-up is just foreplay, though. Soon we get the climax. The big day will be upon us, and we'll have the endless barrage of present-opening pictures to endure.

Not much to see here; just someone's beaming brat reveling in the orgasmic ecstasy of consumerism.
See how happy she is? What? You can't see the kid? Oh, don't be silly. She's just buried under that pile of crap that will be more forgotten and useless clutter by next week.

Wait! Don't scroll past this riveting display of ostentatious wealth and success. We have so many more to share on this glorious day of the birth of our savior, Capitalism, and we want to be sure to rub your nose in our shit. Our goal as parents to the perfect princess is to post until you puke on your keyboard. Weeeee!  Isn't this fun???

I have pictures, too. I decorated my kid's grave. Actually, I didn't. I'm 5,000 miles and a time warp away. Her mother decorated it. But I did get to go to a candle lighting service for dead babies.

Wanna see that awesomeness? No, not really? You'd rather look at the happy little heathen above?

Too fucking bad. Here they are anyway. I hope they ruin your Christmas spirit and send you into a three-day funk similar to the one I've been in for three fucking years.

Ah-ah-ah. Do not whizz past.
Stop and take a good long look at Christmas.
Yep, the holidays are a rough time of year for parents like me. And as shitty as losing Roo is for me, I've met other bereaved parents who drew a worse hand than mine and have lost more than one child or maybe spouse and child together in some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable.

But we don't want you to feel sorry for us. Nope, we're tired of your half-assed pity in between holiday shopping sprees. We have an alternative to pity. 

Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is to fuck it up for everyone else. Can I get that? Pretty please? It's my special Christmas wish. It's going to be my most cherished holiday tradition from now on.

I am soooo going to enjoy being a complete dickhead, and I'll do an even better job with this than I'd have done breaking those thumbs. I pinky promise to not return calls and not show up for anything and not buy a single Christmas present. Most of all, I'll tell everyone how stupid they are for getting caught up in all of it.

No kid for me. No happy Christmas for you. Now we're even Steven.

Sing it now.  It's the most wonderful time... it's the hap- happiest time... of the year!

Don't you just want to give me a big hug and tell me everything's going to be okay, even though you don't have a clue what you're talking about? Yeah, well you can stick your hug straight up your ass along with the longest candy cane you can find.

Such mean-spirited behavior will land me on the naughty list? Good. That's where I belong. That other list is for pussies.

Ruining Christmas? I, for one, think that is just an awesome idea!
Hold your children tightly this holiday season. That's my other special Christmas wish. They're the ONLY thing that matters. Don't let anything stand in your way - not the lines and crowds; not your never-ending responsibilities; and certainly not a bat- or pen-wielding bully who's hell-bent on wrecking it for you.

Who am I to tell you your life isn't as great as you say it is? Fake it 'til you make it, right? And maybe you really have made it.

From my perspective, if your children are alive and in good health, you have much to be thankful for and should absolutely rejoice in that however you want to. My teeth gnashing isn't your problem. Just stay out of range of my bat-pen and you'll be good.

While you're soaking up every second of joy and creating those memories and sharing them with the world, take a moment to pause and think about all this good fortune. If you have your kids, you have everything.

Let's try that opening again.

How are you?

I'm fine. How are you?

No... really... how are you?

Merry fucking Christmas.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Roller Coaster

You might think you understand. Don't be foolish. You don't. I don't care who died - spouse, parents, best friend, dog, whatever. Unless your kid died, you don't fucking get it. 

Sure, maybe you can sympathize. All lives have their share of suffering, and that's relatable. But the depth of the loss of a child is unmatched by any other loss.

Why do I even want to bother trying to paint this horrific picture for you? I don't really know, and hell, you'd be wise not to look at it when it's finished anyway. 

I guess I write about this experience so that maybe you might have some comprehension of why I, and others frantically bailing water from the sinking ship that is the death of a child, behave the way we do. Or maybe I'm just speaking to others like me, trying to reach out and let them know they're not crazy.

Since my daughter died, I've moved to Hawaii, back to the mainland, and now back to Hawaii. Its only been three fucking years, too, not ten. And guess what? I might just move back to the mainland again in six months.

I've had five jobs, not counting the one I had when she died. These were pretty decent jobs, too. I didn't just respond to a "Help Wanted" sign in some storefront. I wrote a cover letter, interviewed - the whole nine yards. Got everyone around me, including myself, all worked up. 

And then I said, "Fuck this" and walked after a few months, or they said, "Fuck you" and sent me walking. Either way, I didn't give a shit as long as I had some new sucker on the hook to pay the bills.

Sound a little crazy? That ain't crazy. Burying a beautiful, energetic, happy child just shy of her sixth birthday is crazy.

Watching her flat line on the operating table. Holding her body that's bloated to twice it's normal size from all the water they pumped into her at the end to try to do God knows what. Sobbing hysterically while nurses scurry around trying not to make eye contact. Looking around the room through your tears, seeing your family, and knowing this is going to fuck everyone's lives up. Now these things are crazy.

So you can shut your holier-than-thou mouth. I'll do whatever the fuck I want. Short of hard drugs that I'm just not into, I'll slap whatever bandage I can on this gaping wound, and you can like it or shove it up your ass. 

I emailed a guy this morning about opening a car dealership. I don't even like cars. Passing fancy?  Maybe. Or maybe you'll see me in a TV ad for a Prius in a few months.

I have this whole idea of only having so many fucks to give down to a science. It's called perspective. And losing your child is the ultimate eye opener in perspective.

All you have after that is time; time to sit and think and think and think like a goddamn loony person. About what you did. About what you didn't do but wish you had. About what you're going to do now.

Most of the time, I can't answer that last one. I'm just flailing around like a blind man caught in a knife fight trying to survive. But I know what I'm not gonna do. 

I'm sure as fuck not gonna fix the numbers on your goddamn spreadsheet or email your stupid list to find out who's coming to the bake sale. Fix 'em yourself motherfucker, and choke on one of those shitty cookies while you're at it. 

I ain't got time for this bullshit. I might be dead tomorrow or later today. Someone I love might be dead. I might have seen them for the last time and not even know it. So fuck you and fuck your fucking busy work.

What the fuck do I look like? Some kid. Nope, 'fraid not. I'm a grown ass man with grown ass man problems and I don't have time to be your bitch.

All this doesn't mean I don't have a few fucks to give. I do. Just don't bother me with your petty bullshit, because my patience is razor thin. 

I care if you're sick. I care if you're fucked up and don't have anyone else to talk to. You know, big stuff. Otherwise, don't bother me. Call your mom if all you wanna do is chat.

I'll just be over here hitting golf balls or squatting; two things that let me live right in the present moment, a brief respite from these whirling thoughts about what went wrong and how we don't really have a damned bit of control over anything.

Simply put, my emotions, and often accompanying behaviors, are just completely unpredictable. I'm liable to be laughing one minute and bawling my eyes out the next or lashing out at whatever hapless victim happens to mosey along at the wrong time.

Here's a good illustration. Since Ruby died, I've developed this weird habit of waving at every baby and toddler I see. I'm stealthy about it, though. I don't want some parent seeing me goo-goo'ing to their kid and freaking out that they just nabbed a pedophile. No lady, I'm not trying to lure your kid into the woods. You're holding the child, for fuck's sakes.

Nope, not even once have I been busted. Busted? Busted for what? Waving to a baby??? Wow, we sure do live in an awesome society!

Anyway, I've waved at literally hundreds of them - even more here in Hawaii because they all have these small, delicate features that remind me of her. The interesting thing is that every single one of them except the ones who are too small to reciprocate common gestures waves back. 

Yep, that's right. They crinkle up their noses and hunker down just a bit as if to say this secret communication will be just between us, and they wave back innocently, like the little angels they are. It gives me back a small piece of her just for a second.

Beautiful story, right? Wrong. Because what follows is that I turn the next street corner with tears in my eyes and rage in my heart. At that moment, all I want to do is hurt the next person who crosses my path - throw them through a glass storefront and let them bleed. 

I never have. I don't think I will. But I don't know for sure. The emotion is present, and it's just as raw now as the day she died.

Right there is a microcosm of what this is like. I hear myself saying it - well, writing it - and I know it doesn't make sense. You wave to a baby, experience the purity and joy of unspoken connection with a child, and want to kill the next person you see??? What. The. Fuck.

To be fair, some of this volatility was already a part of who I am. Before I moved back to Hawaii I was reflecting a bit and took the time to count all the jobs I've had since I left graduate school. I think it came to fifteen, with my shortest tenure being two weeks - guess you could say we got off on the wrong foot there - and my longest being close to six years.

Like all the rest, this latest one may or may not stick for very long. It happened pretty fast, and there's more than meets the eye. I apply for jobs more often than most couples have sex - an average of two a week fifty weeks a year.

Come to think of it, maybe I should try my hand at an interviewing, cover letter writing, and resume prep service.  I'm hell on wheels at getting them; it's the keeping them that eludes me.

Forrest Gump said of Vietnam, "It's a whole other country." Well, this job search thing is a whole other job. I generally take off Christmas and Super Bowl weeks in case you were wondering why fifty weeks and not fifty-two. 
I guess I'm so obsessive about it because I'm never satisfied with any of them and because it always seems like I'm about to be fired. Yes, I'm acutely aware the dissatisfaction and the pink slips are probably positively correlated.
I spray these applications all over the place to whatever catches my fancy, including obviously the occasional to Hawaii. I suppose there was a slightly better than average chance another agency would eventually decide to bite, given my smidgen of local experience.
Conveniently, it happened at a good time, though I was very much on the fence about whether to take it. I just bought a townhouse I like very much and generally also like the Philadelphia area. But, my spider sense was tingling, so I made an appointment to talk with my boss. Sure enough, as I was telling her about the offer in Hawaii - not to leverage it, mind you, but just to see where I stood - she actually interrupted to tell me they were about to "eliminate my position."
Please lady. I'm pretty sure you don't need to be concerned with letting me down gently at this point.  This shit is as common as a cross-dresser in Chinatown. Just trust me; they're really common. Say it together now in your best Trump impersonation... "You're fired!"
Hell, I was even sort of relieved my concerns were justified. At least about this one thing I wasn't a complete crazy person.

My decision was made at that point with a mortgage and no way to pay it without a job. I pulled the resignation letter I'd written before the meeting "just in case" things didn't work out from my folder, handed it to her, and that was that.

Guillotine falling. Blade about to nick the neck. Protagonist wriggles free and narrowly escapes. Crisis averted. Sort of. Renting your new home and moving after five months probably qualifies as a mini-crisis of its own. 
While I don't mind Hawaii, I'm really here more out of necessity than rapture over returning. Meh, par for the course in my new reality.

I've always been a clock-watching gym rat, far more concerned with my PRs than with someone else's bottom line. And I've certainly always loathed the 8-5 cubicle dwelling lifestyle with an hour commute each way. It just seems a miserable way to live, offering no work-life balance and no room for individual creativity and freedom.

Consequently, I've always had some side project going to distract me from the drudgery of it all - an article or a website or a book or an internet dating site troll named guidoincognito. Like many, I just had trouble turning any of those side gigs into enough real money to sustain myself.

I'm like one of the famous brew masters I read about; it might have been the guy from Sierra Nevada. Do tell. How's that again? He said he got fired from every job he ever had. Now you see the similarity, huh?

But it ends there. He also said those failures led him to the only thing he was good at - brewing beer. My failures led me to... more failures. The only thing I know about beer comes from the movie Hell or High Water. Who the hell gets drunk on beer?

So I trudged on with the corporate life, answering to this person and that, ducking into bathrooms even when I didn't have to pee to avoid answering to them, and thinking all the while that I was either smarter than them or more self-aware or that I just didn't fit in very well.

All those feelings related to not fitting in and wasting my time in pointless jobs are just amplified now, like somebody walked into the party and cranked the volume up way too loud. Instead of piddling around in some dead-end gig for a couple years before moving on, I'm headed for the door in six months. 

I'm not just a disgruntled misfit anymore. I'm a genuine outcast who's having trouble fooling anyone into thinking we're similar. We're not. My kid is dead. Yours isn't. The gap is too big to bridge. My old tricks don't work, and I don't have any new ways to fool anyone.

The last couple employers asked me, after a month or two, why I hadn't put up a single decoration. I mumbled something not too convincing about being busy and just not being the decorating sort. Really I was thinking, "Bitch, I got one foot out the door and don't feel like carrying a shoe box with me. That's why there ain't any goddamn pictures of my dead kid splattered on your stupid wall."

I have this nagging thought I can't shake. I wonder if maybe everyone in my life really wouldn't have been better off if I could have died when she did. I can't imagine I'm the only bereaved parent who wonders this.

I'm not saying this for attention, either. I swear on her grave if one of you tools calls a counselor or social worker or whatever and they show up at my door, I'm beating that motherfucker unconscious just for fun. So don't send anyone to check on me. They'll be in a bad way if you do. 

I'm fine, and this is not a goddamn suicide threat. Hear that shit loud and clear. If I was gonna do that, it'd be over already. I sure as shit wouldn't be so stupid and attention seeking as to announce it beforehand.

The reason I wonder if I should have died too is because of how utterly impossible it is to move forward and because of how deeply my inability to do so hurts everyone around me. It'll never happen, though - maybe a little, but certainly not all the way or even to a degree that would make me seem normal. You don't even want to. You just want to sit there on your dead baby's grave and never move until the earth reabsorbs you with her.

That's not really possible, so you trudge forward reluctantly. And others around you can sense that reluctance. They know there's a big part of you that doesn't even want to be here anymore. They know that given the choice you'd go hold your child wherever they are. This knowledge hurts them, and I'm so fucking tired of hurting people.

So you lie to those closest to you about how you're doing rather than just coming right out and hurting them with the knowledge that you're not doing all that great most of the time. Even though I sporadically write about my grief, most of the rest of the time I just smile and say I'm fine.

Those closest to you might know on some level that's not true, but you don't have to say it out loud and remind them of it every damned day. Shhh, just keep quiet and maybe it'll all go away. Of course it doesn't.

There's a line near the end of the great movie A River Runs Through It about never really knowing those we love the most. I'm sure that line applies to the families of many people who are left behind after losing a child. We want them to think we're okay and not worry about us, and perhaps we're even scared they might abandon us if they know the whole truth, so we tell our unconvincing lies.

I write about my grief with the very clear realization that it's not a very self-preserving thing to do; that doing so could alienate me from those I love. Those closest to me could read these rants and say, "Enough is enough. I have to get off this train before he runs it off the tracks with me on it."

Fuck it. I've been rolling the dice, and I'm rolling them again. I want this information out there so that maybe somebody who's really struggling will stumble across it and know they're not alone. They might be nearly alone but not completely. There are others living this nightmare, too.

Nobody talks about what it's really like, at least not that I've found. They gloss it over with platitudes about things getting better with time and perspective. Bullshit. Fuck you. Fuck time and your perspective.

Surely that nonsense came from some textbook and not from anyone who's actually experienced this. Or it's just some dumbass who convinced themselves of whatever psycho babble allowed them to sleep at night.

Enough justifying my motives. Back to all those people I know I'm hurting.

How do you think it feels to be the girlfriend to a guy who'd rather be dead? All you people complaining about fat shaming or whatever slight may have scarred you as a kid should try that one on for size. I bet having a boyfriend who thinks so fondly of you he wishes he was dead is a real kick in the balls to your self-esteem. Sort of makes whining about that fat joke seem a little foolish. 

But hell, y'all know something about what this is like. Most of you are my friends. I bet that's a barrel of laughs, too. You try your best to reach out to me and understand what I'm going through, and what do you get? 

Most of the time, when you stick your hand near this cage, all you get is bitten. You get a surly, thankless son-of-a bitch who writes profanity-laced essays about how you don't get it and never will like he's so smart and has seen so much. "You can't possibly understand! Leave me the hell alone! No wait, come back and try!" Sounds more like a teenage girl than a grown man. 

With my patience as long as a gnat's dick, I'm sure I'd tell that asshole to get lost. You're better people than me; that's for sure.

Try being the mother to a man who doesn't really value his own life anymore. That's probably the worst. Yep, I bet that's just the future mom pictured for her baby when she was holding him protectively in her arms all those years ago.

I can hear her saying that prayer of hope all mothers say when they're sitting alone in the dark of night. "Dear Lord, oh how I hope my precious son grows up to be... lost. Please let him be a man who feels completely out of place in this world you created." Nope, I don't think that's how it goes.

I'm supposed to be offering her comfort in her twilight years. Her work is done. She sacrificed, pinched pennies, sometimes worked two jobs, worried - oh, how that woman worried - and finally finished the job. She raised and educated two children by herself. It's supposed to be her time to relax. There should be nothing else to fix; no more lessons to impart.

But that's not what's happening here at all. I've had the poor woman on pins and needles for three-and-a-half years. I can feel it. She doesn't know what the hell I'm going to say or do next; what outburst might come. How could she? I don't know myself.

When I told her about Hawaii 2.0, bless her heart, she seemed relieved a 5,000-mile move is all it was. "I just want you to be happy" is code for "Don't shoot yourself in the face" here in the Miller family.

For a while there, I'm sure she really did wonder if I might kill myself. I bet she doesn't dare even so much as let her mind wander back there even for a second now, for fear she might think it so. 

"He's past the worst. He's past the worst. He's past the worst." Yeah mom, just keep repeating that mantra and maybe it'll be true. Or maybe not. 

Maybe it's just all the same after your kid dies. There is no better or worse. There's just time passing as time will. Either way, I'm still here. Tick... tock... tick... tock.