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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Grief and sleep

During the day, I don't want to be awake.
At night, I don't want to go to sleep.
I'm exhausted all of the time.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Grief and the Second Anniversary

There are events on two upcoming days to honor and remember our son Riley Norton. Please join us!

October 20: Memorial Plaque Ceremony & Evening Lantern Lighting:

  • Memorial Plaque Ceremony:  Join us at the Central Middle School quad area to see a time-lapse video of last year's handprint memorial, check out Riley-inspired art, hear the Central orchestra, share stories, decorate a lantern for the Evening Lantern Lighting (see below), and be there when a memorial plaque is placed near the Central Riley Tree. Did you know that there was a Riley Tree at Central?? Everyone is welcome! The event starts at 3:30 pm.

  • Evening Lantern Lighting:  Light a lantern in your front yard in honor of the second anniversary of Riley’s death. Pick up paper lanterns and battery-powered candles at the Memorial Plaque Ceremony at Central Middle School (see above) *or* from 10/17-10/20 on Riley’s front porch. If you are unable to attend the Plaque Ceremony and cannot pick one up from Riley’s front porch, email Riley’s mom and she’ll drop one in the mail for you and your family to decorate at home.

October 30: The Riley Run:

  • The Riley Run will be a 5K walk/run community event around San Carlos in memory of our friend and classmate. We will start and end at Brittan Acres Elementary (Tamarack entrance). Everyone is welcome. The event starts at 4 pm. Proceeds from the $25 registration fee will be split between Camp Taylor and The Children’s Heart Foundation. Register by sending an email with the number of participants and t-shirt sizes to: Can't join us, but still want this year's t-shirt? Send an email to that same address with your request.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Grief and my birthday

un-happy b-day
This time last year, I felt the words coming days before they arrived. I knew they would be well meaning, but insensitive words. I knew they would be flung my way with the click of a mouse or the tap of the send button from a poised pointer finger. The very idea of them coming made my brow furrow, my teeth clench, and my arms fold tightly over my chest. That was all before any of them arrived. 

The internet gives us such easy access to so many "friends." We get email messages and reminders to reach out to and offer sweet nothings. And so we do, because it's so easy. It's reflex... 

And then, as expected, they started appearing. One after the next, those words were posted again and again. As if them being posted repeatedly would make them true. There was the song sent via the FB messaging app. The personal notes. Those two miserable words again and again slapped up without really thinking what it might mean or how it might make me feel. Even though I've tried really hard along this journey to hear what people mean and not necessarily what they say. On this particular day, I could not get past all the happiness I was expected to be feeling. All the celebrating that I was supposed to be doing. All of it just made me feel so angry.

To try and stop it, I posted the following message
I can assure you that there is nothing "Happy" about today or any other day. I can assume that all of the well-meaning "friends" wishing such things upon me know nothing about me. Yes, today is the anniversary of the day I was born; it's also the first such anniversary since my 11-year-old son died. I know that most of you still feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, but I'm moving through the world dragging a mountain of sorrow so large that everywhere I go, its shadow pushes the weight of a minivan down on me. No, my house, business, or school wasn't scorched in a California wildfire. Yes, I have other children. Yes, I have health insurance to offset the cost of my weekly therapy appointments. Yes, I have food to eat, clothes to wear, a car to drive, a husband to hug, children to love, a dog to feed, chickens to tend. But I am not happy. I am in grief. I am heartbroken. I am suffering. I move through the days with a gigantic "WHY" and "NO!" screaming through every thought. There is nothing "happy" about any of that. For those of you who'd like for me to move on or get over it or enjoy starting sentences with the words, "At least...," we are not friends. On many days during the past year, I’ve slept all the hours that the sun warmed my house, shaken uncontrollably as stars twinkled through the night, filled prescriptions for sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills, antidepressants. I’ve wanted to cut long lines into my thighs with sharp objects, lie naked in mud as the sky shook rain from storm clouds, crash my car. I screamed so hard that I burst hundreds of capillaries around my eyes; I chopped down the “Gratitude Tree” in my front yard in the middle of the night. Grief has slurped me into its hungry mouth and will be puncturing me with its fangs for the foreseeable future.
One year later, I feel slightly less angry, but not any less sad. This year, I will avoid reading social media for a few days so that I won't see those words splattered like well-meaning mud on my wall. Like a stalk of wheat in a field of sunflowers, I feel out of place in the world. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Grief and procrastination

Love in a cup
It’s been almost two months of procrastinating, of avoiding, of making excuses. Come on, raise your hands if you can relate to the idea of wanting to hide behind, well, anything, instead of doing that thing that needs doing. I can already see some tips of fingers pointing toward the ceiling of those shy hands not wanting to admit that they, too, have put something off. Come on, who’s with me?

What’s your excuse and what have you avoided doing, you ask? Well, I've failed to promote on this very personal soapbox of mine the June issue of Six Hens in which I write about an unfortunate night on my journey through adolescence. I've blamed my procrastination on the fear of hearing judgy voices that might suggest that I deserved to have a near stranger rape the 15-year-old version of myself more than 25 years ago.

But honestly, it has nothing to do with that.

Promoting something here that has nothing to do with grief means I have to admit to myself that I actually had the brain capacity to write about something besides losing my 11-year-old son. Sure, many people reading this know I launched a snazzy lit mag last year in grief’s wake. And managing all of that takes a lot of un-grief-related brain cells. But after writing there and here exclusively about how much having your kid die fucks you up in the most twisted and permanent way, promoting my magazine that includes a story about my ancient history feels all wrong. It feels like I've accidentally cracked open some door to the new normal, a horrible place I’ve read so much about in grief magazines that spew feel-good, grief #7 in this article

I associate the idea of new normal with I'm doing betterNew normal is a place that I will reject with every inhale I draw for as long as my lungs grant me the power to do so. As if you could wake up one day and realize you're actually not all that heartbroken anymore that your totally awesome kid died. As if there is such a magical place with unicorns and rainbows. If there was such a place, the streets would be lined with Ambien and Zoloft and Ativan. I don’t want anything normal because life without my son will never be normal. Even if you put an enticing adjective like new as a disclaimer in front of it. 

But *why* does it matter that I managed to write about something else? And *why* does it matter if I promote it here on this soapbox?

Perfecting the art of not doing stuff 
I suppose it matters because this soapbox has been Riley's digital shrine. My outpouring of soul and love and loss and heartbreak to him, for him, and about him. And promoting that other thing would be the first time in two years that I have put something here that didn't include him. I don't want another millimeter of time or space or thought or love between us. And anything that doesn't include him feels like stepping on to a path of letting him go. Of hopping on that new normal bus and rolling away. No matter how many times I tell myself that it's not. It's not. It's not. It's not... 

With all that said, without further delay, only two months behind schedule, check out the 5th Issue of Six Hens. It’s rad. Just like Riley's love of Tabasco. And garlic. And maps. And how he would hum when doing his homework. And how when he picked up a cello for the first time, he said, "It's like I've been playing it my whole life." And how, the day after we got baby chicks, he was the first one dressed and ready for school so that he could hold them for a bit before it was time to leave. "I love them," he cooed. So there. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Grief and reality

#CentralTeamRiley in Lassen National Park
This is one of those nights when I cannot remember what is real. When I crouch on the ground outside the garage and search for my son’s familiar face among the knots on the slats of wood on the fence. When I cannot remember why my husband continues to love me, even when I’m not a nice wife or friend or housemate. When one of his bear hugs cannot temper down the confusion and grief that hangs from my limbs like bricks.

This is one of those nights when I deserve to be all alone, abandoned. When I imagine my husband finally realizes that I’m not worth the effort. When I imagine he sees how hopeless I am, when he finally decides that I’m not trying hard enough to be a part of our family. When I escape to the shower to avoid watching a movie with them because sitting next to them, while they have a good time is too painful. Even though that’s exactly what Riley would be doing if he were here.

This is one of those nights when I question how I can possibly live the rest of my life without him. When the idea of being around people in any social situation that is not centered around grief is betraying his death and the horrors that he endured in the last days of his life. When I question my loved ones when they want to be with their friends in social situations that have nothing to do with grief. When they find a way to live without Riley.

This is one of those nights when I cannot remember who my safe people are. When I imagine what trades I could make to bring him back. When I cannot remember why anyone continues to love me, or want my company, even when I shut them out, don’t call them back, and am absent from their weddings, their birthday parties, their fundraising events, their going away parties.

This is one of those nights when I’m so confused because I’m so lonely, yet I don’t know how to let people be close to me. Because I’m waiting for them to leave me, just like I knew they would when they got sick of all this grieving. When they know that I know that they’ve wanted to lure me away from grief so that I leave Riley behind and get on with the business of being the old Suzanne, the goofy girl who laughed. The fun one. The one who was complimented for being so good at helping people feel included and comfortable in social situations. The one whose job it was to boost the emotional status of everyone in the room.

This is one of those nights when my body hurts from grief. It physically aches from the loss of my 11-year-old son. It’s weighted and sharp, and my lungs cannot get enough air. The pumping of my heart is strained, as if it cannot possibly continue on it’s own. As if it needs someone’s hands squeezing it so that it can take a break from all that responsibility of keeping me alive, even though I would reject any offers of help because I don’t want relief. I think of ways to hurt myself.

This is one of those nights when I hope it gets worse. Because I don’t want to get better. I don’t want to get better at living without my son. I want to suffer for the rest of my life because anything less than suffering means that I’m adapting to his death.

This is one of those nights when I know that while I understand things on an intellectual level, I’m not interested in understanding them on an emotional level. When I understand that my son’s death is permanent, but still hope that I can solve the riddle about out what when wrong so that I can undo his death. When I know that his face and his essence is not actually hidden in a wood knot on the fence, but I continue to stare at it anyway while asking him to forgive me again and again.