My thoughts lately have been how I'm really living this life, kind of a “I’m really doing this without him” kind of thing. I’ve been having a hard time with beating myself up for my failures, deficiencies and where I’m just plain missing it, so my work has been to do that less and acknowledge my accomplishments more. Elijah is nearly 2.5, which means we have been on our own for nearly 2.5 years. That’s big to me. We are continuing to grow and change, go forward and backward. I still cry for a lot of reasons. We are still experiencing new things. Most recently, we were on vacation for a week and a half. That alone is a first. But my battles have been with something a lot of people deal with after the death of a loved one: “The What If Monster,” and I noticed it a lot on vacation.
Let me preface this by saying I enjoyed our vacation. I loved being with the children and we loved Disney World. We took on Tropical Storm Debbie and won. We ventured out in the rain laughing as we splashed through the puddles and waited 10 minutes or less in lines that normally take 45 minutes to an hour. We took advantage of the comfortable temperatures and did almost everything we had planned to do.
There were a few moments though when I wished Thomas had been alive to enjoy how the children were enjoying themselves. One of my favorite things is seeing how they explore, gain confidence, grow and light up as they experience new things. Then the reality would set in again. I don’t get to think how he would have enjoyed this. It would not have been possible if he were still with us. He was too ill to have taken a trip like that. I deal with this it seems every time I take them somewhere although it has significantly lessened over time. I’m not sure how it feels. It’s a bit of guilt and sadness when it happens. The guilt was pretty significant at first, but is way less now. Now it’s more complicated in that I can’t really put my finger on how it makes me feel.
I’m proud of myself. This was the 3rd time I have taken them on an airplane by myself, and my 2nd Disney trip with them on my own. But I guess there is part of me a place inside that feels a bit of a twinge when I see people on scooters there and the accommodations they make there for the people that are on them because we had discussed going and him getting one for the same reason he had the handicap placard in his vehicles (cannot walk over 200 feet without stopping to rest) and he had said he’d never use one. I don’t think we would have made it to Disney World.
I had to work really hard to make it happen. I’ve had to work really hard to make pretty much everything happen. Recently I had a moment when I looked at my son and remembered all of the doubts Thomas verbally expressed about my ability to parent the children. I remember all the doubts I myself had about my ability to parent the children. I guess the shock of the pregnancy really was a lot to deal with in his condition. It wasn’t a very encouraging conversation. I look at my son now, how happy he and my daughter are despite all that has happened to us and shake my head when I remember that conversation. Just before we went on vacation, the children and I went to the cemetery for Father’s Day and a huge part of me wanted to scream: WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY NOW PAL??!?!?! LOOK AT US! I miss him, but sometimes I think he better dang well be proud of us if he has any ability to be now.
We aren’t perfect and yes, the house could be cleaner, and I can admit I have several times thought about abandoning certain decisions upon which I have lived, but with all of the stuff that has piled on top of his death, even when it was by a thread, I have hung on. I am still here at nearly 28 months out assessing the emotional damage. I still fight with the “what if” monster in regards to the days leading up to Thomas’ passing. I conclude that there was really nothing I could have done or anyone else for that matter. I mean he literally sat down for a nap and died. He was probably sicker than any of us knew. Had it not been that week, it probably would not have been much longer. “What if” I’d been home? He appeared to have passed peacefully and I cannot know the trauma that might have occurred had I been home and called for intervention, what they might have done to him trying to save him with his other conditions, particularly the osteoporosis, it could have been bad. Things going a different way could mean he’d still be here. It could mean he’d still be dead. It could mean we would have a lot more horrific memories of that day. He could be here suffering even more now. I have to trust in the way things lined up that day.
It ain't easy. So much of my ability was questioned in those last months that it is much easier to feel like I failed everyone by not realizing Thomas was in trouble, that I walked away that morning when he appeared to be sleeping peacefully, but with him taking his last few hundred breaths. But I remember I did all I could living under some really rough circumstances, and that even with knowing all there is to know, I probably could not have saved him. My being with him probably lengthened his life by several years and he accomplished a lot in the years he lived past his prognosis, but I know we were on borrowed time. It is much easier said than done, but I have to remember that I have enough to do without torturing myself. Besides, there’s a long list of things Thomas himself could have done differently and he doesn’t have to deal with the guilt, so I should cut myself a break.
I need my confidence back from the “what if” monster. Ariana’s emotional recovery is just really beginning as the effects on her have revealed themselves in phases. Elijah is now 100% on recognizing his father in pictures. He points to Thomas’ wall I put up in the foyer and picks him out in each one, which means the wall is serving its dual purpose of honoring who Thomas was and showing his children who he was. I tell him daddy isn’t here, that he’s with Jesus. His response is interesting. “Thank you Jesus! Hallelujah!” But one day, I know it will hit him what that really means and I wonder if his response will be "Thank you Jesus" or "Screw You Jesus!" or "Screw You Mom, you've had us following this guy that took our father away?" It’s going to be up to me to put the blame where it really belongs so he knows who the enemy really is.
And I have to confess. Just before we left on vacation, I was more than tired. I had thought long and hard about taking a different road with my life even though it would take me away from everyone we have left in our lives that have been rocks in the roughest waters we have been through. I haven’t been perfect, but it’s the road I have stayed on through hell and high water, the road that brought me peace at some point in every storm. So I know the “what if” monster doesn’t play nice and he doesn’t play fair. So my only choice is to pound him into the dust, work my way yet again down the arm’s length I’ve pushed God out to in anger and be “home” where I belong. This is the only life I know now and the only one I want to know and what I want for my children.
I’m staring down the big 4-0. It’s too late to make that big of a change. I have a lot of challenges ahead of me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid at all. But I have courage because of the grace and love God's provided so far. He's worked things out despite me so I have to stick with Him. I could never match His faithfulness. He's been there when I have not, listening to me ramble in fear, anger and confusion way more than in praise and worship. And He's given me courage. I realize courage isn’t the complete absence of apprehension, but the ability to go forward despite it. So, we’re going forward.