Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time Heals All Wounds?

When someone you love passes from this life to the Summerlands you start to count the passage of time in a completely different way.  At first it is one breath at a time, one excruciatng, heartbroken moment at a time.  Eventually it will be by the day, then the week, and finally a month.  But that first month after their passing seems like an eternity that went by in the blink of an eye.

When Jeremy died I marked the passage of time in such a way.  At first it was a week at a time, then it was one month after he died...two months...three months...six months...a year.  For awhile I went to the cemetary to "see" him every week, then every month.  Now I only go once or twice a year.  He is not there.

The first year is horribly excruciating.  It is the first year without your loved one to share life with. The first birthday without this person, the first holiday season, the first trip of the season to the beach or whatever it is you did together and enjoyed doing.  The joy just gets zapped out of your life. 

Nine years ago today I put my son's cold body into the ground and said goodbye for good.  I probably won't say anything to anybody about what today is to me, but my heart still hurts.  I do not want sympathy.  In writing this, I hope that someone whose heart is aching from a horrendous loss will find this blog and know that with time, it will get better.

When Jeremy died I dreaded the holidays more than ever before because it started with his birthday around the time of Thanksgiving.  Then winter comes and with the New Year the cold weather and darkness that have always sent me spiraling into some kind of seasonal depression.  Finally February comes along with the hope of spring to appear soon, the time of new life and new beginnings but also the time when I can kind of bring to a close the cycle of his birth, his death and his burial. 

The bulbs and seedlings are coming up in my yard now.  The trees are getting new leaves and some plants are blooming.  I am reminded of that never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

And I remember the young man my son was, I wonder what he might have been. 

It doesn't hurt quite as much now, but it does hurt.  Time took away much of the pain and even the memory of it, for which I am grateful.  But I will never, ever forget.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I'm in a department store, looking for something but I'm not quite sure what, when I hear a familiar voice behind me say "hello Mother".  My heart skips a beat and  rises to my throat and I turn around to see my son, my handsome boy that I buried in the cold, hard ground nine years ago, standing in front of me.  Very much alive.

In that instant, I know the blood has drained from my face and my body is shaking.  I can feel the warmth of wet tears on my cheeks as I stare at his face, aged a few years, but yes, this is most definitely my son!  Instantly my mind tells me, this is not possible and I feel my legs giving out from under me.  I cannot find my voice...  I want to hug him, to hold him, to kiss his  face and hear his voice.

He grabs me before my body crumples to the earth and holds me up. 

And then, and then, I awaken from my dream and my heart cries out in agony.  NO!  NO!  I want to go back, I want to hear his voice again, I didn't get to hug him! 

My irrational heart will occasionally direct my brain to do what I cannot in reality do: see my son in my dreams when I miss him the most.  It almost feels cruel, this dream time because always, it feels as though he as been ripped from my life once again and the ache in my heart that I am usually able to ignore now comes back with a vengence. 

It was nine years ago, probably to the day, that I saw him last.  It was nine years ago that he left this world.   

There is a part of we humans that cannot accept the absolute and total finality of death.  It is so cruel, so heartbreaking to those of us left behind.  The day my son died a part of me died with him and I have not been able to recover that part of me.  It's just gone.  I am better, but I am by no means whole.  And still I cry for the life ended too soon and too young with so much living yet to do.  I wanted the world to stop as my world had, but it didn't.  The world kept spinning around the sun and humankind kept living.  I had to keep living, too, but sometimes I feel guilty about that.  It should have been me that died first, not my son. 

I am at peace now with his passing a great majority of the time.  It took awhile to get  to this place emotionally.  But now and then, on his birthday, on his deathday, I remember and I cry because I loved him so very, very much and was blessed to have had him in my life and to have been his mother.

I miss you, Bud. 

In loving memory of:
Sgt. Jeremy R. Smith, US Army Reserves
November 1981 - February 2004

Monday, November 26, 2012

Letter To My Son

Dear Jeremy,

Happy Birthday!  Tomorrow would have been your 31st birthday, had you stayed on this earth long enough.   I truly wish you had, that we would be celebrating your special day together with a birthday cake (made by me, of course), your favorite meal and maybe a beer  to wash it down. 

I wonder, had you still been alive, what you would have done with your life in the past nine years since your last birthday on this earth.  Would you have survived Iraq?  Would you have come home wounded and worn, as so many have?  Would you have gone back to finish school?  You were so good at working on computers and I know you would have been great doing something related to technology. 

Would you have married and had children? 

Sometimes, in quiet moments, I imagine I can hear your footsteps walking up the driveway to visit or imagine what it would be like to pick up the phone when it rings and hear your voice on the other end:  "Hello, Mother..." as you always did when you called. 

I don't cry so much anymore, except on those days like tonight and tomorrow, when  I remember your birth.  31 years ago tonight I was in labor with you, my little Thanksgiving baby (because you were born the day after Thanksgiving that year) who stole my heart and wrapped me around your cute little baby fingers.  The first chance I had to be alone with you in the hospital, I unwrapped your from your swaddling blankets and counted every single finger and toe and checked over every inch of your body to make sure all the required body parts where there.   Then I swaddled you back up and held you close, feeling the baby soft hair on the back of your head on my lips as I softly kissed your head.  Your baby smell has stayed with me my whole life.

I miss you, my pain in the ass son who loved to torture and tease me and your sisters.  I miss your smile, your laugh, your sense of humor and  even arguing with you.  I miss those horrible  Jenco jeans you loved to wear  and that darn Curt Cobain T-shirt you wouldn't take off.  I swear, that thing could have gotten up and walked on its own, it was so dirty! 

The last time I saw you in my dreams, I asked you what it was like on the other side  of this life and you told me "It's just different" then you went away.  Come to see me soon, in dreamland, it's been so very long.

Happy Birthday, my darling son. 
I love you for ever and ever,

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering My Soldier Son

Sgt. Jeremy R. Smith
US Army Reserves
Nov. 1981 to Feb. 2004
961st QM

It is Memorial Day weekend and I am thinking about my son.  It's been a long time since I wrote about him. 

Thoughts of him when he was born,  perfect and beautiful, capturing my heart.  It was love at first sight.  As do most babies, he had day and night mixed up and his exhausted  young mama was often in tears.  I was just 19.  I tried  to breastfeed him, but his  appetite was so voracious  he ended up injuring me, so I had to quit.  He was a good, happy baby who smiled and laughed a lot  and loved to be silly.  When he was learning how to walk, it took him a while to figure out that he didn't have to be holding onto something to walk, he always had a toy in his hand.

When Jeremy was eleven months old, his sister, Danielle, was born.  In his limited vocabulary, he couldn't say her name, but he would walk up to her crib and put his little hands through the bars of her crib, touch her, and called her "Sissy", a name that stuck with her for many years. 

Later, when  his baby sister, Jaime, was born, Jeremy couldn't have been more proud. 

My son had a dry, crude sense of humor.  He loved to ride his  bike and play video games.  Jeremy loved baseball with a passion but didn't have the patience to play very well.  We collected baseball cards together starting when he was a little boy in the 80's (I still have them).  He was smart and often bored at  school.  He disliked authority and didn't respect teachers who were idiots. I can't count how many times I got called in to his middle school and high school because he was in trouble for something or another.  In high school he pissed off the wrong crowd of kids and was afraid to go to school.  At home his teenage years were turbulent.  He tried drugs and we had to send him to rehab twice.  Eventually his dad and I got him into a GED program, which he finished.

Jeremy fought with his sisters and his parents, sometimes violently.  It was a hard time for all of us.  Looking back, I can see how screwed up all our lives were and that Jeremy was trying to be the adult, the father figure, because  the adults in the house weren't very good at being adults.  He did his best to protect his sisters and me.  If there was just one word I had to pick to describe my son it would be protective.

Jeremy was good with computers and was my "go-to-guy" for computer problems.  He loved to build his own.  He joined the Army Reserves a few months before 9/11 happened because he wanted to go to school.  That was the only way for him to get an education.  He went to ITT and excelled. 

When his dad and I divorced, shortly after Jeremy turned 18, our own relationship became pretty stormy, but eventually we were able to make amends and become close again.  I was surprised at how mature he had become. 

Jeremy got his orders to report for active duty just before his 22nd birthday.  Two days after his birthday, his stepdad and I drove him to Huntsville to report in.  He was going to Iraq.  After several months of training, his unit was ready to go in February.  When Jeremy came home on leave in December for Christmas, he handed me a folder filled with papers.  He gave me power of attorney to take care of his  business while he was gone.  He had a copy of his will and gave me instructions on what to do if he didn't come home alive.  I didn't want to talk about this, but he insisted.  I remember that moment all too well.

And then, the very last day I saw my son -- ever.  Five days before he died, he'd been home on one last leave of absence and we drove him back to Ft. Hood.  I hugged him and kissed him goodbye and told him I loved him and got in the truck, choking back my tears.  I didn't want my son to see my fear or my tears, I wanted to be brave for him.  Then I ran back to my son and kissed and hugged him again.  I knew...somehow I knew down deep inside I would not  see him again and I was absolutely helpless to do anything about it.  I let my tears fall on his cheek and let him see his mother's emotion. And then I cried most of the way home.

Jeremy died in a car accident just a few days before he was to go to Iraq.  He faced his future with courage and bravery and was ready to go and to serve his country.  In the end, my son who never expected much out of life, became my hero who met his challenges and conquered them and in the process became this extraordinary young man who loved his family and was fiercely loyal to me, his sisters and his stepfather.  I will always be so very, very proud of him and what he accomplished in such a short amount of time.

It's been eight years now and I often search crowds for his face, wish he'd call me on the phone or send me an email.  I wish he'd walk up my driveway and say "hello Mother" the way he always did, and tell me he'd been on some secret mission he couldn't tell me about.  I wonder what he would have done with his life when he got back from Iraq, if he'd be married and have children.  I miss the smile he always tried to hide and how he made me laugh when I felt down.  He would have loved that Jaime married Mark (who he knew) and I think he would have loved Misty, Dani's wife.  Jeremy would have adored and spoiled his nieces and nephews rotten.

In the end, I am grateful and blessed to have been Jeremy's mother. 

Love never dies. 

I miss you, my sweet son.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Death Day

Today is  my son's death day.  There is no other way to describe what today is.  When we are born, we have a birth day, a day to be celebrated.  To say that today is the anniversary of the day he died makes it seems so meaningless when that day had a very highly profound impact on my family.  So I call it his death day.

There are two days that had the most profound impact on my life -- the day I became a mother through the birth of my son and the day he died. 

I don't want his death day to be filled with sadness and sorrow, although I am sad.  Time does not heal all wounds, it just covers them up and leaves scars.  I am blessed to have been Jeremy's mom and to have had him in my life, if even for a short time.  His sisters and I love him and miss him.  We remember the good times and the bad.  But mostly we just wish he was still here with us to share in our lives and living his own.

And so, today, I remember Jeremy's baby face when he was born, the joy of holding him and counting his fingers and toes for the first time, his baby smell and how he wouldn't go to sleep at night when he was a baby.  I remember him fighting with his younger sisters and protecting them at the same time.  I remember how he didn't like people to see him smile, so he hid it all the time.  He was both a pain in the ass and a sweetheart. 

Jeremy would have especially loved that Jaime married Mark.  He would have loved his nephews and nieces.  He would really love Dani's Misty and her family.

I would give everything I have to have my son back, but that will not happen.  I used to listen for his footsteps coming up the sidewalk rush to answer the phone hoping he would be on the other end and search for his face in crowds.  Now I see him in my dreams now and then.

Until we meet again the Summerlands, my beloved son...


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mourning During the Holidays

It's a fact of life that we all have to deal with at one time or another in our lives. People we love die and it hurts down to the deepest core of who we are as human beings when they do. We grieve their passing because we loved them and we miss them terribly.

The holidays can be a very, very hard time for us. Because I have so many friends who are going through tremendous loss this holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to share some things that I have learned over the years since my son died about getting through the holidays. Some of these things I am also sharing via TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a magazine put out by the military to help those of us left behind cope with this profound loss in our lives. This is a particularly helpful publication, but you can't buy it anywhere, it comes to you automatically when you are the person declared the survivor of an active duty military person who dies.

The first thing I suggest/advice... Do only what feels right. If you don't feel like putting up a Christmas tree, if you don't want to go to all those holiday parties, if you don't want to put up lights, then don't. It's okay. Your home should be a safe place for you, and if you want to lock yourself up in your house and not be reminded that it's the holidays, at least for a little while, then you have this sanctuary to retreat to. If you don't want to go out shopping, then don't go out shopping for presents. Do your shopping online if you must.

The important thing is, right now, when you are grieving and mourning, you need to be kind to yourself, not get stressed about stuff that's really not all that important in the long run, and not let other people tell you what you should be doing. This time is about you and your grief. Reach out to people who are supportive and kind and understanding.

I have found that people are uncomfortable when I talk about my son. But it's important to me to talk about him, to remember him, to not let his memory die. My daughters, husband and I talk about him frequently when we are together as a family, almost as if he is still alive walking among us, and I find great comfort in this. Say the name of your loved one, talk about him/her. It's important.

The first year after my son died I did not want to put any Christmas decorations up. No tree, no lights, nothing. But my husband and I talked about it and he reminded me that our wedding anniversary is in December and he thought it would be good to celebrate the light and joy we bring to each other's lives by decorating our house and honoring that after nine or ten months of intense mourning. We covered our house in lights and it was beautiful. We put up the tree and decorated it, I decked the halls and put ribbon on the chairs in the dining room. I put up the little table top tree we bought my son's last Christmas home in honor of him. We were so broke that year and this was the only thing we could afford as all our holiday stuff was in a storage facility in another city and we couldn't go get it. I put miniature ornaments on it and set it in a special place in honor of my son. Since then it's become known as Jeremy's tree and it goes up every year, even though the lights no longer work.

The next year I didn't want to do anything again. But I did because it was my very first grandson's first Christmas. I found myself, year after year, putting the tree and decorations up for my daughters and my grandkids. We continued the tradition of gathering for Christmas Eve for dinner and family time. It was important for me to show that life goes on and the rituals we had as a family continued for the sake of my family but most especially for my daughters. Even though my son was dead, they stilled lived and loved me and grieved him every bit as deeply as I did. I wanted them to know I loved them with all my heart.

Last year was hard. My whole family was living out of state and it was just my husband and I at home. My mood was black and ugly and I felt pretty rebellious about this whole family holiday happy/happy joy/joy bullshit of the season. One day I went to my local Garden Ridge and found several colored trees complete with lights! I seriously considered the hot pink and the tinsil trees, but eventually settled on the black one. I took it home, put it up and covered it in nothing but the brightest, shinest, reddest ornaments I could find. That tree made me feel good. Almost everything else stayed on the shelves in the closet.

My point is, this holiday season and every holiday season and even every day of the year, be kind to yourself. You are not crazy even though you think you are. Your heart aches and you've cried rivers of tears and you miss that special person gone from your life so much your whole body aches. It's completely normal. It's also completely normal to not want to participate in humanity at this time in your life, so don't feel guilty about it.

Take your time, figure it out and eventually you'll learn to live with your new normal that is your life. Right now you feel like Humpty Dumpty, but eventually you'll find all those pieces of yourself and you'll get them put back together again. Don't rush the process, it may take years. And that's okay.