telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

So, help me God …..

Speaking of God, when I was in Grade 5, our teacher was leading a discussion during Catholic catechism class about what we thought God looked like. Several of my classmates described God as being an older white man who wore long flowing robes and sat on a throne made of marble. From this heavenly throne, God watched the goings on here on earth. God was also characterized as having thick white hair with a matching thick white beard. I remember sitting there thinking “Oooooh, I don’t think so” while frantically begging this white robed, white bearded God to do whatever it took to prevent Mrs. Wren from calling on me to participate, a normal experience for me as an anxiety ridden child.

Speaking out in class terrified me. The mere thought of it caused intense stress. What I didn’t know was anxiety at the time, often manifested as sore stomachs, catastrophic thinking, burning red cheeks, shaking hands, pounding heart, profuse sweating, etc. I remember when we would have to read stories out loud in class, I would count ahead to find which paragraph would be mine so I could practice reading it ahead of time. Lord help me if I was to ever make a mistake.

Our homework that evening was to draw a picture of God as we saw him. Naturally, I fretted about it my entire walk home. In my anxious mind, I was doomed to fail this assignment. I remember the torment of wanting to remain true to my beliefs but fearing the repercussions (rejection and ridicule) that would likely follow if I did. Imagine being ten years old and afraid to say that you didn’t see God in the same way as your classmates (why did everyone think God was male anyway?). Imagine being ten years old and wanting to say that you felt God as a source of energy within you. Was that even possible? If so, how does one draw a physical spiritual energy? What would my teacher’s reaction be if I did? How would I go about explaining it if she disagreed with me? I adored my Grade 5 teacher; the last thing I wanted was to disappoint her, or even worse, anger her.

My second dilemma was knowing that I could not discuss God at home. My father, a science loving paranoid schizophrenic, would have loved nothing more than discussing his knowledge of energy with his daughter; however, he would have been quick to anger once I told him that my homework was for catechism class. The mere mention of anything pertaining to religion was to risk sending him into another of his “it’s all hocus pocus, Lin, nothing but hocus pocus” rants, rants which irritated my mother to no end. Immediately, the fight over religion would begin, an argument that had the potential to last for days. No way was I risking that.

As for my mother, I knew better than asking for her help with my homework. Earlier that school year I had made that exact mistake, and goodness gracious, saints preserve us, the tongue lashing I received rings loudly in my head today. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was time “I cut the apron strings.” Cut the apron strings? I was ten years old and didn’t know what that even meant. What I did know for certain was that God and I were on our own.

So, what does this stroll down memory lane have to do with telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Let me begin with why I chose this particular memory:

  1. This memory is one of the few childhood memories that doesn’t elicit strong emotional and physical triggers in me. I
    If I had to pick one look that represented how I felt as a child, this would be it. I am four years old in this photo. My father is drinking straight from a mickey bottle, and I intuitively knew the volatility that was yet to come.
    can look back at this ten-year-old girl with empathy and compassion rather than with fear and anxiety.
  2. To provide a gentler glimpse of what was my fearfully anxious childhood, both at school and at home.
  3. To provide an example of how my thought processes worked as a child, processes that were always driven by a desire to please and keep the peace for everyone but me.
  4. To provide an explanation as to why there were long gaps between previously published essays on my blog. Publishing anything I’ve written elicits the same fearful anxiety as my homework assignments did. My cruel inner critic usually talks me out of publishing them. For example, my inner critic says things like: “Nobody wants to read what you have to say. You’re not worthy of anything good. You’re wasting your readers’ time. You’re not good enough. You have no talent,” and so on, and so on.
  5. To acknowledge that this same fear and anxiety, along with the unpredictability and volatility of my childhood, followed me into adulthood like a dark cloud floating above me, eventually leading me to where I find myself today – emotionally and physically burnt out.
  6. To create a starting point for documenting my healing journey which I began in December 2021 with a trauma-informed therapist.
  7. To continue telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth moving forward.

Ah, telling the truth, there’s the rub. I find it comfortingly ironic, in a rather disturbing and head-shaking sort of way, that the very thing I have been running from my entire life, the truth, will be the very thing that sets me free. In addition to being truthful about my traumas, part of my healing will also (ironically) include unlearning the coping mechanisms I developed to survive my childhood but are no longer serving me in adulthood and are, thereby, keeping me stuck in an endless loop of limiting beliefs, fears and flashbacks and occasional night terrors. Clear as mud, right? This is just one of the many reasons why therapy is important. A therapist can provide a safe place for exploration of all the things that brought you to therapy like unwelcome thoughts, uncomfortable feelings, trapped emotions, flashbacks and night terrors, lack of self-worth and lack of confidence, and not knowing just who the hell you are outside of your trauma(s), while helping you develop and implement a plan for the messy, non-linear, and difficult healing journey ahead of you. I kid you not. Healing is messy, non-linear, and flippin hard.

I have lots of material to draw inspiration from. This pile represents everything I have written since my son died suddenly in 2017.

Now that I have totally overwhelmed you, I’d like to thank you for sticking around and reading this (you are still here, right?). I’d also like to share that I will be changing the trajectory of Tales from the Cabbage Patch from what was once a mostly humorous blog masking tremendous emotional pain to one that fully embraces that same emotional pain by writing about it with honesty, dignity, and respect for what it has taught me about life. Sounds like fun, huh?

Kidding aside, it is my sincere hope that, by sharing my story of how complex trauma has affected my relationship with myself, with others, and with how I view the world around me, I will give voice to someone else whispering, “me, too.” That’s the honest to goodness truth.

So, help me God.

 

P.S: I’ll leave you with one last truth before signing off. For those of you wondering how I completed my homework assignment, I did end up drawing God like most of my classmates did. However, I did change a few details by adding intricate blue trim on the borders of God’s robes, I switched out his marble throne for a magnificent wooden one adorned with brass plates and a plush red-velvet seat cushion, and I drew a few angels around him for company. I never did show my parents my homework, and I cannot remember what mark I earned for aligning with the status quo. I can say with confidence, though, that I would have slept better that night knowing that I had averted an argument between my parents as well as knowing that I would be pleasing my teacher in the morning. As for abandoning my truth about feeling God as energy within me, I chose feeling safe in my environment over the fearful and anxious complexities that would have come from expressing my truth. Somehow, I think He would have understood.

today i will sit and remember

Note from Linda: This isn’t the essay I had planned on returning to my blog with, but since life has a way of pointing me in other directions, I am going to throw caution to the wind and follow life’s lead by publishing the following letter I penned earlier this morning to my son, Dylan.

This letter had been intended for my recently created Instagram account, @deardylan_lovemom, an account I am using to explore my grief journey through a series of letters I have been writing to Dylan since he died. Its intent is help others on their grief journey as I continue on mine. Unfortunately, the letter ended up being too long for the Instagram platform so I hopped on over here.

Currently, I am revamping the blog so you will notice some parts and features of the original blog template missing. Revamping the blog is a slow and steady process of transformation, much like my healing journey. While I didn’t stop writing these past two years, I did stop publishing. I just didn’t have it in me. Now, I have mounds of notes to go through and stacks of papers to edit, but I am getting there. Now onto my letter …

Diary entry: 07/30/21

Dear Dylan:

All week I have been struggling about how I would acknowledge today, the four year anniversary of your death. I swear I heard you say matter-of-factly in the early hours of this morning, “Remember that I lived, Mother, not that I died.” Thank you for the nudge.

Today I will Sit and Remember

Today I will sit and remember your big heart, your gentle soul, and your imaginative mind. Remember your Little Tykes tractor and how you truly believed you were cutting hay?

Today I will sit and remember that time you asked for another bowl of “arse cream.” Oh, the challenges of the English language when you’re only two years old.

Today I will sit and remember that time you broke your older brother’s jaw with a perfectly landed right kick. I’m sure it was an accident.

Today I will sit and remember your bright smile, your cheeky grin, quick wit, and hearty laugh which saved you on many, many occasions.

Today I will sit and remember how you always made sure none of your friends ever felt left out. Kindness does matter.

Today I will sit and remember that day you decided to leave your shyness behind and became larger than life itself. Appearing on stage in high school wearing only your briefs, well, * ahem * …..

Today I will sit and remember all the coffee stains you left in your wake, and all the T1D blood testing strips that never quite made it into the trash can. In the freezer?? Really??

Today I will sit and remember how your stinky smelly rotten socks burned the back of my throat, and how your stinky smelly rotten farts were a close second. #momofboys

Today I will sit and remember your fierce determination as well as your defiance that sometimes got in your way. Remember that 2 a.m. call from Constable So-and-So from the Killaloe detachment of the OPP? That sure was fun.

Today I will sit and remember your hard work ethic, your ability to rise above any challenge, and your willingness to help anyone without expecting a thing in return. Your heart was always the biggest part of you.

Today I will sit and remember that day you attached the big set of bull horns to the grill of your Plymouth Reliant, called it Buffalo Bill, and drove that sucker everywhere. Remember the Van-gina and the Lumi-sine?

Today I will sit and remember that time, while I was out grocery shopping, you emptied all of my kitchen cupboards, purged them of stuff I didn’t even know I had, AND then turned to me when I came home, asking with the tenacity of a prosecutorial attorney, “How many f***ing mugs does one family need?” Apparently not 30.

Today I will sit and remember that time you called me “Oldilocks” and I didn’t know whether to high five you for your cleverness or cuff you up the side of your head despite it. I’m glad I went with the high five.

Today I will sit and remember your crazy t-shirt collection, all purchased at your favourite store, Value Village. I do hope there is a Value Village in heaven.

Today I will sit and remember that time I warned you to watch your language after working on construction for only two months to which you replied, “They’re only words, Mother. They’re just f***ing words.” What I would give now to hear a perfectly delivered eff bomb.

Today I will sit and remember that, while you didn’t let many people in, those you did, you loved with all your heart.

Today I will sit and remember all the times you said, “Common sense should be renamed rare sense, Mother, because nobody has it anymore.” Believe me, it’s even rarer during a pandemic.

Today I will remember our last Christmas together when you and your brother reminisced about the times each of you had been arrested, arrests I knew nothing about. Merry Christmas, Ma!

Today I will sit and remember how you made this world a brighter and better place in your 28 years than most people do during their entire lifetime.

Dylan, you are the song in my heart, the fire in my soul, and the torment of my mind.

Today, I will sit and remember.

Love,

Mom xo

PS: The f***ing mugs are out of control again #sorrynotsorry

from the ashes I rise

It has been ages since I have written anything of substance or anything worth publishing on my blog. Sixteen months to be exact. It hasn’t been because I lacked ideas about what to write; thoughts, feelings and words float around my mind every minute of every day much like letters in a bowl of alphabet soup. My problem has been that my thoughts have been fleeting. By the time I take to pen and paper, everything is gone. Thoughts. Words. Ideas. Gone. Never to return again.

The only thing that isn’t fleeing is my grief and, oh, how I wish it was. Grief is the wound that never heals. It attempts to close but the trauma around it is too great; its healing impeded by too many extenuating circumstances. An out of order death. Shock. Planning a celebration of life. Heartbreak. Not having the chance to say goodbye. Guilt. Paperwork completion. Numbness. Empty Promises. Disappointment. New family structure. Sadness. Insensitive comments. Anger. Autopsy report. More heartbreak. Etc., etc., etc.

I have been grieving for nineteen months now. In my former life, that is, my life before my son died, I was incredibly naïve about grief. While I had experienced the loss of loved ones before Dylan’s death, I had never experienced a loss so close, so great, so heartbreaking, so debilitating, so filled with a love that now has nowhere to go.

Grief is a strange and cruel bedfellow. It never leaves. It follows me everywhere I go. It knows no bounds and is very much a torturous beast. I can be in the middle of a store and see something that triggers a memory of Dylan and my grief will sucker punch me in the gut. I can be at work and someone will say something incredibly insensitive about another bereaved mom such as, “she should be over it by now; it’s been two years” and I just want to scream in their face that there is no getting over the loss of a child. Watching a heartwarming Christmas travel commercial can send tears running down my face. Hearing of another loss in the community brings me to my knees in seconds.

I have never known such pain, such emptiness, such loss, such annihilation of my former self as I have come to know these past nineteen months. Some days I don’t even know who I am any more and I am not sure I want to. I am so far removed from whom I was that I cannot for the life of me see the old me, the me who existed before Dylan died. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, like really look at myself, I don’t recognize the person staring back at me. That person is blank-faced, has lifeless eyes, and has a soul so tired, she feels like she has aged one hundred years. How can she possibly be me?

Yet it is me.

This is my life now. It is measured by the events and experiences and beliefs I had ‘before Dylan died’ and everything that has happened ‘after Dylan died’. There is no way around it; it’s just the way it is. I have become very matter of fact about things. What used to be easily understood grey areas have now become black and white. It either is or it is not. You have a problem? Fix it. You don’t like your situation? Change it. You want more? Go after it.

I can no longer tolerate excuses. Whining drives me insane. Complaining makes me angry. Platitudes grate on me like nails on a chalkboard. Gossiping makes me ill. Unnecessary drama drains me. Going on and on about nothing makes me want to scream.

But I don’t.

I have learned that, just as screaming would scare everyone around me, so does my grief. I have become the elephant in the room. I am the person that people know they should say something to but, since they do not know what to say, they look the other way, hoping that I do not notice. But I do notice. I feel the awkwardness around me just as much as they do but, instead of feeling angry about it, I feel sad. Sad because talking openly and honestly about grief scares the hell out of most people and it shouldn’t. Not one of us is going to make it through our lives without experiencing some form of grief. The loss of a job. A relationship breakup. A catastrophic environmental event. A devastating health diagnosis. The list goes on but the cruelest and saddest truth of all is that each and every one of us is going to lose somebody loved more than life itself, and, when it happens, most will be forced to hide their grief because it will just be easier that way. If grief isn’t acknowledged, then it doesn’t exist. If grief isn’t discussed, then it will go away.

Naturally, this unhealthy view of grief has made me a master of pretending. When someone asks me how I am, I always reply “I’m well, thank you,” feeling their relief instantly. Only those deep within my inner circle do I ever share how I am feeling and, even then, I hold back because the last thing I want to do is scare the bejeezers right out of them about how truly sad and empty and lost I feel. That is, unless you are in ‘the club’, the club that nobody wants to belong to, the club whose only prerequisite for membership is having lost a child. With my fellow club members, I don’t have to say a word because they already know just how truly awful and painful and heartbreaking it is to lose a child. Everything we need to say is conveyed in a simple nod, a knowing look, a warm embrace.

I have also mastered wearing socially acceptable faces. In order to avoid certain questions (“Why don’t you smile more? Why are you so sad? Why are you always lost in thought? What’s wrong?”), I have developed a work face, a grocery shopping face, a running errands face, a meet and greet face, a ‘I am happy to be here face’, etc. My many faces, all necessary coping mechanisms, were created in order to avoid the multitudes of unsolicited advice that well-meaning people think they need to give me … it’s time you moved on … you need to let go … you should get out more … you need to have some fun … you should … you need … you should … you need. For the love of God and all things holy, if I am told one more time about something I ‘should’ be doing, I think I am going to lose my mind.

Which brings me back to what I really want this post to be about. I want to begin a discourse about grief. Part of my reason is selfish: I want to bear my soul, as raw and as scarred as it is, so that I can make some semblance of my grief experience. I am tired of pretending that everything is okay when it is not. How could it be? My child died, my child whom I loved before he was even born, my child whom I would gladly have changed places with so that he could live and grow into an old man and experience all that life was supposed to offer him. Yes, that child. His name is Dylan James Bradley and his life mattered.

My other reason for wanting to bring to the forefront an open and meaningful dialogue about grief is because I want to help others. Thankfully, at least one of my belief systems survived the annihilation of my former self. I have always believed that it is only through the sharing of our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences, can we truly help others.

I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we were encouraged to talk openly about grief? Wouldn’t it go a long way in helping each of us heal? Wouldn’t there be less to fear about death, about grief itself, if people knew they would not be alone in their grief journey simply because they could talk openly about it? Wouldn’t it make the grief experience more honest for all of us and somewhat lessen the burden of hiding it for the bereaved? Isn’t it enough that those of us already swallowed whole by our grief have enough to deal with without pretending to be someone whom we are not? And, if we could really say how truly awful grief is and how truly heartbroken we are without making everyone feel uncomfortable and awkward, wouldn’t that help us move forward without fear of judgment? After all, isn’t that what our family and friends want us to do anyway?

Grief, you see, is complicated. There are so many layers and components to it that it is impossible to simply ‘get over’ in the allotted amount of time that many think our grief journey should take. We all grieve differently just as each of us are born and live our lives differently. There is no set timeline for grief because no one person can possibly know how grief will affect them until they have fallen deep into the abyss and are in danger of being swallowed up whole by it. Unless you have lived it, you cannot possibly know how every minute of every day is spent just trying to survive it.

In addition, grief is not only a primary experience. It involves many secondary losses. In my grief experience, I have been grieving the loss of my former self. The moment I received word that Dylan had died, the old me died right along with him, as did my hopes, dreams, and everything I had hoped to see him experience throughout his life. Upon hearing those two words, “Dylan’s gone”, they not only smashed my heart into a million pieces, they hurtled me into a collision course with my thought patterns, my belief system, my new and terrifying emotions, and with the new beginnings of a life I had not planned on living.

I have also been grieving the fact that I am not the same wife whom my husband, Mark, came to know and love. I grieve the fact that I am not the same mom that my surviving sons, Ryan and Liam, once knew no matter how hard I try. I grieve the loss of friends who I thought would always be there but who have walked walk away because they find me too sad or maybe it’s because I am not moving quickly enough through my grief journey or maybe I just don’t fit into their world anymore.

I grieve that I no longer trust the way I used to. I grieve how I have lost confidence in all areas of my life. I grieve the loss of my ability to focus on the tasks and hobbies I used to enjoy as well as grieve the loss of energy it takes to even think about them. I grieve that I no longer experience joy, that real true joy I used to feel in every fibre of my being, the kind that made me want to jump for joy after receiving good news or after attending a beautiful and moving celebration. I grieve how I no longer seem to fit in anywhere anymore and how I always feel like I am on the outside looking in at my life. I grieve. I grieve and I grieve some more.

As I come to the end of this post, I realize that I have also been grieving the loss of my beloved words. By not writing anything substantial over these past sixteen months, my grief has been piling up, festering almost, to the point that the pile seemed almost insurmountable. I cannot help but smile and be encouraged by the fact that my words came pouring out today. The relief that accompanies these thousands of words is indescribable.

And, hope. Yes, hope accompanies them as well. Hope that my words will not only soften the sharp edges of my pain but others’ as well and hope that my words will become an instrument of some much-needed peace in my broken heart.

Happy tears are rolling down my cheeks …… finally.

From the ashes I rise.

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