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.

in praise of thanksgiving

My Dearest Dylan,

Today is Thanksgiving, my first Thanksgiving, my first holiday for that matter, without us having one of our long chats on the telephone. It also marks just over two months for me trying to get used to my new world of not having you physically in it. I can’t even begin to describe what it is like, this living without you. To say that it is difficult is an understatement. It is painful and sad and empty and lonely and, oh, so very wrong.

However, lamenting your loss is not the reason for this letter. The reason for this letter, first and foremost, is to give thanks for the wonderful privilege and honour it was of being your momma for the twenty-eight years you were here with me on this earth. It truly was a blessing and the fact that I am grieving your loss so hard is a testament to the love and deep bond we shared.

The second reason for this letter is to give thanks for being able to celebrate you, dear sweet wonderful you, and ensure that your many beautiful gifts including your compassion, empathy, kindness, hearty laugh, terrific sense of humour, infectious smile, hard work ethic, and accepting ways continue to shine through and inspire others. I hope that I can live up to the task despite my encompassing grief as I want to ensure that your name is never forgotten. I also want to ensure that something positive comes from your death. It is my hope that, once I am stronger, I can fulfill my plan of bringing awareness to the seriousness of brain injuries especially those sustained in seemingly innocent falls. I truly believe that if we can save one life as well as stop one mother from experiencing this horrible grief by bringing awareness to this cause, then our purpose on this earth will be fulfilled.

My third reason for writing this letter is to thank you for sending the signs I requested not only today but on the other days as well so that I would know you were okay. Today I needed to know that you were happy with Mark’s and my choice of the beautiful young oak tree in front of our beloved cabin to spread some of your ashes around its base. We know how much the cabin and surrounding woods meant to you and we wanted to honour your memory the best way possible.

So, my dearest Dylan, thank you for soaring across the meadow as a blue heron, the third heron you’ve sent me since I’ve asked for signs since you died. The first was after we as a family sprinkled some of your ashes at your favourite woods; the second you sent the following week when I returned to visit you there. Thank you for sending the heron across Mark’s path on his way home from work that day when he was trying to decide if he should return to golfing or wait until next year to go back. I know you were telling him to continue on. Thank you for sending the heron to Alison and Nadine so that they knew you were with them as they embarked on their new journey in Toronto. Thank you for sending the heron to Emily to let her know how much you appreciated her helping me over the past two months (although, I’m sure she could have done without it/you ‘pooping’ in her flower bed). 

Emily’s blue heron

Thank you for bringing quiet to the woods this afternoon after we spread your ashes because up to that point, it had been terribly windy. The sun had also been in and out prior to that and afterwards it remained shining magnificently in the sky until dinner time. Sending the whiskey jack to settle in the majestic pine tree beside us so that it could distract us from our sadness by cheerfully chatting us up was an additional nice touch as was having it soar over the cabin to join its other mates. Their hallelujah chorus behind us in the bush in praise of thanksgiving was especially poignant.

When the large tree fell in the bush directly across the meadow, Mark and I were confused as to why you would choose to fell the tree then. We knew it had to be you because there was no wind at the time. It all made sense when we heard the ATV trying to make its way around our bush and, because the tree was blocking its way, it had to turn back and forgo its plan. Thank you for protecting us and keeping our sanctuary as peaceful and serene as we needed it to be today.

The irony of your choosing your winged friends to send me signs is not lost on me. You were well aware of how terrified I am of birds and bats and anything that flutters around me yet you chose to send those seven bats flying around inside our house over a period of seven weeks after you died. Was it some sort of mischievous payback? I know you sent them because I had teased you mercilessly after you moved out west about how the bats stopped visiting us because you were no longer there to leave the doors and windows open after dusk. As if I would ever forget you! Please, pretty please with sugar on top, stop sending the bats. I can deal with the birds from a distance but I cannot deal with the bats!!!!

As for sending your signs via winged creatures, it does make sense to me. You couldn’t sit still in life, so it makes sense that you cannot sit still in death. A bird is the perfect proxy for you because they can’t remain still either. Always flying, always soaring, only stopping long enough to eat, they exist the only way they know how — to keep going and deal with things as they come much like you did in real life.

Despite my appreciation of your signs and knowing that you were here with me spiritually on this Thanksgiving day, I am not going to pretend for one minute that it was easy. The build-up to the holiday and, in particular, the day itself has only magnified my grief and my sadness. The only thing the holiday itself seemed to accomplish was make me miss you more and provide a prelude to how difficult the Christmas holiday season is going to be. How I would give anything to hear your voice and your hearty laugh just one more time. How I would love to share with you my stories and hear yours in return. What I wouldn’t give to be able to tell you how much I love you and hear you say “I love you, too, Mom” back to me. What I wouldn’t do to be able to wish my grief away, will it away, pray it away but the reality of my situation is that none of these are possible. 

Instead, I am going to do my very best to reconcile all of the upcoming ‘first’ celebratory holidays without you in my life with my grief. I will not deny my grief nor will I pretend it is not there. I will give my grief its time and its place and, as I promised you after you died, I will be both gentle with and take care of myself. I will also protect myself by doing what is right for me and by taking as much time as I need to grieve because one of the things I have realized today is that grief does not take a holiday. It knows no boundaries, it has no sense of time, and it deepens with every day that passes. I will learn to live with it and learn to live in my new world without you in it. I will learn that it will be okay to celebrate future holidays while remembering and honouring you during them. It is not going to be easy but I promise you here and now that I will handle it with as much dignity and grace as I can possibly muster.

And, so my sweet prince, thank you for today and for everything you have taught, given and sent me thus far (except for the bats; I CANNOT thank you for the bats). I hope your Thanksgiving was as peaceful and as joyous as you deserve and may the love from those of us here on earth have helped you soar higher than you ever could have imagined.

All my love,
Mom xoxo