Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Guess You Could Call it Venting .....

                                                  picture from here
.... rather than throwing up his/her emotions all over me.
"Venting" sounds so much nicer.

But it felt just like being thrown up on.  Not at all as nice as "venting".
And it felt pretty crappy, truth be told.
But it comes with being a mom.
And it REALLY comes with being a widowed mom.

During the Christmas break .... right at the beginning .... one of my children threw up all over me.  Emotionally.
I was soaked.
And shocked.
And exhausted.
And, though this child had no idea (and I don't really think it would've mattered) ....  I was locked in a deep depression.
Great timing, kid.

So the first night this child was home, around midnight or so when the other kids had gone to bed, this child turned to me, and with fury I've rarely seen in his/her eyes .... informed me, out of the blue, that he/she lost a lot more than a father on that night back in December of 2007.  Both Jim and I died that night.
He/she lost both parents.  And I totally changed.  And after that night, I was never there for him/her.  Ever.

I sat there a bit stunned for a moment.
Not stunned that those feelings were felt, but stunned with the force of the vomit and the amount of fury accompanied by it.  But most of all, stunned that this is something I have freely admitted often over the past 4 years.  I have admitted it to all 6 of my children.  I have admitted it on my personal blog.  I have admitted it here.
But evidently, my admissions .... and my apologies have not always been heard.
This child thought this was a new concept for me.  And that I needed to know the anger and hurt and unfairness of my selfishness.

We were up until 4:00 a.m.  And we never really got anywhere.
I repeated the apologies that I've said before.
I said that I regretted that they lost me, too.
And that I wish I could've grieved differently .... but that was impossible.
I couldn't lock my grief away.
I lost too much.  I was not able to grieve in any way other than the way I did.  And that, no matter how much I regretted it, if it were to happen again, it would happen the exact same way.
I told this child that there is no way he/she can understand that.  Unless, one day, he/she is blessed enough to fall deeply in love, get married, be together and stay deeply in love for 27 years .... and then experience the death of that deeply-loved person.  But even then ..... even then, I would not be totally understood.

I cried a lot.
I apologized a lot.
As much as one can apologize and yet admit it could not have gone any differently.  I lost half (at least) of myself that night in 2007.  I lost my identity.  I lost my love, my best friend, the one person who knew me better than anyone, the one person who always had my back .... no matter what.  The one person with whom I had 6 children.
I lost our future.
I lost almost everything.

I was not heard during those hours.
There was too much anger.  Too much grief and fury had been stored up and locked away ..... until it could not be held back any longer.

At 4 a.m. I said that I was exhausted and that we were getting no where.  So I asked if we could go to bed and start again the next day.
And was told yes.

So the next day ..... again, after midnight ..... it was brought up again.
I'm not sure this child was able to bring up all of the vomit.
I didn't realize that one person could hold that much vomit.

This child needed an answer I could not give.
I could not make everything "all better".
I could only acknowledge what I've acknowledged openly for 4 years.  I could only acknowledge that these feelings were valid.  And that it totally sucked that my children basically became orphans in less than 24 hours time ..... suddenly and unexpectedly.
And that this child was not alone in feeling this way.

But I also stated that I've come a long way in the last 2 years .... and have become a better parent.  Not the one they lost .... she will never be back.  But parts of her have come back .... significant parts.
And damn it ..... that's pretty huge.  And good.
And deserves acknowledgement.

I also said that I hope and pray that none .... not one .... of my children EVER have to experience this grief.
But if they do .... I will be the first one there.
And I will do everything I can to help them on this path ..... which truthfully, won't be much.  Because no one can do much for us, can they?  Even those who've been widowed, cannot take that pain away.  It must be felt.  The Valley of Death must be walked through.  Even though every fiber of my motherly being would want to protect them from that walk .... would want to carry them through it myself ..... would want to feel all that grief again if it meant they didn't have to ..... there wouldn't be a damn thing I could do.

Maybe one of these days this child will be able to get even an iota of what I felt ..... what I went through .... how I barely survived my grief.
Maybe not.

I'm ok with that.
I don't expect them to ever understand .... and again .... I pray they never have to.

And so part of my Christmas break was spent feeling totally soaked in vomit.  And almost hated.
But I think mothers were made to be vented upon.
Not really thrown up on ..... not after the first year after birth, anyway.  I mean, with 6 kids .... I've been "spit up on" lots and lots of times.  And vomited on.
But nothing like this.
It comes with the territory.

The territory of being a mother who was widowed at an early age and who grieved harder than she thought possible.  A mother who, for a while, thought her children would've been better off if she was dead, too.
There's nothing like gallons of vomit to reinforce that feeling.

A few days after our 2nd late night episode, I was able to ask this child about "seeing someone", which, of course, was refused.  But I persisted .... because that's what mothers do.
As they attempt to wipe some of the vomit off.
This child finally agreed to "think about it".  I doubt that that was a true statement, but I can always hope.
Because I think professionals are used to a lot more vomit than that.  And fury.
And I think both of those are normal reactions .... and that EVERYONE could use someone to talk to .... at one point (or several) in their life.

I wish I could've been a better "griever".  I wish I could've been a better mother.
It was ..... what it was.
I cannot go back.  I cannot change the damage that was done to my heart.
Or my children's.

I can only say I'm sorry and that I hope for a better future for all of us.

And be sure to keep lots and lots and lots of Pepto around the house ..... just in case.
Cuz it takes a hell of a long time to clean off all of that vomit.


  1. Janine, this post is putting me, once again, in this amazing two-way perspective that I feel every time a widow/er with kids talks about their parenting.
    Although I never had that particular conversation with my dad after my mom died, I think I always resented my dad for grieving the way he did. Getting rid of her things and not letting me pick from them before he did. Not allowing me to talk about my pain. Dealing with his pain largely with overworking and drinking.
    It wasn't until my spouse died that I realized how much pain he was actually in. Looking back now, I can see a little of me in each of his actions. I had to get Dave's things out of view immediately. I sometimes want to avoid the pain with distractions and that bottle of wine in the fridge looks like a nice date most nights.
    BUT. I don't have a kid to be present for. If I did, though, I honestly don't know how in the hell I'd keep it together enough to help them in any way. I guess I'd do it because I had to, but the extent to which I could do it is hard to imagine. The shock, the exhaustion, the emptiness must have made him a complete mess much of the time and he couldn't take time off from fatherhood.
    He did his best and it was what it was. It's so incredible to be looking at it from the perspective of another widowed person. I can't talk to him about it now, but I bet we'd have some major heart to hearts now if he were still around.

  2. Janine, I am still going through this with my kids. I have 4. I just couldn't help the kids at all, I felt helpless. That's why i'm glad we did grief support for over a year, because I was completely incapable of helping them with their grief. I hope I don't go through what you have, but i'm sure I will in years to come. ugh.

  3. Don't beat yourself up over this, you did what you did, and survived as best as you could at the time. There is still time to heal, and hopefully your son/daughter will get the professional help they need, and you will not end up the bad guy in this situation.

    You were there and still are for your children, thank goodness he/she has opened up to you now, and not carried this baggage around for many more years. Keep guiding them as you have, be there for support, and they, too, will find their way in life, and realize what an incredible job you have done as a surviving parent. I'm still talking to my adult kids, I keep nudging them asking if they want to talk to someone else, I know I was not there for them, I was barely there for myself.

  4. Janine,

    My eyes were filled with tears by the time I finished reading your post. Tears for both you and your son/daughter. All I kept thinking while reading, was that I know that you did the very best you could under the most difficult of circumstances. As a widow almost 4 years out myself, I can only wish for any of us that find ourselves facing such a profound loss, that we find compassion and understanding from others (as hard as that can be especially for our children who are so wounded by the loss as well). My daughter was 11 when we lost Bill very quickly to pancreatic cancer. I remember reading a brochure that hospice left and feeling just awful after reading that not only does a child lose the parent who has died, but also loses that surviving parent--who is never the same after their spouses death. I certainly didn't want this to be the case for my daughter, but came to realize pretty quickly that this was going to be and is in fact the case. I can only hope that she can find forgiveness in her heart and know that while none of this was what any of us would have wanted, we all did the best we could. I hope that your son/daughter will come to realize this in time as well. Both of you deserve that.

  5. I too have been 'vented' on by my twenty something son in the 19 months since Dave died. It's of a different vein, but intense and exhausting none the less. I have also tried repeatedly to get him to seek help, but he too refuses.

    One thing I've started to realize is that these episodes (explosions really) seem to be cathartic or therapeutic for him (not me). Those emotions are in there and have to come out somehow. It’s a shitty way to verbalize one’s emotions, but at least they’re coming out. And so, I’ve realized that these explosions are not about me – they’re about him. I try not to take it personally.

    He believes that his loss is greater than mine. (He’s told me so.) He lost his amazing awesome one of a kind dad. I ‘only’ lost a husband. (???!!!! WTF??) I’ve told him that it’s not a competition.
    The reality is that he believes his loss is greater, and TO HIM - it IS greater than my loss. (Not necessarily correct – but that’s how he feels.) There’s no need to argue this point so I let it be.

    The irony is that the parent who would simply give him a kick in the ass and tell him to get his shit together is dead. And not only dead – but part of the problem. With the gift of 20-20 hindsight I can look back and see flaws in our parenting styles individually, and as a unit – but I can’t compete with a dead parent. He has been elevated to standards of perfected sainthood in our son’s eyes. I’m screwed! And so I’ve realized that I’ll never win that competition.

    So, what’s my point in all this?
    We realize that there are better more effective ways to verbalize our emotions. (Individual Therapy. Group Therapy. Here. Widow’s Village. I’ve done them all and will likely continue doing so for many years.) If our kids refuse therapy – they likely have nowhere to effectively vent.
    I try not to take it personally. I try to let him vent as it’s the only time he verbalizes his emotions. He pushes my buttons and I try to remain calm. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s a big fail, but I think I’m getting better at it.

    As always - Thanks Janine!

  6. ((hugs)) my son has taken me down the last few months with his self harm, depression and anger over his dad's death and the holidays were the worst. i put him in an adolescent psych unit and intensive outpatient and individual counseling. none of has been willingly for him. i know the vomit, and verbal diarrhea only to well.

    ((thanks)) because your post on depression, i started myself on antidepressants and am dealing better with life and him.

    ((hopeful)) my son left me a note this week, he was sorry for being a smart#@@, know it all #$%. he said he wanted to get better and wan't nearly there yet. i wish all of us widows and children a brighter future.

  7. Oh how often I have heard similar things from my 16 year old....and although it stings and hurts terribly because I can't understand how he doesn't see how I am hurting....he has the rest of his life ahead of him and my life has been put on hold....then I remember. I remember my mother passed away when I was 2 years old. My father has since passed on - a year before my spouse - and I never had the opportunity to share with him that I finally understood his depression, his quietness, his lack of parenting like the other parents (although he did a fantastic job, I was always bitter that he wasn't "there" more for me). I now see myself in those same shoes....and finally understand. AND I hope my children never do really understand...because that will mean they are in the same situation I am. It took my spouse passing away to finally appreciate the pain and loneliness my father had been feeling all those years.

    BUT, we can all hope and wish that they may be more compassionate to us. Hugs!

  8. I wonder about venting boundaries. Just because we are the parent, does that mean we have to put up non-therapeutic venting. If venting is so out of line and hurtful to one, isn't there a better place for it to be vented? Do we have the right to say, "This sounds like something that I cannot listen to, and I encourage you to write about it or share these feeling somewhere else, but I will not listen to this and must stop now." What you described almost sounded abusive to me. Or say that you can only listen to this type of sharing with a counselor present. Just wondering.

  9. You are awfully hard on yourself Janine. You aren't the same and you never will be and it's not your choice nor your fault. It's easy to take on all this guilt, but I'm just not sure it's healthy.

    No judgment, just concern.

    1. Lyn,
      I'm really not hard on myself. It's a fact that I changed and parented very differently that first year or so. I was just trying to survive and would grieve the same way if it happened again. I have accepted that, admitted it to my kids, and apologized .... because I felt they needed that. Just because I did the best I could doesn't mean that it didn't suck for my kids. Yes, it was what it was. And I'm ok with that now. This child had stuffed and stuffed emotions away for 4 years, until finally all of that "stuff" had to come out. I think that child feels better now. And I feel no better or worse for the experience. I don't blame myself for how I grieved, or beat myself up over it. I have moved forward. But I was able to vent on a daily basis all these years. My children, for whatever reason, did not.
      Thanks for your concern, and taking the time to express it. I appreciate it. :)