Behind Every Accident Lies An Intentional Act

worrying“Like tomorrow was a gift
And you got eternity to think about what you’d do with it…
An’ what did you do with it?
An’ what can I do with it?
An’ what would I do with it?
Skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing…
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu…
And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin’…
An’ he said someday, I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.” ~ Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dyin'”

I’m a worrier. That’s just what I do, who I am, and always have been. No doubt due — at least in part — to a watery, depressive Pisces Ascendant and an overactive imagination brought to you in part by an Aquarius Moon. I remember one time in particular when I was just eight years old, my mom and stepdad hadn’t returned to pick me up from a relative’s house on time and there I was, a third grader, pacing the floor, convinced that they had succumbed to a fiery vehicular death. I wondered who would take care of me if they died? Needless to say, I was wrong. But when they finally arrived, I overheard my great-aunt chuckle to my mom, “I’ll tell you what, that little girl is something else. What a worry wart…she’s gonna give herself an ulcer!” That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “worry wart.”

And that’s just one example. In fact, I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t suffer from anxiety, to one degree or another. I don’t remember when, how, or why it began; I just know I’ve always been that way. Maybe it’s in my DNA. I have a very vivid memory of being three years old and having a tummy ache…and anxiously thinking, “I hope it’s not cancer!” Yes, you read that correctly: at the age of THREE. At that age, I hadn’t yet known anyone who had ever had cancer, let alone should I have known what cancer even was. But I had enough grasp of the concept to know it wasn’t good, and that it could kill you. An angst-ridden, hypochondriac toddler. Oh, I must have been a joy to be around.

Every human being on the planet worries, at least occasionally, and some more so than others. And usually, our fears are unfounded. When someone is running late, as I described in the example above, or we can’t reach them, we might begin to play out horrible possible scenarios in our minds that tragedy has befallen them. But about 99 percent of the time, we’re relieved when we learn everything is okay. The chest pains turn out to be muscular and not due to a massive heart attack; your child didn’t make it home from school not because he fell prey to a shady stranger luring him with candy from a windowless van, but because he stopped off at a friend’s house and forgot to call you; your excruciating headache is “only” a migraine, not a ruptured aneurysm…you get the idea. We’ve all had these or similar experiences.

So what about that remaining one percent of the time…when you’re worried something terrible has happened…except this time, your worst-case imagined scenario turns out to be very real?

“Mama put my guns in the ground…worry
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ down…
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.” ~ Guns N Roses, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

I am in a long-term live-in relationship with a wonderful Cancer-Gemini cusp named Mike who is my polar opposite when it comes to worrying. Where I am wringing my hands, pacing the floor, imagining the worst, Mike is the rational, level-headed one who reassures me that whatever it is I’m freaking out about is going to be fine. In fact, at that point he’s likely going to offer me a beer and encourage me to relax. This is intriguing to me because Mike was born within four and a half hours after the Sun entered Cancer, but close enough to the Cancer-Gemini cusp that he tends to exhibit more Geminian traits than Cancer traits…although astrologically speaking, he has a Cancer Sun and because the Sun always shines, it’s a little unusual that many of his behaviors and tendencies are more Twin-influenced than Crab-influenced. That’s the long way of saying Cancers tend to be worriers, yet my Cancer man doesn’t seem to be one. However, I was married for several years to an easily stressed, somewhat-hypochondriac Cancer man who was born nowhere near the cusp, and he managed to singlehandedly turn worrying into a sport. I can’t count the number of times I remember him proclaiming “oh my God, I’m dying!”  I would dismiss him, saying, “No you’re not!” and he would become agitated, accusing me of not caring. He was a champion worrier. If worrying was an Olympic event, the man could have won the gold. Everything was an emergency, he always just “knew” something would go wrong, and although many times he was wrong, often he was right — though I always chalked it up to the intense worrying itself which had influenced his self-fulfilling prophecies, while he disagreed, insisting that no, he knew whatever it was he was stressing about would happen.

worry quote

Wednesday, December 19, 2012: Though he is scheduled to work until 6pm, Mike worked until around 10pm that evening because his good friend and coworker in the auto paint & body shop where he works, a Virgo workaholic named Jimmy, needed to get home to wrap up painting on an urgent side job he had going. Jimmy stuck his head in the door of the paint booth in which Mike was working and said, “Okay, you got this?” Mike told him he did, and added, “I’ll see ya in the mornin’, fucker” to which Jimmy replied, “Aite, see ya, fucker.” With that, Jimmy left the shop at 6:38pm, heading home in a 1933 Ford that had been converted into a hot rod which belonged to his banker, and which was scheduled to be his next side job.

Mike arrived home that evening around 10:25pm. He kissed me hello and headed to the fridge. As he grabbed a beer, popped it open, walked back into the living room and sat down in his chair, he told me, “So I guess Jimmy never made it home after work.” “Really?” I asked incredulously. He nodded. “Yeah, I know…it was the weirdest thing; I was locking up and when I went outside, his woman was sitting out there in her car and she honked…so I went over there and she asked me where Jimmy was. I was like, ‘uh, he left around 6:35-6:40…he’s not home yet?'” She replied that no, he hadn’t come home and he wasn’t answering his cell phone either. She was growing even more concerned now, upon learning that Jimmy had left over three and half hours earlier for what was routinely a 12 minute drive home.

Now, at this point even I knew something wasn’t right. From everything I’d heard about Jimmy, this was completely out of character for him, a totally devoted, hardworking Virgo who constantly touched base with his fiancee, Carla, throughout the day, every day. She was his life, his world, his everything. He had met her when they were five year-olds living in the same neighborhood, literally his childhood sweetheart, and he couldn’t wait to marry her.

I had a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Wow, that’s not like him at all,” I shook my head. “Damn…I hope he’s okay…”

Mike agreed. “I know, right? He would never just not go home without letting her know what he was doing. That’s just not him. He’s never once said anything about going anywhere other than home; he doesn’t go hang out at buddys’ houses, he doesn’t go to bars. That just ain’t who he is. I hope nothing happened to him…” I could tell that my usually-rational Cancer cusp was somewhat unnerved by this.

Dismissing my own ominous feeling, rationalizing that surely Jimmy was fine and surely this must have been caused by something trivial, I chuckled, “I can’t wait to hear what happened tomorrow…she is gonna be pissed!” Mike laughed and agreed. “Oh yeah, me too.”

The next morning, Mike left for work before I woke up. I had an appointment with my eye doctor and was putting my shoes on, getting ready to leave. I had forgotten all about our conversation the night before when, at 8:15am, my cell phone rang. It was Mike.

“Hey, whassup?” I asked cheerfully.

“Hey, babe,” he responded solemnly. I then heard him take a deep breath. “Jimmy was killed last night.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. My hands began shaking. I sat down on the edge of the bed, in shock. “Oh my God…what happened?”

“Well, he was driving that 1933 Ford he was about to paint for his banker…it’s got a 900 horsepower motor…it’s a race car. He was heading south on highway 4 on his way home and I guess he just couldn’t stand it…he had to push it…the cops said they think he was doing at least a hundred and maybe even 130…you know, those old cars aren’t aerodynamic like the ones today…I guess he lost control and rolled it…the thing was practically made out of glass… it just disintegrated…he was ejected…he was gone before 7:00…” That meant more than three hours had passed since the accident when Jimmy’s fiancee came looking for him at the shop, and nearly four hours by the time Mike and I were talking about it at home, hoping he was okay. Witnesses put the time of the accident at 6:46pm. Mike had been the last person to see him alive, just eight minutes earlier. Another witness who had been driving behind him stated they had seen his taillights ahead of them when suddenly the tail lights disappeared and then all they saw was “headlights over taillights over headlights over taillights” as the car rolled repeatedly.

Such a senseless death. A terrible waste. So unnecessary. Dammit! If he just would’ve resisted the urge to test this car’s limits the way he did; after all, he knew better than that! If he’d just stayed at work instead of going home early to work on that side job…yet behind this tragic accident, there was a single intentional act: a guy who lived and breathed race cars who found the temptation to see what this hot rod could do on a rural Oklahoma highway simply too irresistible to ignore. And that single intentional act led to an unintentional and unthinkable outcome, leaving in its wake a shattered fiancee and nine year-old daughter, not to mention numerous devastated family and friends.

Jimmy Dale Richardson   09/16/1972 - 12/19/2012

Jimmy Dale Richardson 09/16/1972 – 12/19/2012

Though I went to high school with Jimmy for a semester in ninth grade, I didn’t know him. I remember him, and he “kind of” remembered me. I kind of felt like I knew him vicariously through all of Mike’s work stories, which is why I was immediately concerned when I heard he hadn’t made it home; I knew enough to know that just wasn’t like him. But even not actually having known him, his death still hit me like a punch in the face. Not only because of the tragedy itself and knowing how deeply Mike was grieving the loss of his friend and coworker, but because it was a massive jolt to everything I’d always believed to be true. Here’s what I mean. As I said earlier, even when we worry about people or events and picture horrible outcomes, it’s safe to say that everything (almost) always turns out okay, and we come to rely on that. Although we might still worry, in the back of our minds, we’re reassured that statistically, everything is probably just fine.

This time was different. It was the first time in my 40 years that I could recall ever having been worried that something awful had happened…and been right. Not only was I right, it was the absolute worst possible scenario. Jimmy hadn’t just had a fender bender and suffered a few minor injuries, or been hauled off to jail for doing 130 mph down that road. It’s like we just skipped all of those unpleasant yet lesser of the evil scenarios and went straight to the worst outcome imaginable. It seemed so unfair, like the Universe had somehow cheated him. He couldn’t have just been a little banged up and ended up in the hospital, or pulled over and taken to jail for driving like that; he’s just dead? Just like that?

worry2

As a consequence of these events, my anxiety level immediately skyrocketed. I was reminded of the harsh reality that we are all but mere mortals and when our time is up, life can be ripped away in an instant without warning. None of us are infallible. What happened to Jimmy could happen to anyone, including the people I love, and including me. We truly never know when an innocent intentional act of ours, which might be so trivial that we wouldn’t think twice about it, could lead to something completely unintentional happening.  Something totally life-altering…or life-ending. Additionally, when I find myself worrying now, the feeling is much more frightening…because of the one time I worried…and the outcome I feared had happened, had happened.

It certainly didn’t help when just 13 days later, my Cancer ex-husband was killed…also in a single vehicle accident…also due to a single innocent, yet intentional act.

Advertisements

This Is The Way The World Ends: Volume II

“Grieving, I hate to say goodbye otherside
Dust and ash forever, yeah…
Though I know we must be parted
As sure as stars are in the sky…
I’m gonna see when it comes to glory
And I’ll see you, I’ll see you on the other side…
Yes I’ll see you, I’ll see you on the other side.” ~ Ozzy Osbourne, “See You On The Other Side”

I know most people truly do mean well. I know they have only the utmost good intentions at heart. I also know that sometimes, others simply don’t know what to say to a bereaved person. I’ve been on the other side of this experience…so believe me, I get it.

That said, if one more person attempts to console me by gently reminding me that Tom “is in a better place,” they just might find themselves joining him there quicker than they’d hoped…

I don’t want to come across as ungrateful toward folks who are merely trying to be comforting. I very much appreciate the condolences and sympathy shown by so many people who care about what has happened and want to say something, anything, to try and ease the pain. I’m eternally grateful for the friends and family who only want to help me feel better.

However, regardless of your personal religious or spiritual beliefs, whether or not you believe in a heaven or a hell or a God, an afterlife of any kind, or even if you believe that after death, we cease to exist at all,  please enlighten me on this: in what way is Tom in a “better place”?

Is this the "better place" people speak of?

Is this the “better place” people speak of?

I seriously doubt that had Tom been given an option  between being able to live his life for many more years with his daughter, his stepchildren, his family, and his friends or going to this “better place,” that he would’ve chosen the latter. He was just 36 years old when his time was suddenly up, with absolutely no warning. There was so much more left for him to do in this world. His daughter is barely eight years old and because he’s gone onto this proverbial “better place,” he won’t be here to see her become a teenager, graduate from high school, walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, or to one day see her become a wife and mother with a family of her own. He never got to hold his brother’s firstborn child, a beautiful baby girl named Kylie Paige, because he went to this “better place” just sixteen days before her arrival into this world. She’ll only know him through photos and stories as her Uncle Tommy who died just weeks before she was born. He won’t see his niece Edie grow into young womanhood. And he won’t be here to walk his stepdaughter down the aisle on her wedding day either, which he had planned to do because her own father passed away when she was just nine years old. He won’t see either of his stepsons’ wedding days…or their future wives and children.

Tom & Brian, 4th of July 2001, Lake Eufaula, OK

Tom & Brian, 4th of July 2001, Lake Eufaula, OK

“’cause now you’ve got to fly, fly high, fly to the angels
Heaven awaits your heart
And flowers bloom in your name…
Ohhh you’ve got to fly, fly high
Fly to the angels
All the stars in the night shine in your name.”

~ Slaughter, “Fly To The Angels”

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that I absolutely believe in an afterlife; I believe the spirit lives on, as the spirit — or soul — is made of pure energy and it is a scientific fact that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. If your car breaks down while you’re in it, what do you do? You get out of the car. You are in your car, but at the same time, you are not your car, the same way “you” are not your body. Your body breaks down, your spirit leaves it.  So while I am certain that Tom’s spirit lives on, and in fact, is definitely still around (specific examples of which I’ll touch on at another time), and what was once his physical body– the shell which houses the soul — is now reduced to ashes which rest  in a beautiful urn, regardless of any of that, there is no way I can passively sit back and accept the explanation that he’s now in a “better place,” whatever or wherever that might be. I fail to see how this “better place” people so often speak of is…well, better.

So without further ado, here are some suggestions for what to say to the bereaved…and perhaps more importantly, what not to say:

  • “He/she is in a better place.”  Was there any question whatsoever this would be my first suggestion of what not to say? This is not — I repeat, not — a comforting statement. A grief-stricken loved one does not want to hear this. To the bereaved, the “better place” for their departed loved one is right here, alive and well in the physical realm. Not to mention the phrase itself is such an overused cliche that it’s all but lost its meaning over time.
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”  The hell you say. But whatever the elusive reason may be that has ripped our loved one away from us matters not, because the fact remains that they are still gone and no big-picture, grand-scheme-of-things reason is going to make our loss any less painful…even if we’re lucky enough to one day discover what that reason is,  and most of us probably never will. A similar statement to avoid is “It’s God’s will, even if we don’t understand His reasons for it.” *rolls eyes* Unless you are the Lord Almighty incarnate, please refrain from using that line in a misguided attempt at consoling someone.
  • “God/the Universe never gives us more than we can handle.” Wanna bet? If that were true, there would be no such thing as suicide. Far too often, many people have way more than their fair share of painful events and tragic losses thrust upon them.
  • “I know how you feel.” Oh, really now? Do you? Unless you have been through the exact same experience or loss yourself, you have no way to even begin to imagine how we are feeling or what we are going through.
  • Saying nothing at all; not bringing up the loss. Huge mistake. It’s almost better to say the wrong thing than to say nothing  and avoid the topic altogether. When you don’t acknowledge the person’s loss, your silence on the matter screams that you don’t care about them or what they’re going through…even if the only reason you aren’t bringing it up is out of fear of upsetting or reminding the grieving person of their loss or potentially causing yourself to feel uncomfortable (which is selfish). You will not — I repeat, will not — upset someone by bringing up the topic of their lost loved one. You aren’t “reminding” them of anything. Trust me, they are already thinking about it.  This actually happened to me. I received an instant message from a “friend” the same day Tom was killed who periodically hits me up for no other reason than to pimp her “fabulous home business opportunity” on me. I replied back to her that I was sorry, but I couldn’t even think about that right now “because Tom was killed last night.” Her reply? Absolute silence. Nothing. Not even a “k.” In all fairness, maybe she just didn’t know how to respond. But I’ve been friends with this woman for nine years…and she couldn’t even take 30 seconds to muster an “I’m sorry” or “what happened?” In any event, I no longer consider her my friend. She hasn’t attempted to contact me since that day. Not to mention the plentiful opportunities she had to respond to any one of my Facebook statuses about Tom’s death to which numerous other people replied with simple yet meaningful comments such as “I’m sorry for your loss.” She couldn’t even get a clue about what to say from reading their replies? Yeah. She’s no friend. It’s not like I’m a sympathy whore, fishing for condolences. But common courtesy dictates some kind of response…especially from a friend.
  • “I don’t know what to say.” This is perfect for when words escape you. It’s really okay to admit that you can’t imagine how they are feeling and that you simply don’t know what to say. Other suggestions along these lines would be asking them specifically what you can do to help, even if it’s offering your shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to. Most people want to talk about their lost loved one. Follow their lead. Let them talk, let them cry, let them be angry. Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked. Just shut up and listen to them without throwing in your own opinions or regaling them with your own experience; it’s not about you right now; this is their story. It’s amazing how incredibly helpful that can be for someone going through the grieving process. Shut up, be there, and just listen. Ask if they need help with anything — taking care of the kids if they have any, preparing and/or bringing meals to the house, running errands, making phone calls, sorting through paperwork, anything…even the seemingly most trivial acts of kindness can make a world of difference because it’s one less thing  they have to worry about during an already emotionally chaotic time.
  • Don’t hit on the widow(er). Really. I have a friend whom I’ve known since I was thirteen years old. We connected again on Facebook about three years ago. He knew I was in a relationship and had previously expressed disappointment at that fact… and evidently, upon reading my statuses about Tom’s death, incorrectly assumed I was grieving the loss of my current husband. About four days after Tom’s death, he sent me a private message gently reminding me that if I needed a shoulder to cry on, he would be happy to meet me somewhere and suggested that perhaps we could “go out to the lake and just talk.” I thanked him but declined his offer, telling him I didn’t think my man – who has been wonderfully supportive – would appreciate that very much. This guy’s response? “No. You don’t have to be alone. He would want you to be happy. It’s okay to be with someone again.” That’s when it hit me: he thinks Tom was my current husband! I was nauseated and beyond offended when I realized his motivations. I responded to him, informing him that Tom was my ex-husband, my current man was very much alive and well, thank you very much, and “you are seriously coming onto me four days after you thought I was widowed? WTF is wrong with you??” He didn’t respond for a long time but finally replied that he hadn’t been hitting on me, and lamented the fact that he’s “always misunderstood.” I call bullshit…and told him so, pointing out that “he would want you to be happy” and “it’s okay to be with someone again” didn’t seem to allude to my living and breathing current man. Not only that, but I also reminded him that he didn’t even know Tom, let alone my current man, Mike, so who was he to presume “he would want [me] to be happy”? I never heard another peep out of him. And good riddance. Opportunistic bastard.
  • Don’t say “Let me know if you need anything.” Although you might really mean it, unfortunately this sounds trite and scripted, the same way it sounds when the cashier at your supermarket says “have a nice day.” More often than not, this is an empty sentiment, or at least sounds like one, that is ridiculously overused to the point that it is all but meaningless, regardless of how good your intentions are, and chances are, they’re not going to actually get a hold of you later and let you know if there’s something you can do. Not even to mention that it just goes without saying that they are going to need help with something. Don’t throw out a generic offer.  Do say “Tell me what I can do to help you; what do you need me to do for you?” Or if they specifically mention things they are going to have to deal with or face, say “I can do that for you; how do you want me to handle that?” This is much more sincere and will prompt them to actually think about what they need help with and also provides them an opportunity to take you up on your generous offer.
  • “Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone and get married again/have another child someday.” I find it more than a little disturbing that this, which by the way, is just about the worst thing you can possibly say to someone who has lost a spouse or child, even has to be mentioned. Do you really think someone who has just been widowed or experienced the death of a child cares even a little bit about finding a new spouse or having another child right now, you well-intentioned idiot? Would you? A grieving parent or spouse is not looking to replace their child or their husband/wife. This statement implies those treasured lost loved ones are expendable and replaceable.  Never say this, or anything remotely similar. Please. If you do say something like this to a grieving spouse or parent, I hope they punch you in the throat. Seriously.
  • Everyone grieves differently; respect that and don’t judge them for it. And by differently, I mean for cryingdifferent lengths of time and to varying degrees. About two weeks after Tom’s death, I was overcome one evening by a wave of intense grief.  Through tears, I posted a Facebook status stating I couldn’t believe this was really happening. A friend commented, “Why are you having such a hard time accepting this?” I felt as though he was implying that because Tom was my ex-husband, I should’ve long ago dried my eyes and carried on with the rest of my life…two weeks later. I felt like he was minimizing what had happened and that my grief wasn’t valid; or at least, not valid anymore, as though a bereavement period has an expiration date or deadline by which one should stop feeling sadness about the loss. I’m not saying that is what he meant, but that is certainly how his comment came across. Instead of offering condolences, he evidently felt the need to analyze my grief instead of simply respecting my feelings about the loss.  Everyone is different. The same person can grieve very differently for different deaths. No two grieving experiences are alike…even for the same individual.
  • Think twice before you speak; or even three times if you have to. And when in doubt, don’t say it. My first husband, who was also the father of  my three children and an active, always previously healthy Sagittarian, passed away from cancer in 2001 at the age of 33. When Tom, who was my second husband, was killed, a longtime close friend called me to express her condolences. She obviously cared about what had happened and having known Tom through me, she was concerned and also in shock about his death. She then blurted out with jaw-dropping insensitivity, “Wow; well, it’s a good thing you and Mike [my current Cancer cusp man] never got married or he’d probably be next.” Seriously? I was literally speechless when I heard those words (which is very unusual for a mouthy Aries such as myself). What has to transpire in someone’s brain to convince them that saying something like that is actually a good idea? (For the record, Mike let her have it. “Way to console your friend, you idiot,” he angrily texted her. She honestly didn’t understand what she had said that upset me. To her credit, when he spelled it out for her, she immediately texted an apology to me. But still…I can’t even begin to fathom how it entered her mind in the first place to think that, let alone actually speak it, as if it was some sort of backhanded implication that I’m a jinxed black widow and marrying me would be tantamount to a death sentence for any man.)
  • Check on the grieving person from time to time. Often, after the funeral or memorial service is over and the flowers have wilted, a bereaved person’s support network of friends and extended family begins to dwindle and the person is ultimately left alone to grieve. I’m not suggesting that you call them every hour on the hour to check on their well-being. What I am saying is just shoot them a quick text or phone call every week or so just to let them know you’re thinking of them or ask them how they’re doing. This lets them know you care and demonstrates your continued support during this difficult time and trust me, it makes a huge difference for them to know they’re in your thoughts and/or prayers.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that we the bereaved do understand you have only the best intentions, even if you say all the wrong things in your attempt to console us. There is nothing you can say that will ever make the pain go away, but that doesn’t mean you should stay silent. If you don’t know what to say, just tell them you don’t know what to say, but you’re thinking of them and are sorry for their loss. The important thing here is, don’t just say nothing.

The inscription on the top of Tom's urn. Truer words were never before spoken.

The inscription on the top of Tom’s urn. Truer words were never before spoken.

“Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way
Through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.”

~ Eric Clapton, “Tears In Heaven”

This Is The Way The World Ends: Volume I

Tom, January 2003

Tom, January 2003

“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin…
When I say that I’m okay well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game…
People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me…
When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy; you’re no longer on the ball
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll…
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.” ~ John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels”

This is the first post I’ve written in nearly six months! Aw, and I missed all of you too… *sniff*… Make no mistake about it: it’s not that there hasn’t been much to report; on the contrary, I have plenty of musings and anecdotes which I’ve been dying to share; therefore, we have a lot of catching up to do, my fellow bloggers/followers/friends! For the sake of this particular post however, I’ll nutshell it for you: my beloved Cancer cusp and I officially reunited in a living-together capacity in late October after a two and a half month “getting-to-know-you-again” journey. Things have been amazing and I’m hard pressed to remember being happier before in my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d actually be saying (typing?) these words. But here I am and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Happiness is abundant and life is — and has been — beautiful. But for this post, I will be focusing on one of the most painful events of my life thus far, occurring during my extended blogging hiatus. As the “Volume I” in the title indicates, there is much more to come regarding this tragic turn of events. It sucked the breath right out of me like a full-on punch to the stomach or, perhaps more accurately, like a dagger plunged through my very heart and soul.

Monday evening, December 31, 2012. I worked until 9pm. My Cancer cusp love was home waiting for me and we planned a quiet, just-the-two-of-us evening to ring in the New Year…complete with homemade loaded baked potato soup, other snacks, and of course an abundance of alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, margaritas…you name it. We were both off work New Year’s Day so we genuinely looked forward with great anticipation and excitement of doing next to nothing the following day, perhaps with the exception of noshing on our traditional black eyed peas, which we planned to slow cook along with a meaty ham hock in the crock pot. Just after the stroke of midnight, I sent text messages wishing each of my children a “happy, happy new year!” and each one of them had responded in kind shortly thereafter. And around 3 or 4am on New Year’s morning, we fell into bed…exhausted but thrilled to be back together and beginning a brand new year of possibilities.

Around 1:30pm on New Year’s Day afternoon, I slowly began to rouse. That’s some serious sleeping in but I didn’t care; my agenda for the day included…well, nothing! I rubbed my eyes, stretched, turned my head to the left and watched as my wonderful Cancer man continued sleeping next to me. I leaned over and gave him a kiss, which didn’t wake him, but that was okay; that hadn’t been my intention. I got up, threw on a T-shirt, and shuffled to the bathroom. I then went into the kitchen, poured the dried black eyed peas into the crock pot, added the water and the delicious, salty ham hock, and set the slow cooker on low. I then plopped myself down on the living room couch and turned on the TV.

I yawned and lit a cigarette. What to do, what to do, I silently pondered. After all, for this one day I wasn’t at the mercy of any schedule whatsoever and it just doesn’t get much better than that. Bliss.

Suddenly inspired, I got up and put Tiger Woods 2005 in our Xbox 360 and thought it sounded like fun to just chill on the couch, wearing only an oversized T-shirt, playing golf while I waited for my love to wake up and join me in the living room, probably with a “mornin’ babe” kiss and a cup of coffee. I powered on the console and waited as it began to load.

While the game was loading, the song “Little Suzi” by Tesla pierced the silence in the apartment as it began to loudly play from my cell phone on the kitchen table, indicating my 21 year-old Scorpio daughter, Suzanne, was calling. I smiled as I got up and grabbed my phone from the charger, assuming she was simply calling to wish us a happy new year, perhaps planning to let us talk to her Libra son, our awesome five year-old grandson Brendan (a.k.a. “Lil B”).

I swiped the touchscreen to answer her call. “Hey sweetie, what’s up?” I smiled, surprised at the call. Scorpio Suz rarely just calls out of the blue; she usually texts.

“Mom!” my daughter sobbed, trying to catch her breath.

Instantly, my smile vanished and I felt the blood drain from my face as my excitement turned to terror. What was wrong? What was she going to tell me? In the space of what in hindsight was probably no more than one or two seconds, all kinds of horrible scenarios filled my head. Had something happened to my grandson? To my Taurus son, who is now living with them in Arizona? Was my son in-law okay? “What?! What is it!?” I almost shouted, begging for an answer that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to hear. “What happened?!” I repeated loudly, seemingly in an effort to drown out whatever her response would be…

She then choked out the words in between sobs as she tried to catch her breath. The words that have replayed in my mind every day of my life ever since.

Tom died!”

Tom & my Scorpio daughter Suzanne, May 2001

Tom & my Scorpio daughter Suzanne, May 2001

I felt disoriented, confused, as if I’d heard her wrong. I heard her say “Tom” but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the words…or his name being used in that context.

I shouted in a panic as my heart and mind began to race. “Who??” Surely I’d misunderstood her. “Tom who?!”

But I knew.

Tom!” she continued, crying about as hard as I’d ever heard her cry in her 21 years.

“What?! What happened?” I asked loudly, still hoping maybe she was wrong; maybe it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.

“I don’t know,” Suz sniffed, trying to catch her breath again. “Jace just talked to Danielle [Tom’s ex] and she told him…do you want to talk to Jace?”

“Yes!” I told her adamantly. “Let me talk to him!”

My 16 year-old Taurus son took the phone. “Hey…” he said solemnly.

“What happened to Tom!?” I angrily demanded as I paced the living room floor so fast and furiously that it could have worn a path in the carpet.

“I don’t know, mom…Danielle just told me he died last night…” my son said quietly

At this point, I was filled with such a potpourri of mixed emotions that even now I’m not sure if I could identify them all individually. But the one at the forefront during that moment was rage. Tom? My Cancer ex-husband? The man from whom I inherited my current surname when we were married on December 29, 2000? The man with whom I had briefly reconciled when I was living in Hot Springs, AR after he moved down there to be with me in 2011 & 2012 ? The man who took my children’s dying father to chemotherapy sessions and whom he promised to fill in as their father should the unthinkable happen (which it did in January 2001)? No. No! No, Tom, you don’t get to die! Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t get to die and leave these kids, leave your daughter, leave your family…and leave me! I don’t think so!

My Taurus son Jace, Tom, and my Sadge son Brian, 2008

My Taurus son Jace, Tom, and my Sadge son Brian, 2008

“That motherfucker!” I snapped angrily. I looked around the room. I felt like breaking something. But I didn’t.  “That stupid son of a bitch! What the fuck did he do!?”

“Don’t…,” my uncharacteristically placid Taurus-cusp son urged me, “don’t dishonor his name like that…” I could hear him fighting back tears.

But I was infuriated. “No!” I argued. “I guaranfuckintee you, however this happened, it was not natural! Whatever killed him was because of something, probably something fucking stupid, that he did!” I believe I then told my son I loved him – I’m not absolutely sure; I think a bit of self-protective amnesia set in around this time, causing me to lose some of the details – but I did ask him to put his sister back on the phone.

When she said “hello?” I was still in such shock, such disbelief, and feeling such utter rage about what had happened, I told my daughter, “I’m gonna get off here and see what I can find out…I’ll let you know…and let me know if you hear anything, okay?” Still crying, she told me she would and that she loved me.

At this point, evidently roused from sleep by my emotional tirade in the living room, my Cancer cusp man came walking out of the bedroom and with genuine concern in his eyes, he asked, “What’s goin’ on?”

I took a deep breath. I hadn’t yet cried. I blurted out, “Tom died last night.”

Tom & his daughter Lindsey, 2012

Tom & his daughter Lindsey, 2012

“Hey, I ain’t never coming home…
Hey, I’ll just wander my own road
Hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow…
Say goodbye, don’t follow
Misery so hollow…”

~ Alice In Chains, “Don’t Follow”

Oh my God. Did I really just say those words? I wondered. Is this really happening?

Without hesitation, he walked over to me and held me in his arms, stroking my hair, trying to comfort me. “Oh baby. Oh, baby. I’m so sorry…” For a moment I felt safe, protected, comforted. At the same time, I felt confused…why was he consoling me? Tom was my ex-husband. I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t deserve any sympathy. Then, speaking into his shoulder, I said, “I have to find out what happened…”

I hadn’t spoken to Tom since early December, about three weeks prior to his death, but I  knew he had been living at home in Weirton, WV with his stepmother, a forty-something Libra named Leisa, the kind of person who knocks herself out taking care of others before tending to herself. Tom’s father, a fun-loving Leo known as “Big Tom” (a misnomer, as “big” Tom was actually smaller than his son) had passed away from a long battle with cancer only four and a half months prior. At that very moment it suddenly occurred to me that although I had been quite upset to learn of Big Tom’s passing, I was now overcome with an intense feeling of relief that at least he hadn’t survived long enough to suffer every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child. So what if Tom was 36 years old? He could have been 86 years old and it wouldn’t have mattered: your child is still, always and forever, your baby.

Not knowing Leisa’s phone number, I logged onto Facebook and was immediately greeted with an inbox message from Tom’s cousin Dan’s wife, Jenny, whom I’d gotten to know somewhat via Facebook over the previous year. And as I read her words – possibly aloud, I don’t really remember – I had to re-read them…and re-read them…and re-read them yet again because they just weren’t sinking in. This couldn’t be reality; this happens to other faceless, nameless people, not to us! It was like an out-of-body experience reading Jenny’s words:crying eye

“Tommy was killed in a car accident last night. The family is keeping this closed-lipped for a while but I thought you should know. I’ll let you know when arrangements are set so you can contact whomever you like. […] so please just keep this between us for a day or so. So sorry for your loss.”

Reading that message, repeatedly, it still felt unbelievably surreal. This can’t be true. I had no doubt whatsoever that any second now, I would wake up in a heart-pounding cold sweat, crying, but simultaneously relieved that it had all only been an, albeit very realistic, nightmare…

I never did wake up.

And then I began to cry. And I don’t mean shed a few tears. I wailed. I sobbed uncontrollably. I dropped to my hands and knees and screamed like a wounded animal. I shouted, “why is this happening? Why?!” over and over again, as though I might actually get an answer. I thought I’d never stop. My heart literally ached with sadness. It was torturous.

crying girl

Tom is really, truly gone. He’s never coming back. Never again will I hear his voice on the phone, or receive a text from him, or be able to give him a hug, or tell him I love him. I won’t be able to share things with him…news/updates about the kids…and never again will we have one of our haven’t-talked-to-ya-in a-while-how-have-you-been phone calls where we catch up on each other’s lives. So much has been lost. Gone forever. And that’s just on my end. I haven’t even begun to touch on the life-altering impact this loss has had and will continue to have on Tom’s beloved eight year-old daughter, my three children whom we raised together, Danielle, the mother of his daughter Lindsey (I’ve been in her shoes when my children lost their biological father to cancer in early 2001 so I truly do know what she’s experiencing and feeling), along with the rest of his family, especially his stepmother Leisa, his younger sister Jamie and younger brother Justin, and everyone else who loved and cared about him…which there were and are many.

And so it appears the Universe has decided I need a refresher course in Grief 101 as I embark on another  journey through life’s inevitable, excruciatingly painful grieving process. There’s no escape; therefore, my only option is to deal with it. Some days it’s just making it through one day at a time; on the worst days the goal is to make it through one minute at a time, like a toddler learning to walk. The bottom line, however, is that I will survive this…somehow. It won’t be easy; in fact, it’s one of the worst experiences one can ever face.

To be continued…

“And I’ll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain…
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.” ~Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday”

Tom and Brian, May 2001
Tom and Brian, May 2001

All he ever wanted was to teach you, to reach you
Death is the cousin of sleep
Just close your eyes, count sheep and breathe deep…
Think about the sound of relief that surrounds you.

~ Atmosphere, “Bleed Slow”