Good Grief

Things are slowly getting back to normal around here.  School has been out for over a week now, and we have already settled in to a nice routine of whatever activities we have scheduled (mostly the older kids), a little exercise (mostly me), and sometimes a swim in the neighborhood pool or a run through the sprinkler (Kid E insisted that we get one).  I’ve been moving along, day by day, trying not to let death be the first thing that comes to mind when I open my eyes.  And each day it does get a little better.  But I also don’t want to forget Braden and what he meant to our family.  It really is a fine line.  Right now I am a tightrope walker.

My mom mentioned to me last week when she came down for the memorial service that she was more worried about me than she was about Kid A.  I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager.  But this is different.  I was legitimately depressed when Braden was diagnosed.  Surely there were times when I ate and drank too much during the many months when he was being treated.  But when he died, it was like a switch flipped in me.  I reassured my mom that her fears were unfounded… I was talking about my feelings, I was reading a book about dealing with death, I was writing as my therapy, I was exercising every day, drinking and eating in healthy quantities, and overall managing a very healthy grieving process.  I am very sad, but I am working through the sadness.  But I guess you never stop worrying about your kids, so I get where my mom was coming from.

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Kid A and Kid B did some grief counseling before school let out.  Kid A has a box of memories and mementos that she has been going through.  Kid B has been wearing the soccer jersey that Braden gave her.  We are encouraging everyone in our family to talk about their emotions, and to continue to talk about Braden.  Sheepdog has been more angry than sad, but that has always been his go-to move.  He took out some of that anger on his mountain bike yesterday, with my brother-in-law and one of his employees.  The point is, everyone grieves differently, and on their own schedule.  As long as you work through it, the grief is almost always good.

One day Kid E started crying and said, “I’m really going to miss Brandon!” but we reassured him that Uncle Brandon was just fine (aside from the damage that Sheepdog may have inflicted on him during the very emotional bike ride).  He was obviously still in the first stage of grief… shock and denial (and confusion).

Sheepdog and I were talking about it again last week.  We have obvious concern for Braden’s family, but also for each other and for our kids as well.  We wanted to make sure that everyone was getting the counseling that they needed and processing their emotions in healthy, constructive ways.  We spoke at length about how everyone is exhibiting their pain in their own unique way, and none of them is necessarily right or wrong.  We can only continue to watch out for signs and make sure that no one slips through the cracks without properly acknowledging and dealing with their sorrow.

And then Sheepdog pointed out that some people really benefit from grieving naked, and he felt that a little affirmation of life was in order.  I guess we really are going to be okay.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Remembering Braden

You know the feeling when something bad is coming and the thought of it makes you really sad?  It is called anticipatory grief.  When you are experiencing anticipatory grief, you do everything that you can to prepare yourself, and you begin to think that you will be able to handle the bad thing when it comes.  Except that when the bad thing actually happens, you feel like you got punched in the face and then kicked in the stomach, over and over and over again.  In reality, there is no way to be prepared at all.

I had a dream early this morning that I was falling down a deep hole.  I dropped and dropped for what seemed like miles, clawing at the dirt as I flew down desperately trying to get purchase on the wall.  After a very long time, I hit the ground.  In my dream, I screamed from the utter and complete agony.  My bones were broken and my head was throbbing and spinning.  I hurt so very much all over.  And then I woke up.

But that was when the pain became really intense.  Because I remembered that Braden was gone.

Braden Dean Smith died peacefully at home in the early hours of Monday, May 13, 2013, surrounded by his family.  His fourteen-month long fight with leukemia had left his body and mind exhausted and worn, far beyond his mere nineteen years.  He tackled his illness with bravery and intensity, but the disease was simply insurmountable in the end.  He is survived by his mother, Stacy, and his father, Steve, as well as five younger brothers and sisters… Chloe, Maddie, Cameron, Rachel and Eric.  He is also loved by countless family members and friends who consider ourselves so lucky to have had him in our lives.

I am so very grateful that Braden is no longer suffering, even while we are left behind to suffer in his absence.

Braden was exceptional.  He had book and street smarts.  He was athletic.  He was funny.  He was passionate… about sports and politics and religion.  And he was also compassionate and caring and forgiving.  He was a great friend and a doting boyfriend.  He wanted to go to college and get married and have a family.  He wanted the good life.

But even when he was in the middle of the hardest battle he would ever fight, he was always looking out for those around him.  He was kind enough to indulge my anticipatory grief and go to lunch a few times with me over the last few weeks.  We talked about everything and nothing, fears and regrets, hopes and dreams.  It was inspiring to me and those conversations, as well as many others we had together, are memories I will always cherish.

I am so very sad right now.  My sadness comes in waves.  I am sad for the profound loss that his family is enduring.  A mother and father lost a son.  Siblings lost their big brother.  My daughter lost her first true love.  I am sad that a young man with so much potential had to suffer and die before his life ever really got started.  I am sad over the loss of my friend.  My grief is no longer anticipatory… it is here.

I know that it is healthy and normal to be sad and to grieve, especially over the loss of someone so young.  There is no rule book or guide to follow, but it is very important to seek counseling or fellowship immediately following the death of a loved one.  Fortunately, we have each other to lean on, confide in, reminisce with.  We need to remember Braden, talk about him, share stories about him.  It will help us and it will make Braden happy when we reach out and help each other.  Do it to honor him.

These pictures are from one of my favorite days with our whole family, including Braden, after he had been diagnosed and had gone through a transplant.  He was getting his energy back and it was a nice day, so we went over to Webb Bridge Park to play on the playground and throw around the football.  It was pure and happy and good.  Remembering that day will always make me smile.

It will not bring him back, but it will keep him eternally alive in our hearts and our memories.

I sure do miss you already, Kid.  Until we meet again…

Wish me luck for tomorrow…