Grief recovery, loss of child, healing after death & loss 

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Michelle Shelton 480-577-8272 m@teamshelton.com
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Picking the scab called Grief

Phillip SheltonYesterday my husband came home and told me that one of the nurses he works with had lost her nephew. He was 18 and shot himself while his family was at church. All the emotions came up. The pain was intense. I sought out the boy and looked at his obituary and wondered why. Why? I think about everything Phillip had to live for, Ava Rose, a family who loved him and it is upsetting that someone would intentionally take their own life. I find for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, the pain must even be more intense. To have a loved one in so much pain and not be able to stop such an act would generate feelings of guilt and blame. It is easy to think that we could have done something to change the situation.

Grief and loss is a tricky subject.
Each person processes it differently and the emotions are so very raw. It is hard to find logic in grief. No matter how the person died, the sense of loss runs deep into the soul of the people who loved them. I find people struggle with what to say. Sometimes it is easier to just avoid me altogether.

Mourning Again.
I found myself reading this boys obituary and staring at this young mans face. Why was he in such pain that he could find no other way to cope? I suppose even those closest to him are asking that question. I mourned again. For him. For his family and loved ones. For his friends. Why?

Picking at the Scab called Grief
As a kid I remember falling down and scraping my knees and eventually scabs would form once the raw, bloody spots began to heal.  My brain would tell me to pick the scab….often it was too early and it would hurt and then begin to bleed.  I remember it being painful, not as painful as the initial injury, but painful in a different way.  Why did I do that? Why pick the scabs? There was a deep desire for it to heal. Quicker. I wanted to have my nice looking knees back. I didn’t want the ugly scab and I didn’t want the scar it would leave. I somehow thought by pulling it off, it would have less of a scar. In the end, the only thing that helped was to go through it and allow for natural healing. I had to give it the time it needed to heal. There was no way around it. I had to go through it. There were things I could actually do to make the process easier. Soaking in a bath seemed to help some. Lotions helped. And then there was the scar. It stayed for weeks, months and some I still have today, depending on the extent of the injury.

A Broken Knee
One scar in particular I have is from knee surgery. I remember getting it. I was riding a moped in January in Nebraska. I got stuck going pretty fast in some frozen ruts and lost control. I lay in the dark cold for several minutes hoking the horn hoping my mother would hear. I was 11 years old and it was months of recovery. I still have pain in my hip and knee from the injury. My mother found me and took me in and put me to bed. My knee and hip were in so much pain that I thought I would pass out. There was a painful surgery and recovery. I missed months of school. I felt lonely. I missed my friends. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t play with the other kids. I was helpless and at the mercy of my body. I felt I was missing out on life because of this injury. I lay in bed while others did things I could not do. I remember having a resolve in me that I would not stay there. Much like I have now. I was determined to get back to normal activities. In May I did a 26 mile walk in one day to feed the hungry. Probably not the smartest thing. My mother realized very quickly there was no stopping me. Of course my hip and knee were re-injured. My knee swelled to two, or three times its size. I was back on crutches. Over the years, my knee has done well and at times it has also given me fits. When I was pregnant, when I exercise too much or if I turn it wrong. I have pain when I least expect it. For the most part, I have learned to live with it. When I look at the scar from the multitude of stitches and touch it, it takes me back to that moment years before. The pain. The long recovery. The loneliness. I am glad it is behind me. Or perhaps I should say, it is a part of me.

Never like the First Day
So last night when I became obsessed with the 18 year old boy who died. It was like picking a wound on my soul. It was like going back to the moment in time when Phil died. Very painful. I am still thinking of it this morning. The best I can hope for is one day it will be like the scar on my knee….a reminder of the strength and courage I had to go through such a thing. A reminder that I can and do have a strong resolve and that I can and do go through loneliness and come out on the other side. Daily, I will choose to focus on remembering Phillip a different way. Not the pain. I will focus on his daughter, Ava Rose. His smile. His voice. His swagger when he walked. His smell. I don’t want to pick at the wound anymore. I know I will. Awareness is key. Once I am aware I am doing it, I stop and choose differently. I do miss that boy. I miss him to the depth of my soul and the loneliness and pain is not like the first day. It is now a part of me and I will continue to gather tools to support me in living an amazing life.

 
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Suffering is Optional

suffering is optionalLet’s call grief what it really is, PAIN. Pain hurts and our brain wants to protect us from hurt so we start to shut down. Physically, emotionally, socially. There are many downsides to this, the big one being that all of a sudden our life is defined not by the joy, but by the pain. Everything becomes about pain and sadness. No one does this intentionally and if I had not had a lot of training to be super aware of what was happening in my life, I no doubt could jump into that pit of despair and stay there the rest of my life.

I have had so many people say these words, ” I can’t imagine. I would be a wreck. I would be sitting in the corner sucking my thumb. I really don’t know what I would do if I lost one of my children.” 

It seems to be a universal fear amongst parents, not only that they would lose someone they love so much, someone who is genetically a part of them, but that they would lose themselves completely in the process of such a devastating loss. After going through it, I can tell you, I felt the same way.

I remember reading about people who had lost their child. People I knew. People who were strong leaders of their families and communities. I knew them BEFORE.  I would EXPECT them to shut down. I would watch quietly on the sidelines and think, it would totally be acceptable if they were never the same again. I could understand it. I would even give them permission in my mind. Not that they needed my permission but I wouldn’t attempt to pull them out of it with coaching or pushing too hard. After all, they are in a fragile state and I don’t understand. How could you ever be the same or better after the loss of a child?

I have been in turmoil over the last few months. Not because Phillip died, because I have let myself go, I am starting to lose myself in the process. I had gained a tremendous amount of weight. I quit working out, my diet has completely gone to the wind….adrift with no rudder. My emotions were all over the place and phone calls to friends and vendors who possibly didn’t even know about my loss, went unreturned. I simply did not have the energy. I felt like a pendulum swinging back and forth between sanity and insanity…every time I would get to the middle and start moving to the other side I would pause and think,“YES, this is where I want to live again!”  Then I would fall into a heap and cry over a photo, song or thought of Phillip and the pendulum would once again swing the other way.

I have always prided myself on being balanced. Not so much that I WAS balanced at all times, but that I would seek out balance and the tools to achieve it.

I had watched my father slowly build financial wealth and then destroy it with his lack of discipline with money. He did the same with his body, he didn’t take care of himself and all the strong genetics in the world could not keep him alive after the type of abuse he imposed upon himself. Emotionally? Well, he chipped away at his relationships with his jealousy and emotional lack of awareness. None of these were big things in themselves. He could have mastered each of them with focus and work. Yet, he never sought out the tools to do so. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps he didn’t feel worthy.

Don’t get me wrong, my father was highly successful, married 63 years to the same woman, 5 children who adored him and were with him on his death bed, people around the state of Nebraska came to know and love him for who he was….what I am saying is, he suffered. I personally know that suffering is optional. It always is. Suffering is a choice just like joy is a choice.

I have known suffering is optional for some time and I have been working with it for years. Working on training my mind to respond to what I want and not the other way around. My mind is running 24/7 and is constantly telling me to do things that are easy, that require little effort, that are habitual. I have and continue to learn to tame my mind. It is like a lion roaring out of control, doing, going and feeling what it wants. Without the lion tamer, complete wreckage will ensue. I know I can not shut my mind off so I choose to form and tame it. In this situation with Phillip dying, the discipline is to first be aware when I am choosing sadness. Then I shift out of it. I am not saying deny my feelings. I am saying feel them and then switch my mind to another feeling of happiness, joy. I have had people ask me how I do this….the how eludes me. The first step is consciousness. Awareness. Then, I just do it and then I know how. It is different each time. Sometimes I must release the emotions and cry until I am a heap on the floor. Then I get up, brush myself off and shift my thoughts to one of my other children or to my grand daughter.  People tend to want the easy, quick fix solution. There isn’t one.Like anything worth having, there is no magic fairy dust, this requires thoughtful, focused work and constant awareness of everything from behaviors to language and the people I choose to hang with and how they support me.

The next time you have something where you feel sad, go ahead, go there….just don’t stay too long. Remember, suffering is optional and so is joy, no one will take away your right to suffer. Shifting is how I will create an amazing life AFTER my son died and if I can do it, you can too!

 
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What I love about my Husband

I was thinking about Phil the other day and it got me thinking about my husband. Phillip was so much like his dad….it was one of the things I loved best about him because Paul is such a great guy. There are so many things that I love about him. We will be married 26 years this year and I feel so very fortunate to have found such a great man. What is great about him? Well, there are so many things but let me tell you a few of my favorites.

1. He is strong. I have seen my husband pick up freezers by himself. He has the strongest legs I have ever seen on another human being. He calls them chicken legs but I can tell you, he has legs of steel. He is also strong in character. This to me is the most important. When he sets his mind to something, he follows through and completes it. Not very many people do that. Paul does.

2. He is funny. He is one of the funniest people on the planet. I think he should have done standup. He seriously comes up with some funny stuff. My brother has been staying with us and he said he never realized Paul was so funny. I absolutely love that about him. He has a quick wit and great sense of humor.

3. Paul is loyal. He is one of the most loyal people I have ever met. He is like your favorite Golden Retriever…not to make light of his loyalty. It just reminds me of a Golden Retriever….those are the best dogs ever because they will always be by your side. This is Paul.

4. He loves his wife. He is kind and giving to me. He treats me well and he doesn’t mention when I gain weight or I am bitchy (most of the time). He also doesn’t let me get away with too much and he will take a stand. He is not wimpy in any way! I don’t like wimpy men! I like it that he will only let me get away with so much.

5. He has great hair. I love his hair. It is curly and soft. I love having my hands in it…since I have been cutting his hair for 26 years, this is a good thing. I just love touching it.

6. He has a great love for his family. He has done an amazing job with his children. The girls respect themselves and will wait for a man like him, solid, honest, and noble. His girls will not accept a man who treats them poorly. They won’t allow a man to cheat on them. Why? Because their dad was a great example of a man. He son admires him and hangs on every word he teaches.

7. He has this boyish charm. He has this thing he does that allows me to see what he was like as an 8 year old. It is so adorable. I am sure he wouldn’t like it if he knew I called him adorable but it is adorable. He doesn’t even know when he is doing it but I can look at him and see what he was like at 8 years old and I love it.

8. He has been a rock since Phil died. What I mean is he has cried with me, laughed with me, held me, given me space, not judged me and accepted me. This alone is worth the world as I know I have not been easy.

9. He is a hard worker. From the day I married him, he has always worked. He says it is because I told him he had to work…not true. He is a worker. He has always been a worker. He gets amazing things done by himself and with very little support. He can build nearly anything and if something is broken…he has it fixed in no time.

10. He loves his sons. He loved Phillip so much. He always worried about him and cared for him. He offered guidance and support along the way and there were tiWhat I love about my husbandmes when he was proud of him and times when he was not. I know he carries guilt around this but it was what makes him a great dad. There are times when you know your children are able to do more and do better…that they are not living up to their full capacity and you push them to do better. Paul wanted Phil to do better and Phil was doing better in life. He still mourns the loss of his oldest son….because he loves his son and misses him.

I think I could continue on with this for quite some time. The point is, I am very fortunate to have selected a life partner that is amazing. He would do anything for me and has put up with sickness, financial strain and loss of both of our parents. Now the loss of our precious son. I am happy to call him my husband and go to sleep and wake next to him each day. Thank you Paul Shelton for loving me right where I am.

 

 
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Taming the Mind is Key in Grief Recovery

jaw surgery

Emma’s Jaw before Surgery.

Five years ago I was talking to our youngest daughter, Emma, and she threw her head back and laughed. In that moment I felt sheer terror. When she tipped her head back I was able to see an awkwardly grown jawbone jutting out the wrong way. I wasn’t sure what it all meant but it was the beginning of my awareness that something could happen to my child. Was it a tumor, cancer, a bone disorder or disease? My child’s very life could be at risk.

Oh My God, I could Lose my Child!

When my children were young I would put them to bed and after they had fallen asleep I would simply watch them breathe. Slow, steady, in and out. It was hard to imagine that it was so automatic and I had a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me something could happen. Like all mothers, I shove that thought back, somewhere deep in my mind, for it was a much too painful thought to even entertain.

Pushing Through Fear

Fast forward five years from the day I first noticed Emma’s deformed jaw. Paul and I sat in a ready room at the hospital with Emma, now 18 and a freshman at Arizona State University, and listened to her Craniofacial Surgeon discuss the possible outcomes of her double jaw surgery. My brain was reeling when both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist spoke of the possibilities of breathing problems, breathing machines, swollen throats, upset stomach and solutions to possible vomiting with a jaw that was banded shut. Then there was talk of possible nerve damage in her face. I wasn’t able to contain the fear, grief and sadness I felt to the depth of my soul. Tears streamed down my face as I sat quietly and listened. The surgeon became increasingly aware of the woman sitting in the back watching things play out and soon the connection was made and she too was tearing up. She had been seeing Emma for five years and was aware of some of the things our family had endured. She knew I was normally a hard driving woman like herself, who asked direct questions and wasn’t afraid to chime in with my opinion. Now I sat, broken, defeated in the corner of the room, feeling helpless.

Moving through Life at a Normal Pace

When we first met with this surgeon, she was very mechanical. She had been on this path with us now and when we first met, we were a happy family and were moving through life on our very normal journey. We had sustained the normal losses in life of both grandfathers and we had read about other people’s losses and continued on…it was something that “those” people went through, not us. So although the discussion of jaw surgery somewhere down the road was discussed, it wasn’t real because it was years from that moment, not until Emma had quit growing. At the time, Emma, was in seventh grade and barely 13 years old.

Now the day had come. Five years later, Emma had been through so much. Heck, we all had.  The loss of her grandmother in 2010. In 2011, her sister, who was 24 months older, had suffered seizures from a brain tumor and had been through major surgery to remove the tumor. Then the ultimate loss of her 22 year old brother, Phillip, in 2012.  There had been financial struggles endured with the tanking of the real estate market and as I sat in the small hospital room waiting to hear how Emma was doing, I thought I simply could not endure any more.  My stomach had been giving me fits since a year after Phil had died. I had been scoped and prodded more than I care to admit and now receive a pretty high dose of medications daily. I had gained nearly 45 pounds and I have had two sinus surgeries since Phil died two years ago.  My lifeline was Phillip’s beautiful baby girl, Ava. Ava, who’s mom is from Turkey and had taken her to Turkey for six months. Another huge loss.

How Much can one Family Endure?

How much can one family endure? I silently asked myself as I sat in the waiting room after they wheeled my girl away. I was feeling victimized by life. Then it struck me. One family can endure so much more. I have one friend who had two children and lost both of them. Years ago I did a woman’s hair and I learned of the loss of three of her children in one car accident. Another friend, who lost her son, left her a precious grandson. Two years later this amazing grandson had died in a drowning. So the answer was, I could endure so much more. Suffering is always optional.

I certainly won’t say I haven’t done my fair share of suffering. I have. My husband constantly and patiently reminds me that suffering is of the mind. At times I have a difficult time grasping this concept when I am in the middle of my grief. I know in my brain it is true. I have experienced it. If I am directing my attention to something else, if I am living in the moment, I am not suffering. I don’t think about the past of the horrific car accident and how Phil died and I don’t think about the future of all the lost moments I wouldn’t share with him.

Living in the Moment

Disciplining my mind also disciplines my emotions. Living in the moment is the key. I miss Phillip so very much and I worry about my other children. What if I lost another? I don’t think my soul could bear it.  And the fact is, I haven’t lost another and much of the suffering comes from imagining the unimaginable. It is a constant battle with my mind to adjust it to recognize how blessed I am NOW and to enjoy the small moments I share with Paul and each child and with Ava, NOW. I have Phillips baby, Ava. I have my other children and a saint of a husband. I have amazing friends and a very large support system. I am a very fortunate woman. So when someone says to me, I cannot imagine, how do you get through the day? My answer is, I breathe in and out and I focus on the moments I have today, the moments I have right now.

 
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Learning to Care Again

25 Years of Marriage

My husband Paul and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on the 22 of November, 2014. We went away for a few days and stayed in a cabin. We worked, ate, drank and relaxed. We went thrift store shopping and antique shopping and tried a few restaurants. It was a fun little trip. It has been difficult since Phil died. We are often quite tired and these little trips have become our escape from the reality of our life without Phil.

How we got Married

While we were together we discussed how our lives had taken such a turn of events with the loss of our child. Phillip was who really brought us together. We were young and frivolous and didn’t date long and I became pregnant. Believe it or not, I was fairly old fashioned and when Paul mentioned living together, I was not happy. I think I said something about being good enough to sleep with but not good enough to marry.  He was taken back by this. I was okay with raising a baby on my own. I certainly didn’t want him to feel trapped or marry me “just” because of the baby. I adored Paul and saw the potential future we could have together.

My Father was not Happy about the Marriage!

At that time, Paul assured me that I was good enough to marry and that he was simply afraid of marriage. His brothers had all had failed relationships and he was a bit frightened by the lifetime commitment. He must have given it some serious thought because a few nights later, he proposed and I said yes. My father was mortified. Who was this guy who had swept me off my feet so quickly? What did he have going for himself?

We Made it Through the Tough Years

Fast forward 25 years. When I look at the overall picture of our marriage I can say, I am happy with it. We struggled through some rough times when we were married around the 17-18 year mark. We both had become very victim. We struggled with Phil and his drug use. He was a bad example to the other kids, a challenge for us as parents. He had run away and we spent a fortune wanting to save Phillip from himself. We attacked and blamed each other for how the other parented. We felt helpless during those times. Not a good course for a marriage to go. Around this same time we started participating in a lot of intense personal growth classes and we somehow muddled through those dark years and came out on the other side, much stronger, responsible and proud of the longevity of our time together.

The Weight Gain and Emotional Eating

I have noticed that when couples are married a long time, they take on each others habits.  Especially exercise and eating habits. Paul and I began to discuss this over the weekend. We both have gained a tremendous amount of weight since Phillip died. I personally have packed on the pounds at an alarming rate. Everyone keeps saying, don’t worry you will take it off later. I have never been a very good later type of person. I even went to my doctor and his solution was to put me on anti-depressants. I gracefully declined and packed on another five pounds. I want to be thin and healthy and yet, thin takes work. It really does. Once you are thin, it is conscious eating and drinking habits to maintain. I was thin when Phil died and I felt good and my clothes fit well and I knew what was going in my mouth the majority of the time. I was operating from choice. So why don’t I just stop eating like this? My brain is so preoccupied with the grief, my eating has gone back to the autopilot it knows. I told my coach it was like I had a grief app open in my brain and running all the time in the background. It requires so much energy that it simply drains my mind and body

Wise Comments from my Husband

While discussing our personal goals for next year, Paul said, “My biggest problem is I have to figure out how to care again.”  For those of you who have not lost a child, you might not understand this. It is easy to give up caring and just walk numbly through the day. The struggle is to keep going and push through the pain each and every waking moment and look for the blessings of life. The new grandchildren, Ava Rose, our children’s successes, our marriage.

So many people have compared the loss of Phillip to the loss of their dog or a parent. I certainly don’t want to diminish anyone’s loss. I simply have lost both parents and several pets including horses and dogs who were great companions, and it is just not the same. As a matter of fact, for me it is not the same at all. I knew when I got a pet that I would most likely outlive them. I didn’t have hopes and dreams for my pet. They were a pet.

As for my parents, they were older than me and from the time I was a small child, I pretty much figured they would be gone before me. I didn’t have hopes and dreams for them either. My relationship was complete with them. They had lived a long life and would get old and die…that is exactly what they did. It was the normal cycle of life. Did I miss them? Yes of course. Did I grieve their death? Yes I did and it was not like that with Phillip.

With Phillip, something inside me died. There is a deep ache to hold him, to talk to him, to love him. I want to see him get married and chose a career. I want to hear his laugh. When I tell this to my friends they tell me to talk to him. Well of course, I do things like that and yet, it is not the same, it will never be the same and my husband is right, I have to figure out how to care again. I simply don’t give a shit about taking care of myself.

The Slippery Slope of Giving Up

As you can see, this is a slippery slope. If I do this for five years or ten, where will I be? I am already 40 pounds overweight. I eat too much, I drink too much and have completely stopped exercising. I say I want to kick griefs ass and yet based on results, most days, I am tired and simply can’t reach down into that part of my spirit that cares. Just getting up and muddling through my day is what I can do, it’s all I can do for now.  Some say I am depressed, others want to save me from myself. They have thrown me ropes and I would rather sink in the quicksand. Is this a victim mentality? Perhaps. Why would anyone want to suffer? I would say because it is normal.

The problem with people wanting to save me with a story about their pet is, they have no benchmark. They have their children. They think they can compare the loss of a dog to the loss of my son because it is the closest thing they have to connect with me. I appreciate the gesture but the best thing one can do is not talk about the loss of their dog. It isn’t the same and it is difficult when in a weakened emotional state to hear this comparison. It’s a dog.

The Body’s way of Dealing is Autopilot

It is normal under pressure for humans to go on autopilot. This is what I have done with my eating habits. I have found that I don’t operate from choice now. I operate from habit. I am medicating my emotions with food and this tells me I have some work to do. Not only emotionally but now physically too. It is going to take discipline and diligence to get the weight off in the first place and then I must act consciously choose my food wisely. I have to make it fun because right now, it isn’t fun.

The mind is a powerful thing. The wonderful thing about the mind is I have the ability to change my life. I can change my thinking and my life will change. I have been looking for the blessings in Phillip’s death. Yes, you heard me. There are many blessings. If Phillip were still alive I would not have developed the amazing relationship I have with my son Sam. I am excited about this relationship as Sam is an amazing young man. So today I choose to thank Phillip for giving me the opportunity to love my son Sam like I never could have if Phil were still here.

As for the weight, well, after Thanksgiving I am ready to tackle it. Right now my focus is on caring enough to get through today and to look for ways to get out of the quicksand.

Please leave a comment on this site if you found this writing helpful.

 
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I’m so lucky!

I am so lucky. I was thinking about everything that happened and how it is circumstances. I can never change the circumstances yet I can choose how I handle those circumstances.  I really am fortunate. I am fortunate that I had 22 years with such a great kid. He taught me so much. He loved me. He helped me learn. I loved his smell, smile, quirks and enjoyed being around him. He had this great laugh and I am fortunate to have caught on video and audio. I loved watching him grow and I remember the days of getting clumps of flowers presented from his little chubby fists. His smile would brighten the room and my heart would skip a little when I saw him do something really kind. He brought me so much JOY. Pure joy. Of course this fullness and richness is is why I miss him so much too. It pains me more to think of never having him at all for my life would not be complete.

Missing Phil Shelton

Missing Phil Shelton

Lucky? How Can She say She is Lucky?

I know some of you might be reading this saying to yourself, how can she say she is lucky? I can say it because it is the truth. When I look at that cute little face in the photo on the left, it seems like it was a hundred years ago and yet it could easily be yesterday.

There are Many Paths from Which to Choose

If you have a path to go down…there is always a starting point to that path. At the beginning of this particular path my son died. From there I can go into sadness, grief, loss. I could turn to drugs, alcohol or overeat and all of these would eventually lead to my painful demise. I could choose another path and be bitter, unhappy, and fall into the depths of despair. I could choose the path and destroy my relationships and divorce my husband or blame him for the accident and distance myself from my children so if it ever happened again, I wouldn’t hurt this bad. I could easily justify any one of these things. There are several paths I could choose and at the beginning of each one…my beautiful, outgoing, charming Phillip is dead. Gone. Forever.

What Path do I Choose?

The only logical choice for me is to choose JOY. I choose to live. Not just breath and be alive but to really LIVE. I choose to have Phillips life matter. I choose to have MY life matter. I love him so and I miss him of course. I love all of my children with my entire being so this is my chance to be a great mom, to show them how to grieve fully, completely….it hasn’t been pretty at times and I am proud of being able to muddle through to the other side. Everyone we love and interact with will die. It is the only thing we can be sure of, so I choose to live today and improve my life today and it is my hope that those around me will have improvement in their lives simply by being around me.

I hope your troubles are small today. I hope you have all of your family together for Thanksgiving and you look around the table and not only give thanks for the food but for the company.  I hope you really look each person in the eye and connect with them without saying a word. You never know when they will no longer be there or you will no longer be there and that connection can be magical.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 
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Trinkets of Phil

22 Year old boys have strange things in their apartments. It is just a fact of life. They collect beer bottles, whiskey bottles, music posters, old tennis shoes and trinkets. This is a stage my own husband sort of outgrew. I say “sort of” as just today he mentioned that he has his space for his stuff…which he then added is in his closet. I had put something in there that didn’t belong and he said, “Really? This is the only space I have for my “stuff”.”

gnomes of PhilsOne Man’s Treasure…

I did not realize that these things were such treasures to them. Perhaps the stuff my son collected was normal. His treasures were part of coming of age. The problem is, he didn’t get a chance to outgrow it.

Collecting Gnomes

The funny thing is, what I saw has a young mans junk, has now become my treasure. A stirring stick, the tiny umbrellas from a fruity drink he has somewhere and I am still shuffling the gnomes around my house. Yes, I said GNOMES. Gnomes have always been creepy to me. I remember seeing a Twilight Zone episode where the gnomes came to life and kidnapped the family and turned them into gnomes or something as the family was just GONE.  They showed the gnomes creeping around the lawn at night with their evil little laughs.

Now I have gnomes proudly (sort of) displayed in my home. Somehow this makes me feel closer to my son. They were his. He touched them. Enjoyed them. He picked them out and some of these things he even bought.

A Grieving Mother is Raw Emotion

If you have heard me say it once, you have heard me say it a million times. Grieving the loss of a child is a strange process to go through. It is like my brain has been shut down and I am running on raw emotion. It is exhausting.

Another thing 22 year old boys hold on to….or at least mine did, was cheap stuffed animals. Phillip had a big black bear and a cheaply stuffed dog that says Phillies on it. I am sure the pun on his name had something to do with ownership. Now I have this carnival trinket displayed in my home. What am I supposed to do with these things? Normally I could easily let go and yet….things have changed.

phillip sheltonAttachment is Suffering

I have been purging my home of stuff. I want to simplify. I have been involved in personal growth for nearly 20 years and one thing I have learned is my environment is a reflection of my mind. Holding on to stuff and getting attached to stuff is an empty life. Just when I thought I had a handle on this concept my son dies and leaves me his stuff…the day before he died it was junk to me….the day after…treasure. I find myself replacing my $80 basket for gnomes. How can this be?

Significance is Assigned by Me

I know significance is assigned by me. This truly is a case of that! I have now put significance on these things. Somehow, if I have these things, it brings me closer to Phil. This cheap stuff that my 22 year old son had when he died. It has meaning to me now. I suppose I will keep it….I don’t know how long. As long as I need to.

No amount of stuff with bring my boy back. I have saved his clothes and his trinkets and yet, it is not even close to having him. It is a reminder of a mothers love….a reminder of how things used to be…the normal, ordinary day with my son.

I will do what I need to do to muddle through each day. As the blow softens, I glance up and see his trinkets proudly displayed on my potshelf and I think, I was a pretty lucky mom to have him. He was caring, loving and kind. He was a great hugger. He loved me and we had a special closeness that I have had with no other human being. I miss his smell. His smile. His laugh.

I will sit with this one for awhile. I will keep the stuff. Display it. Shuffle it. Someday perhaps I will pack it away or even donate it. Today is not that day. Today I will do what I have to do to remember my son.

 

 
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The Car that my Son Died Driving

Two years ago, my baby died. My baby was 22 years old and had grown bigger than both his dad and I and yet, he was still my baby. I remember being obsessed with him when he was born. I took photos. I held him. I rocked him. Nursed him. Played with him. Changed him. Bathed him. Dressed him. I spent hours looking at him. Getting him to smile. Listening to his gurgles. My life had changed forever with his birth. There was so much joy. My heart swelled with joy. I had a new normal to live by that was consumed by thoughts of Phillip. Time seemed to go on outside of our doors and inside we were sheltered. It was just pure bliss. We had a schedule, a routine now. Day in and day out it was pretty much the same. Eat, sleep, take care of Phillip. Enjoy Phillip. Play with Phillip. Get to know Phillip. My life revolved around Phillip. JOY. My single friends would call to see him. I would proudly show him off when they arrived. I would tell them what it was like to have a baby and to take care of a baby. Typical new mom stuff. I adored him and so did Paul and Marie. 

Who was Phillip Shelton?

Phillip grew as children do. He became a huge part of our family. The love man. The little brother. The big brother. The protector. The one that made peace in our household.  He didn’t like conflict. He liked everyone to get along. He was a hugger. He loved to hug. When his brother and dad would box and wrestle, he would watch. He wanted to be part of the bonding but he couldn’t bring himself to do it, he was a lover, not a fighter! He was supportive. He was the person who was FOR the other guy. Need someone to pick you up from the airport? Call Phil. Need help moving? He was there. 

Waiting to see the Car

September 1, 2014. It’s been two years since that fateful day when three police officers showed up at our door. “I’m sorry Ma’am, there were no survivors.” Those words still ring loudly in my ears. That was Saturday. By the following Tuesday we were on the road looking for answers. How did he die? What happened?  We were off to visit the crash site and see the car. Once we got there, there was not much to see. The car was impounded and they wouldn’t allow us to see it. There was an investigation. We would have to wait.

Toyota Corolla AccidentsToday was the Day to See the Car

September 16, 2014. Today was the day. The parents of the girl who died in the accident were looking to sue Toyota. They sued our insurance and Phil’s insurance. This tied up the car for over two years. We too had to secure an attorney in all of this and our attorney contacted me earlier in the week and said we could finally see the car. It was a Toyota Corolla. The lawsuit was over. It was deemed an accident. The driver was going too fast. The attorney stressed that he didn’t recommend seeing the car. It was our choice. After two years, we went to see the car. Well meaning friends said, “Don’t do it!”  Others asked, “Why would you want to?”

Why? Because I had to. I had to see the last place my baby was alive. I had to see where he died. I had to see what power could take away the very life of one of the most amazing people I had ever experienced. One of the greatest loves of my life. The strongest force I had ever had up until he was born.  One of the strongest forces I have experienced to date. What was so powerful that it could take that life force away?  Snuff it out in an instant, like blowing out a candle? 

When he died, there was no body to hold. I didn’t get to kiss his face and count his fingers and hold his hand as I did when he was born. The car caught fire and all we got was a burned wallet with all of his plastic cards melted. This was all that was left of my baby. I had to see the car. I had to know what it must have been like for those who came upon him and tried so hard to save him.

I am Glad I Saw the Car

I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I went. The car was in bad shape. Worse than I had ever seen. If I didn’t know it was a car, I am not sure I would recognize it. Everything was melted. The paint, the tires, the seats. It was odd but I didn’t cry. I have no energy left to cry these days. I have come to acceptance. Surrendered. My son is dead. He is not coming back. The horror is gone. I am past that. It has gone from the unimaginable, to the imaginable, to the real, to, once again, the new normal. Just like when he was born, my thoughts have been consumed with him every waking moment and now his death is part of my normal daily life. I still think about it and him, a lot….yet, the surrender has finally come.

Embracing the New Normal

I think back of my son’s little chubby hand secured in mine and walking him at the park. He must have been 18 months old. So trusting. He toddled along and looked at the grass and pointed. He would look up at me and smile a happy grin. I knew he trusted me to protect him. I did. I protected him to the best of my ability. I have worked through the guilt. I know it is not justified and yet, the human mind wants to make sense of things and what better way than to blame the mother and then justify it? I am fortunate to have many tools at my disposal to support me in getting through this. My new normal is starting to become…well….normal. I choose to embrace it. I don’t wake up with a sense of dread each morning. I actually can imagine a future.

Today it was raining. I love the rain. He loved the rain. I envisioned him watching us look over the car. He had no energy on it, he was just enjoying the rain like he did when he was small. When he was little, he would put on a rain coat and rain boots and go stand in the rain….for an hour. Just stand outside the door and smile and wave at me. I loved that kid so much. Of course I still do….yet, it is different now. I just loved his presence. I loved being around him. I loved his energy. His smile. His giggle. His hands. His smell. His touch. To the depth of my soul, I loved him. It is weird to use the past tense but that is how I feel. The love is still there…true, Yet, he is not, so it feels right to use it in the past tense. I loved him. I loved him so very much.

The Unimaginable Became Real

I remember when Phillip was about four years old and I took him to a store and got him fingerprinted. It was a missing children’s group that was giving out free fingerprinting for kids. They took your child’s photo and their prints and put it in a little book for you to take home, you know, just in case. I remember when we were done I sat in the car with Phillip in his little car seat waiting for me to go…..and I sobbed. I cried so hard my body hurt. He reached over and patted me. He didn’t say anything. He was just with me. He didn’t understand, or did he?  My mind had gone, for a minute, to the fact that I might lose him. What if someone ever took him from me and he was tortured or worse…he actually died? What would I do? How would I handle it?

In that moment, I decided to wipe my tears and enjoy my day with him, so I did. I held his hand. It was something we always did in the car, we held hands. It was a small gesture, a closeness between him and I. It was special. In August before he died, I took him and Ava to lunch. On the way home I held my hand out and he took it. I said, “Phillip, will you ever get to old to hold your Mamma’s hand?” He looked at me, smiled and said, “Never!”

 
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Grieving with Grace

Grieving with Grace.

Two years ago today at 10:41 AM, my life changed forever. My son, Phillip, braked for a slow moving vehicle and lost control of his car and slammed into a tree and then the car burned up. The good news? He and his passenger died in seconds, most likely before the fire. That was as good as the news got for me.

The Struggle of Unfinished Business

I have struggled to not lose myself in the last two years. There was a lawsuit since Paul rented the car for Phil they had to find that he was negligent in doing so and then they could sue us. So they proved that the father, who had also lost his son, was negligent so they could extract money from our insurance. After all, it was just our insurance company paying, it's not like we are the ones paying. Except for the phone calls with attorneys being cross-examed. As if he didn't feel guilty already.

Blaming Others for my Loss

Then the mother of the girl decided she wanted to see if Toyota was responsible and pursued them. I didn't think there was anything wrong with the car but I jumped on the band wagon and said, let's pursue it. If there was something wrong with the car, they can pay us, if not, no harm no foul.

He was just a Kid

All the time, I thought Phil was simply a 22 year old man who was driving too fast on his way to San Diego. Turns out, that is exactly what happened. I don't blame him. Lord knows it could have been me many times in my 20's. I don't think our brains begin working correctly with consequences until we are at least 25. I will speak for myself though, I know MY brain didn't.

Another Piece of the Puzzle gets Resolved

We got a call three weeks ago and were told the black box from the car had finally been analyzed and it showed that the accelerator did not stick. He was driving fast and came up on a slow moving vehicle and instead of hitting them, he swerved and lost control. My brain went to, why didn't you just hit them? If they were moving at 60, you could have hit them and no one would have died. But that is not what happened.

Creating a New Normal

I remember the day the police came to the door. It was like taking a pendulum and swinging it so far the other way. Our normal, happy life, had just been hit but Huricane Katrina. Everything we had built and worked for seemed unimportant. It seemed as if any glimpse of happy was gone forever.

Fast forward two years. The pendulum has swung back and is settling into a new normal. I don't think it will ever level out. I am not sure if normal is the correct word for me…it is the words all the books use.

The kids are each handeling it in their own way. Some of them have told all of their friends and some of them have not even told their closest friends. The friends that have been around for years, of course they know and we simply don't talk about it. Or I should say, THEY don't talk about it. I talk about it (meaning Phil) all the time.

Handeling Grief with Grace

One day while talking to a friend, I heard myself saying I wanted to learn to handle grief with grace. When I think of grace I think of being polite, classy, poised. I looked it up in the dictonary and this is what I found. Grace: a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward. When I read this, I realized that it would take me years to not be awkward with Phils death. A sobbing mother is anything but attractive and smooth.

I asked myself, so I want to look good? Was this really about looking good? No. I want to FEEL graceful. I want to feel smooth and move through it in an attractive way.

Reality Check about Grief

The feelings are anything but graceful. They are awkward, rough, volitile, ugly. As I realized what grace truly was about, I stopped and said, I don't need to look good doing this. All I need to do is be true to myself and regain my strength. I can show others that things don't have to look good to be effective. I have come to realize that grief is natural, normal. It is the biggest part of life we all must one day face. Each of us knows comming in that there might not be a tomorrow.

So I will awkwardly walk this walk and accept your hand. I know when I meet strangers and friends alike and I tell them what has happened, they have a knowing inside. The tears well up, they have either lost someone close to them or they have a realziation that in this life, if you live long enough, you will lose someone you cannot imagine life without. It doesn't have to be graceful. There is not right or wrong when it comes to grieving. It can look how it looks. As Phillip used to say, "It's all good mom."

So if you are grieving. It is awkward. You will drop the ball, checkout and get angry. You will most likely ask why and may even blame yourself from time to time. This is all part of the new normal. Part of the muddling through. Part of the awkwardness.

What Grace Really is

For me…the grace isn't about looking good for others. It has become about being plesant with myself. Not eating myself to death, not compounding problems by drinking excessive amounts of wine. I love my life and this is why it was so difficult to lose Phil as I loved his life too. For me…the grace is about being plesant with myself, being okay with myself and not being awkward with myself.

So now, I strive to have grace with myself. In otherwords, when grief comes up and I blame myself, get angry or chip away at me, I stop and say, is this a plesant way of behaving with MYSELF? Is this making things smooth for me? Will this make me feel attractive? To me, this is grieving with grace.

 
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The Thursday before My Life Changed Forever

Two years ago today, Paul and I were dancing with Ava. She was barely walking and boy did she like to dance with Papa and Gigi! She thought it was so cool to be able to spin around and dance.

Phillip and Sam and just moved into their new apartment and Paul, Josephine and I were out on doctors appointments for the followup on Josies brain tumor. We called Phil to see if he was home and he was and not only was he home, he had the baby. We headed over to see both of them and the new place.

It was an ordinary day. Looking back it was one of those days that now seems extraordinary because it was just so ordinary and yet so special. I remember walking out on his deck and talking about all the landscaping he was going to do for the apartment complex. They had agreed to allow him to do landscaping in place of his rent and he was very excited about this. I always called him my little entrepreneur. He would find jobs and make money doing all sorts of things.

Paul and I had worked hard the previous year to regain our health. We had both released a lot of weight and we able to keep up with the baby. We turned the music on and danced. All of it is on video…all of it except Phil. You can hear his voice in the background and at one point he puts his foot on the table and you can see it. We were focused on the baby.
That Thursday we spent two hours with our son. I had no way of knowing it would be my last time with him. When we left, he was holding the baby and I gave him an awkward hug.

"I love you Phil." I said.

"I love you too mom." He replied.

As we were driving away, my mothers heart must have known at some level. I told Paul to stop the car. He stopped and asked what was wrong. I told him I needed to go back. He looked at me as if I was crazy. Then he asked why.

"I need to go back and hold Phil and tell him how much I love him." I said

"You just did that." He said.

I said, "No, I need to do it good. I didn't do it good because he was holding the baby."
"He knows you love him Shelly, it is fine, plus we are going to be late for the movie." He said.

I thought about it and agreed. It did seem silly. I was just there. He knew I loved him. Why now?

My answer came two days later when the police showed up at our home. It seems like yesterday and yet it seems like it has been going on forever. It is such a draining experience

I have worked a lot today. I want to avoid the thoughts. I know that significance is assigned by me. Today is just Thursday, right? The Thursday before the Holiday weekend. Just another day.

For me is the Thursday before Phil died. The last time I ever touched him or saw him. It has significance to me.

Just an ordinary Thursday. That's all it was and yet it is more special to me than most other days. It was the last time I heard his voice, touched him, smelled him. I hope today when you are with your kids you will stop to smell their hair and allow your hug to linger. You never know when your ordinary day can turn extraordinary.

I love you Phil. Love, Mom

 
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