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February 2019

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

If you follow me on Facebook, you know these last few days were tricky for me. I ended up sick the first day into February vacation (curse of the teacher life lol) and in those following days I was tired and rundown and thinking got the best of me. I had Luke Inwood on my brain and the sad thoughts were flooding my daylight hours. The back end of the week brought love and light and my heart was lifted, but February continues to mark the beginning of my “anniversary road”.

Coming into the first anniversary of a loved one’s death is fraught with pitfalls. I believe energetically you start ramping up your defenses in preparation for your “Day”. The anticipation of that day and thinking about how you will handle it and worrying about your emotions can be very overwhelming. Add in concern over how everyone else is going to handle The Day and it takes matters to a whole other level. What is John’s mood going to be? What is Logan thinking? Are the kids all going to come over? Should we be alone or should we invite everyone? What exactly do we do? All these questions swirl around as you try and navigate the day and all the emotions that entails.

There is no handbook on how to best handle the day that destroyed your heart. It’s not like you want to celebrate. It’s not like you want to spend the whole day crying, either. But it does need to be recognized. Like the birth of our children, their loss marks a turning point in our lives – both an end and a beginning as who we are will never be the same.

Leading up to the one year anniversary of Luke’s death I was a wreck. Yes, I had the distraction of school and the children, and yes, Billy was fueling me with those daily hugs, but what you don’t know before loss is that you relive every. single. moment. leading up to the day they passed away. It’s like going through the whole thing another time. Luke had so many pivotal moments between February vacation and April 15th that I felt like every day was a reminder of his pain and focusing on it broke my heart a second time. I remember posting on Twitter the song Unsteady by the XAmbassadors because it captured exactly how I was feeling leading into the big day. One of the lads reached out to say “ME TOO” and I knew we were all in for one heck of a walk down memory lane.

Hold on, hold on to me, ’cause I’m a little unsteady….

So here’s what I need you to know: If you are starting down the path to the anniversary of your loved one’s death, you might be asking “What fresh hell is this?!” And it’s true. The only thing more difficult than losing a piece of your heart the first time, is feeling like you are losing them all over again. The hard truth is… you can’t avoid it so I wouldn’t try. I would, however, recommend Being gentle with yourself during this time. Do whatever feels right – sleep more, eat more, be alone more. Or the opposite of all that. Just really try to take care of you. Anyone who has survived almost 365 days without someone they love deserves a little TLC. Xxx

Milestones

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

So we are about to embark on the long journey down for Luke Inwood, but before we do I want to talk about the mind – body connection. I am often asked if there were any signs that Luke would take his own life and my response is always that there wasn’t just one thing, but a lifetime of things, one of which was his health.

As adults, we know when we are not ourselves. Tension headaches, grinding teeth, sore shoulders, upset stomachs and my personal favorite – irritable bowel syndrome – lol are a few of the ways our body tells us we are anxious or worried or overwhelmed and usually not dealing with it. We typically treat the symptoms until the symptoms become too much and then we go to a doctor and exclaim, “I don’t know why I am feeling this way, but…” No offense to the doctors, but sometimes they treat each condition in isolation and the end result is the true underlying mental condition – our fears, lack of self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, depression – keep on keeping on. I will be forever grateful to one Dr. Silva, who upon meeting me for the first time declared me perfectly healthy. This came after just finishing a brigade of tests to figure out why I was having debilitating stomach issues. “I can’t recommend another test,” he told me, “but I can recommend an excellent therapist.” And BOOM! With that statement echoing in my brain, I realized that I was the cause of my own discomfort.

Adults are not the only ones who suffer from the mind-body connection. Upset tummies, headaches or trouble sleeping are often symptoms of anxiety in children. It’s when the symptoms are occurring frequently that we need to sound the alarms. I think the tricky thing as a parent is we take one day at a time, one emergency at a time and don’t always see the big picture when it comes to anxiety. Luke Inwood – case in point: Luke started with weirdo skin things as a little kid. Mosquito bites that would turn into full blown infections, for example. They even diagnosed him with TB when we first moved to the States! He had tons of troubles with his tonsils and would get a million sore throats. Once middle school began he started having incredibly painful stomach issues. We spent countless hours at the specialists over that one. He was always hurt – a shoulder, a finger, a pulled leg muscle. And could that boy chew his nails! When the stomach stuff started happening I would encourage Luke to stop and think about what might be bothering him. His reaction, of course, was daggers from the eyes and an insistence that he wasn’t worried about anything. We all know now that wasn’t the case. Sometimes anxiety, like with panic attacks, is obvious. Most times… it’s just not that simple to get to the root of the problem.

So here’s what I need you to know: My life changed for the better when I finally realized that it was my thoughts that were causing my health issues. Problem was, I was FORTY-TWO! I had spent a lifetime with my anxiety getting the better of me. I am not going to preach about how you should handle your health or your child’s health, but I will say this: Don’t ignore it. Get help from a physician. Think about global themes that trigger health issues. And please, please, please don’t overlook the power of our Brains. Especially in our children and in our teens. We need to help one another understand that Anxiety and Depression have physical components that we need to accept and recognize so we can better treat them and get ahead of the problem. And as much as we think about feeding our bodies to stay strong, we also need to teach our children, and ourselves, to feed our brains to be strong. Positive self talk, lots of loving relationships, acceptance. As George Costanza would say – “Serenity Now!” Xxx

I need you to know

I Need A Hero

Behind the anniversary of your loved one’s death, and holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day, Winter ranks as one of the hardest things to get through while grieving. The hours of sunlight are diminished, everything out your window looks bare and desolate, and the long, cold, dark nights seem to mimic the feeling of emptiness in your heart.

You couldn’t pay me to go back and relive my first winter. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to get through. Christmas had been difficult and although I couldn’t wait to return home from Canada, every day in January was one more day without Luke, one more day without Luke, one more day without Luke. I don’t usually mind the quietness of this time of the year. In fact, if you know me well, you know I like time to myself to reflect, read, hibernate. Unfortunately, thinking is not the friend of the grieving mind and I spent most nights doing just that. The what-ifs and the why me thoughts circled like wolves around the wounded. It is difficult to feel so vulnerable.

Cue my boy Eric who texts me one night and asks if he and a friend can come over to visit -which they do. The friend is Billy Oser – A young man who had hung out with Luke at school, but whom I had only met one time when Luke still walked the planet. We have a wonderful night laughing and sharing stories and at some point it comes up that Billy is not in school and is unsure about next his next steps. Coincidentally (or not!) we were in need of a custodian while our regular guy was out on leave after a snow blower, well, let’s call it an incident. lol Billy accepted and life as I knew it changed irrevocably.

Billy is a throwback. He is a peace-loving, man-bun wearing, live in a VW, save the animals kind of guy. You can picture it, right? He always looks like he just rolled out of bed because he probably just did lol. The boy loves a good laugh, a great uncharted adventure, and back in the day, a cigarette. Curse you e-cigs! I honestly didn’t know that much about him when he first started at BES, but our days quickly fell into a pattern. We would always start the day with a hug: which turned into a first thing, last thing, in the middle of the day thing. lol I found out later that before he met me, Billy wasn’t really a hugger. My how things change. 🙂 He worked hard at his job so I didn’t see much of him till 3 at which time he would come into my classroom and we would talk. About everything and about nothing. We shared histories, regrets, dreams. We also shared about Luke.

It came out during one of these talks that Billy was with Luke the Monday before he took his life. Billy, I am sorry if I misremember this. Damn grieving brain ruins your memory. Anyway, as I recall, Billy explained that they spent longer than usual at lunch block that day while Luke told him about being on Adderall and how much it messed up his head. Luke talked to him about some of the struggles he had been having lately and Billy felt like Luke had really opened up and that the conversation had brought them closer. They even joked about how they would have to have another talk like this again. But the next day he was gone.

Billy lives with this now. This feeling that maybe if he had been paying more attention he could have said something or done something to change the course of Luke’s path. I am not sure I agree. What I do know is that in my winter of hell, Billy Oser showed up and let me hug him and talk to him and share my heart. He took the place of the seventeen year old that I was so desperately missing and graciously, generously let me love on him. When I asked Billy once why he thought our relationship became so close so quickly he replied, “I might not have been able to save one Inwood, but just maybe I can save another.”

So Here’s what I need you to know: There is an expression that states that ‘Grief is love with nowhere to go’ and I truly believe it. If you are in your first or second or third Winter of hell, try and find someone or something to pour all that pent up love into. Maybe it’s a grandchild, maybe it’s a neighbor, maybe it’s a charity. I wouldn’t have made it through that first Winter without Billy Oser by my side. Facts. I wasn’t strong enough to take on the emotions of loss and was instead able to focus on the emotions of love and love is greater every time. If you don’t have your own hero, maybe Billy Oser is available. He might be late lol, but he will always be there. I love you, Billy, and a million thank yous. Xxx

The FIrst Days, Things that help

Let’s Go Green

I have been putting off writing about Pop Warner because.. well… the memories and the emotions run deep. The fields where Luke and Logan played football for so many years are the only place I haven’t been able to go back to since Luke died. But here it is, Super Bowl weekend, and football is everywhere you look and I can’t seem to think about anything else.

Coming from Canada, we didn’t even know football was a thing for little people until our neighbors, Ryan and Brian, Luke’s idols when he was younger, joined Pop Warner the summer Luke was six. They spent days *working out* doing relays in the backyard and practicing their push-ups and jumping jacks and Luke loved to both watch and participate. We went to support the boys at a playoff game in Worcester and Luke was hooked. The next year when he was old enough to play he wanted to sign up.

If you aren’t familiar with Pop Warner football, the sport starts in August. The kiddos begin with a mandatory conditioning camp and then they practice four nights a week for the remainder of the month. When I took my sweet seven year old that first year and watched as 200 boys stood in lines and did drills reminiscent of military boot camp I was scared shitless. What the heck had I signed my child up for? This was too tough for my little sweetie!

Turns out football spoke to something in Luke’s soul. Not conditioning camp, of course. lol Inwoods were not built for running! Both of my boys spent more time in the first aid camp then in the actual drills and Becky would always take good care of them and encourage them to keep at it. Love you, Becky! But Luke loved to analyze the game and he had the instincts to calculate where the play was going to go and he loved to tackle. He also loved the camaraderie that came from working together to get the W. And cheerleaders, he loved cheerleaders, especially the other team’s, but that’s a story for another day. 🙂

Pop Warner affected Luke, and our family, in so many ways. I can’t think about Pop Warner and not think about the coaches. Kevin Adams, Joel Lemoine, and Sham all had tremendous impact on both my boys. Kevin brought the discipline and character, Joel brought the heart, and God bless Coach Sham who teased and pushed and loved Luke through all his years of football. If you can imagine, when Luke first started ball it was Sham’s goal to get Luke to talk! Luke loved his coaches and would do whatever they asked. They were like surrogate dads and it about near broke my heart when they all showed up at Luke’s wake.

I can’t think about Pop Warner and not think about the weight. Ugh. Inwoods are not built thin and every summer both boys would have to spend August giving up ice cream and snacks and taking on Slim Fast. Now don’t judge me lol They wanted to play and they wanted to play with their friends. Logan ended up moving up a division so he wouldn’t have to worry about the weight issue, but Luke really wanted to stay with his lads. And as the parents, well, you do what you can to help your kiddos follow their dreams. I don’t think the dieting came without a cost, however. Both of my boys had a heightened awareness of their physical appearance and this probably launched Luke’s dislike of his body in middle school. Still, I think if you could ask Luke if it was worth it you would get a resounding hell ya.

I can’t think about Pop Warner and not think about the kids. You become family when you spend so much time together. The Pop Warner team was Luke’s introduction to brotherhood (and sisterhood when girls played!) and that notion that you include one another and support one another through anything. There really is an incredible bond made on a sports field and I am grateful for all of the lads that Luke played with. There really are too many to name, but you know who you are. That I still get to see some of them at the King of the Courts tourney means the world.

The most important thing I believe Luke gained from Pop Warner was confidence. He had success starting in his second year as little eight year old Luke and Derek Shamlian would work to get that ball up and down the field. And truth is, once you feel good at something you don’t want to give that up. This team grew and exceled and went on to win a couple of championships (we have the much debated jackets to prove it lol) Some of my best memories are of standing on the sidelines yelling my head off with Shannon and cheering the lads on. We laughed, we cried, and we won a time or two. That damn Sterling field is like a living, breathing testament to the young man that Luke was and the dreams he held. And that, my friends, is why I can’t go back. There is a piece of Luke in every hill, every blade, every stone.

So here’s what I need you to know: I preach often lol about how important it is to help your child find and develop their passions. THEIR passions, not yours. 🙂 And when your kiddo figures it out, help them chase it with every thing you have. It doesn’t matter if they are any good, it only matters if they enjoy it. Because isn’t that what life is all about? Spending time with the people you love, doing the things you love most?

Someday, when I am ready, Tyler Arsenault has promised to go and sit on the big hill in Sterling, drink a beer with me, and tell funny Luke Inwood football stories. Someday. When I am Ready. Until then, Let’s Go Green.

The FIrst Days