Stain

I close my eyes and see your body on Maximum Life Support.
I’m instructing nurses to turn off the machine.
The single hardest thing a mom has ever done.

I get up and clean the kitchen until I’m tired.

I close my eyes and see your lifeless body in that box; an image that never leaves.
I hear the monks chanting to help you on your way.
“Make happy wishes” they say.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I mop the floors until they shine.
Maybe now I can rest; sleep for just a short time.

I close my eyes and see our hands push the button to light the flames as your cold body enters the cremation chamber.
No mother should have to say goodbye this way.

Wall washing occupies my time.

Don’t. Fall. Asleep.

I close my eyes and see myself on the Longtail boat with the monk in Kantiang Bay. Spreading your ashes.
The waves take you away.

I clean the mirrors, hoping for another view.

I close my eyes and see the sparrow, you. Landing in my hands at the service on the beach.
I knew it was your way of saying goodbye.

Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

I close my eyes and see the butterfly, you. Landing on my butterfly tattoo of your eyes.
Crying as you flutter away.

I’ve cleaned the house so many times. Anything to keep from closing my eyes.

I take a shower but can’t get clean.
Tears the only way to wash away the pain.

My broken heart casts a sheen on everything.

Grief leaves a permanent stain.

~ Jen Troyer, August 2020

Eggshells

Why are we expected to avoid conflict by hiding our emotions?

I saw a meme today that said, “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace you start a war inside yourself.”

When you are feeling unseen, unheard, unwelcome, or even unloved, why isn’t it okay to have a temporary yet bad reactionary moment? Why is it not okay to stand up and say out loud, “I am hurting and this is what I need from you”? Why do we have to tiptoe out of fear that if we don’t eloquently display our disapproval and disappointment, they will pack their bags and leave? Since when do we have to be, and do, and say the exact prescribed monologue written for us 100% of the time?

Not even one of us is a perfect Human specimen. We are expected to make mistakes. Mistakes and flaws, and yes, honest apologies, make us Human. We are allowed to have emotional relapses where we aren’t fully and completely in control of how we react to an unfortunate situation. No, this shouldn’t be our resting state, our normal, all-day, everyday state of mind. But who the hell invented this notion that you must always say the perfect thing and hide your true feelings about something just because it may potentially piss someone off? Why must we hide who we are?

Why is it okay to openly say, “I love you” or “I’m so happy with us,” but it’s not okay to say, “I’m disappointed. The last-minute change of plans, without considering how I feel, really frustrates me.” Why do we have to put on a happy face and pretend we aren’t disappointed? Why can’t we be imperfect Humans?

We can not be expected to constantly spew rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns. That’s not real life. That’s the kind of performance pedestal we’re bound to fall off of.

A boy may be as disagreeable as he pleases, but when a girl refuses to crap sunshine on command, the world mutters darkly about her moods. ~ Scott Lynch

Well, you got that right, Scotty!

Disappointment is inevitable in any kind of relationship, so why do we, especially as women, feel the need to apologize for expressing that disappointment? For Christ’s sake, why can’t we all just be real with each other 100% of the fucking time, even when it’s absolutely uncomfortable?! Those are the very moments when we can truly see each other and work together on our problems as a team. Why can’t it be “You and me against the problem” instead of “You against me”? Jesus, we teach our children that Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Why can’t we as adults, embrace the same?

How can we say we love each other, when we expect the other to hide their true feelings? In my world, that’s not love; that’s called Conditional Approval. That’s the agreement that I am worthy of your love, when I display only your preferred and pre-approved emotions. That is not love. That, friends, is fucking control.

When I love you, I love all of you. The good, the bad, the ugly, even the messy. I will love it all… until it kills me. Just as I will never half-ass love you, I will not accept half-ass and conditional love in return. Be all in or get all out!

Anyone who knows me knows I wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t have a big wardrobe, but I do own a lot of flip flops, and a lot of boots, and I’ll tell you this right now: Neither are suitable for walking on eggshells.

This warrior spirit of mine will move on. No one needs to climb to get beyond the walls I’ve built around my heart.  Hell, I’ll probably toss them a ladder. I will let someone in again. I will fall hard, and I will fall fast because that’s what I do. I’ve been hurt a lot, but I always get back up. That saying, “I know what I bring to the table, so trust me, I’m not afraid to dine alone,” damn, that speaks volumes, and this self-made woman isn’t taking anymore shit!

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. ~ Gloria Steinem

~ Jen Troyer, July 2020

Crying Uncle

There are days when the universe forces you to feel All.The.Shit. Every little bit. You’re thinking, “Oh, my god. I’m so fucking healed. Look at how capable I am of being normal.” But something comes along and breaks your toes, twists your arm behind your back, urges you to cry “uncle.” It reminds you: Oh, sweetie. You ain’t even close to being fixed. Here. Let me put this noun in front of you.

Person

place

thing

…whatever

You’re so hungry you’ll eat it up. We all eat lies when we’re starving.

Infatuation

Desperation

Trepidation  

Let me give you a taste of what happiness could feel like. If you were normal.

The illusion

Your delusion

Your fucked up, messy life’s infusion

of chaos  

You’ll never be full. You avoided friction. Couldn’t fix your little girl’s addiction.  And now you’ll try to heal the pain with literally anything.

Sell it

Build it

Decorate it

Eat it

Drink it

Fuck it

Divorce it

Shampoo

Rinse

Repeat

Rest your head, mama. Take a break. Dry your pillow. Sleep. Dream of a do-over. You can’t fix this. Grief requires your full attention.

You will survive this. What is normal anyway? You are a goddess. It was not your fault.

~ Jen Troyer, May 2020

Fixing Grief

It’s been 14 months and 3 days since my daughter died. Her 28th birthday is tomorrow. They say the first of anything is the hardest. I disagree. Sarah’s 27th birthday was only nine weeks after she died. Nothing seemed real those first few months. There have been a lot of firsts in the last year: The first of my son’s birthdays without his sister (just 2.5 weeks later), the first of her birthdays, the first Mother’s Day, the first Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Summer, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, New Year…

The first anniversary of her death was by far the hardest and luckily, I’ll never have that first again. This second birthday without her though… it’s just so damn final. She still doesn’t answer when I call, and she still doesn’t respond to my texts. Yes, I really do still message and call her. She’s really gone. She really isn’t coming back.         

There is no “fixing” grief. People try so hard to get me to move on. They say nice things, they say meaningful things, they sometimes say insensitive things; for the most part, they truly are trying to be helpful. These people love me, but they don’t understand. I can only hope they’ll never understand. Understanding would mean their baby died too.

Someone extremely close to me said something to the effect of, “I don’t think you’re where you should be in grief. I just don’t understand.” Her words came out of love for me, I knew this. Instead of being compassionate with her at the time, I felt nothing but rage. I just wanted to scream, “There is not a 12-step grief program that will heal me!” The truth is nothing can heal me. I am not the same person I was fourteen months ago. How can I be?

Grief changes everything. I look different. Wrinkles are more pronounced, hair is greyer, I’ve lost weight, even my boobs are smaller. The change is far greater than just my looks. I feel different. There is always a heaviness in the background. The heaviness changes, it gets lighter, but it’s never gone. The panic attacks are fewer, down to about one every 5-10 days instead of daily or a few times daily. I’m finally at the point where I don’t feel guilt every time I smile or laugh.

My bullshit meter is on high alert. There are people I simply can’t be bothered to have a relationship with. Sometimes I bite my tongue. Other times I can’t devote energy into using a verbal filter. You’re not comfortable with my tears? Darn. You don’t like how I choose to deal with grief? Cool. You’d do it differently if your kid died? Super. Oh, your cat died and that was devastating? Awesome. Fuck off.

I’ve always been able to find the best in anyone. Truly. I still can – but only if I care enough to look deeper. Usually though, I just don’t. The thing is, there are all kinds of grief. I know this. I can’t even fathom my mother dying, yet I know at some point even she will go, and that too will be gutting and eternally life altering. We grieve all kinds of loss. A parent, a spouse, a sibling, a pet, a job, etc. I don’t want to wear this pain as a badge of honor, but there are times I simply can’t put on the fake smile to make you feel better about my loss. And that’s what it is, really; making other people feel better. People look at me differently. They walk on eggshells. They don’t mention her name because it may bring up hard emotions or memories. Trust this honey, there isn’t a single moment of my day that Sarah isn’t on my mind. I couldn’t forget her if I wanted to. Mentioning her name doesn’t remind me of her; it lets me know you care.

There are temporary feelings of relief, sometimes even happiness, but I’ve learned there is no cure. I’ve learned that you can’t drink it away, you can’t laugh it away, you can’t screw it away. You can’t even cry it away. It’s just always there, close to the surface. It does get slightly lighter over time. You don’t even realize it until you look back over the first year, and wonder, “Holy hell. How on Earth have I survived?”

I miss my Sarah. I miss her voice, her laugh, her sense of humor, her love of animals, her compassion… I miss having hope that she’d get better. I miss wishing good things for her. I miss comforting her, stroking her hair and her nose. I miss her dark eyes that looked straight into my soul. I miss being her Mommie.  I just… I miss loving the living Sarah.

I had a dark moment a few months ago. I started to change my will one night as the darkest of thoughts took over. I just couldn’t conceive feeling that amount of pain any longer. It was a Saturday night during a quick month-long trip back home to Seattle over the holidays. No one knew the struggle I was having but friends felt it was odd for me to miss a Saturday night out. Just then a friend called and several of us group-chatted about football, our beloved Seahawks, dating, etc. I laughed out loud. When we got off the phone, I couldn’t stop laughing. I went from the depths of hell to feeling immense joy in a single 20-minute phone call. This group of friends had no idea they were rescuing me. They didn’t just save me that night; they changed my grief. They unknowingly gave me the beautiful gift of JOY that I hadn’t felt in nearly a year. They gave me hope for better days.

Grief is agony but goddamn if it doesn’t make you savor each meaningful moment. Hug your people. Never miss an opportunity to tell them you love them. Don’t be afraid of saying how much you care. Risk your heart. Risk it all.

I started writing this as some kind of guide to other grieving parents. Through the therapeutic act of writing, I now realize this is for me. Someday I won’t be in survival mode. Someday I will read this again and look back at how far I’ve come. Someday I will heal.

~ Jen Troyer, 13 April 2020

Feeling it

The Monk Chanted poem written by Jennifer L Troyer April 2019

Some days are heavier than others.

My first thought when I woke up today was, “I should call Sarah. I haven’t talked to her in weeks”. I was startled at the harsh reality that you died 10 weeks ago today. I laid in bed for the first two hours crying with stunned guilt for forgetting momentarily, only while I was asleep, that you’re gone. That you’re never coming back.

There’s so much left for us to discuss. So many memories we’ve yet to make. So many stories left to tell. Remembering all the times I wanted desperately to give you advice, but knew you just needed the opportunity to figure things out on your own. To be your own woman. When you needed advice, you asked for it, so I just tried to stay quiet. I was quietly listening and waiting.

I had a sixth sense with you. I knew when you were hurting. I knew when you were in trouble. I knew when someone had broken your heart. I knew when you needed me. I knew these things even when we were 10,000 miles apart.

You knew honesty and trust were the most important things to me. I reminded you of it all the time. I knew when you were full of shit. When you were little (and even when you were 26 years old), I knew when you were about to lie. You had a tell. You’d start a sentence with, “So…”. You lied out of some need to protect me. Or maybe it was out of a desire to avoid disappointing me.

I wish the doctors lied. I wish the Medical Examiner lied. I wish seeing you on Life Support was a lie. I wish touching your cold face at the funeral home was a lie. I wish the ashes I held in my hands were a lie.

I keep hoping you’ll call. I wish I’d saved your voice messages. Sometimes I hear your laugh or the annoying way you’d say “Mommmmm” when you thought I wasn’t paying attention. I was always paying attention.

There’s a void that simply can’t be filled. I’ve tried filling it with travels, with meditation, with music, with friends, with books, movies, and alcohol. Except for a weekend trip, I’ve stayed put the last few weeks, knowing I need to feel all of this.

I’m here. I’m feeling it. In fact, I don’t want to stop feeling it. I’m afraid if I stop feeling the pain of your absence, the memories will leave and you’ll be gone forever. But you, my sweet Sarah, you are unforgettable.

~ Jen Troyer, April 2019

Sarah’s Release – Ash Scattering Ceremony

On Sarah’s 27th birthday, I had a Buddhist Ash Scattering Ceremony at my beloved Kantiang Bay in Thailand with a local monk. Many of my Ko Lanta friends joined me as the monk blessed my daughter’s ashes. Below is what I said:

Sarah Jordan Troyer was born at 9:41 pm on April 14th, 1992. She was due two weeks earlier on April Fool’s Day. But as was typical for Sarah, she had her own schedule. For two weeks before she was born, I exercised, I did jumping jacks, I ran on the treadmill, I even got in a hot tub to try to get this kid out of me. At one point during the 36 hours of hard labor (without drugs, mind you), I stood on the bed, screamed and cursed at the doctor and nurses and pleaded with them to cut my head off and take the baby out through my neck. Four hours later, just as I was about to give up, my beautiful, bouncing 9 pound 8 ounce baby girl with a full head of auburn hair was born. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was only 20 years old.

This baby saved me. I worked hard and I made good choices, knowing the trajectory of her life was solely in my hands. Coming home to her each night was the best. Looking back, I still have no idea how I did it. Working full time, practically being a child myself, while raising this smart, inquisitive, passionate, and very strong-willed child on my own. It was a beautifully daunting task. My mom always said I’d have a daughter just like me someday. Momma was right.

It was me and her against the world. We laughed, we sang, we danced, nearly every day of her childhood. We turned dining room tables into our own personal surf boards as we danced to The Beach Boys. We’d listen to the heartbreaking sounds of Nina Simone while Sarah asked me about The Blues, Jazz, Religion, Love, and books. Even as a little girl, she understood that music was everything. That when you’re happy you understand the music, but when you’re sad you understand the lyrics. Sarah always understood the lyrics.

When Sarah was four years old, she didn’t speak for nearly a year: instead she sang everything to the tune from The Little Mermaid. Somehow, we both survived that phase, just as we’d survived the Barney years, the Teletubbies era, and even the heartbreaking teenage years. We survived because we had each other.

At 9 years old, her teachers wanted her to skip a grade or two. She was wicked smart. I didn’t allow it. I was only 16 when I finished high school so I knew all too well that growing up too soon could be a disaster.

At 13, Sarah was accepted into a high school for “high achievers” who had an art portfolio and a good GPA. Writing was Sarah’s art. If I could go back in time and change only one thing, I would have sent her to a different school. This is where she started using heroin at the tender age of 14. I won’t go into the details. I will just say, Sarah struggled with heroin addiction for the next 13 years. Now my baby girl is gone.

Please, do not think of my daughter as just a heroin addict. She was so much more. She always had wonder in her eyes. She’d give anything she had to anyone in need. Every single animal she ever met loved her. She could make anyone laugh at any time. And she was my light.

It took Sarah 36 hours to come into this world. It took her body 36 hours to leave it, even on maximum life support. Today is 63 days since her passing. In tarot numerology, each of these numbers add up to a 9, which is The Hermit. The Hermit is always going off alone in search of spiritual wisdom. I hope Sarah is now free to find what she’s been looking for.

They say love conquers all. The phrase is well intentioned but it’s false. If love conquered all, Sarah would be alive and well. Sarah was loved immensely. **I** loved her immensely. And she loved back, fully and completely. When Sarah loved you, you knew it. You could feel her love from across the world.

I hope you can feel a little of my daughter’s love today – just as I can feel yours.

I read something about grief, which said, “You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to see your grief, to acknowledge it. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life. Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

Thank you for being here and for helping me carry this grief. I love you all.

I’ll conclude with Sarah’s favorite poem, I carry your heart, by EE Cummings:

I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)

I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope, or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

Jen Troyer ~ April 2019

Did you know?

The loss of hope. That’s the worst. I thought I’d given up all hope. It wasn’t until you died that I realized there was a reservoir. That I always thought you’d get better. Perhaps one more rehab. Perhaps each relapse would be your last. And it was your last, but not with a bright outcome.

Your moments of clarity, of longing to do better. A hankering to shake the addiction. Those moments when you were so very yourself. Those were the moments I lived for, Sweetie. Seeing your strength, your compassion, your kindness, your humor, your love of family. You were so highly functioning that we tended to momentarily forget your dark suffering.

I’m so afraid people will only remember you as an addict. Not as the girl with wonder in her eyes. The girl who’d give anything she had to anyone in need. The girl who never met an animal that didn’t fall in love with her. The girl who could make anyone laugh, and always unexpectedly. The girl who questioned everything – and I loved you for it.

I know you hated disappointing me, but did you know? Did you know I was so proud of you? That stubborn streak, which you got from me, that fire that always burned in your eyes. Wanting the world to be a better place. Wanting to help make it a better place. Did I tell you enough that I was so proud of those parts of you? Did you know that I knew family was the most important thing to you? Did I tell you enough that you meant everything to me? Did I tell you enough that with all my accomplishments, the single greatest thing I ever did was raise my two beautiful children? That’s what I thank my lucky stars for. That’s always been the most beautiful part of my life. Did you know?

Did you know how many times you saved me? As a young twenty something year old mother, coming home to you kept me from making bad decisions. Day in and day out, I just wanted to be the best mommie for you. When you were six you asked me what Reincarnation meant, asked if I believed in it, and asked if you could come back as an animal. You told me if you were ever reincarnated, you’d come back as a butterfly so you would always be beautiful and would bring beauty to me whenever I was sad. I said, “But daughters don’t die before their momies, silly”. Maybe you knew.

I know I failed you in many ways. Perhaps if I hadn’t, you’d still be here. Maybe if I’d told you one more time how much I love you. Then maybe you would have shaken the addiction. Then maybe you wouldn’t have given up. Then maybe you’d have come home to me. I recited the 4 C’s so many fucking times over the years: I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Control it, I can’t Cure it, and I can’t Condone it. It became my mantra. That and, “You won’t love my child to death”. Jesus, what if my mantra had been more positive?

What if I’d known when I saw you last, on Christmas Day, that it was the last time I’d ever see you alive? When you removed Marah’s necklace with her ashes and asked me to put it in my safe, I was worried. I asked you what it meant. You told me it meant “put it in your effing safe”. But Sweetie, if I’d known, really known… I would have held you longer. I would have asked you the hard questions; the ones you hated talking about. I would have asked anyway. I would have said I’m sorry. I would have told you how much you inspired me. I would have told you how proud I was to be your mom. I would have begged you to stay longer.

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve – that’s what I’m left with.

Honestly, I expected a phone call from a hospital or a morgue many times over the years. I WAS NOT PREPARED. I’d been in Thailand less than two hours when I got the call. There can be no preparation for THE CALL. “Your daughter was brought in as Ursula Doe and is on ‘Maximum Life Support’. Her heart stopped at least two hours before an ambulance was even called. Sarah as you knew her will never leave this hospital. Your daughter is brain dead. We can’t declare her dead until she’s warm and dead. We’ll keep her body warm for you until you can get here. ”

But I didn’t get there in time. For 36 hours I watched your body via video chat with my sisters. I watched our whole family say their goodbyes. I said my goodbye over video chat. Over fucking video chat! Who does that?! We turned the machines off and within 5 minutes your body was dead. 10 minutes later I left for the airport. Thanks to the freak snow storm and a back-up at the Medical Examiner’s office, it would be another 8 days before I could see your body and say goodbye in person.

I had 15 minutes with you. I looked at all your tattoos, hoping they weren’t yours. Selfishly wishing that was someone else’s dead 26-year-old baby girl lying there. I begged the Universe to take somebody else’s, anybody else’s child instead. When my deal with the devil didn’t work, the memories of you as a little girl with stars in your eyes came flooding back. I had 15 minutes to stroke your hair, your forehead, your eyebrows and your nose, just like when you were little and would drift off to sleep. It was almost like you were sleeping then. Since I didn’t have your body embalmed, when I held your hand, your fingers fell over mine. We were holding hands. Sweetie, did you know I was there? Did you hear me say it was okay to go? The hardest words I’ve ever spoken.

We had four Thai Buddhist Monks bless your body before cremation. They chanted the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard, helping you to transition to your next life, if there is one. They told me to make “happy wishes” so you could transition in peace, knowing I’d be okay. But Sweetie, I’m not okay. Sarah, I don’t think I’ll ever be okay.

The rest of the world is walking around, living their lives, oblivious to your absence. I want to scream at them. I want to make them remember your name and shout at the top of their lungs, SARAH, SARAH, SARAH! Maybe if we all scream your name at the same time, you’ll come back. But you won’t. I want them all to know about the great black, gaping, cavernous hole your absence has left in my very being. And I know I’m not the only one. Your brother, your oma and opa, your aunts and uncle, your dear friends, we’re all shaken. We all love you so much. We all had hope.

But hope is gone. My reservoir is empty. My heart is shattered. The Earth’s axis is off! Nothing is aligned properly. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t bury their children. This is wrong! I’ve joined the secret club of parents who’ve outlived their children. I never liked secret clubs.

The words ringing in my ears these last six weeks are the end of the poem Funeral Blues:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I know life will go on. I know I’ll eventually get used to the pain. Like stomach ulcers, you just get used to it. But I don’t believe “Time heals all wounds”, “It was God’s will”, or any of the other absurd things well-intentioned yet incredibly naïve people say out of their desperate desire to be comforting. For now, I’m just going to feel this pain instead of burying it. Remember burying it? That thing we both perfected over the years? That stops with me. I’m changing it now.

According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the final bardo you see all these people making love but there’s one particular couple you’re drawn to. As you approach them, there’s a bright light. This is the moment of your conception, the moment you’ve chosen your parents for your next life. This is your rebirth.

My therapist reminded me of the final bardo and said she believes you chose me to be your mother. That no other woman could have taken this journey with you, while setting healthy boundaries, without ever giving up on you, without ever losing hope, and yet still loving you the exact way you needed to be loved. Who knows, maybe it’s all complete bullshit. But I take great comfort in thinking how completely and utterly lucky I am that I got to share this journey with you for nearly 27 years. I’m out of hope but I’m not out of love. I will love you eternally. And I promise to never forget you.

Thank you for allowing me the great privilege of being your mom. Thank you for choosing me.

Jen Troyer ~ March 2019