Blog, Congenital Heart Defects

Grief (originally drafted December 21, 2016)


**This post was originally drafted on December 21, 2016 for my older blog.  It sat in the Drafts folder until today.  Since this was written a year ago, the time frames are off by a year.**

So it’s been over a year since I’ve published a blog post, and that’s mostly due to having two kids, a husband, a full time job, a part time job selling LuLaRoe Clothing, friends, and, in general, having a life. 

A post about my dad has been in the works, although I just didn’t know how to talk about him or what exactly I wanted to say.  But this whole post is dedicated to grief, and good Lord, I’m sure experiencing a lot of that.

For those of you who don’t already know, my dad committed suicide a little over 8 years ago.  He did it after unsuccessfully attempting almost a year prior to that.  At that point in time he wasn’t a huge part of my life.  He was an alcoholic and because of the choices he made while he was supposed to be caring for my sister and me, we had to stop seeing him.  As I became older and transitioned into being an adult, the situation just never seem to present itself to get together with him and re-establish a relationship.  Is this something I regret?  Yes, I’d say I definitely regret not trying to form some sort of relationship with him.  When he was in the hospital after his first attempt, I asked my mom to take me to see him.  I wanted to talk to him and I wanted him to see what I looked like.  I wanted to show him pictures of people who were in my life at the time.  Nothing could have prepared me for what he looked like after putting a bullet to his head.  I will never forget his distorted face.  Shortly after being released from the hospital, he hung himself in his garage.

I remember when my mom told me.  I was working at O’Malia’s and Chad and I (at the very beginning of our relationship) would go to L.A. Fitness after work.  I called my mom to let her know I’d be home after working out and she asked me to come straight home.  I knew something was going on, but had no idea what it could be.  She was crying when the words came out of her mouth.  I remember sitting there, not sure what I was supposed to think or say.  I remember the thoughts that went through my head: “If I would have seen him more or talked to him more, would he have done this?”  “If he weren’t an alcoholic, would he still be here?”  “What could I have done to prevent this from happening?”  “Am I supposed to cry?”  “Am I supposed to be mad?”  “Am I supposed to keep this a secret or am I allowed to talk to people about this?”  “Are people going to judge ME and not want to be around me anymore because of this?”

Eight years later, and no longer a young, immature adult, and I still think of those questions all the time.  I don’t think I ever really grieved his death.  I was so used to everyone telling me that it was “a selfish decision” and that he “doesn’t deserve me in his life anyway” that I just pushed all feelings aside.  You see, I really had NO idea how I was supposed to feel.

I don’t remember when exactly, but feelings and grief over my dad’s passing started creeping up on me sometime after having Ella, but the feeling really hit hard after having Callie.  Callie looks so much like my sister who looks so much like my dad, so maybe that’s why.  Maybe it’s the pictures and memories I see other grandpas making with their granddaughters on social media.  Maybe it’s because I’ve finally realized that no one can tell me how I’m supposed to feel about his passing.  Whatever the case, I’ve started grieving about my dad’s passing hard in this last year.  

I have very fond memories of him: taking us to Lonestar steakhouse and Red Lobster, buying us bunkbeds but ending up in his huge water bed every night, buying use several outfits at KMart to keep at his house, filling our piggy banks and counting the money every weekend, playing board games, and eating kiwi….so much kiwi.  Yes, he drank, and I very vididly remember that, but I also remember how much he loved us and spoiled us.  I look at my girls daily and can’t even imagine the love he would have for them.  I see him taking them to the zoo and shopping.  I see them wrapping him around their little fingers and talking him into doing all the things I wouldn’t let them do and buy them all the things I wouldn’t buy them.  Unfortunately, I’ll never know.  I’ll never see him with my girls.  And for that reason, I will grieve.

I’ve also been grieving over the loss of my best friend’s sweet Riley Marie.  If you haven’t read the post about her, the one about being the best friend to a heart mom, I encourage you to do so.  Katie and I became fast, fast friends when we met just 5 and a half years ago.  Most people would never guess we’ve only known each other for 5 years because we definitely act like we’ve known each other all our lives.  We were both trying to get pregnant at the same time, and did!  That alone bonded us in a special way.  She had Lucas 6 weeks before I had Ella.  We experienced so many of life’s special moments together and wondered through our first years of motherhood together.  She encouraged and supported me when I went through a miscarriage after having Ella, before having Callie.

We got pregnant with Callie and Riley about the same time, also.  I was due one month before her.  At her anatomy scan, they told her that Riley had a severely underdeveloped left side of her heart.  I’ll never forget reading that text message in my classroom.  I ran out and called her, wanting details.  What do you mean?  What does that mean for her?  For you?  At that time, she really didn’t have too many details, as they were waiting to see a specialist later that day.  You can catch the rest of the story on the other post.

Fast forward to early this year, it was decided that Riley needed a heart transplant.  She was officially listed, but because she was doing so well, she could wait at home!  Life changed for us.  Because Riley was on oxygen and rolling all over the place and because it could be detrimental to her health if she caught even a cold, we spent most of our time together at Katie’s house having playdates there, but not if either girl even had a runny nose.  I’d always ask about her therapy appointments, cardiology appointments, and her transplant appointments.  Without giving every detail, it was decided that Riley no longer needed a transplant because her lungs were healthy enough to try the second surgery!  This was great news!  I took the day off work to sit with Katie, Robbie, and the rest of their family for the very long open heart surgery.  I can’t remember exactly what they did to her heart, but it was about 10 hours or so from start to finish. 

When the surgeon came out at the end, he told us that Riley had to be placed on ECMO, which is basically heart and lung bypass to keep her alive.  After several days of this, she had to come off due to risks involved of being on ECMO for so long.  They took her off and things were up and down.  Her team eventually decided to relisted her for a heart transplant, at the highest need.  I went to the hospital to see Riley and Katie the day before Thanksgiving.  Riley was still under a lot of sedation meds but had just been extubated and was breathing mostly on her own.

Monday morning, on my way to work, I saw that I had a missed call from Katie’s mom.  I didn’t panic, but instead thought, “Yay!  Riley’s getting a heart!”  When I listened to the voicemail, minutes from the sitter’s house, my heart sank.  Cindy wasn’t calling to give me good news at all.  I called her back, frantic.  She sounded so far away, like what was happening was far from reality.  She said, “Riley didn’t make it.  She has passed away.”  I screamed at her, begging her to tell me this wasn’t true.  She told me I could come to the hospital.

I got to the sitter’s house hysterical.  I kept telling her, I just want to get these kids to school.  I held myself somewhat together as I drove Ella and her friend to school, knowing I needed to get us all there safely.  Once I dropped them off, I went to my safe place, my office where my friends are.  I was screaming, dry heaving, hyperventilating, crying, and collapsing while trying to tell my friends.  No one knew what to do.  I couldn’t think straight.  I wanted out of there, I wanted to be at the hospital with Katie.  My work family came together to hold me, hug me, scream and cuss with like I never imagined they would.  They saw me at my rawest moment.  They knew how much that sweet girl meant to me and how broken my heart was.

I’m not going to go into the personal details about what went on at the hospital here, but I will say that I will be forever grateful for Katie and Robbie allowing me to be there with them.  I will never forget what I experienced there.

It’s been 3 weeks since Riley’s passing.  I tried to be there for Katie, Robbie, and Lucas the best I could.  I have no idea if I’ve done a good job or not, because no one prepares you for this to happen.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be helping my best friend plan and attend a funeral for her 20 month old baby girl.  

I know Katie and Robbie are grieving.  I know Riley was their baby.  I also know that I loved that little girl (and her big brother) just a teeny tiny bit less than my own two girls.  My work family has been the absolute best at allowing me to grieve Riley’s death and I think it’s because they saw me in that very vulnerable moment.  Lots of people in my own family haven’t asked me about her, or how I’m doing.  A coworker of mine, one who I haven’t had a chance to know really well yet, asked me 3 days later how I was doing.  I told her not well, but that I can’t imagine how her parents were doing.  She looked at me and said, “You are allowed to feel the way you feel.  You don’t have to explain that to anyone.”  That was what I needed to hear.  And she was right.  It was as if some people thought that because she wasn’t “mine” that I shouldn’t be feeling so sad about losing her.  

I decided then that I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me how I should feel or not feel, like they did 8 years ago when my dad passed away.  This time, I’m going to grieve my way.  The grieving has come in waves and in lots of different forms: crying randomly, spending time with Katie, Robbie, and Lucas, trying to ease their pain (it’s not possible), hugging my own girls tightly, embracing the sunshine in my eyes every time it shines (Riley was our “sunshine”), and continuing to talk about sweet Riley.  Talking about her to the girls, to Katie and Robbie, and to the world to spread awareness and to make sure she is never forgotten.

Until next time…

“It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later”


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