It didn't look the same on me; the way it did in pictures. The lonely girl, staring out of the rain soaked window; hair in the perfect messy bun, curled into an over-sized sweater. It didn't feel like the perfect filter had been placed over my view; there was no soft lighting or blurred lines. Instead, it was sharp edges and harsh reflections, my own sadness being sliced into a never-ending loop replaying it all right back at me. And even though we share everything with everyone - updating the world on our life as we live it - it felt like failure, and the shame kept my sadness a secret.
I felt trapped, without a cage keeping me in. I knew that somewhere the light was brighter and my hands wouldn't shake and my voice would be heard, but I didn't know my way there. I didn't have the energy to "pick myself up" or "be brave enough to try." I couldn't even return text messages, or answer when my kids called. I would stand at the kitchen sink, staring at the dishes piled high, smelling the rotting of food left scraped on them days before, and then just walk away. The excitement that used to drive me and motivate my actions took the slightest turn, feeling more like pressured anxiety, bursting just under my skin, with nowhere to go. Because I was going nowhere. I was consumed, and buried in grief.
It wasn't just the loss of him, although in so many ways it was completely that. Of course, I missed his laugh, and the way he would pronounce "love" with just the hint of an accent, making it sound slow and lazy. Indulgent. But even more than the awareness that the smell of him was fading, I felt the absence of the life that was to be. The heaviness of what had been taken from me was crushing. To be empty and suffocated all at once - that is how I would describe grief. To have the future erased, and not know what will take the place of what once was so perfectly clear. To realize, I didn't really care if anything ever does.
We are asked over and over again, "What can I do?" And I think they mean it. I mean it when I ask. We all want to help each other, and we all want to make sure that those we love know just how hard we love them. But for me to get the courage to answer that question honestly, I had to have already decided to try. I had already moved through enough to decide not to allow the grief to consume me.
As a society, we are repeatedly asking the questions, trying to help, expressing our concerns. We say that feeling the pain and the grief of loss is normal. But we don't actually talk about the grief itself. We don't explain the truth of sadness. So I didn't know how to answer the questions. I didn't think that my pain was the same as everyone else's. I thought it was less than, or more. Uglier or louder or harder for others to look at. I heard the surprise in their voices when they told me they had no idea I had been feeling that way. I felt like I had to make everyone else feel better about me being sad.
I know that no one can offer a map, or provide the perfect recipe. Navigating grief and sadness is solitary - tailored to each of us. But I do know that it isn't rare. I felt better when I stopped telling myself that I had to offer the solution to anyone asking the question. I learned that the sadness in their eyes would slowly heal, as my sadness slowly healed. And that my grief wasn't contagious; I didn't have to manage my symptoms so that no one else caught it. I had decided my feelings would not define me as a person forever, and yet I still had to accept that they would sculpt me into a more detailed, intricate version of who I am. I realized that I am loved. Sometimes, the way others love me is by being a reflection of my current state. I don't need to apologize for myself, to myself, or to anyone else. Clinging to sadness, doesn't keep the memories close. I think I believed that at first. Feeling my feelings, and let them pass through, is all that I need to do. My memories will always be close, they are part of me. Grief is not the memory, it is the burn that comes when the promise of more memories is ripped away. But the burns will heal. The grief does fade. My scars won't ever look the same as anyone else's, so sometimes it is hard to see that their scars exist too. I am learning to trust that they do.
Those first weeks are still a fog to my mind, I think back and play out each hour of that day trying to re-write it all in my mind. I don’t believe that your leaving had fully registered with me for weeks and the months that came. Many days and hours I sat on the couch staring at the wall in my room or out the window on our couch in shock and numb. There were many days of sitting on the floor and in some cases on all fours just so I could breathe more easily. The pain was so unbearable that breathing was difficult.
The day after, I asked a dear friend of mine to come to the house because I frantically needed to know what she knew. She had lost her beautiful son a few years prior and in my desperateness to figure out how I was going to make it I needed and longed to hear how I would get through. I was frantic for her to tell me” how to do this” all I wanted and needed was the proper steps, what to expect and how I would survive. In all her own personal pain that seeing me might bring, the trigger it could potentially carry; she selflessly came anyway. She held me in her arms while I cried and I begged her to tell me how. She softly with tears and so much love said, “ this is your grief, your journey, I cannot tell you how to do this”. I could not believe this was her response to me, I was so angry and confused, I wanted to scream and yell. For days I replayed what she said and upset and frustrated that she could not have given me more….
At 47, I had not experienced anything so traumatic definitely not this type of loss. My ignorance was thinking she would be able to give me a path, maybe even a checklist that I could go through that would get me through. I am good at checklists, I was sure that would be all I needed. Almost 2 years later, I can reflect and understand how perfectly and beautifully she responded to my need for the answer. As the weeks went by and I read book after book to find some sort of hope and understanding I learned how important and perfect my dear friend’s response was to my question. I have learned that grief has its own personal print with each of us, it is as unique as our own fingerprint, it is not fluid, it has no rhyme or reason, and it is something that we each do differently. It is as great, deep and significantly personal as is our relationship with our loved one. It is messy, complicated and beautiful just like our connection to our person that left us.
It has taken me time to understand this, still to this day at times it is messy and unpredictable. The many beautiful angel moms further into their journeys assured me that the pain and the grief will soften in time. At the time they told me it would happen, I could never comprehend that it would be possible. Today, 24 months later I have felt it soften….ever so slightly.
I’ve had to make a conscious choice to live, I live for you Taylor, for your siblings and dad. I find strength in all of you to continue this new normal. I carry you with me everywhere I go and with everything I do. My grief is now part of who I am, I acknowledge it and I have resolved that it will continue to stand with me, by my side through the rest of my life. Joy, sadness, happiness and grief. Always hand in hand until I have you in my arms again.
I still miss you with every part of my soul. I ache and long for you every minute of every single day. I carry disbelief that this is our life, that you are never coming back and that I have to spend the rest of my life missing you. But I am finding my way and will continue to live and honor your memory. You will never be forgotten, you will always be mine.
Thank you baby for picking me to be your mom. For giving me the beautiful, challenging, fun, crazy years you gave me. I thank God we shared the 23 years we did. You taught me so many beautiful life lessons when you were here and even more since you left this earth. Thank you for making me a better mother, person and soul.
I love you forever baby,
I know now that I never knew true pain. I've never lost anyone or anything that has caused me to lose myself in the pain. When the police showed up at my door, my world shattered. I was the first 'next of kin' they could find, so I had to look at his license, tell them it was him and call a number. The police stood there as I called the detective. When I had him on the line, everything fell apart, my world fell apart, I collapsed right there during that call. Nobody should ever have to call their dad to tell him that his only son, my only brother, was found dead in his car. Nobody should lose their best friend. Not like this.
I haven’t had a day off in a very long time… Not a day to myself that I can fully remember. I had my precious baby 3 ½ years ago, most of us know how much work that can be, and I still had always wanted one more until we lost you. I’ve always felt I would have two or three children but now the grief that I carry every day makes me think it would be almost impossible to go through having another child again.
I’m scared that I wouldn’t be able to give a whole other human being the love, care, and time that they deserve; especially when I already feel like I fail at this sometimes with my daughter I already have. Many days I ask myself what I’m doing, there are some days I realize she is acting out most likely because I’m failing at giving her the attention she deserves and needs from me. It is so hard not to get lost in your grief, I know with every bone in my body that it is not fair that my daughter is also going through this with me whether she knows it or not. When I feel that she is suffering from my grief as well I get so angry with my brother, it’s simply not fair.
I know that it’s normal to be angry, I understand that it is a “stage” in our grief that everyone experiences. That doesn’t make it any better though- sometimes I hear this and it makes me even more angry. The thing that would be “normal” would be to not be HERE, experiencing THIS; there is nothing “normal” about this situation. One thing I’ve really learned is what advice NOT to give when someone is grieving… If you don’t know what to say the best advice is to just say nothing at all, especially if you really haven’t been through what they are going through, you just need to be there for someone.
It’s so hard to describe an exhaustion that isn’t physical at all. I’ve had long work weeks that have you mentally wiped out. Work weeks that have you wishing for Mondays because in my work that’s your only day off, but now I can’t wish for any day. I miss you everyday. Those days that everyone has “off”? Well those slow days are the times us grievers really have time to think and to miss our loved ones that aren't with us. I was teaching my daughter to swim last week, my day “off”, then it hit me. You’re not going to see how much of a go getter she is. Her determination, or that fake smile she makes because I take too many photos. She’s hysterical, she would have made you laugh that big loud laugh I miss so much. She loves gross stuff like you, farts like you. I’d give anything to have you know her now, and you have no idea what I would do for her to know you too.
I hope I get better in time at missing you and raising her. I know I’m missing pieces because the grief is overwhelming. I’m constantly pushing through, trying to enjoy the small things and not let my grief rule my life. It’s really difficult to push that aside and not feel like I’m pushing you away, it’s hard to move on when you don’t want to move on without that person in your life. Letting go seems impossible still.
Taylor's Big Sister
I didn’t sleep, none of us slept. Although I felt as though I hardly grieved those first two weeks until his funeral. We planned everything together, I made it my duty to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be and as memorable as possible. I had never done this before. I had no idea the short time period you had to make so much happen in; especially for someone that wasn’t expected to leave us at all. I dove head first into work mode, that was the best place for me. My grief took a back seat and I made all the arrangements as much and as best as possible. I was given impossible deadlines for photographs, videos, music, playlists, obituary, funeral programming… What was I even doing? It was incredible the difficulty some people put you through. We had friends and family members jumping at any task we assigned them and then there were people like our family photographer (from photos taken back in November) that told me it may not be possible to have the family photo proofs available before his funeral. My response was quite blunt and short and I received those proofs the next day at 4 am while I was still working away on Tay’s services. People can be incredible! Good and bad!
Mahatma Gandhi taught, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Sometimes it feels like the needle of my compass is spinning. Sometimes I like that. But sometimes I don’t. Early on in life I knew that my trajectory would be a little off the beaten path. I love exploration, innovation, and opening my heart to new things, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and people. I don’t like feeling tethered to any one way too long. But I also seek stability and hold myself to strong performance standards. This dichotomy- at times a brain/heart disconnect- defines me. It defines my aspirations, my actions, and my relationships. I’ve gained, and lost, a lot along the way living by these dictates.
Back to the spinning needle. Over the summer, I went through a divorce. It’s an immeasurably difficult experience and process, and losing my other half- my best friend- was the hardest part. When you choose to part with someone that you had previously chosen to build a life with, you lose a piece of yourself. At least it felt that way for me. All of the sudden, I felt like I was standing on shaky ground. I felt isolated. Friends and family were supportive, but I didn’t feel like sharing or talking about it much. When you go through something like this, there are all these complicated emotions- shame, anxiety, guilt, failure, desperation- that are both personal and uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s not something that I had any interest in disseminating, so I processed most of it in my own way, in my own time.
In a way, I’m lucky. I’ve always been confident and had a strong sense of self. Never struggled with depression, anxiety, or other overwhelming emotions that can result in stagnancy. I’m a mover, and a shaker. If I need to make a change, I do it. I firmly believe that life is too short to give up, get stuck, be unhappy. Even through my divorce, I was able to keep my head up and face every new day with enthusiasm and optimism. I’m eternally grateful for my disposition and ability to get through the hard times without breaking down.
Despite this fortitude, overall, I found my head a little foggy. I was having a difficult time putting my finger on what I wanted from my life. Once you push the “reset” button, you end up spending a lot of time thinking about “what now.” Those thoughts can compound and become a bit overwhelming. I knew that it was important to “get out there”- to stay busy and involved. Enter that tidbit of wisdom from Gandhi.
I wanted to find ways to help other people and focus on things outside of my head and my small world. This opportunity chose me, as much as I chose it… life is (sometimes painfully) poignant that way. I serve on the THMF Board. We work to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness. We’ve personally experienced and seen the grief of this kind of loss. We’ve felt the shockwaves that rip through a community when we lose one of our bright stars. We’ve felt helpless as we’ve seen our loved ones struggle. This is why we serve this cause. This is the big picture.
But for me, it’s more than that, and maybe it is selfish, in a way. I choose to serve because when I lose myself in this service, I become myself. My footing becomes firm, once again. Working with THMF has given me that stability and helped me through a hard time in my life. In THMF, I have a family and a purpose. I have a renewed sense of hope and determination and a refocused lens through which I view the world. I’ve developed empathy, patience, and insight. It has helped me to become an advocate and better friend to the people in my life.
THMF Board Member
Welcome to the Taylor Hagen Memorial Foundation’s Blog.!
After putting together different events, retreats, and activities this year we have come to realize how important it is to create a safe space for our friends and family to share their thoughts and emotions. We loved the idea of creating a blog on our website for others to share their stories and learn from other’s experiences as well. One thing we have all learned at THMF is that it is an absolute key part of healing in our grief to be able to express oneself; to share your feelings, thoughts, and your story is vital for our self-care. We wish for this blog to be that safe space for you to be heard, accepted, and understood.
The members of THMF wish to share with you their journey in hopes of providing friendship, guidance, and acceptance. We will be blogging along with you as a family and we would love to post your stories here as well. You will be able to read about the different types of grief we have all endured and you can connect and get to know us and our stories. What we’re struggling with on a daily-basis just like the millions of others that have lost loved ones too soon to mental illness/suicide.
After suffering with the loss of Taylor, we have all come together to provide each other with love and support. The goal of THMF has always been to offer support and help with the healing of others. Whether you have experienced a loss, suffer from depression or struggle with your personal mental health, we want to open the door for you to be able to share. Our personal experience of creating our own support group of friends and family that have suffered similar losses has been more crucial to us than we could have ever imagined and we wish to share that same experience with you.
We are all surviving one day at a time, but you don’t need to do it alone. This is life, you can share anything with us. Short and sweet, sad or uplifting. Stories of your trials and heartbreak OR of strength and overcoming! You can send in your responses to other bloggers, give feedback (maybe you have some tips & tricks up your sleeve!) and encouragement! This if life, it can be joyous and rewarding OR it can be downright complicated and painful. Let’s be there for each other and create friendships of love and support. THIS IS LIFE, let’s make the most of it TOGETHER!
I'm here honoring my brother Taylor Hagen, whom I have been missing with all of my heart since January 6, 2017; why are you here?
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