In addition to dealing with Jesse’s death and all of the normal grief it brings- we also have the added fact that we lost him traumatically. This slows down the “healing” progress ten fold.
(Note: “healing,” I don’t know what I am talking about when I say that. I am mimicking what doctors say. Healing doesn’t seem like a real thing to me.)
So. Not saying death is easier in other circumstances, but it is. It just is. It is just easier to accept that your 95 year old grandpa passed peacefully in his sleep surrounded by loved ones than it is to accept that your 5 year old lost their battle to cancer in tremendous pain the minute you decided to run out to the bathroom. One is “more natural,” and therefore *should* cause less trauma. The other one isn’t “natural” at all. One is violent and demonstrates that the world is absolute chaos.
Unfortunately for me, I am stuck with the unnatural one. I had to make sure Jesse was gone. This met reading the accident report and showing up to the scene, tracing the steps of the car, picking up the remaining pieces of destruction left behind. This met questioning the doctors. Seeing his CT scans and his x-rays. Showing up to the tow yard, seeing his car totaled. Going through his car. This met asking what witnesses saw. This met checking his head in the hospital, his chest, shoulders, arms, hip… I scanned everything.
It met checking his eyes. His beautiful blue sometimes greenish blue eyes. When you are brain dead, your eyes don’t move. They are lifeless, empty black holes. This is something I have never seen and yes it is definitely scarring. Would it have been easier to keep them shut and not look? Yes, but then how would I know for sure? The less “what if’s” I left myself with seemed to be the best idea. Also, if it were me, I would hope that Jesse would make sure I was gone too before they took me. I know he would have checked me and looked at every painful thing too. That’s what sucks about loving someone as if they are literally half of you.
So I knew I was going to learn a lot of things I’d never unsee or not hear. I knew it was going to hurt and hurt forever. Even typing this hurts. But I had to so he wasn’t alone. I had to make sure if there was a chance he could make it maybe I would know about it- and that cannot be done if your head is in the sand. You have to look at all the facts, even if they are literally the shittiest facts I’ve ever seen.
When I got the call that day, at Target next to the tablecloth section, I was shocked but I figured he would be okay. Maybe he lost a foot. Maybe he had some really bad cuts. I thought that would be horrible but we can deal. We will figure it out. The problem came from the woman at the hospital NOT answering my “he is okay right?” question. She wasn’t able to tell me. Not a good sign. I basically began asking her in different ways, almost interrogating her, when she finally said “he is in VERY critical condition.”
I head to the hospital. The kids are tense. I feel sick. I’m not crying, I am in too much shock and also at this point still hold the worldview that anything can be overcome with enough effort. Our technology is great. Doctors perform miracles every day. Why would this be unique or different? At worst, I expected a 2 week coma- or maybe he’s even paralyzed waist down. I’m actually “okay” with these things because I knew if anyone could work through them it would be us. I’d push him up a mountain in a chair no problem. It would have sucked but we had gotten through some pretty difficult life events, this would just be another check on our list.
Getting to the hospital though, my memory gets blurry. I still see myself in the waiting room more anxious than I’ve ever been. I still hear some family members saying with confidence Jesse will pull through. I see my mom’s face knowing he wouldn’t but hoping she was wrong. Our immediate family and close friends are there, pacing and waiting anxiously- some already crying. When the woman came out, she hands me Jesse’s wallet and phone. I click his phone screen and there is my unopened text sitting on the locked screen “Hey dude, you good? The kids and I are worried.” It had not yet been read. Not a good feeling. The woman is still there and about to give me an update. I was expecting her to say “fractures, hematomas, lacerations…” I am looking for these key words. I do get these words from her eventually, but the word I get first is: AOD.
I tried typing the layman term for it and I can’t its too hard. I also tried typing the medical term, also too hard. So right now, you all are stuck with an abbreviation of the medical term and if you Google it 700 things will come up, so good luck trying to figure it out. I just can’t physically write it, which is saying a lot because I have a website dedicated to this shit.
Hearing this, at some point I know I am on the hospital floor. Super dramatic. I know I am extremely confused. My mind is telling me “Uh hey, people don’t recover from that you idiot.” but then I am also at odds with myself and replying “Um, yes they do? People can do whatever they want. People recover from crazy things all the time, stupid brain, what do you even know?” The doctors made it very clear they tried everything they could and they could not just fix this one. I start just repeating myself “okay I need to see him.” I don’t even care about diagnoses at this point, I am just feening to get next to him. They take me up to the 8th floor, but that’s blurry. That memory barely even exist.
I am sitting next to Jesse and asked to see “it.” Jesse had a decent amount of injuries, like he had broken his femur clean, things like that. All of those however, maybe would have left him with some problems but they would have been fixable. The AOD wasn’t. It’s a rare thing that happens and it’s caused by whiplash. At some point I am screaming at Jesse in my head “of course YOU of all people would have something like this!” (illogical I know). But now that image of the CT scan is permanently stuck in my brain. I don’t see it ever leaving. Normally, I’d describe it down to a T, but again, nope I can’t do it. At night, the reason I cannot sleep, (besides living in total hell) is because when I close my eyes I see that scan and I see the moment it happened. I see the jolt. I hope he didn’t feel it. I hope he didn’t know. A horror movie on repeat, if you will, with no resolution. It’s no way to see someone you love and adore. The kids do not know this part, simply because they haven’t asked. One day, I may have to explain it. As open and honest as we are- this is extremely challenging for me. How do you tell innocent children such a traumatic detail? I don’t know. I do know not telling them, when they ask, is wrong.
During all of this, I also have to tell the kids what is currently happening to their dad. Telling the kids their father is dead is…I don’t even know what that is. Prior to any counselor advice, I head down to the first floor and sit with them outside in the grass. It’s dark. I tell them some form of “this is not looking good,” because technically he had not “passed” yet, even though he had coded twice. They were upset but still struggling to get exactly what I met. I am not sure exactly what I met, because in my head I still thought “yeah there’s no way this is really happening.” My description of events will be somewhat accurate from beginning and end, but middle parts will be mixed up because days blended. I think I slept 20 minutes in three days and I ate one single Lay’s chip. One disgusting Lay’s chip in which I had to turn around and not face Jesse because how dare I eat something. He cannot eat. This may seem absolutely nuts and prior to this maybe I wouldn’t understand- but I understand this more than I’d like to ever know now.
The kids then went to stay with their Aunt and Uncle. I stayed with Jesse. He passed at, I think it’s 10:41pm “officially.” That was a motherfucker to type out… The next morning the counselors there give me advice on the kids, you can’t lie. You can’t sugarcoat, if you do, it will screw them up more. Good thing I’ve never been much of a sugarcoated anyhow. So not only do I have to tell them but I am also going to have to use the “D” word for the first time (I know I say it freely now but the first few days I could not get that thing out).
Chloe and Oraia came up to see him. Also some of the worst images that are in my brain. They were pretty hysterical. Chloe immediately made it clear she didn’t want to see him like that, with the tubes and eyes closed, and began panicking that the image was in her brain. This sounds bad, but you are supposed to let them choose what they want “with guidance.” This is the part where she turns around from him and ask him “Daddy are you coming to my birthday party?” By this point I have had to have discussions with the kids that I jotted down nervously in my text app on my phone. I also send this to my sister in law, because she had Raiden and had to instruct him also, per what the grief counselors are advising. What chaos.
Because of COVID, Jesse could not have a lot of visitors, which was unfortunate because he had many many friends. My phone did not stop going off for 3 days straight. I wasn’t annoyed by this, it offered “distraction.” While living at the hospital I pretty much just took him in. I spent a lot of time smelling him. Looking at the different colors in his beard. Birthmarks and scars on his arm. Dirt and callouses on his hands. I had seen and known all of these before, but I really took them in, because it was the last chance. I couldn’t speak to him. I couldn’t tell him anything. It was quiet in the room, besides the machine beeping. So all I could do is look at him silently. I still cannot believe I won’t ever see the scar of a lighter on his left arm, from when he was a much younger and made an attempt to “look cool.” Or the scar above his left hand where he tried to help Chloe super glue something, but then somehow it got on his skin and instead of being patient he ripped it off. These once seemingly insignificant things about him I sat and soaked in. It sucks. I wish I was still living in a time where I didn’t really have to ‘”soak in” a super glue scar.
For another day or so, I pretty much lived at the hospital. We were asked if Jesse wanted to donate his organs since he qualified. Apparently, even if it’s listed on your driver’s license, most people do not qualify. It’s actually not common. You have to go in a certain way, be of a certain health, etc. Jesse wanted to donate his organs, we did have this conversation, so I knew the answer. I didn’t want to though because donating organs met admitting he is gone. Not because I am selfish- it’s just part of trying to comprehend and accept what’s really about to happen. Someone is about to take Jesse’s heart from him. I laid on his chest and listen to it beat.
His Mom and I were tasked with having to write out a short speech on a small card about Jesse so when he was wheeled to the operating room the doctor’s could read it before they began…whatever they were doing (I hate thinking about it). We did this. It was hard because I could write essay after essay about Jess (I mean I’ve dedicated a whole website to him and I’ve told like 5% of him), and now I had to fit Jesse down on a 3×5 card? Not my speciality. I did it and tried to pick the most important, straight to the point things.
On Christmas Eve, the kids and I spent it in the hospital with Jesse as we waited for the planes to get there so they could transplant his organs. The planes were delayed, so we ended up getting the whole Christmas Eve with him (I say that like it was nice or something). Normally, Jesse and I would be getting the kids tucked into bed. They would pass out and I’d snap photos of their faces sleeping. Jesse and I would set an alarm and either he would be tasked with building something (like a trampoline or a playhouse), and I would do smaller gifts and stockings. I would always be super paranoid about the kids catching us.
Instead, the kids sat in the waiting room. I was on the 8th floor. Waiting. Around 11:40p.m (I remember this because it was such a wtf is happening moment to me, it’s literally 20 minutes until Christmas and I cannot for the fucking life of me believe I am really doing this- I still don’t), we get notified “it’s time.” The nurses ask if I wanted it recorded and I say of course because I’ve always been obsessive about photos and videos. Basically it’s like a hero walk. They wheel Jess from the top floor, the staff lines the hallways. I stayed on his side and our family and close friends were behind us. The staff allowed 10 people, which met a lot because of all the restrictions. Doing the walk is very surreal. You are literally walking your loved one to a place of coldness. Where any thing that was once alive about him will be gone. There will not be the sound of machines anymore. Just silence. He will be surrounded by strangers in a few minutes.
Then you leave him. Leaving is the hardest part. Yes. I was aware he died 3 days ago- but at least I could hold him. At least I could set his hand in my hair like he used to do. At least I could pretend. At least I was near him and maybe he knew that- maybe he had no idea. I had false control over the situation because his body was in front of me. I know it’s happening but I still think there is a chance. (If you think that is crazy, I am over a month out now and a part of me is still sitting here waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out say he’s punk’d me. He’s not going to. I know.)
I do not remember a ton of what happened between that and his funeral. Christmas was that morning and my family set up the kids gifts. I did nothing. The kids got up. It was not the same. It was so weird. They wanted to be happy for their presents and were- but there was just this eeriness. It was made more complicated because we had all gotten Jesse presents and Jesse had gotten us presents. In true Jesse fashion, he did not wrap mine. Chloe had to go on a hunt for them (they were hidden in the garage) and wrap each one. She made this her priority. She still does things like this-as I have said earlier, control offers her some comfort.
After Christmas and Chloe’s 11th birthday had passed (it was about a week) we had his funeral. His funeral was scheduled the day after Chloe’s birthday, lucky girl right?
People who had experienced loss had one thing to tell me. They warned me of the coldness.
At the hospital, he was essentially being kept on a heater. If I held his hand for too long away from his body it would start to get a little chilly, but not the same coldness I was about to feel a few days later. At the funeral, I was afraid to touch him a little, like for a second. It was only a second because in my mind, again, I am thinking “Jesse is cold I need to be cold.” When I touched him it was strange. That initial touch is like an unhappy sick version of jumping into a cold pool. Instead of “getting used” to the water or having fun, you remain in a state of sickness, sadness and shock. Despite this, I continued to touch him and I kissed him too. I really didn’t think I would ever add “kissing a dead person,” to the list of things I’ve done but now I can say I have? The kids also touched him. They wanted to see him so we did an open casket. I wanted to see him too. The kids complained they had put way too much make-up on his face, and they were right- he did have too much, but he also needed it as there were too many scrapes and cuts. Chloe was uncomfortable with the smell. It smells cold. I don’t know how to explain what cold smells like.
Raiden left his dad rocks, plants, and acorns, which we placed on his chest. The kids and I also left him notes. Someone recommended that to me. The funeral lasted about 4 hours and I did not sit down or leave Jesse. Period. I stood almost the entire time and just greeted person after person. It was a revolving door for 4 hours. Again I didn’t mind, it was a false distraction. Most (don’t second guess, you read that word correctly) of the funeral was pleasant. As pleasant as a funeral for a 32 year old can be. Jesse and I have a lot of caring people around us.
After it was done it was time to leave. This was for real, the last time I would ever see him, cold or not. After that he would be ashes. I made sure I was the last person to say goodbye. It is literally the worst feeling and surprise, time doesn’t make that go away. Time does not make saying goodbye to someone who you spent your creating your adult life with better. It actually seems as time goes on it becomes worse. It just sets in more that this is now the remainder of your life.
This post doesn’t go over my daily trauma, you know like “oh hey should we have pork chops for dinner?” and then the kids yell “NO!” because we ate that with Jesse. Then I suggest chicken, steak, or beef and those are all a “NO!” too, because dad ate those too (we are making progress on this). This just covers the aspect of sudden traumatic death. The nasty kind. The kind where unless I pass out, I am not sleeping. How could I? If you think about it for longer than a few uncomfortable seconds- you would see this actually guarantees the kids and I are NOT crazy.
What is crazy is to PRETEND LIKE EVERYTHING IS NORMAL. Absolutely, freaking, nuts. If you advise someone who just went through trauma to resume to their former self, YOU are the one that is uncomfortable. YOU are the one having the issue. When someone dies it is normal to feel anger, sadness, stabbing, lack of breath, like you name it. It is normal to be numb. Every emotion is normal- except the one that someone tries to force. Except the one that someone expects out of you. The best you can do is be neutral, gentle or kind. This isn’t the same as meaning well and it coming off wrong, I am talking about just plain ignorance, that you haven’t spent more than a second thought on what you are about to articulate.
For that reason, I will protect my children and I at all cost. If I feel crossed…if my children feel crossed (i.e., like if you tell them to not talk about their father in front of you because YOU feel uncomfortable). You will be made aware. I cannot promise that I will make you kindly aware, you may get a “fuck. you.” from me because guess what? We lost the most important thing to us- we are not afraid to lose you as well. We know it won’t hurt as bad. The trauma we have gone through pales in comparison to any loss we would feel from losing something else, unless it was each other. We are the ones that deal with this every. single. second. We are the ones that are so painfully aware of his absence. We are the ones that have not heard the garage open to him coming home 39 times now or have eaten 117 meals without speaking to him, and it has only been a little over a month. Do not tell me or my kids, how to act after enduring not only the loss of Jesse, but traumatic loss, unexpected loss, untimely loss.