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Shouldn’t You be Better by Now? September 27, 2009

Posted by johnbohlinger in Uncategorized.
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Society expects people to feel specific things in certain situations; For example, we should feel happy when our friends achieve enormous success and/or wealth, but honestly, that experience has never left me particularly euphoric: envious, sure; bitter, maybe; pissed, sometimes. Psychotherapy should lead to us feeling better about ourselves, yet as much as I’ve told myself, “this is good for you. You feel better,” those enthusiastic pep talks I babble while driving to and from my meetings are about as fake as the $50 Rolex I bought on the streets of Singapore. I feel bad for feeling bad, which makes me feel worse…if that makes any sense.
The people in our life, as well meaning as they may be, expect us to get over our grief in what they consider a reasonable amount of time. You can see the
approval on friend’s faces when you look like you are what they think you’re supposed to be, happy. You hear their disappointment when you answer the phone without sounding chipper. I don’t know if anybody ever really gets over living without their child, maybe we just get better at masking our sadness, or stay so busy that we never allow ourselves to think about how much we miss our kid. Maybe we just die a bit in side, beneath a facade of normalcy. I don’t know.

I quit blogging for a while because I thought I should be able to show some real improvement, be a model of recovery for any other grieving parents. I wanted to write something positive and inspire hope, but truthfully there are long spans of time when I’m plagued with horrific, negative thoughts. I hate myself, I hate my life, see all of my actions as meaningless. Paradoxically, life seems too short and too long at the same time, God seems nonexistent and some how responsible. In short, these are not the thoughts of a well adjusted person on his way to recovery ready to help others find their paths.

Some times, I get a good night’s sleep, wake up with the sun shining, get in a little exercise, wash down a big bowl of oatmeal with six cups of coffee then jump into some gratifying work and life feels great. I remember how I couldn’t sleep for months( I’d knock myself out with Ambien or Tylenol PM), I didn’t really eat, or move my body and work was a blur of depression. So, clearly I’m improving. But here’s the rub, people see me on a good day and think “Oh, he’s all better,” then they see me on a bad day and think “What the hell, I thought he was all better. If he can pull it together once, he should pull it together all the time. Enough is enough already, move on. He’s just not trying hard enough”.

Regrettably, we humans rarely move in a straight path toward our goals. Sometimes we take wrong turns; it’s impossible to make all the right turns when you’re not really sure where you are going anyway. Sometimes we get tired of fighting and we give up, like a boxer who decides to take the ten count laying down. As humans, we like time frames and schedules but when it comes to learning to live with loss, nobody can give an accurate estimated time of arrival; some people make peace with their loss, some people never make it and others learn to fake it. We are all unique. Some days I can see peace and acceptance, other days, and more often, nights, I can’t. This whole one step forward, half a step back semi-progress disappoints me and disappoints the people in my life. (I try to conceal it and limit the time I spend with others during dark days). Perhaps the best approach to recovering is to recognize that you have had your ass kicked by a horrible experience and some of that pain will not go away; like a car that’s been hit by a semi, you may never be just like new. However, this doesn’t mean we are sentenced to lives of depression. Life is beautiful and sweet; most of the time I can still recognize that even when I miss my son terribly. But go easy on yourself, losing your child is a catastrophe that’s going to leave an indelible mark which will show through some days no matter how hard we fight it. Let it be and don’t worry about meeting somebody else’s expectations of how you should feel. They don’t know.



1. louise russell - September 28, 2009

The message hit me and made me smile in a strange way… as i know how people must think that… its been 6yrs this coming sunday the 4th October since my 1st born died.. my beautiful little boy called Thomas he was only 8mths old.. yet looked older than this and his eyes seemed to know so much… he was born very prematurly in Feb 2003 exactly 8 mths prior to this on 4th of Feb at 27 weeks gestation into my pregnancy he weighed 2lbs as i had developed a life threating condition called hellp syndrome a the most serious form of pre-eclampsia.. he fought for 8 months and lost his fight due to contracting septecima after yet another infection.. he was a fighter right till the end.. miss him so much still even after all these years.. sometimes more even… as you think wel after a few years i will be ok??? right>>> wrong!!! its harder i think as time moves on as you feel you carnt show the same sadness and despair as the ‘early days’ as family and friends just ‘dont get it’ and wonder why your not ‘ better’

johnbohlinger - September 28, 2009

Yes, it’s like you have to apologize for missing your child when it use to be a matter of course; this tends to alienate us from those who haven’t been through it. You really go through that alone.

2. rushchick - September 28, 2009

This post hit home so much. My daughter was 10 when she died. She was on a 4-wheeler, hit her head on the back rack and died. My husband tried to perform CPR but the damage was done. We blame ourselves, she shouldn’t have been on one, or she should have had a helmet. The 16 and over warning stickers are there for a reason, this I know now. She lived a beautiful life and was loved by many. 8/14/96-2/25/07
And the only person I can talk to about this is my sister, she knows I will never be “better” Hell I don’t even know what that means anymore. I don’t know what normal is, I am stuck. I have three other children who need me, but how am I supposed to be there for them when my mind is elsewhere? It is only been 2 1/2 years but to others, I believe they think it has been “forever” And sometimes when I do get up and the sun is shining, I am pissed, like how can it be so beautiful outside and my daughter who LOVED to play outside is not here? I am just waiting for the day when I will just be o.k……….

johnbohlinger - September 28, 2009

That’s what’s so strange. I’ve had some bad things happen in my past but in time, the hurt fades and doesn’t even leave a scar. Where as with the loss of my son, some days, for no particular reason, I’m so angry I’ll smash a glass against a wall or I’m so depressed I can’t quit crying. It’s like those old soldier’s who have lost limps in the war; they reach down to scratch a leg that’s been amputated forty years ago. My son is gone, but I feel him, reach for him and he’s not there.

Roberts Mom Linda - September 29, 2009

I am scream in my car that is my release. Sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed and screaming helps me. I love the examples you use like a soldier who has lost a limb I feel him I reach for him but he is not there. I think how can I have lost a son how can I be the mother of a son who has passed why it just makes no sense. I would hear about people losing a child and I did not even want to think about it the thought was just to overwhelming and now I am living it and I wonder how am I living?

johnbohlinger - September 30, 2009

The car has become my emotional break down venue of choice.

3. rushchick - September 28, 2009

John- How old was your son by the way and if you don’t mind me asking….what happened to him?

4. johnbohlinger - September 28, 2009

He was 19. He died from a drug overdose. Not to sound to defensive, but he was a really great kid, just did a few bad things.

5. rushchick - September 28, 2009

You don’t sound defensive at all- I am sure he was an awesome kid. And I hope you don’t blame yourself……kinda weird coming from me, since I totally blame myself for my daughter’s accident. People tell me not to blame myself, but they weren’t there when I handed her the keys and she smiled at me for the last time and I told her to go have fun BUT not to go past 2nd gear. When we found her, the 4-wheeler had been turned off, like she may have been conscience for a few, then passed out. The 4-wheeler was also in 5th gear and upright, kills me to this day, cause I was usually outside watching them, but for some reason that little voice inside my head said “She will be ok, let her have fun without her mom hovering over her” So I let her be, and well she died. Ughhhh I am crying typing this all out and I seriously need to clean myself up since my kids will be getting home from school soon.

Roberts Mom Linda - September 29, 2009

I am going to say don’t blame yourself but I know easier said than done. My heart goes out to you I am so sorry for your loss. My son Robert passed away on September 5, 2007. I am doing better than I was in the beginning but the 2 year mark was harder than the first.

6. johnbohlinger - September 28, 2009

That hurts. But in your defense, every good parents gives their children some freedom and independence. That’s how children become functioning adults rather than creepy forty year olds living in their parent’s basement afraid of the world outside of those wood paneled walls and pop-corn ceiling. You have to take calculated risks as a parent and children have to learn to do things without there parents around. You made a reasonable judgment call and the rest is a terrible accident that probably could not have been avoided if you were standing 10 feet away. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s horrible. God bless you.

7. elvira - September 28, 2009

“Crossing rails” or, may be, “Crossed rails” is a film by Arthur McCarthy (2003) that I recomend you to see. You both are going to appreciate its easy beauty. A little conforting.

8. Roberts Mom Linda - September 29, 2009

Everything I have read so far I so get. I live in a small town and right at the year mark I ran into a friend in Walmart she with the best of intentions stopped me and said well it has been a year now are you feeling better? I said I am okay and I walked away. The truth as I am sure everyone here knows is that I will never be OKAY again but it is just the easiest response because unless you are going through this nightmare you have no idea. I too blame myself and God, I liked how you said God seems nonexistent and yet somehow responsible. I have the added worry of my other son and trying to balance everything so that he can have as normal a life as possible. We are here now but he will not always be living with us and I worry so much. His teachers say he is well adjusted and one of them knew what had happened but said she would not have known had I not asked her how he was doing.
I got the highest compliment from my son the other day. One of his friends lost a friend and he was beside himself Austin came home and said Mom you have to talk to him he needs someone to talk to. You know the good intentions we get from other people well I feel like I hounded my son at times checking on him asking him how he was did he want to talk. Then this from my son…. he felt I could help his friend. But in the back of my head I am thinking I am not okay how can I help someone else. I did not have to do much though just a couple of hugs and an open invitation for me to listen whenever he wanted to talk about it.

9. johnbohlinger - September 29, 2009

The fact that your son sees you as the go-to source for comfort shows how much your “hounding” meant to him. That’s great. Sounds like your instincts were right on.

10. Roberts Mom Linda - September 30, 2009

Okay so this is hard I have not done it in awhile. Those of you wondering why I was so concerned about my son Austin, allot of us have other children but you will see
It was going to be a long day Austins football practice was running late. I was supposed to be at a meeting by 6:30PM (parent advisory for the high school) and it was almost 6:30 when the coach let them off the field by the time he got to me it was after. While I was driving towards home I kept thinking I should just skip the meeting and then I thought you are just being lazy. I got to the end of our street and dropped Austin there because I was so late. I always have my phone with me and for some reason I realized after I had gone inside I left my phone in the van. My husband is working in Hobbs, NM 3 hours from where we are so I did not like that I had left my phone. The boys were home alone. After the meeting I was talking to someone in the parking lot, we were talking about Robbie when the car pulled up. He said there had been an accident and he needed to take me home.
As we pull up the street there are police cars with their lights on everywhere. I get out of the car in a daze it still did not dawn on me what was going on. I here from the driveway “Mom I’m Sorry I’ve ruined our family” It is Austin. I start to go to him they are leading my to a car to lean on I am asking where is Robbie tell me he is okay…..
Mam I am sorry I can’t do that there has been an accident……………
You see we have guns in the house my husband collected them. The boys have been in gun safety classes since they were little. We had a locked gun cabinet and gun cases but he had more guns than room for safe storage but we thought that was okay because they knew guns were not toys. I had just cleaned out that closet It took me a couple of days and I left the open guns sitting there out of the closet for a couple of days you know the saying out of sight out of mind. That day after I dropped Austin off he went home went into that closet got a shotgun loaded it dropped an extra cartridge on the floor but did not know so when he unloaded he thought it was empty walked into the living room pointed it at Robbie. Robbie said Austin you know you are not supposed to play with the guns. The gun went off that was the last thing Robbie said.
Austin was alone Robbie shot in the head area while Austin called 911 and tried to do cpr. The 911 operator came to the funeral she wanted me to know he had done everything he was supposed to do. They told me it was instant. There was a message on my phone that night Austin crying saying Mom I’m sorry there is a hole
Austin is the only reason I am still here

johnbohlinger - September 30, 2009

Linda, I am so sorry for you and your family. God bless you all. You and your family need to get rid of every shadow of guilt and fully understand that terrible accidents happen no matter how careful we are. It’s like this sinister forces floats around the world waiting and looking for the tiniest opportunity then sneaks in and steals one life and arbitrarily spares another. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s the way life is. I am praying for you now.

johnbohlinger - October 5, 2009

I just re-read my last comment to Robert’s mom, Linda and I sounds a bit bleak. (I shouldn’t write at 3:am on sleepless nights. ) Here’s my well rested perspective:

Most of us learn at an early age that death is part of life. I suspect one of the reasons my parents allowed the sibs and me to bring home gold fish, hamsters, etc was to let us see first hand that indeed nobody and nothing beats the system. Even the people that Jesus healed or raised from the dead eventually died. Most well adjusted people accept these rules of life and inevitable death as part of nature. However, nothing feels natural about the death of a child, it turns the world upside down and makes us question everything. At times I’ve had a dark perspective that’s not entirely accurate. When I’m thinking rationally I recognize every day as a gift to be enjoyed; we can’t enjoy life if we’re worried about some uncontrollable catastrophe that will probably never happen anyway. The world is full of gloom and doomers spreading their message of despair without any solutions. We don’t need that. Life is beautiful and short so let’s make the most of it.

11. Michael - February 5, 2010

By mid 1970’s more HS students had been doing narcotics percentage-wise than in the history of mankind. I picked up on this cultural habit by 1980. My older brother, who is now a high ranking military officer; helped promote it, as well as family induced alcohlic influences. My father had been a chronic alcoholic, to find sobriety during the last 12 years of his life which ended 2002.

My teenage life was rather wreckless by today’s standards. But in comparison to everyone else it wasn’t that far from normal. It was promoted in movies, TV, literature, etc… It was an epic journey.

Many survived without much damage at all. Some died tragically. Each death was a part of me dying, too. Loss of innocence.

1982 I had a HS football/gym coach in HS who pulled me out of class and said that he wanted to help me with my problem. I said, “What problem, coach?” He simply rolled his eyes with a sense of frustration. I was high as a kite when he spoke. But I felt his message. Someone with credibility had courage to care. A few months later I attended his church. I stood up at the age of 18 to become born again. For a brief while, I returned to my lifestyle as a dog returns to it’s own vomit.

But life had become different through Christ’s witnessing and I was able to gain courage to join the military and finish college.

I don’t know if August had someone reach out to him. If not, perhaps his testimony is just that. If someone needs help, we should make that a life or death priority. And not worry about immediate consequenses because what we say may very well have an influence down the road.

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