Cactus Practice

It’s like I can’t remember what happiness looks like.

Well, maybe that’s not it. It looks something like all my living children under my roof and the house a lived-in level of clean, healthy food to eat and access to nature. My bills are paid, my debt is relatively low, my living children are happy, healthy, able-bodied humans- nevermind brilliant, compassionate, creative, big-hearted individuals, I have a rad dog and rad friends. I live in a decent part of town next to a state park in an apartment set up to my style and specifications filled with pictures, pets, plants, and books. That’s the list of what it looks like, but I don’t feel that way. It’s like my brain and heart have lost their ability to communicate.

Having to say “my living children” is why sometimes things feel like they’re being filmed in black and white, set to a soundtrack in a minor key, despite their surface-level appearance. Who would have thought having to add the world “living” would be so painful? I guess that’s the the thing, though. That word is so pungent because it eludes to it’s equal and opposite- my vast, deep love is reflective of such vast, deep pain and just the opposite. I can sit with that, but it doesn’t make the hurt less when it comes- and somehow I’m able to know that deeply in my soul and at the same time, not feel it at all.

When I don’t feel that deep pain, I panic because I know it’s tied to my deep love- and if I’m not feeling one, am I not feeling the other? Do I owe myself or my son that pain? Must it always hurt so much to love? Is it all bound for sudden tragedy? Is it everyone, or just me? Why? Why? Why? My head dances circles around my heart that just sits, staring blankly into the chaos until it falls to pieces again.

But it’s more than just missing Patrick and having no reason for his death. There are multiple people missing in multiple areas of my life contributing to this overwhelming feeling of vacancy. Yes, I miss my son. I have never longed for anything or anyone so much for so long, and the feeling grows daily. I miss him first and foremost, I miss him every day. I see what could and should have been in nearly everything I do and it’s the most bittersweet thing for having ever felt his head on my chest to know the lack of it.

But I miss my dad, too. I miss him so damn much, and often. I wake up in tears about missing him almost as often as I do about Patrick. I miss our relationship. I miss his laugh. I want to ask him questions, to show him things, to tell him what I’ve learned. He loved new gadgets, innovation, creative solutions. He taught me about computers and the internet- he’s the reason I knew how to start blogging, or even what that was in the first place. He was the one I grew up talking to about the little, then eventually big things. He was one of my only mentors.

In my younger years, my dad used to take me camping in his grandfather’s boat that had a little cabin. We slept together on the lake, went fishing when the sun came up and would sit in the silence of the morning, listening to the world awaken. He was one of the only people that just being near was enough for me to feel comfortable and safe. Watching cancer wither his body over the months, which ended up translating to watching him die, felt like my soul was being boiled alive. My pillar of strength gave out while holding my hand- I can still remember the feel of their calloused ridges, of the earth giving out below me to swallow my sinking heart.

I also miss having a partner. I miss having a go-to person around who gives a shit about the little and big things in my life, someone to text memes and things I geek out on, about groceries and what’s going on with the kids. I want someone fall asleep on while I watch Netflix. I want someone else to take out the damn garbage sometimes. Okay, my kids help out with chores, but still… I miss the intimacy of companionship with someone who understands and wants the best for me. In short: despite my circle of friends and readers, I’m fucking lonely.

I did it to myself, though. I get that. I don’t think I could stand another heartache right now if I formed an attachment and something else tragic happened. I can’t stand one tiny breath more of ache in my heart. At all. I can’t. I’ve had deep betrayal after deep betrayal when it comes to romantic relationships and I’m not sure I even have the ability to connect anymore, honestly. I’m stuck always waiting for the other shoe to drop because I have lost every important male in my life (save two of my sons) over the span of four years, and unexpectedly each time. I imagine that’s why I’ve a series of 10 foot spiked poles around my heart.

I need a hug- but I also don’t want anyone to touch me. Being touched, or even in the presence of others is not relaxing to me- it tends to make my skin crawl, for the most part. Fucking prickliness. I need to find a way to connect through my cactus space while time and self care soften the edges. I feel disconnected from myself and everything else and it’s a problem that exacerbates itself, calcifying layers of “See? I told you you and your life are too much…” over the spines every time they’re effective. Grief is so fucked up.

It’s more than that even, now, though. I’ve got anxiety through the roof and was also recently diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder/Clinical Depression. I just started therapy again two weeks ago and am trying meds for the second time. Originally, I had pride about being able to cope without them- pride only made possible because there are people like the me now, who need them. I’m sorry, old self- and my apologies to anyone else who felt even mildly shamed by my unrecognized privilege of a brain that can cope using only alternative therapies and hippie shit. Good for you, old self- and fuck you and your shades of flippant callousness a little, too. Still, I forgive you for what you hadn’t learned… Progress, I guess. Something.

The third anniversary of Patrick’s death is in a week and I have retroactive anxiety about it, exacerbated by Timehop and Facebook’s new “on this day” feature. I know I don’t have to look, but I can’t help but analyze everything and visually take in every living moment left. The crumbs on his shirt, the messy house, his gorgeous lashes, the shine of drool on his little Danish chin. Oh, for the skidoo powers Steve and Blue have.

But I can’t go back like my heart wants to so badly. I want to… I want him, I want him, I want him. I’d give anything for a Tardis, a time machine, a minute with that child in my arms. I want Patrick back so much that it’s consuming my life- which I suppose is understandable, but I still have to be a (single) parent… and more importantly, I need to take care of myself so that I can do that, so that I’m happy. From that space, I can then be a good role model for my kids and be able write to myself in another three years from a much improved space as the person I need for myself now. I need to finish my Bereavement Doula training. I need to focus on healing.

I have a lot of deeply painful, difficult work ahead of me and I don’t even know how or what to do. I haven’t found a single resource aside from Dr. Joanne Cacciatore‘s blog that really resonates with my experience- I’m open for input and have my own page on grief resources here and collection of posts on Pinterest here and Facebook here. Even my last poem was about feeling isolated in my grief. There’s a lot of placation, a lot of religion, a lot of woo out there and I’m still searching for and carving out my grief path through these woods that have now become so densely fogged with depression. But I’m able to see it’s a forest now, despite all these damn trees.

At least I’ve written something, though this post has taken weeks. I’ve since gone to the doctor, gone to therapy, started meds, taken a few walks. It’s been months (or years) since I’ve done some of those things, so I’ll give myself some credit there. Depression, anxiety, grief… they’re an unholy trinity of doom, the fuckers. But I see them now and I’m trying not to feed them anymore, though many of my habits are set to. There’s nothing I can do about Patrick or my dad aside from learn how to carry that sadness and ache with grace. What I can do is focus on myself and somehow learning how to live again, which I’m failing miserably at now.

I’m here. I’m trying. It counts.
Fuck, this sucks.
Here goes, one tiny victory at a time.


With a harmonic defiance I’ll face this.


  1. I used to think if only I did enough yoga, pot, whatever I would be okay. My dad passed away suddenly and nothing could have prepared me for that. 4 years ago this month. That sent me into lows and highs … Got into therapy… Diagnosis bipolar (which in retrospect I see this pattern through my whole life). The meds I take now have literally saved my life. Like you I need to function for my kids. Whenever people talk about meds being overprescribed etc. I speak up. Maybe they are or people are on the wrong ones. But when I finally found the right combination I was like holly shit this is what normal people are like ! Hang in there mama. Take care of yourself.


  2. Being human is so ridiculously hard. It sucks and I hate that you’re going through this. My experience is not the same, but I live with a ticking time bomb when it comes to my sweet baby. On the positive side, it means I never waste one second of my time with her. On the darker end of the scale I live in fear. I get flashbacks which keep me up for days at a time, I relive our most horrific times and I can’t let go of all the trauma we have been through as a family. It’s not the same, I know. I can’t tell you it will get better, but I hope that it does. It has to, doesn’t it? Somehow joy will find you again. And I hope you don’t have to wait long. Sam


  3. Be strong mama. And when you can’t be strong anymore, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not okay today.” Lean on your friends and family. Lean on your medical support, your doctors, your therapist. Do not be proud. Survive.

    I’ve not lost a child or a parent but I’ve been where you are emotionally. I too suffer with MDD and GAD. When you grieve the loss of a loved one, a piece of you dies too. You never forget, you never fully heal. You are forever changed and you learn to live, somehow. Survive.

    You have two other children who need you. For me, that’s how I found my strength, my ladder out of the well, the darkness of the hole surrounding me. I focused on my daughter’s needs. I also found a really great combination of meds and a really effective therapist that helped me build the tools to learn how to live again. If you feel like your meds aren’t working, talk to your doctor. If you feel like your therapist isn’t working for you, find a new one (it took me at least 3 to find the right one for me). Persist. Survive.

    Write more. Get the poison of the depression and anxiety out of your mind as much and as often as possible. It does you no good rattling around and festering in there. Find a way to survive.

    Much love to you mama.


  4. You are such a talented writer. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with strangers…I know it isn’t much but you’ve touched my life immensely and made me reevaluate things I didn’t know needed changing so really, thank you.
    I think of you and your sweet angel often. Fuck SUDC. I’m sending you all the good vibes I can (it’s a touchless hug!). 💙


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