To provide context and because the unfolding of my story will not be linear, I share an email that I sent to a close group of family and friends as I reflected back on one year post Matt coming out. It was my way of processing, reflecting, and celebrating growth.
Warning…this is long, prepare with at least a 9-oz pour of something. And Yes. I cry. Every. Time. I. Read. This. Still.
Oct 2, 2016
As I come up on one year of …what to even name it…”anniversary of my life falling apart”???, I’ve been processing so many thoughts and so many emotions. I’m working on dropping my shield of “perfectionism”, allowing myself to be even more vulnerable than I’ve been over the past year (is that even possible?), and sharing my true self with others. As I think about each of these events, at least one of you was there to comfort me. Although this list is the series of bombshells that I am still trying to process, this list is punctuated by the friendship and love I have received this past year. I share this with you in thanks for being there – in bearing witness to the series of events that are indeed my life. I couldn’t have survived without each of you. As I read this list and think about it, I feel proud of myself for making it to today in one piece; although the road has been ugly and bumpy, it’s my road and I’m so happy and so thankful that you’ve been part of my crazy journey.
Aug 16, 2015
Embark upon the adventure of releasing our first-born; drop Ethan off at Purdue, leave a piece of my heart in Indiana, and think “I’ve never been SO sad”. I proceed to cry over the loss of his laundry, not making his lunch, and generally have a pity party for myself. I cry in the car, I cry in the kitchen, I cry in the laundry room – all of the time for the empty space in my heart. I think this is SO hard…hmmm…if I only knew what was to come.
Oct 2, 2015
Within 45 minutes of arriving home from a week-long, work-related grueling, hellish Cruise, Matt simply announces “Kirsten, I’m gay”; he’s sitting in the white chair in the bedroom, I am standing by the bed unpacking and am hit with the realization that my entire life, although far from perfect, as I know it is over. I will never forget the feeling…ever…numbness, panic, loss, grief, extreme fear.
Oct 3, 2015
Lightbulb moment: that cute 4-seater convertible that we fought over for years because we are (were) a family of 5, and I finally gave in…I’M the one who didn’t have a seat in that car…
Breast cancer scare…the technician asks me who my emergency contact is and I nearly collapse on the floor when I realize I don’t have one anymore…who would even care or come to my rescue or take care of me if something happened, I wonder…still one more year of clean mammograms to get through before I’m clear. This I have to set aside in my mind…there is no room to even address this as I have no control over it [update: after 2 years of surveillance, thankfully the findings were benign].
Dec 4, 2015, 4:30 AM
I am in New Jersey, and I receive a call from Harborview that Aidan was admitted to the ER as a John Doe. They can tell me nothing of his prognosis. I am blessed by angels (the first of many) and find a flight home. On the way to the airport, I talk to the Neurology attending; Aidan has severe Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI). I make the mistake of looking up DAI on the flight home and this is what I read: DAI is a brain injury in which damage in the form of extensive lesions in white matter tracts occurs over a widespread area. DAI is one of the most common and devastating types of traumatic brain injury, and is a major cause of unconsciousness and persistent vegetative state after severe head trauma. It occurs in about half of all cases of severe head trauma and may be the primary damage that occurs in concussion. The outcome is frequently coma, with over 90% of patients with severe DAI never regaining consciousness. Those who do wake up often remain significantly impaired. I panic (despite the multiple Xanax already on board) and turn my phone off. I arrive to see Aidan intubated and in a coma.
Week of Dec 7, 2015
Ethan calls me in a panic; he can’t fly [note: Ethan was in a professional aviation program at Purdue], he can’t concentrate, he can’t eat, he can’t sleep. I try to support Ethan as best as I can from the Harborview ICU. My heart breaks a bit more. Meanwhile, in the Pediatric ICU, Aidan talks with the psychologist and tells him he was so worried over Thanksgiving because he couldn’t “find all of his family”. Our first Thanksgiving as a broken family: Ethan at Purdue, Matt with his family, Aidan, Nolan, and me with mine. The first of many “firsts.” A few more pieces of my heart are gone.
Week of Dec 14, 2015
Aidan is transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital to begin his recovery; although he makes significant strides, his long-term prognosis remains unknown. I wade through the weeks at the hospital so scared with no spouse to share my fears with, no spouse to hug me, to cry with, to lean on.
Week of Dec 21, 2015
Aidan comes home and we struggle to find a way to care for a 16-year old with a severe traumatic brain injury.
Dec 24 & 25, 2015
I try to do everything that I can to have a “normal” Christmas. I put on a big smile, make the traditional meal (sort of), serve it on our Christmas China!, put out the Santa gifts, and run to my room every 15 minutes to cry and hope no one notices. I feel so alone though I’m surrounded by my boys and Matt.
Jan 2016 – Apr 2016
The blur of my new life sets in. Every Sunday I pack my belongings in a suitcase and shuffle my belongings and life between my house-no-longer-a-home and the fucking apartment, where I don’t even know who I am. I sob uncontrollably every week that I drive away from the house and thus my boys. I am filled with a sadness and grief that I can’t even begin to describe. This is so excruciating …not being with my boys, not able to be present as their mom every day. I will never get over this…my heart is as shattered as my family. We review finances – there is no way we can keep the house. I become highly anxious about where I am going to live. I get to figuring it out on my own…making plans to move forward, trying to be so brave and hopeful. Rentals in Enatai are nearly impossible to find. I spend 4 months packing up my life as I prepare for an impending move…sifting through 24 years of a marriage and a life…trying to decide what I should bring forward with me and what to leave behind. This prolonged period of packing is so emotionally taxing. It feels never-ending. How do we split up the art the boys made? How about the pictures? What do we do with those family photos that are framed? Our wedding album?
May 8, 2016
I move into my rental. I serve meals on an old desk and garden furniture and wonder if this is truly happening.
May 28, 2016
I turn 50 and feel really fucking old, useless, and alone despite being surrounded by friends who have thrown me a beautiful party…there is an emptiness in me that I’m not sure I can ever fill.
May 29, 2016
I wake up and wonder “how the hell did I get here?”
I hit rock bottom as I realize that this is my life. This life is not what I wanted or bargained for. This is not fun, happy, positive…this is scary…like really scary. Emerging from sheer survival mode, with no change of address forms to complete, no boxes to pack or unpack, my to do list suddenly short, I’m faced with myself and the fact that my boys and I are so broken. I try to manage Aidan, his extreme anger, his shame, his recovery … alone [note: alone because Aidan refused to spend time with Matt during this period]. It’s a brutal, toxic, exhausting relationship, but I refuse to give up. I know that kind, compassionate young man is still hiding in there…I know because I saw him in the hospital.
I finally begin to fight my way back and work on getting the help that I need…this, I realize, will be a very long, exhausting, difficult road. I try to do everything I can to support the boys and do everything that I can to help Aidan work towards repairing his relationship with Matt (which by the way, I am happy to say happened).
I see the first photos of Matt with his…what to even call him? It was one thing to imagine him with another man…quite another to see photos of him and clearly sharing his life with someone else. I unfollow Matt on Facebook.
I take the boys on a “family vacation” and all I feel is broken and alone and feel like the family vacation idea was really stupid; I struggle deeply with Aidan’s anger…Ethan admits to wanting to kill himself…we’ve hit bottom again … but we don’t give up…we keep trying.
Jul 27, 2016
I spend the day reflecting on what would have been our 25th wedding anniversary; I reflect on the loss of my best friend, companion, and partner in raising our amazing boys, the shattering of our family, and feel lonelier than ever. I struggle with anxiety, fear, hopelessness.
Aug 12, 2016
I watch Ethan drive off for his sophomore year at Purdue. I realize how broken he still is and how much healing he has to do and my heart aches.
I fill out the divorce petition papers, is there anything even left of my heart at this point?
Aug 26, 2016
I drive Aidan to SeaTac bound for his year in Italy. I hug him so long and hard, all the while sobbing to the point of embarrassment; I don’t want to let him go, but I know I have to. Another piece of my tiny little heart is gone.
Dissolved our living trust and draft my own; panicked wondering if I am making the right decisions should I die. These are very difficult decisions to make… yet I’m making them alone…a reminder this is really truly happening. I still wake up every morning and feel like I’m living someone else’s life. I wonder when I will begin to feel like a normal person, or “myself” though I have NO idea who she is. I have been crying daily for 11 months and two weeks; I wonder how can one person have so many tears (yet still eyes so dry I need medication!) and will there ever be a day I don’t cry?
Oct 2015 – Sept 2016:
I am blessed by family and amazing women who literally hold me up, hug me, check in on me, text me, send me cards, wipe my tears, and simply love me. Family and friends who have taken care of me, cooked for me, shopped for me, planning outings and parties for me, shared their own difficult experiences, given me sage advice, and have simply been present. How to ever begin to show appreciation and thanks?
Oct 2, 2016:
It will have been one year, and I will have survived. I am deeply grateful for life and for being able to be here every day to love and guide my boys…I know what a gift that is and don’t take it for granted. I hope for less fear, less loneliness, more joy, health, happiness, confidence, and no more awful surprises.
Thank you for being there.