Friday, May 25, 2012

Door Slammed

Today was awful.

We did everything we could to prepare the girls.  We talked to their therapists. We talked about what they would expect.  We brought magazines, cards, and other distractions for the wait.

It didn't matter.  M started freaking out the moment we stepped in the courtroom.  The 4 and 5 year olds who were clueless to what was happening behaved better.  Tears, whining, and hiding her head in her sweater.

We didn't anticipate the emotional toll it would take on E and M and how it would manifest itself.  M had never heard that the woman who caused the accident had no consequences to her actions.  She didn't know her sisters get more money because they were in the car.  Unfortunately, in our state they were required by law to be there.  The lawyers and judge did their best to protect the girls, but some information had to be said out loud.

M kept it pretty much together until we dropped E off at school.  I didn't send her back to school since they had an 11:30 dismissal and she'd barely be there.  I offered to bring her shopping or for a smoothie.  I thought we could stop by S's house and see the baby. 

She insisted on going home.

Once we got there, she screamed, moaned and sobbed for the next hour.  Gut wrenching, primal screams.  Nothing I said helped.  She flinched at my touch.  She cried that she'll never be happy again.  She cried that she wished the car had run her over.  She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.  I couldn't leave her alone in this state and eventually got her into the car so we could pick up the other kids (plus C's twins).  She finally stopped as we pulled into the parking lot.  She was quiet and washed out the rest of the day.  I've given her some space, but made sure I reassured her of our love as much as possible.  My poor little girl.

During the sobbing, CA texted me, "I thought that went smoothly :) "  She has no clue.  The little girls won't remember.  KT has been with CA longer than she was with Jeanne.  Heartbreaking, but true.

E has been quiet and sullen.  Seeing her through the lens of a possible depression diagnosis makes it all the more distressing.

We have a very busy weekend.  K and A just left for soccer tournament in Richmond.  M has a soccer tournament and E has a swim meet.  We can keep everyone busy and moving.

We certainly did not close this chapter of the accident gently.  M slammed it with a painful, violent thrust and I don't blame her.  As an adult and parent I don't get to express the anger and hurt in the same way.

So, I encouraged M to just cry.  I agreed with her that none of this is fair and it so unbelievably sad and senseless.  She cried for all of us.  The adults. Her big sister who buries it deep inside.  Her little sisters who will never know how wonderful her parents were.  Her cousins.

I kept it together all day.  I'm going to get bags packed for tomorrow (8am game...ouch) and then head up to my bed alone.  I'll probably have a good cry.  Hopefully sleep will come easily and we'll all wake up tomorrow ready to tackle the day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Closing the Door

Tomorrow morning at approximately 9am we get to finally close the legal door on the accident.  The girls, with us standing by their sides, will be awarded by the judge the settlement agreed upon by lawyers for the insurance company and our lawyer.  The driver who caused the accident had minimal insurance ($30k max) and Jeanne and Mike's insurance is actually making the payment.  It too is paltry compared to the devastating loss, but it's better than nothing and the girls will have money for college, grad school, weddings, etc.  There is a cap on the money and unfortunately there are 5 competing suits between the sisters (2 wrongful death and 3 injuries).  K and I had to make decisions about how to distribute the annuities as they grow into adulthood.  It was a tough decision, but we feel confident we did the right thing.

The girls are very nervous.  We have talked about it and have explained as much as we can what they can expect.  They don't have to say anything, but will most likely be addressed by the judge at some point.  I think the worst part is going to be the waiting before we actually get called.

Publicly acknowledging the accident, even if it's just the courtroom, is also going to be difficult.  The last time we did it was when K and I became their guardians and the girls weren't there.  The time before that was the funeral.

On the positive, K and I will no longer have to deal with lawyers, guardians ad litem, etc.  We still have to deal with the state probate commissioner once a year, but the lawyers will be gone. The focus on the accident will be gone.  It's hopefully a final step in dealing with the messy legal aspects of being their guardians/parents.

So supportive Internet, if you have the inclination, please send some positive vibes, prayers or whatever you can send to these four little girls tomorrow who lost so much on that horrible October afternoon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

(bitter) Sweet Sixteen

On Saturday we celebrated E's sixteenth birthday.

C and I took E and 4 of her friends to a deli in Annapolis to attempt their famous milkshake challenge.  It was her idea and we added in some walking around and a boat tour of Spa Creek.  We capped off the day with a big family party which included a barbecue, whiffle ball game and s'mores in the backyard.  I think she had a great day.  She was sweet and gracious.  It was a start contrast from the previous Monday...

Monday night we were having a nice family dinner (me and the 5 kids) when the subject of the beach this summer came up.  We are doing our big in-law family trip to the Outer Banks, NC this year in July as opposed to August (we'll go to Hilton Head then).  E does not want to go.  She doesn't want to miss swim practice.  When I explained that she can get workouts from her coach and that we don't want to go without her it escalated into her yelling "you are not my are not my family!"

M started crying, saying "What about me?  Aren't I your family?"

D slammed his fork down, stomped into the family room and started loudly playing Wii baseball.

L ran over to the couch and hid under the covers.

A slunk upstairs, closed his door and quietly started drawing.  He was up all night with "stomach pains" and didn't go to school the next day.

Fast forward to Thursday (2 days before her birthday).  My phone rang at the office from her therapist finally calling me back after requesting we talk before E's next session that afternoon.

She thinks E is clinically depressed.  She is recommending medication.  When she talked to E about it, she was open to taking something to help.  That in and of itself lets me know how serious this is.  From the beginning she has prided herself in "being strong" and showing no emotion. She has only cried in front of any of us 3 times since the accident.

The glass half full Peg thinks this is a step in the right direction.  I'd rather have her reaching this point in her grief at the age of 16 in our house where we can help her and give her the support she needs rather than when she's in college or on her own in her 20's.  As seen in the story above, her behaviour has serious ramifications for the other kids.  A better E will make for a less tense household.

The glass half empty Peg is freaking out.  I had no idea things had gotten this bad.  As her therapist explained her symptoms, I paused and thought, "ahhh, yeah she is like that."  Stepping back, it would be shocking if she wasn't depressed.  Her entire life was wiped away.  Her parents died, her sisters were split up, her dog died, she left her home and her neighborhood.  My heart hurts for her.

In the last 2 years, my emotions have run the gambit....anger, frustration, sadness, stress, anxiety.  But for the first time, I am scared.  I'm scared what this means for my family.  I have brought two traumatized children into my home and it's starting to wear on all of us.  My kids are so stressed out.  K and I are so stressed out.  We never get a break.  My kids never get a break.

Mostly, I'm worried about E.  Medication is a scary thing.  I have first hand experience seeing my sister S have suicidal thoughts after taking an antidepressant and then having to help check her into a psychiatric hospital.  She was 26.  E is only 16. 

Doubt is entering my mind again about whether or not our family can endure this storm.  About whether or not I have the ability to meet all of the kids needs and especially those of these sad, desperate little girls.

I have a appointment for a psychiatric evaluation set for June 7th.  I've called the head of the therapy center where the girls (and our whole family) has received help. Dr. L reassured me that they'll help us through all of this.  I talked to her swim coach.  I'm trying to take some stress off her shoulders as much as possible.

I haven't slept in 5 days.  I haven't been able to eat.  I just snapped about the boys to just get to bed and leave me be for a few minutes.  The crisis that is our family continues.  Sigh.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day Hush

Mother's Day was celebrated in our house in a hush.

D sidled up next to me at some point, put one arm around me and said in a whisper, "Happy Mother's Day mommy."

E went to the cemetery and did homework.

M pretended like it was any other day and went to her soccer game and a birthday party.  The distraction for her was a blessing.

We gave presents to the grandmothers and celebrated my brother-in-law's 25th birthday with a pizza dinner at the in-laws.

After all the kids went to bed, K gave me a few gifts that he and D had gone out and gotten at the last minute.  The four little kids did give me cards on Friday at Mother's Day festivities at school which were sweet.

Mommy is a word that has taken an entire new role in our house.  My boys are so sensitive to what the girls have lost that they constantly tip-toe around showing any effusive affection towards me in front of the girls on days like Sunday. 

In my head and my heart I have five children.  Strangely, three have a mommy and two don't.  I don't ever expect the girls to see me as their mom.  They had a wonderful mother and I would never, ever try to replace her.  Being part of our family, though, creates a dynamic where their lack of a mother (and father)  puts weird strains on the rest of us trying to be sensitive to their feelings, but at the same time wanting to fiercely cling to each other.

For most families, Sunday was a day where their kids (and husbands) pause and express their gratitude and love.  I know my kids (all five of them) love me.  I don't need a special day to let me know that.  Days like Sunday make us all hurt a little more rather than cause a moment of celebration.  Days like Sunday highlight what has been lost and that's a heavy thing for the kids to have to deal with.

That sucks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Miss...

Her laugh.

Her hugs.

The silly names she made up for the kids' stuffed animals.

The way she could nurse a beer for hours.

The way she loved my boys.

Her no-nonsense way of giving us all tough love when we needed it.

Her potato salad.

Her house on Christmas Eve.

The way she loved my husband and laughed at his jokes.

Being with her at the beach.

Our talks on the way to work in the morning.

Our talks on the way home from work in the afternoon.

Her smell.


I miss my sister. 

I just miss her so much.

It hurts everyday, but for some reason it hurts a little more tonight.

I love you Zhea.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


In my work life, as an analyst, I am known for my ability to sort information in logical "bins" and make sure apples are with apples and the oranges know where to go, etc.  It's kinda my thing.

When it comes to our family, however, what drives me batty is when people try to put us (or one of us) in a box.

"What's the big deal?  Other families have five kids."

"You're a blended family."

"All the kids are so well adjusted and seem so happy."

"You are an inspiration and an angel for what you did."

I know why they do it.  People want to make sense of a horrible event and don't want to see or think about the continued crisis in our family.  Dismissive of the difficulty in our everyday life.  Telling me I'm doing such a good job, or that I'm somehow a holy person for taking in the girls, makes them feel good about themselves in their effort to try to make me feel better.  They want all of us to sit comfortably in our happy little box, wrapped in colorful paper with a big, cheerful bow on top.

You cannot box our family. We are not a blended family.  We are a family of 5 that added two cousins.  We're not the Brady Bunch.  Nobody ever talks about what happened to the first Mrs. Brady.  In our case, she and Mr. Brady were violently killed in a car accident.  Our Marsha and Jan were tossed around in two other solutions till they landed in our laps.  We were an established family with our own traditions, rhythms, jokes, activities, and roles which were suddenly rocked by the addition of two traumatized, grieving children.

Practical solutions that may make sense for most families, often don't make sense for us because of the emotional ramifications tied to a change in routine.  I don't always feel like a good person for taking in the girls.  There are days where I've fantasized about grabbing my three little boys and running away to a secluded beach in Mexico.  Just us, where there are no such things as car accidents, screaming 12 year old girls or surly teenagers.  I am not a saint.  I am not a perfect mother by any means (as documented many times in this blog).

The only thing that makes sense to me is to try to live our lives as "normal" as possible.  I'm not sure if it makes sense to other people, but if we give up the things that helped define us as a family, we're letting the accident take away more than just Jeanne and Mike.    We were a busy, active family before the accident.  I was a mom that cooked a family dinner (most nights), helped with homework, played board games and was the first to offer up our house for a play date or a potluck dinner with friends.

Normal means the kids play sports.  They each really only play one sport a season (except D), but we're now balancing 5 schedules.  If we told D that he couldn't play baseball because it was too much for the family, he would blame the girls.  If we made M and E not play/swim on the teams that did before they came to live with us, they would get yet another loss in addition to their parents, sisters, house, friends, and school.  The decision may not be what's best for the whole family (or me), but the alternative seems worse.  We get TONS of help with practices and games, but we still struggle with trying to make sure they each feel like we care about their individual stuff and that E's swimming, for example, isn't more important than A's soccer game.

Normal means I throw big, fun family parties for the kids' birthdays.  I babysit for my nephew when I can.  We have spontaneous play dates with cousins, go to mass on Sundays, family celebrations at the in-laws, and trips to the skate park, creek and the local ice cream place. 

Keeping up with that normal isn't always easy.  In fact, most days it's an absolute nightmare (again, well documented here).  The alternative, though, emotionally feels worse.  The accident pulled apart the seams of our family in so many ways.  I CANNOT, I WILL NOT allow it to keep me from dreaming big for all five of our kids and letting them have the childhood and family life we want for them.

There are basic changes that we have made, and still need to make, that have and will help our family life run smoother. We're working with the kids to pick up the slack a bit around the house and be a little more independent.  Financially, we really don't have the money to get any more help than we already have.  The reality is that this new life is hard.  It's been hard on me.  It's been hard on K. It's been hard on the kids. It's been hard on our marriage and my relationship with the boys.  It's heartbreakingly hard on the girls.

From the outside, people still want us to be that shiny new package or the happy ending from a sitcom where Bobby gets his new suit all dirty, but he does it saving the little girl's kitten (sorry Brady Bunch on my mind) and it all turns out okay (even when the washer overflows).  Our box is worn and messy.  It's ripped in one corner.  It's dirty and complicated and filled with grieving, confused children and stressed adults. 

It's also filled with lots of love and I'm hopeful that this love can sustain all of us in the desire for OUR normal.  A normal with no boxes, just a family doing the best it can to live life to the fullest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wall

When I was in high school, I ran track.  I was a sprinter and ran in the 4 x 400 relay team.  The 400 is basically a controlled sprint.  You need to make sure you don't go out too fast or you'll die at the end.  Where we were in the race when I received the baton, usually dictated how fast I went out and whether or not I'd be able to hold on for the last 100 meters.  I was (still am) pretty little and I definitely wasn't very strong. I didn't have much of a kick and usually just tried to hold on till I could pass on the baton.  One of my least favorite feelings in my entire athletic career has to be the moment I would turn the corner on the last curve and hit the final straightaway.  My muscles would immediately tighten under the strain to keep up my pace.  It was like running in the water...exhausted.  It's called "hitting the wall."  A miserable experience, but strangely one I continued to do for my four year high school track career.

On Saturday at approximately 10:45pm I finally hit the wall.  I've been tired both mentally and physically in the last 2 years, but for some reason this felt different.

I pulled off yet another day of early swim practice, soccer and baseball games, a kid party (herping hike and ice cream) for A, and a big family party for both A and K's birthdays.  Prep for both parties was completely me.  Everything worked out great and people seemed to have fun, especially the birthday boy.

I was cleaning up and dumping the millionth plastic cup that someone left half-full in my living room and I just had had enough.  I sat down on the floor and sobbed.  I was so tired I didn't think I could make it upstairs to bed.  Somehow I stumbled upstairs, took out my contacts and cried myself to sleep.

The next morning we got up early for mass and continued non-stop the rest of the day with games, laundry, homework, etc.  CA stopped by after we got from mass (forgot her keys the night before) and told me as she was leaving that we need to spend more time together and that "I" need to prioritize our relationship.  She's busy too and I can't possibly be that busy.  I had nothing to say.  She just doesn't get it.  I don't think she ever will.

The day finished off with E announcing she wants to go back to individual therapy.  We went on a break in September on her therapist's suggestion because E wasn't participating (she goes to a grief group at school).  She basically used it to bitch about me and how I don't pay enough attention to her. My first reaction was panic in how I am possibly going to get her there. I can barely get through each day with our current load. My second fear is that she's just going to continue where she left off last summer and try to drag me into her sessions or use her therapist to tell me she wants more attention and doesn't understand why her needs don't always come first.  It was exhausting and awful.  It always made me feel like I was a terrible aunt and parent.  Yes, I went ahead and called her therapist.  I'm trying to be positive, but her timing was strange and she can be very manipulative.  The focus switched away from her this week (no prom) and just like M's fake illnesses her ability to express her insecurity is limited.  I'm hopeful, but skeptical of her ultimate intentions.

I have been on the verge of crying since Saturday night.  I have been moving through my days in a fog.  Driving.  Cooking.  Trying to be normal around the kids.  I just feel like I'm failing at everything and see no end in sight.  My house is a mess.  I'm behind in laundry.  I'm doing an awful job at work.  Thank goodness both of my task leads are clueless and somehow I'm skating by.

I am also so sick of constantly asking for help.  It sounds silly to complain about help.  Asking for help is something that is really hard for me to do and I have to do it every single day.  Even getting the help feels like work because I still have to figure out all the logistics.  I feel guilty about needing the help and the fact that we can never act self sufficiently is suffocating at times. 

I think I've finally hit the wall.  We have been running a marathon and there is no end in sight.  The emotional and physical needs of the kids are completely overwhelming.  Even Harriet (my therapist) on Monday was at a loss.  I feel indulgent sitting here typing this out when I still have laundry to switch over to the dryer and lunches to make.

I am tired in every fiber of my being. I don't feel strong enough to finish this race.  At least in the 400 relay I could pass the baton off to someone else.  Unfortunately, it's all me and I am struggling. Sigh.