This clearly isn't an easy topic for anyone, but I think that my story and journey can help with those who may be struggling with the loss of a loved one. While everyone goes through this, no two situations are ever the same and I think there's actually some beauty when it comes to that. Each individual on this planet leaves an impact different from the next, and we do not appreciate that enough. As the saying goes, "we don't get our flowers while we can still smell them," and that is something I would like to see change in today's society. So if you have the opportunity, pick up the phone, call your mother, father, sister, brother- whoever it is that is important to you, tell them that you love them and appreciate them because in the blink of an eye, it can all be gone.
For those of you who haven't had to deal with this, I will fill you in with my story, to give you an idea of some of the obstacles we face, and shed some light on how to help others, or yourself, when these difficult times come.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, it felt surreal to be honest. I heard what the doctor said, I heard that it was stage 4 and terminal, but I didn't really believe it. I mean how does one cope with that kind of news? That was my mom, the super hero, the lady who overcame everything and all of a sudden this was it?
Now I was lucky, because for those of you who didn't get a chance to meet my mom, she had a big sense of humor. She was, as the Aussies say, "cheeky," she liked to talk her sh*t and always had a comeback for everything. So when this dry as could be doctor tells us there's no cure and he'll give us a few minutes alone, my mom looks at me as the door closes and says, "Well that sucks doesn't it?" I write this with a laugh and a smile on my face because I was so mad in the moment but wanted to laugh as well, so all kinds of emotions came out of me at once. I know she was scared but she was trying to put on a brave face so I didn't worry. That's how she was though- tough, a fighter.
My mom's father passed away when she was a little girl from cancer, and the doctors told him that he would have years to live. Unfortunately, years were only a few short months and my mother had the same fear when she was given the same prognosis.
As her treatments started, she was upbeat, she was determined to beat this. My mom had a tough life, her childhood was tough, her relationship with her mother wasn't great and she was often looked over, she had an extremely difficult time after she and my father split up, but like I said, she was a fighter, and she told me she was willing to fight to be there for my brother and me.
And so she battled on. During the summer months, she lost her license due to the seizure, so I took her back and forth to work, to her appointments, taking her to the store and wherever else she wanted to go.
When I left for my next season in France, she was doing well. Her treatments were showing very promising signs, She finished her first round of chemo, and although she was weakened by it, she was still strong enough to go through her daily routine. A fighter.
As my season continued on and she went through the second round of chemo, I knew this one was starting to get to her. She lost almost half her body weight and was frail and nearly unrecognisable. This took a mental toll on me, but the greatest thing that could have happened in that moment? I got fired from my job. My team in France cut me, and I was able to go home (Please note, I was not happy at all about this at the time but in hindsight, everything happens for a reason and this was one of the best things that could have happened for me.)
As time went on, her treatments became more aggressive, she was getting weaker physically, but her mind is what scared me. She had to be watched constantly. One night, we were making dinner together, when I told her I was going to take a quick five minute shower and I'd be right back. At that time, the food was just simmering and baking and there was nothing more to do than wait. So I sat her on the couch headed upstairs and quickly jumped in the shower. When I came down a few minutes later, my brother was walking in the door, as we looked in the kitchen, we knew something needed to change. Smoke was billowing from the oven, she put place mats in there to bake. An oven mitt was on fire on the stove top over an open flame and she was pouring olive oil to season it. We rushed in to the kitchen, my brother pulling my mother away while I extinguished the fires.
We looked at her and asked what she thought she was doing. She looked at both of us, and you could see she came back to reality, she broke down and said she didn't know. The look of fear in her eyes made my brother and I look at each other as we hugged her, and we both knew what was coming.
The next morning she had a doctors appointment, and my brother and I agreed we needed to put her in a full time facility. As we were getting ready, she needed to use the bathroom. Instead of the bathroom, she walked across the hall to the basement door, and threw the broom behind the door, down the steps. She nearly fell down the steps if not for me catching her and when I asked what she was doing, the same thing as the night before- she snapped back to reality and realised she didn't know what happened. We cried together for a few minutes before I brought her in.
After explaining to the doctors they agreed and promised to help find a facility that would suit her. Unfortunately, there was a waiting list for it so she had to stay in the hospital for a few weeks, although her condition deteriorated quickly. I would get calls at 1am constantly. My mom was becoming aggressive and wouldn't follow the doctors orders. I would have to get in the car and drive to calm her down. Many nights I would end up spending the night there after spending hours there during the day.
She had experimental procedures to combat her rare forms of cancer. Something that haunts me to this day- it was my decision. I had become power of attorney because she was no longer capable, and I was the one who signed for it. I know I was trying to save her life but these procedures only made things significantly worse.
As a result, the cancer spread even quicker and her mental capacity worsened. For weeks on end, she didn't remember who I was. She would pretend, but she thought I was one of the doctors. She would remember Kyle, my brother, most days but nothing about him.
The moment I KNEW my mother had lost it though? The 2016 presidential candidates were announced and their speeches, debates, etc began. She thought Donald Trump was the better candidate and said America needs him. I knew right then and there, no way in hell was she in her right mind because she couldn't stand that man.
By the time I left for Australia, my mom hadn't remembered who I was for a month. The last day in the hospital was hard, but before I left, crying, telling her that I'll be back to see her, she said through her own tears, "Don't cry Eric, I love you. It will be okay." Before that, she showed no emotion, no memory, she wasn't awake most of the time. I'm glad she came back for that one last moment before I headed off.
I wasn't able to talk to my mom from Australia, when I did, she asked me how the war was (she thought I was a soldier,) or would tell me about Kyle's baseball career (he quit baseball at 7 because it was boring and he'd rather pick the grass in the outfield.) So my calls were with my brother, and I know he was struggling.
When my mom passed away, it was difficult, but I had some great supporters around me. I would like to thank my dad, for helping my brother and I, flying from Colorado to New Jersey each weekend in the months leading up, to help my brother get things in order. I would like to thank his wife, for her understanding and support through it all. My mom's best friend Kerry, for her unconditional love and support.
When my mom passed away I texted some of my closest friends, Scott King, an old college teammate, drove from Boston to New Jersey and spent every hour with me for four days or so to make sure I was okay. My best friend Tres, and his family, they were there for me every chance they could be, my college coaches and all of their support and countless others that deserve their credit as well.
My point being, when you lose a loved one, there is a hole left in your life. One that needs a community to fill. For those of you who are reading this that have experience this, you know exactly what I am talking about.
People tell you that it never gets easier, especially when you lose your mom, and I can tell you there's truth to that. I consider myself lucky, because I saw the pain my mom was in, and when people say they're glad the pain has stopped and they have moved on to a better place, I can assure you that's a real thing. I know she no longer hurts, I know her spirit is free and I find comfort in that now. I think people who tragically lose their loved ones without warning have it worse, at least there was time for my brother and me to process what was happening and come to terms with the grim reality.
Regardless the fact remains, when you lose a loved one, a major hole in your life is there.
I personally turned to alcohol to cope. It was every night, more drinks than I care to admit. I stopped answering my phone, I stopped leaving the house. I was really struggling but that support system kicked in. Friends got around me, I spent weekend afternoons with college coaches and old teammates, barbecues with friends and this helped save my life at the time.
My advice to those who are going through, have gone through or know someone dealing with loss, is to open up. Let your vulnerabilities out, your thoughts and emotions- you can't hold on to them because that dark hole will only get deeper and deeper. Please take it from me, invite your friends who are struggling to dinner, or to play sports or anything social. Even if they decline, they know someone is there and cares about them.
Friends have told me they wish they did more, I tell them those messages were enough for me. The little time I did spend with them were moments I will treasure for all my life. We all cope in different ways, but just talk your feelings out. I'll explain why.
I didn't talk about my emotions, for a few reasons, but nonetheless I never expressed myself. Anger came out in a big way. When I returned to Australia, I struggled to control it, on the court especially. I remember playing in one of the early games back, and the officiating was, well let's just say not great. I fouled out of the game, frustrated and I threw my water bottle against the wall, exploding the lid and water pouring all over the court (still sorry about that Gayle.) I began picking up technical fouls, something I had never done before, scuffles on the court. I'm a very soft person at the core of me, now sports deems that unacceptable and that's another topic but this anger was very unlike who I am.
I refused to talk about my feelings, "I'm good" was always the answer. I felt the need to be good, I had to shoulder a load. I felt unsupported in my life and it began to show.
I had a necklace made with some of my mom's ashes encapsulated. That was the single most important possession I had. Carlie took notice to it and when we started dating, she got me to open up about my mom. Never poked or prodded but like I've said, she is so incredible with people that I felt comfortable for the first time speaking about what I really felt inside.
Once I started talking about it, the anger subsided greatly, I began to lower my walls and allow help in my own life. So please, talk about how you're feeling- if you don't feel like you have anyone to talk to please reach out to me. I promise you it is an ear and nothing more, no judgement, only trying to help everyone I can.
The next bit of advice I have, the first is always the hardest. The first birthday, holiday, Christmas, anniversary- anything you can think of. Your life becomes a new normal, but those memories from the past are always there. While it may be hard, you need to realise (and this is what was difficult for me but completely changed my outlook,) that we shouldn't be sad that our loved ones aren't here. They're always with us. Instead, we need to be happy and grateful, they gave us memories that we can always smile back on.
Before I really put the work in to move my life forward, I would think of my mom and the memories would be of sadness, and sorrow- how she was before she passed. It brought me down. But now, my thoughts of my mom are from when I was a kid, her taking us to the beach, the seafood festival in Belmar, her laughing- who she really was.
Now, don't get me wrong, I miss my mother, I wish she was still here everyday. She never got the chance to meet Carlie in the physical sense, but like I said, our loved ones are always with us in spirit. I know for a fact, my mom loves Carlie like a daughter (to be honest it's probably a good thing they never met, they both are the same person, a ball of fun, so it's best they didn't get together and burn a town down or something.)
I think the part of us that misses our loved ones is the selfish side to us. Now that might sound crazy, but hear me out. My mom was sick, she was hurting. She would cry to me about how much her head hurt, or her body. She suffered with depression and loneliness like many single divorcee's do. I know she's free now though. I know she watches over me everyday. I know she loves me and is happy to see the path I am going down. Most importantly, I know she'll be with me always.
Now that might sound a bit "hippy," but the world right now needs love and light. When we look at how the world works, it always feels better to do good for someone else and lift them up, then to be hurtful and pull them down.
So as I leave you with my thoughts on losing a loved one, please remember, you are not alone. You do not have to shoulder the load yourself. The people around you do love you and do care, although they may not know the best way to communicate that in this difficult time. And if you are feeling down and out, lonely or afraid, please send me a message. Carlie has taught me true love and compassion and I want to pass that gift on to the rest of you. I know what it's like to sink into the dark abyss, but I know what it feels like when you pull yourself out of it, as well. Life is beautiful, even in the darkest times. Find the silver lining because I promise you it is there.
I would love to hear from you that have had experience with this- leave a comment with your thoughts!
Love to you all.