Blog Post

Broken Heart Syndrome

 

IMG_3459
Woodstock, Vermont “Town Crier” – the town was so small it still had a community board of local events. Jacob thought this was incredibly cool – we came on a day where this small community was having a parade – we went to the local library, bought local ice cream and walked around this little town. I remember Jacob saying “Baby, we have to check out more of Vermont.” Jacob wearing the Bob Dylan shirt my dad got him many years back.

Broken heart syndrome is a heart condition that’s brought on by highly traumatic situations, such as the sudden death of a loved one. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they’re having a heart attack. It is also known as “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy” in the medical world… blah blah blah. But the story is pretty interesting: The name “Takotsubo Syndrome” comes from the Japanese word Takotsubo which means “octopus trap,” because the left ventricle of your heart takes on a shape resembling a fishing pot. (It is real, people!) This cardiomyopathy is now a well-recognized in the medical community as an actual cause of acute heart failure, lethal ventricular arrhythmias, and ventricular rupture. Yeah, those words mean nothing to me either. Google them if you are interested, I guessMy biology major was very anti-pre med (the pre-med students had HUGE ego’s where Jacob and I went to undergrad), and especially now, after experiencing the coldness from the night Jacob was taken from me, and the trauma, I really have no desire to even hear medical terms- as I have mentioned in previous posts- when I see an ambulance I have to pull over and try to contain my vivid flashbacks, when I pass a hospital I have to pretend it doesn’t exist. But, I do not want to talk about this. I bring this broken heart syndrome up because there seems to be a common thread among a lot of widows. Because many people think those in debilitating grief look “perfectly fine” on the outside, they reject our grief or think “we are getting better and moving on” all the while our insides are filled with massive holes, crippling pain, and despair that goes unrecognized and dismissed because it is not seen physically. I will take physical pain over this emotional agony any day. And the word “emotional agony” doesn’t even come close to describing how I feel inside.

 

IMG_1881
My Dad and Jacob at “The Friendly Toast” for breakfast shortly after we moved to Cambridge, MA – May 1, 2017. This was near MIT – it was freezing outside and Jacob had flip flops on so my dad gave him a pair of tennis shoes and socks to borrow (the shoes were much too small for Jacob – but he was desperate, his feet were so cold). We walked for almost a mile to find this place (GPS malfunction). Jacob LOVED it- the decor had old school signs from the 50s, pop culture trinkets from the 60s-90s, and little details only a highly observant writer like Jacob could recognize. He had Corned Beef Hash, like usual, and he always tried it at every breakfast place we went to since 2010 but especially in Cambridge – “Baby, I am the only person besides 90-year-olds that ever even order this.” *This story reminds me of ANOTHER time with my parents in Cambridge (a sketchy restaurant that had good reviews, though) where Jacob found like rat hair in his Corned Beef Hash* So gross. We got out of there so quickly. They gave Jacob a $25.00 gift certificate, which I still have. My mom wanted to get it framed…

Here is something else about the physical recognition that widows get (and it is again, very common – my dear widow friend Élise told me people have said this to her and continue to say this to her all the time) and, unfortunately, I have heard it as well. Many have, and I am getting this out right now in defense of widows everywhere. The grief diet we have and how people say the most stupid shit imaginable. Here is how the conversation goes down (or something of the like). “Wow! You look great! You’ve lost so much weight. Did you start running or something?” “No, my partner died.” “Well, whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up! You look amazing.” Are you fucking kidding me? I look good? First off, do you think I GIVE A SHIT about how I look when I have lost everything? My spouse, our apartment, our children, our entire future together- do you think this weight loss is healthy? Do you think this is wanted? HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE? Jesus. People think you want to hear this kind of garbage but no, they need to think again. It adds more salt to the wounds. My nutrients come from bread and butter. And that is starting to wane quickly into no appetite for anything – not even bread.  Yeah, yeah – it isn’t healthy – BUT I HAVE NO CHOICE. It isn’t a choice. My therapist explained it pretty well – she said “we as humans have an animalistic instinct to nourish ourselves with food, water, etc. in typical, normal healthy conditions – but you do not want to live, therefore your body is completely shutting down, lack of any appetite is part of the last phase, it is unnatural because what you are going through is the most unnatural thing in the world. Your depression is killing you, mentally and physically”. People just do not get it – when you are in horrible grief and deep depression you do not want to eat anything. You shut down. And you know what? I know in my heart not only does Jacob understand this but that he would react in a similar way if the situation was reversed. I wish for that every day- “why was he taken? why didn’t you take me? He was such a gift and light to the world – why didn’t you take me?” People tend to make comments of what made Jacob and I happy (I’m sorry, but I know that best) but anyway, the point is- he/we liked to do these activities…when we were both alive and together. Yes, we enjoyed cooking and taking walks in the forest – WHEN WE WERE BOTH ALIVE AND LIVING TOGETHER. Yes, we loved trying and enjoying new food and spending time with children and watching movies and taking showers/bubble baths together and new adventures and drinking hot chocolate and celebrating the holidays and feeling the cool breeze on our faces – WHEN WE WERE BOTH ALIVE AND LIVING TOGETHER. I mean, what do you not understand about this? It is so easy for people to just word vomit stupid shit and offer platitudes in their comfortable houses with their family and spouses right by their side. Or even friends by their side, for that matter. I will say it in every post – Jacob has been my one and only since as long as I can remember. He was my best friend. My only roommate – ever – since 18. My entire world. He was, was going to be, and is my all and everything. When you talk about having children together from such a young age – when you set a wedding date – when you build a future together from such a young age (middle school, cough, cough) and when it is all taken from you in the blink of an eye, yeah – your “you look great!” comments make me want to vomit. Do not mention my weight, that my skin looks good, my outfit is nice (I am literally picking from a pile and throwing on whatever smells clean when I have to leave the house for a doctor’s appointment) or my hair. Which, by the way, not only goes unwashed for weeks and weeks but now I just wash it under the sink – the whole getting into the shower, getting wet and changing clothes is too much of a chore. I’m tired of all this sugar coating nonsense – THIS IS WHAT GRIEF LOOKS LIKE. I am sorry if it makes you feel uncomfortable – try living it.

fullsizeoutput_7f
Fall 2011 – at my parent’s hotel in downtown Tallahassee before an FSU game (Jacob did not like Football AT ALL and either did I, but we always went when my parents came up and bought us all tickets, 3-4 times every Fall). But this photo shows what I miss so much – these hugs from the back I would get every day and kisses from behind. Jacob would say “Coo, you are the perfect height and size for me because I can wrap my arms around you from behind!”

 

I just feel like only other widows understand this kind of grief… and even though no one can fully understand (even other widows) the depths – I mean deep deep depths of our love – they can relate on a level no one else can. I went from having 0 widows in my life to 3 that check in on me regularly… I will take that. They let me cry, tell my story, and can relate to the endless horror and misery. I hear their stories. And even though they are far away… I feel that maybe it is a reason to turn on my phone, and hear a voice that doesn’t judge, project, add stress, give me “wisdom”, cruelty or tell me what to do – but they know all the right things to say.

IMG_5167

You know what box sitting in my childhood home (where I am currently living and all of our possessions are) makes me most sad? Well, one of the boxes that makes me most sad. Our kitchen boxes. All of our kitchen supplies have been with us since 2010 – the records and books have too, so those boxes make me beyond sad – but the kitchen boxes bring memories of how we would cook together, how Jacob would surprise me with meals so often (even vegan meals, I wasn’t vegan, but he would research because he was so curious like that) and our little plates and mugs we would find at thrift stores. One mug in particular I know I will break down when I eventually see it. All the knitted mason jar covers I would make for him. Our re-usable metal straws. The hanging fruit basket he bought us. The silly aprons he bought me. Our vintage goodwill soup bowls we loved. These are things we have had for so long…even the kitchen towels with botanical plants on them and Simpon’s characters. It just makes me want to crawl into a hole.

IMG_0329
Jacob at one of our favorite beaches in the Panhandle on the Forgotten Coast… undeveloped coastline for miles and miles – again, this land was our home- Jacob said it himself “The only place I would ever live in Florida would be Tallahassee”, and I completely agreed – and the houses we loved to drive by and look at as we got closer to St. George Island (his favorite beach of all time) are now completely destroyed by the hurricane, and the forests we stopped and admired are gone…Jacob’s favorite spot to go look at Pitcher Plants and rare Florida sunflowers. All gone. It makes me sick – it would make Jacob so sad to see our home, our city, and our favorite wild lands destroyed. But this photo was taken at our secret spot and secret beach we went to in the winter… no one was ever around or near…except a local rural pottery artist Jacob and I also loved visiting. Of course, he had Jacob’s number and called him once a week to talk to him. January 2017.

Currently, well for a while now, I am reading Jacob’s favorite books and they bring me some comfort. Movies are off-limits right now because he introduced me to all of it – Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson (in 7th grade mind you – so, 2004 for me, 2003 for him) – it just is way too much to watch any movie – and new movies his eyes cannot see and I know he would love (like The Meyerowitz Stories and the second season of Stranger Things, both on Netflix) make me sick… because he talked about watching them together. He read about them coming out. I cannot even log into our shared Netflix account (Yakescoo). It is one of the biggest triggers I have because it was a huge part of our lives and it completely influenced and shaped me and this shaping was done all by Jacob. The last movie we ever saw together in theatres was “Baby Driver” which he loved, as did I, and it was August 4, 2017 – exactly one month before he died. I remember our walk home that night was beautiful. We held hands the whole way home and with the colder weather, we could tell Fall was coming. He kept his ticket stub from that night in his wallet. Jacob was like that, he kept all the movie ticket stubs he went to with me in his wallet or in his “blue area” as we called it – a blue colored box with tons of papers and cards shoved inside. I remember on our walk home we passed a garden level basement, that of course, Jacob pointed out because he was so observant, that had lights flickering and a broken window and Jacob said “Kaitlin, look at this-this is the stuff of nightmares right here.” He looked around, could tell I was scared and was like “Yeah, we need to go. Fuck this”  I feel like that walk was yesterday.

IMG_8462
Jacob with Llamas outside of Cairo, Georgia at an Art Festival – October 2016

Listening to our favorite records is also so hard – but necessary sometimes because it was what we did all the time, every day – as soon as we both got home, a record was put on and we would decide together. Just one of our many daily rituals. But certain things I can listen to and others I cannot. We couldn’t back out of the driveway without music decided upon. If I was driving, “Jacob you are the DJ” or if he was driving, “Coo you gotta be the DJ for us”. If I found out about a new artist (usually from the past) or he did – everything stopped. We listened together. Or if I would find out about a new modern artist that he would end up loving like M. Ward he would say “Coo, you can’t hide this stuff from me!” He loved M. Ward and one song, in particular, he would play for me so often, was  Eyes on the Prize. That song is incredibly hard to type let alone listen to – he not only played it for me but he would sing it into my ear as he kissed my neck. The lyrics for him were so important. “Wow, what a great line” he would say in the car. He was always completely engaged. If you started to talk in the middle of one of his favorite songs, or any song he put on, he would pause it – listen to you and then restart the song. I picked up that habit too! “It is a good one to have”, we would say. We were constantly excited about discovering new music. For instance, when I first learned about Jimmie Rodgers, Jacob was obsessed. He read about him, listened to all of his music, and for 2-3 months had a complete fixation. “Classic Yakes!” I would say. Same with The Pet Sounds album by The Beach Boys, Blaze Foley, Buddy Holly, Leon Redbone (this was his favorite Redbone song), and Doc Watson. Just like Jacob showed me Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Daniel Johnston, The Pixies, Blind Blake, Bob Dylan***, Leonard Cohen, and Hank Williams (well we both came to Hank Williams at the same time –  a story for another time). The list goes on and on… I came back from Rochester, New York (where my mother is from) in 2011 with what turned out to be Jacob’s favorite and most prized vinyl of all time – and again, that is a longer story for another day – but it is one of the rarest 1920s delta blues compilations in the world, you cannot find any of these songs online. If he read a poem that brought him to tears or really moved him it was “Coo, come in here quick! You have to read this.” If I read a short story I knew he would like, I would give it to him immediately. Such as, Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” which turned into one of his favorite short stories of all time, and a tradition that we always read it together on Christmas… since like 2013? He would read me Stephen King short stories especially the magical realism ones which he loved most, and we would listen to David Sedaris stories while cuddling together. If one of us wanted to write or cover a song together, we would both play guitar and sing – or I would play the banjo or he would play the banjo. Or one of us would play our cigar box dulcimer, “Wandering Bear” we named it.  Sometimes, listening to music is too painful. Other times, it reminds me of the memories I have to hold onto and I cry and cry for hours and it reminds me of the depths of our love. Our music and records, just like his poems and love letters are reminders of our soul connection to each other – forever.

fullsizeoutput_7e
On our way to pick blueberries in May 2014 – our usual May tradition in Tallahassee. This is Jacob with a Donkey, we couldn’t resist stopping off the side of the road. Plus we found some wild blackberries near here. He is holding our water bottle I left at the French Town Market in early 2017… we were both really sad when I lost it. We had it for so many years…

I am going to leave this post with a poem from the collection I self-published, which I realize probably very few have read but, what the hell? Maybe you want to read some suffering. I know I do. There is nothing relatable about self-help books or all that “happiness and rainbows” bullshit.

IMG_3968
Summer 2015

 

YOUNG FLESH, OLD PAINS

I have young flesh

all marked up

with old pains.

and while the sideways clock

shuts down the wind,

we are left here

to meet in the morning-

as noah’s dove once whispered,

life ain’t worth living

without the one you love.

 

but there is something

in the doing

that is needed

for the why.

 

the song

I am singing

comes in

on a whistling trill,

and is older than

the exodus bell

itself.

 

when I see their skin

that looks like mine

I have to stoop down

so I don’t bump my head.

I have to hang tight

so I don’t drop my luggage.

I have to cool the flames

so I don’t distill the wash.

I have to fly downriver

so I don’t sink my core

I have to worship

the dry giant,

so I don’t scrape

my running feet.

 

but no matter how

I struggle and stride,

I always

have to

jump the line.

I always come back,

roaring under

the night sky.

 

I never find myself in these people,

 

it must be

my young flesh

all marked up

with old pains.

 

– Frances Bloom (Kaitlin Griffith)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s