3 Years

3 yearsIt’s been 3 years. 156 weeks. 1,095 days. 26,280 hours. And yet, it’s still been only half a minute. You’d think by now I would be used to the idea – the fact – that my son died. We’ve gone through birthdays and holidays, milestones, events. You would think it wouldn’t be a surprise to me that Nolan is gone. You’d be wrong. I know it’s real. I even believe it’s real now. Denial has left the building. I can be in the middle of the most mundane task – running errands, folding laundry, even reading a good book, and it hits me out of the blue. My son died. My son died. Nolan DIED. It’s just as shocking as it was 3 years ago today. Time doesn’t heal this kind of trauma. Nothing does. Time allows for you to get used to the pain. It absorbs into your very being and becomes a part of you. Your shoulders learn to bear the weight, and your feet learn to take smaller steps. Your mind still clouds over to protect you from the horror, but every so often, it seeps in. This nightmare is your life. There are no more tomorrows with him. I will live more of my life without him than with him. The ache doesn’t lessen. It seems to deepen as the time between Before and Since grows longer.

Everything has changed in the last 3 years. I have a different job now. I live in a different house. I have some different friends. I look a little different too. Grief has etched lines in my skin and left bags under my eyes. I’ve grown softer. I’m aging faster now. I don’t have the energy for things I once did. I have no tolerance for people who are self-serving or dishonest. I can’t be around people who create drama or who blame others. Those who judge or talk about others unkindly, people who complain about the dissatisfaction in their life but do nothing to change it? Can’t deal with them. I have become adept at holding people in my heart and letting them go from my life. I’ve come to realize that my feelings Before were muted in comparison to how deeply I feel now. It’s a strange, twisted gift of Grief. Only after such a devastating loss do you realize how intensely you can love.

In the time Since, I’ve learned that I, too, have a brain aneurysm. I’ve also developed a heart condition. The doctors say it was caused by medication I was taking, but I secretly believe it’s because my heart broke the moment Nolan’s stopped beating. I feel my mortality. I fluctuate between just wanting to go to sleep and not wake up and wanting to suck every moment from this life that I can. In my stronger times, I know that Nolan is fine now. He’s not going anywhere and will meet me once my own fateful day arrives, so I should live out loud every moment until that happens. On my vulnerable days, it seems like forever and joy is so far outside my grasp that I don’t have the energy to try. It’s a strange dichotomy to exist in – both waiting to die and striving to truly live.

I don’t really have the words to describe what this feels like today. Another year has gone by without Nolan’s smile, without his laughter, without his voice. I wasn’t done parenting him. I’m still not. My arms feel empty, and I physically ache to hold him one more time. I still cry every single day. I think I always will. The first thought each morning is “I love you Nolan” The last thought each night is “I love you Nolan, and I miss you so terribly.”

In a few days, 4 other people will be celebrating their milestone of 3 years post-transplant. They will be filled with love and hope. I know they will shed a tear for Nolan, as they hold him in their hearts, wishing their life didn’t depend on his death. Knowing that parts of him are still alive brings me comfort, and I am so very thankful for each of those people carrying him within them.

I don’t have any words of wisdom. I can’t be anyone else’s guidepost in this dark. This, perhaps, isn’t a very eloquent post today. I struggle to find the words when they usually flow freely. All I can say is, we have today, this very moment. When you have a chance to do something to help someone else, do it. Share a smile, a kind word. Hold those you love closer and longer. Never miss a chance to laugh or to love. Try something new, and think of a boy who wanted nothing more than make the world a better place and follow his lead. We are all One Tribe.

For you, Nolan, I will keep going. I will love. I will laugh. For you, Nolan, I will live.

 

Birthdays

Every day is hard. The very first thought in your mind each day is, “He’s not here. Another day without my son.” Each morning you have to re-orient yourself to this “New Normal” that everyone tells you about. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by. Day after day it’s the same thing. You wake up and that jolt of adrenaline hits you. This is your life now. It takes a minute. Eventually, the air makes its way back into your lungs and you put your feet on the floor. This weight is familiar, you remind yourself. You know what this feels like. It’s heavy, but you’ve been carrying it for some time now, and you know you will bear it just like you have been. A few more breaths, and you are able to put one foot in front of the other again. Keep moving, you just keep moving.

The sights and the sounds of the day greet you, and in those mundane moments, you feel stronger. You know there are blessings to be had this day, you need only notice them. So you look. You hear the sounds of your youngest child getting ready for school and feel so blessed that he is still here, healthy enough to be giving his Dad some sass. You hear your husband responding and feel so thankful that this man is steadfast in his commitment to your family. Your blankets are warm, and you feel lucky that they have wrapped you in comfort as your body struggled to find rest. It’s the little things you no longer take for granted. The sink full of dishes, knowing your family had food to start their day. The piles of laundry, for it shows your family has clothes to wear. Warm water in the shower, a clean towel, fuzzy slippers – these are your blessings, and you count them one by one. You wrap these blessings around you like armour to protect against the onslaught of Grief that can grab you unaware and rip the very fabric of your Soul to shreds.

Every day is hard. There are some days that are harder. Holidays, milestones, anniversaries are some of the hardest. Then again, any random Tuesday that the sun is shining brightly and birds chirp merrily in the air is enough to break open the tenderly covered wound of your heart and cause you to go crashing to your knees, begging for the sweet relief of death, the only thing that will ever free you of this pain.dsc00518

Then there are birthdays. Yours, your other childrens’, and his. Another year has passed and there is no escaping the iron clad fist of Grief as it steals your breath, your strength, your mind, and your heart. You are forced to face the fact that he will never be any olderdsc01475 than the sweet 14 year old boy he was. Past tense. Nobody ever warned you that a simple verb would destroy you. You are faced to wonder – what would he look like now? Would he have the creepy pedo-stash he always talked about growing? Would he be as tall as his Dad? Taller? What size would he wear? What would you be buying him for his birthday? A car? A new phone? He should be here still arguing with you. He should be here still asking for your advice. You should be going to visit colleges and plan for his future. You should be frustrated because he leaves his shoes out all the time. You should be annoyed that he stole your comb – again! Your grocery bill should be double SAMSUNGwhat it is. You should be talking about girls and cars and life.

You’re not. You’re crying. What used to be one of the happiest days has become the epitome of despair. You desperately want to focus on his life – he was HERE! He grew inside your body and took his first breath in your arms. You heard his first words! Try as you might, you can’t quiet the knowledge that he “was,” but is no longer. He took his last breath in your arms as well. You hear his last words to you echo throughout your body, “Mommy it hurts.” You see only your child lying on the floor and watch as the last breath escapes his lips. You are frozen, panic setting in as you realize he isn’t breathing. You still feel his warm skin under your hand as you notice his heart isn’t beating, merely fluttering. That same heartbeat that was as quick as a baby bird’s. Your world turns inside out. You remember hearing that heartbeat for the very first time and the excitement in your heart, in your husband’s eyes. Then you remember hearing that heartbeat for the last time inside his precious body.

It doesn’t make any sense. How can you be there at the start of his life, at the end, and still exist more than 2 years later? All you have are memories. Past tense verb. History. His future is gone. Your family’s future is forever changed. The sun continues to rise each day and set each night. Breath after agonizing breath continues to fill your lungs. The moments come – in between those breaths – a crack in the darkness, a whisper in your heart. “I’m still here.” There is a nanosecond between the inhale and the exhale where possibilities still exist. You can feel him as lightly as a feather passing by in the breeze. You can almost see him next to you and feel his heart holding you. Then the breath leaves your lungs and the weight returns. It’s inevitable. You search for those moments. You would do anything for him. You would die with gratitude if only it meant he would come back. You cry to the Heavens for something to do for him. There is no present you can buy him for his birthday. In that moment, between one breath and the next, you hear it. The whisper so softly you think you imagined it. “I know you would die for me, but will you live for me too?” It’s too hard. It’s too much. Yet, nothing is ever too much for our children. You have to. You know it. You strive to live in those moments between breaths, where he still is. There is no past tense or future tense in the moment. There simply is. Love, peace, and stillness. That is where you find him, where you find courage, where you find purpose.

You would be 17 now, my dear Nolan. Hardly a boy and not yet a man, although I know you would argue that with me! In my mind I see you a little bit older, in my heart you are still my baby boy, as you will always be. I work hard each day to focus on your life and not just your death. It’s not ever easy, but it’s worth it. I see colors brighter now because of you. I hear more clearly now because of you. I taste more sweetness now because of you. I touch more tenderly now because of you. I feel love deeper now because of you. My life will never be what I wanted it to be. It will never be as I planned. That doesn’t mean it won’t be filled with joy and laughter. It will be filled with even more – because of you.

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Losing Weight

Losing Weight.jpgGrief is heavy. You carry that weight in your body, in your heart, and in your Soul. Some people are lucky enough to experience what I call the “Death Diet.” These lucky bastards are heavy emotionally, and yet they lose so much physical weight they become unrecognizable. Not so much for me. I’ve wrapped myself in comfort food. I’ve eaten my emotions. This sucks. It’s another facet of Grief that changes you. There’s no quick-fix, miracle diet that can help. The heaviness weighs more than pounds, more than tons. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much you are carrying until, one day, it begins to lift.

I know I’ve talked about the physical experience of Grief. I capitalize it because, really, Grief is an entity. It’s more than an emotion. Grief has substance and presence. It has characteristics and influence. When Grief first shows up in your life, it brings its close friend Denial. They work together to make their way into your body a little at a time. Grief is too strong to manage without the numbing influence of Denial. Occasionally their cousin PTSD sneaks into the mix unseen and hides. He’s an asshole. Grief changes every cell of your body. During my first year Since, I would forget people’s names. Even people I had known for years – even people in my family! I couldn’t hold a thought in my head, and I constantly forgot words I meant to use. I could hold a conversation with someone and shortly thereafter have no memory of what we talked about. There was a point where I really did think I had early Alzheimer’s or Dementia. It turns out that “Grief Brain” is a real thing. Seriously. MRI’s show that a person experiencing profound Grief has changes in their brain function. It used to drive Nason crazy having to repeat himself all the time. Thankfully, he’s a pretty awesome kid, and when we explained what Grief Brain is, he accepted that Mom and Dad were just going to be clueless for a while.

Eventually, Denial makes way for Reality to come in. Reality can be a jerk. It hurts. It takes the blinders off and lifts that numbing fog that surrounds you. Reality has a sidekick named Anger. Luckily for me (and everyone around me) Anger doesn’t mesh with my personality and never really took hold. Reality makes way for Acceptance. Acceptance is the hardest to allow into your life. Acceptance means that you give up the fight against What Is. You give up the hope that this is a nightmare and will end someday. You let go of the dream you had for your child’s life; for your family’s life. You allow for the fact that this is how life is going to be. Here’s the kicker that you don’t expect – It’s going to be ok. It will never be the same. It will never be what you wanted. Sadness will live in every moment of every day forever, and even with all that, life is still going to be amazing.

I knew pretty early on that I couldn’t heal living in the house that Nolan died in. Every morning I awoke in the bed where he spoke his last words. I got showered in the bathroom where he took his last breath. I would pass by the spot where he would lay on the floor and sleep in the afternoon sun. I would see where he stood in the kitchen looking up new recipes. I sat on the couch he slept on for a month. I put pellets in the stove he nearly blew up pouring lighter fluid in. I went up the stairs he slid down in laundry baskets and blankets. I put clothes down a laundry shoot he would climb up and play in. He was everywhere, and yet, he was nowhere. His room was frozen exactly the way he left it. Dust settled on everything because I couldn’t even walk upstairs to go near it.

Ray had a different experience of the house. He found comfort in living in the space that Nolan was so happy in. It was really hard to manage between us. I avoided being there, and he never wanted to leave. At one point, I told him I was moving and hoped that he would come with me, but even if he didn’t, I would be moving out in order to heal. It took some long talks and patience for him to get on board with moving. It took time for Nason to be ok with it as well. We had to promise him, cross our hearts, that we would not leave the neighborhood. We do live in a pretty awesome neighborhood, but houses here don’t come up too often and don’t stay on the market long.

It took a year for us to find a house that would feel like home. It’s tiny. I mean, really tiny. To downsize from 7,000 square feet to about 1,500 (and that might be an overestimate) is an undertaking. It’s been a leap of faith. We didn’t want to miss out on this new home waiting for ours to sell, so we had to just dive in head first. Carrying two mortgages is scary! In theory we could afford it if we budgeted carefully, but Reality seldom works out the way you plan. (If anyone wants to buy our old house, now would be great!)

We’ve been in our new home for a few weeks now. The strangest thing has happened. The air fills my lungs again. The music reaches my ears. Beauty is returning to the world. I didn’t realize how much weight I was carrying with me. I was used to the constant struggle to keep my thoughts from darkness. I was used to gearing myself up to enter those walls every night. Now everything feels different. I look forward to coming home after work. On my days off, I don’t want to go anywhere. I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I say is still “Good morning, Nolan,” but the tears don’t flow right away. When I go to bed, the last thing I say is still, “Good night Buddy. I love you,” but then I rest peacefully. Sometimes losing weight has nothing to do with pounds.

 

 

Bye Felicia

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2 years Since. It’s really hard to believe it’s been that long. This time of year will always be difficult for me. Difficult is an understatement. It’s torture, really. PTSD is on screech. I relive those moments over and over and over again. The waves roll in and pull me under. After it all, however, I’m still standing. I’m not left curled in the fetal position wishing for Death’s cold embrace. I’m standing tall – as tall as my 5’3″ can be – with my feet planted firmly on the ground, looking towards the light that I know will come out of the dark. I feel proud of myself for how far I’ve come in the last 2 years.

I was recently told by someone I care deeply for that Ray and I were “stuck in our grief, filled with negativity,” and they couldn’t be around us anymore. They needed to “move forward with their life,” and that didn’t include us.  I’ll be honest here. My first reaction was “@!#$&*% *%#@%* !@#@$*&^!” <edited to protect your sense of propriety, ok, not really, but I was so mad, even I didn’t like the words coming out of my mouth> I eventually calmed down and sat to reflect on whether their words had any truth to them. I tried to be brutally honest with myself.

I tried to look at where their perception was coming from. Facebook? I do post a lot about Nolan. After being thrust into a parent’s worst nightmare, the next greatest fear you have is losing another child. After that, it’s the fear that people will forget your child. That’s why I post a lot about Nolan on Facebook. He will always be part of my everyday life whether or not he takes a breath! The memories feature on Facebook is a blessing and a curse. I love finding snippets of conversations I forgot about, or pictures I don’t have on my new phone. I love sharing them even when they make me cry. It helps to make sure people will remember my son.

I suppose if you don’t see us on a regular basis, you may not know. You don’t hear the laughter that still reigns in our home. You don’t see how easily I go from tears to laughter. You don’t see how losing Nolan has enriched our relationship with Nason. You may not see how drastically we’ve changed our priorities and our lifestyle to make the changes in our family that Nolan wanted. I suppose if you’ve never been a parent, you couldn’t imagine how this feels. Even as a parent, you can’t imagine.

A by-product of losing Nolan has been my ability to let people go from my life. I used to try to keep everyone close and everyone happy. I used to say “that’s ok” every time someone said or did something hurtful to me. I’ve realized that I don’t need to do that. I can’t fix anyone else’s relationships. I can’t heal anyone else’s heart. I do need to be sure to surround myself with people who bring light into my day. The people who have remained close to me and the people who have become close to me are of a very different substance than those who have walked away. My heart is open to everyone I meet. I am quick with a smile and a compliment. I am finding more of the old me every day. I support each person around me with any struggle they may be having, but I do not encourage those who vibrate with a sense of drama and negativity. I refuse to participate.

It’s not easy to let people go who you have been close to and love dearly. I remain steadfast in my support should they ask for it. My love is unconditional. I am a work in progress, but I am working every day to be better than the day before. I will always have moments and always have days that are impossible. That is part of the life that comes after losing a child. Here’s the thing, though. Life still comes after losing a child. If you can’t get your head out of your ass to see that, then I only have two words for you.

“Bye Felicia.”

I am the Fire

I am the fire

I made it. I survived another winter; another season of hibernation where the depression is at its worst. The holidays start my downward spiral. With the darkness encroaching and cold creeping in, my thoughts always seem to go to desolate places. I spend a lot of time alone, crying. I avoid everyone and everything. I managed to make it to work every day anyway. There was just one day near Nolan’s birthday that I had to leave because the ptsd was in full force and I couldn’t bring myself out of it. Another day, I needed an hour to pull myself together and went to talk to HR about options for LOA hours. I certainly qualify, and my employer is more than supportive of seeing me through this, yet I still have not applied. I don’t want it to be easier to fall into the darkness. I don’t want a crutch. I have to continue to pull myself along even when I have no strength to do so. I’m better at work than at home anyway.

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We celebrated making through another winter by going on vacation to Florida. Ft. Lauderdale to be exact. During spring break. Maybe we didn’t think that through – bringing our 12 year old son to Ft. Lauderdale during spring break. We are either the worst parents ever or the coolest. Either way, it was certainly a learning experience for Nason! It was good to get away, though. We laughed and argued and had a lot of fun. We saw signs that Nolan was with us everywhere.

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Each day still ended with me crying in the bathroom so nobody would hear – so nobody would see. I think that’s just going to be a part of my life now. Tears. Waves of sadness that will wash over me at the end of each day. I know Moms who are further along this path that say the tears still come, yet not every day. I don’t know if I will be able to say the same, and I don’t know whether to hope for that or not. To be so used to the constant pain that it no longer brings tears, seems even more sad to me.

As is the case with every winter, with every hibernation, spring slips in and makes me start looking outside myself again. I did more work within the darkness than I realized. I feel different than I did last spring. I feel stronger. I feel lighter. Maybe not physically, but I ate my emotions for 3 months, so what can I really expect?

Meri made a comment to me a few weeks ago that really struck a chord. We were in the car car talking about messages from Nolan, and she made an off-hand remark about starting to feel like she was getting her Mom back a little bit. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The kids lost so much when Nolan passed. They lost their brother, a future, their family as they knew it, and both of their parents. Truly Ray and I are not the same parents now as we were Before. We aren’t the same people. Hearing Meri say out loud what I had thought in my head was heartbreaking. Yet, it was also comforting. She felt the shift in me. She saw glimmers of her Mom again. She could see me fighting my way back to her. I think, perhaps, she’s the only one who has noticed.

I am finding my way back to my children, to my husband, to myself. It’s a conscious choice every single day to stay positive. I watch myself very carefully to catch my thoughts before they drift down that sad path. I focus on Nolan’s life, not on life without him. I can’t look at pictures of him too long or I begin to dissolve. I can’t allow myself to acknowledge that I will never see him again for the rest of my life. That I will never feel his arms around me. That I will never hold his hand or hear his voice. I will never know the love of his child or see him become a husband. It’s too much to bear, and the sheer panic it evokes is unimaginable. So, I simply don’t allow myself to go there.

I’ve found that with handling PTSD, controlling thoughts helps in controlling the body. Triggers abound and sometimes catch me off guard, but so much less now than ever. When you learn to control your thoughts, you can control your attitude. I try daily to let my spark grow. Yes, the spark of “Me” is still there. Not the same, but still the same. I’m not sure that would make sense to anyone who hasn’t suffered a tragic loss. Parts of me will never be the same again. The innocence of “it could never happen to me” is forever gone. When I sit down and remind myself of all the rotten shit I’ve lived through, I’m amazed at myself for still being here. I have survived so much in my life. Childhood abuse, life on the streets, drugs & alcohol, emotionally and physically abusive relationships, betrayal, abandonment, and so much more, the worst of which is losing a child. And yet…I still want to laugh every day. I still want to bring a smile to those around me. I still want to suck every ounce of adventure out of this life! I want to learn and grow and shine brightly. I want to share my light and see the light in every single person around me. This part of myself is, perhaps, the very basic core of who I am. It’s who Nolan is. We share this thirst for life, for love, for experience. By allowing myself to be Me again, I stay close with him. I feel him the strongest when I am laughing at something I know he would laugh at too.

I am my own spark. Nolan is my inspiration. I aspire to be a Mom he would be proud of, to be a Mom all my kids can be proud of. I failed miserably over the last 20 months. I let them down in so many ways. I can’t change that. I’m here now. I’m stronger. I am getting stronger every day. I am the Fire.

Mixed Blessings

mixed blessingsThings you should know about me:

  1. I am a horrible texter. I’m one of those annoying people that will see your text, answer in my head, and forget to actually text you back.
  2. I never return phone calls. I don’t why. I don’t even listen to my voicemail. I think about it but I never do it.
  3. I am an unreliable friend. I get lost in my head, in my own struggles and get lax on keeping up with yours. I’ll be there in a minute if you say you need me, but I’m not reading between the lines anymore to hear what isn’t being said.
  4. I am a bad blogger. Here I went and invited all of you along this awful journey of mine and then left you behind. It’s not intentional. I blog in my head all the time. Sometimes I’m awake all night blogging in my head. When it comes down to it, I sit at a computer 10 hours a day at work, and the last thing I want to do at home is sit at a computer and confront all the feelings I work so hard to suppress. Still, I promised you the ugly truth, so here it comes.

It’s been 19 months Since. I can’t even wrap my brain around that. 19 months. 19 MONTHS. 585 days Since. How is this even possible? Isn’t Nolan just at school right now? Won’t we argue about putting his laundry away tonight? He’ll fight with his brother and I’ll have to scold them both later. Right? Wrong. He’s not going to be in the crowd of kids flowing through the doors at 2:36. His laundry is packed away in bins. The only one his brother will fight with later is me. Each day these realities hit me and it hurts just the same as it did on day 1.

Things that haven’t changed Since? The tears. Every day. Every. Single. Day. I believe I will cry every day for the rest of my life. If I think about Nolan for more than 3 seconds, the tears flow. I’ve timed this, actually. No joke. Nolan is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. I say “I miss you Buddy” about 8,000 times per day. My biggest wish is to have him back, even for a single heartbeat. I still feel lonely no matter who is around. Sometimes I’m the least lonely by myself. The guilt is still there – that somehow I could have saved him. If only I had known…If only I had pushed for an mri…I think that will stay with me forever.PTSD still rears it’s ugly head. If I hear sirens or see an ambulance, I’m lost back in that night. If I smell the hospital disinfectant, I’m lost in that night. If I’m not vigilant about my thoughts, I’m lost in that night. PTSD isn’t just remembering. You re-experience the event. The hormones and chemical response in your body is the same as it was the first time. I’ve experienced Nolan’s death hundreds of times and it doesn’t get any easier. For the span of the flashback, I am back on July 18, 2014. I feel him crawling in my lap and hear him say “Mommy it hurts.” I see him lying on the bathroom floor unmoving. I feel my hand on his chest and his heart fluttering beneath my touch. I feel when he exhales and then doesn’t inhale again. I see Ray doing CPR. I hear Nason screaming for help. I see everything happen all over and I know the outcome and am helpless to stop it. I see the neurologist in his minion t-shirt at 2am, and I hear him telling us that Nolan isn’t going to recover. I hear the screams of someone being torn in two, of their insides being torn asunder…and then I realize those screams are coming from me. These things may never change.

Many things have changed. I’ve gone back to work full time, and it was the best decision I’ve made Since. It helps the hours go by and keeps my mind occupied. For the most part, I’m able to hold it together at work. Except yesterday. I woke up in the midst of the overwhelming grief and couldn’t get myself together. I cried all morning. I cried on my way to work. I went to talk to my boss and started crying again. I couldn’t stop. I took my emergency pills, but they didn’t help. I couldn’t get myself out of that night. I couldn’t stop the tears or the panic. I actually had to leave the office. I was incapable of holding myself together to get any work done. It was sad. It was embarrassing. I try to be so much stronger than that. This month is hard. Nolan’s birthday is on Saturday, and I’m so lost in where he should be that I can’t deal with reality.

Nolan’s friends come by less frequently than they did. I understand this, and it’s good for them to keep moving forward. Being here brings them back to missing him even more. I know they still think of him even when they’re busy with other things. Still…I miss the sounds of teenagers making a mess and cooking all my food. Nolan’s girl has another boyfriend and has for a while. I’m happy for her even though I hate her boyfriend. It isn’t fair of me since I’ve never even spoken to the kid. I hate him because he’s not Nolan. Who’s to say they would still be together by now anyway? It’s healthy for her to keep moving forward. I can’t help hating the boyfriend though.

I’ve moved past the “passive suicide” behaviors that colored most of this past year. I stopped drinking and self-medicating. I’m not putting myself in situations that could go horribly wrong. I don’t have the overwhelming urge to end this life. I still welcome death should it come naturally, but I’ve stop pursing it. My head has cleared enough to see – truly see – my other kids again. The horror of knowing their Mom would choose death with Nolan rather than life with them is something I could never put them through. That’s probably the biggest area of growth I’ve had Since.

I’ve learned to laugh again. I smile easily. I look at everything differently. I appreciate the beauty of a single moment more than I ever did Before. Handprints on glass, a sticky table from life with a toddler, 3 pairs of shoes by the front door all make me smile. Our house is filled up again with Meri and Eli having moved home. I can dance in the middle of a restaurant with Nason and not care who’s watching. Amongst all the joy I’ve let back into my life, there is a heaviness too. Each giggle is tinged with sadness. Each new adventure is tinged with regret. Every new memory holds an empty space where Nolan should be. Mixed blessings. Maybe that’s the best I can hope for.

 

Necessary Joy

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When your child dies, every day is the hardest day you will face. Colors are muted. Laughter is muffled. Taste is bland. There’s a bleakness that surrounds you and creates a barrier between you and Life. You exist in a fog seemingly forever. A wasteland, desolate, dry, harsh. Your life stops with your child’s last heartbeat. Their last breath takes all the oxygen out of this world. You stand in a vacuum. How long you stay in this place is anyone’s guess. Some people stay forever. I refuse.

It was a simple comment from Ray that really resonated and started my steps along a stronger path. We’ve planned a vacation for March, and I casually commented that it’s a good time and that it gives me something to look forward to. I stated, “I’ve survived Thanksgiving. I’ll survive Christmas and New Year’s. Then I’ll survive Nolan’s birthday. Then right after I’ll get my toes in the sand and take a break from Grief.” Ray sat quietly for a minute and responded. “You know, someday I hope you’ll be able to do more than just survive. I hope you’ll be able to feel some joy around the holidays. I don’t want Nason to grow up associating the holidays with sadness.”

I felt a lump in my throat. A hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. The absolute truth in what he said hit me like a ton of bricks. He’s right. I’ll probably never live down uttering those words, but it’s true. He is right. I can survive. I have survived and will continue to survive. For Nason’s sake, I need to find joy. It’s necessary. Necessary Joy.

Last year I refused to put up the Christmas tree or decorate. This year we did. It was20151129_153003n’t easy. Meri came over and helped take my place. It was always my job to pass out the ornaments to the kids and reflect on how they were at the age they made them. I couldn’t do it this year. I took Eli to play and Meri took over for me. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met. Nason commented to me later about how I didn’t do my job. It bothered him. I was simply honest and reminded him that last year I could12348070_10153820289199640_3965445487099618801_nn’t even put a tree up. Next year maybe I’ll be strong enough to face each ornament, each memory.

Passing the tree each day is a struggle. Some days I avoid looking at it. Nolan has made more of the ornaments than anybody else. Sometimes it makes the emptiness so vast. Other times, I am able to take an ornament in my hand and remember him at that age and smile. I cry, always, but sometimes I smile too. Like when I found this written on the back of an ornament. I don’t remember noticing that Nolan had signed it before. Maybe it’s a message from him for all of us. Even at 11 years old, Nolan understood what was really important.

I’ve given Nolan his own tree. It’s a work in progress and we will continue with the tradition of adding an ornament each year. Nason helped me decorate it this year. We were able to talk about Nolan and think of what kinds of ornaments we would put on it without tears. We laughed at some memories, and it was exactly what we both needed.

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I’m still struggling each day with each breath, but I’m getting stronger. I have to find honest Joy in my life. For Nason, for Eli, for Ray, for Meri, for Heather, for Nik…for Nolan, and for me. Nolan and I shared this zest for life, this spark for experiences. We shared a passion for nature, for laughter, for music, for love. If I don’t find a way to allow that back into my life, I’ve lost yet another connection to my precious boy. Nason also shares that same zest. It connects us with Nolan. I don’t want Nason growing up seeing nothing but sadness during the “happiest time of the year.” He’s my touchstone, and I refuse to allow his childhood to be miserable because of this tragedy. He deserves better, and so does Nolan.

For both of my boys, I choose Joy. I choose Life. Until I can feel it wholeheartedly, I will take the little bits that come as progress. Sometimes I forget how strong I am. On the days I can’t feel it, I look at Nason, and he reminds me. Joy is absolutely necessary.

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