Sleepwalking

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I haven’t been able to get myself to sit with my thoughts much in the last few weeks. The crud hit my house pretty hard and it put me on a downward spiral that I am still trying to pull myself out of. It started with DH catching the crud. All 3 of us share a bed and were hopeful that the invisible barrier between DH and Li’l N would trap the germs on his side. We used the old invisible cootie spray, you remember that stuff from 3rd grade, right? It didn’t work. About a week after DH went down, I followed. Grief is exhausting on your entire being; body, soul, spirit. Barely having the energy to make it through a day anyways, the crud just toppled me. Then it hit Li’l N.

At 1:45am on a Tuesday morning, Li’l N woke up from lying next to me and said “Mom, I think I’m going to be sick.” I will never, ever forget this moment because it is exactly what Nolan said to me on that awful night. He was lying in bed with me, sat up, and said those exact words. Those were the last words he ever said to me. I immediately woke up in that nightmare. I didn’t see Li’l N next to me. I saw Nolan. It took a minute to clear my head and realize that this was a different child and a different night. I scooted Li’l N out of bed and into the bathroom. The same bathroom I scooted Nolan into. Bad idea. Li’l N went to his knees in front of the toilet, and I stood paralyzed at the door. I looked at him and saw Nolan in the same position. By the time I had cleaned up the mess Nolan had made, he was taking his last breaths. When I saw Li’l N in that room, in that same position, after saying those same words…well, I can’t even describe what went through my body. I was trapped in a double nightmare. PTSD is no joke. The worlds were overlapping. One minute I saw Li’l N, the next it was Nolan all over again. The horror of it was intense.

I was able to ask Li’l N if he could go into another bathroom. He turned and looked at me and asked why. All I could say was, “Because Nolan…” I felt awful. Li’l N was so sick and miserable, but like the amazing young man he is, he got up and silently walked to another bathroom that was smaller with a cold tile floor, which I’m sure was not comfortable for him. He found his place in front of the toilet again and said to me “You can go to bed if you want.” I felt like the worst mother in the world. How horrible it was for me to be wrapped up with his brother while he was so sick! What I should have done was wake DH and get his support. I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.

Li’l N and I stayed in that bathroom for more than 45 minutes. In that time, his fever spiked and he went into seizures. We had to call the ambulance again and they took forever to come. In the hospital, they were unable to get his fever under control, and a seizure claimed his life. I had to sit looking at another of my babies on life support. I had to say goodbye to another child. I had to pick out another coffin. I had to bury my youngest boy.

Of course, that was all in my head. His stomach eventually calmed down, and I was able to get some medicine into him. His fever was 102.6, which is high, but not seizure territory. I think. The emotions that went through me were real even if the events were imagined. It was torture.

I was never an alarmist parent. Stitches were no big deal. My daughter had a couple of surgeries and I didn’t ever think of losing her. Nolan had surgery when he was 11, and it didn’t excessively worry me. I was pretty level-headed with the kids. Not anymore. I no longer assume that “He’ll be fine.” I don’t know that he will be. I know now that the worst can happen, and I am not naive enough to think that it can’t happen again. How do I learn to balance that with reality? The reality is that most likely he will be fine, whatever the situation. How do you stop those PTSD triggers? How do you stop the worlds from overlapping? These are things I’m trying to figure out.

In the meantime, this event threw me down the rabbit hole again, or still, or worse…I don’t even know. I can’t stop crying. I live that night over and over and over every day. I am carrying on a conversation with someone, but in my head, I am in that night. I don’t remember the conversation I held. It’s a strange feeling. I wish I could describe it better, but it’s kind of like having a Nyquil hangover. You’re groggy and kind of out of it, your body feels heavy and your head is a little dizzy. That’s what I feel like physically all the time, even when I appear to be fine. I’m living a double life. Actually, I’m not living a life at all. I’m just sleepwalking.

A New Love

One step forward, two steps back. That’s how it goes, and that’s where I’m at. The 6-month mark is fast approaching, and I can feel the flood waters gathering. I will eventually surrender for I have no other choice, but not yet. Today I am still fighting to stay out of the riptide. I have to watch my thoughts very carefully, so I’m choosing, in just this moment, to share the story of our new love.

My DH is many things. He is intelligent, crafty, clever, kind, open-minded, loyal, and (luckily for me) incredibly forgiving. He is a deep-thinker, ambitious, driven, confident. He is resilient, strong-willed, and he is devastatingly handsome. He is many things. And he is also not many things. Silly? Not him. A singer? Um, NO. If you’ve ever heard the caterwauling from my house at 2am, you know this fact to be true. A romantic? Not so much. An animal lover? Not at all. Not that he’s the “kick the cat” kind of man, but he just doesn’t have an affinity for animals. It took me 15 YEARS to convince him to let us get a rabbit. Not that he really agreed to the rabbit. We (the kiddos and I) totally threw him under the bus. All of us went to his ex-wife’s mother’s house (follow that traIMG_0755 (2)il?) where she bred rabbits. As she so sweetly brought out a cage full of baby bunnies for the boys to “play with,” DH’s face grew pale and he knew what was coming. There was no way he could deny his young sons a tiny little bunny in front of all his children, ex-wife, and her whole family. So we got the bunny, and he didn’t kill me. Scosort 022 (2)re 1 for Mom & Kids. About a year and a half later, we smuggled another little furball into the house. Literally smuggled. Went to the ex-wife’s mother’s house again. This time we had planned better, and DH never saw the little cage in the car, nor the little furball in the cage. We hid the little one all the way from MA to ME with DH never the wiser. Our mistake was to all disappear when we got home. There was a 6-week old pure white little bundle of love to play with! Who could blame us? When DH came searching for the family, he caught us red-handed. Well, white-fur-handed really. He didn’t speak to me for 3 whole days. Poor guy was hardly impressed with my treason. Luckily, he’s a pretty forgiving sort. I guess he has to be, being married to me and all.

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About 9 months ago now, I came up with the notion that our family needed a dog. I’m not sure where this came from because I am truly not a dog person. I like cats. I’m also highly allergic to cats, as is Nolan, so we couldn’t get a cat. Or we would have to get a hairless cat, which I think would give me nightmares, so I decided on a dog. Nolan had been lobbying for a dog for years. He even made a Power Point presentation about why our family should have a dog, how we would care for the dog, and how we would pay for the dog. He did loads of research and put together a very compelling argument. No dice. DH said “No way Jose’!” So, we let sleeping dogs lie for a while. (yes, I did just say that.)

I up and decided it was time for a dog and said so out of the blue one night at dinner. The boys were on board right away. DH said, “If you get a dog, I’m leaving.” Really, he said that! I could tell he actually meant it too, so we pulled back a little bit. I mean, that’s a heavy decision to make. A husband or a dog? Hmmmmm… After 2 solid weeks of weighing the pros and cons of both choices, sweet Li’l N came up to me and said “Mom, please don’t get mad at me, but I think I’d rather have a Dad than a dog.” Well. How the heck do you argue with that? You don’t. I dropped the whole thing, much to Nolan’s chagrin.

Just a short time later, we lost Nolan. Not too long afterwards, the dog-idea crept back into my head. It felt like it was being whispered in my ear. I brought it up and DH steadfastly refused. I thought it would be good for Li’l N. You can’t replace a brother with a dog, but I felt that he needed a little buddy to care for and snuggle with, to play with like he did Nolan.

We went to see Maureen Hancock one night. (http://www.maureenhancock.com/) She is an amazing Medium who had reached out to me while Nolan was still in the hospital. She was doing a show nearby and invited us to attend. It was an amazing night, and Nolan literally stole the show. He came through so clearly and asked his Dad where the dog was! He let DH know that he wanted us to get that dog. A few weeks later, Maureen invited us to her home for a private reading. Again, Nolan came through so powerfully. One of the things he kept going back to was a dog. He wanted us to get a big dog, light colored. DH told him “No way, Jose!” Poor Nolan kept on trying!

A couple months after seeing Maureen, we saw another incredible Medium, Tiffany Rice. (http://www.tiffanyrice.com/) We hadn’t mentioned anything to her about Nolan or what had happened. Of course he showed up loud and clear – and he wanted to know WHERE IS THE DOG? At that point, DH put his head in his hands and just shook. Everyone could see, in that very moment, he gave up the fight. Nolan was insisting we have a dog. He finally got his Dad to listen. My son is as persistent on the Higher Side as he was here with us.

As soon as we came home, I started looking for puppies. I came across Goldendoodles of Maine (http://www.goldendoodlesofmaine.com/) and saw they had a litter ready to go in just a few short weeks. Well, that was it! Nolan had put his Dad on track, and the puppies were the exact breed I wanted and ready soon! The catch (because there’s always a catch)? $1,600. For a PUPPY. DH couldn’t get that in his head. Quite honestly, neither could I. I know I’ve said it before, but it is ridiculously expensive to lose a child. I had nothing left in savings. I barely made the groceries each week. There was no money for a dog. DH agreed that we could finally get one, but I couldn’t spend any money I already had in the bank for a dog. Well, what the heck? What do I do? I went to the Puppet Master. I threw my hands up towards Heaven and said “Well, Nolan, we can have the dog, but I can’t pay that much! We’ll take it, but you need to figure it out for me.” A few hours later, I received a message from the breeder saying that she had been thinking about us all day. She wanted us to have a puppy and not to worry about the cost. Behind the scenes, Angels here on Earth were at work, but I know who was really running the show. Bless his heart, Nolan gets his way wherever he dwells.

Meet our new bab1490705_854334201272720_5006390211856350465_oy. This is Ellie. Eleanor Rigby, to be all formal about it. Nolan chose her name Before. If we had a male dog, he would be Zildjian (the brand of cymbals on his drum kit), and a girl would be Eleanor Rigby. We already have Lucy (in the sky with diamonds…). Nolan loves the Beatles.

Ellie has been a wonderful addition to our family. It’s true that there is something therapeutic about a dog’s love. She makes us laugh. S10379857_10205155833276327_832196404273142958_ohe makes me keep moving even when it’s 20-below outside. She smothers us with love. I absolutely adore her.    I love that Nolan brought her to us. She is a constant reminder that he is still making his wishes known to us. He is still watching what we are doing. He is still a huge part of our family.

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But you know what? I’d give her back in half a second if I could have Nolan here again.

Little Triumphs

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If you’ve been keeping up with my Journey, then you know last Tuesday I went back to work. If you missed that post, go ahead and read it now. I’ll wait….

That was a very challenging day. As I said, I went home, put on my baggiest pair of sweats and went to bed. Wednesday morning, I managed to get up and get Li’l N off to school. I got dressed, kind of. Ok, I put back on my sweats from the day before. Don’t judge. I wandered the house for a few hours. I don’t know if it’s a grief-specific behavior or if it’s just something that happens when you’re lost in your life, but I tend to wander. Literally, I go from room to room and do nothing. I might put in a laundry but then I forget all about it. I might pick up something that needs to be put away and then wonder how it got into my hand. My body is moving but my brain is disconnected. It’s like walking in a fog without your glasses on. You can’t see where you are going, everything is distorted, and you are surprised when you end up some place. I don’t know if I’ve done a good job of articulating the feeling. If you’ve ever experienced it, I think you know what I’m getting at. I gave up and went back to bed. I was numb and lost. I alternated between silent tears and sleep. I pulled myself together enough to pick up Li’l N from school. When we got home, I went directly back to bed. He seems to understand my need to isolate and sink into the despair from time to time. It doesn’t appear to bother him too much, but he does check on me every so often and ask if I need anything. He tries to be quieter than usual when I get like that. He truly is a most compassionate young man, and I am so lucky to have him. He so sweetly whispered in my ear “Mom…I need to go to practice. Do you think you can take me?” So I hauled myself out of bed and brought him to practice. I went home and back to bed. Amazingly enough, I was there to pick him up on time too. Annnnd then I went right back to bed. He and DH managed without me well enough, and eventually they both crawled into bed and we all fell asleep.

I think it’s important for me to allow myself to wallow now and again. I call it a Grief Day. When I just can’t face the world, and I tuck myself in my little cocoon and watch the clock. I wait for the minutes to roll into hours and for the day to just pass. I cry. I sleep. I let my mind go down all those awful paths. I experience That Night hundreds of times on Grief Days. I don’t think this would be a good habit for everyone. It works for me, though. I have to surrender completely to the profound sorrow in my Soul. Eventually I come back out of it, and I’m just a little stronger.

Thursday, I was able to get up and shower and actually put on clean clothes. Yay! Little triumphs! I finished the laundry I had forgotten about the day before. I wandered, but a little less than Wednesday. I went to lunch with a dear friend and was able to be there for her for a change. It was a good feeling. I knew I had to work again on Friday, so I tucked myself and my kiddo in bed a little early and prayed for strength.

Sometimes, your prayers do get answered. I woke up Friday feeling…dare I say it?…Good. I felt rested and strong. I felt like I could face the day. This was the school I was most nervous about entering. Nolan’s presence is still everywhere. Many of his friends are still there. I took a few deep breaths and walked in the door. I was met by another staff member and embraced in the most genuine, heartfelt hug. I saw tears of happiness in her eyes that I was back at school. Each kid I passed threw their arms around me. So many dear friends came in to check on me throughout the day. Li’l N came into my room about 4 times to see how it was going. Nolan’s close friends and his most special girl spent a whole period with me. It was really wonderful. I felt like Me again. I felt like I fit. Mostly. There were moments when I remembered Nolan and his friends getting passes to spend study hall with me. There were moments where I saw his shadow going down the stairs. There were moments I could swear I heard his voice down the hall. There were moments of kids’ “I remember when Nolan….” that made me a little weepy inside. I’m so glad to hear those words, though. I can listen to his stories over and over and over again. Yes, it hurts because it’s all I have left, the memories. But it feels good too, because all I have left are the memories, and knowing that so many others are thinking about those times makes me feel like he won’t be forgotten. Every so often I will hear something about him that I didn’t know, and I feel so blessed to get another glimpse of the man my son was becoming.

The tears came, as they do every day, but it was manageable. I have cried every day Since – many times each day. I’m getting used to it. I’m crying right now. It’s becoming incorporated into the flow of my life. Tears come. Sometimes they come with gut-wrenching sobs that tear the very fabric of my Soul and bring me to my knees. Sometimes they come silently as I continue doing whatever it is I’m in the midst of. I don’t know if a day will come when the tears don’t flow. I imagine that noticing I hadn’t cried all day would cause me to cry anyway. I can’t think too far ahead of how this pain will be absorbed into my Being. I can only do the best I can every day. Most days are tremendously arduous. Other days, however, I have these little triumphs that I need to celebrate. It can be as small as getting out of bed, or it can be as momentous as holding myself together for 7 hours IN A ROW. This road is long and full of potholes and obstacles. There is black ice that wipes me out, and windstorms that blow me off track. The footing on this road is treacherous. I can’t walk it alone. So thank you, to each and every one of you that holds my hand, literally and figuratively, and celebrates these little moments with me.

Back to Work

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Yesterday, I went back to work. For those that don’t know, I work as a Substitute Teacher in our local district. I’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and have loved it. It began as my being just a volunteer parent in the room to being (nicely) coerced into actually working for the district. Of all the jobs I’ve had, this is my favorite. I’m very lucky that my DH works so hard and has a wonderful job that allows for me to work for peanuts because I like what I do rather than be a slave to the grind in job that makes me miserable. We have sacrificed quite a lot over the years so that I can be home with the kids. (That’s another blog in the works.)

I was due to go back to work in September. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to walk the halls where Nolan spent so many hours. I wasn’t ready to not run into him during the day. He wasn’t supposed to be in my schools anymore anyway, but his memory, his artwork, and his essence are all over the school. I had planned on moving up to high school with him this year, but have since decided that would just be too hard. Running into my boys during the work day has always been a highlight for me. Getting to have lunch with them (sometimes), having them in class, catching a glimpse of them with just their friends – it always filled me with such a feeling of contentment. Knowing their teachers on a personal level has been a complete blessing in so many ways. It has allowed for me to truly understand my boys’ struggles and to advocate for them from a place of knowing the whole story rather than just the bits they tell me. And truly, I love our school district. I love the people I work with, and I love the kiddos.

September was too soon. I tried again in October. Couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face the kids looking to me to be strong. I couldn’t guarantee I would be able to hold my tears for that long. Who am I kidding? I still can’t guarantee that! DH remained steadfastly understanding. If I worked at an office someplace, it would probably be different.

November came and I still couldn’t do it. With the holidays fast approaching, I was getting worse as each day passed. I said I’d think about it again after the holidays – if I survived.

Here comes January. I said I would do it. In all honesty, I did it more for DH than for me. He’s been baring the brunt of the financial issues and sparing me the details. Unless you’ve been through it, you really have no idea how expensive it is to lose a child. We were lucky to have such generous donations gifted to us, but we have still spent pretty much every dime we had to pay for Nolan’s medical care and lay him to rest without going into debt. Add to that the necessity of some pretty major house repairs, and it’s not really a matter of my working because I like it anymore. So I bit the bullet.

I went back to work yesterday. I knew it would be hard. I cried all day Monday after I agreed to work on Tuesday. I prayed for strength to hold my tears in. I kept repeating to DH, “I don’t know if I can really do this.” He kept telling me “You’ll be fine.” We were both right. And we were both wrong. I did do it, but I wasn’t fine. It was a different kind of difficult than I anticipated. On the way to school, I said to Li’l N, “I hope I can do this.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I did it. I had to go back to school.” Bless his dear, sweet heart. I held those words close all day long. I am so so so lucky to work with amazingly caring, compassionate, supportive, and genuine people. I knew that if at any moment I was ready to break down, that I could just leave the room  and they would cover for me. That helped, and I thought for sure I would need that kind of support. I didn’t. I held my tears in check. There were a couple of tough moments, though. One little kiddo said to me, “Mrs. B., I saw you on the news. I saw what happened. I’m really sad for you.” Her bright eyes looking up at me nearly brought me to my knees. Her little outstretched arms wrapped around my waist, and she didn’t see the tears that I refused to let fall. I whispered “Thank you, Sweet Pea,” and after a couple deep breaths we got to work. Another precious little heart said to me “Mrs. B., I saw you on tv, but I don’t remember what it was for.” I was ok with that, but then a few minutes later, she said “Oh yeah! Now I remember, but I don’t want to say it because I don’t want to make you sad.” Dear Lord, these children are so very tender. I smiled at her, willing the tears back, and said “It’s ok. It is a very sad thing, but I’m happy that I get to spend time with you again,” and we got back to work. So, I guess DH was right in that regard. I was fine with the kids.

What I really struggled with was feeling disoriented. I had walked those halls for 8 years. (Remember I volunteered long before I worked there.) I spent so many hours working in each room at some point or another, and yet nothing was familiar. I knew 99% of the faces, and yet some of the names escaped me. I felt dizzy – really dizzy – a few times. The room spun with my mind. It reminded me of the times I passed out and stopped breathing, although I clearly was not in the grips of any panic attack. I read my schedule 100 times and still couldn’t think of where I needed to be next. Nothing sunk in. Luckily, it was a pretty light schedule. It felt good to be back, and it felt so completely wrong to be back. I felt like I didn’t fit anymore. This was part of my life Before, and I’m so very different Now. I felt like a fraud. I smiled when I wanted to cry. I laughed when I wanted to scream. I talked when I wanted to be silent. It was a very hard day, so when I came home, I put on the baggiest sweats I own and crawled into bed.

Will I keep working? Yes. Is it hard? YES. Is it time? Yes, it’s time. I’m hopeful that the more I do it, the more “myself” I will feel. It will be different Now, but maybe it will be an ok kind of different. I will still get to run into Li’l N during my day. I will still get to have lunch with him (sometimes). I will still catch glimpses of him with just his friends. I will still get to have him in class. These are invaluable blessings. I do still love the kiddos. I do still love spending my days with them. I am still blessed to have a job that fits my life rather than have to fit my life around a job. These are things that haven’t changed Since, and I think these are very important things.

Time Marches On

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Last night I had to take an anxiety pill for the first time since Thanksgiving. I thought for sure I would need to medicate myself to deal with Christmas. It was hard, but I was “ok.” Last night it just hit me – again. Nolan died! You’d think this would have sunk in by now, but it still comes out of the blue and takes me out at the knees. He died! How is that possible??? When will I wake up from this nightmare? My son died! NOLAN died! How did this happen to HIM? It’s so horrible. Walking into that bathroom day after day and night after night, where he took his last breath, is a mighty slap in the face every time. Sometimes I absorb the blow better than others. Last night it knocked me out.

This morning I woke up with a migraine – the kind of migraine that makes you nauseous, dizzy, achy. The kind of migraine that makes the light hurt and your skin supersensitive. Usually my first step is coffee and motrin. This morning I couldn’t force myself out of bed. I lay there waiting for DH and Li’l N to get up. Thankfully they did, and the quiet solitude allowed my mind to just drift. I didn’t want to take the pain away. I lay there waiting, praying, for that loud “pop” in my head that I’ve read about. I prayed for the pain Nolan described in his last precious minutes on this earth. I prayed for the dimming of the world around me. I begged for my heart to just stop beating. I cried out for that little tiny bubble on my artery to let go. Let that blood flood into my brain and blot out everything. Just let it happen. I told myself I wouldn’t call out for help. I wouldn’t try to hold on. I imagined DH coming to find me, thinking I was still sleeping. I imagined my life insurance solving our financial troubles. I called to Nolan to come and take me with him. Please, Nolan…just take me with you… But it didn’t happen. He didn’t come. That stupid little anneurysm stayed intact. I’m held here against my wishes.

My desk calendar still shows July. I haven’t been able to tear that page off. I don’t think I will. I’m packag1231141425-1(1)ing it up with the shrine from the dining room table. I began that process yesterday. You remember, the lovingly dubbed “Extracting Head from Ass” project. It’s actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. That’s probably what started my downward spiral. Each time I put something into the bin, I had to leave to break down. After putting 3 things away, I called it enough for one day. Anyway, this calendar will go into that bin. Eventually.  I can’t let it go. How ridiculous is that? It’s been written all over, doodled on, scribbled on, and yet I can’t throw it away.

Tonight we all change our calendars over. A new year begins tomorrow. A year for fresh starts, new beginnings, a blank page. You know what? I don’t want a new year. I don’t want to live in a year that Nolan doesn’t get to see. The thought of his passing being “last year” devastates me. I didn’t expect this. I won’t exist in the same year as him ever again. His life will be in “years past.” Forever. I don’t want to see the new year. I don’t want to live in a different year from him. But I don’t have a choice. I’ve surrendered already. I’m trying to relax into the abyss and trust the process. I don’t want to. I really don’t want to.

My plan for tonight was to stay home, under the covers, and pretend it’s not happening. We all know Denial is a dear friend of mine. Li’l N, however, has asked that we attend a party. He doesn’t ask that of us often. I’m going to struggle no matter where I am. If I force him to stay home and struggle with me, is that fair to him? If I send him off with DH and stay home alone, is that fair to him? He needs to see me being strong. He knows I hide in the bathroom and cry every night. He always asks to come in, and if I tell him “not right now,” he sits right outside the door and waits for me. He will greet me with a hug and a quiet “Are you ok? Do you need a pill?” He needs to see me being strong. So tonight, I will *probably* go to the party with him. If you see me there, forgive the distance in my eyes. While you rejoice the new year, please forgive my tears. I know I won’t be able to stop them. It’s just part of the journey.

I’ll share these words written in 1990. They are as true today as they were then. Strange how things come full circle.

The leaves fall as the days pass
And the sand falls through the hour glass
The sun shines, no clouds are near
But in my heart I drop a tear
I stand alone every night and day
And deep inside I feel betrayed
All love is lost, my Soul is sad
I dream of happiness I once had
When life was beautiful and everything looked bright
And I was never left feeling alone at night
Now the rain comes and my heart is cold
And forevermore I must stand alone.

Green-Eyed Monster

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There. The Christmas tree is by the fire pit. The pine needles are vacuumed up. The presents are (almost) all put away. Done. It’s over. I survived. Mostly.

You hear how holidays are the worst time of year for many people. Obviously to those grieving or mourning, but also to those who suffer from depression or mental illness. It’s the time of year when we are supposed to surround ourselves with family and friends. We are supposed to count our blessings out loud. For those who are missing pieces of their Soul or whose loved ones are gone (yes, I know they’re not really *gone* but we can’t hold them or touch them or see them, so that counts as gone), this is a very difficult time of year. I’ve been isolating myself since Thanksgiving. I’m having trouble counting my blessings. I’m jealous of you. Yes, you. You, who are buying presents for all your children. You, who have to hurry up and clean your house for family. You, with your stupid Elf on a Shelf. You, who are complaining about “I wants” from your kids. You, who are running around like crazy to make it to all of your children’s performances, activities, sports, etc. You, who are posting incessantly all your family photos of smiling faces and holiday joy.

I’m jealous. It’s not just a little jealous. It’s the ugly jealous. It’s the kind of jealous that makes me want to reach through the computer and punch you in the face. It’s the jealous that makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs and claw your eyes out. I feel rage. I feel violent, and for those who know me personally, you know I’m the least aggressive person. It’s hard to admit this. Nobody wants to hear it. We’re supposed to be filled with love for our fellow man this time of year. I’m filled with anger, aggression, violence, agony, sorrow. I hate you right now. Even though I don’t really hate You, I hate everything about your life. I hate your baking wcrazy womanith your children. I hate your Christmas carols. I hate your picking out a tree as a family. I hate your cookie swaps. What’s so special about you that you get to keep all your children while one of mine lays in the cold, frozen ground? Why do YOU get to spoil your son rotten, when he has been bullying my Li’l Man? How dare you throw in my face the happiness in your home! That’s how Facebook has felt to me this season. My filters, never really high-functioning, are on the fritz. So I’ve stayed offline. I haven’t responded to texts or emails. I haven’t answered the phone. It’s safer for all of us that way.

You wouldn’t know any of this by looking at me. I’m becoming so good at hiding my feelings. I’ve had loads of company at my house, and I’ve been “fine.” I’m smiling and joking with you. I’m open and welcoming to you and your family. I actually do appreciate the house filled with people because it’s just too lonely when there are only 3 of us. Inside, however, all this ugliness swirls around, eating at the very core of who I am. I have this darkness inside of me that left unchecked will blacken my heart. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t know how to stop, though. I’m praying that these emotions will prove transient as emotions usually do. I hope. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’m working on a personal project I’ve dubbed “Extracting Head from Ass.” I have to find a way to fill my days again. I feel the whispers telling me to start moving. I don’t know in which direction to go. I’m starting small. I need to get my house in order. It’s been in limbo Since. My dining room has become a Shrine to Nolan’s passing. I still have tupperware and dishes left behind from his Service. (If any of it is yours, and you want it, come get it!!) I have all the sympathy cards we received. I have all the funeral cards. I have everything “Nolan” on that table.

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So it’s time to clean it off. It’s time to package it in boxes tied with beautiful ribbons. It’s time to put his passing away. I’ll never put him away, but all this memorabilia is holding me encased in stone, and I have to figure out how to move. Did I say I was starting small? Untrue. The first step is the longest stride.

Courting Death

silentI woke up at 1:15am with the words of a poem I wrote back in 1990 on my mind. I haven’t thought of that series of poetry in so many years. Grief is strange. It brings up such seemingly random thoughts. Immediately, my mind started writing. I really do need to get myself out of bed when that happens and just let the words pour forth. Maybe then I’d get back to sleep. Anyway, it seemed such a random thing to bubble to the surface. I’ll share those words with you now. Please keep in mind that I was a mere 16 years old.

Isolated and alone
In a crowd of friends
My smile is forced
I don’t want to pretend.
There’s nowhere to turn
No one seems to care
Just turn around
And you’ll see me there.
All by myself
Always alone
As my heart of warmth
Turns slowly to stone.

I’ve read through that series of poems for the first time in many years. The theme is so much the same of what I am feeling now; the isolation and loneliness. As I reflect back, this is something I’ve battled my whole life. I grew up in a very abusive and dysfunctional home. I learned quickly to keep my silence, to not ask for help, to hide my feelings. I tried to commit suicide for the first time when I was 10. Luckily enough, I wasn’t too smart about it. The rod I tried to hang myself from fell down. I never told anyone. I planned about a thousand other ways to do it, but I never had the guts to go through with it.

When I was in 6th grade, a wonderful teacher (and by wonderful I mean a horribly crotchety woman who should never have been allowed around children) told me that I was “not deserving to be a Group 1 student.” This was back in the days when kids were grouped only by skill level. To me, that confirmed everything that I had been told every day of my entire life. “You’re stupid.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “You ruined my life.” “I wish you were never born.” Yada yada yada. What did I do that caused her to deem me Undeserving? I refused to stand up in front of the class and give an oral report for a science project. I did the project. I did the research and the work and wrote the paper. I simply would not, could not, stand in front of a room full of people and talk. I had spent 11 years silencing my voice. I was told every time I spoke that I was stupid, ignorant, an idiot, etc. How could I possibly stand up in front of the class and show everyone just how dumb I am? I took the F, and I stopped caring about school.

By the time I became a teenager, I had given up on suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t even brave enough to do that. I didn’t, however, give up on courting Death. I courted Death like a hungry beast starving. I teased it. I begged it. I tempted it. I asked for it. At 14 I met another wonderful teacher (and by wonderful I mean a horribly crotchety man who should never have been allowed around children) who kicked me out of class for being unable to answer a question on history. This was the very day I returned to school after almost a 2-month absence with Mono, being in and out of the hospital repeatedly. Nice guy. He kicked me out of the classroom and sent me to the library to do a report on whatever the foolish question was. I wrote his report. Triple spaced, one very long run-on sentence, ending with “A$$hole.” I gave up entirely on school that very day. Again, he confirmed what I had been told millions of times.

I chased Death with a passion after that. There really wasn’t anyone there to help me. Nobody to notice. Nobody to reach out. I honestly welcomed Death should He finally answer my call. I did whatever I wanted to. To outsiders, I looked like just another stereotypical teen going down the wrong path. To my friends, I was the life of the party. I was the girl that would do anything without apology or regret. In truth, I was a broken child. In truth, I just wanted to die.

I’m not sure why all of this came up at 1:15 in the morning. Something about the synchronicity of the feelings I have today maybe. I’m no stranger to isolation and loneliness. They are like long lost companions come home again. Or more like long lost relatives I don’t really want to visit coming again. I know what they look like. I know how they feel. I don’t really want their company. I find my mind falling back into patterns of days gone by.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about suicide Since. I’ve thought it through carefully. I still couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do that to my children. That’s not say I wouldn’t welcome Death with open arms should He finally decide to claim me. I would. I would go willingly, happily, completely without hesitation. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud, but this is me. Unfiltered. This is real. I did warn you this was an ugly journey.

I’m both a broken child and a broken woman. It’s my belief that these pervasive themes that encompass you throughout your life are purposely part of your path. It’s something I have to learn to overcome. There was a time I thought I had. Now I know I learned to think, act, and feel differently, but I never actually overcame any of it. I’ve made my peace with the actions I suffered in the past. I’ve given forgiveness to those who hurt me – for me, not for them. I found a strength through those trials that many people never need. I have to somehow find that strength again. I used to say that I’d been through the worst Life could throw at me and came out tougher because of it. Be careful what you say. Life replied with “Oh yeah? How about THIS?”

So, I’m working on it. Every day. Every moment. I’m striving to find that inner strength to carry me through once again. I’m not going to silence my voice even with words nobody wants to hear. Somebody out there feels the same, and maybe my words will open their floodgates too. I know this blog is followed by some teenagers who may be able to relate to my childhood. I thought about this before writing. Should I share this intimately? I decided (obviously) that yes, I should. I’m not the first to court Death as a child. Neither would I be the last. If you are reading this and are having any of the same feelings I did, please reach out. To me, to a truly wonderful teacher (not a horribly crotchety person who should never be around children), to a trusted adult, to ANYONE. Scream it from the rooftops! Never silence your pain.

Strength in Surrender

SurrenderThis is really hard to do. It’s also hard not to do. Blog, I mean. Getting the words out of my head and my heart. Every night when I lay down to sleep, the words start forming themselves in my head. If I wake during the night – or I should say when I wake during the night, there they are still swirling around. If I had the energy, that would be the time for me to sit down and write. Instead, I let them write themselves and then try to remember what it was I wanted to say later. By that time, I just don’t want to revisit it all. Truth be told, I am sick of this whole thing.

I am sick of having these feelings bubbling around all the time. They are always just under the surface, ready to boil over at any moment. I’m sick of being so profoundly sad all the time. I’m sick of struggling to take each and every breath. Day in and day out, it’s a war against Grief, and I’m losing the battle. I’m sick and tired of fighting it. I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of missing Nolan and it’s only been a half a minute since I’ve held him! I’m sick of talking about the same damn thing every time I write. I’m sick of crying. Dear Lord, I have cried an ocean of tears and there is still no end in sight! I’m sick and tired of this whole thing! I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to spend every moment, waking and sleeping, crying out for my son. I don’t want to keep expecting him to walk around the corner with some goofy look on his face or wisecrack comment. I don’t want to stop expecting it either because that would mean that I’ve absorbed the idea of him not being here. I’m so sick and tired of starting and ending my day in tears. I’m sick of being a puddle of sadness and anger every day.

I’m getting better at hiding all this. I don’t know why I am, since I’ve given myself a Disclaimer, which you can read here (but remember to open in a new window): https://livingbetweenbreaths.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/i-now-come-with-a-disclaimer/ Maybe because I’m so sick of me, I figure everyone else must be too. Actually, I haven’t given all that much thought as to why I’m starting to hide. I’ve just noticed that I am. We are having company like we did Before. We are opening our home to kids and families like we did Before. I will be social and seem fine when you come over. I will laugh with you and joke and carry on a conversation. I will fix you a cocktail and ask about what’s going on in your world. Truth is, I won’t remember what you tell me. It’s not that I’m not interested. It’s that my mind is so filled with white noise that nothing sinks in.

I miss my old life. I miss the old me. I miss easily finding humor in almost anything. I miss laughing a sincere laugh. I miss wanting to go out and do things. I miss smiling. I miss taking all the little things for granted. I miss saying to myself “Oh geez, what were you thinking??”  I’ve buried that woman with Nolan. She’s gone too. Not only do I mourn Nolan, but I mourn who I will never be again. I mourn for the mother Li’l N will never see again. I mourn for the wife that DH has lost. I mourn for the grandmother Baby E will never know.  I mourn for the family that is gone.

I don’t want this life I’ve been dealt. I’m fighting against it so hard that it’s making me wonder if I should simply surrender. No matter how hard or how long I fight it, this will never change. I will never have my dearest Nolan back where I want him. I will never be that spontaneous spitfire I once was. I will never have the family I had Before. What would happen if I gave up the fight? Will I be swallowed whole by Grief and never come out? Will I walk in a haze the rest of my days? Will I simply go to sleep and not wake up? I have no idea. I’m not going to win this war. I think there is a certain strength in surrendering to the things you simply cannot change. This is me, raising the white flag. I give up. I give in. You win, Universe. Do with me what you will.

Cheese Platter from Hell

cheese platterI’ve been avoiding this – the revisiting of the first dreadful Thanksgiving Since. I anticipated it would be bad. Nothing prepared me for how gut-wrenchingly awful it would actually be. Maybe if I let the words out, I can also let them go. Here goes.

Every year Nolan would go to my sister’s house a couple days early to help her cook. That was a passion and a talent they both shared. It was wonderful to see her connect with my son in that way. Not having any children of her own, I think it gave her a brief glimpse of how amazing it is to see a child blossom under your wing. This year our oldest went to help her Aunt in Nolan’s place. They had fun, and that makes me feel good. Plus this happened. It made me laugh. (Remember to open in new tab!)

We spent the week in MA. DH was working, and I got to visit with some friends. That was good. I was good. I felt stronger. It’s always a little easier on me being away from home. Home hurts too much.

As much as I dreaded The Day, time is relentless and it dawned before me much against my wishes. I awoke in tears.  Li’l N was right there, as always, holding me. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t try to tell me it’s ok or make false promises that it will be ok. He simply holds me and lets me cry for as long as I need to. I’m in awe at his ability to instinctively know how to comfort at such a young age. I wonder if I let him comfort me too much sometimes. Then I think, perhaps his comfort and my acceptance is a gift to both of us. He is powerless to change the situation, and as a child I imagine he feels that magnified. Knowing that his care does help, I think maybe that gives him a little bit of empowerment too. Or I could be completely wrong and I’m letting him take on more than I should. I have no idea. But I digress.

The day dawns and eventually I get myself out of bed, dressed, and somewhat composed. We went to watch my nephew’s last football game as a Senior. I know I sat through the game. I must’ve watched it. I didn’t see any of it. My mind, my heart, my Soul was elsewhere. I both wanted the game to end so I could curl into myself privately and I wanted it to last forever because I knew what came next. Again, time is relentless.

I struggled the whole ride to my Sister’s house. I prayed and prayed and prayed for help to stay strong, to face this day with grace, to find some moment of joy amidst the sorrow. Some prayers just aren’t answered. Maybe they are always answered and sometimes the answer is “No.”

I knew I couldn’t let anyone touch me. I was barely hanging on by a fraying thread, quickly unraveling. If anyone touched me, I would lose all semblance of control. I was open and simply said “I’m not hugging today.” My family, at least 99% of them, are wonderful and accepting and supportive. My proclamation was met with a simple, “Ok.” Phew. I thought maybe I could do this. I was wrong.

I walked into the kitchen where we typically gather and was immediately brought to my knees by a cheese platter. A g*d-damned friggin cheese platter. You simply cannot account for what will devastate you. I have nothing against cheese. I like cheese. Nolan, however, LOVED cheese. He used to say “Cheese is my weakness.” He would hover over that platter and inhale its contents with smiles that lit him from within. Ahhh the power of cheese. I looked at that seemingly innocuous platter of dairy and my world spun out of control. It looked like I was in a kaleidoscope. The room tilted on its axis. I felt dizzy and nauseous. The floor opened up beneath me and the black abyss of Grief pulled me under with no warning. It was instantaneous. I was lost before I was even able to register what happened. I tried to hide it. I’m not sure what I said or if I said anything out loud, but I blinked and found myself sitting on a corner of the couch in the living room, alone. I think I did black out for a minute. I didn’t faint, but my mind clicked out. Kind of like a drunken blackout without the benefit of the drunken part. There was a glass of wine next to me, and I still have no recollection of how it got there.

I stayed in that spot, on that couch for a couple hours. I think I might have talked to people, but I’m not sure. I remember being gifted with a beautiful journal by my Sister’s dear friend. It’s leather-bound and embossed with the Tree of Life. Perfect for me, and so touching that it brought my consciousness into my body briefly. I was in a fog, and I don’t remember all of that hideous day. I have glimpses. I have sound clips. Bursts of laughter coming from around that damned cheese platter. It made me angry. Then I felt guilty for feeling angry. Then I felt sad for feeling guilty. At least I kept my mouth shut. I think. I remember sitting there and willing myself out of my body. I felt trapped, caged. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t get away. I remember my oldest daughter sitting next to me at one point, but I don’t remember if we spoke. I was on auto-pilot and either I was so good that nobody noticed or my family was really good about not mentioning it. Either way or maybe both. I don’t know.

When it was time to gather at the table, I froze. I tried waiting for everyone else to situate themselves first. I had every intention of standing up and walking over. I knew I couldn’t eat, but I thought I would sit there at least. My feet were encased in lead. My legs became numb. My heart raced.  My hands tingled. My head spun wildly. There was no way I could get myself to that table. One minute I was on the couch and then next I was locked in the bathroom upstairs. I don’t remember what happened in betweeen. It’s blank. I sat at my Sister’s vanity and sobbed. I was wracked with painful sobs that tore from the very depths of my Soul. I heard laughter from downstairs. I heard DH’s laughter and it tore me to shreds. He hadn’t offered one bit of comfort all day and it ripped me apart. I knew he was doing what he had to do, even at the time. But still. I felt so terribly isolated and alone.

I don’t know how long I sat there. Eventually my oldest daughter and youngest son came to my rescue. I don’t know if they said anything, although they must have. I felt both of their hands on me and it was a lifeboat tossed into the churning sea of despair. I don’t know if I asked Li’l N to get my pills or if he thought of it on his own. I wish I had thought to take a pill much earlier in the day. I slipped one of those little tablets under my tongue and in a short while I was able to gain a little more control of myself. I knew I had to make my way to the table just because. Somehow I did. I had literally a bite of turkey and a bite of stuffing. I tasted none of it. I think I sat there for minutes before returning to my spot on the couch. Those pills knock me out, and I was so grateful for the darkness that crept over me. I was freezing even though the room was hot. I couldn’t stop shivering. I didn’t fight the pull of sleep. I had been checked out all day even with my eyes open. It felt good to let them close and the heck with anyone around me.

When I awoke some time later, (hours?) I felt better. Not much but a little. I felt hungry, actually. It occurred to me I hadn’t eaten all day. I fixed myself a small plate of leftovers and picked at it. It didn’t taste right to me. I’m sure it was the usual bit of deliciousness, but Grief robs you of your tastebuds. It twists your sense of smell. It dulls all colors in the world. I had to force it down. I think I was able to hold a conversation by this point, but I’m not sure who it was with or what it was about. My sister? Probably, but I don’t honestly remember.

When I next looked at the clock, it was after midnight. I don’t know where the hours went. It really was an odd experience. I’ve never been so in and out of consciousness before. I have clearer memories of the hospital than I do of that Dreadful Day. I must have been in shock or something. I simply could not handle it.

It was after 1am before I laid my body down. I took another pill just in case, which I haven’t done in more than a month. Li’l N snuggled in my arms. I remembered laying in the hospital bed with Nolan, knowing that the time left with him in my arms was dwindling. My Mother swept the hair out of my face and whispered close to my ear “Stay in the moment. Don’t think about what comes next. Right now, in this moment, you have Nolan in your arms.” I held onto that with Li’l N. I stopped allowing myself to think of what was missing. In that moment, deep in the stillness of the night, I had my youngest son, my baby, held safely in my arms. I felt the weight of him on my body. I smelled the soft scent of his cologne and shampoo. I heard the quiet sighs of his peaceful slumber, and I surrendered. I let the day end knowing the next would come and I would wage the battle once again.

Shackles

joan-of-arc-aFor those that haven’t read my post “Naked in Front of the Crowd,” go read it! No, it’s fine. Here are the Cliff Notes. A couple of months ago, I was diagnosed  with a small brain aneurysm.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this from the beginning.  At first, I felt so guilty that Nolan most likely got this from me. Somebody pissed in my gene pool and he paid the ultimate price. It’s obviously ridiculous to feel guilty about that. I carry no more responsibility for his developing an aneurysm than I have responsibility for his getting my ears or my mouth. Genetics are bizarre. So, I got over that. Mostly.

Second stage of coping: I was relieved.  How weird is that? To me, this meant that I wouldn’t have to live another 40+ years without Nolan. There was a back door out of this life! There was a quick escape! It was out of my hands and maybe part of the plan! I was ok with that. I know, I know. My other kids need me and yadda yadda yadda. Hey, Grief is messy, ugly, and doesn’t much care about anyone else. It just is.

Every time I’ve had a migraine since this diagnosis, I did get a little nervous. I immediately began formulating a plan of what to do with Li’l N just in case. I kept the phone near me, just in case. Not the actions of someone who was waiting to die. That showed me that I really didn’t want to leave this world just yet as much as I do want to leave this world right now. Does that makes sense? Don’t feel bad. It doesn’t make sense to me either. Grief is full of strange dichotomies. {shrug}

I met with briefly with Li’l N’s neurosurgeon who was kind enough to take a quick look at my scans. He agreed with the first diagnosis. Considering he’s a pediatric guy, it was suggested I see another neurologist who works with adults. That brings us up to today.

I met with a neurosurgeon who is at the very top of his field. What did he have to say? He was “underwhelmed” with my scans. Wait, what? In this case, he assured me, that is a good thing. While he can see where the original diagnosis came from, he is pretty confident that it’s nothing big enough to require treatment or anything more than repeat scans as the years go by. Great news! Everyone is so happy and relieved. Awesome! Woo Hoo! Right?

Not me. I felt like I had 100lb weights strapped to my feet. I felt like I had a 1,000lb weight sitting on my chest. Relief isn’t the word for what I felt.  I felt stuck. Trapped. Hopeless. Shackled to this life that I no longer want. That was my back door. Now it’s locked. That was my “easy out.” That was my escape. Now what?

It’s taboo to say things like that. We’re not supposed to want to die. When you lose a child, you’re supposed to hold on for your other kids. It’s what everyone tells you. Somehow it’s just expected that you would want to. Let me tell you, that’s not the case. It’s not about how much you love your other children. Lord knows, I love them more than anything else in this world! I’m only breathing today because of them. It’s not about that. It’s not even about love. It’s about loss. Grief is selfish. It blankets everything else completely. Grief doesn’t care that the other kids are hurting too. It can see that, but it can’t touch it. Grief doesn’t care that the other parent is broken too. Grief has eyes and a mind for only one person. The child that isn’t here. Grief cries out for them with a screeching holler that leaves no room for the sound of other children crying. It’s horrible to the other children who will forever be The Other Children.

You may think this makes me a bad mother. Maybe it does. I don’t know. I can’t make any apologies for these feelings. I didn’t ask for them. They came when Nolan left. Experience has shown me that feelings are transient. Hopefully these feelings will be as well. I think they will pass in time because of the deep love I have for The Other Children. In the meantime, I go through the motions. I try to check in with them. I hug them. I tell them I love them and how proud I am of them. I tell them I’m here if they need me. The harsh reality is that I’m not here as I should be or want to be. I’m half out of this world. I’m straddling the abyss. The back door is locked. I have no easy out. I’m stuck. Shackled. Here. While Nolan is There.

 

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