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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.

 

 

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Bye Felicia

bye felicia

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.”

Blank Pages

blank pagesRock Bottom is a scary place to be. It’s a dark abyss with seemingly nothing but pain and hopelessness surrounding you. Funny thing about Rock Bottom is that if you search way deep into the darkest depths, you can find a tiny spark hidden in the shadows. This spark is so very small and fragile, and if you’re not vigilant, you might miss it. I’m convinced it’s always there – for everybody.

I’ve been extremely vigilant these last few weeks. I’ve searched high and low in the dark and in the shadows. I’ve found that infant spark. I’m standing careful watch over that spark and encouraging it into a flame. Make no mistake, this is not an easy task. The winds blow hard and fast here in the dark. I need to be watchful; protective.

When I wrote last about 16-yr old Me, I focused on my downfalls. What I forgot – or couldn’t see – was how strong that version of Me is. Yes, she nearly destroyed me, but she also saved me. She saved me all those years ago, and I believe she saved me now too. I am working to acclimate her into my current Self. She’s chaos, but she’s also a lot of fun! More than anything, she is strong. I’m working to take those qualities and hold them close while I navigate these stormy seas. It’s working. I think.

I’ve been at my new job for a couple weeks now, spending a solid 8 hours a day outside my comfort zone. I’m learning about things I never thought I would ever need to know. Geek Speak – it’s a real language, and I’m learning it! (slowly, but still.) Someday I might even understand half of what Ray says! I really enjoy the people I’m spending my day with. It’s an eclectic group which makes for some really interesting discussions and banter. We laugh a lot. Being away from Nason is difficult. It’s an adjustment for both of us, and I think he’s handling it better than I am. The Grief I battle daily is still present, but I don’t have time to face it during the day. My hope of being distracted and busy to get through the hours has turned out well. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Grief compounds itself. What I push down all day rears it’s ugly head even harder on the drive home at night. I cry most of the way – all those tears I bottled up during the day. Sometimes a discussion during the day hits me hard, and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. I can’t run away like I could at school. I have to suck it up and keep trucking. Surprisingly, I’m able to do that.

Night time is harder than ever. The panic attacks are really bad. One night this past week, Ray came home again to find me on the floor, not breathing. He didn’t know how long I’d been there before he walked in. He was able to rouse me, but then I did it again, and again, and again, and again. Five times I stopped breathing that night, and he was getting ready to call 9-1-1 when I finally started to come around. Thankfully, Nason wasn’t home. He suffered through one with me the night before and was still raw from that. The nature of the panic has changed slightly. Twice I’ve had the cessation of breath without the hysterical crying beforehand. I’m not sure if this means things are getting better or worse. It’s a horrible feeling – almost like having the hiccups but instead of that little gasp, my lungs or diaphragm seize up. I’m literally physically unable to draw the air into my lungs. If I can fight past that to catch a breath, my lungs seize again and don’t allow the air out. It’s a terrible feeling, knowing that I’m going to pass out and unable to stop myself. This morning I was able to stop the process on my own, but it wasn’t easy. I should probably do some research about how panic attacks can manifest, but honestly, I’m afraid to find out. What if this means it’s getting worse?

Getting up and going to work after these nights is difficult. But I’m able to do it. I’m starting to feel the ground under my feet again. I’m starting to feel like I can walk again. I’ve taken ownership of my faults, actions, and choices. I am working to not take on the faults of others. I’m working to allow myself to be vulnerable instead of angry. I hate that part the most! I’m working on voicing my feelings and taking care of them myself. God love him, Ray is challenging me greatly in this area. We truly are a Yin-Yang. For years I’ve been his catalyst for growth, and now he is mine. Damn it.

I have come to see that there are nothing but blank pages in front of me. My life is a story in progress, and it’s not over yet. It’s tumultuous. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s also humorous and filled with love. I get to choose the story I write. I choose to paint these blank pages with color. Every moment of every day is a choice, and I am choosing better. In the words of one of my favorite people,

This is the story of my life
And I write it everyday
I know it isn’t black and white
And it’s anything but gray
I know that no, I’m not alright
But I’ll be OK ’cause
Anything can, everything can happen
That’s the story of my life
Yes, I did just quote Jon Bon Jovi. Deal with it.

NB13: The Nolan Berthelette Story

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I was approached a while back by a young film maker in New York who got wind of our story. Ashley Robinson grew up in Pittsfield, and she lived here until she was 8. Through mutual friends, her Mom, Rachel, found my blog and she began to read and follow my journey. She shared it with Ashely and it touched her deeply. She wanted to share Nolan’s story with the world. That was the humble beginning to an immense project.

Since then, we have met and filmed, shared and talked, cried and laughed. Ashely and Rachel have become part of our family, our Tribe. I feel like Nolan was the puppet master pulling the strings. There are so many parallels in our lives, and an instant kinship was formed. This process hasn’t been easy. Bringing up all of our memories has been hard. Even the happy ones brought us tears.

When we filmed my interview for the documentary, it was the first time I had shared the full story of what happened That Night. I’d given the basics to people who asked, but not many specifics – like the moment Nolan stopped breathing while my hand hand was on his chest; like immediately having to make the choice between the child I knew I couldn’t save and the one standing next to me; like seeing blood pour from his nose in torrents, like seeing the color leach from his body and the grey pallor of death fall over him. I talk about all of this and more in the film. It’s raw and morbid and so painfully honest. Going through all of it was the hardest thing I’ve done Since. But it was healing too, eventually. Bringing up all the details did cause a downward spiral at first. I was sucked into the depths of despair and spent many Grief Days in bed hiding. There was no help for it. Grief is a very physical process, and my body needed to shut down and just concentrate on breathing.

There were times when I sat in my car in the garage just willing myself NOT to turn it on. I tried to filter out the voice that told me I could see Nolan in just a few minutes if only I was brave enough to turn the key. I thought about just not feeling this pain anymore. Then I thought about Nason, Li’l N, (no use in using initials anymore since we’ll all be outed in the film anyway). I thought about him having to hear that I had left him, by my own choice. I was pulled right back into that moment when Ray started CPR on Nolan, and I had to choose between the child I knew just died and the child standing traumatized beside me. It was the same thing. I could go to Nolan, but there’s nothing I could do for him. I had to choose Nason. If he lost me too, I can’t even imagine how he could carry the pain, especially knowing I chose death over life with him.

Eventually I began to come out of it – and stronger than I was before. Laughter came and sometimes it wasn’t even forced. The draw of Death has released it’s iron grip on me. A little. I still think about it, but I know I made it through the worst. The temptation was strong, but I was stronger.  I’m getting there. Nason is my Light.

I am including some links here. If you’re reading my blog, then you are already a brave traveler on this journey with me. I hope you’ll help us spread the word about this documentary. Nolan’s life here has passed, but his work is not done. It’s up to all of us to carry his torch, and be a part of Nolan’s legacy.

YouTube trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt4vvlQyGdA

The documentary Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NB13Doc?fref=ts

IndieGoGo Campaign (help fund the film!): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nb13-the-nolan-berthelette-story

The Documentary Website: http://imaginechanges.wix.com/nb13

Whispers in Silence

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Relationships and marriages are hard work. We’ve all been told this, but there are some surprising events that can cause hardship for even the strongest couples. One of those is having a baby (or two or three or four or five). Going from a couple to a family is difficult whether the child is planned or not. Oftentimes the needs of each partner changes in a way that you wouldn’t anticipate. Her enjoying independent time while he goes away every weekend becomes something she resents – that he gets a “break” and she doesn’t. Her lavishing affection on an infant and being too exhausted to show him any becomes something he resents. Although they both love and adore the babe infinitely, the relationship can suffer greatly. All too frequently, people will slowly grow apart and not even notice until something drastic happens. Going from Wife to Mother and Husband to Father is a tremendously stressful time. The shift from a Family of Three to a Family of Four can be even harder. Add to that shifting towards a Family of Five or Six or Seven, well you get the picture. Differences in parenting philosophies often go unnoticed until an issue arises and if not handled well, can put the child in the middle of a lifelong battle. The stress of raising children, maintaining a home, finances, independence, family time, and couple time can destroy even the most committed couples. They are lost to becoming co-parents and roommates.

I’ve been watching this happen to so many of my friends over the last several years. Seemingly perfect families are breaking apart because the intimacy is lost between the couple. I don’t necessarily mean in a physical sense, but certainly in an emotional sense. It’s sad for everyone. I was once told, I think perhaps by my own mother, that you have to put your partner before your children because they will grow up and leave one day and your partner will still be there. It’s sage advice in an age where we worship our children to extremes. It’s also incredibly hard to do when most nights you want to smother your partner in their sleep.

You know what else is potentially disastrous to a couple? Losing a child. Today’s average rate of divorce is already at 40%-50%. Studies have shown that the divorce rate for bereaved parents is more than 8 times higher than the average. The needs of each bereaved parent is as diverse as the needs of each new parent. Men and women grieve differently. The primary caretaker grieves differently than the breadwinner, regardless of gender. While each parent grieves the same child, their relationship with that child has been very different. Their hopes and dreams, their experiences, their memories – they are all so intimate. One parent (generally fathers) may feel the need to move at warp speed. They can’t sit still because when they do, the grief rears up and overwhelms them. The other parent (generally mothers) might not be able to move at all. You may find them in bed for days / weeks / months on end, unable to stop crying. They may see the other parent’s movement as a sign that they aren’t grieving as deeply and didn’t love the child as much. The warp-speed parent might see the frozen one as stuck in grief, weak, broken. They can easily turn away from each other. Many times they simply don’t see the other parent at all.

Grief is lonely. You’re fighting so hard to keep breathing that you can’t see what’s in front of you. It’s easier to stop talking and looking to each other for support. I admit, I’m guilty of this. Too many times my tears went ignored (in my perception), that I began to hide them. I began to resent what I saw as his lack of compassion. In reality, I think my tears are simply too painful for my DH to contend with. His role has always been to protect our family, to keep us safe. He couldn’t save our son. Nolan died, literally, in his Father’s hands. He can’t protect me from this, and his own grief is so deep that often he can’t see past that. Of course, I’m making some assumptions here since I haven’t spoken to him about this. It’s my fault I’ve stopped reaching out. I can see where he tries. The brief hand on the back, the quiet given when I try to cry silently. Those are measures of comfort offered.

Yesterday we saw Nolan’s headstone for the first time. No words have been engraved yet, just his pictures on the stone. I fought tears all day at school, knowing what I would see. DH was trying to talk with me in the car since he doesn’t get my attention at all, and we do have some minutiae that needs dealing with. I’ve gotten pretty adept at silent tears, and when he noticed them, he simply stopped talking. My first reaction was that he was ignoring them and felt resentment, but then a whisper blew into my heart. Maybe it was Nolan, because he was always trying to explain his Dad to me. Nolan was, and I believe still is, the best parts of both of us. His mind was like his Dad, but his heart was all me. He understood both of us completely. The whisper helped me to see that my tears weren’t being ignored. DH was silently holding space with me while the pain gripped me tightly. The softest touch of his hand against mine brought me deep comfort. It told me he knew, he understood that there was nothing he could say or do, it told me he was there.

I think it’s important for grieving parents to hear those whispers. You aren’t going to be able to comfort each other the way each would want. You are completely broken. Anger and resentment are so much easier to feel than the loneliness of grief. It’s so easy to push each other away when you really need to hold each other closely. I’m sure I’ve failed miserably at offering the comfort my DH needs as well. We are on the same Journey, grieving the same child, but it’s an individual path. It’s such a dark place that it’s nearly impossible to notice the person walking next to you. Sometimes holding that quiet place while tears fall is the greatest comfort you can offer. Love isn’t enough to get a couple through grief. You need acceptance of each others’ failings. You need forgiveness because they can’t see beyond their own pain. You need compassion for their broken Soul. You need the whispers that allow strength in silence.

An Unexpected Visit

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A couple of weeks ago, on April 1 actually (no joke), a few of Nolan’s friends came over to work on a school project. I love that they still come around and feel welcome here. They don’t come as often these days, and I try to be okay with that. It’s healthy for them to move forward, and coming here is still painful. Sometimes when they are here, I have to go to bed because the pain of waiting to hear Nolan’s voice among theirs is just too much. Even on those days, it’s still a comfort to have them. It’s a piece of what my life should be like. I know they carry Nolan with them every single day and will for the rest of their lives. But I will admit, I miss them and the chaos they bring!

I had been struggling so very much, as you may recall from my last post. The Dream sent me into a tailspin that I was still stuck in when I got the text “Can we work on a project at your house?” from Nolan’s friends. I was thrilled to have them come. Later in the afternoon, I found myself standing in the kitchen making dinner, one of Nolan’s favorites, and listening to them work on the project downstairs. It was a movie they had to film, filled with antics and laughter. I looked out the window and saw them in bathing suits in the snow. I heard them splash in the pool and scream because we haven’t heated the pool in months. I laughed out loud and it felt wonderful. About that time, I tuned in to my thoughts, as I’ve trained myself to do quite often. If I don’t stay vigilant and allow my mind to wander, I end up in the midst of That Night with a panic attack on the horizon. So, I tuned into my thoughts and realized I was singing Sgt Pepper in my head repeatedly. Not the whole song, only the part that goes “It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill. You’re such a lovely audience, We’d like to take you home with us. We’d love to take you home.”

If there’s one major defining musical connection for Nolan, it’s his love of the Beatles. He found them around 8 years old and is the biggest Beatles fan I’ve seen. His prize possession is one of their original albums which once belonged to his Great Aunt. We found it going through boxes at his Great Grandmother’s house one day and his reaction was like every single holiday and birthday wrapped up with a bow and snacks. (He also LOVES snacks!) I’d never seen a kid react like that before. It was the Holy Grail of his young life. Nolan never outgrew his love for the Beatles. He had about 10 shirts with them on the front. Each time he outgrew one, it had to be immediately replaced. Projects for music class were always about the Beatles. A Hard Day’s Night was watched hundreds of times. He has books about them and at one point was convinced that it was all a big Conspiracy Theory and John Lennon was still alive somewhere. Arguments ensued over this for weeks. When he was 11, I took Nolan to see a Beatles tribute band and he was enthralled. I’m so glad I was able to share this with him. 249876_10150207282089640_597041_nAnyway, whenever I hear The Beatles, I know Nolan is nearby.

So there I was, standing in the kitchen making one of Nolan’s favorite meals, listening to his friends downstairs, and singing Beatles in my head. My next thought was “I’d really like a cup of tea.” Annnnnd my Keurig turned on. I was about 5 feet away at the time. In that instant, as it all came together in my head, I had the most peaceful feeling come over me. I knew, I knew that Nolan was right there. I felt him wholly and truly for the first time Since. In that moment, I was living the life I should have been living. It was a rare, precious gift, that moment. My worlds converged in that perfect space and time. Nolan wasn’t here, but he was here. I said “Oh hey Buddy,” just like I used to when he walked into a room. I felt him next to me. I almost expected to have to tell him to stay out of the kitchen because he always stole little tidbits of dinner when I was cooking. Then I said, “Oh Nolan, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you so very very much. I love you Buddy.” Tears fall as I relive this here with you, but in the moment, I was still surrounded by that incredible peace and love. I didn’t cry. I smiled. My heart lifted. Then the immediacy was gone and I knew he had pulled back. It didn’t feel like he was gone, though. It felt like he had gone downstairs with his friends. I didn’t mention it to them, but I wonder if they felt him that day too.

I’ve been getting stronger since Nolan’s visit. The feeling that he’s just in the next room prevails. I’ve seen signs of him everywhere. I’ve found coins after talking about him, walked into the band room at school and saw this: 11053353_10153258750474640_3241641477902725350_n

All the percussionists sign a pillow in the base drum at the end of their 8th grade year, and that’s Nolan’s signature sticking out. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

His visit has given me a strength I didn’t know I possessed. It gave me the strength to do this:  1229141019   0416151849(1)

This was a pretty significant endeavor, if you’ll remember. I started months ago with Project Extract Head from Ass and put away what had become a shrine to Nolan’s passing. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do Since, right up there with picking out a casket and pulling up the blood-stained carpet. I feel such a tremendous relief that it’s no longer looming over me. Know what else I did? This: 0417150828

That’s my office as I write this blog. It used to be a mountain of papers I couldn’t face. You couldn’t even seen my monitor past everything I’ve been avoiding. I feel like I have made tremendous gains the past couple of weeks. I still have to watch my thoughts carefully. I still cry every single day. I still can’t look at a picture of Nolan for too long. I still stay away from the thoughts that he died. I’m still fighting off panic attacks quite often, but I’m also getting stronger. I’m starting to feel the moments between my breath every so often. I’m starting to see shades of gray rather than black.

A friend of mine who has been in this awful club longer than I, whose child was a friend of my daughter’s in school and was tragically taken from this world at 16, is probably the most inspiring person I’ve met. She posted on her Facebook one day,

“What a beautiful morning. I am actually sitting on the deck in the warm sunshine, coffee in hand, thinking about life. Days like today, I remind myself how beautiful the earth really is and that we and the earth have all been created by the universe. My daughter is part of that universe now. I can not take all this for granted because of that. I will continue to sit here and listen to all the sounds of spring and be thankful we have all been given the chance to be here.”

Her strength amazes me. I’m not there yet, not even close, but I aspire to see the world again; to really see the world and find the beauty around me.

This Journey is the biggest, most monumental test of Faith I could imagine. I find my Faith holding on, sometimes by a thread, but still there. I believe with my whole Being that I am more than my body and so is my son. He has to exist in some form, somewhere. And if that’s true, then where else would he be than right beside me when I need him? He continues to be my Soulmate.

Nolan’s Hands

hands

Recently, I went to pick up Nolan after he spent the night at a friend’s house. I remember pulling into the driveway of this house I had never been to before and being so desperately excited to see him. I could not wait for him to come out of the front door. I missed him with a ridiculous intensity that made no sense. He’d only been gone one night, for Heaven’s sake! When he finally came outside, I nearly shrieked. Ok, maybe I did a little bit. He walked casually to the car with that lovable smirk on his face. He was wearing his favorite plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled partway, and a pair of jeans. I remember looking at him and thinking what a stunningly handsome man he was growing into. He got to the passenger side of the car and slid in next to me. He looked at me and grinned. I said to him, “Nolan, I missed you! I had the most horrible nightmare that you died!” I held his hand up to my cheek and kissed it. I remember the feel of his warm hand against my face. When I looked at his hand in mine, I got confused for a minute. He didn’t say anything to me, just smiled a soft little smile, like he knew that I was going to fall but he couldn’t help me. He couldn’t save me from it, but he was loving me through it.  All of a sudden it came back to me. THIS was the dream. My life was the nightmare. I woke up in a sea of tears that I still can’t seem to stop.

I’ve always loved Nolan’s hands. From the moment he was born, I’ve had this bizarre fascination with them. The way he would hold onto just my one finger when he was an infant, the way he studied them himself as a baby, the way he learned to use them as a toddler all left me in awe. When he started building things and drawing, I would sit for hours with him and watch his hands. I always thought they were the most beautiful hands I had ever seen. As he got older and they started to become the hands of a man, I would still look at them and think about them holding his own child someday. I would think about those hands touching the face of his wife someday. No matter how old he got, Nolan would always let me hold his hands.

When I first was able to hold Nolan’s hand in the local hospital That Night, I knew he was gone, but in my deep shock, I thought there was a chance he’d wake up. I kept telling myself that when he was life-flighted to the next hospital, we would get there and find him awake in bed. There was no other vision I let take hold. When we got there and I held his hand again, I knew. I was still insistent that the doctors made a huge mistake and he would be fine. I remember thinking the neurologist couldn’t be taken seriously. I mean, he had a Minion shirt on! How could I believe this man when he said my son was not going to recover, that he had already passed away, while he was wearing a shirt with a MINION on it?? It had to be a horrible joke. His heart was still beating. How could he have already died?

It wasn’t until Nolan was settled into his room in the ICU and I crawled into bed with him that it hit me. When I had to physically lift his head to put my arm under it, and I had to physically manipulate his fingers to lace into mine, the reality broke through the cloud that he was, in fact, already deceased. As people came in to say goodbye, I talked to them as if Nolan wasn’t already….well….deceased. I didn’t want the kids to think of that while they said their good-byes. His heart was beating steadily, his body was warm. I know he was in the room, but he was not in his body or in that bed with me.

I spent the next two days staring at his hands. I saw the signs of death slowly taking over his body. A grayish substance began leaking from his nose and mouth. I would lovingly wash it away and apply chapstick to his lips. His coloring began to change. The scent of his body began to have a subtle tinge to it that I will always smell in my mind. His hands began to get smaller, thinner. I couldn’t lie to myself when I was witness to these changes all while his head lay on my shoulder and our hands linked together. Our bodies were pressed so closely, our legs entwined as if he had just fallen asleep with me as he had countless times before.

I remember seeing Nolan in his casket and thinking his hands were wrong. They were thin! His fingers were always so strong and his hands slightly wide. They had lost that and his skin clung to his bones in such an alarming way. They were freezing! I held his hands so long, the warmth from mine leached into his and they became warm again. For as long as I live, I will feel those icy cold fingers in mine.

I don’t think I have the words adequate to describe the feeling of waking from what you thought was a nightmare to find the actual nightmare is your life. I’ve been exceptionally fragile since The Dream. I’ve had to go into the bathroom at work to cry a number of times. I have a hard time being around the kids right now.  Controlling my thoughts is exceedingly difficult. Leaving work one afternoon, I had to stop as an ambulance went by. Hearing the sound in the distance getting closer immediately threw me back to That Night and waiting outside, screaming for help, and finally hearing the sounds of the ambulance in the distance. I wasn’t in my car anymore. I was trapped in That Night all over again. I’m not sure how long I sat there after the ambulance went by reliving that horrible night. Eventually, another car came up behind me and beeped. I’ve said it before, PTSD is no joke. You really are back in time while your body simply holds space for you to return.

I went to a fundraiser for the football team knowing that I really wasn’t strong enough to handle it. It was important to DH, so I went with him. It was alright at first. I struggled but was able to make eye contact with people and even have a few short conversations. They played a video recap of the season that I had seen before and was forewarned would be played again. I knew it would be heartbreaking and that I shouldn’t stay to watch it, but knowing I would catch just a couple glimpses of Nolan on the screen made it impossible for me to walk away. Thankfully, as soon as it began, my Warrior Women surrounded me. I cried through it, ruining my makeup that I had carefully applied to mask my suffering. I sat there falling down the rabbit hole while 3 sets of hands literally held me up. It was a powerful moment. After the video ended, I ran from the room. I had a few minutes of breakdown and then I scolded myself to get it together. I think I fooled those Warriors. I went back to the function room and frantically searched my bag for my anxiety pills. I hardly take them but always carry them just in case. Well, except for that night, I carry them. I didn’t have them with me so instead of leaving, I decided to self-medicate. I know enough addicts to be well aware of what a bad choice this is, but in the moment, I needed the pain to end. I’m becoming very skilled at fooling people. To all outward appearances, I was laughing and dancing and acting silly and seemed to be having a good time. I wasn’t. I was dying inside but wasn’t strong enough to get myself the help I really needed. I continue to work on this.

I was successful in self-medicating to the point of complete blackout. I’m not proud of it, but I’m honest about it. I’m human and I am trying to figure out how to stay alive in a world without Nolan. Luckily enough for me, I have no recollection of the latter part of the evening. I know many teenagers are reading this, and I’ve hedged about sharing this part of my struggle, but I’ve sworn to myself to be brutally honest. Kids, this is a bad idea. It ends up being harder in the long run. You can’t escape the pain this way. In fact, it makes it a thousand times worse.

The floodgates are open and I can’t seem to close them. I’m still extremely fragile. I’m walking on very thin ice that could swallow me whole at any moment. I’m having a lot of flashbacks during the day. I don’t get much sleep at night. I gave up caffeine a week ago and have no idea why. Seriously. No idea. It might appear that The Dream set off a downward spiral and hurt more than it helped. While the downward spiral part is true, I believe The Dream is helping. It is making me face some areas that I need to really work harder to control. I pray a lot. I am watching myself more closely. I am committed to making choices that will help me become stronger each and every day. I don’t understand about the caffeine, but for some reason, I feel guided to do so. I’m following my intuition. I’m trying so much harder to trust the process. I’m trying to trust that Nolan really is loving me through this.

Last night after obedience classes with Ellie, I met the daughter of the breeder who gifted us with Ellie. We talked for a bit about Nolan and how Ellie has been such a blessing to our family. I’m thinking of having her licensed as a therapy dog since she seems to be able to tell when both Lucy (our epileptic rabbit. I know. Only in my family!) is going to have a seizure, and when I am brewing a panic attack. When I left, walking across the dark, muddy parking lot, I found a coin. I know it was from Nolan, acknowledging that he had heard all I said and was loving me through everything. I trust that is true.

While The Dream did send me on a spiral, holding Nolan’s hand again, even for a such a brief moment, is worth any Hell I have to walk through afterwards. He challenged me in life, and he continues to challenge me in death. Being Nolan’s mom is an adventure that never ends.