Tag Archives: friends

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.”

NB13: The Nolan Berthelette Story

nb13

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

Smoke and Mirrors

smoke

When your child dies, you don’t lose them all at once. You lose them by increments, microscopic particles, little by little, bit by bit, second by second, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year. The immediate absence of their physical body is shocking; traumatic. I imagine this is the same whether your child suffers an illness or is ripped from your arms in sudden tragedy. Even if you know it’s coming, nothing can prepare you for that moment when their breath stops, their heart quiets, and a silence fills your Soul never to have sound again.

This is what I’ve been going through and why I’ve been on hiatus from this blog. It’s been too much to carry – to heavy for words. I survived Mother’s Day. I survived a birthday. We survived Father’s Day. We managed to make it through Nolan’s one-year anniversary. The days continue to be wrapped in darkness. The panic attacks are back in full swing. The nights are filled with terrors only to awaken to find that is has become my life.

I’m losing Nolan in pieces. Sometimes it feels like he’s just not home, and I have to remind myself that he’s not coming home. I look for him everywhere, in everything. In every tree, in every leaf, in every whisper of the wind. I try to see him in every cloud and bird. I search each rock and flower and blade of grass to find something – something – that calls out to me from him. I was laying at the lake last week, just watching the clouds and talking to him in my mind. I could swear the clouds spelled “LIVE,” and I started to cry. The eagle chose that moment to soar over the lake, and I almost believed it was real. Part of me knows that he is still trying to reach me, but the bigger part is so wrapped in pain that it makes those signs easy to rationalize away.

Pieces of him drift away. Slowly, quietly. The emptiness is becoming familiar, routine. I still cry every day. Every. Single. Day. Endlessly. I see all the posts about Grief online and they don’t help. Grief is the price of love and all that nonsense. I call bullsh*t on that. Love has no price, especially the unconditional love for a child. Grief is what rises up and engulfs the energy that you used to spend on that child. All those thoughts about them, the physical energy in taking care of them, the emotional devotion directed towards them, your hopes and dreams for them – it all just hangs there like a specter hovering in your heart. It becomes Grief incarnate. It takes over every aspect of your life.

I am beginning to see the understatement that “New Normal” really means. It’s that Grief encompassing every part of you – mind, body, and Soul. It pushes out all color from your life. You actually become used to it. The constant battle of railing against the pain and trying to find the sun – and your Son – begins to feel familiar. Your shoulders slump under the weight of agony, your back curves, everything hurts, but you begin to desensitize yourself to the sensations. The fight is gone. Surrender is the only option.

All this goes on behind the smile and the “I’m ok,” in response to your “How are you?” All this happens behind the laughter of a joke you told or a memory you shared. Smoke and mirrors. People become more comfortable with that perception. They want you to be ok. They want you to be happy. They want you to laugh, and so you do. Only those who look beyond that surface, only those brave Souls who travel the same path really notice the laughter never reaches your eyes. They notice you always deflect questions about yourself. They know it’s self-defense. Self-preservation. Even with all my devotion to being brutally honest about this Journey, I have somehow become a Master of Smoke & Mirrors.

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.

The 7 Types of People You Meet

The People You Meet

Grief is a journey with no familiar destination. It will last, to varying degrees, for the rest of your life. Grief takes you to extremely dark places that nobody would ever purposely visit. It is a twisting, winding road with hills and valleys. You can never see clearly. There are tar pits that entrap you for days on end. There are pools that drown you time and time again. Just when you think you’ve reached solid ground, the very Earth shifts beneath you and you tumble down to the depths of Hell all over again. The scenery is desolate and cold. The very air is laced with despair. There are fellow Travelers you meet along this Journey. Grief is different for every person and every loss. The loss of a child is a horse of a different color altogether. When you meet one of these fellow Travelers, an immediate and everlasting bond forms. You look into each others’ eyes and find such a deep knowing. These fellow Travelers, by their very existence, give you hope that you too will be able to keep going.

Grief brings out the very best and the very worst in those around us. There are 7 types of people that I’ve met along my Journey. Sometimes it’s surprising who they turn out to be.

1. The First Responders These are the people who show up at the moment of trauma. These are the ones that drive 4 or 5 hours in the middle of the night or hop the next plane to get to you. These are the people that literally hold you up when you hear the news that your child won’t be coming home. These are the people that bring their children to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning to be sure there is a chance to say “Goodbye.” These are the people that hold vigil in the hospital for as long as you are there. You may not even notice them because you are in shock and can’t see beyond the child laying in bed, but they are there. They try to feed you when you can’t feed yourself. They protect your modesty when you pass out on the floor. They sit outside the door and keep everyone away so you can have private time with your baby. These people are strong for you in the midst of the immediate crisis.

2. The Runners These people show up with the First Responders and have the best of intentions of being there for you – for enduring this agony with you. They mean well, but they can’t handle it. These people slip away without a word, unnoticed, wrapped in their own feelings. I try to not hold judgement on the Runners. We are all doing the best we can in any moment. At least, I hope so. Grief and trauma affect us all differently. Some people are just incapable of being a part of the nightmare.

3. The Busy Bees These are the kind-hearted folks that come out of the woodwork and surround you with love. These people move right into your house and take care of everything you can’t think of. These are the people that show up with food for weeks on end. They show up with tables and tents and hundreds of chairs and set them in your yard only to disappear before you can say thank you. They cater the gathering after the Funeral. These people think to do things like make memory books of your child. They do your yard work. They hold candle vigils, fundraisers, and start websites to help. They take pictures and video in case you ever want to look back. They know you aren’t really present in your body and want to make sure you always have something to return to you when you are ready. They go to the mall to buy you orange dresses because they know with your bright, red hair that there simply is no orange in your wardrobe. They know you will want to wear your son’s favorite color. The Busy Bees brave panic attacks of their own to come support you at your child’s wake.

4. The Moths These people tell themselves that they mean well. They are inexplicably and uncontrollably drawn to the attention surrounding the grieving family. They are drawn by their own desire to feel needed or important. These people insinuate themselves into every situation with an outward appearance of altruism. It can take a little time, but eventually, as the media attention and whatnot fades, so do these people.

5. The Ignorant These guys want you to be the same person you were Before. They expect you to still want to do the same things and don’t know how to relate to the new You. They treat you like nothing happened and quickly end conversations when you inevitably bring up your child. The loss of these people goes practically unnoticed.

6. The Ostriches The Ostriches are close neighbors with The Runners. These people might be there in the crisis but disappear shortly thereafter. You are a walking, talking, flashing, neon billboard of their greatest fear. They need to be able to pretend it could never happen to them, and so they can’t watch it happen to you. Some of these people are just so caught up in their own drama, they simply can’t handle yours. This is okay. It hurts sometimes when you think these people are your lifelong friends, but Grief has a way of clearing unhealthy relationships from your path. Eventually you realize that these aren’t the type of people you want in your life anyway.

7. The Warriors These people might have been friends or strangers or acquaintances Before, but they have Since become a true partner on your Journey. These people are ridiculously brave. These are the people who show up and climb into bed with you without saying a word. They hand you tissues and hold you until you cry yourself unconscious. These are the people who go with you to the funeral home and style your child’s hair. They officiate at the Funeral Service even though it terrifies them. These are the people who keep checking on you even when you don’t answer your phone or ever text back. They know you will when you are ready. These are the people who pick you up off the floor when you walk into their shop and collapse in the ugly-crying sobs. These are the people who take you to painting classes because you need to do something. These are the people who take days off of work to drive you to visit a friend in another state. These are the people who answer the Bat Signal and help you tear up the blood-stained carpet. These are the people who know you will never “get over” it. They know that no matter how much time passes, your child will still be gone, and there is never going to be a day you will be “over” it.

The Angel Warriors have shown me what healthy friendships are. They have taught me that it’s okay to be vulnerable. They have faith in me and for me when I don’t have it myself. They remind me that, although my Journey is solitary, I am not alone. These people are Angels on earth, and I feel truly and deeply blessed to have them in my life.

Little Triumphs

triumphs

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

work life sign

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.

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.

Angels on the Field

10507019_10152393416675780_8248734576577210507_oDH and I were lucky enough to have dinner before the Big Game with Taylor Darveau’s parents. (See my last post for the backstory.) I will admit I was nervous to meet them. In fact, I said to a friend of mine that I didn’t know what to say to them. Her response as she had a fit of giggles –  “I’m not laughing with you. I’m laughing AT you.”  I know, it felt silly, hypocritical even. We are in the same horrific club. We both lost a child. How many people wouldn’t talk to me because they didn’t know what to say? I’m not immune to the irony.

As it turns out, I had zero reason to be nervous. They are such warm, caring, open, and forgiving people. They traveled a much harsher road than we have and yet conduct themselves with a grace and a determination that speaks volumes for the depth of their love for Taylor. I feel honored and blessed to count them among our Friends. The parallels in our lives and in our childrens’ lives is uncanny. I firmly believe that Nolan and Taylor have their hands in all of this. As much as both families would give anything to have them back, it’s comforting to know that they are together and working hard to surround all of us with their loving guidance.

How did the Big Game go? The Huskies did it, and not alone either. I have no doubt that Nolan was there, and this photo simply proves it.

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The emotions that poured forth upon the win surprised me. It hit me hard and the tears just flowed. Luckily I was surrounded by loving support and they helped me stand. I wasn’t the only one. This has been such an emotional season for all of us. I went onto the field to hug some of Nolan’s best friends on the team and could have held onto them for hours. We cried together in joy and in sorrow. Thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. I know Nolan is so very proud.

Nolan has been with his Brothers every step of the way this season. We move on to the State Championship game next Saturday in Portland. Including exhibition games and scrimmages, next Saturday’s will be the Huskies’ 13th game. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Neither do I.

You can catch the recap here (remember to open in new tab!):

http://wabi.tv/2014/11/15/mci-battles-back-best-bucksport-win-class-d-eastern-maine-crown/

Learn more about Taylor Darveau and the T.A.Y.L.O.R. Foundation at:

http://www.taylorfoundation.com/