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.