Tag Archives: Loss of Child

Smoke and Mirrors

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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.

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.

New Normal

rage-nuclear-l“Mom…Mom…MOM…are you OK?!?! MOM…can you breathe?!?! MOM!! BREATHE!!!”

That’s what I woke up to in the middle of the night. A scared, traumatized little boy afraid his Mom was going to die in the bed next to him.

“I’m ok, baby. I was just dreaming.” That was all I could think to say. I was dreaming, right? This is all just nightmare, right? Li’l N’s arms wrapped around me so tightly, and it took some time for him to fall back to sleep. I laid there holding him, watching him sleep, and crying for Nolan for the next 4 hours until the alarm went off. Then I got up and went to work like I was fine, like I was normal.

Well, I’m not normal. I hate the “new normal” that people say you need to find. I want my old normal back. I want my old self back. I WANT MY SON BACK. I can’t have that, though, can I? What I can have is this “New Normal.” What does that look like? Well it looks like shit. It looks like I cry an ocean every freaking day. It looks like I have panic attacks in my sleep. In my SLEEP! I CRY in my SLEEP! New Normal? My youngest son can’t sleep alone because he’s afraid of what’s going to happen to me if he’s not there to wake me up when I stop breathing IN MY SLEEP. He can’t sleep soundly because he’s afraid of waking up next to his dead mother.  Excuse my language, but FUCK YOU NEW NORMAL.

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. I can’t handle this. I know I’m supposed to be graceful and supportive and looking for spiritual answers. I’m supposed to be finding a reason to live. I’m supposed to be looking for acceptance and absorbing the New Normal. Well, I can’t. Just when I think I’m gaining ground and making progress, Grief grabs me by the throat and rips my heart out. What the hell is progress anyway? No matter how far ahead I move into the future, my son is still DEAD. I repeat, FUCK YOU NEW NORMAL.

<end rant>

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

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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.

Confirmations

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Today started out as usual. The alarm goes off and I hit snooze. It went of again, and I hit snooze. The third time’s the charm. The alarm goes off and I let it play to try and wake Li’l N up. We’re laying there, listening to music. I even put on his station to try to keep his attention from drifting back to sleep. Neither of us are morning people. It was always Nolan who got his little brother up in the morning, not always in the nicest way either. Most days in our previous life started with screams of “M-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-M!” and “NOLAN STOP IT!” I’d go upstairs and find Li’l N’s blankets in heap on the floor or find his helpful big brother had dumped cold water on him in an honest effort to get them both to school on time. When school started this year, Li’l N was worried about how he would get up without Nolan “helping.” Honestly, I was too. Every morning now is a struggle.

This morning we are laying in bed, me poking at Li’l N, him squawking at me to leave him alone, and both of us listening to the radio. Some silly game comes on about “Name that Noise,” where the DJ’s play a noise and you call in to guess what it is. That got Li’l N’s attention, so I handed him the phone. He dialed and got a busy signal. He dialed again and got a busy signal. He dialed about 15 times and got a busy signal each time. I just casually said “Nolan, can you help your brother get through?” One guess what happened next. Li’l N dialed again and his face lit up. It rang and the DJ answered. They had already gotten a winner in the contest, but by that point it didn’t matter. I cried and Li’l N laughed. It proved to both of us, once again, that Nolan is right here. He is listening. He will always try to help where he can. Next time we need to be more specific in asking, “Can you help Li’l N get through and win??” Li’l N’s guess was correct, after all. This morning, we won so much more than a contest.

My life Since is a constant test of faith. I miss my boy terribly. I will always miss him. Having him with me in Spirit isn’t enough, but it’s all I have. His simple response to my offhand request this morning did a whole lot to strengthen my faith. Today I’m trying to stand strong. Today I’m talking to him like he’s right here next to me because maybe, just maybe, he is.

Nolan’s Final Essay

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Today I decided to move mountains. Literally. My desk is a huge mountain of papers that I do my best to avoid. I took a big step about 2 months ago and bought a new desk calendar. You may remember from a previous entry that I haven’t been able to change the calendar on my desk from the July 2014 one. I’m still working on the aptly named “Extract Head from Ass” project of cleaning off my desk and dining room table. I was making headway until I bought that stupid new calendar. I put it on my desk, on top of that mountain, and proceeded to avoid it like the plague. Shortly thereafter, DH informs me that another letter came in from one of Nolan’s donor recipients and he put it on my desk. That pretty much made my entire office off-limits. I couldn’t even look at it when I walked by. I even avoided blogging with regularity because I knew that letter lurked underneath the mountain somewhere, just waiting to rip my world apart again.

I lived through Nolan’s birthday last week, which I’m still not strong enough to blog about. I will because it was a major hurdle to overcome and deserves to be shared. I was also able, with the help of one of my Warrior Women, to remove the blood-stained carpet in my bathroom. I have been working hard at this Grief thing. I will blog about that too, but not today. Today I need to share what I uncovered mid-level of the mountain. Yes, I did change the calendar, although I couldn’t throw the other one away. I packed it up in the bin with all of Nolan’s funeral “stuff.” Yes, I did read the letter from the donor family and it made me cry those ugly sobbing tears. I’m getting closer to the point of writing to all of the recipients. Soon, I think. I found a letter a neighborhood child wrote about The Worst Day of his Life, which was all about his experience of Nolan’s funeral. That also made me cry those ugly sobbing tears. None of those things compared to finding Nolan’s final essay. This may be a long post today, so feel free to go grab a drink and settle in. You might be here a little while.

Nolan has always been very academically  motivated. When we moved to Maine, Nolan was in 1st grade and already hitting the required benchmarks for end of 2nd grade and some 3rd grade goals. He was never one to be satisfied with “good enough,” and was his own biggest motivator. Once – just ONCE, he got a B+ in a class and immediately emailed his teacher asking what he needed to do to improve his grade. When he took his Algebra final at the end of 8th grade, it wasn’t enough for him to know that he passed. He hounded his teacher for 3 weeks during summer vacation and finally cornered the poor woman in Walmart adamantly requesting to know his final score. It was a 92, to which he responded with “What?? I could have done better than that!”

Going into his Freshman year, Nolan was placed in Honors English. Part of the placement in this class required reading a 500 page book on mythology and writing an essay about what makes a hero. This was due via actual mail to the teacher by July 15. Nolan took this essay very seriously. He scheduled out time for reading and writing and editing. He knew this would be his teacher’s first impression of him both as a person and as a student. He mailed the final essay to her on July 11, a mere 7 days before he passed. I knew he would want to know what he received as a grade on this paper, so I emailed his teacher about this on August 27. It took a bit to finally get a response from her, but she did tell me she had his paper in the exact condition she had received it. (Not even opened???? I couldn’t believe it.) I asked if she would please read his essay and grade it, to which she said she couldn’t. I asked if she didn’t feel that she could grade it unbiasedly, then could she at least read it since it was so important to Nolan? My answer came by way of a third party knocking at my door and holding the unopened envelope with Nolan’s essay inside and a little yellow post-it note saying that she didn’t feel right about opening this package and to please understand.

I tried to understand. Honestly I did. I hadn’t felt anything but love and support from our entire community until that moment. I didn’t understand. I was angry and felt that Nolan had been disrespected. I emailed her in response telling her just that. I tried to make her understand how much of himself Nolan put into this essay and how much it meant to him to make a good impression on her as a person and a student. I expressed to her how much energy and time he dedicated to this project at HER request, and the fact that she couldn’t offer him the simplest respect by at least reading his work was offensive to me. The scribbling on the post-it note told me she was probably very immature. She could have called and spoken with me like an adult and not sent the package with a messenger. I included in my email a copy of Nolan’s final essay in hopes that someday she will be mindful that she is an Educator first and foremost, and her students deserve the respect of her, at the very least, reading the work she assigns. I still have strong feelings about this and am hopeful Li’l N is never in her class.

I was heartbroken and unsure what to do. I knew it was important for Nolan’s paper to be read and graded. I went to his middle school principal, who is a wonderful woman and incredibly supportive, and asked her if she would read and grade Nolan’s paper. She was strong enough to take on the task. She knew Nolan very well and knew how important this was. Having also lost a son as a teenager, she is intimately aware of what I am going through. After reading Nolan’s paper, she said she was unable to grade it unbiasedly. I totally understood that. It was important for us to have an honest grade. If he earned a B+, then that’s what we needed to know! The last thing Nolan would want is a pity A. The principal passed his paper along to one of the Literacy Specialists who, along with an 8th grade ELA teacher read and graded his paper. It was returned to me weeks ago and went in the mountain of papers I was too scared to see.

Today I read Nolan’s essay again and the letter that the Literacy Specialist sent along with his grade. Yes, he did earn an A.  It made me cry those deep, uncontrollable sobs. They weren’t all sobs of sorrow. In amongst the angst, there were tears of pride. I am so very proud of the young man Nolan became. I hope he wouldn’t be too embarrassed, but I think you should all take a minute and read his essay. As the LS said in her letter, “While reading his conclusions about what makes a hero a hero and the words he used to describe their defining qualities, I couldn’t help but think that many people would attribute those very words and traits to him; ‘courage,’ ‘bravery,’ ‘determination,’ ‘humble,’ and ‘compassionate.” Please take a minute and read Nolan’s thoughts on what really makes a Hero.

                As children, we are taught that heroes are people with a unique superpower and whether they are strong, invisible, or can fly, they all wear a unique costume that keeps them hidden from their true identity. Between comic books and movies such as Superman, the media has continued to portray the sincere meaning of a hero. I also believe that the fascinating myths of Ancient Greece have created a misinterpretation of what truly makes a hero.

Perseus, a story well-known throughout many parts of the world is a myth that originated in Greece. This myth explains the journey that the hero experienced. He encountered numerous beasts, but the most dispiteous of all was Medusa. Medusa had the ability to turn man into stone, but Perseus had the courage to slay the monster and bring the head back to the King where he ends up turning him and all his men into stone because of their cruelness. After reading this myth, many people believe that Perseus is a hero because of the heroic journey he took and the horrific beast he slayed, but it’s not his actions that made him a hero, it’s his characteristics. A journey like so would take someone with extreme courage, bravery, and determination, all of which are characteristics that compose a hero.

Theseus is another famous myth that I believe displays the behavior of a true hero. In the story of Theseus, the young man travels a troublesome path to reunite with his father. Along the way, Theseus killed any creature in his path which created a safer path for future travelers. After meeting his father, Theseus volunteered to be a victim that would soon be placed inside the Labyrinth. Whether it be movies or board games, the Labyrinth has always been described as a near impossible maze with consequences that were often fatal. Theseus’ task was to kill the Minotaur, a beast that lives inside the Labyrinth, and then find his way out and being the hero of this story; he was able to do so. When the hero returned home, he had found that his father, the King, had died and he was left to be the King of Athens. As King, he then created a community that was governed by the people. One may think that Theseus is a hero because of the quest he took, but again, it was not his actions that made him a hero, it was his characteristics that allowed him to fulfill these tasks. Theseus was a brave, noble, and humble man and without those characteristics, Theseus would have been unable to complete his journey.

The last myth that I will describe is the story of Hercules. Hercules is a Greek character widely known, but many people refuse to call him a hero. One may not recognize him as a hero because he has been explained as a very unintelligent individual. Along with his stupidity, he has an awful anger problem that causes him to use his immense strength to kill the innocent and in the myth, Hercules kills his sons and wife during one of his temper tantrums. Once Hercules had realized what he had done, he sought forgiveness and to sacrifice his own life in order to save theirs. Although he was a violent man that often killed innocent people, I still believe that he is a hero. Hercules is a true hero because of his tremendous heart that had a “desire to make amends no matter what cost” and similar to Perseus and Theseus, he was brave, determined, and compassionate which are all components that construct a hero.

                Something many people don’t see is the similarities between the heroes in Ancient Greece and the heroes of the twenty-first century. I believe that a true hero is not a person that slays monsters and partakes in strenuous journeys, rather they are people that are brave, noble, humble, courageous, compassionate, determined, and simply want to do only what is right for the betterment of others rather than himself expecting nothing in return.. They’re people that act when there is a need even when they’re afraid, and they are certainly not bystanders. Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and John Lennon are all people that I believe are heroes. They aren’t necessarily heroes for just their actions, but for their characteristics that allowed them to complete these actions. These modern day heroes stood up for what they believed in and helped others without concern of themselves all in a peaceful manner. Being a hero doesn’t take a person that is superior to others or someone with an abnormal power, all it takes is an average human looking to do what is right for others. As a society, we have masked the meaning of a true hero by suggesting that they are immortals that slay monsters and soar through the skies in search for evil, while the true heroes have been in front of us our entire lives. People need to begin to appreciate the modern day heroes, but in order for people to do so, it will take someone that will act for the betterment of others without concern of themselves. It will take a hero.

Nolan Berthelette

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.

Sleepwalking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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