Tag Archives: Parenting

Birthdays

Every day is hard. The very first thought in your mind each day is, “He’s not here. Another day without my son.” Each morning you have to re-orient yourself to this “New Normal” that everyone tells you about. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by. Day after day it’s the same thing. You wake up and that jolt of adrenaline hits you. This is your life now. It takes a minute. Eventually, the air makes its way back into your lungs and you put your feet on the floor. This weight is familiar, you remind yourself. You know what this feels like. It’s heavy, but you’ve been carrying it for some time now, and you know you will bear it just like you have been. A few more breaths, and you are able to put one foot in front of the other again. Keep moving, you just keep moving.

The sights and the sounds of the day greet you, and in those mundane moments, you feel stronger. You know there are blessings to be had this day, you need only notice them. So you look. You hear the sounds of your youngest child getting ready for school and feel so blessed that he is still here, healthy enough to be giving his Dad some sass. You hear your husband responding and feel so thankful that this man is steadfast in his commitment to your family. Your blankets are warm, and you feel lucky that they have wrapped you in comfort as your body struggled to find rest. It’s the little things you no longer take for granted. The sink full of dishes, knowing your family had food to start their day. The piles of laundry, for it shows your family has clothes to wear. Warm water in the shower, a clean towel, fuzzy slippers – these are your blessings, and you count them one by one. You wrap these blessings around you like armour to protect against the onslaught of Grief that can grab you unaware and rip the very fabric of your Soul to shreds.

Every day is hard. There are some days that are harder. Holidays, milestones, anniversaries are some of the hardest. Then again, any random Tuesday that the sun is shining brightly and birds chirp merrily in the air is enough to break open the tenderly covered wound of your heart and cause you to go crashing to your knees, begging for the sweet relief of death, the only thing that will ever free you of this pain.dsc00518

Then there are birthdays. Yours, your other childrens’, and his. Another year has passed and there is no escaping the iron clad fist of Grief as it steals your breath, your strength, your mind, and your heart. You are forced to face the fact that he will never be any olderdsc01475 than the sweet 14 year old boy he was. Past tense. Nobody ever warned you that a simple verb would destroy you. You are faced to wonder – what would he look like now? Would he have the creepy pedo-stash he always talked about growing? Would he be as tall as his Dad? Taller? What size would he wear? What would you be buying him for his birthday? A car? A new phone? He should be here still arguing with you. He should be here still asking for your advice. You should be going to visit colleges and plan for his future. You should be frustrated because he leaves his shoes out all the time. You should be annoyed that he stole your comb – again! Your grocery bill should be double SAMSUNGwhat it is. You should be talking about girls and cars and life.

You’re not. You’re crying. What used to be one of the happiest days has become the epitome of despair. You desperately want to focus on his life – he was HERE! He grew inside your body and took his first breath in your arms. You heard his first words! Try as you might, you can’t quiet the knowledge that he “was,” but is no longer. He took his last breath in your arms as well. You hear his last words to you echo throughout your body, “Mommy it hurts.” You see only your child lying on the floor and watch as the last breath escapes his lips. You are frozen, panic setting in as you realize he isn’t breathing. You still feel his warm skin under your hand as you notice his heart isn’t beating, merely fluttering. That same heartbeat that was as quick as a baby bird’s. Your world turns inside out. You remember hearing that heartbeat for the very first time and the excitement in your heart, in your husband’s eyes. Then you remember hearing that heartbeat for the last time inside his precious body.

It doesn’t make any sense. How can you be there at the start of his life, at the end, and still exist more than 2 years later? All you have are memories. Past tense verb. History. His future is gone. Your family’s future is forever changed. The sun continues to rise each day and set each night. Breath after agonizing breath continues to fill your lungs. The moments come – in between those breaths – a crack in the darkness, a whisper in your heart. “I’m still here.” There is a nanosecond between the inhale and the exhale where possibilities still exist. You can feel him as lightly as a feather passing by in the breeze. You can almost see him next to you and feel his heart holding you. Then the breath leaves your lungs and the weight returns. It’s inevitable. You search for those moments. You would do anything for him. You would die with gratitude if only it meant he would come back. You cry to the Heavens for something to do for him. There is no present you can buy him for his birthday. In that moment, between one breath and the next, you hear it. The whisper so softly you think you imagined it. “I know you would die for me, but will you live for me too?” It’s too hard. It’s too much. Yet, nothing is ever too much for our children. You have to. You know it. You strive to live in those moments between breaths, where he still is. There is no past tense or future tense in the moment. There simply is. Love, peace, and stillness. That is where you find him, where you find courage, where you find purpose.

You would be 17 now, my dear Nolan. Hardly a boy and not yet a man, although I know you would argue that with me! In my mind I see you a little bit older, in my heart you are still my baby boy, as you will always be. I work hard each day to focus on your life and not just your death. It’s not ever easy, but it’s worth it. I see colors brighter now because of you. I hear more clearly now because of you. I taste more sweetness now because of you. I touch more tenderly now because of you. I feel love deeper now because of you. My life will never be what I wanted it to be. It will never be as I planned. That doesn’t mean it won’t be filled with joy and laughter. It will be filled with even more – because of you.

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Losing Weight

Losing Weight.jpgGrief is heavy. You carry that weight in your body, in your heart, and in your Soul. Some people are lucky enough to experience what I call the “Death Diet.” These lucky bastards are heavy emotionally, and yet they lose so much physical weight they become unrecognizable. Not so much for me. I’ve wrapped myself in comfort food. I’ve eaten my emotions. This sucks. It’s another facet of Grief that changes you. There’s no quick-fix, miracle diet that can help. The heaviness weighs more than pounds, more than tons. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much you are carrying until, one day, it begins to lift.

I know I’ve talked about the physical experience of Grief. I capitalize it because, really, Grief is an entity. It’s more than an emotion. Grief has substance and presence. It has characteristics and influence. When Grief first shows up in your life, it brings its close friend Denial. They work together to make their way into your body a little at a time. Grief is too strong to manage without the numbing influence of Denial. Occasionally their cousin PTSD sneaks into the mix unseen and hides. He’s an asshole. Grief changes every cell of your body. During my first year Since, I would forget people’s names. Even people I had known for years – even people in my family! I couldn’t hold a thought in my head, and I constantly forgot words I meant to use. I could hold a conversation with someone and shortly thereafter have no memory of what we talked about. There was a point where I really did think I had early Alzheimer’s or Dementia. It turns out that “Grief Brain” is a real thing. Seriously. MRI’s show that a person experiencing profound Grief has changes in their brain function. It used to drive Nason crazy having to repeat himself all the time. Thankfully, he’s a pretty awesome kid, and when we explained what Grief Brain is, he accepted that Mom and Dad were just going to be clueless for a while.

Eventually, Denial makes way for Reality to come in. Reality can be a jerk. It hurts. It takes the blinders off and lifts that numbing fog that surrounds you. Reality has a sidekick named Anger. Luckily for me (and everyone around me) Anger doesn’t mesh with my personality and never really took hold. Reality makes way for Acceptance. Acceptance is the hardest to allow into your life. Acceptance means that you give up the fight against What Is. You give up the hope that this is a nightmare and will end someday. You let go of the dream you had for your child’s life; for your family’s life. You allow for the fact that this is how life is going to be. Here’s the kicker that you don’t expect – It’s going to be ok. It will never be the same. It will never be what you wanted. Sadness will live in every moment of every day forever, and even with all that, life is still going to be amazing.

I knew pretty early on that I couldn’t heal living in the house that Nolan died in. Every morning I awoke in the bed where he spoke his last words. I got showered in the bathroom where he took his last breath. I would pass by the spot where he would lay on the floor and sleep in the afternoon sun. I would see where he stood in the kitchen looking up new recipes. I sat on the couch he slept on for a month. I put pellets in the stove he nearly blew up pouring lighter fluid in. I went up the stairs he slid down in laundry baskets and blankets. I put clothes down a laundry shoot he would climb up and play in. He was everywhere, and yet, he was nowhere. His room was frozen exactly the way he left it. Dust settled on everything because I couldn’t even walk upstairs to go near it.

Ray had a different experience of the house. He found comfort in living in the space that Nolan was so happy in. It was really hard to manage between us. I avoided being there, and he never wanted to leave. At one point, I told him I was moving and hoped that he would come with me, but even if he didn’t, I would be moving out in order to heal. It took some long talks and patience for him to get on board with moving. It took time for Nason to be ok with it as well. We had to promise him, cross our hearts, that we would not leave the neighborhood. We do live in a pretty awesome neighborhood, but houses here don’t come up too often and don’t stay on the market long.

It took a year for us to find a house that would feel like home. It’s tiny. I mean, really tiny. To downsize from 7,000 square feet to about 1,500 (and that might be an overestimate) is an undertaking. It’s been a leap of faith. We didn’t want to miss out on this new home waiting for ours to sell, so we had to just dive in head first. Carrying two mortgages is scary! In theory we could afford it if we budgeted carefully, but Reality seldom works out the way you plan. (If anyone wants to buy our old house, now would be great!)

We’ve been in our new home for a few weeks now. The strangest thing has happened. The air fills my lungs again. The music reaches my ears. Beauty is returning to the world. I didn’t realize how much weight I was carrying with me. I was used to the constant struggle to keep my thoughts from darkness. I was used to gearing myself up to enter those walls every night. Now everything feels different. I look forward to coming home after work. On my days off, I don’t want to go anywhere. I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I say is still “Good morning, Nolan,” but the tears don’t flow right away. When I go to bed, the last thing I say is still, “Good night Buddy. I love you,” but then I rest peacefully. Sometimes losing weight has nothing to do with pounds.

 

 

Bye Felicia

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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.”

I am the Fire

I am the fire

I made it. I survived another winter; another season of hibernation where the depression is at its worst. The holidays start my downward spiral. With the darkness encroaching and cold creeping in, my thoughts always seem to go to desolate places. I spend a lot of time alone, crying. I avoid everyone and everything. I managed to make it to work every day anyway. There was just one day near Nolan’s birthday that I had to leave because the ptsd was in full force and I couldn’t bring myself out of it. Another day, I needed an hour to pull myself together and went to talk to HR about options for LOA hours. I certainly qualify, and my employer is more than supportive of seeing me through this, yet I still have not applied. I don’t want it to be easier to fall into the darkness. I don’t want a crutch. I have to continue to pull myself along even when I have no strength to do so. I’m better at work than at home anyway.

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We celebrated making through another winter by going on vacation to Florida. Ft. Lauderdale to be exact. During spring break. Maybe we didn’t think that through – bringing our 12 year old son to Ft. Lauderdale during spring break. We are either the worst parents ever or the coolest. Either way, it was certainly a learning experience for Nason! It was good to get away, though. We laughed and argued and had a lot of fun. We saw signs that Nolan was with us everywhere.

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Each day still ended with me crying in the bathroom so nobody would hear – so nobody would see. I think that’s just going to be a part of my life now. Tears. Waves of sadness that will wash over me at the end of each day. I know Moms who are further along this path that say the tears still come, yet not every day. I don’t know if I will be able to say the same, and I don’t know whether to hope for that or not. To be so used to the constant pain that it no longer brings tears, seems even more sad to me.

As is the case with every winter, with every hibernation, spring slips in and makes me start looking outside myself again. I did more work within the darkness than I realized. I feel different than I did last spring. I feel stronger. I feel lighter. Maybe not physically, but I ate my emotions for 3 months, so what can I really expect?

Meri made a comment to me a few weeks ago that really struck a chord. We were in the car car talking about messages from Nolan, and she made an off-hand remark about starting to feel like she was getting her Mom back a little bit. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The kids lost so much when Nolan passed. They lost their brother, a future, their family as they knew it, and both of their parents. Truly Ray and I are not the same parents now as we were Before. We aren’t the same people. Hearing Meri say out loud what I had thought in my head was heartbreaking. Yet, it was also comforting. She felt the shift in me. She saw glimmers of her Mom again. She could see me fighting my way back to her. I think, perhaps, she’s the only one who has noticed.

I am finding my way back to my children, to my husband, to myself. It’s a conscious choice every single day to stay positive. I watch myself very carefully to catch my thoughts before they drift down that sad path. I focus on Nolan’s life, not on life without him. I can’t look at pictures of him too long or I begin to dissolve. I can’t allow myself to acknowledge that I will never see him again for the rest of my life. That I will never feel his arms around me. That I will never hold his hand or hear his voice. I will never know the love of his child or see him become a husband. It’s too much to bear, and the sheer panic it evokes is unimaginable. So, I simply don’t allow myself to go there.

I’ve found that with handling PTSD, controlling thoughts helps in controlling the body. Triggers abound and sometimes catch me off guard, but so much less now than ever. When you learn to control your thoughts, you can control your attitude. I try daily to let my spark grow. Yes, the spark of “Me” is still there. Not the same, but still the same. I’m not sure that would make sense to anyone who hasn’t suffered a tragic loss. Parts of me will never be the same again. The innocence of “it could never happen to me” is forever gone. When I sit down and remind myself of all the rotten shit I’ve lived through, I’m amazed at myself for still being here. I have survived so much in my life. Childhood abuse, life on the streets, drugs & alcohol, emotionally and physically abusive relationships, betrayal, abandonment, and so much more, the worst of which is losing a child. And yet…I still want to laugh every day. I still want to bring a smile to those around me. I still want to suck every ounce of adventure out of this life! I want to learn and grow and shine brightly. I want to share my light and see the light in every single person around me. This part of myself is, perhaps, the very basic core of who I am. It’s who Nolan is. We share this thirst for life, for love, for experience. By allowing myself to be Me again, I stay close with him. I feel him the strongest when I am laughing at something I know he would laugh at too.

I am my own spark. Nolan is my inspiration. I aspire to be a Mom he would be proud of, to be a Mom all my kids can be proud of. I failed miserably over the last 20 months. I let them down in so many ways. I can’t change that. I’m here now. I’m stronger. I am getting stronger every day. I am the Fire.

Necessary Joy

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When your child dies, every day is the hardest day you will face. Colors are muted. Laughter is muffled. Taste is bland. There’s a bleakness that surrounds you and creates a barrier between you and Life. You exist in a fog seemingly forever. A wasteland, desolate, dry, harsh. Your life stops with your child’s last heartbeat. Their last breath takes all the oxygen out of this world. You stand in a vacuum. How long you stay in this place is anyone’s guess. Some people stay forever. I refuse.

It was a simple comment from Ray that really resonated and started my steps along a stronger path. We’ve planned a vacation for March, and I casually commented that it’s a good time and that it gives me something to look forward to. I stated, “I’ve survived Thanksgiving. I’ll survive Christmas and New Year’s. Then I’ll survive Nolan’s birthday. Then right after I’ll get my toes in the sand and take a break from Grief.” Ray sat quietly for a minute and responded. “You know, someday I hope you’ll be able to do more than just survive. I hope you’ll be able to feel some joy around the holidays. I don’t want Nason to grow up associating the holidays with sadness.”

I felt a lump in my throat. A hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. The absolute truth in what he said hit me like a ton of bricks. He’s right. I’ll probably never live down uttering those words, but it’s true. He is right. I can survive. I have survived and will continue to survive. For Nason’s sake, I need to find joy. It’s necessary. Necessary Joy.

Last year I refused to put up the Christmas tree or decorate. This year we did. It was20151129_153003n’t easy. Meri came over and helped take my place. It was always my job to pass out the ornaments to the kids and reflect on how they were at the age they made them. I couldn’t do it this year. I took Eli to play and Meri took over for me. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met. Nason commented to me later about how I didn’t do my job. It bothered him. I was simply honest and reminded him that last year I could12348070_10153820289199640_3965445487099618801_nn’t even put a tree up. Next year maybe I’ll be strong enough to face each ornament, each memory.

Passing the tree each day is a struggle. Some days I avoid looking at it. Nolan has made more of the ornaments than anybody else. Sometimes it makes the emptiness so vast. Other times, I am able to take an ornament in my hand and remember him at that age and smile. I cry, always, but sometimes I smile too. Like when I found this written on the back of an ornament. I don’t remember noticing that Nolan had signed it before. Maybe it’s a message from him for all of us. Even at 11 years old, Nolan understood what was really important.

I’ve given Nolan his own tree. It’s a work in progress and we will continue with the tradition of adding an ornament each year. Nason helped me decorate it this year. We were able to talk about Nolan and think of what kinds of ornaments we would put on it without tears. We laughed at some memories, and it was exactly what we both needed.

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I’m still struggling each day with each breath, but I’m getting stronger. I have to find honest Joy in my life. For Nason, for Eli, for Ray, for Meri, for Heather, for Nik…for Nolan, and for me. Nolan and I shared this zest for life, this spark for experiences. We shared a passion for nature, for laughter, for music, for love. If I don’t find a way to allow that back into my life, I’ve lost yet another connection to my precious boy. Nason also shares that same zest. It connects us with Nolan. I don’t want Nason growing up seeing nothing but sadness during the “happiest time of the year.” He’s my touchstone, and I refuse to allow his childhood to be miserable because of this tragedy. He deserves better, and so does Nolan.

For both of my boys, I choose Joy. I choose Life. Until I can feel it wholeheartedly, I will take the little bits that come as progress. Sometimes I forget how strong I am. On the days I can’t feel it, I look at Nason, and he reminds me. Joy is absolutely necessary.

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NB13: The Nolan Berthelette Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 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