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Nolan’s Hands

hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nolan’s Final Essay

custom-essay-writing

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