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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.

 

 

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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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.

An Unexpected Visit

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A couple of weeks ago, on April 1 actually (no joke), a few of Nolan’s friends came over to work on a school project. I love that they still come around and feel welcome here. They don’t come as often these days, and I try to be okay with that. It’s healthy for them to move forward, and coming here is still painful. Sometimes when they are here, I have to go to bed because the pain of waiting to hear Nolan’s voice among theirs is just too much. Even on those days, it’s still a comfort to have them. It’s a piece of what my life should be like. I know they carry Nolan with them every single day and will for the rest of their lives. But I will admit, I miss them and the chaos they bring!

I had been struggling so very much, as you may recall from my last post. The Dream sent me into a tailspin that I was still stuck in when I got the text “Can we work on a project at your house?” from Nolan’s friends. I was thrilled to have them come. Later in the afternoon, I found myself standing in the kitchen making dinner, one of Nolan’s favorites, and listening to them work on the project downstairs. It was a movie they had to film, filled with antics and laughter. I looked out the window and saw them in bathing suits in the snow. I heard them splash in the pool and scream because we haven’t heated the pool in months. I laughed out loud and it felt wonderful. About that time, I tuned in to my thoughts, as I’ve trained myself to do quite often. If I don’t stay vigilant and allow my mind to wander, I end up in the midst of That Night with a panic attack on the horizon. So, I tuned into my thoughts and realized I was singing Sgt Pepper in my head repeatedly. Not the whole song, only the part that goes “It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill. You’re such a lovely audience, We’d like to take you home with us. We’d love to take you home.”

If there’s one major defining musical connection for Nolan, it’s his love of the Beatles. He found them around 8 years old and is the biggest Beatles fan I’ve seen. His prize possession is one of their original albums which once belonged to his Great Aunt. We found it going through boxes at his Great Grandmother’s house one day and his reaction was like every single holiday and birthday wrapped up with a bow and snacks. (He also LOVES snacks!) I’d never seen a kid react like that before. It was the Holy Grail of his young life. Nolan never outgrew his love for the Beatles. He had about 10 shirts with them on the front. Each time he outgrew one, it had to be immediately replaced. Projects for music class were always about the Beatles. A Hard Day’s Night was watched hundreds of times. He has books about them and at one point was convinced that it was all a big Conspiracy Theory and John Lennon was still alive somewhere. Arguments ensued over this for weeks. When he was 11, I took Nolan to see a Beatles tribute band and he was enthralled. I’m so glad I was able to share this with him. 249876_10150207282089640_597041_nAnyway, whenever I hear The Beatles, I know Nolan is nearby.

So there I was, standing in the kitchen making one of Nolan’s favorite meals, listening to his friends downstairs, and singing Beatles in my head. My next thought was “I’d really like a cup of tea.” Annnnnd my Keurig turned on. I was about 5 feet away at the time. In that instant, as it all came together in my head, I had the most peaceful feeling come over me. I knew, I knew that Nolan was right there. I felt him wholly and truly for the first time Since. In that moment, I was living the life I should have been living. It was a rare, precious gift, that moment. My worlds converged in that perfect space and time. Nolan wasn’t here, but he was here. I said “Oh hey Buddy,” just like I used to when he walked into a room. I felt him next to me. I almost expected to have to tell him to stay out of the kitchen because he always stole little tidbits of dinner when I was cooking. Then I said, “Oh Nolan, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you so very very much. I love you Buddy.” Tears fall as I relive this here with you, but in the moment, I was still surrounded by that incredible peace and love. I didn’t cry. I smiled. My heart lifted. Then the immediacy was gone and I knew he had pulled back. It didn’t feel like he was gone, though. It felt like he had gone downstairs with his friends. I didn’t mention it to them, but I wonder if they felt him that day too.

I’ve been getting stronger since Nolan’s visit. The feeling that he’s just in the next room prevails. I’ve seen signs of him everywhere. I’ve found coins after talking about him, walked into the band room at school and saw this: 11053353_10153258750474640_3241641477902725350_n

All the percussionists sign a pillow in the base drum at the end of their 8th grade year, and that’s Nolan’s signature sticking out. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

His visit has given me a strength I didn’t know I possessed. It gave me the strength to do this:  1229141019   0416151849(1)

This was a pretty significant endeavor, if you’ll remember. I started months ago with Project Extract Head from Ass and put away what had become a shrine to Nolan’s passing. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do Since, right up there with picking out a casket and pulling up the blood-stained carpet. I feel such a tremendous relief that it’s no longer looming over me. Know what else I did? This: 0417150828

That’s my office as I write this blog. It used to be a mountain of papers I couldn’t face. You couldn’t even seen my monitor past everything I’ve been avoiding. I feel like I have made tremendous gains the past couple of weeks. I still have to watch my thoughts carefully. I still cry every single day. I still can’t look at a picture of Nolan for too long. I still stay away from the thoughts that he died. I’m still fighting off panic attacks quite often, but I’m also getting stronger. I’m starting to feel the moments between my breath every so often. I’m starting to see shades of gray rather than black.

A friend of mine who has been in this awful club longer than I, whose child was a friend of my daughter’s in school and was tragically taken from this world at 16, is probably the most inspiring person I’ve met. She posted on her Facebook one day,

“What a beautiful morning. I am actually sitting on the deck in the warm sunshine, coffee in hand, thinking about life. Days like today, I remind myself how beautiful the earth really is and that we and the earth have all been created by the universe. My daughter is part of that universe now. I can not take all this for granted because of that. I will continue to sit here and listen to all the sounds of spring and be thankful we have all been given the chance to be here.”

Her strength amazes me. I’m not there yet, not even close, but I aspire to see the world again; to really see the world and find the beauty around me.

This Journey is the biggest, most monumental test of Faith I could imagine. I find my Faith holding on, sometimes by a thread, but still there. I believe with my whole Being that I am more than my body and so is my son. He has to exist in some form, somewhere. And if that’s true, then where else would he be than right beside me when I need him? He continues to be my Soulmate.

Nolan’s Hands

hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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