Tag Archives: tears

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.

birthday

 

 

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

bye felicia

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.

12496322_10154002549324640_5462354718870671716_o

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.

12802695_10208953026169218_4103442748967053481_n

12801234_10154003072274640_5074222681628354294_n

12779166_10154001668359640_2682740569100375733_o

 

 

 

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.

Smoke and Mirrors

smoke

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.

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.

Sleepwalking

sleep-walking1-300x225

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Love

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

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

36662_412069649639_6922038_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10885251_10152972203074640_4467966730831733272_n   1610836_10152971254874640_213228748831530970_n10392484_10152960874814640_3085976810910689732_n(1)

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

Little Triumphs

triumphs

If you’ve been keeping up with my Journey, then you know last Tuesday I went back to work. If you missed that post, go ahead and read it now. I’ll wait….

That was a very challenging day. As I said, I went home, put on my baggiest pair of sweats and went to bed. Wednesday morning, I managed to get up and get Li’l N off to school. I got dressed, kind of. Ok, I put back on my sweats from the day before. Don’t judge. I wandered the house for a few hours. I don’t know if it’s a grief-specific behavior or if it’s just something that happens when you’re lost in your life, but I tend to wander. Literally, I go from room to room and do nothing. I might put in a laundry but then I forget all about it. I might pick up something that needs to be put away and then wonder how it got into my hand. My body is moving but my brain is disconnected. It’s like walking in a fog without your glasses on. You can’t see where you are going, everything is distorted, and you are surprised when you end up some place. I don’t know if I’ve done a good job of articulating the feeling. If you’ve ever experienced it, I think you know what I’m getting at. I gave up and went back to bed. I was numb and lost. I alternated between silent tears and sleep. I pulled myself together enough to pick up Li’l N from school. When we got home, I went directly back to bed. He seems to understand my need to isolate and sink into the despair from time to time. It doesn’t appear to bother him too much, but he does check on me every so often and ask if I need anything. He tries to be quieter than usual when I get like that. He truly is a most compassionate young man, and I am so lucky to have him. He so sweetly whispered in my ear “Mom…I need to go to practice. Do you think you can take me?” So I hauled myself out of bed and brought him to practice. I went home and back to bed. Amazingly enough, I was there to pick him up on time too. Annnnd then I went right back to bed. He and DH managed without me well enough, and eventually they both crawled into bed and we all fell asleep.

I think it’s important for me to allow myself to wallow now and again. I call it a Grief Day. When I just can’t face the world, and I tuck myself in my little cocoon and watch the clock. I wait for the minutes to roll into hours and for the day to just pass. I cry. I sleep. I let my mind go down all those awful paths. I experience That Night hundreds of times on Grief Days. I don’t think this would be a good habit for everyone. It works for me, though. I have to surrender completely to the profound sorrow in my Soul. Eventually I come back out of it, and I’m just a little stronger.

Thursday, I was able to get up and shower and actually put on clean clothes. Yay! Little triumphs! I finished the laundry I had forgotten about the day before. I wandered, but a little less than Wednesday. I went to lunch with a dear friend and was able to be there for her for a change. It was a good feeling. I knew I had to work again on Friday, so I tucked myself and my kiddo in bed a little early and prayed for strength.

Sometimes, your prayers do get answered. I woke up Friday feeling…dare I say it?…Good. I felt rested and strong. I felt like I could face the day. This was the school I was most nervous about entering. Nolan’s presence is still everywhere. Many of his friends are still there. I took a few deep breaths and walked in the door. I was met by another staff member and embraced in the most genuine, heartfelt hug. I saw tears of happiness in her eyes that I was back at school. Each kid I passed threw their arms around me. So many dear friends came in to check on me throughout the day. Li’l N came into my room about 4 times to see how it was going. Nolan’s close friends and his most special girl spent a whole period with me. It was really wonderful. I felt like Me again. I felt like I fit. Mostly. There were moments when I remembered Nolan and his friends getting passes to spend study hall with me. There were moments where I saw his shadow going down the stairs. There were moments I could swear I heard his voice down the hall. There were moments of kids’ “I remember when Nolan….” that made me a little weepy inside. I’m so glad to hear those words, though. I can listen to his stories over and over and over again. Yes, it hurts because it’s all I have left, the memories. But it feels good too, because all I have left are the memories, and knowing that so many others are thinking about those times makes me feel like he won’t be forgotten. Every so often I will hear something about him that I didn’t know, and I feel so blessed to get another glimpse of the man my son was becoming.

The tears came, as they do every day, but it was manageable. I have cried every day Since – many times each day. I’m getting used to it. I’m crying right now. It’s becoming incorporated into the flow of my life. Tears come. Sometimes they come with gut-wrenching sobs that tear the very fabric of my Soul and bring me to my knees. Sometimes they come silently as I continue doing whatever it is I’m in the midst of. I don’t know if a day will come when the tears don’t flow. I imagine that noticing I hadn’t cried all day would cause me to cry anyway. I can’t think too far ahead of how this pain will be absorbed into my Being. I can only do the best I can every day. Most days are tremendously arduous. Other days, however, I have these little triumphs that I need to celebrate. It can be as small as getting out of bed, or it can be as momentous as holding myself together for 7 hours IN A ROW. This road is long and full of potholes and obstacles. There is black ice that wipes me out, and windstorms that blow me off track. The footing on this road is treacherous. I can’t walk it alone. So thank you, to each and every one of you that holds my hand, literally and figuratively, and celebrates these little moments with me.

Back to Work

work life sign

Yesterday, I went back to work. For those that don’t know, I work as a Substitute Teacher in our local district. I’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and have loved it. It began as my being just a volunteer parent in the room to being (nicely) coerced into actually working for the district. Of all the jobs I’ve had, this is my favorite. I’m very lucky that my DH works so hard and has a wonderful job that allows for me to work for peanuts because I like what I do rather than be a slave to the grind in job that makes me miserable. We have sacrificed quite a lot over the years so that I can be home with the kids. (That’s another blog in the works.)

I was due to go back to work in September. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to walk the halls where Nolan spent so many hours. I wasn’t ready to not run into him during the day. He wasn’t supposed to be in my schools anymore anyway, but his memory, his artwork, and his essence are all over the school. I had planned on moving up to high school with him this year, but have since decided that would just be too hard. Running into my boys during the work day has always been a highlight for me. Getting to have lunch with them (sometimes), having them in class, catching a glimpse of them with just their friends – it always filled me with such a feeling of contentment. Knowing their teachers on a personal level has been a complete blessing in so many ways. It has allowed for me to truly understand my boys’ struggles and to advocate for them from a place of knowing the whole story rather than just the bits they tell me. And truly, I love our school district. I love the people I work with, and I love the kiddos.

September was too soon. I tried again in October. Couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face the kids looking to me to be strong. I couldn’t guarantee I would be able to hold my tears for that long. Who am I kidding? I still can’t guarantee that! DH remained steadfastly understanding. If I worked at an office someplace, it would probably be different.

November came and I still couldn’t do it. With the holidays fast approaching, I was getting worse as each day passed. I said I’d think about it again after the holidays – if I survived.

Here comes January. I said I would do it. In all honesty, I did it more for DH than for me. He’s been baring the brunt of the financial issues and sparing me the details. Unless you’ve been through it, you really have no idea how expensive it is to lose a child. We were lucky to have such generous donations gifted to us, but we have still spent pretty much every dime we had to pay for Nolan’s medical care and lay him to rest without going into debt. Add to that the necessity of some pretty major house repairs, and it’s not really a matter of my working because I like it anymore. So I bit the bullet.

I went back to work yesterday. I knew it would be hard. I cried all day Monday after I agreed to work on Tuesday. I prayed for strength to hold my tears in. I kept repeating to DH, “I don’t know if I can really do this.” He kept telling me “You’ll be fine.” We were both right. And we were both wrong. I did do it, but I wasn’t fine. It was a different kind of difficult than I anticipated. On the way to school, I said to Li’l N, “I hope I can do this.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I did it. I had to go back to school.” Bless his dear, sweet heart. I held those words close all day long. I am so so so lucky to work with amazingly caring, compassionate, supportive, and genuine people. I knew that if at any moment I was ready to break down, that I could just leave the room  and they would cover for me. That helped, and I thought for sure I would need that kind of support. I didn’t. I held my tears in check. There were a couple of tough moments, though. One little kiddo said to me, “Mrs. B., I saw you on the news. I saw what happened. I’m really sad for you.” Her bright eyes looking up at me nearly brought me to my knees. Her little outstretched arms wrapped around my waist, and she didn’t see the tears that I refused to let fall. I whispered “Thank you, Sweet Pea,” and after a couple deep breaths we got to work. Another precious little heart said to me “Mrs. B., I saw you on tv, but I don’t remember what it was for.” I was ok with that, but then a few minutes later, she said “Oh yeah! Now I remember, but I don’t want to say it because I don’t want to make you sad.” Dear Lord, these children are so very tender. I smiled at her, willing the tears back, and said “It’s ok. It is a very sad thing, but I’m happy that I get to spend time with you again,” and we got back to work. So, I guess DH was right in that regard. I was fine with the kids.

What I really struggled with was feeling disoriented. I had walked those halls for 8 years. (Remember I volunteered long before I worked there.) I spent so many hours working in each room at some point or another, and yet nothing was familiar. I knew 99% of the faces, and yet some of the names escaped me. I felt dizzy – really dizzy – a few times. The room spun with my mind. It reminded me of the times I passed out and stopped breathing, although I clearly was not in the grips of any panic attack. I read my schedule 100 times and still couldn’t think of where I needed to be next. Nothing sunk in. Luckily, it was a pretty light schedule. It felt good to be back, and it felt so completely wrong to be back. I felt like I didn’t fit anymore. This was part of my life Before, and I’m so very different Now. I felt like a fraud. I smiled when I wanted to cry. I laughed when I wanted to scream. I talked when I wanted to be silent. It was a very hard day, so when I came home, I put on the baggiest sweats I own and crawled into bed.

Will I keep working? Yes. Is it hard? YES. Is it time? Yes, it’s time. I’m hopeful that the more I do it, the more “myself” I will feel. It will be different Now, but maybe it will be an ok kind of different. I will still get to run into Li’l N during my day. I will still get to have lunch with him (sometimes). I will still catch glimpses of him with just his friends. I will still get to have him in class. These are invaluable blessings. I do still love the kiddos. I do still love spending my days with them. I am still blessed to have a job that fits my life rather than have to fit my life around a job. These are things that haven’t changed Since, and I think these are very important things.