Uprooted

5AA7BF25-6D22-4373-A823-7DDAD085F563Have you ever seen an image and had it resonate with you?  Like the metaphor or similarities were created only for you, at the moment you were to see it,  the poetic imagery that would then stir the emotions inside you?

That is how I felt when I viewed the few hundred year old tree from the side of the enormous root system protruding out of the ground on my casual hike through the nature preserve.   I couldn’t use words to describe the bizarre kinship I felt, but I snapped a quick cell phone image and kept moving while I considered it.

The giant pine was grounded well in thick nutrient rich soil, the base of the tree almost six feet in width, and my sixth grade outdoor school guesstimate had taught me a lot of rings, means the tree lived a lot of years.  I wondered how did a massive tree become uprooted?  A lightning storm, disease, flooding, old age?  I could only imagine that it came unexpectedly.  Something so strong and deeply rooted, overturned possible in a flash of lightning.    I couldn’t help but feel like nature had created visual imagery of the way I felt on the inside.

The truth is, there is no putting it back.   There is no undoing what has happened. The tree is left to create a new story, even if the new story is not part of the original plan.  I wonder about how often, or rather rarely, the plans we make actually go as we have scripted.  Life is messy, and one of the only things we can bank on to happen is change.

I wonder when I started to tell myself the false narrative that I could have a perfect life if I followed all the rules.   I taught my children all the things, I was a good example, I was a part of our community and participated in every school function.  When do we start telling ourselves that lie?  Watching Disney movies?  When do we fool ourselves into believing tragedies only happen if you do something wrong?  That they will not happen to us if we pray enough or believe enough?   We believe the lie that we must be flawed as a person or a parent if tragedy befalls us.

Almost to further prove my point, the next day at work I found that Covid had broke the happiest person on Earth.  I work with a nurse who I have see smile and blow off the worse of the intolerant patient, surgeon, and most terrible work situation.  She ends each day asking if there is anything she can do to help you before she leaves and insists you have a wonderful night or weekend.  She starts off every morning with Gooood morning in a sing song type voice, way before my coffee has set in.  She asks if you need a hug anytime she sees you looking down.   You would think that would be how all nurses are, but honestly I can assure you that this is a rare find, at least in the operating room.

More popular is the mixture between sarcasm and 7th grade locker room humor to get through the days of extreme stress, though our underlying commitment to our patients is always first and foremost.  On this day though she quietly asked to go home.  I asked if she was sick and she said she couldn’t quit having moments of being tearful.  It was like someone broke Disneyland, the happiest (nurse) place on earth.   With all the social distancing she found herself alone day in and day out.  She couldn’t give hugs or receive them and all the news with death and sadness had left her feeling distraught.  We talked about the fact that taking a moment to cry or tear up is ok.  It’s become my new normal.  It’s ok to take a moment to splash water on your face between patients, it’s ok to take a moment and dab your eyes.   We are human and having emotions is in our nature.   I also gave her a much needed hug, a very long much needed hug.  I consider it a nursing treatment.  We talked about things she could do at home, maybe a kitty, more communication through FaceTime or another platform.  She was having trouble living through her new normal, one that had been thrown at her without warning.  It was obviously not the same as losing a child, but it was a feeling I could relate to and it broke my heart to see someone so full of joy, broken.32E6E79D-E368-4F21-A9FB-88E9B03BC93B

8F849D99-6001-44CE-B594-5DBFF64F1551As if nature was following up with a second act, I ran across another unusual tree on my next hike on my daughter’s birthday.   The tree I ran across grew parallel to the ground.  It looked like it had seen many years and was covered in thirty or more very large knots. Knots are imperfections from stress, the changes in it’s environment and also what makes this tree so beautiful.  The stress causes weakness in the structure of the tree.  This tree had nothing but knots from the trunk up at least three fourths of the way and then two branches, that grew straight out of the knotted tree as if they were coming out of the ground itself..   There was beauty in the imperfectness, the deep lines, the dark rich color that was created over many years the drastic difference in the angle of the tree and its remaining branches.  I was having another moment of comparing similarities as I examined the way the tree survived in an unusual manor each stress to its core.  The irony of my two youngest (sapling) survivors standing next to it was not lost on me.

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What do you see?

Unconventional Times

FD1F108D-7F28-45C1-BB6C-B53C0765A7D8The world is in a pandemic.  Duh, you say.   Well for some of us you are experiencing just a glimpse of what many people have already been feeing, fighting and struggling with.   For two months now I have been struggling to figure out this weird emotion I have towards hearing people complain about not being able to keep track of what day it is, to have any structure to their day.  They are becoming forgetful, unmotivated and isolated. People struggle with being able to focus long enough to read a book or lack energy to go back to work even with being gone for so weeks.   Reading and hearing these words irritated me, and at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.   Oh yeah, welcome to my life, my husband’s life, my mother-in-laws life, my surviving daughter’s lives, as they tried to navigated high school feeling this way, along with all the other people I have met in this club of traumatic loss.   People that have suffered and unexpected tragedy such as the loss of a child, sibling or spouse unexpectedly, usually deal with complicated grief, or PTSD, or prolonged bereavement.

(Here is an explanation of the cycle of isolation from  The Center for Growth website, “isolation is kept in place by the PTSD symptoms themselves, the person’s coping mechanism’s to these symptoms, and other’s responses to the trauma survivor.  The person with PTSD is not the only person impacted by the PTSD symptoms.  Family, friends, co-workers, even strangers will respond to the behavior that the trauma survivor is engaging in.  Without understanding and explanation, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation on both sides.  Sadly, the negative experiences that the trauma survivor have in interacting with others, and the experiences that others have interacting with the trauma survivor, can reinforce the desire or need for isolation.” https://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/tips/understanding-the-role-of-ptsd-symptoms-in-the-cycle-of-isolation)

The last two years has changed my behavior to the point where I no longer consider myself an extreme extrovert.  I am considering retaking the 16 personality test and seeing if I am still the Protagonist. https://www.16personalities.com/. Spending time socializing takes more effort, and though I still can enjoy it, I don’t seek it out.  That makes it difficult when we are trying to reach out to our isolated friends.

The only thing I miss now is the ability to go where I want and to plan where I want to go in the future. To be honest, nothing for me at home has changed except I get to actually spend more time with my young adult daughter, teens and husband.  Honestly it is a mother’s dream to have her child have to actually spend time with her.

ED33027F-87DE-4084-BFAB-F0794B2DCCE3Speaking of mourning a loss, I have a high school senior.   She should be graduating with honors, walking across a stage, showing all her haters through the worst period in her life what she managed to accomplish, 4.0 GPA, an academic and sports scholarship while struggling with the death of her sister, anxiety, and depression.  The last two years were sometimes torturous as she navigated it all and alongside her was her younger sister struggling with similar issues and a rare learning disability.  Their oldest sister, then losing her boyfriend, only a year later traumatically.   Somehow through the grace of God,  they have managed to keep it together and now my child number three should be graduating.   Yes, it is a loss.

But it’s not the same.  Am I disappointed at the turn of events?   Yep.   Most likely they will be doing a drive-through graduation.  It is unconventional.   It is not optimal, but it will be remembered that is for sure.   One of my friends recently posted about how Covid-19 is sad, the deaths are sad, and the economic issues are sad, but she is mourning the loss of her daughter’s graduation.   It was like fingers on a chalk board reading her statement.   I am sure she didn’t mean to, but she had put the loss of her daughter’s graduation right up there with the deaths from Covid-19.  Loss has a hierarchy.  Mourning has a hierarchy.   The loss of my husband’s grandmother was sad.  She will be missed.   She lived until she was in her 90s.   The unexpected loss of my 19-year-old is not the same.   The loss of a beloved pet, is not the same.   The loss of my daughter’s graduation is very sad, but it doesn’t. even. compare.   If you asked her, she would say she is bummed, but it doesn’t compare to the last two years of hell she has navigated, not in the least.  For that I would give her an award if I could. I would call it the Overcomer Award.

E2ACB698-B916-434F-958B-D2D09F25CB9DI’ve had a couple of recent difficult days at work related to my loss.   There are days I struggle with different emotions attached to what I have gone through, but I consider myself a decent operating room nurse, so I usually just march through it most days.   Last week I had a patient about 18 years old.   Something about the way the young adult talked reminded me of Mikenna, my daughter.  There was talk of bipolar and eating disorder issues, but you wouldn’t know it hearing the silly bantering between my patient and the friend that had come along side.   I wondered where the parents were?  Did they disapprove of the kind of surgery, did the patient not want any parent in the waiting area.  All I could think of is how I would do anything to have my girl next to me and how I would have been there no matter what kind of surgery she was having.   Luckily I was able to shake and set aside those thoughts until later, an unexpected ability I have mastered.   Then Mother’s day came and went and it was pleasant.   Of course I had more than a few moments of missing my sweet girl, but it was ok.  I hope that someday I can feel true joy without a touch of sadness, but I am not sure if that will be possible.

Yesterday, back at work. I opened Facebook while drinking my coffee before the day was to begin.  My heart sinks.   My childhood friend, one that was in GirlScouts with me, played Barbies with me, and my neighbor for 18 years, lost her 24-year-old son unexpectedly.  It didn’t matter how.  Tears filled my eyes and nausea filled my stomach with the thought of someone I cared about ever feeling this kind of grief.   I remembered those initial days and how they were a blur.  I remembered when all the food and family left how I felt.   How could people during Covid help?  Would there be a funeral or memorial? Maybe an unconventional later date memorial?  I wanted to fly across the country and hold my childhood friend.  I was irrationally mad at myself for not somehow preventing it.  What about my newfound cause of wanting to prevent mental health related deaths in our youths? I just want to know of one thing, anything that can help.  I will keep trying though my heart aches.   It doesn’t matter if mental health was related in this situation, It makes me feel helpless.   I don’t want anyone else to ever feel this pain, no matter how it happens, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and I have a bit of a vengeful side, trust me.

I still believe in signs, or gifts from heaven or messages or synchronicities.  I went on to set up for my cases as the anesthesiologist came in the room, I hadn’t met him before.  I looked at the name on his badge.  Dr. McKenna.  My heart did a little leap.  I had never heard of it as a last name.  I introduced myself.   I said I had a daughter Mikenna was his last name by chance Irish?  Yes he responded.   I felt like it was a little hug to me.  It’s ok mama was what I felt, real or not.

What can we do? What can we do for those hurting during a pandemic from loss, depression, isolation, PTSD?   We can do the awkward things.  We can make a phone call (yes I am the worst at this).  Not a text.   Sending a text instead of making a call is like the difference between instant coffee and french press, or drinking coffee from styrofoam or a ceramic mug, or the difference of watching a movie in SD instead of HD.  You get my point.  We can check in on each other, we can just listen (also something I struggle with a problem-solver).

Go for a social distance walk with someone struggling, six feet apart of course.  One of the only things that got me through the most difficult days of isolation after my loss was walking.  I had a couple people make me walk long after the flowers had dried.  They still make me walk or get out, because we don’t give up on those we care about even if we have to be unconventional.
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Emotional Tides

When my husband and I were first married, we would daydream about where we would own a vacation home.  Though I grew up in Ohio, I was an ocean girl.  I used to joke that I moved as far away from the Midwest as possible until I hit the ocean.

I moved to California to live with my aunt and to transfer to the California guard after being trained in the military as a surgical tech or assistant.   Only six weeks in Northern California and I knew I wanted to be in Southern California.  I lived there for two years before I met my future husband.   Living without family as a young adult across the country can be difficult,  I had difficulty navigating going back to school, dating, the military obligations and getting work as a surgical tech, so I worked for a year spinning blood in the operating room.    I took 24 hour call most days, and tragically this was before cellphones and GPS.   I carried a pager and a Thomas guide.  I would find myself in the wrong part of town constantly, trying to find some tiny hospital in the middle of nowhere.   I once had a nice man in Compton interrupt me while asking directions at a gas station, tell me, to ” just get back in my car and go the other way,” I was too nice of a girl to be where I was.

imageBetween my love life, my job, and missing my own crazy family, not to mention the depression I was would  battling on and off, I would find myself at the ocean.   I would have to drive down Highway 1 multiple times a day for work and many times I would just stop and sit to watch the waves.   I would use a mental picture of throwing my worst fears and worries into the ocean to be carried away.  I would think about them floating all the way to Japan.  I would always contemplate the tides and the gravitational pull of the moon.  I considered visiting the Bay of Fudy and the reversal of the tides caused from the shape of the Bay.  (I almost made that trip but it was thwarted by a selfish traveling companion and a story for another time.) I imagined the ocean in God’s hands like a cereal bowl, slish-sloshing from one side to another. (I made that word up.)

When I met my husband Todd, I lived at the beach and would attempt running on the beach while he read a newspaper and drank coffee.  He was a climber, not a runner.  I moved out to the desert where he lived and we were married a year later.   When kids came another year or two in, and he had graduated from U.C. Riverside, we moved to Oregon where the kids could have their Mimi and Papa.

When we would sit and daydream, as young couples do, we would talk about his love for the mountains.  The quiet, the waterfalls and rivers, and the fishing.  I also loved the mountains, but after a knee repair I could no longer ski, but hiking was still a love of mine.  He already knew my love of the ocean.  Our honeymoon turned out to be a combination of both.  We traveled up the West coast, visiting the beaches like Monterey and Santa Cruz, spending a few nights at the Madana Inn and then an actual log cabin in Big Sur with its own tributary running through it.

imageOver the last 24 years of marriage, we found ourselves in an unspoken compromise.  We ended up spending many family vacations up and down the Oregon and Washington coast.  Astoria, Newport, Beverly Beach, the Redwoods, and when we were alone we went many years to a quiet mountain town in Eastern Oregon.  (I’m not saying where 😉 We would bike, cross country ski, or just enjoy quiet time alone, but I still had an affinity to being near water always wanting to hike the waterfalls and along the river.
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Recently I was blessed with having the ability to visit an empty beach house.  I took the girls and all our food.  My goal was to not bring any of our cooties.  We didn’t stop for gas, coffee or anything.  We didn’t talk to anyone or invade anyone’s space at the tiny beach.  My girls were getting cabin fever and they genetically struggle with depression and anxiety.

for a couple days, the change of scenery was such a gift and I was back at my favorite place.  As I walked just a short distance to the bluff, the well-hidden owl would hoot his hello.  I wondered if anyone had told him when he was suppose to hoot?  Google had told me they hoot before sunset and just before sunrise.  Single owls hoot the same time every day, he or she would hoot in the morning around 10am.  Was Mr. or Ms. Owl single?  Had he or she lost their mate?  Who was I to tell him or her when to hoot, for how long or when?  It is like someone telling me when to cry,  how long and when. Owls mate for life I read.  Somehow reading this fact brings me comfort and a little sadness.

As I would visit the unruly ocean, I would almost dare the waves to rise higher.  My husband had sent me a message to beware of sneaker waves, so after trying to walk a few yards near the ocean, and seeing the tiny beach shrink as the high-tide waves rolled higher, I decided to observe the tumultuous  waves from the safety of the bluff.   The girls didn’t need to endure any more loss in their short lives as it was.

I write those words transparently, because I believe that every parent that loses a child examines these feelings of helplessness.  I imagine, people that have lost their spouse may also go through these emotions.  I am not saying necessarily they are suicidal, though in the first year I believe the statistics are higher, people should acknowledge and talk about these things, and it’s why we need to really stay close to people going through  loss.   When loss happened we examine our place in this world, our change in roles, and honestly we try on this new sackcloth we are brought to wear and the bag of heartache we must carry for the rest of their lives.  We feel it’s weight, we adjust it in our arms, we feel the scratch of the material against our skin and we endure it.

So I do spend just one moment contemplating the sneaker wave, how relentless and uncaring it is.  I always think about a the story of the grand-mother staying at the same hotel in Mexico as my husband and I, that had taken her grand-daughter out to the beach to let her own daughter and son sleep in and how the sneaker wave had come and taken her away.  I thought how this water would be ice cold and how terrifying it would be for those few moments.

But ultimately I am grateful for the ocean.  It has always been there.  What I am most grateful for, on this trip, is that standing beside it the roar is a thousand times louder than any wail I could ever cry.  That next to it, I can be tiny, the oceans power is one of the only things that can make my grief seem small, and I am thankful.  When you carry an enormous, overpowering emotion, it helps to stand near something that makes your burden seem less huge.   lee Ann Rimes song comes to mind here, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean….”

There are scientist that study our connection to water.  It is called Blue Mind.  The dopamine in our brain may increase when we are at the ocean, our pre-frontal cortex is engaged, we become more mindful and attentive.  Maybe some of this is why, I feel drawn to water wherever I am.  The power, the calming effect, the mystery.  I also have the feeling of being closer to my daughter that passed, memories of the girls running up and down the beach yelling and laughing.  The ocean is a mother’s happy place where her kids can be as loud as they want.  The ocean also brings me feelings of Faith, of things more powerful than I can grasp or imagine, the few tears on my cheeks swiftly brushed away by the wind and the salt-water mist.  I stood there on the bluff and lifted my chin higher, a slight satisfied grin emerged as I stood there for those brief moments as I defiantly asked the sea air to go ahead and “Bring it.”

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In Their Honor

The fear of losing a connection to my daughter is ever present.  During my grief therapy sessions no one could explain to me how to move forward without letting go.  I kept thinking about the imagery my friend used with the trapeze, you cannot grab the the rung coming at you unless you let go of the one you were holding on to.   I cannot imagine letting go of all that I have left of her so the next best thing I can think of, as far as coping, is carrying her with me as I move forward.

I find that if I try and ignore all of this, filling my time with the distractions of life, work and family, the hole in my heart swings back at me like an old-fashioned swinging door, days or weeks later when the quiet moments come back around.

Today I looked at the picture of my four girls on the table, I wondered if I am getting used to their being three now?  Have I become accustomed to her missing presence?  That left a weird feeling in my heart.  I can get through most days, without sidestepping, miscounting, and that was in a way a relief but it also stung a with the realization.

Today I logged into my local neighborhood social media account.  There was a message from a neighbor.  During this pandemic I have been trying to reinvent some of the non-profit outreach by offering to drop off the positive message signs to people within our local community instead of using them in our sign rallies.

I opened my phone to the message, it was a neighbor I hadn’t talked to in years.  She asked for a sign if I had one left.  She reminded me that our daughters had done dance together.   The images of the dance mom days came flooding back.   Back then I spent hours a couple times a week with the four girls taking turns for their dance classes down the street.  My Mikenna watching her oldest sister focusing on the discipline of ballet and she tumbled and bounced around in her purple cheer outfit.   Their baby sisters in little leotards drinking juice boxes and coloring on the bench sitting next to me.  Yes, I remembered.   The one message gave her to me just for a few precious minutes.

Grabbing the remaining signs I hopped in the car to drop them off.  As I drove around I wondered if what I was doing really made an impact?  Does seeing the words, “Your mistakes do not define you,” or “You Matter,” or Don’t Give Up,” truly make a difference in someones life?   The truth is, I do not know, prevention in any way is a leap of faith.  As I stop at the High School to straighten one of our signs, a teacher leaving the school rolls down her window and said that she wondered who put them there, that they brought a tear to her eyes when she first saw them.   I finish up driving towards my house and see a sign placed next door to my daughter’s childhood best friend’s house.  I know she also struggles with some mental health issues now as an adult.  I picture the two of them running around in the backyard during the summer, barefoot, popsicles in hand.

I am thankful I have a way to try and find purpose.  I am thankful for a way to do something in her honor.  Even if driving around spending my free time delivering signs seems like a waste of time to others.  It is in these little ways, finding a way to do something in our loved one’s honor, that those of us with a giant hole in our hearts, can find connection, a way to not only heal but to carry our loved one with us moving forward.

 

Grief on Hold

IMG_0143When the news came that schools would be closed two weeks ago, I went into action mode.   I started checking off the list in my head of things I needed to do.  I wanted to stay ahead of the panic, I ordered groceries, a bidet (in case things got really bad), and thought of ways to hunker down through it with my family.

late Sunday night I developed a sore throat and a headache.  My mind went back to the week before at our Mexico mission retreat when I had treated a young girl from another state with a fever.  I had isolated her in the nursing cabin, I was the only one in and out of there.   I stayed home from work, not wanting to possibly share what I had.   Tuesday I went through the drive-through testing facility, I had developed a cough with my sore throat and being an employee at a hospital I qualified for a test.   Wednesday and Thursday my cough got worse, and my throat and secretions turned dark.

By Friday I was having shortness of breath and by Saturday am I could see my tonsils had evidence of a secondary bacterial infection.  I messaged for a virtual appointment, I couldn’t be seen until Tuesday.  I tried to contact my doctor’s office and it was closed.  I rummaged through my mission bag and had a full script of an antibiotic for traveling abroad that would also treat bacterial bronchitis and tonsillitis.

Saturday night I could not swallow more than water, I felt like an elephant was on my chest, I had been taking an expectorant with Tylenol and decongestant for days.  I had taken a Nyquil and was so sleepy.  It felt like too much energy to decide if I needed to go to the ER.  What if I exposed them to Covid-19?  What if I had exposed my entire family and my exchange student?  I had spent the last week as far away from them as possible, bleaching down surfaces and wiping doorknobs that hadn’t seen a disinfectant in awhile.

I started to silently cry, with no test results and I had every symptom listed.  Would I continue to breathe in my sleep?  I could hear myself wheezing.  I had been using my old sports induced asthma inhaler, most likely expired.  With a Hail Mary, I decided to take my steroid I had on hand for emergency RA flare-ups.  I knew as a nurse it would reduce the swelling in my throat, but taking a steroid was not recommended if I had Covid, I went with the urgent swelling in my throat and tried to go to sleep.

As I tried to sleep, I tried to imagine what it would be like to see my daughter again.  How I missed her.  I thought of how much I wanted to see my girls walking down the aisle.  I remember the one-time Mikenna tried on a wedding dress, how beautiful she looked and  I am thankful I got to see her in one.  Then I prayed, I prayed for my family.  I prayed that my family does not suffer any more loss as it already had including our family members most at risk, some over 70.

The next morning, I woke up, my throat was back to normal, just slightly sore, my secretions clear, my cough still ongoing.  The antibiotics had killed the secondary infection and steroids had reduced the swelling.  I spoke to my rheumatologist and kept her up to speed, she was at least communicating with me, unlike my primary or virtual doctor.  Tuesday and Wednesday went by.  Still no results from the hospital testing center.  I was burning through all my sick time waiting for test results.  My husband started developing a cough.  I started to feel horrible for not sleeping apart.   three teens in the house, one young adult, along with my husband and I.  No one could see anyone or go anywhere.  What if I had the virus? It had been ten days since testing.  I agonized over putting toast in the toaster.  How do I not touch anything for ten days, maybe 14.  I tried to watch a show with my student.  Covering my face, soon my cough came on and I retreated to my room.

Finally Thursday afternoon my test came in.  Negative.  I had an upper respiratory infection but not Covid-19.  I ran into my student’s room and told her, I hugged my sleepy daughters, so easily falling into the pattern of staying up until the wee hour of the night and sleeping in until almost lunch.  I hugged my three little black cats, in my defense I only had two, my oldest daughter had brought one home with her.  I hugged my fat, lazy puggle who had loyally would lay on me everywhere I went.

We had developed a bit of brain fog over the last two weeks.  The lack of routine and direction causing a feeling of helplessness in the house.  I realized the house needs structure, walks to take, chores to do, projects to do.  I started pulling out things for the teens.   I had let myself fall into the same zombie-like days.   I thought of the non-profit projects left unattended.  Did they have to fall away?  I could adapt.

I awoke today to my grief.  I had a dream last night where I saw my daughter.  Her hair lighter and longer, she said she was bored.   She was in a dorm-like school, she wanted her movies.  She had a great collection, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, The Notebook.    I say this is the only place I can see you, that I would have done anything for you and I wake.

I open my phone as it sits under my pillow to a Facebook memory alert on my phone.  There she is on my phone, eating fondue with her sister, in purple.  The Pandemic had put my grief aside.  I contemplated the ability of our brains to compartmentalize.  I had even considered last week the fact I hadn’t had any moments stricken by loss, but quickly put the thought aside.    Distraction is a coping technique, one I had learned well before my loss.

My heart aches today for those suffering losses around the world.  Alone, isolated and some unable to hold religious gatherings, funerals, memorials, or even proper burials.  We may see many having to put their own grief on hold, compartmentalizing to deal with their own health and needs, since loss knows no time anyway.

 

 

 

Silent Superheros

C5E018B1-1079-4FFE-87F9-084A8D766EAFBefore the pandemic hit our doorsteps a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Seattle and stay with my friend’s family.  I wanted to show my exchange student from the Netherlands our sister city.    My friend’s cousin, Katie has a daughter Sam.  (The names are altered here for privacy.)

I knew immediately there was something different about Sam.  As soon as we walked into the door she talked a million words per minute.  Did I want to see the rocks she collected today?  Would I like to glue the rocks on a paper plate?  What kind of rocks do you think they are and so on.  I could tell also by the vibe in the room she had worn everyone else out hours earlier.  Her step-father retreated to his room, after being polite and hospitable to opening his home.   Her mom went about making home-made pizza and serving it to all of us, even though she looked exhausted.  I immediately regretted not offering to pick something up on the way to their remote little beach town.   The bottle of wine I brought instantly feeling like the wrong choice for the occasion.

We settled down pretty quick to our rooms, Sam tucked in the living room couch giving up her playroom and bedroom for all of us to share.  We were instant best buds so there were many goodnight hugs before mom sternly warned of one more visit to the bathroom, or visit her room to see the “big girls” or visit the sink for water.

Up early to catch the ferry we said goodbyes until later that evening.  She was to remain home.  We had a lovely unexpected rain-free day in Seattle filled with vendors booths, the original Starbucks, seafood and the disgusting gum wall, (or should I say gum road?)  We grabbed some salad and bread for an easy pasta night and headed to the house.  Sam greeted us with open arms, hugs, and pictures to color for hours.  I noticed Sam’s vocabulary extremely advanced for her age. Her mom fixed pasta and told me how after her husband had passed form a sudden condition she had built the house with Habitat for Humanity.

She explained how she actually had helped build the house and some of the houses nearby.  To be awarded a House for Humanity, you have to actually help build the house.  I couldn’t imagine building a house, grief-stricken and left with five children, two of whom had already moved away and started lives and families of their own.   I was immediately impressed looking at each stair as I walked up to it, wondering if she had built the stairs, cut the baseboards and imagined myself with power tools, but there was more to the story.

During dinner, Sam went on to tell me all about getting her make-a-wish granted and how her brother was not so happy to go on a trip.   Sam’s brother was 13 and had barely visited us from his bedroom.  I assumed, of course, it was because of being a 13-year-old boy.  I was confused about how the make-a-wish foundation granted wishes to children that had lost a parent.   I remembered at bedtime how she had more meds to take than my 70-year-old patients.

Katie went on to tell me how Sam was born with a congenital heart defect and had a heart transplant as a baby.   Her husband had died not long after the transplant surgery. She couldn’t just sit and be in her grief.  She would go on and spend many nights in the ER, with what should be a routine ear infection and sit with her daughter in the children’s hospital fighting off what should be a routine cold/flu virus.  Though Katie tried to send her daughter to regular school, fighting through the red tape of having the school try and alert her to any illnesses spreading through the school, she eventually had to submit to homeschooling. Sam was already far behind her classmates missing so many days and weeks from school.    Her vocabulary now making sense since she spent her days with adults.  She told me how Sam was recently playing around in the kitchen and fell on her knee.  She had a small gash and Katie put ointment and a band-aid on it going about their day.   Days later Sam ended up very ill with an infection just from the cut.  Her immune system was extremely delicate to any outside bacteria.

The make-a-wish was for Sam.  I felt a little silly for putting it together hours later.  Children that survive the first year of a heart transplant can expect the heart to survive between 10 and 15 years.  Then they will need another heart transplant.

As I lay down chatting to my friend about the unfairness of what we get dealt with in life, she told me how Katie’s new husband was Katie’s husband’s best friend.    I could see how people might have difficulty with that from the outside, possibly criticizing her, but anyone doing so would not know what I know.

No matter what Katie did, she could not bring back her husband.  She was left to carry her grief alone, losing the love of her life, her childhood sweetheart, the father of her five children.  I do not know what that is like, but I know what losing a part of yourself feels like after losing my daughter.  She was then left with the impossible task of caring for her ripped apart family, children going through grief and loss and puberty.  Something you cannot take away from your children or fix as a mother.   As a mother, our instinct is to protect our children from pain and to watch them ache and heal their scars is almost unbearable.

She was left with a new heart transplanted child.   She will struggle daily with wondering if the other shoe will drop, and though I do not know how it feels to have an immune-compromised child, I know what it is like waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Worrying about things you cannot control.  The fall-out of grief not being over when someone dies and the repercussions of a heart transplant not being over with the surgery.  Every decision, every choice she will weigh when it comes to her daughter and her family.

She had a house to build and she built it.  She found love and companionship that I believe was a gift.  She is a survivor and one of the strongest women I have ever met, though you would never know it.  I wanted to share a tiny piece of her story because so many of us have one.  Sometimes we have no idea why a mother might freak out over being unable to take her child to school because so many are unvaccinated, why she carries five bottles of hand sanitizer in her purse.  Why the women sitting at the park cries uncontrollably.  These secret superheroes walk among us every day and I am thankful for getting to know and recognize one.
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Pitfalls of Celebration

24D512FB-1AFA-438B-8275-72CBA1DFC75DA few days ago I kept daydreaming about my birthday.  I could go away for the night with my husband, maybe I could once again meet up at a nearby wine bar with my girlfriends.  I thought about getting my hair done or eyebrows, but when the day came I found myself in a puddle of tears.

 

Facebook has a way of reminding you of all your birthdays gone by.  My birthdays always consisted of Forced Family Fun.  A day when my children were forced to do something with me.  It didn’t matter what selfish teen stage they were in, it was Mom’s birthday, therefore they were stuck bowling or shopping or whatever Groupon event I could find.

Every once in a while, my husband and I would go off to our favorite spot in the mountains and I looked forward to the fireplace, the sunshine on the white pristine snow.  This year we literally could find not one night our schedule allowed for a night away, even if that was what we wanted to do.  I spend a couple hours with the girls the day before my birthday having waffles and window shopping.

When I woke up today to Happy Birthday texts, all I could think of was how do I feel Happy?  How can I have a happy birthday when all I can think about is being tired of being bereaved.  I am tired of being ok for a few days and then waking up sad, like today and wham!  Today is your birthday be happy but nope wham I am hit with the fact all my girls aren’t here and I am a puddle.  Why is my dumb birthday now a trigger?

613b9bfc-3c7e-4770-a130-e88e8f2b56baI should have recognized the pitfall and seen it coming.  It doesn’t matter if it’s my day.  Any special day with all your loved ones that now has a piece missing will be a trigger, a hard day.  Maybe I shouldn’t write about it, but this is the problem I have been trying to bring into the light in society.  The things we hide, the things that make us sad, the things that are awkward and we aren’t supposed to talk about.

As I sit here I also realize I was trying to celebrate like the old me.  The woman that wanted shopping and beauty treatments, special desserts and romance.  That person has gone.   When I get a message about a Happy Birthday, I think to myself I just want a peaceful birthday.  One without my cortisol racing.  A day without drama.  A quiet day where maybe I can lay these tears aside at what is gone and just appreciate the pink buds on the purple plum tree my daughter used to lay under while covered in falling blossoms.    I can appreciate that while I live in the Northwest and every February is wet, that today there is no rain.  There are puffy white clouds I can stare at and imagine different shaped floating by.  I can wander down to the river and her bench and feed the ducks as they waddle by.  I can gather around my girls tonight and make a wish that they ALL feel my love throughout all their lives and beyond.

“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll1D9A85D1-D9A6-4B34-87AE-955607B0752D

I cannot unjoin this club.  I cannot quit it because I’m tired of it and don’t want to have pitfalls, triggers, and the fear that happiness is not a feeling I know how to exactly feel anymore.   I want to go back to birthday toasts, and ignorance and bliss.  Where bad things only happen to bad people. I want the life I planned please and thank you.  I want small talk and planned birthday parties.   “Because this randomness, this roulette wheel of tragedy, is heavy” -Elizabeth Thoma

 

Today, my birthday, the person that I am today, needs to appreciate the day in a new way.   I celebrate in reflection, in thankfulness for quiet moments, and for the love around me that I have been blessed with near me and far away.  When I thought of all I wanted for my birthday.  All I could think of was expanding my little non-profit and wishing and praying for healing for my earthy children.   The days of wanting trips and clothes seem like memories from someone else though in truth I wouldn’t turn a good birthday gift away.