Do What You Can Do

Chaos was what I was born into, I was born from two creative 60’s parents, both amazing artists and musicians. They were barely out of their teens when Vietnam hit. Their parents were WWII pilots and heros that had lived through the depression before there was maternity leave, birth control, or anything related to mental health care. After Vietnam the short love affair they had was gone and the reality of the harsh world set in. My mother and I lived alone for a few years as she worked at anything she could, leaving her amazing talents to the curb for practicality and I secretly loved every moment we had alone together. She soon married her best friend who had a career and a soon a home. My two sweet sisters were born ten years after me and I learned the care taking role. Addiction though plagued my family tree, and friction was a part of every day.

I joined the military at 18 and left the minute I graduated. The lesson I am focused on today, is the one I have been fighting against my entire life. You can only control your choices in life but you cannot control all the other factors of your choice or other people’s choices. I chose the military, for opportunity, and a sense of control over my life. Just months after I finished basic training, I was shipped off to a war torn country. (Excuse me, that’s not what I signed up for!). In that situation all I could control were my choices for that day, who I would spend my time with, the words that would come out of my mouth, the way I would act, my attitude. For some reason at 19, I had less of a problem with that in 1991 than I do now. I was not anxious, I was not overly sad. I think because I knew all I could do was what I could do. Why has that been so hard since then?

I tried to finish college but I lacked support in all ways. I married a few years later and had two kids back to back, a four year gap and another set of Irish twins making a busy house of 6. I finished school and went on to go to nursing school, able to do so with the support and stability I needed. But life still had a lot of curveballs and line drives to the forehead awaiting me.

I remember the first one being an ADHD diagnosis with one of my daughters, and another curveball with another daughter having an extremely high IQ. I thought ok, I’ll learn all about this and do all the things I need to do. I moved the kids to a school more equipped to deal with both. I even helped start the talented and gifted program at the new school. A few years later another child was diagnosed with a very rare learning disability, that affects anything spatial. I threw myself into years of research, IEP meetings and honestly still I am trying to learn and teach people about it. It took years, but I finally learned that I had to teach my daughter about her disability and how to advocate for herself because I couldn’t be in her pocket for ever.

In 2014 we hit the wall with depression and eating disorder behavior with one child and my husband and I threw everything we had at. I never could wrap my head around what we could have done wrong. Our children had everything they needed, they had love, and education, activities, pets, faith. (Ah, but you cannot outrun genetics, and depression is genetically linked to addiction, eating disorders, OCD, ADHD. They are all cut from the same cloth). In remission, she came out the other side but her sister soon followed and in 2018 she lost the battle with her depression before we could even get a handle on what was going on.

The loss rippled through my family like a grenade. It left shrapnel inside the rest of us that we have been adapting to for over two years. My remaining three girls each fighting their own battle that I could not fight for them. The part of the story most outsiders are unknowing, the devastation didn’t stop with the loss of my daughter. My oldest a year later, December 2019, lost the person she planned to start her life with, to untreated bipolar depression and moved home a couple months later the pandemic hit. All I could do then and still do, is to hold her and remind her of all the talent and beauty that still lives inside of her. I remind her daily.

My middle child, broke-up with her three year boyfriend that spiraled her into facing her the loss of her sister also, the realization that people you love can leave without warning and again I couldn’t fix it, she had to fight her way through it, learn to control her own actions and claw her way out of the pit she was in while loosing every friend around her. Going from the most popular, to being ridiculed, her property vandalized, being cyber bullied and deserted my friends instead of supported by those around her. From my observation, people just back away from anything they don’t understand and look for the easiest explanation instead of taking a closer look and sitting down in the mess with someone. I can honestly say I am so proud of her for literally putting a crown on her head at her senior parade and managing to still keep her scholarship. She is day by day moving forward in this Covid world at college. All I could do during those darker days was make accommodations for her the last few months of school, encourage her to talk and to keep moving forward one day at a time.

Today my youngest battles her own major depression, with learning challenges she has always battled some, but in a similar fashion to her sister, the recent loss of her year-long relationship with the one person she trusted more than anything, knocked her depression into turbo gear and brought the loss of her sister even more to the forefront. Learning that you have no control over people leaving, can bring everything you know to a complete halt. I wish I could fix it, but the words of my mother come to mind. “People do only what people can do.”

She told me this on the day of my wedding, when the turmoil of having my husband’s west coast family members and my Ohio family member all together in one building had me stressed and crying. Basically she was trying to tell me to not focus on things out of my control, you do what you can. People do only what they can. Focus on those things. As my youngest works through her depression currently in militant-like therapy center all I can do is be her cheer-leader. I can advocate for her and support her in any way I can through it, but the up-hill battle is hers and I am proud of her because she has always had to work twice as hard as anyone else in the room, though she rarely gives up. I am proud of all my girls for pulling themself up, without a lot of outside support to cheer them on.

I sit this morning with fires raging in my county ten miles away, with a pandemic still silently threatening, smoke filling the city streets making the sky like a scene from Twilight. I debate if airing my family struggles in my blog is helpful or damaging, but ultimately I believe talking about mental health is more important than any negative opinion lobbed my way. It is therapeutic for me to write and maybe someone will read it this and see they are not alone.

I can only control, what I can control. Today I can slowly work on cleaning up my office space, organize some of my non-profit, http://www.mikennavanekproject.org paperwork and maybe brainstorm ways our non-profit could help those affected by the fires or pandemic. I can try and figure out how to use my new air fryer and make something new or different in it, I can open up one of the games I love to play tonight and play a game with my husband and daughters. Instead of focusing on the fact I can’t breathe outside, and that I can’t socialize or travel, I will focus on what I can do and that’s all I can do.

Permanent

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Permanence, until now I never realized the full gravity of something being permanent.  We use a permanent marker to write our names on our children’s clothing aa they head off to summer camp.  Of course you can also scratch out the name, tear out a tag. You can cover it up with another name, make one name into part of another’s name.  What is permanent?

Right now our country is debating the national monuments, what do they represent?   I am sure that when Mount Rushmore was carved, by artist Gutzon Borglum, he considered his art would be permanent.  Carved into the granite mountainside in 1927, it was to be left for future generations to appreciate.  Granite, though slow to erode, does erode over time and the political climate and views could someday lead to the removal of this monument.  My point being, that even things we perceive as permanent, aren’t alway so.

Since I moved into my house thirteen years ago, I have debated with my husband the blue spruce tree at the end of the side of our driveway.  The blue spruce was the last tree in a beautiful hedge that graced the side of our driveway.  I only knew of its existence by black and white photos found from the city zoning department.  Across the driveway, in my yard were two giant oak trees.   The November before my daughter passed, we had a wind storm and lost one of the giant oaks.

That day I will never forget.  One of the few videos I still have on my phone, is her fake freaking out, standing in the wind storm.  30 minutes later we heard a terrible crack and the oak tree laid across our lawn and the street.  In that moment I realized my youngest daughter was missing.   Her and a friend had gone for a walk around the block in the wind storm.   I yelled for Genae and Mikenna, her two sisters living at home still, to look for their youngest sister with me.  I screamed her name outside.  For 30 seconds I was terrified at the tiniest possibility she was under the large disastrous mess in the street until she came walking in the door clueless to the cortisol racing through my body.

The blue spruce tree, searching for sun, leaned away from the large expanding branches of the remaining oak tree. It stood bent at a thirty degree angle, so not visually appealing.  I had to trim the lower pine branches to keep from scratching the neighbors car since the previous owner put a driveway next to ours, on the other side of the pine tree.  At Christmas I would use the low lying branches to make a large wreath, the smell of pine filling my living room, and hiding the fact my Christmas tree is made of plastic.

Last week I lost the battle of the blue spruce as our tree guy, who was tending to the oaks, determined that it should also come down. Et tu, Brute?  To add insult to injury, the city decided, almost at the same time, that our power line was connected to one of those oak trees in my yard and we needed a telephone pole to be up to code.  So where did they put it? Four feet from the pine tree the day before it came down.  Now I’m left with the eye sore of a telephone pole instead.  When I saw my beautiful blue spruce in a pile, I cried.   I now tell my carpool when they pull up, to pay homage to the totem pole. (it has yet to have power attached to it, so its just a pole)

I don’t really understand my connection and hurt over the tree, I know it somehow has been made worse since the loss of my daughter.  It is another loss?  It is a feeling of a loss of control?   Is is the fact that trees outlive us or the feeling of destroying something living?   I am not sure, but most likely when my children own this house, long after I have past, the telephone pole will still be there.

The point I am leading up to, is that most people do not truly understand what permanent feels like.  The only thing I had to relate to before my daughter Mikenna passed was my grandmother.  It was sad, and I still think of her often, but it was the natural progression of life.   As the years went by it has been easier.  It is not the same when you loose someone in a tragedy or unexpectedly.  As the months and years tick by, you slowly start to feel what permanent is.  The initial shock is gone, but the pain never leaves.  At first we cannot even fathom it.   I cannot image an entire lifetime without her.  Still two years later, I have some understanding of the fact I will never see her face again, see her wedding or children, hear her voice, but I still do not understand the true, complete, and full weight of it and may never until the day I meet her again.

This newfound understanding somewhat explains the lack of empathy of others to my grief or the grief of others in this same club.   If I can barely understand the magnitude of the permanence of my loss, then how can I expect others around me to empathize?   When they relate to me by using the loss of their pet, or a grandparent, all I can say is, that it isn’t the same kind of feeling, at all.  In everything I do, I am reminded of that someone who is missing.  In every joy, I am given a pinch of sorrow.   Every celebration brings some sadness.   All I can say to my loved ones is that though it may feel uncomfortable, that two, five, ten or twenty years might have gone by yes we are still sad, or have moments of uncontrollable sadness.  Sit in the awkward silence with us, say our loved ones name, don’t try and fix it or tell your experience of loosing Fluffy.  Just be there, and be forever thankful, that your Mt. Rushmore has not been torn down to the ground.

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Grief is like….

Grief is like your life was like a beautiful pool until one day a storm came along placing a giant crack through it and releasing a large amount of the water.  Now, you are still grateful for the pool you still have left but it will never be the same.  You still can sit in your pool, but every now and then without warning a few teaspoons are drained from the pool as a result of the storm. 

I sat in the river and felt the water roll over my toes the other day.  It was a tiny peaceful moment as I let go of another little human activity with my autoimmune disease.   As I felt the mud squish between my toes, memories of my childhood came flooding back.  Running with my next door neighbor through the grass, my first bee sting where I figured out I was allergic to bees as my father dumped my entire leg in an ice bucket.  The feeling of the different types of grass on the soles of my feet.  My cousins and I could never be wrangled down when we were together, there was no need for sunblock or shoes most summers days.  We would run outside through the hose, through the yards and sometimes across the Metro parks river rocks laughing and splashing on endless summer days.

I had finally had the chance to go for a tiny hike after the weather subsided enough that I could at least hike a trail on the Clackamas River.  My daughter ahead of me took her shoes off following a trail in and out of the water along the river.  I happily took mine off also, walking along the river rock happily following behind. Within minutes the rocks became painful on my feet. Most of the rocks were smooth but my type of autoimmune disease targets small joints.  I was determined to keep up so I trudged on. Before long my eyes were watering and I stopped for a break, letting the water roll over my toes one last time.   It seems silly, but for me it was giving up another tiny thing, like the tiny things I had already given up, sitting in the sun, being in the snow, gardening, etc.     I was thankful it wasn’t worse, but it was one more teaspoon out of my pool. A tiny injustice.

I made a quick decision and threw on my expensive tennis shoes and started back through the water.  Shoes could be replaced, time with my daughter couldn’t.

Though grief and autoimmune diseases are nothing alike, I keep finding similarities in them when I would think about it.    Both of these groups have only found solace in others going through the same thing.  The truth being that most people don’t understand until they are unfortunately walking the same path.   Both are somewhat lonely and how I imagine my daughter with learning challenges feels sometimes, as if no one understands all the challenges you face unless you also face them.

Later I sat with my youngest watching a movie.   It was a cute movie called “A Thousand Words” with Eddie Murphy.  At one point he says something along the lines of “I guess you never know if the last time you see someone is going to be the last time you ever see someone” and instantly the image of my beautiful smiling daughter, standing on the steps of her new apartment holding the laundry basket of goodies I had just brought her came to mind, the last time I saw her.   It was not that big of a deal, tears don’t really phase any of my family members at this point, and I’ve always supported showing your emotions, but it reminded me how I can’t always be prepared when I am watching a movie, even when looking it up first.

It may seem like a tiny thing, but I am a huge movie buff.  As a matter of fact it was something my daughter that passed and I had in common.  I now try and see all the movies that her and I would have seen together, even alone, in her honor.   We would spontaneously grab a movie whenever we could though sometimes I regretted not reading about it before hand like when sex scenes would pop up. She would laugh at how uncomfortable I would get.

Now though, If a friend ask me to see a movie, I have to look it up, and unfortunately there are many movies I have to give up.  Not just movies but entire genres.   I cannot sit through desensitized any more, horror, war, crime, it’s just not for me.   My grief or PTSD rocks me still to see the devastation.   It’s a tiny teaspoon out of my pool.  It’s another thing I give up to the storm.

Along those same lines, we also both were avid readers.   Both Harry Potter heads, we were sometimes almost competitive with our books.  After my daughter passed I took a hiatus from reading for over a year.  A unknown side effect of an initial tragedy, is the inability to focus on much of anything.  To help with some of that, I started a little book club recently, thankfully most of the people in it are ok if someone decides to pass on a book.   We adapt, like wearing shoes in the river. 5F539D02-F442-470C-A9FF-91D647D14E19

If you have experienced loss, what is your metaphor?

 

Grief is like…

Grief is like a catastrophic physical injury ~ Louise

Grief is like riding a roller coaster that never stops without a seatbelt. ~ Kris

Grief is like getting up every day to a job you hate and which you feel completely unskilled for. ~ Louise

Grief is like trying to comprehend what is beyond comprehension. ~Amy

Grief is like a shadow. ~Ann

Grief is like waiting for a bomb to go off. ~ Joni

Grief is like a mixture of recreating an identity and a bittersweet processing of memory. ~Peter

Grief is like trying to sort through the rubble of what’s left of your life after the earthquake of loss has hit. ~ Cathy Lee

Grief is like walking through hip-high mud. ~ Loretta

Grief is like being a walking dead zombie. ~Jackie

Grief is like crazy weather. Sometimes showers and storms pop up when you least expect them. ~LauraJay

Grief is like walking in the dark and feeling your way as you slowly go. ~ Deb

Grief is like a guilty addiction, reminding you of a time when your life was right. ~ Geri

Grief is like a boomerang, it keeps coming back and wounding you anew. ~Susan

Grief is like an image which recalls a bad acid trip. ~ Phyllis

Grief is like being extremely homesick but knowing your home no longer exists. ~ Leesa

Grief is like a constant pain that never goes away and is worsened by “triggers”. ~ Vicki

Grief is like being burned alive. ~ Deborah

Grief is like a landmine. ~ Kevin

Grief is like waking up to a hundred pound monkey on your back. ~ April

Grief is like being in a constant nightmare. ~Kathleen

Grief is like a soaking wet wool blanket over your whole body. ~ Alice

Grief is like having an incurable affliction. ~ Allen

Grief is like being in the middle of a twister that wreaks havoc all around you. ~ Leslie

Grief is like losing a part of yourself. ~ Peter

Grief is like being continuously hit by a tsunami. ~ Teklya

Grief is like being in a chronic state of anxiety. – Frankie

Grief is like being the pinball in a game you never chose to play. ~ Miss Mac

Grief is like sitting on the sidelines. ~ Michelle

Grief is like your insides being munched away by parasites and wanting to vomit but you can’t because you’re empty. ~Kay

Grief is like a bottomless pit. ~ Tara

Grief is like a concussion that lasts for months. ~ Lillian

Grief is like a wound. Over time it heals but it leaves a scar. ~ Theresa

Grief is like waking up every day as a stranger in a foreign land. ~ Elizabeth

UNDERSTANDING GRIEF : ELEANOR HALEY, https://whatsyourgrief.com/grief-metaphors/

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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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.

Things Not to Say…

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“Let me sit next to you and hold your parachute”

My youngest daughter, while walking out the door today said she was quitting her internship at the local NAMI art therapy position.    I asked why?  I thought it was a good fit?   She went on to tell me how her instructor for the internship had told her that her losing her sister was meant to be and that she would be stronger for it.    I was shocked that someone working with teens in the school system would say that to her.   How could she not realize she just told my daughter that her sister’s death was the reason that she will do well in this world?  I told her, unfortunately, people don’t know what to say, or how to just sit next to someone and listen.  They feel the need to help, provide advice, even if none of it is helpful or is useful.

22 months ago, when my daughter passed, someone wrote to me in a card, “God only gives you what you can handle.”  I actually had to look up the verse, 1 Cor. 10, because there is no way God would give me the death of my child because I could handle it??   Actually, in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains that he and his companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired life itself.”   I am guessing that it didn’t sound as pretty in condolence cards.   Instead, 2 Cor. 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly, therefore, I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”   Again, maybe these words would be more helpful, but what people want to do, is to make themselves less uncomfortable when faced with the unexplainable, like the death of a daughter or sister.

Just recently, as if we haven’t had enough loss, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend unexpectedly left the relationship and then soon after also passed.   The double loss for my daughter is unfair.   Even I caught myself at first, trying to offer lame words of condolence to her, luckily I stopped myself.  The loss is not rational.  Taking my own advice, I just listened when she wanted to talk, I put my hand on hers when her eyes fill with tears at the restaurant.   I cannot take away her pain, or make myself feel better with empty words.  I can sit with her in her grief, acknowledge how she feels once again her life path altered.  I didn’t try and tell her maybe it wasn’t meant to be, or she will be stronger for this, I just sat next to her.

My youngest daughter, who has some emotional regulation issues, burst into tears when she saw her sister walk in the door and move back home yesterday.  She couldn’t express it, but she felt the sadness of her sisters’ new loss and her reaction was an honest expression of her love for her.  She later asked me, why has this happened, again?   (I even had a couple co-workers ask me the same question).  The old me, before the unexpected loss of my daughter, might have tried to justify a loss in a way that could make me feel like it wouldn’t happen to me.   I explained to my youngest this morning, that there is no good answer.  We live in a messy world.   I told her about my 18-year-old patient last week with facial bone cancer.  He has about 5 years to live with that prognosis.  I recognized the parents drained and exhausted facial expressions, like one I have held,  as he was being prepped for surgery.  The boy expressed content at whatever he had left, compelled to live his last few years to the fullest,  the look on his parent’s faces seemed to say they felt differently.   It is unfair and there is no answer.    We can just love and support each other, sitting next to each other in the valley.

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In my garden of remembrance

 

 

 

 

The Leprosy of Loss

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Kaylee (left) Mikenna (right)

In the late hours of 2015 Mikenna got mono.  It came as a surprise to us because in 8th grade her best friend and her shared everything and they both tested positive for mono.  This was the first time I learned that although the virus lays dormant, some people have it reactivated.  Those people are usually physically and/or emotionally stressed.     Mikenna had just moved back home from college, was dealing with an eating disorder and we now know most likely the onset of bipolar depression.  She was unable to hardly move out of her bed for weeks.   Fast-forward a year later from then and I would find myself dealing with a preview of what it might feel like to live in grief, I just didn’t know it yet.

A few months after Mikenna, I also developed mono.  It seemed ridiculous at 44, but my Epstein-Barr virus was off the charts and I was suffering from flu-like symptoms that had lasted for weeks.  It wasn’t a feeling of being tired, it was severe body fatigue that did not ease with sleep. I could barely work.  After two months I went back to the doctor.  They couldn’t figure out why I was still feeling like I had acute mono.  Months went by and I was tested for everything including infectious diseases.  Finally, I was given a steroid, and the flue-like body aches subsided.   As months went on, I would wake up with pain in my wrists, hands, feet, and ankles.  Some days my wrists would be swollen, other days, my thumb would feel like it wanted to come off.  That summer I planned a rafting trip for all of my co-workers.   The weekend of the trip, I woke up completely unable to use my hands, I couldn’t hold a toothbrush.   During this first year, I felt crazy.  I work as a nurse, I have over 8 years of advanced education, and I felt insane.  Nothing on the internet made sense.  My family physician was baffled and was one of the most intelligent physicians I had ever known.   She referred me to rheumatology as a last-ditch effort, hoping they could figure it out.

One of the first things the Rheumatologist said to me after labs and my examination was, “you are not crazy. you have an autoimmune disease.”   She explained to me it wasn’t uncommon for mono to accelerate the autoimmune process.  She explained I already had the syndrome where my hands, feet, and face would not tolerate extreme cold and would turn blue or purple, was in my chart from years earlier.  Something I hadn’t thought much about, I’m a colorful person.  I’m the ice queen and my husband is a furnace.  It never bothered me much.  It wasn’t that uncommon.  I didn’t really pay attention until then, that these were early markers of an autoimmune process. A process already set in motion by my own genetics, accelerated by extreme stress and mono or more precisely the Epstein-Barr virus.   She diagnosed me with Sicca syndrome (dry eyes, nose, and throat) and the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis, RA.   I at least had something to research.

As I went down the rabbit hole of autoimmune diseases, causes, treatment, and symptoms, I realized it was an invisible disease process.  Similar to my youngest daughter’s Asperger-like learning disabilities, they are complicated, invisible, and even in the modern world of science, some people believe they are unreal.   I was thankful enough to join a few online support groups.  I found a world where other people were being treated for RA, and Sjogren’s (Sicca).   We were from all over the world, but we shared the swollen joints, dry eyes, and lack of understanding from the world around us.

I learned to stop talking about it too much around other people.  How holding scissors for more than a few minuted might make my hands go stiff.  How I cannot sit criss-cross without my ankles and knees swelling and then being unable to walk, I cannot paint without being unable to use my hands for days later, I cannot wear heeled shoes ever again.  I wear orthopedic unattractive shoes at work.   I take a mild cancer medication weekly, it keeps my symptoms from getting worse and I am thankful.  The medication causes IBS symptoms and I have to be careful about the day I choose to take it.  I take another medication for the all-over body fatigue, it also causes an upset stomach, so I have to take it at night and if I stop taking it, the flu-like symptoms return.  This medication causes severe sun sensitivity so I have to wear long shirts and sunscreen always.  If I am in the sun and become overheated, I get sun-sick and I’m down for days.  The cold intolerance of Reynaurds, has me in multiple layers below 60 degrees and stiff, but I am lucky, I do not have Parkinson’s, cancer, or MS.  I am lucky because of my rheumatologist, recognized right away what I was dealing with.  There are people that wait years, some wheel-chair bound before they are acknowledged. Some people do not have medical insurance to cover appointments and medication.  It is an invisible disease process, but I am fortunate I can work, I can play, maybe a little less, but more than so many and I am very thankful.

Outside my on-line group, I know a few people in my life with autoimmune diseases.  All different kinds.  One of my best-friends carries on with one that is more severe and with a worse prognosis.  Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis in which there is long-term inflammation of the joints and spine, pelvis and hips, shoulders and it becomes worse over time).  I don’t dare tell her when I am having a bad day with my joints, hands or feet.  I know every day she can walk is a good day.  I noticed most people with autoimmune disease don’t talk about how they feel. They don’t want to appear whiny.  They quietly soldier on, only talking to others with the same disease not wanting to seem weak or incapable.   This was a glimpse as to what was to come next.

Then my daughter passed.  I entered the world of mothers who had lost a child.  A group no one asks to join.  Not only that but my daughter ended her life, under the influence one night, suffering from anxiety and depression, in a rocky relationship. It didn’t matter she was insanely gorgeous, a straight-A student with multiple scholarships, from a pretty normal loving family.  I couldn’t even say the word suicide at the time.  It left a world of unanswered questions. I felt people back away from me, uncomfortable.  Another alien world.  People did not know what to say, or how to be a comfort.  In this world, talking about your grief, after the initial loss, makes people uncomfortable.   In this world,  it is unacceptable to talk about your child that passed on a regular basis.  (Even though they will always be a part of your life).  On-line, parents seek each other out, like with autoimmune diseases,  to have a safe place to express their sadness and questions, and experiences.    People around us, secretly thankful it didn’t happen to them. They rationalized why it happened, parents didn’t see the signs, or major depression, drugs or alcohol, lack of faith, whatever.  The truth is there is no one correct answer. It is a combination of factors.   They theorize without realizing that they are doing it,  why it happened and how it won’t happen to them,  I know because I used to do it myself.

If I raise my children right, if I love them, if I teach them x.y.z nothing bad will happen to them right?  We live in a broken world.  That doesn’t mean we give up, it means bad things happen to good people.  It means a person, who eats healthily and gets exercise might still get an autoimmune disease or cancer.  We still try and eat healthy, hedge our bets.  It means at 4am a young heartbroken girl, might impulsively choose to close her eyes.  I will still keep trying to prevent this from happening to others.   It’s a messy, messy, world.

I have learned so much through these processes.  How we categorize people quicky.  Right, wrong, healthy, crazy.   How we avoid what makes us uncomfortable.  How we choose to not talk about physical or emotional pain for fear of judgment.  If there was anything good to come out of such a horrible tragedy, it would be this new knowledge.  My eyes are now opened to how we shun those that make us uncomfortable, and how that makes the people we are moving away from, even more, isolated and vulnerable.

-Mikenna’s mom, Forever 19

 

Signs and Butterfly Kisses

15CAF31A-0A8F-4561-B7AF-0F15F94FF2F5.jpegIn nursing, we learn to look for signs and symptoms that lead to nursing diagnosis.  If you follow the clues, they usually lead to the problem or the source.     What if you were broken and lived in a world where you asked your source for signs?    It’s like an equation in my mind.  Move one piece around and the same pieces fall into the spots.

My friend at work who lost her best friend and had the butterfly on her wedding dress recommended a book.  Signs the Secret Language of the Universe.  She explains in the first part of the book that the source is God and everything comes from him.  She tells a story about giving a speech at a conference and asking for confirmation that it went well by an orange.   She walks out into the area where they are preparing lunch and there are crates and crates of oranges everywhere.  She didn’t get one, she got thousands.

I find this concept fascinating.   Do we psychologically pick something that will make sense later or that we invite into the world as my daughter’s boyfriend suggests? I don’t know, but I was determined to give it a try after a week of trying to hold myself together without losing my emotions around my family.

I was contemplating this while finishing up a procedure at work.  What would be something relevant to Mikenna that I could ask for as a sign?  I thought about a song I used to sing to her when she was little in her bed at night after butterfly kisses on both cheeks, or when we were hiking and she would complain we still had quite a way to go.  I would sing a version of Frank Sinatra’s, High Hopes song.  What can make that little old ant, think he can move a rubber tree plant? Everyone knows an ant can’t Move a rubber tree plant. But he had highhhh hopes.  He had highhhhh hopes.   He had high apple pie in the sky hopes.  So every time you’re feeling down and you start to frown, just remember that ant!

So I asked for an ant.  Riding home on the train, I got an email from my 23 and me about a second cousin.  I reached out to my cousin on my father’s side and told her about the ancestry information.   She said it was too bad I didn’t have any contact with my biological father or his sister since she had had all of our ancestry information.   I hadn’t talked to my bio dad in 18 years or his sister.  In fact, I noticed I had tried to reach out to her by facebook 2 years ago and hadn’t had any response.  My cousin also sent her cell info so I sent her another message and went about my day.  About an hour later, to my surprise, I received a very detailed message from my Aunt including information and contact information about my biological father.  As I look at the phone I thought, wait a minute, is this my ANT/AUNT?   I was given an aunt, interesting.

Still considering this as my possible sign, I went back to work the following day and I was the head nurse for the day.   Sometime around lunch, I got the strangest call.   In the operating room, all the air is filtered and all the gowns and drapes are sterile to prevent the patient from infection.  Outside boxes, bags, and shoes are not permitted in an operating room.    The surgical assistant called me into the room because for the first time, in anyone’s experience, an ant was on the surgeon’s surgical gown.   No one could explain how it got there.  Crazy.

Still pondering the idea of asking for confirmation that I am on the correct path,  I straightened my hair before going to my first high school to present a suicide prevention video.  It wasn’t just any school, It was the school my daughter that passed and my eldest daughter attended.   I couldn’t come up with anything that would be a decent confirmation that what I am doing is worthwhile.  The author of the book used an orange.  How about grapes?  I had nothing else I could think of so grapes it was.  Being a nurse I figured I had the ability to put my emotions aside and talk to the students as a professional.  Nope.

I entered the building and immediately remembered bringing Mikenna there for her orientation.  I remembered being a parent sitting at the round tables signing up to volunteer.  I shook hands with the principal and felt a lump in my throat.   Luckily the representative for AFSP was there.  I asked him to do all the talking so I could watch him facilitate and I could know how to run a presentation for the next school.  I wouldn’t have to talk.  (Or so I thought.)

The presentation got started and I sat down.  I looked around the room and noticed they had painted the entire inside of the common room where the presentation was.  The same room I had sat years earlier with Mikenna.  I turned around and asked the counselor if they had recently painted the inside of the school.  She acknowledged that they had.  I said, “it is such a dramatic color”.  I was thinking I know that color well, It is one of my favorite colors, the color of my nonprofit, Mikenna’s favorite color, but more specifically it is the exact color of years of making sandwiches, it is the one side of a PB and J) I love it I said, “It’s GRAPE”.

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A few minutes later and the principal askes me to stand up and share my story.  Crap.   I stand up and after a brief shaking of my voice, I share a little about Mikenna and her struggle.  I made sure to do her proud and mention being second in her class with a 3.99999.  Valedictorian was taken away from her the day before her speech by her runner up.

We made it through the presentation and I thought about the 170 kids that had just heard it.  I’ll never know if we reached someone enough to get help.  If we kept another family from walking this path.  I came home and fell apart and hugged my husband. I have to keep trying in her name, I am thankful for the people that have joined my crusade and walk alongside me.  Maybe following the signs is part of my own psyche.  A way to cope with the impossible.    I choose to believe and have faith that God knows I am trudging through quicksand and will give me what I need to continue on.  To celebrate getting through this hurdle of speaking at her school, I have chosen to have myself a PBJ, here in the kitchen, with all my memories or four little loud girls rushing out the door sack lunches in hand.

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