Permanent

image2

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.

53A23899-2785-40B8-AA32-660F284391C0

 

 

 

 

 

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.
26713F37-86F5-4645-9BE1-F638D64BB42F

 

 

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.
image

 

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.”

AEF8DE51-330C-4732-A30B-062392F4ED56

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
44B100CC-D9C2-431E-9C8A-EAE8763675FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

2932DC27-B63D-4512-85CB-5C739FA9B3DE
“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.

3F1B738B-A03C-4B02-9FA3-EE182C62E034
In my garden of remembrance

 

 

 

 

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”.

A8AD474C-51D0-4B4D-9568-11E1066221FA.jpeg

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.

24D512FB-1AFA-438B-8275-72CBA1DFC75D.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kintsugi, The Art of Being Broken

99DF6423-4D1E-4142-AC4D-4672AD9DB263.jpegI walked into work in my normal groggy, grumpy mood.  It was 0615 and my coffee hadn’t kicked in enough to care about whatever shenanigans were going on with the assignments for the day.   The operating room assignments for the nursing staff can be an unfun task for the head nurse and I was thankful that wasn’t me.

 

I downed the last of my Americano before reaching the red line.  That’s the line you must stand behind to keep all the germs, stray hairs, and apparently crabby nurses behind.  The head nurse, or charge nurse as we call them, rounded the corner with his clipboard in hand looking way too stressed out for this early in the am.  He started with, “I’m sorry your assignment has been changed.”  Since I had no idea what my assignment had been, being off the day before, I mumbled that’s ok and went to figure out what operating room I was in for the day.

Scrolling my eyes down the board I see my name in a usual spot and the recent apology becomes clearer.  I am in Urology.    To be clear, I haven’t worked in Urology in many years,  the basic set up is the same, water for irrigation and a camera for the bladder.  But it’s dark, cold and wet, not the combination I usually like. I was a fish out of water so to speak.

Being a surgical tech/ assistant before I could legally drink, means I have been around a while and I am used to basic surgery.  General surgery where you can see everything that the surgeon is doing.  I just realized this could tie into my control-freak issues, but that’s a blog for another day.  Normally I work in oncology or cancer, my favorite surgery is removing breast cancer.

I accepted my assignment with only a little trepidation, the surgeon was known to be extremely nice, and the assistant could do the surgery practically herself.   I went to set up the room.  As I walked in the music blared and I chuckled at the selection.  Something about love rekindled played and I joked with the surgeon this was the perfect music for a vasectomy reversal.

As I bopped around the room, feeling more caffeinated and ready to go meet the patient, the surgeon remarks that the music is actually not very fitting.    Many times the patients undergoing this type of surgery were in a new relationship and were excited about the possibility of starting another family.  In years past, I had actually had couples ask me to take their picture with the surgery hat and gown, hoping it could be one for the baby book.

The surgeon told me this was a unique couple that had gone through a tragedy recently and they had lost both their daughters in a car accident.  He paused briefly to look at my face, he was checking to see if I was going to be ok, the realization that I had also just lost my daughter, had just occurred to him and didn’t know if he should say something to me.  He kindly apologizes and I said, “it’s ok.”   In a not-so- confident shakey voice and I head off to great my patient.

Walking towards the private room, I see the couple and I stop a few feet short before walking in.  I see the face of the mom and I have seen that face many times before, it’s the face of grief.    I walked in and said my basic introduction, feeling the feeling that only a person who has been through this pain can feel, it was a tangible heavy feeling in the room.   The wife excused herself to use the restroom and dry her eyes, as I typed on the computer.  As I looked at the patient I told him I knew a little of his story and why he was there today.  History being something I reviewed, it wasn’t a surprising statement.

I then said to him, “I have a similar story I lost a daughter also.”  I squeezed his hand and I expected that to be the end of the conversation.   He hadn’t said much to me except the usual information.  Noticing the religious marking he had, I told him I had originally not been assigned to his room, that I normally do not work in that service but not to worry I would take good care of him, that I felt like I was meant to be his nurse.

At that moment, he turned to face me and he asked me how old my daughter was.   I told him she was 19.  He sat up a little in his chair and said, my daughter was also 19 and the other 15.  I felt a pull on my heartstrings.     As I was showering this morning, and praying he said, I felt my daughter’s with me.  Searchingly he looked into my eyes for reassurance.   Surprisingly I heard my own voice ask, would you like me to pray with you now?  Through tears now sliding down his face, he nodded gratefully.   We waited for his wife, and we joined hands and prayed.  I am not sure what I said as the words tumbled out of my mouth.  I gave a squeeze and left to prepare for surgery.

Before work, as I was driving in, I had listened to my normal radio station.   The word for the day came on and it was kintsugi, the Japenese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with dusted or mixed with powdered gold or silver.  It is the philosophy that exposing the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.  It did not seem to be an accident that I felt like I was being used as a kintsugi, that my brokenness of loss gave another couple a moment of peace, that they were not alone.

 

 

 

Into the Storm

IMG_4850.JPG
The longest drive

I was driving home from visiting my oldest daughter for her birthday.  It’s a long tedious drive I had done dozens of times.  After losing her sister, only 20 months younger than her, and her best friend, I count every birthday as a blessing.   She finally looked like my beautiful girl again, except now she was a 23-year-old woman.  Grief has given her a maturity in her eyes too young for her sweet face, but on this day, the circles under her eyes seemed faded and I could now see hope and possibilities shining from within her.

The house she lives in still holds recent memories or her sister.  Bittersweet to look at, but I am still so thankful to look at them.  The funny thing with grief, there is no right way to view loss.  I say it again, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO VIEW LOSS!  Some people need to put every picture away to cope through their day, some people need every item and picture their loved one held in their presence.  I live somewhere in the middle, I need to keep certain things, and all the pictures, but I have learned that I need to find uses for some things, I need to give it a purpose.  That is just me, I made boot planters, I had blankets made from clothing, I had bears made, I made Christmas ornaments from sympathy cards.  It has given me a feeling of purpose to give things a purpose.

At some point in therapy, even before my daughter passed, I learned most of us carry around these past hurts and feelings we let drive our actions.   We have an emotional feeling about a situation and we impulsively act on it without acknowledging the feeling, processing how it makes us feel and letting it move past us.  My family of the ADHD  variety has always struggled with impulsivity, some of that changes with maturity luckily.

Through losing M, I have had to do this a lot.   Process.  As I was driving home I made the analogy it is like driving into the storm.   Why would anyone want to do that?  Driving into a dark ominous mass that is right in front of us gives us the opportunity to come out the other side.   To try and run from it, ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there does nothing for us.  It eventually catches us off guard and unprepared.

The kind of grief I have been dealing with is called complicated grief.  It’s the only name they can give someone that has suffered through an unexpected trauma.  All grief is different, complicated grief means I didn’t get a reason for my loss like cancer or a car accident.  The passing of my daughter is complicated, to say the least, so what I am doing to keep myself together? Just about everything.

I was driving home thinking about an unpleasant conversation I was going to have about her passing.   It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, but I knew that if I didn’t have it I couldn’t put this storm, this dark cloud behind me.  I have been focusing on the positive, how to help others in her name and this felt icky.  Just like cleaning out her closet, this needed to be done.  I needed to feel how it made me feel, acknowledge it, have the conversation and move forward.  I made the call as I pulled over at the rest area.

 

 

IMG_4421.JPGAlmost home I see the evening sunset after the rain. The grey clouds moving in the direction I had just come from.  The conversation wasn’t wonderful but I had made it.  I could take a deep breath without thinking about what might be said or what should be said.

Thinking about my recent visit to my daughter, I remember and appreciate the little white butterfly that said hello when I first arrived.  It may or may not have been a little hello from heaven, but I appreciated it all the same.  I have realized we get the signs and messages when we need them, maybe not always when we want them.

My friend at work recently got married.  She had a beautiful wedding in a beautiful private place in either Alaska or Canada.  The wedding she planned as a young girl with her best friend.

0EC45704-6809-40E3-B417-6E9599A59E92.jpeg
The most beautiful couple

Every young girl these days most likely has a wedding Pinterest site.  When I was young I cut up pictures of gowns and saved them.  My friend from work had done the same I am sure.   She had everything she ever wished for, the most beautiful place, the most beautiful dress, the handsome groom, but she didn’t have her maid of honor, her best friend, who had passed a few years earlier.  On that day, as she stood in the most beautiful place, in her expensive dress, looking into her handsome groom’s eyes, a monarch butterfly circled her and then landed on her white dress.  At that moment she was breathless.  Heaven had sent her a little gift.  Her best friend and maid of honor had sent her love.  Here is the picture of that moment as she stood in the sunshine, still shaken by the storm but surrounded now in light and love.

2ECE7D52-9133-44F3-BB39-2D26EA4ECAD9.jpeg

 

 

Defining Moments

85F58229-5670-424A-B56A-02DD0560B315.jpeg
Camp Wi-ne-ma

If you’ve ever seen the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey, then you might relate to this bizarre phase of grief and healing I have been going through.    In the movie, the main character has suffered the loss of his marriage and has a negative outlook on himself and life in general.    He attends a seminar and is inspired to say yes to everything and besides some minor chaos, he changes his life and the life of random or not so random strangers lives, even to go so far as to save a man from suicide.   I didn’t really have this movie in mind, but honestly, I was fighting for my own life when I determined this might be the way to save it.

After the tragedy of losing my daughter and one of my best friends who we shared so much in common, I could barely breathe, and still have moments where I have to focus on just putting one step in front of the other, one moment at a time.   It has felt at times like I have been struggling to hang on to everything I hold dear like it used to feel when I would attempt rock climbing and would decide to stick my hands between a crack to hold myself on a narrow footing.

The first “thing” I said yes to was a walk for suicide prevention.  It didn’t make everything better, but it was like putting ice on a bee sting, doing something positive in her name took the sharp pang away, even if for a little while.  Then we did the first Hike for Hope, and the nonprofit, the http://www.MikennaVanekProject.org with ongoing projects, then the Mexico mission with my family and church and then recently  I was asked to be the camp nurse while in Mexico.  I didn’t want to say no, I wasn’t sure the reason I needed to go, especially two weeks later after my Mexico mission, but like the Yes Man movie I went.

FC5388EE-6888-4061-A7A7-D4AE94DB587D.jpeg
Heart shaped clouds the entire drive even my daughter notices 💜

My thoughts were that I would pass out a few bandaids, I hadn’t been a camp nurse in a long while.   The first night I was there, a young girl came in extremely upset for the physical health of her sister.  We talked for a while and she left.  I remembered nights past of my daughters worried for one of their sisters, and it broke my heart for her.  I hoped that telling her some resources would be enough.  I also wondered was this an isolated thing or would more campers come to talk?

Over the week I got to know kiddos with different mental health issues, relationship issues, transitional living type situations and in general, as a nurse, emotionally a lot more difficult to treat than a just an icepack or a bandaid.  They came in for their meds or vitamins, or feminine products, ice or bandaids, looking for candy or snacks and stayed just talking life with me.  I then watched as some of them formed friendships with each other, interestingly enough, the kids with the most difficult hardships seemed to find each other and connect.

During my time as a camp nurse, two of the campers who were best friends got into a fight.  Emotions ran high and in the heat of the moment, one of the boys hit a wall.   After Xrays, ice and Advil he was extremely remorseful.  He was ashamed of himself and wanted to go home.  In another situation just a couple days later after another angry outburst, a different also embarrassed wanted to go home.  In both situations after they cooled off and with major coaxing from different counselors, they both stayed and went on to enjoy the rest of the camp.  I heard one counselor say, “one impulsive act does not define you”.   I  contemplated that statement for days.  The truth is, one defining moment does not define you, it may change your life forever, but it is not the definition of the person you truly are.  It is one moment, one choice.  I think about the beautiful soul my daughter was and how one tragic moment ended her life, but it did not define the beautiful person that will always be her.

From hugs to the brokenhearted, that I felt so deep it broke mine also, to gathering personal hygiene items for teens in need, to a nap in a quiet area for the anxiety-ridden camper labeled as being “drama” by other campers, to explaining to the neurodiverse (not neurotypical) teens that they aren’t alone at camp or in life.  I didn’t have a sign like Lucy in Peanuts but the campers just came and needed me to be present and listen.  I will be honest after the first young lady visited, I thought to myself this isn’t what I signed up for, but it was what they needed and ultimately what I needed to give.

8B0239F3-A615-46F4-8B05-9254B6A3958C.jpeg
Above my door a mama bird tucks her baby bird in while watching me closely. Oh how I relate mama

One of the first moments there I found myself face to face with my daughter that passed away’s, youth leader.  He reintroduced himself.  What he didn’t know is that I harbored some unresolved feelings towards him.  Why hadn’t he connected in the last 18 months?  As he fumbled for words of telling me how sorry he felt, the words forgiveness filled my heart.  I struggled with questions of what-ifs.  I knew that before this event I would also struggle with reaching out to someone in my shoes.  I now know that any effort is worth giving and I feel like it’s my life’s mission to make that effort when I see the need, but I would have struggled in his shoes before the tragic event of losing my daughter.  I was thankful he had finally talked to me and thankful I was able to not let that hurt define me, and I was able to let go.

 

Below is a craft of beach shells my daughter had gathered and a few I added from the dollar store:

Supplies:

two pieces of small scrap wood

two nails

shells assorted

hot glue

staple gun

attach the two small pieces of wood into a cross with the two nails and hot glue all of the shells until all the surface is covered   Attach a step in the back with the staple gun if you choose to hang it or place in your garden