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

 

 

 

 

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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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

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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.

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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.

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The Balancing Act of Loss

D615250F-B73E-424D-8F60-1CE74DA93710.jpegWhen I find myself down for days, I know I need a project or something to distract me.  A goal, a craft, something to pour my energy into.   This can go on for days or weeks, sometimes working through meals and long past the hours when I should be sleeping. The tricky part is this can lead to insomnia, and many in loss of any kind, battle with it.

I talk to others going through this process of living with loss, some years further out than myself, and many threw themselves into work or a huge life change to give them something, anything else to focus on.  The difficulty they then found was at some point they had to stop going a 100 mph as the wall of loss hit them like a tsunami wave.  Some people are unable to work the same career any longer after a tragedy.

I didn’t understand at first the, “wait two years before changing careers,” advice of loss.   At times I have hated everything about the place I work, and I would say 75% of people in my type of grief, also hated their jobs and everything about it.  After some serious inner perspective, I realized this really is more about projection, a place to direct the anger of the loss of control of my environment.  Sure there were things I didn’t like about my place of work, but another grief mama and dear friend so sweetly pointed out to me, these were the people that understood my good days and my bad days, the people that knew who I was and what I am capable of, they know my leadership skills and why I stepped down from most of my positions, they also knew I would come back to it when I was ready.

45FE55FD-50BF-43C2-804F-ED48294A2FF7.jpegIn some ways, I had wished I had found the ability to take a long sabbatical, but I think I may have never gone back to work if I had.  The other side of the pendulum isolation. I also completely understand this.  The truth is it takes so much energy to be social, especially now idle chit chat seems pointless.  I have always been someone the would rather just be real with people.  It is probably why I tend to hang out with people that are the same way.  Even before the loss, I wasn’s someone that would go out of my way to meet people of importance to my career, social status, or my children’s social status.   Even growing up I was more of a tomboy, happier to hang and play cards with the guys or have one or two girlfriends I had known since elementary school, sit up all night with me and watch the sun come up over our sleepy town.

Many people struggling with loss just don’t have the energy for any of that anymore, the problem happens when this becomes so much easier.   It is similar to depression in that it’s easier to stay in your comfort zones where your cat and dog can snuggle up to you and no one cares if you watch movies all day in your bathrobe.  The tricky part is, after a while, getting up and out becomes harder and less appealing.  If we are lucky enough, we have friends that come around to drag us up and out, the ones that don’t care how much we talk or what we talk about.

This is called the balancing act of Loss.   Too much distraction all the time is unhealthy for us and sooner or later the tidal wave comes at us and we can’t get back up.   Too little engagement in the outside world and we can stay incapacitated to the point of also not getting back up.   It’s finding the ability to do things that have meaning and putting some energy into those things, while still giving ourselves permission to sit in the quiet spaces.

373FC591-5A5A-4DA8-B6E5-6A62E4440A62.jpegRecently I took my girls camping.  It is something we have done every year since the girls were little.  It almost didn’t happen due to sports and other complications.  I was determined to go even though It took a lot of energy to make it happen.  While we were camping I had the ability to reflect on camping trips past, the games we played, the food we made.  As I reached into my daughter who passed favorite game, Bananagrams, a bag of probably 200 letters, I pulled out four squares.  They happened to be my daughter’s initials M.M.V. with an A.  @MMV is teen lingo for tagging someone.   I don’t think it was random and my oldest daughter watched me do it and stated, “I sometimes think you make this stuff up, but I just watched that happen!”   Of course, I came home and was physically and mentally exhausted, after all the distraction and effort, I need a day of serious downtime.

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The balancing act doesn’t end after 18 months I’ve found.  I kept thinking I would hit some magical date and everything would be back to somewhat normal.  I have decided to stop looking for the day when something doesn’t make my eyes tear up, this is just who I am.  I give myself permission to be sad sometimes, to feel the moment, the memory, to be mindful of it and acknowledge it.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell some of my acquaintances, (maybe they will read this) Don’t stop asking if I would like to do things.  I know I said no for over a year to most of the lunches, coffee dates and glass of wine offers.  There might be times I am not up for it still, but there might be times that I am.    People isolate for many reasons besides loss, keep asking, keep calling, keep coming over with your hard lemonade, ice tea or PBR and sitting on the porch.  When the cards are put away, and the tissues have been put back in the cabinet, the casserole dishes have been returned from whatever life event we had, we could still use the company once in a while, hopefully, now we will actually accept it.

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On the beach collecting heart shaped rocks found all in an hour 💜