To See or not To See

Grief is a murderous beast, yet silent as it stalks the living. I knew that the moment I found myself in it. That I had to survive it and somehow help my girls survive it also. It’s not really talked about in the mental health community and you cannot find a specific grief specialist to literally, save your life. In medical terms, I would say that I still “suffer” from it but I am in a kind of remission in the similar sense someone with certain viruses never are without the virus once they contract it, but they find ways for it to lay dormant only flaring up on occasions of stress or illness.

If you saw me yesterday, visiting the same eating disorder clinic I had wanted to send my daughter to, but ultimately was talked out of, you would not believe I was “in remission” of grief. Imagining how she might have been helped in her mental health struggles, before we lost her, was downright excruciatingly painful, but necessary to possibly help another daughter trying to survive Covid lockdown, grief and genetics.

I sat through the four hours of paperwork and questions and review. Sitting in the final stages of getting on the waitlist, I hear the doctor trying to cautiously make some sort of accusation as she reviews everything myopically. “Did you know your daughter keeps track of how old her sister would be now?” I can see she is bothered by this notion. She then adds, “do you know that she feels her sister reaches out to her?” I can also see clearly how my ways of helping my girls through grief have a different look to a black and white scientist. She is skimming the surface of wondering about schizophrenia and I have to explain these things are accepted and normal in my family.

The doctor I have known for many years, she treated my oldest. Still to this day I regard her as one of the smartest women that I have ever met. She spends hours going over health, medications, genetics, family histories, birth and development to help understand the best treatment options for your child. In that moment I realized there is no room for spiritualism, ritualism, and belief outside the world of atoms, cells and basic biology.

I explained that our family celebrates her birthday, with a walk in her honor. She would know how old her sister would be because of it. I mumbled something about our family having a small non-profit, an outreach for suicide prevention and depression awareness and we raise fund for AFSP during that birthday walk. She would know that her sister would be 22 right now. It was one of those moments I doubted myself, just for a second, but I have to hold true what I know. It has helped my family, walking, feeling the love and support, bringing the hidden feelings out into the light to talk about. Why has science not caught up yet?

The second point she made was a bit harder to explain. I believe in signs, I believe that God allows us to be comforted in whatever way He sees fit. If my daughter imagines her sister reaching out to her to tell her she loves her, why would I want to take that away from her. How can I explain that it takes someone with belief in a spiritual world first of all and that believing in that comfort is not potential schizophrenia, but a coping mechanism and of course, I also believe is a gift to help us not feel so alone.

The truth is, no one can understand the full extent of comfort a sign or message from our loved ones gives except the person it was meant for. When I read about other people’s signs I think it’s nice but the impact is lost on me. It is the same for when I get a feeling of comfort or sign. I know that others think, “isn’t that nice” and “whatever you need to tell yourself to cope”…. For example, last week was my birthday and I believe I was sent a Happy Birthday from my daughter. Birthdays are a big deal in our house. I’ve always made a fuss over them. It’s been awhile since I was given a sign and I remember thinking a few days before my birthday, “I wonder if I’ll get a sign from Mikenna?” I didn’t think about it on the actual day though. We were in an ice storm and without heat, a lot was going on. My oldest daughter was taking me wine tasting and I was looking forward to it. We sat down and the sommelier explained she had put together her own list for us to taste. These wines were of her own choosing. The first wine she brought out for the night was my sign, my birthday gift from my daughter. It was a wine called “Mamacita” actually not a wine, a sparkling champagne-like wine, a specialty bottle. In my daughter’s phone I was never mom, I was Mamacita, she would call me that usually in private with a giggle because even with years of Spanish she could not speak a word of it but somehow loved this one word. No one picking the wines could have known, and I cherished the moment and the bottle. I of course had to buy it.

No Dr. M, my daughter is not schizophrenic, we are a family that believes in signs, a family of faith and I believe it to be healing. If after my daughter died I had been left in a black and white world where there was only science, I’m not sure I would be doing as well as I am. Why do we dismiss the grief stricken? Why is there no real help for people barely hanging on to daily life? It ruins marriages, careers, families but we cannot easily explain it by science, there is no magic pill so we ignore it and hope somehow the grief stricken come out the other side. Cheers to signs.

Love,

Mamacita

Mamacita sparkling wine from Day Winery, Dundee, Oregon

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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