A place where I can share my thoughts on my life journey in serving others through my practice and still going on after losing my son to suicide.
I am a pediatrician practicing in the Midwest for the last 25 years. My life forever changed when my son took his life at age 19. I am learning to walk now as a grieving mother. I trust in God and continue on in my life. I still laugh and love with the help of my family and friends.
Four years. It is how long we take to get through high school. Through college (that is the plan for most parents!)
Medical school is four years.
I should know how four years should feel. I have done four year tasks many times.
These four years have been painful and slow with my grieving.
The first year is all fresh with firsts – first Christmas, first Thanksgiving, first birthday. The Angelversary. You struggle to focus, you are exhausted.
The second year is horrible. It stings and all the milestone days come again and you are reminded he is not coming home. You are still exhausted. Wake, rinse, repeat.
For me the third year was the year of figuring out balance. How to still function as a full time pediatrician, mom and wife yet still honor my need to grieve.
Fourth year? My grief is still here but the need to stay current with the daily changes in a pandemic world keep me more as a doctor and less as a grieving mom. This world is getting harder for those struggling with loss, addiction, depression and anxiety. I have seen so much anxiety in my pediatric population.
I honor Nolan today, his fourth Angelversary.
I really don’t want to cry all day. I don’t have time for that. Life goes on. This day will come again and again. How many more I will have to live through I do not know. I would rather put my energy and grief today into my purpose – why I am supposed to be here.
But when a person loses a loved one to suicide this saying can sting. It can be read as “You could have prevented him/her from suicide. You missed the signs. You failed.”
The act of taking your life to end your pain, to be under the trance that suicide is the answer to your problems- that is what COULD be prevented. But not all suicides can be prevented.
The first year of life without Nolan I had no interest in advocating for suicide awareness and prevention.
How could I say it is preventable if I didn’t stop Nolan from ending his life? I FAILED. He was taking his medication and seeing his therapist. We supported his decision to go back to college. He appeared the healthiest he had been the months before.
The good Dr. Gold, a pediatrician with years of experience, she must of known Nolan was that bad, that low.
HOW DID SHE NOT SEE THE SIGNS??
The months after Nolan died I was a busy detective. What did I miss?
He was doing so much better. He had goals and he had plans. I went through his phone and read his texts. College was going well (at least that is what his professors told me) but he was seeking a relationship. With someone. With anyone. It appears he would have great anxiety (depression and anxiety love to hang together) in social situations. So when rejection happened he wasn’t able to bounce back. It pushed him farther to feeling like he didn’t fit in. Was this the final straw? Was it school and it’s stress? Was it because he couldn’t lose weight? Was his medication dose increase the push to give plan to taking his life?
I still do not know where Nolan was the night before his suicide, nor where he went for most of the day. I imagine he went to the dunes and hung out at the beach. All alone. It was a beautiful September day. What was he thinking? Was he at peace with his decision and enjoying his last day on earth? I understand from my research that people do usual everyday things up to the minutes before they take their life.
I will never know.
The detective mom did see what Nolan did the minutes before he got out of his car with a shotgun, walked a dozen yards to a large rock mound in a construction site in view of his home and ended his life.
He watched a mundane YouTube video on his phone of his favorite gamers. No goodbyes to anyone. No note. No hidden meaning in any texts to anyone. He just ended his pain.
Tell me where the signs are with that?
It will be four years since Nolan died by suicide. The guilt can still try and take over my thoughts.
When the guilt pushes me to think I failed, I remember the following:
You cannot control another human being
You can make home safe and give tools to find help but you can’t make a person heal
Suicide is not the survivor’s fault
The act of suicide is not to hurt others, it is to end pain
I see the phrase suicide: 100% preventable in a different light. It reminds me of my role in helping others and bringing awareness to pain that leads to suicide. I cannot prevent every loss from suicide. I can be the person who listens and offers the tools to help and redirect to a path of recovery.
I have done at least 3 drafts of a post in this last week. I just can’t find the right thoughts to put down.
Sometimes you just have to walk away from it and do something else.
My something else was spin class at the Y.
I love spin. I can push myself as hard as I want and I love the loud music. I come out of class dripping in sweat. I wear a heart rate monitor so I can see the intensity of my workout.
So while spinning today I thought about my blog. I thought about how strong I feel doing this class.
At the start of class you set up your bike- you know your seat height and positioning- you adjust your settings and you get your legs moving. I thought about how spin class is like my life – I don’t have to do spin but I love a challenge and if I’m going to live I want to push myself, build my strength and listen to loud music 🙂
Class starts – warm up please.
No problem – been here and done this before – Strong legs, strong mind, water bottle right in front of me – I got this. First song in and I feel good. But I forgot this is an instructor that goes out of the gate fast and hard. What ? Already my heart rate is in a high zone?
Ok – I can still do this. How long is this next song?!? Damn! My legs are burning. Our instructor keeps telling us to keep spinning – 90-100 RPM, yellow and red zone intervals. Sit, stand, hover, repeat. My heart rate is in the red zone. Top level
Final intense song – OMG, a hard, slow steady climb up a large steep hill.
This is when I want to give up. This is going to be so hard! Can’t I get off the bike? Fast forward somehow? I think I am going to die! I don’t know if I can do this…..
So what does this spin class have to do with my blog?
I have the months of spring and summer to live in a basically low level of grief. Our pandemic made it different, but I don’t have any bad memories or anniversaries to remember. I will never be the same person I was before Nolan’s suicide, but I don’t have the weight of grief on me as much in these months. (So I set up and warm up – life is ok )
Lately work is getting busy- many well checks scheduled making up for the time we slowed down with the lock down. I continue internet searching on COVID-19 infection info in children, research on suicide risk and child and adolescent population, do medical consulting for the diocese schools in our area, zoom meeting all summer in my “spare time”, help Sam prep for college, anticipate for him to move out and then suddenly have it all change and all online and he is home now, the hardship of two more loved ones passing … (my legs are burning)
But I keep going and before I know it, I notice — the weather is changing and I can tell with the cooler nights, the smell in the air- summer is ending and September is here.
It is my hard month. The month I have Nolan’s Angelversary. It is my large steep hill.
This is going to be so hard! I don’t know if I can do this.
Yet I do. This will be the fourth anniversary of my life changing forever. It doesn’t get easier. The waves of grief are less often but some can be horribly intense. Our world is not getting any better. I try not to focus on that. I hug my family and friends, tell them I love them often, and keep taking care of my patients.
I share with you my letter to Sam who turns 18 years old tomorrow. When you have your second and now only child left – you get to brag. (and likely embarrass him)
September 12, 2001.
I had the day off and I watched TV the whole day. It was a heavy feeling of sadness, disbelief and fear. What happened? What kind of world is this? For two years prior I was trying to have a second child. Two miscarriages later I was still wanting my family to grow. When 9/11 happened my viewpoint changed. I was happy to have one healthy child. Nothing else mattered.
Weeks later I found out. In May 2002 you became Gold boy #2.
Nolan loved having a little brother. Five years between you. He knew to be gentle with you at first.
Then he treated you like a typical little brother. Lots of teasing. Competition. Wrestling. You would yell out “NOWAAN” when he took your toy or he beat you at a game. You both were spoiled and loved by grandparents and aunts.
Nolan became a teenager and you guys still hung out together, just not as much. You started searching for your own identity. You heard how smart Nolan was. His musical talent. You did some of the same things he did. But you are not your brother. Yet you had to find what you liked and what you thought you were good at.
Reflecting back I believe your junior high years were your time of searching. When you were young if something did not come easy you got so discouraged and you gave up. Right before high school you discovered playing drums and running track to your liking.
Nolan left for Purdue. Finally – you didn’t have to share the bathroom! You didn’t have him pestering you. But then he was back – and different… You didn’t understand what was going on with him. What is depression? What is wrong with Nolan?
You started high school. Immediately you became part of a great marching band family. You were settling into this next chapter of your life.
One month into high school your brother passes by suicide.
I remember calling your school counselor. Emails sent to your teachers. You chose not to stay home the next day. Or the next… You did not miss any school those many weeks after. You had support of your friends and you wanted to keep going. You had your own way of grieving and we followed.
You joined the wrestling team – as a freshman – never wrestled a day before. I couldn’t watch any of those matches – you never won one- yet you NEVER gave up.
You succeeded in school. You worked multiple jobs and still did band and track. Hell- you broke your pole in pole vaulting!!
But you had a hard junior year. You found out hard work is needed to succeed. You have had your heart broken.
You have fallen you have lost,
you have won and you have soared.
I am so proud of you Sam.
You are strong. You are smart, bright, incredibly modest, kind
and I know you hate me saying it – but damn- you are a good lookin’ kid.
It is not any more important of a day. It is not any harder. But it is a day for the bereaved mom to be remembered.
International Bereaved Mother’s Day was started by Carly Marie Dudly in Australia in 2010. It is one week before traditional Mother’s Day and is a day for any parent who has lost a child. In particular it honors mothers who have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or any pregnancy or infant loss.
I became aware of this day through my support friends of FB.
I have comfort knowing I am not alone. No mother who has lost a child is alone.
Unfortunately there are many of us. We are together in our loss.
Some of us lost the dream of having a child, of watching a baby become a child, or a child become an adult.
Losing an adult child is not any easier or harder.
You see – they all are losses… a piece of you is gone.
We all think about our missing child. Or children. We are never the same.
We may not cry daily but we miss our child every day.
On this day I will remember these women. And I will give myself some grace.
While I write this it is raining. A steady drizzle with a chill in the air. It was supposed to be prom today for Sam and all the upperclassmen at CPHS.
Good – I’m glad it is raining. Since no one can have prom today let the weather be crappy. It makes me feel better. I know I am not alone in how I feel. It helps me to join other mothers of seniors and lament. Yes – we can say we are grieving. Grieving for our anticipation, our plans and happiness in what we expected the last few months of our child’s high school senior year was to be like. Just like we cannot compare grief of the loss of a grown child to grief with the loss of an infant, we cannot compare this kind of grief to other types. Grief is grief. Don’t compare it or feel guilty for it. Just feel it.
Some of us moms have complicated grief. Maybe two children graduating. One high school and one college. Some parents have children experiencing other milestones like a birthday – yet they cannot gather family and friends to celebrate. And the hardest – all of the mentioned and a recent death of a loved one. More complicated than one wants to think about.
Us parents feel the disappointment of missing milestones we have been waiting for since the start of our child’s senior year. We had a vision for them – the anticipation of the “best year” of high school – senior year. We had expectations- maybe we remember our older child’s experiences during this great time. Or we have fond memories of our own past.
When COVID came the world made a direction change and we had no say in it. Any parent who lost a child suddenly has experienced this. You wake up and your world is not the same. Ever again.
With our lives now during this pandemic we didn’t experience change in just one day, but it was still a shock. I imagine you have woken up and wished this was just a dream. I have. I have many times since Nolan died.
I have had the rug pulled out from under me before. And I got up. Again and again. I know living this way now for over three years has prepared me for our current situation. This is not how we planned our life. This is not how we expected things to be right now.
Try to remember a very important thing. Your child has been on this earth less years then you and they are a teenager. And a teenager can feel invincible. You have raised your child to go out and be somebody. Do something. And they will. This is an experience that shapes their being, a lesson of life (and death) in a big way. They did not get where they are because they followed the perfect path that you arranged. Now they see life can be very unpredictable. A bold and brave young adult will take this world on.
We have no control over the next months – no one can predict what life will be like now with COVID – maybe we parents take this as our prep for the next years with our graduating child. Your dreams for them are still possible. But be prepared for them to take flight and go East when you thought they would go West.
If you are fortunate you will have specific people make a big impact in your life.
I first met her when seeing both of her great grandchildren at my office many years ago. She was always with a smile, which is not surprising since her granddaughter Kristi always wears one. Yes I would see Kalli and Kaya and do my doctor work, but during a visit where Busia came it was natural to strike up a conversation and after a few visits I got to know her.
She came to live with Kristi soon after Kristi’s mother passed away unexpectedly, more than 14 years ago. She was a stubborn woman. (I did say she is a Busia, right?) But Kristi convinced her to stay with them to help her raise her active kids. And it did not take long for her to be my Busia. For those of you that don’t know, Busia is grandma in Polish. And this Busia was a classic – a Polish grandma to the tea. We would talk a bit about Polish traditions. And true as a Busia would do – she brought me food. Yummy pierogi. She didn’t make them but she knew where to get the best.
Then years go by- rather fast I note since I am getting older.
Busia was getting older.
She celebrated her 90th birthday, although it was more of a celebration of being 39 again. She had the spunk and energy of a much younger woman. When Nolan passed she was there to pay her respects, and she even came to celebrate his one year Angelversary.
That was when she told me she missed her daughter, Shiela, her best friend, so so much. She was looking forward to the day she would join her.
I was a member of TEAM BUSIA when she had back surgery in 2018. Once again she showed her strength and great spirit. She also dealt with breast cancer. But she had a choice- and Busia knew her time here was coming to an end. She was ready. She knew she could not name her time.
I did not see Busia this past year but I connected with Kristi enough to know that she was declining. Kristi shared that hospice was coming to the house to care for her this last week. Busia had shingles (again) and her body was tired. It could have been another week but ultimately she was called Home just a few days ago. The Divine allowed me to say goodbye to her. I told her how much I loved her and that I was so blessed that I knew her and her family. I told her to give my Nolan a hug.
I thought I knew a lot about Busia. Kristi and her whole family gathered around Busia and shared with me more detail about her.
Busia did not have an easy life. Her mother died when she was only five. She had many siblings and the were all placed in multiple orphanages for a year when she was eight. A loving neighbor reunited Busia and her siblings and raised them. She was married for a good number of years but did not have the best husband. She had her daughter, her best friend, die suddenly. She was 96 years old, she had cancer, and had pain.
When you think about all the difficulty Busia had in her life, you may think “How did she go on? How was she able to be happy and still smile?” I can’t speak for Busia, and I certainly would not say my life has been as hard as hers.
But I think she would agree with this
You can take your hurt, sorrow, pain and grief and focus on your loss and misfortune and be bitter
You can wake up every morning and be thankful for your life and share your love and care for others.
Another word – you have HOPE
Busia was a great woman. She was Busia to many. If you are lucky you will have people in your life that forever touch your heart.
Goodbye Busia. Yes you were home with your loving family for many years and now you are at home with your eternal family in Paradise.
I am so thankful for you Busia.
p.s. don’t think the story ends here… remember, good people raise very good daughters, sons, grandchildren 🙂
The world has a villian, a bad guy running around, and we call out to our only hope- Avengers- Superman- Batman- you fill in the blank.
In our real life, our real day crisis, we have no superhero
We must save ourselves.
Some of us run toward the bad guy. You know those people.
Some of us work knowing the risk of being out in public.
But the best way to save humanity -to save your family, church family, friend, neighbor, a stranger- is to stay inside. This group of people is the biggest force in our fight. This group will save the most people.
You may feel like your staying home is a lack of action. You are bored. Your kids are driving you crazy. You have a new appreciation for your kid’s teachers. But remember your favorite superhero. YOU can be that superhero.
Sadly we are going to see disturbing images. Mass casualties.
You will know people who are sick and do recover. Maybe you will know someone who loses the battle. Maybe a loved one.
But when you feel anxious- yes I know you have those moments…
I have. I have woke with panic in my heart. Eyes wet with crying thinking about the whys, the unknown, the fear of losing my husband, my son, sisters, friends —-
When you think about a person dying from COVID19, you worry that they are dying alone. But they are not alone. They have God with them at those last moments. God and all their loved ones waiting for them to join in everlasting love and peace.
This COVID19 crisis is not God punishing us. We are of earth and this is what happens. Meteors hit our planet. Volcanoes erupt. Earthquakes crush communities. Cancer strikes the best people we know.
Did you know the leading cause of death for a woman of any race in the US age 45-84 is heart disease?
I am focusing on heart health this month. You might remember I don’t like the month of February. (see my blog of last year) Instead of dwelling on the difficult memories of February’s of the past I have been mindful of staying active and keeping healthy. Not an easy thing to do with kids coughing and sneezing on you at work!
Exercise has been my go to for the month. It keeps me motivated and helps me fight off the winter blues. And it gets my heart pumping. I got a Myzone heart monitor and it has been great. Now I can track my heart rate during workout activities. It motivates me to exercise strong and not quit early. But I do notice something on those days where I have a wave of grief…my broken heart does not work as well.
Yes – I do have a heart that is forever broken. I will never be the same.
People with significant loss say they are forever changed. So true. My broken heart won’t ever be the way it was, and for this reason I need to take good care of it.
Thankfully I do not have acute broken heart syndrome. That is a temporary condition that is brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. It is also known as stress cardiomyopathy. So yes – you can have life threatening heart disease due to a broken heart.
Chronic and complicated grief is stress, and stress is not good on your heart. I don’t feel my broken heart all the time but I do know that my emotions from grief can be negative on my health.
I am more tired than I used to be. I can work my long hours but I need my rest at night. When I am feeling a big grief wave I cannot take deep breaths when I work out and thus cannot reach my max workout goal heart rate. I don’t push myself on those days. I acknowledge my limitation with the understanding that I need to listen to my body. At least I am moving and trying to feel better. But it makes me aware of how my grief brain is hard on my body.
Sorry – this post has nothing to do with grief. I wear my doctor hat and put my mom hat aside with this topic.
Parents have asked me if they need to worry about coronavirus.
Let’s review what is going on: A new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) started to cause infection in China, in the Hubei province. It is thought to have started in a food market and it was initially in an animal and infected a human. Since the infection was discovered, the Chinese government and now the WHO (World Health Organization) and CDC and other countries are actively working together to control the spread. The virus’ genomic sequence is known already and all countries and agencies are working together to test for the virus and share information on spread, control and care of patients with infection.
As of 2030 hours Jan 29, 170 deaths have been reported due to the virus. There are 71 cases in 15 other countries. Only 1% of cases have occurred outside of China and no deaths have occurred outside of China. The majority of cases are minor respiratory symptoms. 20% of cases are severe such as pneumonia, ARDS, and renal failure. 2% result in death.
It is an active outbreak and scientists are learning about this virus day by day, hour by hour. This is a fluid situation. Do not think this virus is going to overtake our world and we cannot stop it. The WHO is working diligently to control the spread.
There is no specific treatment. There is no vaccine. The virus is different than SARS – It takes approximately 2 weeks to show symptoms after exposure and during this time the virus can be transmitted. It is spread by close respiratory contact. It is by droplet (cough and sneeze) but could also be spread by fomite (the virus staying for a time on an object, then a person touches their eyes or mouth or nose and are exposed)
It is appropriate to be concerned. It is not time to panic.
So how do I answer the question a parent asks me– what can I do so I do not get this virus? How do I keep my family safe?
Avoid travel to China. Avoid as you can close contact to a person that has recently traveled to China.
Keep up to date on news. It is changing every day. The knowledge of the virus is changing too. World, US and local news are all important. When we had a high numbers of measles cases in the US I wanted to know if any cases were in the Chicago area and I paid attention to where cases were in the US.
Avoid the airport, train station, any areas where there is a great chance of exposure to people who are likely to be traveling internationally.
Depending on the number of cases in the US we may have to avoid large groups of people in big cities
Take care of your own health. Currently I don’t think we need to wear masks in the US but you can wash your hands often. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Get enough sleep and eat healthy.
Please understand – at this moment we have way more of a chance in the US of being exposed to influenza then this corona virus. We have seen a surge of influenza cases at our office. The last bullet point suggestion is most important to help prevent you getting the flu. Oh — and a flu shot – it is not too late!!!