Great expectations

Tomorrow my second son Sam turns 21.

The month of May has a lot of good history for me: my wedding anniversary, Mother’s day, Sam’s birthday.

But at the end of the month I have Nolan’s birthday – and it is hard.

I never got to celebrate Nolan’s birthday beyond age 19.

Last birthday celebrated with both Nolan and Sam, 2016.

I am proud of Sam. He does not share much with me, however I am his complaint department when he wants me to be.

I rarely get to see the happy times for him. I hope there are a good number he has with his friends.

Sam deserves to be happy.

He can’t brag about his great grades in college, or how he is in love with his girlfriend.

He can’t boast about his career and show off his possessions that he earned making top dollar in a promising career.

You see Sam has none of that.

Sam finished high school with honors but barely had a high school graduation – it was 2020. The COVID pandemic just started.
No senior prom.

He tried to do college during COVID restrictions and came back defeated.

All that on top of the most traumatic event of his life.

He had his only sibling die by suicide when he was just 14.

He just started high school 3 weeks before Nolan left us.

In Sam’s eyes – Nolan left for college and never came back.

Sam is a survivor. Yes – I am very proud of him.

He keeps going on. I patiently wait for him to figure out what he wants to do in life.

A parent has great expectations for their children.

I had dreams for both Nolan and Sam.

Nolan took all the dreams I had for him away.

Sam certainly is not following the path I though he would take.

But he is still here.

And I will celebrate this tomorrow with him.

My only expectation is that he knows how much I and his father love him.

Mayday, mayday, mayday

Thirty years ago on May 1st, 1993, Scott and I got married.

26 year olds- back then, a bit old to tie the knot

I picked May first for a couple of reasons. May Day is the start of spring, of new beginnings.

I had my last 6 weeks of medical school scheduled as off of rotation. I could get married, go on a honeymoon and not have the stress of school responsibilities. Graduation was in June and the start of my pediatric residency in Phoenix on July first. Many new beginnings.

I also picked May Day because I though Scott would forever jokingly remember our anniversary due to the distress phrase.

So here we are thirty years later.

I still love Scott.

We still laugh.

We have spent 22% of our married years as parents who lost a son to suicide. We are according to statistics “not the norm” since it was expected that we blame each other for our son’s act and we were expected to divorce. Well frankly I will show my sassy side and say “F that.” If anyone wants to see a couple that have lived through the pain of a child’s suicide, losing one set of parents in a 13 month time span (my parents), Scott’s father passing from COVID, loss of jobs, parenting a now only young adult son, stress of a full time medical career and teaching junior high kids (who has the harder job??) and still go on together – just look at us.

I have no words of advice. How we continue on as a couple works for us, but just as love is unique so is our relationship and what we find as our glue may not be the same for others.

Ten years
Twenty years

My parents were married 51 years. I don’t know if Scott and I will be around to celebrate a fortieth or fiftieth anniversary. But if we are both alive, I think we will. We hold each other up, live each day, laugh, and kiss each other goodnight.

Just smile

Today is the first day in almost 3 years that I do not have to wear a mandatory mask at work.

Three years.

Three years where my patients did not see how happy I was to see them.

Sure, they could hear my voice – but the smile was hidden behind my mask.

And I have to admit sometimes my mask absorbed my tears. I still cry at work at times. Less often then before. Maybe after a parent asked about my family or how I was doing. Most of the time I am good, but on the hard days… well that mask would hide my emotions when I needed it to.

Sometimes my wearing a mask was scary for the patient. In the last year my young patients found it unusual to see someone with a mask in public.

And why was mommy and daddy wearing them too at my visit? Scary. On top of being down to a diaper and having a stranger touching you. This creates an unhappy young patient. Hard to talk to parents when their child is crying in fear.

Don’t think I was not a believer in wearing a mask.

I know I would have gotten COVID-19 infection a lot sooner if I had not worn a mask. I appreciate my patients had to wear a mask as well. (I know which patient gave me COVID – and she was too young to wear it)

I will still put a mask on at the appropriate times. When I am with a cold or cough that I don’t want to spread my infection. Or my patient may be contagious (COVID-19, RSV, influenza, whooping cough, pneumonia, etc) and I do not want to get sick.

But today, March 27, 2023, I will rejoice in this day where my office and I can have a bit of normal back that we so well deserve- don’t you think?

Now I can share the best thing I wear everyday.

My smile.

What is Smile about?

– The lyrics tell the listener to smile even if they are going through a hard time.

– No matter how bad things seem, they will get better.

– Smiling can make a difference in someone’s day.

– It is important to keep trying even when things are hard.

– Life is always worth living despite the difficulties.

Here we go again…

Six years.

I don’t know what to say.

Time flies … I guess. But it also goes painfully slow.

I can say I am breathing without a heavy heart most of the time. I don’t wake up and immediately think “Another day with Nolan not here. One more day closer to dying and reuniting with him and leaving this crazy, crappy F’d up world.”

Yes – those first years I thought about dying. Not taking my life. I saw how horrible it is for those left to try and go on. I would take my meds (was on an antidepressant the days after Nolan’s passing), vitamins and estrogen dosed from my weekly pill holder. Week after week I used to think it was a countdown to when I was done here….

 How many weeks, months, years do I have to be here and live like this? 

Living a new grief life where I go through so many emotions in an hour? A life where I have to wear my mask to hide my pure grief, a deep sad that nobody, not even myself, would want to be around for fear of it wearing off on others? Exhaustion was completely an understatement. I went back to work three weeks after Nolan died. I had to. I am the breadwinner. And I had to be fully functioning and in complete working brain mode. Work made the days go by fast. And it kept me from constantly thinking about my loss. Kept me from the crazy thoughts of why.

It is still hard to balance the days of the “ordinary world” and the quiet days where my loss and emotions flood my mind and bring me back to sad memories of Nolan’s last months of his life.

So now we are six years from the knock on the door from the county police and coroner’s office. Are you wondering when I am going to get over Nolan’s passing? Will I ever stop lamenting about the loss of my son?

The question I would pose back would be “Have you ever stopped loving your child?” Even if you are mad or disappointed in your child – you still love them. And you can communicate your love, your emotions to that person.

I can’t call Nolan and hear his voice. I can’t hug him. Can’t watch him grow up. Maybe get married. Have kids? Maybe be alone and depressed. Maybe have an addiction. Maybe live a few years more and then take his life at an older age. All gone. No future.

I have all that love and emotion that just have nowhere to go.

That is grief.

Time after time

You have heard the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”

But the phrase is better known in this famous quote:

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”

Rose Kennedy

When we think of time and grief a few things need to be appreciated.

  • There is no correct amount of time where you are supposed to grieve.
  • Time does not make grief go away. It makes it softer. I have heard of the analogy of the stone in the pocket. Or the ball in the box. Glitter in the air. Grief is a heavy book on a shelf. Find what imagery resonates best with you and you understand. If you have love for someone gone your love doesn’t go away, so your grief stays with you. And you have to continue on.
  • Milestones of time are hard with grief. One week, one month, one year, five, ten…as time goes by we continue to live but the milestones- the anniversary of a birthday, wedding date, day of passing, these days remind us of the loss of the loved one. The fact they are not here in continuing with us. We remember the good memories but can feel the pull of guilt that they are not here and we could have done something different, maybe said something and that person would still be here. The mind thinks of clues that hindsight puts out as opportunities missed.

For me it is not Nolan’s day of passing that is any harder than the 364 other days. It is the weeks leading up to his death anniversary that pull me back to my painful memories. Those memories, those moments that I do not want to relive and remember.

I would rather like to remember the good memories, the happy ones I have of him.

Another February

“Without Valentine’s Day, February would be well, January.” 

Jim Gaffigan

Why do I celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Sure – I love to express my love to my family and friends… and I get Hallmark points. But I also celebrate the day because it keeps me from thinking how much I dislike this month.

“Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest.” 

J.D. Robb

I try and get as much sun as I can this month to help my mood. My valentine tree is put up for me to enjoy. No one else needs to see it. Anything to keep me going.

February is typically the month I should take a week off but in pediatrics it is the time of the year we are busy with RSV, pneumonia, ear infections and general sick guck with kids. This year the pandemic has changed what we are seeing. Thankfully this strain is not causing too much illness in the pediatric population and the number of sick kids is not as high as it usually is for this month.

“Why does February feel like one big Tuesday?” 

Todd Stocker

I feel like ever since March 2020 we have been waiting for our normal lives to come back. I say we but I am used to having my life forever changed since Nolan died. Pandemic life is another layer of change on top of my world already flipped over, mashed on, and overall kind of unenjoyable.

I try not to spend too much time remembering the sad or hard anniversaries of this month. Maybe you have a month that you know is your hard one. February is not my worst month, but the cold weather and gloomy short days paired with usual long hard work days makes it a month I wish would speed up and move on.

If you get too down you push yourself to look up right? You do things with people. You exercise. You listen to music and get a hug when you need it. And you try to not work too hard.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It is a good day because love is the focus. And love is love.

Love ya!

Christmas #6

Those that follow my blog know what I do every Christmas since Nolan passed.

Christmas day is one of the hardest days for me in missing Nolan. On Christmas day your family should be together. This is the day where the hole in my heart aches and yearns so much for him. Ask anyone who is grieving the loss of a close loved one.

I have hung Nolan’s stocking since the first Christmas without him. Why not? He is still my child, right? No candy, toys or gift cards fill his stocking now. Instead I place a letter I write to him. I have done this every year since my first Christmas without him, since 2016.

Here is part of my letter to Nolan. Christmas #6 without him.


Dear Nolan-

I was going to write a dreary letter lamenting how much I miss you. But this sunny winter day puts my mind more in the direction of reflecting.

Lately it is a challenge to keep a positive mindset. I am reminded that each and every one of us here on earth is common in spirit and we are all made from God. Lately my feeling of hope for humankind feels pushed down by all the suffering and divisiveness I see daily. Our human experience is now globally changed due to a virus that reminds me why I found virology and immununology so interesting in medical school. I am intrigued but terrified of the biology of this pandemic. I research as much as I can to help my patients and serve in my purpose.

Living in the present is my goal. Too much dwelling on the past is a waste. I acknowledge it but I can’t stay thinking about it too long. The future is so uncertain. A year ago we were hopeful that 2021 would be better than 2020. It had to be. Nope – same old pandemic world. I know 2022 will be different – but better?

Only God knows.

Nolan I think about the family and friends of the over 800,000 Americans that died so far from COVID infection. And those that passed from cancer, chronic illness, accidents, suicide and overdose. They are missing a loved one or ones this Christmastime. For some it will be their first without their loved one. If I had an empty chair at the holiday dinner table for every close family member I have lost since your Nana and Grandpa passed almost eleven years ago- I would have too many chairs to stare at. I don’t want to do that. I want to be present and enjoy time with our family who are still here.

Do you remember Christmas Nolan? For a child it is such a happy time. Weeks of preparing and counting down the days until the BIG DAY. Such joy, love and family time together. I can keep Christmas a day of brilliant wonderment and joy if I remember that Christmas means HOPE. Jesus came to end all suffering. On Christmas day his birth gave hope to people in an occupied country. Jesus told us “Have faith in me.” I absolutely do.

At the end of most days I can say I tried my best. I am not perfect for sure but I do remember why I am here and how I can show people I love them. I go to sleep hoping you will be in my dreams, where I can hear your voice and your laugh …. see you smile. I wake up and in the first minutes I thank God for another day. A day where I sometimes question what the heck we humans are doing and where we are heading – but I know what I have to do.

I love you and miss you everyday son. Please watch over your brother Sam. And your father. And me.

Until I hug you again…. Love, Mom

The present – no, not a gift

One year later and I can’t say I am super optimistic, but I guess I am beaten down enough by work and bad news and our pandemic life to just plod along. Taking it day by day like everyone else. It will get better someday…… just not for a while.

The Grieving Doctor Mom

Today is my birthday.

Remember when you were a kid and your birthday was THE best day of the year? Right next to Christmas?

I am not feeling that way today. And the prior days were not great either.

Yes – the present really sucks!!!!

I’m not upset that I am a year older. It doesn’t suck at all. It means I am getting a year closer to joining Nolan.

Five years ago the night of my birthday was when Nolan attempted suicide when he was at Purdue. Thankfully he did not succeed. Two days later he texted me what he had done, asking for help. That was how he told us he was depressed.

Prior to today I have been thinking a lot about what I assume we all have –

When are we going to get back to “normal”? When will we be done with physical distancing, where…

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Is it five years?

I remember my first 365 days without my son Nolan.

I counted by day of the week, then by month, then each holiday without him. It was all very new and different.

Now years later my memories are less crisp and ripe with detail. I have to think hard to remember some things. When did I see him last before he took his life? Was it six days before? or longer?

What was the last thing he text to me? I remember the message but what were the exact words?

I can look back and search for the answer if I want.

I guess it is my mind saying the specific details don’t matter. It is love, the soft caring memories and emotions I carry when I think of him.

Five years later I don’t miss him any less. My love for him is not diminished. I miss him every day,

I wake up and he is in my thoughts. I talk to him in my head. I know he is with me and sees I sometimes struggle with grief. His spirit sees I am still living and serving my purpose.

You were here for a moment but left a lifetime of love