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 we can travel and see people without worrying about getting the virus? When will kids be able to attend school? Concerts and plays and movie theaters open?
When can Sam experience college the traditional way? – not only by his computer alone at home.
When you live everyday thinking about the future, a day with a big questionmark as to when “normal” will return, it is exhauting. When will we wake up and not have coronavirus and the pandemic be the headline day after day? What new record are we going to break today?
Living a life waiting for the future makes you anxious. And I have been having anxiety lately. Anxiety is not contagious but we sure live in a world where more people are experiencing it. My little patients and my big ones. Parents too. I can help as best as I can. But I can’t change how bad things are.
When a normal life in the future is too many months away and the present is not a great time, you think about the past. I try and think mainly about the good memories. But my mind is not kind and I think about the hard times with Nolan. I start to blame myself. Again.
Sorry this post is not giving you great words of encouragement.
I am like everyone else – somedays I have a heck of a time keeping my spirits up. I am not asking you to feel sorry or bad for me.
I wanted to put out there that sometimes birthdays are hard. And for some people Christmas time is hard too.
This cartoon is me. Is it you too? Probably. With election day this week, cases of corona virus surging, work pressures, financial strain and the holidays just weeks away you can’t tell me you aren’t feeling some amount of stress. It reminds me of how I felt when Nolan left for school a second time, […]
With election day this week, cases of corona virus surging, work pressures, financial strain and the holidays just weeks away you can’t tell me you aren’t feeling some amount of stress.
It reminds me of how I felt when Nolan left for school a second time, when he appeared to be at his best and chose to attend and live at Valpo University.
I was overwhemed with anxiety.
Initially I couldn’t sleep. I texted him daily. How are you? Did you go to class? Did you take your medication?
I had done all I could before he left for school. I had my responsibilities as his parent and I did the best I could. I had to trust him.
I had to let go.
I called and told him I could not keep checking on him daily . I trusted that he would call me if he needed something. He told me thank you. He understood and I know he was relieved I wasn’t stressing about him.
One month later he was gone.
But you know what? I am still here. Four years later I am still breathing, living, working, loving and smiling.
How did I deal with my worry about Nolan? How do I handle my anxiety now?
Take 4 minutes and listen…
So when you wake up at 3am and your brain starts thinking about all the bad things in the world, all the what ifs, the future we all want to know but cannot predict, and the things you can’t control – try and repeat the phrase.
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.