Saturday, September 17, 2016

Helping someone who is suicidal, a true story

This is a true story.  The reality is it could be your story or that of someone you know.  It probably already is, whether you know it or not. It’s a story everyone needs to hear.  


It’s the story of how last Friday changed my life and that of a dear friend.  A story quite literally about life and death.  A story that could save the life of someone you know, work with, or love.  


It's a suicide story.  


And you need to know what to do if someone you know tells you they want to kill themselves, or have a plan to commit suicide, or have actually tried to end their own life.  This is a great resource if you ever need it: https://afsp.org/


Last Friday was like any other day, until I met up with a friend in the evening.  She struggles with depression, but is on medication and sees a therapist regularly.  Over the past several months, she has shared with me things about her life and her struggles that she had never told anyone else, other than her therapist.  It was clear from her behavior, it was a bad day for her.  I could tell she was “off”.  She appeared on the verge of tears and more sad than I’d seen her in a long time.  


I asked her what was going on.  At first, she dismissed it.  “I’m just having a bad day.”  But I pushed her on it.  “Sweetie, I can tell you are having a hard time today, what’s going on?”  


She fought back tears.  We hugged. Finally, she said, “I was at your house today.”


Me: “Oh, really?  Why?”


Her:  “I brought you a box… for safe keeping.”


Me:  “Where did you put it?  I didn’t see a box.”


Her:  “I came back to get it.”


Me:  “Why?”


Her:  “I didn’t want to scare you.”


Me:  (alarms going off in my head) “What was in the box?”


Her:  “Letters… dreams.”


Me:  (Thinking holy crap, this is way worse than I thought.  Putting my arms around her and hugging her as she started to cry)  “Tell me what happened”


Her:  With tremendous pain, fear, and profound sadness in her eyes and her voice, “I… (she told me the story of her suicide attempt that afternoon)”  The details of the day omitted to protect her identity, but she tried deliberately to take her own life through carbon monoxide poisoning. She didn’t want to live with the emotional pain any more.  She did not see any other way out.  She didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  She was “done”.  And she was absolutely 100% convinced it was her only option.


Me:  (doula mode) “Oh, sweetie.  I’m so sorry you are hurting so much.  I’m so glad you didn’t go through with it.  Why did you stop?  What made you change your mind?”


Her:  “I didn’t want to hurt anyone”


Holy freaking crap.  She almost died today.  By her own volition. And I’m the only one who knows.  


What does one do at this point?  When a friend isn’t just depressed, doesn’t “just” express suicidal ideation (“I wish it would just end” or “When I’m gone, this won’t be a problem anymore”), but actually has a plan to end their life, or worse, in this case, has actually made an attempt, it’s a mental health crisis.  You MUST take it seriously.  It is truly a life or death emergency.         


It’s a very delicate dance.  One between getting them to the help they need and driving them further into their depression and a future attempt, one that very well could be successful.


I knew she was in a mental health crisis.  Obviously.  While she stopped her attempt that day, she was in no way out of the woods.  She was still in crisis.  She needed intervention and help. Yet at that very moment, only me and her therapist knew about her “baggage” and I was the only one who knew she had attempted suicide that day.


She needed to go to the ER.  She needed crisis intervention.  Her life was literally in the balance.  She wouldn’t go.  We talked for over an hour.  Her therapist was out of the country on vacation.   It was Friday night. Of course.  Late.  Her doctor was not the one on call, and even so, they would have told her to go to the ER.  


I tried to get her to come home with me for the night.  She refused.  I tried to get her to let me go home with her for the night.  She refused.  Adamantly.  She was going home to her husband, who was sleeping and had no idea how depressed and suicidal she was.


I told her I loved her, that we’d get through this together, and that she needed professional help.  I made her promise that she would not make another attempt that night, and if she wanted to, she was to call me ASAP.  No matter what time it was, and I’d talk to her, come to her, do whatever she needed to get through those feelings.  Or she could call the suicide prevention hotline or 911.  She agreed.  I knew it could be an empty promise, and she’d never call 911, but I also felt I had to walk a very fine line between trust and intervention at this point.  We made a plan to get together the next morning and she agreed.  


Mistakes…
In retrospect, I should not have left her alone that night.  Neither of us slept very well.  I should have insisted on staying with her.  The anxiety I had all night was nothing compared to what she was experiencing.  By the grace of God, she kept her promise to me.


The next day, which I later learned, was actually national suicide prevention awareness day,  we spent almost the entire day together.  It was eye-opening.  We talked.  A lot.  She shared openly and honestly about how she was feeling, some of the things in past and her current life that were contributing to her emotional pain.  Some of which I had not heard before. She shared about the history of her depression, what her thought process was on Friday, the planning, the letter writing, how she went about her day, the attempt, what stopped her, and that she regretted turning off the engine.  (more alarms in my head).  The only thing keeping her from going through with it then or again, was that she didn’t want to hurt the people she loved.  


We talked about how maybe her meds needed adjusting.  It can happen that over time, they become less effective.  Suicidal ideation can be an ironic side effect of antidepressants.  

We talked about others I knew who had struggled with the same situation.  Depression, suicide attempts, intensive hospitalization and therapy, and where they are today in terms of coping, thriving, and how they are feeling emotionally.  How important support and understanding is for family and friends, but that they need to know to be able to support and help you.


We talked about how she needed more intense therapy than once a week or every two weeks to get through this rough patch. Maybe even an inpatient program for a few days to help her through this until her therapist was back.  Or a daily outpatient program.  I was trying to plant seeds gently, that she really needed more support and professional help, what the options were, and gently nudge her toward it.


Her therapist had NO Idea she was suicidal. No one did, except me and now my husband, also a friend of hers, who she shared with as well.  She hadn’t told anyone else.  My friend still did not understand why all of sudden, she was so overwhelmed on Friday that she tried to end her life.  She admitted to thinking about suicide before, but this time she had a plan, took the time to write goodbye letters, bring them to me, and then follow through with an attempt. This was a big, scary change for her, and for me.


I have had basic suicide prevention training in the past and my doula training and grief support work and experience all came in handy in this situation.  I had done some research for her that morning (she is not technologically savvy and in her current state of mind, would not have thought of or had the energy or motivation to seek help or information on her own) and printed some articles specifically directed to those considering suicide.  They were excellent articles.  She looked at one and said, “Yes!  That’s it.  That’s how I feel!”  They were written by people who had attempted and recovered.  Others were written by professionals, but specifically to the suicidal person.  I also lent her some books I thought would be helpful for her.  I gave her the suicide prevention hotline numbers and resources.  All in a purple folder, which she drew a heart on.


I reminded her she was not alone.  She wasn’t alone in feeling this way.  She wasn’t alone in needing help to get through it.  And that she could and would get through it.  Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem.  The problem is our brains, when we’re depressed, because of the chemical imbalances in there, can’t see that it’s a short term problem, and suicide becomes the only apparent way out.  But it’s not!


One of the articles included a safety plan or contract.  I guided her through it, helping her to make her safety contract with me.  I reminded her I loved her.  I was there for her 24/7, and she was absolutely to call me if she felt overwhelmed, wanted to talk, couldn’t sleep, or felt like she wanted to attempt again.  She still was not willing to share her pain and feelings with anyone else.  She still felt like she was a burden to everyone, especially me.  But she also didn’t want to disappoint me.


She was still not willing to go to the emergency room.  She would still not stay with me or allow me to stay with her.  Her husband was home though and they had plans together for the evening that she didn’t want to change.  She wouldn’t be alone, even if he had no idea what was going on.  She said she felt much better if she was not alone or busy. She was adamant, ADAMANT that he not know.  


She did not understand how dire a crisis she was in.  The depression was too profound and overwhelming.  She did agree to contract for safety with me.  We did it together.  It concerned me that the part of the contract that said “these are the things I have to live for” was the hardest box for her to fill out.


Yet, something in her eyes, her voice, told me she was in a slightly better place than she was 24 hours earlier, but still at huge risk.  It was probably the fear of breaking a promise to me that kept her alive that day. Again, I should not have left her alone, but I was still walking that tightrope of trust vs. forced intervention.  I wanted her to get to the point of being willing to get the intervention.  


We kept in close contact via text and phone that evening through the next day.  She went to church and spent the day with her husband and working, she said being busy was good and helpful.  She felt a little better.  But woke at night scared and panicked not knowing why.  She struggled when she was alone.  She was not going to be alone at all that day or night.  This was a good thing.


I called a friend who is a physician to talk about the situation in confidence and protecting her identity.  She was very helpful.  She, too, said close observation was really important until we could get her to the doctor or ER.


I realized my goal, what I’d been doing all weekend,  was that I was trying to keep my friend alive until Monday morning, when her doctor would likely be the one to convince her she needed the hospital.


Monday was an incredibly stressful day.  My friend went to church in the morning, then was going to work.  I texted with her from the time I got up at 6, all morning, until she heard back from her doctor.  In the meantime, I was managing a rather emotional crisis at work, as well.  


Then I got the text, “My doctor can’t see me today.  She told me to go to the ER.  I can’t go.  I have to go to work!”  I excused myself from an important meeting I was in and called her.  We talked.  She was in a panic about work.  I gently said, “if the doctor thinks you should go sweetie, you should go.  We’re all worried about you.  At the hospital, you can see a doctor and a therapist.  They’ll help you figure out what you need next.  I’ll come get you.  I’ll go with you.  I’ll stay with you.  I won’t leave you alone.  We’ll do it together.”


We talked for a while.  Finally, we reached a compromise.  She agreed to go after work.  She agreed to let me meet her at her work so I could go with her.  When I got there, she said the doctor’s office had called a few hours ago to ask if she had gone yet.  I said that’s because they care and are worried about you, too.  We sat in my car and talked for about 45 minutes.  We talked about how she was feeling, what might happen in the ER, and why I really, really, felt this was important and necessary, even though I wished it were easier and didn’t involve an emergency room.  While we were sitting there, her actual doctor called to see if she had gone yet and to try to compel her to go if she had not yet.


The ER system for depression and suicidal ideation is horribly broken


What happens next is a horror story of sorts.  Our emergency mental health system is fucked the hell up.  I’ve been in emergency rooms before, and this particular hospital's ER is one that personally, I’d avoid like the plague, but it was not my choice.


And truth be told, from people I’ve talked to, this is the way mental health emergencies are handled in most ER’s.  It’s a freaking nightmare, especially for people like my friend, who are *just* depressed and suicidal, not suffering from drug addiction (and combative, restrained, and psychotic), schizophrenia, violent, or otherwise socially disruptive.  Unfortunately, nearly everyone else in the ER that night was like that.


We arrived about 6:15 pm. She was triaged, and that was the only point at which we were separated.  It was about 15 or 20 minutes.  Then I was allowed to join her in the ER bay.  Unfortunately, we were brought to the psych ER.  Which was packed.  


Because it was a psych ER, and they had no idea how much of a danger to herself she was, they took everything away from her.  This is protocol. She had nothing but her clothes, which they also eventually took in exchange for the sexy hospital johnnie and pants and socks.  You couldn’t have curtains pulled unless the doctor was with you, so we were forced to witness the craziness that was happening around us.  It was downright scary for her.  I’d seen much of it before in my 25 years in health care, but I was horrified that this was the system.  It was painfully eye-opening.


Who the hell ever thought it was a good idea to bring someone who wants to end their life into an ER for “help”, where they sit for 8+ hours, alone, frightened, held against their will even if they wanted to leave (she was section 12’d, which is a precaution for anyone who is suicidal, which means with a doctor’s order they can be held against their will for 72 hours), and have to witness things that you normally would only see in scary movies?   How is that helpful?  How does that make them want to see that there is something to live for?  How does that convince them an inpatient stay on a mental health unit (which they assume is just like this) is a good thing or something they would want to do?!  Seriously?  How can anyone think this is a good or helpful thing?  Why can’t it change?


We saw a woman kicking, screaming, swearing, being held down by 3 people, 4 point restrained and then actually break leather restraints.  She was then handcuffed to the stretcher.  We saw a man come in with a huge backpack, and then the police officer confiscate 3 knives from him.  He later escaped the ER.  There was yelling, screaming, swearing, chaos, gawking and commenting by the other patients, and it was in overflow.  It was noisy.  It was loud. The energy was negative and chaotic. There was no way anyone could rest who was not flat out unconscious.  It was horrible. It was exhausting to witness, let alone be in crisis yourself and having to process and cope with all that.


Neither she, nor I, are likely to ever go to an ER for a mental health crisis again.  Certainly not that one.  And that’s really sad.


It was close to 2 hours before she saw a doctor, who was not at all compassionate, and came in to say “It’s my job to medically clear you”  put a stethoscope on her chest for 10 seconds and said, “You are medically clear, but you have to be seen by our crisis team.  They’re busy, it could be a while. I’ve signed a section 12, so you’re not leaving.  Then we’ll try to find you a bed here, but it’s really busy.”  And she walked away.  WTF?


My friend looked at me, eyes wide and full of fear, “I don’t belong here”  She was right.  She belonged where she could get immediate mental health support, yet unfortunately, in a mental health crisis, the ER is the gateway to *real* help.  There are no direct admits to inpatient mental health programs.  There are no direct admits to intensive outpatient programs.  Or if they are, they are for those with established histories, not for people like my friend.  


And it was the only place for her to go to get TO the help she needed.  Every other person in a position to help (therapist, MD) told her she had to go to the ER.  


She allowed me to call another friend (the doctor friend) to join us.  We distracted her from the chaos around us, we talked, we hugged her when she cried, we watched DWTS (a nice distraction), we praised her for doing this incredibly difficult step to helping herself to get better, we asked for water for her (they never once offered), we fed her a snack when she was hungry, because she never had dinner and barely ate lunch.  


We kept asking the staff when the crisis team would come.  They kept saying they’d call and then we heard nothing.  “Might be 2 or 3 am…”  Seriously?  When she’s friggin exhausted and scared and has been here for over 8 hours?  How is this helping her?  No wonder the other guy escaped.


The other friend left around 11. I stayed with her.  I was the only visitor still in the psych ER.  At one point, a nurse or sitter came by and rudely said, “You’re going to have to leave, no visitors”  But she never came back.  I think someone saw that my friend was not like the others, and really, she wasn’t.  They saw how scared she was, how “simply” depressed she was, and how much having me there was helping her to cope.  I was quiet and so, I stayed.  I’d have put up quite a fuss if they tried to kick me out. Maybe they knew that too?  

Finally at about 12:45 am, after asking AGAIN, when the crisis team was coming for her, the social worker came.  They went off to a private room to talk for about an hour.  I did some work.


They returned about 45 minutes later.  The social worker asked to meet with me.  We went off to the private room together and talked for about 15 minutes.  She was very kind.  She asked me about what had happened to make me bring her here, thanked me for being a good friend and for quite possibly, saving her life.  She expressed her concern for her, mostly for the level of planning that went into it and the fact that she had actually attempted suicide.  She recommended an inpatient program.  Said there were no beds at that hospital, so she’d be in the ER for a while, and then either go upstairs or somewhere else for inpatient.  


We went back to my friend.  The social worker told her she was going to have to stay.  She cried.  But by then, she realized she needed the help and had given in.  She really didn’t fully understand she couldn’t have left if she wanted to.  She just wanted the hell out of that ER.  IF she needed to stay inpatient, they let’s get this show on the road.  


We hugged. She asked if she could have her phone to get a few phone numbers. The social worker got her phone, allowed her to write down the numbers and then took the phone away.  She could use the house phone on the wall.  The social worker said I could stay as long as my friend wanted me to, they would not make me leave.  They would call her husband for her.


We talked for a bit more.  She was tired.  I encouraged her to try to get some sleep.  She told me to go home.  I offered to stay, reminding her I’m a doula, I’m used to and good at this all nighter in a hospital thing.  Besides, I was now overtired and wide awake.  It was 2 am.  She said she really wanted me to get some sleep and she was going to try to do the same.  I asked for another pillow and blanket for her, turned out the light in her bay, tucked her in with a kiss, told her I loved her and I’d be in touch.  I got home about 2:30 am, but couldn’t really sleep.  


The next morning she called from the wall phone to update me.  She called again that afternoon to tell me they were transferring her to another hospital’s adult mental health unit.  From what I’d heard about it, it was a good place for her.  I thought it would be better than the unit at the hospital where she was.  


We’ve kept in touch via text messages.  She gets to use her phone a half hour in the am and pm, and can use the house phone other times to call.  I finally got to visit her yesterday.


She’s in a better place emotionally.  She has a new med and it seems to be helping.  The education and support on an inpatient unit is proving to be  insightful and helpful for her.  Her husband and family and some friends now know at least some of the story.  They are visiting her as well.  Her support network has gone from two people to double digits.  There is relief in that for her.  She doesn’t have to carry it herself.  She doesn’t have to hide her feelings.  And of course, everyone is supporting her, not saying she’s a burden or a “horrible” person like she feared they would.  She is grateful.  Even though the work is hard and the process is long.


Yesterday, she said it was the first day she woke up and thought that she actually wasn’t ready to go home.  She realizes now, with the distance, clearer head, and perspective of seeing what other people with mental illness struggle with, and the benefit of the group work and hearing other people’s stories, what a bad place she was in and that she didn’t see it at the time.  She doesn’t want to feel that way again.  She wants to live.  She wants to get better.  She believes she can now.  She knows she needs more coping strategies, med management, and talk therapy.  She knows she still needs a safety plan when she gets home.  She is glad she is where she is, as hard as it is.  She thanked me over and over. I told her the best gift she can give me is to get herself well so we can go out and celebrate the amazing person she is and her life, together.  


Hopefully, she’ll be home by the end of next week. She’s already getting support systems in place with the help of the staff there.  They asked her if she wanted me to be a part of her discharge planning family meeting, because I was the one who saw the need to get her to this level of help and she apparently told them how much she valued my support.  She doesn’t want to bother me or make me miss work.  I told her if she wanted me to be there, I would be. Not a problem.  And even if I wasn’t there, I am still a part of her team as long as she wants me to be.  That contract doesn’t expire.  Ever.


Caring for the Caregiver
Now that it’s been a week, and I’ve had the chance to talk with her for the first time since that nightmare in the ER, I realize how incredibly stressful it’s been for me.  When you are in crisis management mode, you are in that mode.  The emotional impact of that often hits you later.


I barely ate or slept all week.  Work has been insanely stressful as well, which of course, did not help.


I realize now, I spent 3 full days last weekend, desperately trying to keep her alive and get her to the help she needed. I did so without the full support of my husband, who disagreed with me on how at risk she was and taking her to the ER (despite the fact every therapist and doctor on the planet would likely say the same thing).  And that was hard.  I knew I was doing the right thing by trying to get her to the ER, but still, I felt very alone.


I realize now, I took a tremendous chance by not insisting I stay with her or taking her to the ER the day she told me, or the next day, or the day after that.  And I feel guilty about that.  She was incredibly unstable and that contract could have easily gone out the window in a heartbeat. It could so easily have ended differently… and this story could easily have had a much more tragic ending.  Easily.  And that scares the bejesus out of me.  I’d never forgive myself if that had been the outcome.  


And so I share this story, because it’s not just mine, or my friend’s.


It’s the story of far too many people every day.  Statistically, 117 people commit suicide every single day.  Over 42,000 people a year in the U.S!  It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  For every person who succeeds, 25 attempt suicide,  like my friend did.  While men are at higher risk, women are certainly not immune.  




If you are worried about someone, here’s what you should do https://afsp.org/find-support/worried-about-someone/


How a safety plan can help and the suicide prevention lifeline


Please, if anyone shows signs that they may be at risk for or ever confides in you that they are considering suicide, don’t dismiss it.  Don’t think you alone can help them.  Know the warning signs.  Help them to get the help they need.  Don’t tell them not to feel the way they do, they can’t help it.  Get them help.  Immediately.  It could literally save their life.


September is suicide awareness month.  I hope in sharing my story and that of my dear friend, your awareness of suicide signs and prevention is greater than it was.  Reach out to someone who is struggling.  No one needs to go through it alone.  

SuicidePrevention-Teaser.jpg

Thursday, September 8, 2016

They can't soar unless you teach them how to use their wings. Perspective on dropping your "baby" off at college.

Two weeks ago, I dropped my eldest son off at college.  COLLEGE.  Wasn't it just yesterday I was holding him in my arms as a newborn?  Apparently not, as next week, he'll be 18.  Time really does fly...  Even if I like to tell myself I'm still only 28!

College is a big deal.  It's a big deal for the student.  It's a big deal for the parents.  Society seems to dictate it's a really big deal for mothers, who are expected to be a blubbering mess when they leave their "baby" at school and drive away.  This seems especially expected when their kids are leaving the nest, living away from home, and far enough such that coming home on the weekends is not a viable option.

I get it.  It's a right of passage for many.  A ritual of sorts, when our children step over that invisible threshold from child to adult.  We no longer know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing.   That loss of control for many parents is frightening.  I get it.  We want them to succeed. We want them to have fun.  We don't want them to do stupid things that get them kicked out of school or worse.  We want them to survive and come home to us. And we all remember what WE did that first semester in college, right?

After 2 weeks, it seems like by society's standards, I'm not nearly emotional enough about this.  I have a theory...  it's called perspective.  Let me explain.

I was surprised by the number of people who have asked if I was sad, both before he left and since. Did I cry?  Is it going to be hard not to see him for 3 months?  How am I doing without my eldest son?  My "baby"? How am I doing now that it's been 2 weeks?  Has it "hit" me yet?  Am I sad yet?

I was taken aback on move in day, when his roommate's mother asked me how I was doing as we were moving them in.  I said, "Great!  I'm looking forward to a quieter and cleaner house!  I'm excited for him and this adventure."  She looked at me like I had 6 heads and reported she'd been crying for days.  This, as she not only unpacked his things, but wanted to organize his entire room and tell him where everything should go.  Crying for days?!  Yikes!

My son chose an excellent school, 4.5 hours away.  He won't be home until Thanksgiving.  And then, it will be by train or plane because the traffic sucks to drive there from here, especially at holiday time and in the winter months.  I knew this the day he started considering schools near NYC.  Not a surprise.  Over the summer, he worked full time, was gone on an amazing vacation for 2 full weeks on the other side of the world, and spent most evenings out with friends, so he was barely here the past few months anyway.  It was good practice for letting go!

Back at the dorm, I helped him unpack some of his things, but not all of them.  I made a few suggestions.  We were there about an hour or so in his dorm.  We met his roommates and a few other students on his floor who came by to say hi.  He was sort of getting antsy, and we had a long drive home.  I pulled him out into the hallway to say good-bye.  I gave him a hug, told him I loved him, was proud of him, to work hard - yet have fun, try new things, and to enjoy this adventure. Today was the first day of the rest of his life, he had his wings, it was up to him to fly.

I admit, I got a little misty eyed.  Yet it was not because of sadness.  It was pride.  It was love.  It was the desperate hope in my heart that I had done the "right" things as his mother to teach him right from wrong, how to choose from a place of love and truth and not fear, to prepare him for the challenges of being a college student, an adult, to make decisions on his own and fully accept the consequences of those decisions.

And we left him there and walked away.  I was happy for him, not sad for me.

In the car, my husband gave me "the look".  He hugged me.  He told me he was proud of our son and proud of me and how I parented him.  He asked how I was.  I told him I was ok.  HE was the one that brought on the tears.  He told me I did a good job raising him and teaching him what he needed to know for this journey.  That I *was* a good mom.  He reminded me my boy loved me.

My mind immediately went to my failures as a mother.  I failed to keep one of my children alive.  She would never get this opportunity. I would never have this moment with her.  It made this moment with my eldest that much more powerful for me.  It helps me to appreciate the gift that this opportunity is for him and for me.  I wasn't "losing" him.  I was giving him the opportunity to fly.

I told him the tears were really more about the fact the perceived "loss" of a child going off to college is so very different for a bereaved parent.  Perhaps that is why I'm not as sad as everyone thinks I should be.  I'm not losing him forever.  He's just growing up. I want him to succeed, to grow, to learn, to make mistakes and learn from them, to become a better person, to be the change in the world.  My tears were in part, those of pride, of hope, of love.

If you've followed this blog, you know his sister Meghan died nearly 12 years ago, tragically and unexpectedly. She was a brief, but powerful influence in his life. They adored each other, even though she was only with us for 3 years.  He wrote about her and the influence her death had on him for his college essays.

My tears in the hallway of the dorm and in the car were those of a parent who really *knows* what loss is like.  And that colored how I felt about "losing" my son to college.  God willing, he'll come home at Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and spring break, and for the summer.  He'll keep coming back to the nest as he passes each milestone in his life.  He'll come back a changed young man.  Yet he'll always be my son.

He is not "gone", he's at school.  He's doing something she'll never get the chance to do.  That's bittersweet.  It's powerful.  It's a gift.  For him and for me.

I know what it's like to truly lose a child.  It's hell and it's a hurt that never goes away.  So going off to college is far less of a loss to a parent who knows true loss.  The perspective that gives me, or any bereaved parent, impacts all other "losses" in your life.

And I suspect, if she could say anything to her brother right now, it would be "Ky-ooooole.  You listen to Meggie!"  Hopefully she'd add something about doing your homework, being the best you can be, and calling your mother!  I kinda hope she watches over him and steers him in the right direction.  I hope he realizes the amazing gift and opportunity he's been given and makes the most of it.

And Thanksgiving?  Yeah.  He'd damn well better plan on spending some time with his mother!

Spread your wings and soar, proud and strong, like an eagle my son.  Go forth, and change the world for the better!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

The day he moved into his twin sister's room... 11 years after she died

Well, that was harder than I thought it would be.

Yesterday, I began... no... continued, a journey.  A journey of grief.  Of love.  Of emotional see-sawing. Yesterday, 11 years, 5 months, and 10 days after she died (yeah, we count sometimes), Meghan's twin brother moved into her room.

His reasoning was practical.  His room has only one window and has a northern exposure.  There is very little natural light.  His window is a casement window and he cannot place a fan in the window and we do not have central air, so his room is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the rest of the house. He wanted a change.

Her room has a southern exposure.  It has two windows and has a lot of natural light as well as a nice view of our backyard.  The double hung window allows for a window fan or even a window A/C unit. The newness of it is exciting to him.  I had offered for years that he could always switch rooms if he wanted to, but it was not until recently, he asked to do it.  I had time this weekend, and so it began.

I thought I was ready.  I mean really.  Meg's room has been unoccupied by Meg for over 11 years now.  It's looked essentially the same for the past 10 years.  The dresser that took her life still stood against the wall (now secured).  Scrapbooking and jewelry making supplies filling many of the drawers and closet, neglected for years because I've been too busy with other endeavors. A basket of her favorite toys and stuffed animals still sat in the corner.  Trinkets gifted to us and things she made sat on her dresser.  The jammies she was wearing the day she died sat in the top drawer along with a scrapbook of their birthday, her baby book, and the photos from her funeral and wake.  Pictures she drew or finger painted and photos of her hung on the walls. The little satin cross that said "sister" with the dried roses still on it from her casket still hung on the wall.  It was still very much Meg's room, with a little bit of mommy's things taking up space.  Yet it was not really a functional room. On occasion her brother would go in there and read or play on his tablet or phone, but other than very occasional times, her room was simply there.  Holding the space for her memory, my grief.

So I walked in and began with the closet.  Then I began to empty the dresser to prepare for the room switch and moving the furniture.  As I piled up the things or put them in boxes, I began to cry.  This was going to be harder than I thought.  But why?

Because for the first and last time, Meg's room would be Meg's room, with Meg's things in it.  As I gathered all her things and prepared to move everything out to bring her brother's things in, it occurred to me this was a milestone.  The day I would no longer have Meg's room as a 'sanctuary'. The place I go on really rough days.  The floor I lay on every year on December 18th, where she took her last breath.  The place where "her" things were in "her" space.  Now her room would become her brother's room.  And although her things would still be in my possession, just in different rooms of the house, it would never be the same.

The last bits of my daughter's personal space were no longer hers and hers alone. I know that sounds bizarre, but if you are a bereaved parent, you get it.  If you are not, now, maybe you get it too.

It was like saying good-bye all over again, but in a different way.  And it hurts.

The dresser.  That God-damn dresser.  Murderer!  As I removed the items in the drawers, I remembered what used to be in them.  Her clothes.  Her diapers.  Her 'pretties' for her hair on the top... How she loved to open the drawers and throw things out all over the floor until she found what she wanted to wear.  I wondered what the hell she was doing that morning, as I have a gazillion times before.  What was she trying to get?  How the hell did she tip it over? Why didn't we hear it?  Why? Why did it happen?  Why to her?  Why to me?  Why?  Why? Why?  God-dammit, WHY?!

*** deep breath ***

and I moved on. I know better than to dwell where there are no answers.  I'll never know the answers to those questions.  Only she knows. It doesn't stop me from asking now and then, though.

As I unattached the dresser from the wall, I had a little anxiety attack. A flashback of that God-awful morning. I opened the drawers.  I ran my hand over the edge of the drawer that likely constricted her throat when she fell over it and the dresser fell on her.  I wondered what she was thinking for those seconds she couldn't breathe before she lost consciousness.  Was she scared?  Did she see an angel? Did she think of me?  I saw her face as I saw it when I ran in her room to my husband's screams... blue... lifeless... yet still beautiful.

I slammed the drawers back in, the top one slid back open as if in defiance.  I got angry.  I thought I had the anger out at the dresser the day she died. Apparently not.  Grief is funny like that. I sat on the floor in front of it and cried some more. I really wanted to kick it over...

Another deep breath... I stood up.  Ok, dresser that killed my daughter.  You and I are going to do battle... Finally...

I slid the moving discs underneath the legs.  I pushed it across her floor.  Myself.  It's freaking heavy! I once again looked up to the Heavens and asked her, "How the hell did you do this?! This thing is HEAVY!"  I fought with it pushing and pulling and readjusting to push it across the hall and into her brother's room without scratching the wood floor.  It probably took me a half hour and a lot of internal cursing and a few tears.  Mind you it was also 95 degrees and humid in the house at the time.  I didn't care.  I was going to win THIS battle come hell or high water.   I needed to do it myself.  I didn't want help. This was between me and the dresser.

I did it.  I got it where I wanted it. It was challenging, physically and emotionally.  It doesn't look right in there.  It doesn't belong in there.  None of this is right.  None of it.  I was supposed to watch ALL my kids grow up and become amazing adults. ALL OF THEM.  My heart hurts...  It was exhausting emotionally, not physically.  I didn't bargain for this today.  Although I shouldn't be surprised.  That's how grief works.

Later in the day, it took over an hour and several of us to take apart his bed and move it into her room and reassemble it.  The fan went in the window.  He was happy.  He hugged me and thanked me.  This morning, he said he really likes his new room. He has a new comforter. He wants to pick out an area rug and shades/curtains.  He doesn't know his head sleeps in the same place his sister took her last breath. EXACTLY the same space. But I do.  It's bittersweet.

Today I am continuing the journey.  The bed is made up.  I'm moving the smaller items, the clothes, the closet contents.  I need to rearrange his room to be the "spare" room that holds his desk (too big to move and not enough wall space in his sister's room for it), his sister's dresser with her things which need to be placed back in the drawers, and the piles of stuff that were in the closet in her room and all the crafty items need to find a new home in his former room.  Lots of vacuuming, dusting, rearranging, organizing.

Part of me feels sad that this final step in holding the space Meg once lived in for Meg's memory/spirit has transpired.  Of course I knew someday it would, and I'm thrilled her twin is comfortable sharing her space.  It's a beautiful thing, really.  Whether he's aware of it or not.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to have that space be hers, mine, ours for the past 11+ years since her death.  I know some people want to move from their home when their child dies, or others who have taken an ax to the furniture that fell on and killed their child, but that's not me.  Although for a moment yesterday, I could have torn that dresser apart...

It's just another speed bump on the journey as a bereaved parent.  Her step-dad, who never parented her when she was alive, told me Meggie's things are of course always hers and I'd always have them, just in a different place.  Which is true.  He also reminded me, Meghan would say "Ry Ry did it!" about "stealing" her room and moving her stuff.  She did always love to blame her twin for everything, and she'd gleefully say "Ry Ry did it!" whenever something was amiss.  I smiled through the tears.  Yes, yes she would love to blame Ry Ry for it.  *giggle*  I can still hear her say it if I close my eyes.  Little pointy finger and disheveled hair and all.

I miss her so damn much...

Secretly, I think she's thrilled.  She finally got Ry Ry to come sleep in her room. She always preferred to sleep with him anyway...




Adventures of a soccer mom: Tournament in Puerto Rico!

Another installment in adventures of a soccer mom.  Written in Evernote and I forgot to transfer tomy blog until now.  Information is still insightful to my fellow soccer parents though!

Hello from 18,000 feet.  It's January 27th, 2016.  I am on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Why?  Glad you asked!

It's not exactly for a vacation. In fact I would not even be on this plane were it not for my 14 year old soccer playing son.  It was not really in my budget or my plan to take a 6 day trip to a tropical climate in the middle of January. Although I must admit, I am definitely all for a break from winter in New England!  I'm sure when I get there and get my toes in the sand, I will not mind the time, expense, and piling up of work that awaits me when I return, at least for a few days! 

Don't be too jealous. The day at the beach will be literally a day.  Two full days are lost to travel there and back, and two days are pretty much lost to a hot soccer field with a 5:30 am wake up call.  The other day will be a transition day.  Of course there will also be lots of eating. Growing boys... it's a real thing.  Constant eating!

No, we are going to Puerto Rico for a soccer tournament, not for a vacation.  The GPS Caribbean Showcase.  He plays for the GPS U14 Central Ma Elite team.  We are playing up one year in the U15 age bracket (eek!)  I believe we are the only team from the United States playing in their age group.  It will definitely be a challenge given the change from 30 degree temps to playing in the mid 80's with humidity and playing kids a year older, bigger, and used to the climate.  I believe in addition to teams from Puerto Rico, we will play teams from Dominica, the Virgin Islands, and perhaps others.  Oh, and we don't have a goalkeeper on this trip.  That's concerning.  Yikes!   All the boys are saying "not it!"

The boys claim they are excited, but it's kinda hard to tell.  They are hormonal, "cool", and presently much more interested in their electronic devices than anything soccer.  Of course, kicking a soccer ball on a plane is frowned upon.  I think, too, they are still a bit too young to truly understand the impact of being invited to and having the opportunity to actually play, in a tournament like this one.  It's their first college showcase. College coaches will get their first glimpse at these boys, who are all in 8th grade.  You'd think that's way too early to be thinking about college soccer, but after having gone through this with my older son, it's really not!  That's frightening to mama. He's still my baby!!

This will be a combination of a day and a half of vacation at a beach resort and 3 days at the soccer hotel with the team.  They will play 5-6 games over 2 days, thankfully all in the morning, so they will have the afternoon and evenings free to swim in the pool, hang out, and eat. Dear God these boys eat constantly!  We will have a team dinner on Saturday evening.  As they are missing 3 days of school, they also have homework with them to do and a midterm to study for.  They are not pleased there will be no sleeping in on soccer mornings and bedtime will be before they are used to going to bed at home. Coach runs a tight ship.  It's good practice for the rigors of collegiate play and a glimpse at what professional players do.

It's a great team building and bonding experience and one that affords the kids a glimpse at a different culture, the chance to try new foods, and even give their rudimentary Spanish a whirl.  My son is a fairly seasoned traveller, at least on domestic flights, and at 14, it's SO much easier than when the kids were little! 


As I gaze out the window, the sun is beginning to set.  There are puffy white clouds below us taking on a pinkish hue, highlighting their tops and emphasizing the contours of the clouds. It's quite pretty.   We're flying over land instead of over the water to Ft. Lauderdale, because of rough air.  Our flight was also delayed a bit more than a half hour, which gives us precious little time to make our connection to Puerto Rico.  The boys are mostly upset their dinner plans for FLL won't materialize.  They stocked up on snacks just in case. My son has already eaten half of them.  We have 5.5 more hours before we land in PR! 

I am grateful for this opportunity to travel with my son, see him experience a new and different level of competition, and watch him play.  When given the choice to accompany him, I quickly cast aside concerns about cost and time because I know all too well how quickly he will fly from the nest.  He's already very different than he was when we traveled to Barcelona 2 years ago for soccer.  He's much less a child and much more a teenager.  On that flight, he wanted to sit next to me, sleep on me, and talk to me. On this one, he made his friend sit between us, only talks to me if he needs something, and is wide awake. 

*sigh*  Poor mama. 

Addendum:  The flights to PR were quite bumpy!  We were delayed about 45 minutes leaving PR as well.  Thankfully, because when the first flight landed, we had 4 minutes to make the departure of our next one (as in no way, since we were in the back 1/3 of the plane and they opened the door about the same time our flight to PR was to depart.  We did quite literally walk off one plane and get right in the boarding line for the next one. 

We landed at 10:30 pm local time (11 pm for our body clocks), and were at the hotel around 11:30. The boys were hungry, but nothing was open, so we walked about a mile to a Denny's where we had a pretty greasy, not particularly tasty or good quality meal.  I was amused by the fact it was 74 degrees and a waiter there was wearing a winter coat.  A WINTER COAT!  I get that it's winter for them, too, and it was probably 68 degrees in the Denny's with the AC on, but even *I* was comfortable in a sweater and jeans!  While we were walking back, the boys heard the Coqui frogs "singing" and observed what happens when the local dive bar starts to empty out (as in drunk people literally falling out the door and off the sidewalk while music with offensive lyrics blared from the open door bar.  They were amused, especially since a police officer stood across the street by a tree, astutely observing the goings on.

We did not fall into bed until about 1:30 am (2:30 to our bodies).  So glad we were not playing soccer the next day!

February 1st

Greetings once again from somewhere over the east coast. Looks to be North Carolina from up here.   Our short soccer-cation is now coming to an end and it's back to reality.  It was quite busy, and I really  had no time (or reliable wifi when I did have a bit of time) to write. So here is the rest of the story...

I woke Thursday morning before everyone else and headed downstairs to explore the beach/pool area and try to get a run in. It was very humid, but windy, and partly cloudy.  It was probably in the mid-upper 70's at 8 am.  I went to the gym and hopped on a dreadmill. I hate the dreadmill (hence the term, dreadmill).  I did a 30 min run-walk-run but even inside, it was miserable.  I went upstairs and everyone rallied for breakfast (an all you can eat buffet), which we ate on an outside covered patio overlooking the beach and ocean.  We then walked the beach and found a spot on the lounge chairs. The boys enjoyed body surfing in the ocean as the waves were quite large and the seas rough, with a significant undertoe.  There was a red flag for conditions, but it was quite shallow.  In the afternoon, we moved to the pool area, which was beautiful and offered 2 pools, 2 hot tubs, beautiful landscaping, and food/drink.  We even saw several iguanas of all sizes sunning themselves and looking for lettuce treats. 

After a day in the sun, sand, surf, and pool, we had a "romantic" dinner with the boys on the same outdoor patio.  My son had a steak and ate it in record time!  One of the things he requested was a "fancy" dinner with steak. 

Friday was much the same as Thursday, without the run for me and we did a more casual breakfast on the go, claimed out spot on the beach, and the boys used boogie boards.  Several of their soccer friends and their families had seen our photos from the day before and joined us for the day at the beach. The boys had a blast together and the parents all very much enjoyed the tropical day filled sun, food, and drink.  It was sure a different soccer bonding experience, not that we were complaining. We don't get to have this much fun for soccer tournaments at home!  Especially in the winter!

That evening, we moved to our soccer hotel in Bayamon.  We had an adventure that evening, trying to get across the street to a mall for dinner.  What should have taken 10 minutes took something like 30 because there are no sidewalks and we couldn't figure out where the entrance to the mall was (it was inside the parking garage and we were on foot!).  We ended up at Chili's. Yes, we came all the way to PR to eat at a restaurant we could eat at in our hometown.  It was food and it sufficed.  The boys had a meeting with their coach that evening and then it was off to bed. We had an early wake up call

Saturday- Day 1 of the GPS Caribbean Showcase

We met in the lobby of the hotel at 6:30 am local time. That means we got up at 5 am EST.  See why we needed those days at the beach for the moms?!  THIS is what soccer tournaments are like, no matter where they are. Early wake up calls, long days at a soccer field, unknown weather/food conditions and a mystery as to the level of competition we would face. 

The boys had a quick continental breakfast (at least they ate and drank) and got on the bus for 7 am.  We got the next bus.  The fields were about 15-20 min drive away.  Being an away team (VERY far away), we did not have our usual chairs, umbrellas, blankets, coolers, etc and they were somewhat missed. There were bleachers, which was nice, but precious little shade, and of course, the fields were in full sun.  It rained on and off during their first and second games, but the boys appreciated it since it was quite warm and very humid.  It didn't take much to get them hot and needing a cool down.  They played two very hard fought games and unfortunately lost both. The first game was lost only by 1 goal and it could have gone either way. The teams were well matched (USVI team) and the boys showed good sportsmanship to their opponents on both sides.    The second game was more challenging. Our boys were struggling adjusting to the heat, were probalby all a bit dehydrated (heck we were, and we weren't running in the sun), and have not played an 11 v 11 regulation game since November.  They lost.  I believe the score was 5-0.  It was against the home team and those boys were quite good and of course, not facing the challenges ours were. 

We went out for lunch to the Olive Garden to carb up for the boys and they ate like you read about!  Then it was back to the hotel for some down time, showers, and preparing for our team dinner.  We ate at a local restaurant in a function room. Between island time and the fact they were really not accustomed to serving large groups, it took freaking forever.  Our reservation was at 6:30, we left around 10:30!  The boys were tired and wanted to go to bed.  Their curfew was 10 pm, but their coach was with us, so he waived it until they got back to the hotel.  :-) 

Once back, everyone was asleep in record time.

Sunday

Once again, a 5 am EST wake up call for a 7 am bus departure. This day, the parent bus never came!  Our boys had one game at 8 am. At 8:40, we realized we wouldn't make the game so the parents who had rented cars rallied and drove everyone to the field. We arrived just as play began! 

Today there was no rain, and it was HOT, even at 8 am.  I was sweating standing still from the humidity.  They played hard against a team from the Dominican.  They dug deep to come from behind and win 4-3. Another really great game by 2 well-matched teams.  The boys were thrilled with a win, as were the parents, and especially a few dads who are now hoarse from their yelling. :-)  

Speaking of yelling, I can't help but wonder why anyone who screams at their kid, or in general, can possibly think that helps them. Especially when it's things like "get to the ball", "you need to get a foot on it", "you have to beat them to the ball" and so forth. The kids *know* what they are supposed to do. They *know* when they do something wrong or make the wrong decision.  They don't need the distraction or stress of a parent yelling at them, to them, or just yelling in general, especially if it's not simply applause for a job well done.  As I was explaining this to a dad who was next to me expressing his frustration with the way the boys were playing, I gently reminded him they were at a disadvantage being in this heat, not having played together on a field this big in 2 months, they were all growing and their bodies and center of gravity was changing, and that distracting them with noise and negative comments does nothing to boost their morale when they are already struggling and know they are not performing the way they need to.  I aslo pointed out, my job was to be supportive and enjoy what my son did, whatever it was. I had no business telling him how to play soccer and unless I could get out there and play at this level, I shouldn't be telling him what he should and shouldn't do and personally, I wish all parents thought that way.  He did not yell again, but was supportive with his vocalization after that point. 

We were very proud of them for how they behaved and played, bonding more as a team and displaying wonderful sportsmanship.  They "borrowed" a goalkeeper from the GPS PR team for all of their games.  We sure as heck needed him as our GK was unable to make the trip.  He was fantastic and the boys were so grateful to him and included him in their team photos, high-fives, and he also got a rousing round of applause from the parents for his contribution to the team.  The coach got a showcase T-shirt and all the boys signed it and gave it to him as a keepsake of their thanks.  Such a sweet gesture of sportsmanship and appreciation. He looked thrilled.  It makes me wonder if he's ever seen or experienced anything like it in his culture. 

After the photos, everyone went their separate ways. My son was very cranky (hot, hungry, and dehydrated) and once I got enough food and drink into him, he perked up.  Our travelling companions arranged for us to tour Old San Juan with her mom, who lives in PR.  She drives a beat up, old, barely working jeep style car and it was certainly an adventure. No AC, missing seatbelts, and her driving was... adventurous!  Still, we were grateful to her for her hospitality and for driving us around.  On the way to Old San Juan we stopped a little beach/reef where the boys did some snorkeling. There was not a tremendous need for a snorkel since you could just stand in the water knee deep and see all sorts of colorful tropical fish swim by! 

After our little beach diversion, we drove and walked the narrow, cobblestoned hilly streets of Old San Juan.  We had lunch at an old convent turned hotel and restaurant, which was lovely.  We checked out shops and observed the culture and took in the sights.  There were old forts and beautiful scenic vistas.  The architecture was very similar to what you'd see in New Orleans with the colorful buildings, balconies and railings of wrought iron and plants decorating them, and the narrow, quaint roadways.  Rumor is New Orleans was modeled on Old San Juan, at least as far as architecture goes.  I was thrilled to find a lovely pendant of larimar in a little shop.  It was SO much less expensive than the larimar necklace and earrings I got in Jamaica at a cruise port (although that was very beautiful as well), but this is a much larger piece for WAY less than what I paid for the former set!  Lesson learned! 

After our sightseeing tour, we returned to our hotel to shower, pack, and chill.  We were exhausted.  We ended up ordering Dominoes pizza for dinner and we all went to bed early, the last one being my son at 9:30 against his preference, but he was asleep quickly once the lights were out and the TV off. 

And that brings us to today.  I am now somehwere around Long Island.  We were up at 3 am EST today to get to the airport on time.  Our flights were on time and the weather much better. Very few bumps today and both arrivals on time. 

My mind is now starting to realize all the things I must do to settle back into the reality of day to day.  And how much of it needs to happen between now and when I get to bed tonight.  I anticipate being home about 3:45 pm and being in bed by 8 pm! 

As I reflect on these past 5 days, I am grateful not only for the opportunity for my son to play the sport that is his passion with friends old and new, but for the time I got to spend with him experiencing PR.  He was often distant and grumpy, as teen boys can be, but when he was not with his friends, he was more the mama's boy I know.  He's spent quite a bit of time these last 2 flights playing with my hair and sleeping on my shoulder.  He still has no true concept of how lucky he is to have these opportunities and I'm not sure how to convey it. 

I'm also grateful for getting to know my fellow soccer moms and dads better and for the ease and grace of our traveling companions who we shared rooms, taxis, and all other sorts of things with. 

Of course, I am grateful for the brief "vacation" to a warmer climate, two days at the beach/pool, and a break from the day to day. 

That said, I look forward to seeing my husband and older son, sleeping in my own bed with my cats at my feet, and returning the normal family chaos that is the life of a mom of teen boys. 

Until next time...