Saturday, November 27, 2010

Strength from a phone call

This morning we received a phone call from a good friend of Michael's who was passing through the Valley.  Geoff and Michael have been friends since they played ball together nearly 20 years ago and he is one of the kids who always called me Mum.  Geoff no longer lives here, he hasn't in years but usually calls us a couple of times a year, just to keep in touch. 

Today, he called again, just as he always has and I realized that that part of my life is still the same.  A lot of Michael's friends had no idea he was struggling.  When they kept it touch, Michael always pretended to them that everything was okay.  So, when he left so suddenly, with no goodbyes to any of them, it was very difficult for them. 

My soul was strengthened by that phone call and I realize I am blessed.  I am not sure that I deserve to be blessed but I am so grateful for it anyway. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Last night marked 9 months, 25th of February to the 25th of November, since my boy took his life.  For the longest time Thursdays were tough from morning until night but gradually, I began to be able to do things on Thursdays.  I've been able to go to choir practice the last few Thursdays because they are now in the afternoon.  But last night choir started later so I had only been there about 20 minutes when the time came when I remembered that 9 months ago, at that time, Michael was in the process of doing what he did.  It might have been okay but it was a mass choir practice so quite a number of people I didn't know were at the church.    At 9:15 I excused myself and left to come home.  As soon as I got out into the cold night I imagined I could hear Michael calling me, "Momma, momma". And I was terrified he was asking for help.  Maybe he thought he had made the wrong's my biggest fear.   I talked to him all the way home, assured him I was there, asked him how I could help him.  I guess it sounds a little crazy to anyone reading this but it was so real and it's a feeling I have had before.  Having it happen on a Thursday though, and the 9th-month Thursday was overwhelming. As soon as I got home I took some medication to stop the panic and within and hour was okay again.

The reason I am writing about last night is that it was so much like just after he died.  Yet I know I am healing so I realize there will always be times when the panic, or the grief, or the fear are overwhelming.  But that doesn't mean anything more than it is the way life is now.  I am learning that it's okay to ask for help when I'm feeling too raw. 

Today was better.  There is fresh bread on the counter, some Christmas decorations have been put up, and I am looking forward to curling up with cookbooks tonight and being here with my husband and my son.

Thankful for a peaceful day. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

choppy seas

For me, being a survivor has made me a reluctant participant/observer in my own inner struggle between wanting that to be the most important fact of  my life and wanting it to be the least important.   Edward Dunne as taken from No Time To Say Goodbye.
Sunday should have been Michael's 32nd birthday.  As the days to his birthday got closer I found myself become more and more emotional.  I just wanted to get away from town to be with other family members where we could spend his birthday together.  We have talked about how to commemorate his birthday, for a few months now, yet when they day came, most of it was spent just hanging on, being quiet, together, and getting through.  My husband and I bought flowers and placed them in the ocean later in the day but it wasn't comforting for me.  It was windy, the water was choppy and the tide was coming in.  The combination   meant that a wave crashed over the flowers, sucked them out and spit them back up, just to be sucked out again.  It made me cry and I had to walk away.  My husband stayed there for a little while and the water must have settled a bit because he took a couple of pictures of the flowers lying on the water. 

The ocean had no significant meaning for Michael but it has always been the place that restores my soul.    My husband and I drove to a beautiful spot along the water, parked and just looked out over the strait.  I couldn't get out of the car but he walked.  The sky was one of those skies where you think Heaven must just be a little beyond.

We had decided that we would pick up a few of Michael's favourite things to eat so we grabbed sushi and a McCain's frozen chocolate cake (!), ate dinner with candles burning and sang Happy Birthday to him.  And then we put on a Christmas movie, Polar Express, because Michael's birthday always meant that Christmas decorating, baking, wrapping etc. would begin. 

During the day I had received emails and messages from friends and family.  I can't tell you what a difference it made to know that Michael was remembered on his birthday.  I am still so afraid of the "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome. 

So, another of the "firsts" has been faced, and survived.  I hate this.  I really hate it.  I want my son back. 
But I am thankful for the love and support of the family and friends who help me every step of the way. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Remember the old "Mash" tv series when Radar would call out "incoming" when the medivac units came in?
Today has been an emotional "incoming" day.

I have probably mentioned before that I've made a bit of a habit of going for coffee in the mornings.  Initially this started as a reward to myself after walking and it wasn't daily.  My justification for the daily expense of $1.38 (for unlimited refills until 11:00) is that I am keeping myself out of harms way.  By that, I mean that chances are greater that I will have a tough day if I don't get out, if only for a short bit.  Anyway, this morning someone had left an Avon magazine and I was looking through it.  Avon carries storey books in which you can record your voice for a child, or anyone else I suppose.  Looking at the book I heard Michael's voice, as clearly as if he was standing behind me, speaking the words he had recorded on a teddy bear he had given his daughter.  At that moment I knew I would never forget the sound of his voice. It is etched in my brain, my heart and my soul.  But I had to leave the restaurant because the wave of emotion had been so unanticipated  there had been no time to prepare and I was crying  before I knew why.

Later today I was doing some Christmas wrapping of gifts which need to be sent away.  I went upstairs into the closet in the room Michael had used when he lived with us last winter.  His clothes are still there but I am used to seeing them now. But looking on the floor of the closet for something, I saw his slippers, plain brown well-worn slippers and the panic set in.  Those old ugly slippers, slippers he had worn at his own home in happiers times, slippers that smell old and well used, slippers that he lived in for the two years before his death, were and are enough to bring me to the floor.

I write this, not as a sympathy ploy but as a bit of a revelation that sometimes there is no way to keep out of harms way, no way to dodge situations that bring painful memories and sadness.  At the same time, for me, it is not healthy to downplay these situations because to do so would be to invalidate them.  They are real.  They are important.  I expect there will be many more like them, and many of them will take me by surprise, but there is safety for me in that knowledge.  I will not (cannot) pretend my life is okay because it isn't and it never will be again.  I hate this and despite having to accept the reality of our situation in an intellectual or logical manner, I do not believe I will ever accept it emotionally. 

I have friends who have lost their children to suicide.  You would wonder at the odds against that wouldn't you?  But I have three friends in the same situation as my family is, and I believe that we have a commonality in that one thought.  Suicide is a permanent solution to a treatable illness, but there need to be more resources made available to patients and families needing help. 

So while I continue to advocate for my lost son and for the sons and daughters, parents and siblings of other families needing help I will be mindful of "incoming".

Monday, November 15, 2010

Memories.  I love this picture.  I am so glad I have it.  Michael took this in our old backyard. The honey-locust with the cornfield behind.  Sometimes I miss that house..other times not so much. 

For whatever reason, this morning I arrived at the dentist's office an hour late so decided to put in some time looking at things at Sears.  As I got out of the car I heard tinny Christmas music coming from small outdoor speakers mounted above the entrance into the store.  It seems so early, but for retailers I guess anything after Hallowe'en is fair.  But I haven't listened to Christmas music yet and my tummy went into a tight knot.  I was going to leave but decided I would just go a little ways into the store and see how I did.  I have never been a person who is bothered by the commercialism of Christmas because I just ignore it.  Our family has always loved everything about Christmas. Today though, I found no happiness in walking around glancing at things.  I think had it not been for carols playing, it would have been okay.  Inside my heart is saying "It can't be Christmas. Michael isn't here."

We have a plan for coping this year and that is to make everything different.  Some might question the logic and think that everything should remain the same because Michael is still with us in spirit.  No.  Far too many memories associated with my 33- year collection of Christmas ornaments and we are still too fragile.  So, with that in mind I left the mall and crossed the street to buy craft supplies to make new ornaments.  This year I am opting for glitter..I'm not a glittery person but just knowing that this is completely out of character for me, for us, allowed me to breathe and think, "Okay.  This is alright.  Michael won't think we are just carrying on without him now.  He will see that everything has changed, as it should (in my mind).

Another thing I have found is that I can no longer shop for clothes or much else, unless I'm making my daily run to the thrift store.  Suddenly I seem aware of every penny I waste.  Money is such a stumbling block for people with mood disregulations. Medical coverage doesn't cover anything much other that physical illness and we literally got to the point over the past couple of years where there was no money to pay for psychotherapy. 

I've wandered a bit from my starting point but babystep forward was taken today I think.  I believe that by going into that store and being able to listen to Christmas music, if only for a short time, and doing it without the aid of an ativan is progress and any progress makes those tiny steps backwards a little less traumatic.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A thin veil

When I look into skies like this I wonder where my son is.  I haven't done any reading about the next part of our journey because to be perfectly honest I feel that I am questioning my faith if I do that.    I believe in life everlasting and Heaven and Hell but perhaps not so much in the literal "streets paved with gold" and "fire and brimstone".  I believe that my son is at peace now but still I wonder "where" he is. 

I write this tonight after speaking with a friend of my son, who had a dream about him last night.  This friend is the third person with the same type of dream.  Michael assures them that he is better, he has healed, that he is with us all, we just cannot see him.  I  have dreamt of my son as well.  In my dream he was also happy. 
When Michael died I spoke to a priest who knew Michael quite well and he too assured me that Michael was in Heaven..that he was happy and at peace.  I shared with him that Michael had had a dream once that he was walking on the beach with Jesus, and Fr. J told me that in his Ukrainian Catholicism, dreaming of Jesus was a blessing..and that was all the assurance he needed to know Michael was okay.  Did you know that Catholics have a separate prayer for suicides?  Holy water was sprinkled on the place on the grass where Michael died and it has been a peaceful spot for me ever since. 

It seems to be that there must be a very thin veil separating life from death.  We are really only seconds away from leaving this world.  And I imagine those who have passed away to be just on the other side...just THAT close...but yet that far away, gone from us until our time comes.  Sometimes I feel if I close my eyes and reach out I will feel him and this comforts me.  My boy is always with me, in my heart and in my soul. 

Today would have been his 6th anniversary.  Who would have thought that happy day, that in six short years he would be gone.  It's unbelievable really.  How I wish it was not true. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

November is proving to be an emotional month so I spent a few days this week with my daughter and her family. I missed my daily writing but it's very easy for me to become compulsive about things and I don't want to write just to fill up space. This week has given me time to breathe, to concentrate on something other than my own grief, to become renourished with the unqualified adoration of my youngest grandchild. I realize that I am on an upswing and that always means a downhill run in a few days but I will take as much energy from a few days of calm as I can and when the difficult days come I will be just that little bit stronger. These are the baby steps which will help get us through the rest of our lives. For there will be no end to this. The reality of our lives is that we have lost a son, a brother, an uncle a friend. Nothing can change that for us now. I will still have days where my grief overwhelms me but I will also have tiny windows of time where I am okay. I will NEVER forget, even for a second, because I'm a different person than I was the morning of February 25th. But I will survive. This knowledge is more than a baby step. It is more of a stride; there were many days I thought I would not survive. I didn't want to survive. But I do and I will. And hopefully my strength will help me help those who are trying to be strong themselves. This isn't just my journey. We are walking a tough rocky road but we are doing it together.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The comfort of one word

Since Michael died I don't like to go to bed until I am almost asleep. But last night was miserable, and since we get up so early each morning, it was time. I have a little teddy bear that Mikey gave me for Christmas many years ago and I hold it when I go to sleep now. As I turned on the light and lay down, the tears started. I cried for my lost boy, for his unfulfilled future, for his fatherless child, but mostly I think I cried for me. That sounds very selfish but it is the reality. I want my boy back. I want a second chance.

There was a posting on Facebook the other day. The actual words escape me but the jist was to repost if we have someone in Heaven who we would like back, just to talk to one more time, knowing at the end, they would have to return to Heaven. I did. Then a friend who lost a child in a car crash commented that she would never be able to because she would have to go through the terrible pain all over again when it came time for the child to return to Heaven. I hadn't looked at it that way. But last night as I lay crying, I thought, "maybe that is one of the differences between the accidental death of one's child, and the suicide of one's child". The horrifying shock that must accompany the phone call or knock at the door notifying a person that their child is dead, when only hours earlier life was completely normal, must be unspeakable. As is perhaps the suicide of a child/person when it seems to come from nowhere. But in my case, I knew the fragility of each day of the last little while of my son's life and each day was a struggle to find some kind of glimmer of light, some small thread of hope for him. Ultimately we lost him. So, yes, I would give anything to have Michael back, for just one day, knowing he had to return, because I would say all the things I'm not sure he knew. I would hold his hand and make sure he wasn't alone before he had to make his journey again. I would say goodbye.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thoughts from the past.

Although this morning is Saturday, I am up early to have tea, try to get rid of a headache and write down some thoughts I had while trying to fall asleep last night. I had just been lying in bed, trying not to think, when I remembered the year we transferred Michael away from our local school, to one in a town 30 miles away. Because it was an inter-district transfer, I had to seek permission from the superintendent of schools. At that time, Michael was depressed. He was having difficulty in school. He had just found out that he had scoliosis so his dream of playing college ball in the US had come to an end. The school he was going to go to offered all kinds of one on one help and because he was just one of many o he felt there would be no stigma attached. The transfer was allowed and I drove him over every day. But his depression and anxiety got worse and worse. His grades however, really improved. I remember his taking his basketball every day. It was his way of blending in. He would go straight to the gym when I dropped him off so he didn't have to hang around by himself. One day we forgot the basketball at home and he just panicked. And every day he would say, "Mom, when is it going to get easier". He was losing weight and crying and we decided he needed to come back to where his friends were. Even fourteen years before his death, Michael needed to be with people he knew. He could never "do" loneliness.

When he was twelve he wanted to go to baseball camp. We thought this would be healthy for him. It was the same thing. He was a great little player but the loneliness and fear of being where he didn't know anyone was overwhelming for him. I had given him our motel phone number on a little piece of paper. After two days, he needed to leave, and when I went to pick him up the piece of paper was still clutched so tightly in his hand that it was barely readable.

These were all signs had we been looking. I was worried about depression in my son and he was prescribed Prozac when he was about 18. This is the age there really needs to be intervention on the part of our medical system. When young people start to show signs of extreme anxieties and depression, something is not right. We must pay attention. We must help, somehow. Talk to them, listen to them, spend precious time with them.

Thankfully I fell asleep last night because my thoughts were starting to take me back to days when he was younger. I could feel the panic starting in the pit of my stomache last night and I thought "Please, I just can't go there right now".

I do the same as Michael did with the little piece of paper. I have a small token with a picture of an angel. It says "Always with me". I have it with me all the time. I am afraid I will lose it and if I do I am afraid a link will be severed. I miss my son. When I am not with my daughters or grandchildren, I believe I have lost the ability to feel any happiness or peace. Part of my heart went with Michael when he left and part of my soul die and I am okay with that. But I wish more than anything, that he was still here with us, just not suffering. It's a selfish wish, I know. But I am indulging my wishes. It is another way I get through the days and nights.

LifeNow: For my son.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Where are you this rainy Friday night?

I'm actually not sure that it IS raining tonight but it drizzled all day and was cold and just looked and felt miserable.  I had returned home by 11:30 am and spent the rest of the day sorting through tubs which haven't been looked at since we moved in here.  It's just another coping mechanism.   Every day I have a routine I follow; it get's me out of the house and helps me hold onto my sanity.  Most days I meet someone I know, but not all days.  Although the social contact is important to me, I think the more important issue is that I am dressing and going out the door. 

For many montha after Michael died, I went back to bed every morning when my husband left for work at 5:30 am.  I would turn on the classic movie channel and just lay there watching old movies.  The longer I stayed in bed, the more difficult it was to get up.  One morning I decided that I would try changing my habits a bit.  I choose to think of this as a step forward, however small it might have been:  I moved my pillow and quilt downstairs to the chesterfield and curled up there, turning on the classic movie channel.  Baby steps. 

I didn't want to see anyone, but gradually, as friends and my daughters encouraged me, I was able to start to go out once a week.  I made that my goal, just one time each week, making arrangements to meet someone for coffee.  I cried most of each day and every night and I depended on anti-anxiety meds for respite from the pain and also for sleep at night.  But there were other things I felt were important to start us on our road to any kind of healing.  The most important of these was my need to continue Michael's battle with some of the beaurocratic mistakes which had been made during his last two years with us, and which contributed greatly to his stress. I did have my say.  In a rather cliche-ish act, I took three 8 x 10 glossy photos of him to people involved so they would put a face to the name.  Michael would not just be another statistic.   I was very angry.  The anger is still there.  Had anyone admitted that perhaps some error of judgement had been shown, if anyone had said "I'm sorry" my anger might have started to dissipate but what I have learned through this is that very few people accept responsibility for anything. 

I realize that Michael chose to end his life.  Ultimately that decision was his, and his alone.  But, the amount of stress, unnecessary, unfair stress he was subjected to aided in making his life unbearable.  Michael had a mood disregulation which made it very difficult for him to accept things which he saw as unjust.  Some people can just walk away from things like that. Some can't.  Michael continued to fight, right to the end of his life, for some fairness.  It never came. 

So, I continue to look for ways to make it through my days, without making those days worse. 
Last night I had written quite a bit when  I stopped and re-read and decided I wasn't ready to let go of some of the thoughts, so I deleted them.  Today I think I can share a few of them.

The night Michael left us, I had gone to choir practice.  It had been a very difficult day for him, but he had many difficult days.  However, something that evening triggered his final decision and as his dad sat upstairs watching tv  and I was at church he changed his clothes, fashioned a well-practiced noose, stood on a chair and kicked it away, exiting this earth.  By tracing his phone calls we assume this was about 7:20 pm.  I arrived home at 7:30 to find him hanging there.  He was unconscious but alive.  The paramedics and advanced life-support team were unable to bring him back to us.  As much as I wanted my child to live, I understood his decision and respected it because it wasn't a decision he had come to easily. 

There is an intimacy that comes with holding your dying child.  It is as sacred as the moment you share when they draw their first breath.  I feel blessed that God allowed me to have those last few moments with my son.  How terrible it would have been to have had a stranger arrive at my door to tell me his body had been found somewhere.  Michael chose to die where he was not alone. His greatest fear had always been that of being abandoned.  It is a major trait of patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder: the fear of losing those you love. He left our world knowing in a sense that he was "safe" at his parents house. 

When my husband lowered his body to the ground Michael lay on the lawn.  Often during the spring and the summer I would curl up on the spot his body lay and just put my hands on the grass trying to feel some sense of him there.  People used to ask me if we would continue to live here after his death.  Part of me wants to go away and never come back to this town but part of me wants to never leave our little home.  I don't want anyone else ever to live here.  This is not a time for decision making and so we are content to be here travelling to see our daughter who cannot return home yet.  Her time will come but her grief is too raw to face the town she feels is responsible for her brother's death.

Michael's birthday is coming up.  I fear it more than I fear our first Christmas without him.  November is also the month of his anniversary.  I clearly remember this time last year.  It was not a good time and the only consolation I have right now as that he is no longer in the terrible torture he was last year.  There is more to Michael's story: things which contributed to his stress, his frustration, his anger, and his loneliness, but these are in the past and to talk about them is painful, and, they are Michael's, not mine.

Michael, like my other children had a genetic predisposition to mood disorders.  So the part of me that screams "This was not fair!", also cries out for forgiveness.  "I'm so sorry Michael.  I didn't know.  I didn't know." 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For my son.

A beautiful day in the Valley - trying to muster some enthusiasm

It was so nice today that I saw people wearing shorts.  This is November.  It isn't normal for our weather to be so mild this late in the year.  I mean we're only 7 weeks from the shortest day of the year.  I wanted so much to get out and feel that little rush of happiness that usually comes with a bright sunny day.  But, I think my meds are starting to kick in.  While overall this is a good thing, at least for now, the downside is that the medication also makes it difficult to feel the little highs that would normally come along.  At this point in time, though, it's more important for me to feel I have some control over the depths that my grief and depression take me.  So the logical part of me looks up at the sky and sun and acknowledges that yes, it is a beautiful day and even though, at this particular time I can't respond emotionally, I appreciate that at another time, this kind of day would give me great pleasure.  Is this being mindful? I'm not sure, because I don't quite understand mindfulness. 

I only cried a little today and that was at a therapy session.  The rest of the day I managed.  I see people looking at me uptown and wonder what they see and what they think.  Ten years ago, what would I have thought if I knew someone whose son or daughter had committed suicide.  Would I have pitied them, would I have had any idea what to say, or would I have just said hello, pretended I didn't know and keep going, or worse, would I have crossed the street to avoid them because I didn't know what to say.  It's been more than 8 months and I still need to hear people say "I'm sorry".  No one really does anymore.  And when they don't I become afraid that my boy will be forgotten.  My son, whose great great great grandparents were pioneers in this town cannot be forgotten.  A life, so full of hope and promise, ended far too early.  But we won't let him just fade into people's memories.  Somehow he will be remembered.  We are going to dedicate and plant a tree for him in the park uptown.  There will a plaque with his name on it and his daugther will be able to go to Daddy's tree when she is older.  But we need to find another way to keep him alive in spirit. 

I miss him so much.  My special child.  Yes, he was a grown man, but in my heart, he will always be my baby boy. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Someone told me that God doesn't give us more than we can handle....

....But to some people, He does.  I don't think He wants any of us to suffer, but we can't blame Him for everything that goes wrong in our lives.  I prayed daily, nightly, many times a day for help and I may have received it.  Maybe Michael lived longer than he would have without my prayers and those of others who cared about him.  Don't you think God must really have his hands full if we hold Him responsible for every rotten thing that happens in our lives?  This is the part of me which wonders if this means my faith is faltering.  I don't think it is, but maybe someone else will. 

Living, after the suicide of a family member, is so full of complications.  Some people have asked, "How could he do this to you?"...Michael's suicide was not about ME.  It was about his own incredible pain and deep deep sadness.  I've also heard, "How could you not see it coming".  Well, the sad answer to that is that I did see it coming. I watched it get closer and closer and closer..and the fear grew until it bordered on panic.  The frustration of knowing there was absolutely NOTHING I/we could do to help him is indescribable.  Had we been wealthy we might have found a facility in the USA where he might have found help.  That kind of treatment can run upwards of $100K.  We do not have those kind of resources. 

Michael's suicide has generated self-blame, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms like panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, inability to sleep and the inability to be around people very much.  What it hasn't given us is any sense of shame or embarassment. And for those who do suffer with this  I am sorry.  Suicide is not about the survivors, it is about the inability of the person suffering, to cope with the depth of his/her pain.

We are told that there will be normalcy after Michael's suicide.  I find that very difficult to believe.   My hope though is that as we continue to learn about suicide that we will become stronger and by doing that, be able to help others

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just a few words on this rainy Monday.

I spent the day going through tubs of photographs.  I disposed of one full tub of them.  So many memories of days which seem so long ago now. If I could do it again I would take a picture every day of my children's lives.  We have lots of pictures but now it seems there just aren't enough.  I want to be able to remember every day of our life with Michael.  I also wish I had journaled.  Even a sentence or two would give me something to read now.  Of course it never occurred to us that we would outlive our child. Losing a child isn't the natural way of things.  No parent should have to go through this incredible pain because it is a pain worse than any other.  But I think I have said all this before. 

Tonight we have come upstairs to bed to watch television because it is too difficult to be downstairs.  Our son lived with us for a few months before he died and he had his own tv upstairs in his room.  How I wish I could have those three months back and encourage him to come down and watch whatever he wanted with us.   I remember one night he said "I can't believe the Olympics are on and you are watching Poirot."  Wasted evenings...I would give anything to have him back, just to sit beside him on the chesterfield. 

So, I guess all I am striving to say tonight is: any day can be the last you have with someone so live your life with them so you never have to regret the wasted or lost time because time is precious, and it is fleeting and it is out of our hands and in God's.  Cherish every minute you have with your loved ones.