This season is hard for me. My oldest son Oscar’s deathday is September 11, 2015. This year I was working hard through it. I posted about how much better I felt this year and how much hope I had for my new nursing position as a triage nurse in a primary care clinic. And I made it through Oscar’s deathday and the week surrounding it and I did okay. The most okay I have done since the year he died.
I was beginning to start thinking about the rest of the holiday season and how Nick (my ex-husband and the father of my oldest three– Oscar, Pierce and Vivian) and I would work out some sort of new parenting schedule in court soon that would be focused on the kids’ safety. How good it would be to have that settled and with hope that Nick was doing the work to get clean again and be a healthy example to the kids. That is all I ever wanted from Nick, truly, was for him to get clean and sober.
Instead, on Sunday, September 16th, in the late afternoon, two police officers knocked on my front door. I picked up my little Shih Tzu, Andy, and answered the door. I invited them inside and they stepped in gratefully as it was one of the last of our hot days here in KC, but when they saw my daughter, Vivian, sitting on the living room sofa they said maybe it would be best to speak outside. My heart dropped. We went out front and they told me that one of Nick’s neighbors had called for a wellness check and Nick was found in his apartment deceased. All of the physical ways that I had responded to Oscar’s death happened. My knees got weak, my stomach immediately tied itself up into knots and I had to sit. I sat on the front step and the tears came. I knew deep down what had happened. Nick died of suicide on Oscar’s deathday. And that is what the investigation has revealed thus far. Swirling horrid nightmare.
Over the next several days, when I had to face this gaping hole in my family’s life with zero grace from the world around me (no bereavement leave for an ex-spouse– not even when you have underage children that were fathered by that ex-spouse), a shining light has been shone on what I have been doing since Oscar died. I have been doing what I know how to do as a scientist (that is the core of what a nurse is): researching to make sense of the way my oldest son had died. And I have learned so so much about mental illness and suicide. I have come to a place of solace and understanding related to suicide.
Now that Nick has died of suicide I need to be able to put it in a box and walk away from it. I need to be able to have days where it doesn’t come up in conversation, especially about and with patients. So I made an extremely careful, well-thought out and thoroughly discussed with my nuclear family members decision to go home to the operating room. I crave the feeling of family and support that I have in the operating room, as well as the standard of care that goes along with caring for surgical patients. The first month that I was away from the OR in primary care I dreamed about the OR nearly every night! Luckily for me my OR family needs me as much as I need them and so I will be starting at Menorah again on October 22nd. My last day in primary care was yesterday. Even though I cannot afford financially to take the next week off from work I absolutely need the time to regain my sense of balance and my own mental health. I won’t do anybody any good if I push myself so far that I cannot work because I have a mental breakdown.
School has been a real struggle since Nick died. I have been heavy into researching where primary care and mental healthcare meet and the results are humbling. I need to put it all together in a research paper over the next couple of days and I am not going to lie, I am procrastinating it. Thinking about suicide and mental illness and how it tears people’s lives apart and away from them and how simple it would be to fix the problem makes me kind of queasy. The disconnect is that the change starts with one electronic medical record (EMR) that is like an umbrella over all of the varying different electronic medical records currently in existence. This umbrella EMR would translate each patient’s multiple medical records into one place where clinicians could view all of the symptoms and interventions that the patient has experienced. This would also allow the application of machine learning algorithms to predict suicidality in patients and allow for early intervention, in some cases before patients might even understand themselves the danger they are in. Such a simple change, but a change that will only happen with roots in change to healthcare law. That feels like moving a mountain to me.
Nick’s death has made it clear to me that I need to take care of myself and get back to living for me. Whatever that means. Right now that means focusing on my children and our health. When our family celebrates Nick’s life it will be in the summer, at the family plot at the cemetery on Sand Hill in Washington state. The weather will be beautiful, we will release butterflies and listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s song “St. Peter’s Cathedral” (Nick always told me he wanted that played at his funeral) and maybe share a meal together at Pat’s Little Red Barn. We will focus on hope and love and what it takes to make healthy choices in order to lead our lives away from the darkness that consumes our family members all too easily and causes them to die of suicide.
Rest in peace, Nick.