more than ever

more than ever i feel myself settling into a rhythm with life.

my rhythm feels at it’s base a strong flow of gratitude. i am so fortunate to have the career i have always dreamed of. i get to use my skills to help a patient population that is in critical need. this year i finally came to terms with the panicky feeling i get when i have been at a job in the operating room for any amount of time since oscar died.

the first time i felt the panic i am talking about is the day he was cremated. i remember the day in bits and pieces. i signed the waiver so i could push the button to send his casket, his wooden box that held his body and some beautiful wildflowers, into the oven that would burn his body to ashes.

i was alone in the little adjoining waiting room. pierce and grady waited outside for this part to be over. they make you sign a waiver because it can destroy you to watch your loved one’s body travel into an oven to be burned to ashes. the only other person that witnessed this event was the nice man who ran the crematorium. he positioned himself into a quiet corner where i couldn’t see him very well so i could take the time i needed to push that button. you’d think i would remember what the button looked like, but i don’t. i do remember singing. i sang oscar his death song and i pushed the button and sang and sang and sent every ounce of positive energy i could into that room. i watched his casket, his wooden box, go into the oven through the window that separated me from him inside his box. and the nice man closed the oven door.

after oscar’s box was in the oven with the door closed, pierce and grady rejoined me in the little waiting room that adjoined the oven room. we sat in the little waiting room the full 4 hours or so that it took for his body to burn to ash. grady and pierce played cards. that day started pierce’s card collection. i did so well. i was so strong. and then when we got home i fell apart. i couldn’t keep it together. i felt an indescribable, absolute terror. my boy was gone. he was gone. gone, gone, gone. i remember grady saying something like of course you feel panic, your boy is gone. and that is the root of the panic that i have felt at every job i have had in the o.r. since oscar died.

i didn’t fully realize it though, that feeling being the reason that i always want to run from what i have always wanted to do: be an o.r. nurse. i fully believed the feeling was because i needed to be more involved in mental health. through conversation with my colleagues, my dad, prayer, journaling, and simply sitting with the evidence of my patterns of behavior i made a major break through this year. the reason that my path out of the o.r. has always been blocked is because i am absolutely, 100%, meant to be an o.r. nurse. and the reason i always try to run is because i haven’t integrated the panic from the day of oscar’s cremation into my long-term memory from my survival brain.

oscar’s ashes in his beautiful earth-friendly bamboo urn; his dad picked white roses

my path has taken me over so much ground. to finally be working in cardiovascular surgery, after a long, and successful, foundation in main o.r. is the first part of my professional dream realized. discerning that the panic i felt and the equivalent need i have assigned to it as being a reason for leaving behind a professional achievement would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my current work family. they have all been so patient with me!

so, as i have been integrating this feeling, this memory, with the simple and graceful tool that my amazing psychologist taught me in our earliest days working together (that’s almost 4 years now!) i have been able to steadily put this panic to rest. every time that i feel it i acknowledge it: i know you, you are the panic i feel because i had to cremate my son’s body; then i reassure it: of course you feel that way, your son’s body is no more, of course you feel panicky terror. and it settles. slowly, it settles. i have worked through all of my ptsd catalysts this way: the color white, the smell of formalin, the list goes on.

me at work right before oscar died in 2015, loving the main o.r. at k.u.

and i can open my life to new goals! next up, msn with a focus on education. being an educator has been in my blood since i became a nurse. fits me to a t. i plan to start back to school the fall of 2021.

another part of my gratitude is that if my son had to die, and he did, unfortunately, because a disease process took hold of his brain and killed him, i was able to fully experience every piece of his after-death process. i wasn’t rushed through anything, i didn’t have to worry that the funeral home would be too busy to take care of us. i was able to have a full memorial service for him and not worry that too many people would be there to properly social distance.

i feel the collective grief happening today related to the pandemic. i feel, deeply, the sadness running through our world. even though i understand the process of out-of-order death, i am grateful that i do not understand it with the limitations of our society today.

may god bless all who feel the sting of new death today. may god hold each and every one of their hearts and bring them some semblance of comfort, enough to make it through the next moment. and may each moment stack on another moment to make minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years.

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