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.

countdown to 5 years

So for the past few weeks I feel like I have been getting ready for a storm.

This has meant going through a sort of temper tantrum about my living space and feeling like I needed to move. That was an interesting weekend. I was so upset- I felt like I needed to stretch and I was being held down. I was ready to move! To get out of my current living space. I looked through pages of rental homes looking for a better fit than where I am now. I had an impassioned conversation with my folks and my Lane kids and Grant about it. I was truly angry for about 24 hours that no one but me thought we should move and then I emerged on the other side of all that goofy pain and decided to redecorate.

There was a lot going on right about that time. I was more and more sure that I had made a mistake trying to have a romantic relationship with Grant again, my Lane kids and I found one more of the boxes from Nick in the basement that was full of memories of Washington, and I was still trying to get my self-care routine back on track.

Back in 2016, when Nick left Washington, he had packed up several boxes and taken them to my folks (this was right before they moved back to KC from WA themselves). Nick told me that said boxes had “everything that was important” in them. Those boxes went straight to my basement and I didn’t start unpacking them until this summer.

Nick died nearly 2 years ago. He died on the same day that Oscar did, but his body wasn’t found for 5 days. So this countdown to 5 years since Oscar’s death is also a countdown to 2 years since Nick’s death.

I thought we (me and my Lane kids) had been through all of the boxes that Nick sent, so you can imagine my surprise when we uncovered one last box. And not the good kind of surprise, but more of a deep dread. I briefly acknowledged the feeling as it occurred, looked at Pierce and said, “let’s do it, let’s get this done.” So we did. And in that box were so many of the most precious memories. Nick’s wedding ring (that he told me he threw away), the lock of Oscar’s hair that Nick had requested from the funeral director when we had our viewing of Oscar’s body (I thought Nick had it with him when he died and that it had gotten disposed of with the rest of Nick’s belongings because of the smell), and the hospital ID bracelets from when the kids were born. My heart broke a little more.

The strangest thing about all of that was I wasn’t able to talk about it for days. That is not like me in my grief. I am able to talk about things and get them out in the open right away. This was decidedly not like that. Thank goodness I had a sympathetic ear at work who I was able to confide in. She actually noticed that I had been a bit off and asked me about it. Grateful for her.

Since I realized I needed to redecorate I have been super diligent and focused on revamping my living space. I am happy to say I am almost done with the major transitions. The space feels amazing. I believe the changes I made have helped clear energy blockages that have been keeping me in old patterns and dysfunctional rhythms of behavior. That is probably the most exciting part of preparing for the coming storm.

Big changes this past week, especially. I was finally able to come to the conclusion that Grant will not be able to give me what I need or want romantically and that is okay. Many different things have helped me reach that conclusion. The therapy that we did together was key- listing my expectations and the realization that even when we want to be on the same page we can’t quite get there. It is like we can both be looking at the same color but he sees violet and I see purple. It is sort of maddening and maybe a bit hard to explain. My individual therapist also helped me realize and understand that my attachment to Grant is our son, Phoenix. I had an excellent conversation with another friend who helped me understand that I have been clinging to Grant from a place of fear. Base bottom line is that I need to stay true to myself and what I need to take excellent care of my soul. (Also sex is not necessarily needed to have a great sex life!)

I am excited to date again and I am hopeful that through the work I am doing to understand myself better that I can experience a healthy romantic relationship for the first time in my life. Wouldn’t that be grand?

I understand my grief well enough to know that this next season, the Fall, will be somewhat unpredictable as far as my emotional response to life. I have already started feeling the subtle ways that grief f*cks with me- not noticing details, lack of consistent short-term memory, having to really search for words- all of these symptoms remind me that my grief is right next to me and ready to overwhelm at any moment. The only way at this point in my grief journey that I have found to strike a balance with her is to focus on being kind to myself through excellent self-care and the occasional doughnut and warm blanket.

I used to keep Oscar’s ashes in the hand-me-down hutch that I had inherited from my folks who had inherited it from my mom’s mom. It wasn’t quite the right fit for him, but it was all I had energy to figure out until this year. The featured photo is his new digs and the following photo is of the hutch where I used to keep him.

Every year I relive Oscar’s last year

Facebook. Thanks to Facebook each and every year I relive Oscar’s last year through reminders of memories.

The cycle of my grief has hit a rhythm that I seem to be flowing with fairly well these days. I have begun to feel gratitude for my experience as a bereaved mother (that is a place I never thought I’d be). This morning on my drive into work I listened to my Calm app daily meditation, which I have been doing for the better part of the past year. It helps. There are many cliches and platitudes that I don’t buy so easily since Oscar died. Sayings like “there is always a silver lining” or “everything happens for a reason”. It so happens that the daily meditation today was about resistance and how our suffering increases as we resist things in our lives, especially the things we cannot change. Okay, I can vibe with that (which is progress for me, by the way). Then at the end of the meditation the cliche was dropped about seeing the silver lining in each situation that we cannot change. Just a few short weeks ago I would never have been able to say that there was a silver lining to my son’s death.

Even now it feels sort of uncomfortable admitting that I have reached a point that I can see a silver lining out of what I hope was the darkest time of my life. What is the silver lining? The silver lining is that I finally went back to school and finished my BSN. I had no plans to go back to school before Oscar died. I was making as much as I could make in my nursing career as a staff nurse in the OR. And I loved my job at KU. But after Oscar died I needed to feel like my voice carried more weight. ADN wasn’t enough anymore. I also wanted to do it for him. In his memory. So I did.

Today’s Facebook memory was my excited and hopeful declaration that I finally had full custody of all three of my kids. My heart is breaking because I had no idea what 2015 had in store for me and my family. No idea. I completely trusted God to care for all of us and show me the way to heal all of my beautiful children, especially Oscar. I am finally to a point in my grief journey where I am beginning to open back up to healing my relationship with my higher power. It isn’t easy; it is simple, but not easy. I am trying to allow myself to feel comfort in faith again. And trust. Trusting is the hardest.

September

Oi vey. September. Here again already.

September used to be my favorite month. When asked my favorite season I used to say fall. When asked my favorite time of year I used to answer with September, the month of my birth.

When Oscar died September 11, 2015, that all changed. How could it not?

This year over the deathday week I am taking my Lane kids to the Pacific Northwest, where their lives all began, to bury the ashes of their father, Nick.

Last year, on September 16th two Overland Park police officers knocked on my front door with the news that Nick had died. It was revealed the next day when I spoke with the detective assigned to his case, that he had died of suicide.

We believe he died on Oscar’s deathday, September 11.

It took the better part of six months for Nick’s family and I to decide what/ how to best honor his memory. At the end of April, we all finally came to an understanding that his memorial service needed to happen during the deathday week- it was my suggestion that we honor him on the deathday itself. Since then all of the arrangements have slowly been coming together.

We are attempting to frame this week not as “grief week” but instead as “healing week”. The Lane family is going to once again attempt to put the “fun” in “fun”eral…

I have felt myself pulling way way in over the past several weeks. It started at the first brush of cooling fall air on my skin during August. This round of grieving has once again made it clear who is with me and who is against me. That is an extremely simplified expression of what is a somewhat complicated human response, but it seems fitting to me. When someone tells you that “you are smarter than that” when it comes to having your grief hijack your emotions it seems fairly obvious that the person is not with you. Truly that last thing you need to hear when you are suddenly overcome with grief is that you should somehow “know better”.

Grief is a visceral response to an impossible change in your reality.

There is no thought involved whatsoever.

That experience has helped me, though, once again, to understand myself alongside my grief with a touch more clarity. This is truly something that I feel my way through. And I feel that I am becoming a little bit better all the time at navigating it.

I have been focusing on my self-care more than usual. The basics: exercise, eating nutritiously, sleep, prayer, meditation, bathing regularly. I have also started a new course of mental wellness products which are focused on balancing the Gut-Brain Axis. I think they are helping because instead of feeling completely emotionally spent with zero energy constantly (which is usually where I live this time of year- all the way through until after the New Year) I feel… okay.

Feeling okay is a miracle.

This year I am giving myself permission to enjoy Fall. It is worth a try.

 

This One is for School and it is all about Social Justice and Social Justice Warriors (Workplace Diversity at Avila); April 6, 2019; I deeply wish Oscar was here to discuss this!!!

This week in my current class, which is Workplace Diversity, our instructor is having us absorb a lot of different information about the term Social Justice Warrior. This class, as most of my other classes at Avila, has been eye-opening, to say the least. Right after Oscar died and I knew I was going to finish my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in his memory, I knew I was getting myself into a challenging mind-growth situation, especially considering how grief like mine rearranges everything about yourself that you used to think was true. My last couple of classes I have been referring to as “mind-stretching”.  Uncomfortable at times because I feel deeply irritated, almost angry really, that we are WASTING OUR PRECIOUS TIME as a species on using our mind power to argue about issues that are not real.

What is real is that there are millions of people who die on our planet every day because they do not have nutrition to nourish their bodies. What is real is that in this county, the United States of America, suicide is now the number one killer of kids who are middle school age (now above accidental deaths for the first time ever) and we are not funding research accordingly so we can understand this disease process and save lives! There are plenty of other real issues that come to mind, and as I sit here rattling them off in my mind (all issues revolving around equality and equity, at their roots), I realize that this makes me a Social Justice Warrior. And damn right. I would like to see any right-wing conservative live through what I have lived through and not care about Social Justice issues deeply. And so lies the trap that I see so many people fall into. The name-calling and the “my-story-makes-my-opinion-more-valid-than-yours” defensive stance. This is where I see this Social Justice Warrior concept taking us online as I have completed the required readings and viewings for this week’s course work. It is a fancy game of name calling and refusing to take responsibility. On both sides.

Social Justice and Social Justice Warrior are different concepts, and to understand the term Social Justice Warrior it is important to understand Social Justice. Social Justice was first defined by Luigi Taparelli in 1840 in his Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact, “Justice due between associations on the same, or at greater or lesser levels of the social hierarchy.” Important to understand that this subject has roots in religion, Catholicism specifically, and it has only been in very recent years that it has become politicized. This ideology has influenced Marxist and Communist theory and also influences most social welfare programs. The problem with this term and with this concept is that it is not strictly defined. It means many different things to many different people and, as such, some would argue that it means nothing at all, such as F. A. Hayek. Hayek’s well-published opinion, that Social Justice cannot be defined, has been fuel for the fire for this to become a hotly contested political issue. So, Social Justice evolved from a theological and philosophical concept into a raging political and public opinion argument.

The UN threw more fuel on the fire in 2006 when Social Justice in an Open World was published. In this publication, the UN defined social justice: “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth; however, it is necessary to attach some important qualifiers to this statement. Currently, maximizing growth appears to be the primary objective, but it is also essential to ensure that growth is sustainable, that the integrity of the natural environment is respected, that the use of non-renewable resources is rationalized, and that future generations are able to enjoy a beautiful and hospitable earth.” In my mind, why don’t we just stop there?

The term Social Justice Warrior has only been in existence since the end of the 20th Century. Social Justice Warrior means different things to different people, just like Social Justice. When someone applies this term to themselves it is a term that implies a willingness to fight for what is right, to fight for equality and equanimity. On the other hand, when it is applied by someone who does not agree with the concept of Social Justice it is meant in a derogatory and insulting manner to describe someone whose only aim is to censor speech and remove power from the privileged. Shout out to Dr. Layman for the informative youtube video on the history of Social Justice and Social Justice Warriors: A brief history of Social Justice and “Social Justice Warriors”.

The key players in the Social Justice Movement today are really any person or any group who advocate for the rights of historically marginalized people. I recently started following an Instagram account @lilnativeboy, Allen Salway, who I would consider a Social Justice Warrior. He is Native American and I have learned so much about myself as the descendant of white colonizers by seeing my privilege through his eyes. It is humbling and also embarrassing, to be sure. From everything to the physical ground that I live on and that it once belonged to the Navajo to understanding our American holidays like Thanksgiving through the eyes of those who were trampled on to establish such a “holiday”, this man is opening my eyes to the injustice that our country, founded by white Americans, is deeply engrained with. Another key player is a pediatrician named Dr. Rhea Boyd. She utilizes photographs, powerful images through which to view our current state of cultural affairs. Through these images, she feels that the story of social injustice is best told. Awareness of the issue is the first step to change. Further, change is really about integrating historically marginalized people into positions of power in our society. That is how lasting change toward equality and equanimity will happen.

The more awareness is generated regarding the current issues of living in our society as experienced by historically marginalized populations the swifter change must happen. It is a grassroots effort, a grassroots revolution of thought and action. When I understand my role in our society intimately, I naturally change the way I see, talk and interact with those around me. I actively seek relationships with those I might not have before my understanding was expanded. As a white woman with roots in her ancestry back to the American Revolution, I feel compelled to use whatever power comes from my privilege to lift those around me who have been trampled on by my ancestors. I want historically marginalized people to see me as a strong ally. The more I learn the more I want to hear the experiences of those around me who are different from me. I feel that through talking and sharing with one another we will become a united force for the revolutionary change that needs to happen in our government and to health policy specifically.

I feel that Social Justice Warriors are mostly helping to diversify our culture, including our workplace culture, by raising awareness and increasing the need for, at the very least, sensitivity. I feel that this has become such a provocative battleground politically because the issues that Social Justice Warriors speak about and rally around are all issues that we have never spoken about openly in our culture. Never. Change like this is uncomfortable. We must keep talking and sharing, though, it is the only way to #breakthestigma.

I think, at the core, the issue of Social Justice is really about human rights. As a culture, we must decide what constitutes human rights and then mold our policies and laws around those agreed upon human rights. This, of course, is also a hotly disputed arena- I think it is amazing that it is so difficult to agree on what human rights are and that they should be fought for and supported universally!!

What I see happening to our species currently is an evolution from individual pockets of existence separated by geographical barriers to a global existence where we are all united by our humanness. A revolution in thinking from what separates us and makes us different, to what unites us and makes us the same. I feel that as Americans we have a unique opportunity to use our privilege to lead this global revolution toward equality, equanimity, and unification.

How powerful to think that the way you speak to the people around you in your everyday life and the topics that you bring to your interactions can influence our collective existence as humans?!

My instructor wants us to respond to the Dove ad where the black woman turns into a white woman turns into a brown woman. My initial response to the ad was, “oh that is too bad, this would have been a tremendously successful ad if the white woman had turned into the black woman or the brown woman.” There probably would have been some sort of backlash then, too, honestly, maybe surrounding starting the ad with a white woman. I don’t know. It kind of pisses me off that I have to dissect this when I feel like I have better things to think about. But that is part of my own trap, isn’t it?

“JUSTICE WILL NOT BE SERVED UNTIL THOSE WHO ARE UNAFFECTED ARE AS OUTRAGED AS THOSE WHO ARE.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

daily grief

Even though I don’t talk about it as much as I used to, my grief still looms large. I really like the grief model with the idea that you learn to grow around your grief. I resonate with that fully. I feel that at first my grief was my entire existence. Slowly, ever so slowly, I started learning how to allow myself to feel other feelings alongside the grief. Over the past 3 years since Oscar died I have become so much bigger than I ever was before- energetically. I feel like my energetic footprint takes up at least twice as much space as it did before I began to grow around my grief.

Doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, some days, there will be some sort of catalyst event and I am moved straight to tears. My grief swallows my energy and I am in that darkness without. The sucking without-my-beautiful-boy darkness. I love Angela Miller (A bed for my heart) and how she speaks strongly about how, as a bereaved mama, you learn to mother not only your living children, but the ones who have died, as well. I deeply resonate with that truth. Every. day.

Yesterday, at lunch, in the middle of the employee lounge, I am eating my leftover hungry root (just started that meal delivery service and so far it has been an excellent experience- I’ve tried many and this one is my favorite) focused on staying balanced and focused with my Kangaroo totem energy and the green calcite in my pocket along with my doTerra Citrus Bliss mixed with Frankincense aromatherapy and I open Facebook. There is a memory from 6 years ago of my sweet sweet daughter, Vivian, and her pink kitchen. Her pink kitchen was her very favorite toy for about 3 years or so and when we moved from Washington to Kansas it was a very very big deal when it was finally shipped to us. It was about 6 months after she moved down here that she was reunited with it. Of course I took a picture of her with it as soon as it was unpacked! Well, there was a comment from her dad. Grief started rolling in. There was a like on the comment and I clicked to see who liked it. Oscar. The tears just started. Just like that. Thank God my dear friend, Emily, was sitting at the same table. I showed her what was up and she scooted close to me, gave me a big hug and I had a few seconds of sobbing. My grief overwhelmings don’t usually suck as much time out of my day as they used to, but only because I have learned how to breathe through them. I breathe through them, feel them and consciously shield them with my entire self. It has taken a tremendous amount of diligent spirit work to get to where I am in my relationship with my grief.

Screenshot_2019-01-08-13-27-48.pngScreenshot_2019-01-08-13-27-52.png

poem

yearning to hear his voice

smell his skin

touch his face, his shoulder, his hair

look into his beautiful eyes

his eyes like rare jewels with a spark of knowing

always with a hint of mischief

i want to say the words one more time

so he can hear them

oscar i love you

you are my life, my soul, everything that is good about me

my reason for living

my first baby

you have taught me everything about life that is worth knowing

please don’t go

please stay

but it is too late for all of that

he is already gone

he has already left

the pain i feel cannot be defined by words

every single moment i feel his absence

whether waking or sleeping

i feel his absence

my life is now defined by the death of my oldest child

his death from a disease shrouded in taboo

and not understood

largely because it makes people uncomfortable to speak the words

pediatric suicide

The World Before and The World After

I was living in a world full of hope, happiness and love before Oscar died. I believed that so long as I kept putting my recovery first, which included all of the time that I was spending on myself to go to meetings, play music and exercise, that I was setting an example for Oscar that would somehow rub off on him. Somehow it would inspire him to recover from his depression. Before Oscar died I lived in a world that avoided conversations about suicide. I lived in a world that denied the reality of mental illness. A world that believed mental illness was a choice.

The world I lived in was like a beautiful, fragrant garden. An early morning garden where the leaves and petals of the plants and flowers are still covered in a soft, filmy dew. A garden full of bright colors and rare blossoms. The warm morning sun slowly melting away the chill of the night before. Steam, like fog, slowly creeping into the brightening sky.

After Oscar died the world instantly plunged into darkness. While my eyes were adjusting to the lack of light I had to use my hands to feel my way in this new place. I would slowly reach forward, shyly testing my new boundaries. The pain no matter where I placed my hand, or how gingerly I attempted to discover the new terrain was shocking. All sides of this new world pressed in on me, causing the greatest pain I have ever felt. The world that was once bright and full of hope was now small, black and lifeless.  Suffering was my new companion. As I slowly, so slowly, learned to integrate this new sensory stimuli my vision began to see another world. As my brain began to make sense out of this new stimulus my understanding of life without Oscar grew.

The world I live in now, two years since Oscar died, is gray. There are moments of joy and happiness. Pierce, Vivian and Phoenix’s smiles always bring light. I have learned how to carry the weight of my grief. I can see the garden again, it is just colorless now. The fragrance of the sweet blossoms has gone. It is shrouded in a gray haze.

I see things that I didn’t see before. Life is now defined by death. My extreme ignorance regarding mental illness has been replaced with the keen wisdom of lived experience and a clinical understanding grown from hours of research. Mental illness is not a choice. Suicide is a disease process that affects certain regions of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. Suicide has it’s own cluster of diagnosable symptoms.

Also in this new world, one where Oscar is dead, I have a new sense of the other side. I feel Oscar on the other side. I feel his spirit self. His angel self. He has been making himself known to me through dreams and impossible coincidences since the moment of his death, when he crossed from this plane of existence into the other. The first time that Oscar hugged me in a dream after he died I felt an incredible comfort, like an itch was being scratched that I could not reach no matter how hard I tried. Within that dream, after that dream hug, Oscar said to me, “Mom, keep yourself open to me and I will be able to keep doing the work that needs to be done.” And so I do, and so I will.

In this brave new world without a living, breathing Oscar I will keep having the conversation that no one wants to have, the one about pediatric suicide.