16

Wow. Pierce just turned 16.

Oscar died about 2 months before his 16th birthday, so this was huge.

Nick wasn’t here. Nick’s death from suicide in September 2018 has completely thrown me out of orbit. Any of the patterns or rhythms of living that I had just started to re-establish since Oscar’s death in September 2015 were all erased when those two police officers rang my doorbell.

I have had so many difficult emotions since May 23rd, which is Pierce’s birthday. I want to be happy and celebrate and feel joy for Pierce that he made it! He did it! Look at what a strong, beautiful, and amazing young man you are!! He had straight A’s this semester and he aced his pre-calculus final. And I couldn’t share that with his brother or his dad.  I know, I know, they are here even though we cannot see them and sure, we have my folks, and they are wonderful support. They encourage and nurture and teach and set excellent examples of how to be successful in life.

But I really missed Nick yesterday during our family dinner. Because I had gotten used to the idea of not having Oscar at these events, but this was the first big event that I really missed Nick. He would have had a sparkle in his eye and that goofy grin on his face- so proud of his living son. See, in my hopes after Nick moved here when he had hit what I wanted to be his rock bottom in 2017, I saw a future where he was in recovery from addiction and we had made amends to each other and we were co-parenting Pierce and Vivian successfully. So he would have been invited to Pierce’s family birthday dinner.

That isn’t my reality, though.

My reality is that half of my family is dead from suicide. First my oldest son, Oscar, on September 11, 2015, and then his dad, my ex-husband, Nick, on September 11, 2018.

Since we set the date for Nick’s memorial, the burial of his ashes, on September 11, 2019, I have been slowly processing what it is going to take for me to get through that week clean. I have been in recovery from addiction since February 20, 2012. I haven’t been back to the Pacific Northwest since I got clean in 2012. I will be faced not only with impossible grief when I am there, but legal marijuana and lots of old friends who I used with. I am aware enough of how addiction works to know that is a recipe for relapse.

The past year I have not been actively going to 12-step meetings or doing what it takes to really work my recovery. I have been staying clean, focusing on group grief therapy for suicide loss survivors and talk therapy with an amazing psychologist. I have been working full time, in school part-time and figuring out how to be a single mom with the complex emotional needs of my two older children and a very physically active toddler who is nearly two.

As I have turned my face back toward being active in recovery all sorts of things have started to happen. I have spoken with the woman who was my sponsor more than I have in over a year. We are not formally in a sponsor-sponsee relationship anymore, but it is nice to just be speaking with each other again. I have re-connected with some wonderful women who I know will be key in my network moving forward. I have gone to two meetings in the past week. I picked up my black key tag for the 7 years that I celebrated on February 20th.

All of this because I sent a Facebook message to an inspiring man a week ago today after he posted a picture of himself on Facebook graduating from college. We met around the time that Oscar died, he was new to recovery and had just moved back to KC. I have been making an effort to be active on Facebook as part of building my networking skills to help me grow my business. I have been sending messages on Facebook to people I haven’t spoken with in ages to reconnect.

He has been an amazing addition to my life this past week. Usually, people shy away from my pain and my grief and end up relying on platitudes that just make me feel worse. As a response, I shrink away from interaction with them. Maybe because he has had trauma in his life and he carries his own heavy grief he seems to always know what to say.

When I was having a hard time shopping for Pierce’s card (since Oscar died I have not put so much effort into these types of seemingly mundane tasks that make up the little- read that big- celebrations that we take for granted in life) I texted him and he said of course you are feeling pain, you are growing and you know as well as I do Oscar is right there picking that card out with you. No one says things like that to me! It was amazing. There are so many other little ways he has been an amazing support for me over the past week and I am grateful.

This is the other side of 16. Life keeps on going whether we want it to or not. As much as I would love for time to just pause, just for a few minutes, it is not going to. I have almost become a graceful expert at choking back the tears. There were a few times last night that Pierce and I met each other’s gaze knowingly and our hearts acknowledged each other and how incredibly difficult it felt to move forward. Those are the moments I live for now.

As I discover my new pattern of recovery and I begin actively applying the principles of the program to my life it won’t be easy- the program is simple, not easy. I have fear about how the intimate awareness of my character will intertwine with my grief. The steps are in the order they are in for a reason and if I let myself go at the pace my heart dictates and I don’t use, no matter what, everything will be okay. More than okay.

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Health care policy and reform- this is what I am doing this AM

As I have said before, this blog is not just about the pain and grief of being a bereaved mother and suicide loss survivor, but it is also about sharing my thoughts on the research that I do as I go through finishing my BSN. I have been a practicing registered nurse since 2006 with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, but after Oscar died I felt that the only way my voice would truly carry and give strength to my opinions regarding health care reform is if I had a Bachelor’s in Nursing. So, in Oscar’s memory, I started back to school the fall a year after he died and I am on track to finish after fall semester this year. It has been a long, hard road, especially now that I am newly grieving for the loss of Oscar’s dad, my ex-husband, Nick, also to suicide. Here is what all of my research and thought processes keep boiling down to: we need universal health care and a universal electronic medical record. Period, end of story. I wrote the following paper for my Public Health Nursing class this morning and I wanted to share.

 

The recent article I found is, “Rebounding with Medicare: Reform and Counterreform in American Health Policy,” by Paul Starr of Princeton University.  From my research on the topic of universal health care in the United States, it became clear that Mr. Starr has a strong voice on the matter with a history of several articles and books pertaining to the subject of health care reform in America.  Mr. Starr proposes that we have an opportunity to expand Medicare through a program he refers to as “Midlife Medicare” in response to the Trump administration’s recent setbacks on our progress to provide every one of our citizens with basic health care.

My personal experience as a suicide loss survivor and my professional experience as a registered nurse inform my passion for health care reform.  One thing has become clear to me as I grapple with the disabling pain of suicide loss- our health care system is the root cause of our ills.  And how extremely infuriating!  Here we are in one of the world’s richest countries and we cannot afford to provide universal health insurance for our citizens?  Mr. Starr analyzes the history of health care reform in the United States and notes that all important reform has been made on the rebound from the failure of more progressive proposals.  He acknowledges that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had very limited success in fulfilling its goal of ensuring all American citizens have health insurance.  The ACA has been a downright failure in some respects.  It has forced the price of premiums up while not guaranteeing basic coverages to patients.  In other words, just because someone is insured doesn’t mean they can afford to get care, which does nothing to solve the problem of health care for all.

The devastation of not having health insurance or not having adequate health insurance is heart breaking.  There are so many stories to illustrate the social injustice that not having universal health care causes.  It seems that each of us has been directly affected or is only one person away from being directly affected.  The implications on nursing of universal health care are tremendous.  I believe that the positive effects of universal health care are all encompassing.  If we had universal health care, as a nurse and mother, I would have been able to get the care my oldest son needed without traumatizing him with mental health hospitalization.  I would have been able to guide my ex-husband to the care he needed so he could have received the care he required for the treatment of Crohn’s disease without worrying how he was going to pay for it.  I believe, deep in my heart and soul, that if I had been able to make those two interventions my family would still be complete.

I have thought a lot about how to help our citizens who die unjustly, and I am not just talking about suicide, I believe that many deaths in our society happen that could be prevented with adequate access to primary health care for prevention.  My thought processes always boil down to two issues: universal health care and a universal electronic medical record.  At the core of these ideas is patient safety.  Patient safety is the heart and soul of nursing.  I appreciate Mr. Starr’s work and am grateful I found him.  His suggestion of “Midlife Medicare” as a rebound reform to our health care system is right on target.  A positive step in exactly the right direction.

 

 

Starr, P. (2018). Rebounding with Medicare: Reform and Counterreform in American Health Policy. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law,43(4), 707-730. doi:10.1215/03616878-6527996