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.