let’s get into it

For real I keep dreaming about Nick. I really don’t understand it. I know there is a lot that I still need to process about our abusive marriage and it is a lot different working through it while he is dead, but seriously, what gives? My psychologist and I spoke about it a few weeks ago. I told her that I keep dreaming about him and I know I need to work through some of the roughness between us, so she suggested that I write about it. She suggested I write him a letter, which is so cliche, but it is a very common tool when you are working through problems that you have with dead people, I have discovered on my grief journey. Kind of funny, right? But, hey, it must work, or it wouldn’t be a cliche. I know after Oscar died I wrote a letter to him almost immediately. I was so distraught and raw. Just raw. Nothing felt like I thought it would. After Oscar died it was like my feelings got turned inside out. Completely strange how deep grief changes you. Anyway, back to Nick. I keep dreaming about him. I dreamt a lot about him when he first died. I actually dreamt that he died before I knew he was dead. That was weird. And we’ve had other dream time sessions, too. We made quite a bit of progress, actually, but now I feel like we are stuck. So after my psychologist recommended that I write to him, I actually started just writing about what happened between us. A historical account. It is funny because during my session when my doc and I talked about this I immediately said, “Oh, it could be the start of my memoir!” Goes to show you how I am always trying to make something out of nothing. She brought me back to reality by reminding me that I just needed to let it flow. After that first (and only) time I have written about my life then I was so exhausted!

And I keep dreaming the same sort of dream. We are together, even though we shouldn’t be, and he is his happy-go-lucky-I-want-to-have-fun-and-get-laid self. Nick loved sex. It was one of the things that kept us together for so incredibly long even though the abuse and dysfunction was so uncomfortable. It isn’t like we did too much that was wild and crazy, we just had a routine that worked for both of us that we would always fall into. And when we first met it was like fireworks between us. Our chemistry was like no chemistry I have ever felt before or since. That is what I though was love between us. We didn’t really know how to love. On my journey following Jesus (this is sort of new- it has been a push pull my entire life, it is just that about three months ago I finally really committed to Him) I have learned that love is so much more than a feeling. It is an action. A choice that you make to accept someone despite all of their faults and do positive things for them. Nick and I had trouble with that. And he would sometimes seemingly flaunt his faults. Looking back with what I know now and my own experience with grief and how incredible hard it is for me to maintain my okay with a lot a lot of self-care I can see how grief shaped Nick into the reluctant-to-change addict that he was. He used to tell me that the deaths of his brother and sister felt like emotional amputations. I was so cruel. I would tell him he needed to make a choice to move on and get healthy. That is so easy for someone who had never been bereaved to say. I have learned through my own grief that you never really move on. There is always a piece of you that is in the moment that someone you love dies. You are changed irrevocably forever. For the duration. Never the same.

In my dream that is the same, yet slightly different every time, Nick and I are together and we shouldn’t be and we are hiding out from our families trying to have sex. There is always some reason that we need to hide. In the dream I am always adamant that no one see us or know that we are together and he isn’t really worried about it at all. He is so focused on taking my mind off of being worried so I can relax and let him have his way. Our marriage and our home life was a lot like that. We hid our drug use from a lot of people. I wanted to quit from the time that we got pregnant with Oscar in 1999, but he plain told me that he would never stop using, that it was a deep part of who he was and how he managed to deal with the trauma that he had packed away. What would have been more accurate would have been for him to say that his using kept him from having to deal with the trauma that he had packed away. He stuffed it deep down and avoided it for as long as I knew him. It was so rare for him to talk about Jimmy or LouAnn. He was always passing me a beer or a pipe and telling me to relax.

That was what I needed to see. In my dreams Nick is trying to get me to relax so he can have his way. There is something he wants to show me. And here I thought that he was the one not letting me get through to him. I wonder if the next time I dream about him if I can let myself go back to the Jes who would let Nick completely dominate her? That is a scary thought. Makes me want to run. If I can just sort of allow myself to go down that path enough with him I wonder if we can get to the deeper level we need to get to in order to sort through some more of the rough between us?

Working through issues with dead people is hard.

Nick

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.

3 years

At this time three years ago I was reeling with the new reality that my oldest son, my sweet beautiful prince, was dead.  His time of death was pronounced at 0523 this morning three years ago.  There is so much about that time I cannot remember.  My friend, Sara, who is also a bereaved mama saw all of the spirit coincidences that were happening all around me all the time and she told me I should write it all down because I wouldn’t remember if I didn’t.  There was no space for writing.  At that time the only things I could tolerate were the work it took to keep my house running and coloring.

Occasionally I’d have the extra capacity to read a little bit and after I got through a couple of short grief-centered, other-side-centered books I turned to fiction, which is so rare for me.  I have a preference for non-fiction, always with my nose in some kind of self-help book, especially since I got clean in 2012.  This was different.  So different.  My brain could not tolerate real.  I had just gotten the ultimate and unwanted dose of real.  I even thought I couldn’t be a registered nurse anymore for awhile.  I channeled that energy into returning to school, where I am now almost finished with my BSN.  The series I managed to get myself lost in right after Oscar died is called Abarat.  I’ve been thinking eventually I will revisit those books.  Perhaps when I finally finish school…

I remember there was always some sort of amazing and seemingly not possible coincidence happening right after Oscar died.  I think he was manipulating things from the other side to help us adjust to his death.  I still feel him all the time with me, guiding me, an unseen friend.  Everything from a penny from heaven with my birth year on it that seemed to appear out of nowhere when I was taking Vivian roller skating on Sunday to my nursing career.

Today I have found a niche in nursing far far away from the operating room, which is where I spent the better part of ten years.  I loved surgery, but when Oscar died and I wasn’t sure I could even continue being a nurse I knew I needed to change.  Recently I began working in a primary care physician office.  It feels like the absolute right fit.  The physician I work for is like minded and extremely supportive of my work in suicide awareness, prevention and loss support.  Today I am diligently working to make a difference for patients with mental illness through education and support, as only a nurse can.  It is a very special niche and one that I am hoping to expand.  The class I am taking this semester is evidence based practice for nurses, and of course, true to form, I am researching how nurses can make a difference at the place where primary care and mental health meet.  This is such an important focus.  For so many reasons.

So today, three years after my oldest son Oscar’s death I have hope.  My mantra is, “I am healing and I bring love and the energy of love to every shadow.”  All for Oscar.  I miss you, I love you, there will never be enough of you, my sweet sassy first born son.