It is unacceptable for my mother to be in pain.
There is so much I can’t control, but I could do something about that.
The doctor’s office agreed to see her only if I’d bring her in immediately. Otherwise, the woman explained, it would be five more days before they had an opening. I looked down at my damp running shirt and brushed a sweaty strand of hair off my forehead. I accepted the offer.
I wished that I had time for a shower. But mostly I was just thankful to be able to do something to fix the situation. I guess that feeling of gratefulness was contagious because it opened up a floodgate this morning.
I am thankful that my car is so reliable. The dashboard may have some cracks and one mirror is broken but that car just never stops. I never have to worry if I’m going to get somewhere.
A keypad unlocks the door that separates me from my mother. For a long time, this electronic instrument evoked the same emotion you get when you hear the ominous clang of the prison door slamming on an innocent man. Today, I realized that I’ve never once worried that my mother would get up in the middle of the night and wander down a street. Confused and alone. I’m thankful for that.
My mom was sitting at a table with a night gown worn under her shirt. I couldn’t take her anywhere looking like that. I rushed her to the room and then searched every drawer (twice) for a bra. My mother has been modest her whole life…until now. But I couldn’t stand the thought of walking outside a building without an appropriate undergarment. When I stuck my head out her door to ask for help…there it was. A laundry basket full of clean clothes. After some acrobatics on my part, I got her dressed. And then realized that despite the times the food slips from her spoon, her clothes get washed regularly. How lucky I am that she is in a place that takes care of her daily needs.
At the doctor’s office, mom told the receptionist that she was a very pretty lady. She said a lot of stuff — but that’s the part I understood. She invited the physician assistant, who was attempting to examine her, to a party and then clapped her hands together in glee when the woman agreed. Mom’s been known to touch random strangers on the arm and say things like “You’re so nice, I just wanted to thank you.” Their reaction is always the same. They smile. I usually tug her away just as the smile gives way to a look of utter confusion. I’ve had to deal with mom’s anxious days, a few angry days but mostly mom is (and always has been) the most kind-hearted person I know. You can’t imagine how grateful I am that she was the woman that raised me.
Antibiotics and acetaminophen were suggested when a soft squeeze to her foot brought tears to mom’s eyes. I took her to have some cinnamon rolls afterward, a small consolation for the painful examination. She’s always had a sweet tooth but today she wasn’t too interested. Instead, she uttered strings of sentences that made no sense to me. Pointed at planes overhead and a fragment of a leaf that skittered underfoot. Until finally. She gripped my arm, pulled me close and stared straight at my face. “I love you,” she said.
I’m the luckiest woman alive.
My psychiatry professor in medical school wore bolo ties. High-waisted pants, a chambray shirt and a variety of turquoise studded bolo ties. He spoke softly and managed to give the illusion that there was simplicity to the complex world of mental disorders. On one particular day, he wrote the following words on the board behind the podium: There is no progression without regression.
Life has not been easy lately. For the past several weeks, I've felt under attack. Do you ever feel like missiles are coming from all directions and you just can't duck fast enough? And you're tired. Exhausted. But sleep eludes you because your mind is working overtime on problems that have no answers.
So, I'm trying to take his advice and I'm doing something I normally don't do.
I'm taking a step backward. Unless it's critical, I've been putting more stuff on the back burner.
I've ignored the pile of laundry and the stains in my sink. I don't want to talk about the litter box...
As a result, my husband cleaned the shower for the first time in our marriage. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Should I feel victory for womankind? Or have I taken this too far?
I'll settle for being grateful that he stepped in when I stepped back.
I've put my to-do list under a thick pile of papers containing bills and papers that I need to work on. Instead, I'm taking longer walks with the dog and enjoying the beautiful sunsets that Texas has to offer. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about my sister...mostly incessant thoughts on what to do to help someone who is hurting. I'm sitting on the sofa drinking too much tea and watching documentaries about English castles.
I'm trying to heal.
A small part of me is antsy- guilty at the pile of projects that circle me- but I believe in what he said. I'm waiting for that surge of energy that says I've refilled my tank. That motivation that pulls me out of bed and launches me into my day.
Until then, you're stuck with this blog that's trying to say...
Treat yourself kindly.
Have you seen "The Greatest Showman"? You need to go...right now. It has great music, beautiful costumes and woven subtly amongst the swinging acrobats are several great messages. I've been thinking about it a lot.
Mostly because I want to figure out how to make our kids more resilient.
What in the world does that have to do with the bearded lady?
Again...watch the movie!
In one particular scene, the bearded lady storms into a room that she has been turned away from. She is absolutely glorious in her determination. For a single moment, I wanted to be that bearded lady.
I know that dressing professionally is important in my job. But it has not always been easy. I would rather read an article on mitochondrial diseases than skim through an entire Glamour magazine. I’ve tried. I give myself a pep talk and turn the first page. I do my best to pay attention to the colors, hem lengths, shoe shapes. But within a few pages, my eyes blur over.
Frankly, I don’t get it. We come in different sizes and shapes, different colors of skin and hair. Am I supposed to find the right apparel for me in a magazine? Why in the world would someone wear a long dress in summer in Texas? I thought we were finally showing some sense to get rid of the panty hose.
When I was a senior in cardiology, I worked underneath one of the most feared and respected female cardiologist in the hospital. I was naturally worried about my performance and that of my team. On my first day with her, as my team discussed each patient’s course, one of the students slipped me a note.
This was good, I thought. He’s caught some detail that we need to address. I was proud of the professionalism of my students and interns. Together, we were a tight machine, watching over the children... saving lives. I waited till the attending cardiologist was distracted and unfolded the piece of paper. I was stunned by what it said.
Red is your color.
I read it twice. I’d been working my tail off, losing sleep, frantically making sure that we did the best we could for these fragile kids...but I also had to make sure the students were well-versed in how to present the cases, the interns could discuss the side effects of the cardiac medications and I could defend any decisions I'd made over night.
Red is your color? You want to comment on my outfit? Are you kidding me?
Do you know what you should want from me? You should want me to read those journal articles on infections and diseases and accept that my shoes might have rounded (or pointed) tips that are totally out of fashion. You should want me to sacrifice my sleep, my meals and sometimes my sanity...all for the sake of protecting our children.
We need to look past our clothing, our hair color and see the person underneath. If fashion is your thing...embrace it...but try not to frown at my apparel and I promise not to roll my eyes at your vitamin D level.
We need to be bold at who and what we are.
And we need to teach our children to be the same. I once did an exam on a three year old girl wearing boy's underwear put on backwards. I looked at mom, assuming it was something she was not aware of, but she was quick to explain. Her daughter really liked "Bob the Builder" and the clothing was only made for boys (that's a shame) and... you can't see Bob unless you wear it backward. (true) What a great lesson she taught her daughter by letting her control what she wanted to wear. You go girl!
You need to be your own definition of beauty.
In junior high, my best friend was intelligent, witty...and had six toes on each foot. Unashamed and unembarrassed, she wore open toed sandals every summer. Would you?
Be the bearded lady.
The photograph is a real bearded lady who embraces her facial hair. You can read about her here.
It's Mother's Day and for the first time I am incredibly aware of the mothers around me who have lost a child. Whether the death was due to an overdose, a suicide, an illness, cancer or an accident, the result is the same. For the rest of their lives, they're destined to feel an aching hollow spot in the part of their heart where their child used to reside.
I'll be honest. I wanted Julie to tell me the secret to helping my sister recover. Clearly, that's not going to happen. So, I'm just going to focus on listening to my sister, loving her and recognizing that God has a plan for all of us.
Just a few words about Carson. See that face? That's the smile I remember every single time that I saw him. His death really rocked me. Along with being saddened by his loss, I questioned whether other teenagers I knew could be hiding behind cheerful expressions while inside they fought their own demons. It's something we should all recognize.
I really admire and appreciate Julie for shining a light on mental illness and being transparent with her story.
“NOT A DAY PROMISED”
October 23, 1991 – July 12, 2010
The summer after Carson graduated from high school, he worked at my sister and brother-in-law’s ranch, just as he had done for several years prior. He was “in his element” at that ranch. He loved being and working there. He once told me that when he looked up into the clear skies from the ranch at night, and saw all of the bright stars, it amazed him. He shared that he didn’t know how anyone could not believe in God after seeing His stars.
On July 12, 2010, a day not unlike any other, my husband, Todd, received a not-so-common call from my brother-in-law around mid-morning while he was at work. Todd was on another call, business at that time, so he sent the call to voice mail. Within seconds, Todd received another call from the same number. This time, he excused himself from the business call to answer this second call. It was his brother-in-law; and in broken sentences, almost inaudible, with incredible pain in his voice, he told Todd that our son, Carson, had killed himself.
Todd called me; and by just the sound of his voice, I knew what had happened. Todd told me to go into our bedroom by myself and close the door. Tears began to flow as I lifted the phone back to my ear to hear, “Carson has killed himself.” It was as if things instantaneously went to slow motion. Could this be a dream?
The balance of that day was surreal to say the least. Within the hour, as Todd arrived home and we gathered as family in shock, an outpouring of love began to arrive from the church that Carson spent most of his life attending. God's custom grace was already at work, for his Word says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
Despite the incredible confusion of what had just happened that morning, the Lord distracted Todd with a flood of words in quick order that he openly shared with close family and friends via Facebook; an epitaph written only once through, a first sign to me and my family of clarity, pointing toward a forthcoming journey, to peer closely into the invisibility of mental illness. It was then that we decided we would be transparent about Carson’s and our family’s mental illnesses, and that suicide had taken Carson in an irrational moment.
The Lord orchestrated these moments, the immediate posting of the devastating news to the world via the Internet, “We share these words, and all that is within this site, so that all who visit will have access to the powerful testimony of God's grace in a desperate time of loss, and a message of Hope-to-Cope for those struggling with any form of mental illness. May you be blessed for renewing your mind with the encouragement and truth you find here.” (www.notadaypromised.com)
On that day, July 12, 2010, Todd posted to Facebook:
"Dear friends of Carson Chandler Brooks. Carson passed away and returned to his true home, July 12, 2010. His passing brings great sadness. He was so very young, brilliant, funny, sneaky, sometimes the playful liar, a caregiver – all wrapped up in one spectacular package.
So many tears, so much pain, so much confliction. Not for those of us left behind, but actually Carson’s struggle for many of these last years…full of life-yes, vision-yes, desire-yes, and creativity-yes…but living in great burden with bipolar.
From many of you, Carson hid his struggles well, always the smile, the laugh, the jokes, always there to lift YOU up – the independence, oh my gosh, the independence…but, for a few of you, who knew him the closest, Carson never knew what the day would bring for him, as his bipolar condition stalked him almost every waking moment. What strength, endurance and stamina he had to maintain for these many years. It was just too much.
Carson took his own life this morning.
Carson was a born-again believer of Jesus Christ, since he was about 7-years old, and God knew at that time what today would bring. We did not.
Todd Brooks -
To Believers of Jesus Christ:
While some of you are now conflicted in regards to a Christian taking his or her own life and questioning whether gaining eternity in heaven is possible, let me comfort you, as He has comforted me. The Bible says, 'All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.'(John 6:36-39)
An unknown writer shares, 'So from the divine viewpoint, we see that believers are actually a gift from the Father, to the Son. It is the Father that enables people to come to Jesus to be saved. And not only that, but of those that the Father gives Jesus, He has specifically said that He will lose NONE! Not one. Now we, with our little limited human pee-brains won't understand how all this works. We struggle to get our minds around things like divine election versus free will etc (and rightly so!) but one thing I can say without any reservation is that Jesus will not lose any believers that the Father gives Him. He will lose none, zero, zilch, zippo! But will raise them ALL up on the last day.' I couldn’t have said it better.
To Those of You Who Are Not Born-Again Believers in Jesus Christ:
Carson stepped into the hands of God the very minute life left his human body this morning. 'Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.' (2 Corinthians 5:8-NLT) No more illness to make him sick, or cheaters to take things from him, liars to mislead him, alcohol to slow his senses, tobacco to poison his lungs…and these things given to Carson from some of you reading this right now…and these things some of you are struggling with as well right now. But, be not misled, these sins are not too great or many, for the God my family and I serve, to forgive. He forgave Carson’s sins when he was reborn of Christ at age 7, all of them, regenerated, made new, and He can do the same for you. Besides the awesome gift of eternal life in heaven for you, there’s a bonus attached…if you give your life to Jesus Christ, YOU WILL SEE CARSON AGAIN IN ETERNITY as well!
Since that day, July 12, 2010, I have learned and lived but continue to live with grief. Everyone who has not lost a child might think that by 8 years since Carson’s death, I would be well on my way beyond the day Carson took his life. That is not the way the loss of a child works; it doesn’t follow the order which we can comprehend. We, the parents, will grieve on this earth, until our appointed time to return to our real home to meet our child at Heaven’s gates.
Some people say a person that committed suicide was selfish in their action. Hearing such is like a dagger into my heart. Anyone that chooses to take their life does so in an “irrational state of mind.” We were all born with the will to live, not to hurry death. So, please understand. At that moment of no return, this beautiful flesh of my flesh rationalized that nothing short of death could ease his pain. Such pain cannot truly be described or accepted outside the community of the same in such distress. We can all rationalize the pain of a broken bone, cancer, child birth, passing a kidney stone, but to be so desperately unstable in mind to believe that taking one’s life is the only valid choice, can only be initiated when the individual determines there is literally no hope, no purpose to live, no other option of escape. It is a choice made that cannot be cured or revoked.
I have turned my sorrow into helping those mother’s, who have lost a child, and others caring for or suffering with mental illness, to find resources; to find ways to educate themselves against the powerful and prevailing stigma that plagues 1 in 4 adults suffering with mental illness, and the 1 in 5 teens suffering from mental illness. I can help them see that what they are feeling is predictable to a certain degree, impacts many that fear allowing a transparent look into what their suffering is like, is studied continuously by scientists and medical professionals across the world, can be improved with proper help, right habits, incredible medicines, seeking communities of like-minded individuals that lift each other up in times of distress, and so many other sources that offer hope-to-cope.
I still cry once or twice a week to release the pain of Carson’s absence. It is OK to cry! It is healthy. I have just learned to wear waterproof eye make-up. ☺
The day a child precedes their parents from this earth, the pain you will feel from this loss is because your child was woven into every part of each day. Don’t be afraid to be honest with people about how you feel, or that you may cry easily the rest of your life. God is collecting our tears and probably saving them to answer a prayer for a future drought. ☺
Below is my contact information. Our website can point you to useable mental health and suicide prevention resources. I also have a patient ears and never shy away from callers with tears.
Our website with resources and encouraging Blog: www.notadaypromised.com
My niece just died. I wrote a blog describing what happened and you can read it here: http://www.susanbadaracco.com/blog/my-niece-is-dead
I wanted to know…what comes next? I have a lot of questions so I reached out to a mom that also experienced the loss of her son.
Julie Brooks has been a fierce advocate for many issues surrounding mental health. From my interactions with Julie, it appears she has channeled some of her grief into supporting other mothers in their turmoil. She’s the kind of expert I’m looking for...
I’m hoping she can help me understand what my sister is going through.
The Pain of Losing a Child is Indescribable (5 12 18) – Julie Brooks
I cannot imagine a pain as terrible as losing a child. What gave you comfort in those early bleak days?
Julie: The pain of losing my child is indescribable! I think that is one reason others, who have not experienced the same, cannot understand how deeply my life has been affected. My life will never be the same. It feels as though I have lost a piece of my body, and now I must learn how to live all over again. In the first 3-4 weeks, I was in a fog and shock. I could not remember if I ate lunch, etc. I, and sometimes others, had to keep reminding me to eat small nutritious foods and keep hydrated. Family and friends are a gift of grace from the Lord.
At the start of this reality, how does one truly live with the full impact of their child’s death? I don’t think it is just me. I think many of us would not face this reality well. During a time like this, friends and family just dropping by to be around is ok, but not to rush me back to being me, better not to saying anything; to bring me comfort by only their presence. My experience revealed such an important lesson to me that those who come to visit must be prepared to let the grieving parent(s) talk about their loved one, over and over, even if it brings them to tears. It is okay for the visitor to purposely share something special the parent may remember about their child. And, above all, mention their child’s name. It will probably bring tears, but we long to hear our child’s name.
Possibly even more important, what are things that brought you more pain? What comments or actions should people avoid saying or doing?
Julie: Things that brought me more pain were statements like, “At least you know Carson is in heaven.” Yes, praise the Lord, he is. But I want to be able to see him, hear his voice and see his shoes sitting by the door. No one likes to see a family member in pain, so they offer their best silver-lining statement, intending comfort, like, “He is in a better place.” or “He isn’t suffering anymore.” But, their desire to move me forward also reflects they just don’t get that my child still isn’t on earth. At four years after Carson’s death, a friend said, “Can you just concentrate on your other four children and six grandchildren?” I am blessed with a large family, but each child is different, and I grieve the absence of Carson, not just 1 of my 5 children. People have told me that after the first year anniversary, it will get better. No! It doesn’t. I will grieve Carson for the rest my life. The second year was even harder because everyone wanted the old me back, the “me” before the Carson’s death. It just won’t happen. Even after almost eight years since Carson’s suicide, I still cry once or twice a week, when a “Carson moment” hits me out of nowhere. I tell moms to go ahead and switch to waterproof mascara and eye make-up, because when I need to cry, I do – no matter where I am. Crying is a release of my pain. I tell moms that crying is normal and healthy part of the grieving process.
Mother’s day is around the corner and I am distressed for my sister. I don’t expect she will ever experience a normal Mother’s day again, am I wrong?
Julie: Mother’s Day will never be the same. It will always bring memories of the child you lost; the gifts and pictures they colored, their special talents – they are an “unrepeatable miracle” from the Lord; just like we all are. People meaning well will ask, “How is your Mother’s Day”? And, my response is usually, “It is difficult without Carson.” They will ask me, “Can’t you just remember a happy memory to make the day better?”, and I will tell them that memories can bring sadness, because I am missing one of my miracles. The Carson-hole-in-my-heart is re-opened to that raw cold chill. My husband, Todd, wrote a blog about what the day is like for me, Unquestionably Mom. Undeniably Committed. Dangerously Surrendered. It is truthfully written. You can read it at: http://www.notadaypromised.com/2015/05/
Someone told me that it will get worse for my sister and brother in law before it gets better again. Is that true? What did they mean?
Julie: Yes, it gets worse before there is any relief from the grieving pain. After the fog and shock of the first 3-4 weeks, reality sets in. There is no denying that your child is gone and not coming back. Jesus was fully man, yet fully God. When he walked this earth, He felt the pain of loss, yet He was God. So, the emptiness I feel is human. Your heart feels as if it has a hole in it that needs to be stitched up. You will often feel the need to isolate yourself from others and to sleep more than be awake. The reality for me was that sleep was a welcome experience. Sleep brought me comfort because I could “check-out” to avoid all the sadness I had and was still going through. Of course, such escape lasted only until you I waked up.
You will experience the tendency to isolate yourself, sleep too much or not enough, not eat well or not at all, not shower or change clothes, find it quite the struggle to handle normal simple daily tasks, all of which are signs of possible depression and anxiety setting in. Your health is so important in this trying time. These symptoms are probably not normal routine for you. I recommend a visit to your local family doctor, just to check in and share what you are feeling. Your family doctor understands such symptoms, and may be able to provide clarity to your fuzziness, encouragement, and most importantly, prescribe temporary medication to help you resume a more normal daily routine.
What did you do to help you sleep?
Julie: I was so exhausted. Todd and I stayed up later at night. I was not only grieving Carson’s suicide from unstable bipolar illness, but also caring for our youngest son, who was struggling with bipolar and was not doing well at all due to the bipolar on top of the grief of losing his brother, perhaps the one most understanding of his struggles. Thankfully, around that time, we found the psychiatrist he has seen for the last seven years. He is in a stable state at present, which is not the goal but such a blessing to be out of the constant crisis stage. The goal is to move even past stable to his identifying and living with purpose. This goal is real but very illusive for one dealing with a chronic mood disorder.
You may not ever recover to what or who you were before the loss of your child, but you will find and develop new routines, which will help or eliminate the depression and anxiety. Nothing will be like before. New routines help us all form and stay on track. But, it is important for a caregiver, a close friend, that true love comes without condition, the grieving Mother must be allowed to grieve. You must work to find a happy medium and let the Mother help determine the pace.
I know that people grieve in different ways. Can you think of things that would represent an unhealthy way to grieve? Things that should worry me for my sister?
Julie: People do grieve in different ways. I think some things don’t help but can exacerbate the grieving process; i.e., drinking alcohol or using non-prescription medicine (an attempt to escape the pain of loss), purposely forcing oneself to not cry, not wanting to get out of bed, wanting to sleep, not wanting to sleep, refraining from proper hygiene, etc.
But, crying is to be expected. Learn to be comfortable with the grieving parent’s tears. And, sometimes you may feel like crying too. ☺
I would like to add my opinion, based on medical facts, that self-medicating with alcohol and/or marijuana has no positive long-term affect. It can have a short-term tranquilizing effect, but use of such can result in long-term negative effects on the liver, the brain, the heart and other vital organs of the body; in other words, you are fighting your pain with that which will ultimately bring you more pain. Whereas, properly prescribed medication is intended and proven to replace biologically necessary chemicals that assist the rest of the body in regulating and facilitating proper functioning of the miracle body God has given us.
If their grief includes active comments regarding their willingness to stop the pain forever, wanting not to wait to be with their loved one in death, evidence of their giving away very personal and important items that they’d never think of giving away; in other words, they are suggesting they may take their own lives by some form of suicide, you must escalate. Which is why today, you should begin educating yourself about suicide prevention. The statistics of suicides today are so very sad, with rates climbing 50% plus in several age and gender categories. One helpful website is: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Is there a point in time when you feel normal again? I know you will always have a missing piece of your heart…but…how long before you go an entire day without wanting to die yourself or having to squeeze your eyes tight against the tears that just keep trying to escape?
Julie: You will never feel like your old self again. But, after about a year and one half for me, I could feel some joy with our kids and grandmiracles. There will always be moments when I just need to cry; then I feel better. It will be eight years this July 12th. I always tell others who have lost children, it is absolutely OK and healthy to cry! The same endorphins are released in your brain when you laugh or cry.
Can you think of specific things I can do to help?
Julie: What I have done for others who have lost a child is to send them a care package every month for one year. At least then they have something to look forward to each month, during such a traumatic period of their lives. I have a sterling cuff bracelet with “Carson Brooks – I love you” an exact replica of the same on a note he wrote to Todd and I before he died. It is such a blessing, a comfort and an infusion of joy for me to randomly look down and see his handwriting memorialized on this hand-made bracelet. My daughter reached out to a friend of our family, who crafted the bracelet for me, and pendant of the same for Todd. I wear it every day.
You’ve talked to other mothers—what do people do to keep their sanity?
Julie: I think in a month or so, whenever she’s comfortable, what would help is if your sister could find someone else that has lost a child, an individual that is further in their journey of grief. There is such a bond between Moms because we first are nurturers, but more importantly, kindred spirits because we’ve both experienced the real loss of our precious child.
Do you recommend support groups? Where do you find them? On-line? Any particular ones?
Julie: There are groups like Compassionate Friends.org and GriefShare.org (they have global locations).
One more thing...Julie wants to explain the picture of the jar...
I am going to send you a picture of a big jar that I keep all of Carson's cards of condolence that were sent to us. several hundred pictures of Carson and his family--even his retainer and bracelets he made out of embroidery thread. You can get them at Walmart for $12 or Crate and Barrel for about $50. I have given them to friends that have lost a loved one, but mainly those that lost a child. Then I know everything is in there and safe.
I'll be posting Julie's story (in her own words) about her son Carson tomorrow.
I love you Nancy.
This is what shock looks like...
One dog was missing Monday morning. My sister opened her daughter’s room to see if he spent the night with her. She saw the dog leaving the room but her focus was on Rachel—who was lying on the floor in a fetal position. One foot was oddly discolored, she thought it was a trick of the light that made it look so purple. She touched Rachel—only to find that her skin was ice cold.
My sister didn’t scream or cry. She sought out her husband and asked him to come with her. Numbly, they called for help…
My phone rang Monday morning and I smiled when I saw my sister’s name pop up. The voice on the other end of the line was all wrong. I can’t remember what I said when their neighbor explained that my niece was dead. But I remember her voice repeating over and over again…"I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry".
I didn’t know what to do.
I went to work, opened the back door and only got as far as the phone room. I needed to alert them that I would be leaving town so they could adjust the schedule. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. And then I sobbed. And had a hard time stopping.
I didn’t know if I should go to my sister right away or wait till she asked for me.
Suddenly, my flesh and blood sister became a fragile shimmering soap bubble that I needed to insulate and protect but I couldn’t figure out just how to do it. I was so very afraid that I would do something wrong and she would just shatter.
Because what parent can survive the death of their child?
This is what grief looks like...
My brother in law told me that when my sister saw the three of us arrive from out of town, it was all suddenly, distressingly…very real. Up until that moment, it was like watching a movie, and it was impossible to believe that her daughter could actually be dead.
I watched her face crumple when I walked through the door. I saw her shuffle from one to the next sister until she reached me. I felt her body quiver with pain as I wrapped my arms around her shoulders.
There is very little you can do to help someone that has experienced pain like this. So you do the ordinary, the simple tasks that keep you both occupied.
The morning after she found her daughter on the floor, my sister took a shower to help her wake up after a sleepless night. She entered the chilly kitchen with a pale face and wet hair. I walked her back to the bathroom, lifted up section after section of her thick hair to blow it dry while she stared at herself in the mirror with vacant eyes.
The pain comes in waves.
We’d be talking about the dogs (one of them was Rachel’s), a succulent planter I saw in a restaurant (Rachel always wanted one) food (they had leftovers of one of her favorite dishes still in the refrigerator)….anything and everything had the potential to make my sister freeze up as the knife sliced though her heart all over again.
This is what depression looks like...
My niece has suffered from depression for over ten years. She died before her 23rd birthday this month.
One in five people will experience depression at some time in their life. Most recover with support and sometimes medication. Some are not as lucky.
My niece was seen by a variety of specialists and despite some periods of normalcy, the depression would eventually return, stalking her relentlessly until her death.
She tried both prescribed medications and then illicit drugs. She drank alcohol. When she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt several months ago, the physician counseled her on the drug use. “It’s not about the drugs,” Rachel told him emphatically. I believe her.
While the depression ruled her life, I never got the sense that the substance abuse did. It seemed too purposeful, done carefully to avoid detection.
But while it might not have controlled her life, it did end her life. Rachel took a syringe to her arm and injected a substance that she thought was heroin. Maybe it was. There have been reports of fentanyl being sold as heroin in the area where my niece lived. Fentanyl is 30x more potent than heroin and if that is what Rachel injected, she would be yet another victim of the dramatic surge of overdoses due to drug dealers who substitute one drug for another.
But regardless of what went into her vein, I still believe the real killer’s name was depression.
This is what love looks like...
When Rachel’s pregnant sister arrived at the house and couldn’t find the strength to get out of the car, one of my sister’s threw open the car door. She hugged my niece fiercely, whispered into her ear and ignored the rain that dampened her clothing.
Later, when the two of them sat together on the sofa, I heard my sister tell my niece—“I’ve got you. I won’t let go.”
Casseroles from neighbors, phone calls from friends, cards, flowers, coffee at 4 am when my sister could not sleep…
But surpassing any tenderness that was shown to the family, it was the stories of love that Rachel shared with others during her short life that really made an impact on me.
Alongside the ocean that Rachel adored, her friends and family gathered to say goodbye this week. What I learned from them was that Rachel never let the misery that she was going through keep her from doing good.
In fact, I believe Rachel’s illness helped her to be more sympathetic and kind to others. She bought food for those between jobs, encouraged those suffering from anxiety, supported others who were trying to define themselves and defended those who needed a protector.
Rachel loved passionately. She would not allow her parents to depart for bed without giving them each a hug. Every single night. Rachel’s aunt said that in Russia, where she came from, it’s not common to say the words “I love you”. The last time Rachel hugged her aunt, she was taken aback when Rachel said those very words to her.
We need to say those words more often, her aunt declared to all of us.
I love you Rachel.