The Last Dance, The Best Laugh

I completed my certification in death and grief studies in 2016. Now I’m studying to become a certified Thanatologist. Whatever I do I go full steam ahead – I’m not always sure why.  But at least I’m consistent. So there’s that.

I’m studying tonight about funerals and body disposition (good times) and as I’m reading I can “feel” the picture on the wall behind me. I don’t want to look at it, I’ll cry. I just want to finish my studies. But I know it’s there. Me and Drey at Discovery Cove in Orlando under a waterfall laughing. He was 9. That was such an amazing vacation. One of my favorites – just me and my dude for a week doing whatever we wanted. We laughed so much that week. These are precious memories but they can still be bittersweet. My mind still goes to the dreaded, “when did things go wrong?” question. “What did I miss? Baby, I thought you were happy. When did it change? When you were 10, 13, 18?” There’s no answer to that question other than the Lord patiently and lovingly saying to my soul, “do you trust Me?” Always the same question I get in response to my questions. Yes, Lord, I trust You. I am confidant You loved and continue to love Drey more than I ever could. So much so that You came to earth – the perfect man God – to die for him. Even if it were just him that needed to be saved You still would’ve done it. You love him that much.

Study, study, study… “Linking objects” – any physical object or image that serves to connect a mourner in a comforting or constructive way with a deceased loved one. Some writers express the view that linking objects are a “chain” that should be broken. WHAT? Morons that think they are “grief experts” saying it’s not healthy to have linking objects. Others say, “…the use of linking objects in remembrance rituals can help individuals move from  maladaptive to an adaptive style of grieving. In effect, it is a form of directive mourning therapy that allows grieving survivors to take symbolic leave of the deceased.” If someone asked me how I was doing after Drey died I wish I could’ve told them I was embracing a directive mourning therapy using a linking object to take a symbolic leave of Drey. That’s just funny imagining the looks I would’ve gotten with that comment.

Okay… I made it through my reading. Now I can look at the picture that’s been “staring” at the back of my head the past few hours…

Look at that dude. We were so happy and carefree. What a great vacation. My heart. God how I love you Drey.

Denise & Drey Discovery Cove 2003

The Last Dance, The Best Laugh

 

An untitled entry

I’ve been sad, real sad, for about a year now. Not just the sadness I’ve slowly been learning to live with since Drey died, but a different kind of sadness. It’s been another layer of emotional work that’s needed a attention but I chose not to give it the attention it required until these past few months.

I think it began in June of last year. Robbie and I had flown my Dad here for an extended Father’s Day weekend with us. His first visit back to Ohio in a few years.  He had called me several times in the Spring telling me how much he missed me, how he wanted to see me and Robbie but he just didn’t have the money to get here. I was genuinely excited to see him so we arranged the visit. While he was here he spent time drinking with friends – not with us. He declined our invitation to come to Home Church even though Robbie was teaching. He even asked me to drive him to the north side of Columbus where his friends were. I guess paying for his flight and serving as his hotel and food source wasn’t enough – he needed me to be his taxi too. He flew back to his home in Florida on Father’s Day.

Then in August my son’s grandmother died. I knew she had been sick and it wasn’t a shock but it was still very sad. Drey loved her so much. And she spoiled him something rotten. What I didn’t realize until after the funeral was how hurt I was that Drey’s Dad let me find out about her death over Facebook rather than calling or sending a simple text. I haven’t heard from Fred since then. Christmas, Mother’s Day, nothing. I’ve come to realize I had been solely responsible for keeping our relationship alive after Drey had died. The scrapbook I made for him, the occasional checking in, the picture collage gift with the accompanying trophy from that special day – it was always me worried about him. It was always me trying to grieve with him. More to the point, it was me wanting to somehow still be someone special – the mother of his child – to him. Losing your child sucks. Losing your child to suicide fucking sucks. Grieving the relationship loss of the person who feels the loss to the same gut wrenching depth as you is the icing on the shitty grief cake.

In October my parents (Mom & Gene) moved to Indy. It’s only a 3-hour drive, I know. But it was a hard adjustment, too.

Then my Dad called a few days before Christmas from the hospital. He had tried to kill himself. Of all people I know better than to be angry with him or to believe he was being selfish. I get what it’s like to hurt at a level so deep that your thinking is literally constricted and you don’t see any way out of your pain. You may even believe the lie that your loved ones and friends would be better off without you. But still… I’ve struggled with being angry with him since then. “How could he do this to me?!” It’s been hard for me to think of anyone besides myself and how his attempt impacted me. “Doesn’t anyone understand I’m still so flippin fragile and you can’t do this kind of shit?”

I started back in counseling a few months ago. With help I’m slowly realizing how lonely grief is and the importance of acknowledging that. The family who watched Drey grow up are no longer part of my day to day life in the way they were in the first 5 years after he died. So I’m slowly replacing negative self-talk like “it’s been almost 6 years you shouldn’t be this sad. What’s wrong with you?” with more self-compassion. The loneliness of grief is another layer to incorporate into my new life.

As I sit here typing next to the open window I close my eyes and enjoy the cool breeze coming into our home. In spite of everything I still have so much to be grateful for. I’m still in the fight, God. Thank you for never giving up on me in spite of my selfish pity party that’s lasted a year. I love you Jesus.

 

But Now I’m On This Side: Reporting on Suicide Deaths

I “grew up” from a career perspective in marketing. My years at L Brands and then at Cheryl’s Cookies taught me a great deal about how to communicate with customers. I was good at my job and was part of a leadership team that saw significant sales growth over the years. I understood the importance of appealing to my audience in a way that would win their business.

From August 7, 2012 and prior, I would have told anyone who didn’t like how a business was being run where the door was. That would even include businesses I wasn’t that familiar with. If people would complain about how the media did their job my typical line of thinking would go like this: “They are reporters. They have a job to do. Their job means reporting in a way that garners as much attention as possible. It’s at least, in part, how they measure success. If you don’t like it quit watching/reading.”

On August 8, 2012 everything changed. My son took his life. So I found myself on the other side of suicide. A “survivor of a suicide loss.” Never in a million years did I think I’d be here. With the recent suicides of two well known celebrities, I have an entirely different perspective on how some reporters/news outlets do their job and here’s what I wish they understood.

When I stumbled across footage of Kate Spade’s body being brought out to take to the Coroner’s office I was horrified. Here’s where I’ve gone with it: “I didn’t watch my son’s body being brought out – I ran to the neighbors so I wouldn’t see it. Does that make me a bad Mom? What kind of Mom doesn’t stay with her boy for as long as possible?” 

When I saw specific details about how she took her life I thought I would puke. I don’t even know those specific of details surrounding my son’s death, by choice. “What kind of Mom doesn’t pour over every ounce of the Coroner’s report trying to find a reason why why why her boy did this? Did my son suffer? Oh my baby how could this have happened!” And the thoughts continue down an unproductive, painful path.

This week has been difficult and yes, it was brought on by how the media reported on Kate Spade’s death.

As a suicide loss survivor I – like many of us – have become a magnet for people who are impacted by suicidal thoughts, for people who are supporting someone who is struggling, and for people who have been personally impacted by a loss. I have received several text messages, phone calls, instant messages this week. What I hear most is “why why why,” then that leads directly into their personal experience. They question themselves. They doubt themselves. They communicate regret, pain, and guilt. Some people even wonder out loud what the point is of staying in the fight. These are hard thoughts and hard conversations. My heart aches.

The detailed media coverage stirred all of this up… I can’t help but to feel like the news media stepped into a room of people who are coping with emotional pain and stirred it all up then left the room without a care in the world. I know I’m generalizing and I’m making some assumptions about reporters that may not be fair. But my heart just aches so much. I want people to understand the impact of their words. In an effort to be “the best” reporter, there lies a trail of hurting people.

For those loss survivors that follow my blog… I am thinking of you. You are NOT alone. I ask myself, “why am I being so triggered by a complete strangers suicide? This isn’t rational. I didn’t even know them?!” If you are beating yourself up with thoughts like this please stop. Please hear me loud and clear that the coverage we’ve heard – and perhaps are about to hear with the loss of Anthony Bourdain – is triggering. It is hard. And it may be causing us to revisit our own pain and even question past decisions. One breath at a time. Talk to someone! We are in this together!

Crisis textline: 741741      Nat’l Hotline: 1-800-273-8255   

Franklin County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS): 614-530-8064

Holding On

This is the first year since my son died that the dates line up with the actual day of the week. Another first…

Six years ago today, Sunday May 6th, at this exact moment we were landing in Florida for what would be our last family vacation. Drey had insisted on going to prom at another girl’s school the night before and was operating on just a few hours sleep. He slept on my shoulder and drooled. It was my right shoulder. He was sitting by the window on the plane, I was in the middle seat. I tried my best not to move much so I wouldn’t disturb him. I remember feeling especially grateful for him. I knew my days of having “my boy” were coming to an end. He was graduating high school in just a few weeks. He was considering going into the military and college – wasn’t sure which. He already had a job he really liked and was getting 30 hours a week. He was a man and from my vantage point high school graduation was going to seal the deal. I was proud and sad. He was – and is – my boy. I wasn’t handling his transition so well.

Drey, I love you. Always. I miss you so very much. I have anxiety. Today marks the first day of the shit season. May 6th. May 13th. May 26th, May 27th, July 10th, July 11th, August, August, August. I don’t know how but it seems like yesterday and like decades ago since I saw you. I want to watch a video, listen to your voice, look at pics I haven’t seen yet. I want to experience you in every way possible apart from you physically being here. But I only have so many unwatched videos. Only a handful of unseen pictures. It feels like these have to last me the rest of my life. How will I feel when I see the last memory we captured? That’ll be it. It’ll be over. I will have seen every memory and then what?

I’m tired. I’m sad. My soul is downcast.

Psalm 43:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

Well What Else Am I Supposed To Do?

In 2014, I started a non profit organization that exists to be an instillation of hope to people personally impacted by a suicide loss. I love love love what I do.

Sometimes people ask, “isn’t doing what you do like ripping the bandage off over and over and over?” My answer is simple: No, it is not.

I hate more than anything that my boy, the most important person in the world to me, my pride and joy, died by suicide. It’s sickening and horrible and I miss him every day all day. The heartache is real and it will always be part of me on this side of heaven.

I sometimes hear, “I couldn’t do what you do, I’ve decided I don’t want my parent’s/child’s/spouse’s/sibling’s suicide to define me.” This is a slap in the face. Stop saying that. There is no “wrong” way to grieve and there is no “wrong” way to integrate the loss into your life.

I pause sometimes and I think about other options for how I can spend the final 1/3 of my life. Nothing else interests me. Nothing. I believe God entrusted me with this gift of suffering so I could grow from it and care for others. Who the hell calls losing their son to suicide a “gift?” Gross. I don’t know what to say… it’s what I believe. The ache is real and I still have complicated and intense emotions AND I’m confident I’m where God wants me. There’s a peace in knowing that. A peace I never experienced before. My son is safe in our Father’s arms. I will have eternity with him. For now, I give my agenda over to God and He continually gives me confidence that I’m right where He wants me.

I have the greatest son in the world. Just look at that face. I will be with him again. I love you so much, baby.

5 years old

Happy Boy. Proud Mom. 5 years old

Restless

Grateful for sweet birthday wishes from new and old friends.

Anxious and unable to pinpoint why… which makes me more anxious.

Angry at suicide and stupid people.

Encouraged by Glenn, Alli, Charlette, and Alex.

Contemplative about priorities.

Stretched continually out of my comfort zone and ironically enough becoming more comfortable with that.

Blessed by Gods creation of animals.

Challenged by the desire to squeeze more into each day.

Hopeful. Ever hopeful. Someday soon this glorious, painful, temporary life will be over. Sweet heaven.

Exhausted when I try to do things with my own strength.

Energized when life-giving words come out of my mouth that I know aren’t my own!

Round and round it goes. Damn monkey bar brain jumping frantically from thought to thought, feeling to feeling.

Breathing in grace filled air and I’m grateful again.

Psalm 121: 1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! 3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. 5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. 7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.