Growing pains

For most moms, sending a child to preschool is an emotional and difficult experience. I expected that. I was prepared as much as any other mom to feel sad, excited, proud…all the emotions that come with this milestone. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the amount of triggers I would run into during this experience. I’m kind of shocked I didn’t think about the obvious stuff, but I didn’t, and so it hit me out of the blue (the worst way for grief to hit you). The last couple of weeks have sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, anger, and a deep, deep sadness.

Preschool orientation started it all. The common chitchat with other parents asking how many children I have. Is Crue my only? I was asked that question so many times in two hours that I left completely mentally and emotionally drained. The first couple of parents were pretty easy. I’m used to telling people about Nash and I’m used to the different reactions. I think I got more emotional responses than I normally do because of the high anxiety other parents were feeling regarding their own children starting school. I decided halfway through the orientation to tell the rest of the parents who asked that I only had one. Leaving Nash out felt like a gut punch … like a betrayal of him. Saying Crue was my only in front of Crue also hurt beyond measure. He’d never heard me say that before.

I’ve always been one of those people who try to please others. One of those people who care entirely too much what other people think. Nash has taught me so many things; one of them, at least I thought, is to not care what others think. To put my own feelings in front of others’ when it comes to my own mental health. But for whatever reason, that day I didn’t stick to my guns. I tried to make other people happy. I tried to save them the discomfort of not knowing the right words. When I do talk to others about Nash, half of the time I find myself having to console them after I share, causing myself so much more unnecessary pain. I know without question that if another mama was going through this grief, even if I had never gone through this, I would want her to do whatever made this day easiest for her. If I knew for one second that telling me about the child she lost made this day just that much easier, by all means tell me. I know most mamas would feel the same way. So why do I not give them the credit? Why do I not give them the chance to carry that for me? On top of the Nash stuff,  Todd and I have had two miscarriages in the last three years and are still continuing to try for another child, thus far unsuccessfully. The number of parents with babies at the orientation was insane and I found myself angry I was not one of them. If my last pregnancy had not been lost, I would have a 2-month-old right now. I would be one of them. Here I am on the verge of tears every second from talking  about Nash, or not talking about Nash,  and then I see parents with their preschooler and baby in tow while I watch Crue desperate to make friends with anyone who will give him the time of day.

One of my biggest regrets about Nash’s passing is that I didn’t follow my intuition that last day I dropped him off. His last day on earth. There  were more kids than I liked at his daycare. More kids than had ever been there on any other day. I was so worried that I called my sister, my husband, and my sister-in-law from the babysitter’s driveway before I pulled out. I told them all how uncomfortable I was, the overwhelming feeling of fear. I still chose to leave him there. Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, or to come across like that overbearing mother people talk shit about. I thought at most he wouldn’t get the attention I would like. He wouldn’t get played with. Not for one second did I think that he would die! Since then I have not been able to hold back any worry or fear I have when it comes to someone watching Crue. Even the people I trust with him most in this world. It’s something I have to do. I have to know, God forbid something happens to him, that I told them exactly what I wanted and what my fears were. Whether it’s a busy road, a pool, a lake, a bigger kid…I tell them. I tell them every time. I’ve learned to not care if that makes me look neurotic or strange. I have to fight the urge to care what they think or how they may judge me, so that I know if I don’t get to pick him up that day…that I don’t have to live with the pain of not saying those things. Dropping Crue off anywhere is still so very hard. I kiss him every time I leave…not for the typical reasons but because I know he could die. I know all too well this may be the last time I see him. That thought is something I still have every time I drop him off ANYWHERE. This is how I feel when Crue is with people I know and trust. So you can imagine some of what I might have been feeling to drop him off where I knew no one. You can imagine how I felt when two of the parents told me this is the biggest class they’ve had at Crue’s preschool in years. They have a waiting list to get into an already over-full class. My anxieties are at an all-time high. There are too many kids. Is what I’m feeling normal parental fears? Should I follow my gut? Am I overthinking it? Can I trust how I feel about others taking care of him? Can I trust anything I feel at this moment?

The next visit they called a teddy bear clinic. All of the kids brought their favorite stuffed animals, and we got to mingle with other parents and get used to his classroom. Again, lots of questions about how many kids I had. They sent us home with a folder to be returned to school with him on his first day. One item on the list of things to bring was a family photo with the names of family members written on the back. The only family photo I had has Nash bear in it. Do I include Nash? Do I not? What if Crue tells the teacher it’s his brother and she tells him it’s a teddy bear? I decided to include him. I wrote on the back that Crue may or may not mention him. That way if he doesn’t, no big deal, and if he does, he’s included.

The first day of school I was holding back tears. Trying to be strong for my very ready and excited 4-year-old. Again the mom in front of me asked if he was my only and I said yes. Why? Why did I do that? Why did I do that again?!?! I dropped him off and left in tears for so many more reasons than the simple fact that my baby is not a baby anymore. I cried that he may or may not be my only preschooler. That this may or may not be the last first day of school I share of a child of mine. I cried because he isn’t my first. I cried because he is. I cried because I did what I have spent four years not doing…leaving him in a situation I’m uncomfortable with.

Regardless if I’m ready, Crue is ready. He’s more then ready, and I find myself bursting with pride that I raised him to be such an independent little man when every ounce of fear in me wants to make him anything but. It’s my greatest success in parenting so far. That despite how I feel on the inside, I didn’t put that on Crue. This journey of grief is very much like the journey of life. It’s ever changing and unpredictable. The only difference is I’m the one with the growing pains, not Crue. One day when Crue graduates, I hope he reads this and knows just how hard this was for me and just how proud I am that he is taking this world head on when all I want to do is put him in a bubble. I know he will do great, my little rainbow, and I have comfort knowing even when he isn’t with  me, he will never be alone.


In late December, we learned 2019 was going to kick off just the way we had hoped and prayed. After over a year of trying,  we were pregnant! Those two lines on the pregnancy test sent me spinning into a million happy tears, and I was overjoyed that Crue would be welcoming a brother or sister. I had started losing hope that we may ever get the chance to do this again. After more than a year of ovulation tests, false pregnancy tests, and a lot of frustration and sadness … it happened!

Todd was cautiously optimistic, afraid to tell me how excited he was out of fear that we would lose the baby and I would be sad that I had let him down in some way. My husband has a million different smiles that I love, but at the top of that list has to be the smile thats so big it’s hard for him to contain. You know, the ones that even have a giggle and need to be hidden by a hand half covering the mouth. That’s the one. The one I saw for 10 weeks until that fateful Thursday night in the shower when I saw something else … the thing no pregnant woman wants to see … blood.

I cried and yelled for Todd. With as much as we have been through, I hadn’t worried about losing the baby. Two years ago, our last baby had died at 14 weeks due to complications of the flu and later we found out he had Down syndrome … but my body still didn’t miscarry without help. I truly felt that was a freak incident … something was wrong with the baby and I got very ill. That would not happen this time. I was more worried about the genetic testing. Making sure the baby was healthy … but we wouldn’t carry it long enough to find out. We were heartbroken. Although I started bleeding, no cramping happened and the doctor schedule a D&C for first thing Monday morning. That meant my body would have to hold off for three days or I would be doing this at home. I know lots of women chose that option. They would rather be in the comfort of their own home without having an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure. I felt the opposite. Every small cramp or drop of blood had my anxiety at an all-time high and the fear of blood loss like the last time had me on edge.

Luckily my body did wait for Monday. The silver lining if there was one, I guess. On the way to the hospital Todd said, “I was really excited about this baby.” I knew how he felt. After so many years of struggles it felt like everything was finally lining up in our favor. No way would we be handed another blow. I think if I have an overwhelming emotion, it’s anger. I’ve actually yelled out to nothing “what the fuck” more times than I can count. I’m seriously dumbfounded by the amount of crap that’s been thrown at us … I go between laughing in disbelief and swearing at the universe. 

We had decided to keep this pregnancy a secret. We both were concerned about the added stress of telling the people close to us and their worries adding to our own. We would tell them when we were in the second trimester and genetic testing was done, so we could share our news with confidence and reassure our family and friends that they should be nothing but happy and excited for us. So imagine Todd’s family and mine when we called to tell them the night before surgery what was happening. I felt so much relief in telling them. For almost three months we had walked around with a secret that was so very important and exciting for us. We had hoped in a couple more weeks to be giving them a much different phone call. When you are going through any kind of emotional turmoil it’s hard to keep that from the ones you love. Keeping the secret of pregnancy was easier. It’s a good secret, between the two of you … it’s almost fun … but when it all goes to hell … you want to have those people to lean on. It’s a very weird parallel to know you are going through this terrible loss and your family is carrying on with their normal lives unaware of what is happening in yours.

Our OB, although no longer delivering babies, told us she would be delivering ours. Dr. Hardas had said, “There are some things you just can’t say no to.” I saw the disappointment in the her face and the faces of her office staff. They were rooting for us. Everyone was rooting for our happy ending … and here we were again.

Not even days after, I asked Todd if he wanted to try again. He answered the question with a question, my husbands typical response to a tricky question. “Do you?”

I smiled and surprisingly without reservation said, “Yes.” My only fear was I have now had 2 C-sections and 2 D&C’s. I’m 39 years old … from a health standpoint was this even safe? I intended to ask all of this to Dr. Hardas at our follow-up appointment.

She told me the risks. We had a slightly higher risk of uterine rupture or placenta accreta. Our chance of miscarriage after two was now 25%. She smiled and said, “What that means is that you have a 75% chance of having a healthy baby if you try again.” I liked those odds. She also said she worried more about the emotional toll it would have on us than the physical one. Could we handle another loss?

I’ve thought about this a lot … what people don’t understand is the emotional toll of not trying again far exceeds that of another loss. I feel like I am being robbed of the family I have always wanted. First with Nash, and now with multiple miscarriages. I want this … more then anything I want this. 

Its hard to explain but I feel this voice, this little person calling out to me … “Just one more time Mama, I’m waiting, I’m going to be worth it.” That voice keeps me going. So we have decided to give this one more go. See if we can complete our family and end this difficult chapter in our lives. I’m hoping five years from now I can see my family pictures and smile, knowing it was all worth it. That even though it wasn’t handed to us … especially because it wasn’t handed to us … I will look back in awe of what we went through to have the family we have always wanted.

Whether that’s just the three of us, or four, I want to know that we did everything we could. That we didn’t give up in spite of what the universe threw at us. So Baby … whether it’s Nash urging us on from afar or the baby that’s waiting for us … we hear you … loud and clear. One more time. God, just give us one more chance. We are waiting with open arms and open hearts.


I miss you. Have I told you that lately? Of course I have. I tell you that daily. But do you hear me? Do you truly hear me? It’s so hard to be here without you, baby. As your mom,  I’m supposed to know where you are every second. When your heart breaks, my heart is supposed to break. When you cry, I cry. When you’re happy, I’m happy. What is a mama to do when her child is gone? Where does all that go? I think it’s just added to that dark abyss inside my heart—that black hole where all things painful go.

You would be five this year … five. It is a uniquely hard birthday for us, harder in that I know exactly what you would be doing now if you were here. You would be starting kindergarten and making new friends. I would be hustling you back and forth to school and activities. I often wonder what you would look like. I picture a five-year-old boy with a book bag, ball cap and a baby face, and I cry knowing that I will never know exactly what that sweet  baby face would look like today.

The more time that goes by and the more birthdays that pass, I feel your absence even more. The emptiness in our family is like a cancer that consumes everything in its path. We are not whole without you … we are doing our best to hold it all together. It’s a constant struggle to teeter the line of happiness and just getting by. I wish your death hadn’t left this hole in us. You were such a ray of light in our life. You brought us more happiness than I’ll ever be able to convey … now, when I think of you my heart aches. I feel this constant yearning … a yearning to hold you once more. God, if I could only have one more minute to give you a birthday kiss. One minute to tell you how much I love and miss you. I would give anything … anything for just those 6o seconds.

Like we do every year, we are celebrating your birthday. We will find a restaurant like we did last year and make sure a candle is blown out and the birthday song is sung. I guess we could sit at home and wallow about how crappy it is that you are not here with us to celebrate … lock ourselves in our home and avoid the obnoxious fact that while we grieve you on your birthday, the rest of the world keeps turning unaware of what it’s lost. As millions of parents pick their kindergartners up from school, your family will be celebrating their kindergartner’s birthday without their kindergartner. I promise I try really, really hard to be happy on days like this. I try hard to understand what this all means … why and how we got chosen for this backwards lottery.

I hope wherever you are that you are able to look down on all of us and see that you are still very much a member of our family—one that is just as important as the ones that are still physically here. The love we have for you spans all time and space. I hope the love you have for us does the same so I’ll be able to feel some small part of that on your big day.

I miss you. I miss you so much. Have I told you that lately? Of course I have. But do you hear me? Do you truly hear me? If you can … happy birthday Nash. We love you always and forever 

Love always,

Your Mommy

Grandma Bea

Sometimes I wonder if God is a master chef and we are a collection of his favorite recipes. I believe every person is placed in our lives for a reason, just like every recipe has key ingredients to make it what it’s meant to be. Some ingredients are small and some larger. Some go in early and some are mixed in later. Sometimes you make the same recipe every year and one year you spice it up by adding another ingredient … sometimes it adds to the recipe and sometimes it takes away from it. Some ingredients don’t seem to make sense at all yet they can be the most important ingredients to ensuring the recipe turns out well. I hope you see where I’m going with this, because to me it’s almost mind-blowing.

I, like a recipe, am made up of all the things and people that have touched my life. Some have made me sweeter, some bitter, but all necessary to making me … me. I’m at a turning point in my life, a crossroads of sorts. One of my bulk ingredients is being recalled. Not because it’s bad, or contaminated, but because it has fulfilled what it was meant to do here. For the last 38 years it’s made me who I am. It’s one of those irreplaceable ingredients, and without it, the recipe just isn’t the same. That ingredient is my Grandma Bea.

Not one person has impacted my life as much, or for as long, as my 95-year-old grandmother has. Everything good in me is because of her love and compassion. Growing up I practically lived with my grandma. My dad was a single dad with three small children and he relied on my grandmother to take care of us while he worked sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. When I think of my grandma’s home the first memory that hits me is the smell. Her home always smelled like rich brown gravy, cookies, roast beef, and homemade coleslaw. I swear even when she wasn’t cooking the almost 70 years of cooking she did there stained the walls of her home with a sweet smell that oozed  from ever corner. It would hit you the moment you walked through the door followed by a warm smile and tender soft-spoken voice always filled with love. She instilled every ounce of faith that runs through me. Wednesday evening we went to church followed by ice cream at Odell’s only to wake the next morning as she put us on the dial-a-ride for school. The last couple of years she has lived in an assisted living complex, and seeing her old home missing its furniture and pictures is a sad reminder that even the things we love most change.

I’ve always had a close relationship with my grandmother but losing Nash linked us … that shared bond of mothers who have lost a child. We spent countless hours talking about Nash and my dad. How hard it is to be here when half of your heart is somewhere else. I would never have discussed these things in such detail with her before Nash — I wouldn’t have wanted to upset her. Losing Nash taught me how important it is to let her say his name, to cry as she reminisced about her many memories of him. I remember not too long ago when she had asked me to tell her about my dad’s passing. She wanted every detail. I know how important that is for me … how hard it is to not know exactly what Nash felt as he left this world for another — a world where I can longer care for him or look after him. I held her hand and we both cried as I told her how peaceful my dad’s passing was, how we were all with him and holding his hands. As much as she cried, the relief that washed over her was visible, and in that moment I regretted never sharing it with her before.

Maybe it’s my grandma’s age or her soft demeanor but my family tends to treat her with extra soft gloves. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer he didn’t want to tell her for fear that it would upset her. It amazed me even then that he thought he could squeeze that one by her. The next day she was in the hospital room with him. Same when Nash passed. Her arthritis was so bad that sitting for any length of time was excruciating. It was painful just to watch her adjust herself in a chair. A car ride was out of the question. I lived two hours away from her, yet against the advice of others she came down immediately and again for his showing and funeral. You couldn’t keep her away.

My grandmother is the person I’m most honest with. I called her when I was in labor with both boys. When Nash was ready to be born she was so excited, and all I could do was cry. I remember telling her I was scared … that I didn’t know if I could do it. Five short months later I would be sitting next to her after he died saying the same thing. She reassured me that I could and that I would. No fairy dust sprinkled on it. She didn’t sugarcoat it or tell me it got easier … she just said the truth: I could and I would. Many people said similar words to me, but it was only when she said it that I truly felt that I could.

My grandma was pregnant with her fifth child when my grandpa died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. She became a single working mother in a time where moms stayed home and raised their children while the husband worked and supported the family. Can you imagine? My dad and his twin brother were 12. She went through a pregnancy, labor, and raising five children without the love of her life, but with the questions and grief of five children not to mention her own grief. My grandmother never remarried and her faith was unwavering. Not once did I ever hear her complain about the hand she had been dealt … not once.

My grandma Bea is in her final days now. She is at the end of her journey here and is more than ready to go. She has told me for some time now she is ready to be with my grandpa, my dad, and my Nash. Her faith is so strong that she looks forward to the end.

People have told me I’m strong … I don’t feel that way. I’m just getting through each day the best I can. I hope by giving you just a small glimpse of the woman who helped raise me you may see where I get some of that “strength” from. I will miss her endlessly. She had made me who I am, and I am proud of every single sprinkle she has added to my life. Goodbyes are never easy especially when it comes to my Grandma Bea — my rock, my heart, my cup of strength, tablespoon of compassion, pinch of kindness, and two giant scoops of unconditional love.

Your Momma

I remember when my life used to be mine. When my biggest worry was getting to work on time or an argument with friends. I got up each day with the same routine – breakfast, work, lunch, home, dinner, T.V., sleep. My weekends were like most everyone’s. They consisted of a few adult beverages and hanging with friends and family or just hanging around the house with Todd. That was before I became a momma, before I met you. Life was beautifully ordinary before you  came into it – beautiful, boring, and monotonous.

I had no worries, and the worries I had, are not even worth mentioning. In my world now, I wouldn’t even list them as worries, more like inconveniences. Things that made my day not run at the normal level of functioning I was used to. Something would happened that would throw my schedule off and that was my big crisis.  Then you came into my world and turned it upside down. One look at you and I knew I would never be the same. My life from that day on would be anything but ordinary. You brought a light to my life I didn’t know existed. As if the life before I had you had no relevance to who I was or who I would have been. Everything stopped and started anew. My life from that moment on revolved around this perfect angle God had  blessed me with. Your soft, dimpled, good smelling skin. Those dark chocolate eyes and that perfect button nose became my routine. Looking at you and kissing you became my job and I never missed work. If I close my eyes and think really hard, I can still feel you in my arms. Still remember the feeling of putting my nose near your face and just breathing in all that good baby smell. I felt so connected  to you. I still do. Four years since you left and I feel your absence just as profound as the minute your heart stopped beating. It’s tortuous, painful, an indescribable ache to have the center of your universe ripped from you. To this day I can not believe this happened to you. Yesterday, I was looking through pictures. They were all in chronological order. So many pictures of you and me and your daddy. Smiles you can not fake, every single one was pure happiness. I looked at  them and instantly felt  that love again, that naive-my-life-is-perfect, indescribable love. Then came the pictures following your death. Pictures I took of myself in your room crying while your dogs laid on my lap. Your dad would text me asking how I was doing and the thought of even trying to describe it was so tasking I would just take a picture.  Pictures of your nursery, your funeral. Pictures filled with an eerie darkness that made me feel instantly sick to my stomach. It was the the EXACT opposite of the overwhelming happiness I felt before. Just as powerful, but on the other side of the spectrum. Like something came into my life and sucked every ounce of happiness out of me and replaced it with the darkest Hell.  They are too dark to look at long without the ache setting in and the realization of what was taken. My heart aches for you. I worked this year. The first time I have worked the anniversary of your death. I actually went to work while your brother was with a babysitter. I thought I was doing well until I got off of work. I ran to my car and sped to the house to get to him . I couldn’t get there fast enough. Would I get there on time? Would I make it this time? Would he still be there when I got there? He was, and grabbed him and held him and cried uncontrollably, kissing him everywhere. I realized in that moment that I’m still waiting to pick you up from daycare. In my mind, I’m trying to race backwards as fast as I can hoping to get there before it’s too late. I hope you know I’m missing you. That I relive your life and death daily, like a side show in my mind. As much as I know you wouldn’t want that, I can’t help it. It’s impossible not to miss you, not to hurt from the loss of you. I lost a huge part of me when you left, but boy did I gain so much. The short time you were here… Oh buddy, I was so blessed to be your momma. I wish you could have experienced everything in life I wished for you. You were and still are, so immensely loved and celebrated. I miss us. I miss our late night story times. I miss our lullaby time. I MISS EVERYTHING!!! Mostly though, I miss being your momma.

The Beauty of Aging

Most of us spend our days wishing time would slow down. If we could only hit the pause button on our lives then we could enjoy it even more, have that much more time with the people we love. I know first hand not only does time not slow down, but it will run you over  like a freight train. It doesn’t stop for anything, not even your broken heart. I feel this frustration (that word doesn’t even cover it) that if I could just rewind my life, make different decisions, taken Nash to a different daycare, not dropped him off that day, he would still be here. I daydream about birthday parties and holidays that I will never celebrate with him. I envision Crue with an older brother barely a year older than him. I picture them playing, hugging, fighting and loving each other. I see pictures of other families, families with brothers, and I let my mind picture what could have been, what SHOULD have been. I miss a chaos I have never even experienced. I miss a time in my life that has never existed. Every day Crue grows a day older, and everyday is one more day that Nash has been gone. Time is a funny thing. I look at Crue and I’m so thankful that I get to celebrate these things with him, things I didn’t get with Nash; yet, the other part of me wants more time. Everything is going by so fast and I want him to stay my little boy forever. Sometimes I cry just thinking about the days he will no longer scream momma and run to give me a kiss. The days I am no longer the cool person to hang out with. A day when I am no longer his person. His everything.

This year has been eye opening. I spent nearly a complete year feeling unwell. I know what’s it’s like to realize how nice it is to wake up everyday and just feel good.  I’ve had friends diagnosed with incurable diseases. I’ve watched them suffer and come to terms with their new normal. I’ve had family diagnosed with terminal cancer. Young people robbed of the future they so desperately want and deserve. I’ve seen other moms suffer the same fate as me, the loss of their child. It makes you take stock of the here and now. As much as we want time to slow down or wish we could be twenty again, the truth is, aging is a gift we are not all blessed with. Every year that passes, is one more year we get with our loved ones. One more year on this earth to enjoy all that it has to offer. One more year that so many others  didn’t get. My baby never celebrated  one birthday party. Not even one Christmas. He never spoke  one word or  gave one hug. He will never get married or earn a paycheck. He will never fall  in love. He will never ride a motorcycle or feel the ocean at his feet. He will never make friends or have sleepovers.  I remind myself of this as I watch Crue growing older. It’s an answered prayer to watch him grow and an absolute hands down miracle that he gets to do it. Time is not promised to any of us. Crue will be three in a few short days.  Most of us spend this time of  Our life either hoping time slows down or hoping it speeds up. We spend so much time worrying about time that we don’t enjoy life as it’s happening. Some would say my life this year was nothing spectacular.  I did the same thing most women my age are doing. I got up every morning went to work, cooked, cleaned, took care of my children. Nothing in particular made this year a stand out year. I know the other side to life though, I know the beauty in  doing these everyday mundane things with my family is not something everyone gets. I like to look at the last year of my life as anything but mundane. I woke up every morning and felt good. I was able to walk into a grocery  store multiple times and buy enough food to feed my family. I went to a job that I’m fortunate enough to have. I’m married to a man that loves me more days than not. I wake up to slobbery toddler kisses and hear a small voice tell me on an hourly basis that he loves me. My life is pretty damn good. I heard a quote once saying, “ There is two ways to look at life. One that nothing is a miracle and the other that everything is.” Wow, is that not the absolute truth. Before you wake up complaining like I have on so many days. Take heart knowing that you woke up. That just the simple seemingly insignificant thing as getting out of bed this morning is a miracle. If more of us lived everyday like it was our last, we wouldn’t look back on our lives with so much regret. If nothing happens in my life, other than watching Crue grow older, I have lived a full life, a happy life. So, keep growing baby boy. Keep getting older, and I will celebrate with you knowing what an absolute miracle and gift it is. There is so much beauty in aging.

Matters of the heart

As soon as I was released from the hospital, my anxieties were tested. You see, the world and the people in it do not  stop being ugly because you have had a breakdown. Todd did his best to make my transition as easy as possible. For weeks, we stayed in the protective bubble of our home–even now it’s where we are most. Events would come up and Todd would say, “I would rather not go.”

It never dawned on me he was lying. He’s never been someone who sugarcoated things for me. If I’m wrong, he tells me. So when I mentioned I didn’t want to go to a particular family event, I was surprised when he said OK without hesitation. I go to EVERYTHING. So I thought he was just being fair. Then came my best friend Shawn’s birthday party.  I knew I had to get my butt there. That girl has done so much for me. As soon as I ready to go…..full on panic attack and another cancelation. I was letting the people I love down. I was letting Todd down. I was letting myself down.

I expressed how surprised I was that he wasn’t putting up a fight when I wanted to stay home from things. He said, “I don’t want you to have to do something that’s going to bring on any extra stress.” It was then that I realized how much he was catering to the new fragile me. He had done it so nonchalantly that I hadn’t even noticed he was doing it.

I needed to step up. I can’t expect him to change his whole life because of me. He has stepped up and now it’s time for me to return the favor. After that I went to everything again. A couple of things helped me break out of my bubble.

First, I started therapy. Now I’m someone, as you all know, who didn’t believe in it. It’s now one of my favorite things! Just talking to someone who is not biased about your situation is helpful. Also when you’re trapped inside your own head, you don’t make the decisions you normally would–every decision you make is out of fear. You need an outsider’s perspective that has absolutely nothing to gain, no hidden agenda, except to make you the best version of you.

I learned that I needed to set healthy boundaries for things that caused me stress. That it’s OK to not go to everything, regardless of what others think. That staying away from people or things that bring out the worst in you is a healthy thing, not a bad thing. That staying at home is actually really unhealthy if it becomes a habit…and that a lot of your anxieties are your own insecurities.

I think it’s easy to feel like other people or situations cause your stress, whether it’s family, friends, or coworkers. It’s easy to blame others when you feel you are misunderstood, judged, or wronged in some way. The truth is we pick who is in our lives and how much they are in our lives. If it’s stressful, then we can distance ourselves–that’s our choice. What’s that quote? “Not everyone deserves a seat at the table of your life.” If we feel certain people are worth the investment, we can try to mend that relationship or we can put some healthy boundaries there. If it’s work where you feel you have no choice…I’m learning we do have a choice. We can choose how we react to things. People will find you quite dull if you don’t react and will usually stop involving you. Most want you to react, and when you give them that satisfaction, the only person it harms is you.

This is all easier said than done. If you keep working it, keep trying to be a better you, you’ll be a healthier you. If you think you are cured or you are the best version of yourself, you probably need more therapy. We always need work.

Second, was an unlikely friendship that I didn’t see coming. The day I was released from the hospital, the cardiologist I had seen before I was admitted called to ask how I was doing. Boy, was his timing perfect. We were driving through the pharmacy picking up all my meds. I laughed and said, “Well, I guess I’m better.” I explained what had happened. He scheduled a follow up with me.

I was surprised he had personally called. I had seen a lot of specialists the last few months, and he was the first and only one to personally follow up. My appointment was a week later. It was the 8th, just one day shy of Nash day. I brought the staff cookies and the cardiologist a coffee mug I was sure he would love after our last talk. It said, “Don’t confuse your google search with my medical degree.”

I sat in the lobby absolutely exhausted. I was back at work, back to taking care of Crue, back to life and all that that involves. I was so exhausted I could barely pay attention to him. As he sat across from me, he again let me explain all my anxieties and ask the same old boring questions. One thing I have learned through this process is that if something bothers you or the answer you get is not what you wanted…ask again. Ask whatever questions will help you to stop asking yourself the same question. We anxious people have an inner dialogue of worry and questions that circulate nonstop. The best way to get them out of circulation is to get them answered.

I asked him again why he didn’t think I had POTS. He replied, “It’s not that I don’t think you do, but it’s a diagnosis of elimination. You were obviously dehydrated, your electrolytes were off. You need to check the more likely things off the list first.” I told him it was nice to be at U of M where I felt heard. I didn’t mean that in any way toward him, but he quickly replied, “I hear you!”

I laughed and said, “I know.” It’s funny because as much as I want my heart to not be the problem, I truly felt if it was, he would find the answer I so desperately needed. It was then that our conversation became personal. He asked about the hospital and I was blunt like I usually am now. He then told me of his own tragic loss of a family member. When I got home I couldn’t get what he told me out of my mind. The loss he shared was absolutely tragic, and I felt like an outsider to a horrific event instead of the one in it. I felt like how it must feel when I tell others my story. I was so exhausted when he told me and also so caught up trying to process it that I couldn’t remember if I had said anything in response.

I knew we had many mutual friends so I found him on Facebook and sent him a private message. I thanked him for taking the extra time with me, someone who most likely doesn’t have any heart-related issue. He had treated my anxiety as if it was his main priority. I’m sure others would have said, “Listen lady, you don’t have a problem and I’m pretty busy,” but he never did. I thanked him for sharing his story, apologized for his loss, and finished by saying, “We are the lucky ones to have the best of guardian angels.”

Soon after he messaged me asking me about church, specifically which I attended. I replied, “To be honest I haven’t set foot in a church for years…my faith is a continued work in progress.”

It was then that he invited me to his, and then not-so-subtly followed up every Saturday night with a reminder. He apologized if he was badgering and promised he would stop as soon as I came once. I remember saying I couldn’t believe he was such a godly person–I would think he would be more scientific. He replied saying something I’ll never forget. He said, “I’ve seen it a hundred times: I just treat patients; God heals them.”

It was then that I thought it couldn’t hurt. Anything that could help at this point was worth a try. One reason I hadn’t been in church was I didn’t know anyone who I could go with there. Remember, I am now an anxious person in group settings. Here was my opportunity.

The pastor at this church does his sermons with a theme of sorts. The month I started attending, the series of sermons was called “World War Me.” It was pretty much geared toward anxiety and our need to put things in God’s hands–to live by faith and not by fear. Wow, did I come at the right time! I started looking forward to church. I sat with the cardiologist and his equally lovely wife, and I found myself moved by their faith in God.

Certain sermons I cringe…like when they talk about God’s purpose, or putting your faith in God. These are hard things for me to do. I used to love church. I would walk out feeling touched by God. Now I sit there more as a skeptic. I think of what they are trying to relay and I treat it more like homework I have to work on in my own life. I question everything.

Although I’m not there yet, I know I will get there. There are days I feel like God is sitting beside me holding my hand and others where I want to scream, “Hey, wait a minute! I did put my faith in You and look how it turned out. You want me to do that again?!”

I’ve become more speculative and blunt, not only with God but in all the rest of life as well. If it bothers me, I’m going to say something. If it upsets me, I’m going to say it, even if that means questioning God. Never before did I lash out in anger during prayer or question God. My prayer was always thanking Him for my life and the people in it and asking Him to watch over them. After Nash died, it became a gateway to talk to Nash, and that’s all I did.

Now when I pray, I ask Him to calm my mind so that I can hear what He is trying to convey. I ask Him to help me better understand why Nash had to go. I ask Him to calm my insecurities and give me strength. I ask Him to work in my life and show me He is there. I have actual subject matter now. Every new Sunday I’m filled with new questions and every night the debate begins again. I throw out those questions to the universe and await its reply.

I’m becoming the strongest version of myself. I know what you’re thinking. Strong?! I can barely leave my house. I’m here to tell you anxious people are the strongest people you will ever know. When leaving the house is as hard as giving a speech, naked, in front of a million people…and yet you continue to do it every day…that’s strength. I no longer need the approval of others. I no longer cower when upset. I no longer second guess myself on things I feel strongly about. I’m a work in progress, but I like where I’m headed. I have slowly weaned off my meds, and Todd and I are deciding whether to give it a go one last time and add to the family we have already created together or to be content with the family we have now. I will tell you one thing: this decision will not be made out of fear. I will not let my anxiety dictate wether I’m going to have another child, and I’m not going to let my fear of the future stop me from being content with what I have.

Regardless of what we choose, I’m the healthiest mentally I’ve ever been. I have so many people to thank for that. God, for putting people in my life that got me one step closer to Him. My family for their unwavering support…and me.

Yes, I said it: me. It was always hard for me to give myself credit for anything. I think most of us are that way. With every new test this world throws out, I have survived. With every new obstacle in my rearview mirror, I have gained more and more confidence. If I got through that, I can get through this.

So if you find yourself down and out or wrestling your own inner demons, take a few recommendations from someone who has been there. Don’t be afraid to cut things out of your life that add to your stress, even if those things are people. Therapy can only help. Get your butt to church. Even if you don’t believe, start asking the universe those hard questions. I think you will be surprised by its answers. Don’t dwell on the negative…when one thing goes by another will replace it. Remind yourself you’ve gotten through them all and you will this current stress too. Oh, and one last thing: I recommended Dr. Dan for all things involving matters of the heart .

Dr. Dan and family sporting their Nash bracelets

Hand in Hand

My biggest fear in going home was letting Todd down. Through everything he has been beyond supportive…not just during my hospital stay but also the MONTHS leading up to it. I was worried he would think I was cured, that our life would magically return to normal and I would be that same fun-loving girl he fell in love with. I was worried that seeing that I wasn’t that girl anymore would be his final straw. Yes, you should absolutely support your spouse, but at what point is enough enough? At what point do you have to make a decision regarding your own happiness? It was then that I looked back at everything and saw the beauty in all the madness.

About four days into my stay, my friend Jessie had stopped by to visit. We were sitting in the living room area. From that spot you have a bird’s eye view of the nurses station. Todd had just gotten there and didn’t realize I was watching. He probably figured I was in my room. I watched as he handed a bag of groceries over to the nurse. The bag was filled with my favorite snacks, along with Powerade.

I hate Powerade but when the cardiologist recommended it for dehydration reasons, I started drinking it like crazy. I was so desperate to feel better I did everything every doctor recommended to the point where it was almost unhealthy. When my anxiety was at its worst, Powerade became one of my many rituals to try to keep the dizziness at bay. Added to taking vitamins at the same time each day; drinking water to the point where my car floorboard, bedroom floor, and trash can were littered with empty plastic bottles; and getting enough sleep. At home I was going to bed at 7:30 every night–although I didn’t sleep, I would lie there hoping I would wake to a better day. A doctor would tell me something and I would take it to the extreme, thinking if I would do this one more thing then I would get better and if I missed one day then I would most certainly pay for it. It was irrational to say the least, but it had been my life for months.

Now, here my husband was making sure I had these things because he knew they helped calm me. He then handed over his cell phone and signed in. I watched him and how routine this had become for him. You know, just signing into the loony bin and dropping off a few of my wife’s favorite things before I sit with her as she shakes uncontrollably and cries about her day. I still remember what my husband was wearing at that moment…his stance and his smile as he signed in. I remember the nurses pointing to where  I was and his smile as he turned my direction. I remember the look he gave me as we met eyes…it was a mixture of happiness to see me and worry that I wasn’t OK. In that moment, the love and admiration I felt for my husband grew so large my heart could barely contain them.

He didn’t miss a day! Hell, he didn’t miss an hour! Every single minute he could be with me, he was. This meant leaving work an hour early. Picking Crue up from the babysitters and dropping him off at his sister’s or parent’s. Driving an hour to be with me to do things like play UNO, watch the news in the cafeteria, meet my new crazy friends, and talk to me about my day. He would then drive an hour home to get up for work the next morning and do it all over again. He never complained. He never made me feel guilty. In fact, every time I apologized or commented on something like bills, missing work, or not being there for Crue, he would quickly remind me not to worry about anything besides getting better. I thought about our nights. My routine of a sleeping pill, a kiss goodbye, and the wave as he drove in front of the hospital on his way out. I’ve never been a needy person emotionally and here I was needing him for absolutely everything! My husband loves being needed. He really thrives when things get tough. He is kind, empathetic, giving, supportive, and thoughtful beyond measure. He truly is a gift to me and I find myself thanking God for him everyday.

To love a person with anxiety or depression is a full-time job. Yes, we all have things that are annoying that our spouses have to deal with, but anxiety and depression are not small things nor are they things that have an end in sight. This is an everyday struggle that may get better with time but highs and lows are to be expected. You are not just asking someone to love you and all your imperfections but also to love the roller coaster of sometimes debilitating fear, stress, and constant mood changes. You’re asking them to sit along side you when you are afraid of something that is not even a blip on the radar of rationality. You’re asking them to sit beside you as you try to rationalize your anxieties of things as small as going to a family party. You’re asking them to sit beside you as you sob uncontrollably for absolutely no reason at all. You’re asking them to sit beside you while you wake up in a full panic because you are scared of something but you have no idea what that something is. My husband has chose to sit beside me…..every time.

I think we all have good intentions when we say our wedding vows. At least I hope so. I’ve failed in so many ways as a wife. Yes, I’m loving, supportive, loyal…but I fall short in so many other ways. I’m riddled with fears and insecurities. Who knew when we said our vows the life that lay ahead of us? Who knew God would ask us to endure so much? I’ve seen my husband take everything life has thrown at us and make it magical. Our life these last few years has been like a roller coaster. I’ve seen my husband duck and weave with every new turn.  I’ve seen him endure and press on during the long uphill climbs and throw his hands in the air as the coaster speeds downhill.

I had a friend tell me once that we all have our things. She said this when I felt bad for complaining when others are dealing with things like terminal cancer. She said we all have our things that in our life feel huge. This is so true. I’ve had family complain about their children being suspended from school or a divorce they are going through, and all have apologized for burdening me with  problems that they felt were small in comparison to mine. I never and I mean never felt that way. I understand we all have issues  in our lives and would never belittle anyone’s. We all have our things. I never want people to feel I can no longer relate to this stuff. If anything I feel more empathetic to others’ struggles.

As I walked the halls saying goodbye to Kennie, Steve, Derek, and Phil, I clung to Todd’s hand. I wanted to cry because I knew these people shared one of the darkest times in my life and I would most likely never see them again.  I would never know what happened to them. I could see that same fear in their eyes. Each hugged and thanked me and I them. I walked away fighting back tears. What I’ve learned from this experience is that none of us are above the breakdown that brought me there. We are all dangling on that edge, just steps away from going over. If we are lucky we have someone to catch us when we fall…and if we are even luckier we have someone to hold our hand, smile, and throw their hands in the air as we take the leap off that cliff together. I’m blessed to have people there to catch me and a partner who won’t let me jump alone.

Saying Goodbye

Phil comparing his chronic pain to what I feel was an eye opener for me. Although I’m not in physical pain, I am most definitely  in emotional pain 24/7. Maybe not as bad one day as the next, maybe not as bad one second as the next, but at some level I feel it always. Our talks resonated on a level I’ve been unable to reach with anyone other than Todd. He talked about missing his life before his accident. How he missed doing something as simple as going to the store without feeling pain. The jealousy he felt when he saw others doing random, everyday things with such ease. How his personality and the way he viewed the world were completely flipped upside down. That as much as his family wanted to help he knew they couldn’t. This was his life from here on out. All he could do was learn how to accept it and find the strength to push through each new day. He said something to me one night I’ll never forget. He said, “Shelly, I use to think life was short. Everything was going by so quickly. Now every day feels long. Life feels long.” Oh boy, did I understand what he meant. I knew I couldn’t say anything to help him, and he had told me on a number of occasions he loved that I didn’t try.

As the days went on, I started to be able to differentiate between what symptoms were anxiety and what symptoms were something else. So many things played into figuring that out.

First, the hospital is very scheduled. Everything has a place and time, and every day is basically the same with very little difference. This is key for an anxious person. If something happened that wasn’t scheduled, I would get extremely anxious. Shift change was horrendous. I started trusting a nurse and then she was gone. I felt this need to explain my entire history to every new nurse who took over. I wanted them to know if something happened to me what all I had been dealing with in case it was important in an emergency situation.

Second, as much as not having Crue and Todd with me was one of my biggest anxiety triggers, it was also key to getting better. I needed time to myself to concentrate on myself. Up until that point, I had been trying my hardest to ignore how I felt. That meant keeping my mind off of me. Being in a hospital with nothing but myself to concentrate on was incredibly hard but also necessary.

Third, being in a hospital setting was the only way I could have done this. My anxiety had reached a level I didn’t know anxiety could even reach. I was having physical symptoms. This was affecting my health! I could not function. I was lucky I was tying my own damn shoelaces. I could no longer eat, sleep, do my hair, put on makeup. I had been going to work looking like a complete train wreck. The only reason I even went was because I was afraid to be alone. I cried all day, every day. I had panic attacks anytime someone came or went. I couldn’t be left alone with Crue, or by myself at all. It’s hard to explain this to someone who hasn’t suffered severe anxiety or depression. Even in the middle of all of this, I was dead set that something was wrong with me and was not thinking it was anxiety at all.

I think that the biggest misconception is that people can control this. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that it was anxiety let alone try and control it. It’s hard to fix something you are not even aware of. The hospital made me feel safe. Safe to take medication for the first time. Safe to have panic attacks. Safe if my symptoms manifested into something more serious.

Lastly, being around others who had similar issues helped. When they would explain their panic attacks, their thoughts, their pasts…it was like they were speaking for me.

All of these things were key to helping me get better. At first it was only the small things that I noticed, like my bathroom visits had almost stopped as soon as I was admitted. I not only started eating but actually wanted to eat. I wasn’t crying as much. I hadn’t had a panic attack since the second day there. I had to tell myself these things wouldn’t just go away on their own if it was my physical health. These symptoms were going away as I got my anxiety more under control.

One day I was lying in bed and just thinking about life, about how I had ended up here. Why was I still so dizzy? Was this something I had to live with forever? Was something seriously wrong with me but they just hadn’t found it yet? As much as these were just passing thoughts, I felt that pit of anxiousness in my stomach as I stared out the window but this time I recognized it as anxiety–something I was unable to do four days earlier.

On my fifth day there I was told the next day would be my last. Talk about anxiety returning. I was feeling better in this bubble they created for me, but didn’t think it would last. I wasn’t the only one–many of us had a hard time leaving. I was torn between wanting to be with my family and wanting to stay in this protective bubble forever. How was I going to go home and function at the level it required? How was I going to take of Crue? Go to work?

The psychiatrists didn’t feel my dizziness was anxiety related. They pushed me to explore all avenues in order to figure it out. Although I knew this in my heart, it was discouraging to hear. I had seen many symptoms disappear as my anxiety became more controlled. I was hoping the dizziness would be the next to go. I was, however, grateful they heard me. Grateful  they understood how much this was affecting my life.

The following day I met with the psychiatrists a final time, along with the nurses and the social worker. They went over a written emergency plan with me. I had to list three people and numbers I would call if I felt depressed. I had to list three things that calm me: coloring, hanging with my family and friends, snuggling my dogs. Also, I had to list three things to avoid if stressed: large groups of people, being online, thinking about having another baby. All easier said than done. Today was the day I would say goodbye to the people I had grown to admire. My fellow survivors. The strongest yet most fragile people I have ever known. The people who statistics show will most likely leave this earth by their own doing. Saying goodbye to them would be harder than I ever realized.

Chronic Pain

I woke up the following morning nervous to start medication. When your an over thinker, like myself, your brain tends to run on overdrive, usually with negative thoughts like; Will I be on this medication forever? What kind of side effects will I have? Will it make me tired? Will it make me a zombie? Will I have to try a bunch before I find one I like? How will I know if I like it? The doctors had wanted to start me on four different pills and up my dosage accordingly. I had asked to be started on the lowest dose and I didn’t want to be on more than two pills at a time. The great thing about U of M is that they actually take what you want into consideration. They agreed to put me on Zoloft daily, mainly because I requested one that was safe during pregnancy (just in case) and Xanax when needed for panic attacks.

We had a dry erase board in our room and we had to write  a goal on it everyday.  My goal was to not take any Xanax. The nurses insisted that I not make medications MY goal. They felt that I needed to realize medication was here to help and that it wasn’t a bad thing. What they didn’t understand is that my end game in all of this, is another baby. I wasn’t against the medication. I didn’t like it, but I was at a point where I would try anything if it would help; however,being on a medication dictated when and if I could have another child and that’s why I was fighting it. Every time I took a Xanax, I knew I was that much further from being able to get pregnant. Even if I never have another baby, I can’t take that disappointment, not when it’s the one thing I still have hope for.

My next group was “support team”. Almost all of us were in that one. We had to discuss who our support people were and who we would call if needed. What was sad about this group, was that  most, could not not think of a support person other than their therapist. Derek was the only one besides me who had a lot of support at home. I listened as each person talked about their home life and in most cases even, it’s what had brought them here. I wanted to take them all home with me. These people had horrible things going on in their life and no one to turn to. In that moment, I was so thankful for my friends and family. Two patients were being relocated to a special housing for teenagers of drug addicted parents. Kennie was trying to get her sister to leave her husband and come with her. Steve’s grandma had just died. I think she helped a lot financially and he was returning to a wife and new born baby with little money and not in a good place mentally. Obviously his wife wanted him home so she could have some help. I remember him on several different occasions saying he wasn’t ready to go home and his wife was upset he wasn’t pushing to leave sooner. Most people did not want to leave and there I was, wishing everyday was that day.

I can not recall the name of our final group that day, but it was all about therapy – what kinds, how often it’s needed, and if we already had a therapist, were we seeing them. if we didn’t have one, they guided us on how to find the one that fit. My friend Lauren is a therapist and I had actually contacted her before I went into U of M. We can’t leave the hospital without having an appointment with a therapist within two weeks of leaving. I had already asked Lauren and so she was getting all the information about my stay and planned on seeing me after I was discharged. She was one of five people on speed dial when I was in the hospital. I went from never seeing a therapist to needing one on the daily. Who am I kidding, hourly. In one of our groups, there was a guy named Phil. Phil scared me from day one. He was maybe five years older than me. He walked with a cane and was pale and sweating 99% of the time . He always, and I mean always, had a scowl. He doesn’t mind staring, and everything out of his mouth is sarcastic and mean. In group, he never spoke. The only reason  I only knew his name was Phil because the social worker would call him out of group. He would laugh in groups when people were talking about their issues. Not a full on laugh, more like a sarcastic chuckle, as if their issues were comical even. I  made eye contact with him  once and it sent chills down my spine. No smile, just that scowl, pale face, and a look of disgust that I had the audacity to sit near him. When the social worker got to me, she asked me about therapy and my experience. At this point in time, I had never discussed Nash once. He, after all, was not my issue, but a lot of my thoughts about therapy I got from losing him. I said, “I don’t really believe in it.”I said, “for me, its hard to believe someone who hasn’t been through what I have can really know how to help because they have no experience with it themselves. The social worker replied, “Yes, you are correct, but they can empathize with you.” Now I found myself chuckling like Phil. She then said, “why don’t you try it out here? What do you think they can’t empathize with?” Not sure why, but it opened the flood gates. I started talking about Nash, the call from Todd telling me the police were doing CPR, seeing him on that gurney watching doctors and nurses doing viscous and brutal chest compressions that shook Nash to the point where I felt I should stop them because they were hurting him. I recalled the day I dropped him off, the last time I saw him and the last time I saw him smile at me as I walked back towards my car to leave for work. I hiccup-cried as I explained that no matter how much they felt they could empathize with me, they could never know the pain I feel each day. They could never understand the pain of re-living the best five months of my life and the gut wrenching feeling of rocking my dead child in a rocking chair in front of my friends and family, singing to him his favorite song and telling him it’s ok to go. I didn’t realize I had been looking at the floor the entire time. As soon as I looked up there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Even the social worker was crying. Jozlyn, Steve, Derek, and Kennie were all looking at me, crying. Some even got up to hug me. This was the first time in a long time I talked about the day he died. Seeing others who have significant issues of their own be in complete disbelief and sadness for me, made me realize just how much I probably needed this help long ago. Then, out of nowhere, that low and scary voice came from my right, as Phil said, “this is the first time someone has explained exactly how I feel.” I immediately thought, “oh my God, Phil lost a child!?” That wasn’t his story though. He explained that he was hit by a drunk driver years ago. He described the amount of surgeries and metal he now has in his spine and legs. That his fiancé left him after the first year, when he was just learning to walk again. He then said, “no one understands what I go through on a daily basis.” How can some therapist give me any advice? He paused and then said, “no one else knows what it’s like living with chronic pain….”