I Am Great

I am great

In third grade Nikolai had the best teacher. Don’t get me wrong, he had amazing teachers his whole school career; however, one teacher always stood out to me and this was his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Breen.

This was the one year of elementary school that I remember as being his most joyous. While he still had to get the work done, Mrs. Breen wasn’t the teacher that scolded him, made him feel bad for not doing his work, or held him back from recess (which he so desperately needed to burn off his energy). She softly redirected him, used wit and sarcasm with him, and tried to always make tasks a game. I know he was a handful and we talked frequently about challenges. However, his third-grade year was the year he smiled most. This was the year he thrived in school the most.

One particular class project they worked on was called “I Am Great.” The kids colored or painted those words in the middle of the page and then each child’s page was passed around to the other kids in the class to write something positive about that child.

Last week I was sifting through Nikolai’s box of treasures, as I like to call it. Each one of my boys has a box filled with all the things I want to save forever and ever – their first baby shoes, baptism gowns, homemade blankets, report cards, pictures they colored, Mother’s Day cards handmade with love and on the rare occasion, a meaningful assignment from one of their classes. It was through this sifting through his box looking for something else entirely, that I came across this “I Am Great” assignment.

I started reading all of the comments and I laughed and cried. Comments about how nice he was, what a good friend he was, how good he was at athletics, reading and coloring. Yet it was Mrs. Breen’s note that jolted me: “You are a super athlete with an amazing passion for life.”

“An amazing passion for life.”

This was Nikolai summed up in one sentence. The BEST sentence. And as a parent who struggled with this child constantly, I wish I had focused more on that one sentence. As a parent, I focused so much on what he didn’t do or did wrong and forgot to look at him as a person, as a friend, someone who was kind and joyful and who had a zest for life that few others had.

Chalk this up with the other millions of mistakes I made with my kids. Raising kids without an instruction manual is just hard.

Yet it got me thinking… why don’t we all have an “I Am Great” assignment posted somewhere where we can see it all the time? What if instead of looking at all of our flaws, we took time to realize all the great things about ourselves and each other? What if we looked at kids like Nikolai and instead of seeing a kid who can’t focus on a single thing and is crazy impulsive, we saw a child who had “an amazing passion for life”? It’s all perspective and perhaps it’s time to change that view for one that shows the light in someone, not the darkness.

Nikolai ended that school year with a “worm-off” with Mrs. Breen. If you have never heard of the worm, just google “Worm Dance Move” and you can watch hundreds of YouTube videos of it. This final moment of third grade was talked about his whole life as one of his greatest shining achievements, as he is convinced he beat her! After Nikolai died, Mrs. Breen messaged me the video of the “worm-off” that another parent had captured. I will forever keep this video and watch it when I need to be reminded that life is full of joy if only we choose to look for it.

What is your new “normal”?

What’s your new “normal”

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis

Have you really given this any thought – this return to normal and what it looks like to you? Are you going to jump back into “normal” with two feet? Are there things about the stay at home lockdown that you enjoyed and if so how are you going to incorporate those things into your life moving forward?

I have discovered a lot about myself in this lockdown period. I have been working from home since March 13. I was just told this week that I will be required to come back into the office to work on Monday. I have spent the better part of two days now crying, worrying and becoming more bitter by the minute because I realized a lot of somethings over the last 63 days of being at home… there isn’t any place I’d rather be than home, other than missing my friends, these people I share my house with are the people I want to spend all my time with, this puppy we got is the exact therapy I needed, these daily walks and out loud prayer have lifted my soul, and  I’ve realized that my passion lies elsewhere. Going back to this daily office job is not my passion and I realized I’m dreading putting my all into something that doesn’t make my heart sing.

So today I have made the decision to quit crying and worrying and swallow the bitter pill. I have decided to take all that negative energy and turn it into a plan of action for my life and the things I am passionate about and the people that I love. What kind of impact do I want to have? What are my goals and dreams?

I don’t want to return to “normal”; although I would love to go to my local coffee shop on a Friday morning and hug all the people like the good ole days. I don’t want to return to the normal daily grind of working for someone else on their time and in their way, for their cause. My life was made for more. I think deep down, I knew that the day Nikolai died.

This quarantine has taught me quite a bit; however, what has really hit me square in the face is that the one thing that has affected ALL of us, yet been talked about the least, is mental health. I don’t think I am scientifically off when I say that more people have and will suffer from mental illness during this time than any physical ailment. I am not trying to be insensitive to those impacted by this virus (my husband had it), but at least we are talking about it. At least there are actions surrounding prevention, spread, cures. What about mental health? What have we put into place for those suffering from mental health?

This lockdown has brought most of us mentally to our knees at one point or another. Watching friends and even strangers struggle makes my heart hurt. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are also on the brink of a mental health pandemic – neither of which we are equipped to handle.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of U.S. adults said the pandemic has affected their mental health, with 19% saying it has had a major impact. A majority of Americans (57%) also said they were worried they could be exposed to COVID-19 since they couldn’t afford to miss work and therefore couldn’t stay home. (US News source)

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, roughly 1 in 5 Americans experienced a mental illness within a given year, with some 10 million adults having serious thoughts of suicide. And these are just the adult statistics. What about our kids and the affect this is having on them?

And while we are discounting and even eliminating insurance barriers and costs associated with physical health right now because of coronavirus, we aren’t making these same concessions for those suffering from mental health. Insurance coverage, or lack thereof, is the greatest barrier to most people seeking mental illness assistance. We need to take a hard look at providing lower cost options for people to find help and we must focus on both prevention and recovery, teaching people how to navigate through the different stages in their lives.

The teaching part is so important because it’s clear that we have all struggled this quarantine season. While we as humans are not equipped for lockdown or how to handle it – if we had the tools to navigate mentally through tough times, maybe, just maybe we could weather this storm better.

Because whether you are an essential worker, working from home, working from home and also teaching your kids, students, graduates, elderly, living home alone – whatever category you fall into, I see you. We have good days but we also have bad days. Those days when we feel like we just can’t do it anymore. We are at our wits end. We are lonely. We need human interaction. We need the world to not be so scary. We need empathy. We need kindness.

And so I ask again – what part of your new “normal” are you rushing back into? Has this quarantine changed you or the way you think? Has it given you a new perspective on life and who you want to be? I encourage you to take this time to find yourself. Find your passion. Be kind to yourself and to others.

And if you are struggling, please reach out for help.

Common Ground – 800-231-1127

National Suicide Hotline – 800-273-TALK

Christmas is hard

This season of Christmas is harder than I ever could have imagined.

This season of Christmas is harder than I ever could have imagined. I knew it would be hard; however, I thought we would trudge through every day as we normally do – some of them good, some of them bad. I could not have been more wrong.

I have cried a little every single day since Thanksgiving. Every single day. I am snapping at people, saying hurtful things. I am angry, lonely and sad. Just so sad. I beg for your forgiveness. I beg for a little grace right now. I feel like I’m shutting down just a little bit more each day and it’s harder to pull it back together.

Last week I spent an hour sitting at Kola’s grave sobbing. Wishing so much that he was here. Christmas has always been his very favorite. He loves decorating the tree and putting the house lights up. He loves the parties, the company, the gifts, the giving, the traditions, the fun and family.

I find myself needing a break, but not willing or able to take one. I feel overwhelmed by everything. I am forgetting to text people back for days. I can’t put together a simple menu for family Christmas. Christmas shopping – ugh! I’m usually 99.9% done by Black Friday. I am really nowhere near done and I honestly don’t even have the energy to put into it. Christmas songs make me weepy. I cried pulling out each of his ornaments with tags bearing his name from his grandma and grandpa.

My heart is broken and screaming in pain. And, it’s not just me. All four of us are feeling it. Whether my children want to talk about it or not, a mom knows when they are hurting.

Two weeks from today is Christmas Day. We are doing all of our normal traditions. Honestly, we can’t imagine doing anything different. I already bought our tickets to see Star Wars on Christmas Day. But there is definitely a part of us that is and will be missing and it will be hard.

I know many of you also struggle this time of year. All I have to say is, you are not alone. We must give ourselves some grace and not feel bad about any of our emotions: good, bad or the very ugly. Immense love and hugs to all of you.

Don’t ignore me

PSA: If you see me somewhere, say hi

PSA: If you see me in the grocery store, at the gas station, movie theater, coffee shop or anywhere else for that matter, it’s okay to say hi. I promise I won’t fall apart and start crying all over you. Ask me how I am – I promise to tell you I’m amazing, it’s Christmas time after all! I promise I won’t talk about my deceased child because it makes YOU uncomfortable. Because by all means, let’s protect YOUR feelings. 

Let me be the bigger person here. 

Seriously, why do humans act like this? You don’t know what to say? That’s a BS excuse and you and I both know it. It’s simple – I will script it out for you:

You: Hi Kris – It’s really good to see you.
Me: Hey, oh my goodness, so good to see you as well. How is everything with you and your family?
You: Very good. Tommy is trying out for basketball this year. Susie is still doing dance. 
Me: That’s awesome. My boys are busy as well. Hope you have a wonderful holiday.
You: You as well – have a great day. 

It wasn’t that hard, was it? You don’t have to ask how I am (because we know you don’t really want me to answer). You do tell me about your family, which I absolutely LOVE to hear about. I will share with you what I want about my boys (how much time do you have because they are pretty cool guys). And we end it with a happy holidays! Easy peazy! We don’t have to draw it out – five minutes tops and we are on with our days. But don’t ignore me and definitely don’t look at me like a deer in headlights, barely say hi and run away scared. 

Get uncomfortable. I know it’s not a feeling we like. I don’t like it either. However, these encounters to me are nothing shy of rude and disrespectful. Is this the way you treat everyone you meet because if so sister, we have some serious kindness skills training that needs to happen. 

Grief is hard enough my friends. Don’t make it harder.

Let’s make a deal. Treat me with kindness and respect, as all  humans deserve to be treated. And, I promise, I won’t make you feel any more uncomfortable than you look.

I am hopeful

I am hopeful

I recently read an article that asked readers, “if you could share one word that describes your grief journey today, what would it be?” Many posted words like scared, broken, foggy, lost, fragile and lonely. And, not that I don’t feel any of those words, but none of them seemed to fit an overall description of how I feel on this journey. Until today.

Hopeful. My word to describe my grief journey is hopeful.

This may seem like an inappropriate or strange word to describe my grief; however, for my journey it seems a perfect fit.

I am hopeful that Nikolai has found his “happy” again – that he is running around in Heaven meeting and hugging all the people. I am hopeful that he has finally met his grandma and grandpa Miller who he never knew. I am hopeful that he has been reunited with my grams and gramps, who loved him and his energy so very much. I am hopeful that one day my heart will not feel so completely broken and that I can get through a whole day without breaking down. I am hopeful that someday I will see him again as we both enjoy the beauty of Heaven.

But there is more to be hopeful for…
I am hopeful that we, as a society, can begin to view mental health as something as real as physical health.

I am hopeful that we can educate and train all humans to see the signs and symptoms of friends in need, friends that are struggling, and pray that we will reach out.

I am hopeful that we will start to have real conversations surrounding mental health and suicide.

I am hopeful that the suicide rate will go down.

I am hopeful that the stigma surrounding suicide will decrease and our empathy and awareness will increase.

I am hopeful that we can begin to treat everyone with more kindness than judgement and hate.

I am hopeful that we will be gentle around all people, as we never truly know what someone is struggling with.

I am hopeful that this blog makes a difference, an impact, on just one person, just one family.

I am hopeful that by starting a dialogue about all the hard things, we can come together and comfort each other.

I am hopeful that I am following the path the way God intended for me.

I am hopeful that I am making Nikolai proud.

Just breathe

A dear friend summed up exactly how I feel right now

A dear friend summed up exactly how I feel right now….

Fear of erasing Nikolai in the current moment. Fear of not remembering all the little nuances. Fear of having too much fun without him. Fear of allowing grief to overtake.

I need to talk endlessly and for you to also be okay with my silence.
I need an extra hug and also respect for my space.
If you ask how I’m doing, I need you to really want to know the answer. Or don’t ask me.
I need patience, forgiveness, kindness, support and your friendship.

Yesterday was a hard day. I just simply miss him💙

Everyone is struggling

I was telling a friend last week that after picking out our 15 year old child’s casket we ran to Kroger. Why? Because we knew people were coming over and I wanted to make sure we had things for people to drink – water, pop, juice, milk. As Joe and I walked through Kroger I kept thinking to myself what an ordinary day it was for everyone there but us. Our Nikolai died the day before. Our child. And, while I wanted to wear a sign that said, “my child just died please be gentle,” that just isn’t a thing. Nor should it have to be. What if we were all just a tad more patient with people? What if we were just a bit more kind or offered people help if they look like they are struggling?

Everyone we meet is struggling with something. It may not be as extreme as the loss of a child, but every single person has something on their mind, something on their heart that they are worried about or grieving.

Be kind always.


Day after Kola’s funeral

Nikolai lived life large

Nikolai lived life large, the way we all should. Love hard, be kind always and enjoy every single breath.

Joe, Daley, Reilly, and myself cannot possibly ever thank any of you enough for the outpouring of love and support over these past few days. Please know you have filled our hearts❤️