Joe and I laid in bed last night talking and feeling all the emotions together. We both are experiencing very intense grief and it has brought chaos, anger, and much sadness to our home lately.

May and June just suck and if I could skip over these two months and jump straight into July, that would be my preference; however, that isn’t a thing, so here we are knee deep (over our heads deep) in consuming yuck.

May holds Mother’s Day, Joe’s dad’s heavenly birthday, and my dad’s birthday (his first heavenly birthday this year). June is Nikolai’s birthday, his death date, and Father’s Day. All great dates to remember what you’ve lost, and I say that with immense sarcasm.

Memorial Day weekend is typically a time when my entire family gathers at my parent’s house for games, relaxation, cocktails on the porch, great conversation, and tons of laughter. This year, it is me, my sister and my mom holding a garage sale to sell my dad’s things to strangers.

Combine all of this with watching Nikolai’s friends’ parents post the amazing senior stuff: awards ceremonies, athletic senior night celebrations, last band and orchestra concerts, graduation party invitations, and all their kids dreams and plans for the future. It’s really almost too much for this mama heart to bear. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited and thrilled for these kids. I’ve known them for years and to see them grow up and step into their next adventure is amazing. However, I also have frequent bursts of anger because my kid should be doing this stuff too.

Nikolai hated school and these last few years would have been the greatest struggle to get him to graduation, yet I sure would have loved the chance to do it and get him to this point. I feel robbed.

Each day that gets closer to June finds me looking at all the FB memories and realizing that anything in 2019 was just a matter of days before his death. I find myself reaching into those photos of him and trying to figure out how he can look so happy and full of life and then one day he’s gone. I still can’t make sense of it.

So much pain. So much heartbreak. So much grief.

I don’t know what to do with it all. Normally I am able to do all the self-care stuff, sit in my emotions, seek out joy; yet this time, this week, last week, it’s just not working. The pain is weighing a little heavier and isn’t as easily reconciled. And when your partner in life is also stricken by pain and doesn’t know what to do with it, it creates a very precarious position. The universe has always allowed one of us to be filled with pain, while the other absorbs it. When you both feel it heavy at the same time it’s just hard.

I keep telling myself it’s okay to not be okay, but then I go out and people ask how you are and well… I can’t bear it because while outwardly I smile and say I’m fine, internally I swallow my scream of I’M NOT FINE!

I’m not okay. I’m lost. And I can’t seem to get my shit together.

I am heartbroken, plain and simple.

Grief for two

Grief for two

I had been home less than 24 hours after leaving my dad in a hospice facility, before my mom texted that my dad started the death rattle. This is actually a thing if you Google it like I did. I drove faster than I should have back to Kalamazoo to sit with my mom and my sister as we held vigil waiting for my dad to die.

Two weeks prior to this, my dad had us all meet as a family with a funeral director because if you know my dad, you know that he wants things taken care of up front and with his input. The funeral director talked about his obituary and stated that she would write up a draft for him to review. He quite sternly said to her that his daughter is a professional writer, and he would like her to write his obituary.

While she explained to him that she teaches a class at a community college on obituary writing and is capable, he was adamant that his daughter takes on this task. I’m sure she was mildly offended, and I was completely shaken. I am definitely not a professional writer for one thing. And two, write the obituary for my own dad? How does one approach this?

So, it is during this time holding vigil in that darkened room, listening to my dad’s death rattle, that I wrote not only his obituary, but the very words my sister and I would speak at his funeral. These are some of the hardest words I have ever put down on paper. How do you write about your dad in past tense, when you are watching his chest rise and fall gently across the room?

It took better part of the day to write those two pieces, summing up his entire life in just a few short pages. It isn’t fair. You live 74 years and your whole life is done in a few measly paragraphs.

And shortly after I finished, my dad took his last breath. My mom, my sister, and I were present, we held his hand, we kissed him goodbye. And every single day since then has been harder.

My dad died on January 20th.

Nikolai died on June 20th.

My dear friend, Pastor Kate, told me that shared dates are Holy. That Nikolai and my dad are truly paired souls and that shared dates are the mercies God uses to continue to fan our hope and the promise of being together again. These are the exact word I needed to hear.

Yet, even with this promise, I find my grief so hard to wade through right now. I still grieve the loss of my child, every single day. And I don’t believe that will ever go away. He is a part of me, a part of my heart, and I long for him to still be here. At the opposite extreme, I have lost a parent. Someone who raised me, who supported me and loved me through all things for 49 years.

Family get togethers will never be the same. My dad will never sit at the head of the table ever again. I will never get frustrated over how hard he is to buy for at Christmas time. I won’t ever hear him tell me to keep my head down when hitting a golf ball.

And yet, things haven’t been all that “normal” for me for two years. My dad’s death just complicates it.

I feel overwhelmed with this grief. No, suffocated by this grief. One compounded on the other. How am I to walk through the day to day of life? So much heartache and no where to put it.

I know this darkness will be filtered by light shining through in ways reminding me that joy abounds if I choose it.

Show me the light you two.

He’s really gone.

My son died.

My son died.
I know this isn’t news to any of you; however, some days it feels like new news to me. Like, I can’t honestly believe he’s gone. He’s really, really gone. 

Thank God for the saved voicemails and the YouTube videos he did because I can’t believe how long it’s been since I heard his voice or that laugh that starts at the bottom of his toes and works its way all through his body. It’s contagious. Was contagious. 

It’s been a million days since I talked to him or ran my hands through his hair telling him he needed a haircut. It’s been a million more since I told him I loved him and he smiled back at me with that twinkle in his eye. 

Some days I think I’m going to walk into his bedroom and expect to yell at him for how messy it is. And yet, when I walk in his room this morning, it’s neat and tidy and I sit down to work at my desk like he never lived in this room. 

My son died. 
He’s really, really gone. I try so hard not to look back at that fateful day, but every bit of it is burned into my brain and I relive all of its horribleness over and over again. And my heart feels shattered in a million pieces again and again. 

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Regret and forgiveness tangled up in this mess that looks vaguely in my head like a ball of Christmas lights gone bad.

How can this be? He’s gone. He’s really, really gone.  

Sometimes I sit in front of his gravestone and trace the letters on his name. It’s like I am willing him back to life and if I just touch his name, say his name out loud, then poof it will magically all be okay again. But it’s not. It never is. 

Talking to that stone just isn’t the same. Dammit. It’s all different and wrong. It shouldn’t be this way. And, yet, it is. 

My Nikolai is gone. He’s really, really gone. 

I am angry

I am angry

I am angry.

There I said it.

Did you know there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance? These are supposed to build the framework of how we grieve and learn to live with the one we lost. I thought I was doing good. The only one I didn’t hit was anger and I figured after 21 months I was free and clear of that one.

Why after 21 months did I think that this thing manifesting inside of me, this ball of fury, pure rage, would come out now? Well, it has, and I can’t seem to make it go away. It seems the more I try to squish it back down, the angrier I become. And the tears. Holy crap, I cannot stop crying.

I am angry at myself.
In educating others on mental health and suicide prevention I have also educated myself. And with all this knowledge, I now realize even more so that I was not enough for Nikolai. I was a failure of a parent and I want to literally throat punch my own self for not seeing things differently, for not being the mom he needed me to be, for not questioning more, loving more, talking more. I kind of loathe myself a little bit right now.

I am angry at the world.
Why aren’t more people out there fighting for those struggling with mental health and suicide ideation? Why is this not at the forefront of everyone’s minds? Why is it that every time I post something about another youth suicide, I must fight someone on my page who clearly, in my mind, does not have the best interest of children in theirs? I try to always make my FB page a place where anyone can post and I will not bully, shame, or ridicule you, even if we think and believe completely opposite things. I pride myself on that because I think it is super important that we all be able to civilly talk to each other and respect other opinions. But I am telling you right now, if I post something about youth mental health and suicide and you think differently, I will fight you on it, every single time. And I probably will not use my nice words.

I am angry at our leaders.
Advocacy is my number one priority right now. I cannot even tell you the number of legislators I have reached out to, both on the state and federal level, asking them to support much needed mental health legislation. I have called and asked for meetings, written letters, sent emails and I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. Partly because (and I know this deep down) they are swamped busy and probably receive a million emails a day; however, I perceive that as not caring. Maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t. Maybe youth mental health isn’t their top priority, like I think it should be. I feel like I am in a losing battle – a war I just cannot win.

I am angry at my friends.
Grief is the most ridiculously lonely thing you will ever go through, ever. It tears your heart in a million pieces and creates such a black hole of despair. And on my worst days I want you to sit in my space with me. I do not want to look at cute puppy pictures and hear about your kids’ awesome goal save in soccer. I don’t care. Is that fair to you? Nope. It’s not. Yet I can’t apologize for it because it’s how I feel.

Anger. This is my truth right now. It is all the pent-up pain in my heart. And I find myself not knowing what to do with it or where to go with it. Suppressing it clearly isn’t an option but how do I stop myself from spewing forth ugliness? Because this rage I am filled with, it is oozing out my pores at this point and I am spitting venom to even the most well-intentioned people in my life.

I have been told this is normal. Just like there is no timeframe for grief, apparently there is no timeframe for the five stages of grief either. I am late to the party on anger.

I read a quote recently that said, “Grief looks a lot like anger on the outside. Sometimes it seems simply like unmerited rage, but it’s really the frustration the heart feels when it finds itself in trauma that it can’t make any sense of.” – John Pavlovitz

I can’t make sense of it. My brain and my heart feel like they are always working against each other. Grief is hard and it doesn’t play fair.

What I have realized though is that trying to squish the anger down isn’t working, which means it’s time to put my big girl pants on and sit in it. It’s time to lean into it, own it, feel it, work through it and not apologize for it. God grant me peace.

Why must I be strong?

What does it mean to be strong

People frequently say to me “you are so strong”, “you are the strongest person I know”, “how can you be so strong?”.


Being strong is the only choice I have. It’s either that or curl up into a ball and suck my thumb in a corner for the rest of my life, which honestly, some days, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.

I made a promise to myself the day Nikolai died that I would always at least get out of bed every single day. What I did after that was up in the air, but I had to at least get out of bed. As humans it is in our nature to fight this constant battle of wanting to just let ourselves drown while also wanting to stay afloat. But I had two other children to worry about, a husband to love, a funeral to plan. There was no choice but to keep moving forward, no time to really feel, especially when other people are depending on you. Once the distraction of funeral planning has ended and your house empties of people and the cards and texts are fewer and fewer, this is when being strong really comes into play. This is when you have to dig deep and try to put things back together. This is when you make decisions that impact how you are going to heal.

I decided to run head on into the belly of the beast. I decided to be resilient and strong, brave and courageous, a fighter. I made the decision to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves; those who struggle with mental health, those who live moment to moment never knowing if they want to live another second. To do that, I had to be strong. It was like going into battle some days with a full armor suit and shield, preparing to take on whoever and whatever to get things done.

Yet along that path, I forgot to tell myself that it’s okay to not be strong every single day. Fighting internal demons while trying to slay dragons and save the world – well sometimes those just don’t mesh. Some days that is a battle all on its own, with no clear winner.

To survive any form of trauma in our lives we have choices – choices on how we want to come out the other side and how we are going to get there. I guess I chose strong. For me, this was the only choice I had. It’s not part of my DNA to sit out the hard stuff. Yet every time someone tells me how strong I am, I cringe. I hate that word, yet live by that word. It’s so confusing.

I think more times than not, people choose strong over thumb sucking in a corner. I think, as humans, we are resilient and standing in the middle of a fire waiting to burn just isn’t an option. That fire forges something new in us and wakes us up to new possibilities. It doesn’t mean that the flames don’t sometimes still ignite and hurt, it means that we can withstand the heat long enough to get to water.

What I have found is that even though I am able to get through the days, not all of those days are strong days and that being strong is relative. Find YOUR strong and be that. All we need to do is get out of bed and the rest of the day will sort itself out.

Fear of Loss

Fear of loss

Honestly, I have a lot of fears…

  • Fear of flying and dying in a fiery crash
  • Swimming in the ocean and being eaten by a shark
  • Riding on one of those things in the Everglades, tipping over and being swallowed by an alligator
  • Snakes
  • Bridges
  • Spiders
  • Sewer grates on sidewalks
  • Heights and falling
  • Zombie apocalypse anyone?

I’m not super adventurous. I’m cautious. I’m a worrier. And then my greatest fear became my reality.

When people ask what is your worst fear, I have always said the loss of a child. It was always the one thing I thought I could never endure. Well, here I am, 19 months later, and a child loss survivor. Some days it still feels impossible that this thing I fear most in life actually happened. And even though I survived, loss of yet another child or my spouse is something I am positive I cannot endure again. It will quite literally break my heart completely.

If I could wrap them up in bubble wrap, never let them out of my sight, keep hold as tight as I can, then nothing can happen to them. I can keep them forever. But life doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t meant to be lived in fear, it’s meant to be joyous and fun, filled with adventures and travels. Yet, this fear of loss at times steals my breath and fills me with anxiety. This fear keeps me attached to what is comfortable, not necessarily what I need to keep me moving forward. I know this, I just don’t know how to change it.

Most of the fears I listed are fairly irrational or at least not super likely to happen. Honestly, I would have added loss of a child to that list as well because who really believes their child will die before them? That’s not how life is supposed to go. It’s the elderly who die, not our youth. That isn’t fair. That isn’t just. Yet it happens, and it happens more often than we think or want to think.

And my child didn’t just die. He CHOSE to take his own life. I mean in the great randomness of the world, this definitely shouldn’t have happened to me. Things like this don’t happen to people like our family. We are just an average, middle class family, working, going to school and doing life things.

I ask myself, what are the odds of it happening twice, and this is where it all goes haywire, because I still can’t believe it happened once. The thought of another loss in my immediate household walls – it’s unthinkable, it’s unimaginable. So, I continue to hold my breath every time my family gets into a car, fly’s on a plane, or does anything that requires leaving the safety of our home without me in tow. During the summer Reilly’s friends would all want to walk to each other’s houses or meet up at Taco Bell. I had to reach out to those moms and let them in on my demons. I had to arrange car rides with parents instead because all I could picture was Reilly being hit by a car on the corner of Williams Lake and Cooley Lake Road.

I feel like this worry, this fear, is the life of any mom, but mine came true. My greatest fear actually happened. My boys are my life. My husband is my life. My new granddaughter is my life. My future daughter-in-law is my life. Please God keep them safe. My heart can’t take it.

Give each other grace

Give grace

My heart is tired.

There are so many people in my life who are hurting, grieving, struggling. The world is upside down and cruel and confusing. My head spins all day long and now it’s entering my sleep time.

I’m doing my best to check in with all those people in my life who need to be heard, who need kind words, who need a little extra love right now. However, I realized today that I need to check in with myself too and that means I may have to check out on helping others for a bit and focus on me. I’ve been focusing so much on the hearts of others that I forgot that mine is just as achy and needs a little extra care too.

Yet how do I do that? I can’t just walk away from others. How do I find balance? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And I for real don’t have an answer.

Somehow I need to acknowledge my loss and my feelings. While other people have moved on, and I am stronger now than I was, I still miss Nikolai as much today as I did the day he died. The dreams don’t ever quit. The remembering is always there. I need others to also acknowledge my loss, even if they don’t understand where I’m at with it right now. Unlike physical pain, it’s very difficult for people to relate to emotional pain, and especially to talk about it. It’s hard.

I also don’t want my loss to be a central focus of my life, but it is a huge part of my life and I can’t ignore it. And especially in seasons like Christmas, my feelings are bouncing all over the place – like a pinball machine. I can’t help it. Someone is missing from my season. I don’t care whether this is your first holiday without someone you love or the 20th, it still hurts.

While I try to help others, I feel myself sinking in the muck. I’m biting back tears constantly, forgetting things, snapping at people and acting sometimes in a way that I often regret. I ask you to grant me some mercy. Overlook it. My emotional tank is so empty right now and many days I feel like I’m going to shatter like a glass ball falling off the Christmas tree.

I try not to talk to people about my feelings because I feel like either they don’t want to hear it, they have their own grief they are drowning in, or they don’t know how to handle it and it just becomes awkward for everyone. The few times I thought about starting a conversation, I held back because I just don’t want to bring a room down, you know what I mean? After all, it’s the most joyous season of the year, right?

All of this leads me to the same question… how do I balance reaching out and loving others while simultaneously taking care of me? I still don’t have any answers except that maybe we just extend each other some grace right now and know that we are all in a tough spot. Maybe we lavish love on each other through prayer and forgive someone when they don’t reach out when we think they should.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Why are we so impatient with grief?

Why are we so impatient with grief?

I often hear the phrases “grief is different for everyone”, “grief is not something you get over” and my personal favorite “there is no time frame for grief”. Yet, the same people that say these things really do just want you to move on and get over the grieving already. When you are not in the season of grieving the death of someone close to you, it is difficult to understand or even be around someone who is sad. I get it. I really, really do. Yet, if you are going to be an active participant in someone’s life and grief just happens to be a part of their season, then freaking show up for them!

When you ask how they are doing – make sure that when they say “I’m sad”, “I feel broken”, “my heart hurts today”, make sure you are ready to sit back and listen. And for those of you sitting in the back row seats, here it is again: STOP GIVING ADVICE!!!!! I don’t want your advice. I don’t want you to tell me that maybe I’m sad because I feel like I should be. What? I don’t want you to try and explain it to me or offer an empty gesture about the future state of my grief. STOP IT! Just please stop it. I know it’s awkward for you to sit in silence, to not be a helper, but guess what? It’s not about you.

I read something recently that summed this up nicely for me:

“The world is impatient with grief — married to the narrative of “getting over it,” enamored with the idea that grief can be sliced up into five stages that always ends with acceptance and “moving on.”

So I guess once you are through those five stages you are good to go then, huh? What if a person doesn’t go through all five stages? Then what? What if they skip around in the five stages? This is not conventional grieving. Gasp. Now what do you do as a helper?

Let’s go back to that statement, “grief is different for everyone.” Let’s sit on this for a hot minute. So if grief is different for everyone then that means some people may go through the five stages and others might not. It also means that some people sink so low into their grief they become depressed and sometimes suicidally so. It also means that some people are able to focus on the deceased person’s life more than death and find joy easier than others.

Here is what it doesn’t mean – you just stop grieving. I believe (at least in my own experience) that I will always grieve the lost life of Nikolai. I will grieve the person he could have been, the family he might have created, and I will mourn forever that he is not a physical part of our life. However, I also believe that life is more full of joy than grief. Life does move on and those of us grieving will find a way to move through the grief to also experience the joys of life. It does not mean that I won’t suddenly have a moment or day or week of utter sadness. It’s okay that I do. And, luckily I have a husband and an intimate group of friends who allow me that sadness yet also won’t let me unpack in that space.

It’s really quite simple: we love deeply, therefore we grieve deeply.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You do you and turn a deaf ear to the ignorant who simply cannot sit in the awkward silence with you. It’s hard to do and even though I’ve had a year to practice, it’s still hard to tune it out sometimes. Just remember… other people’s opinions or thoughts about how you feel are none of your business.  

Grieving is lonely, yet you cannot do it alone

Grieving is lonely

Grief is uncomfortable.
When you grieve it is a constant struggle to capture the wide range of emotions that occur not just within a week or a day, but each dang minute. It’s struggling to figure out what kind of support I need when people ask. It’s figuring out what to say when people reach out. Grief is uncomfortable. It’s an awkward silence that is always there laying under the surface.

People never know what they should say to you. Heck, most days I don’t know what to say. I used to get angry at people for being awkward and weird around me, but honestly, grief is uncomfortable. And, I don’t have an answer to make it easier for you or me.

Here are just a few things I continue to tell myself every day…

Everyone has a different grief journey. There is no right or wrong.

I will never get over it; however, I will move through it.

Nikolai’s suicide was not my fault.

It is okay to smile and experience joy.

Do not allow people to shame you for not being the parent they think you should have been. They did not walk in your shoes and cannot possibly fathom your life or that of your son’s.

Keep writing.

How I decide to grieve is up to me. Don’t let anyone tell me how to do it.

Be patient with myself.

There is no timeline for grief.

Therapy is hard but you need it.

Grieving is lonely, yet you cannot do it alone.

Moving forward doesn’t mean letting go.

You will survive.

For those of you looking to comfort someone going through grief, please remember that the absolute most important thing you can do is just listen. So many of us are “fixers” and all we want to do is help the person grieving so we offer advice on how to get through situations. I don’t want you to fix me. You can’t fix me. Stop trying to fix me. Just hear me out. Let me cry, let me vent, let me talk, let me scream.

When someone you care about is grieving, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. We struggle with so many intense and painful emotions, including depression, anger, guilt, and profound sadness. And for many of us, we feel isolated and alone in our grief. Remember that it is simply your support and caring presence that will help those of us grieving cope with the pain and gradually begin to heal.

I feel like he is disappearing

I feel like he is disappearing

I feel like he is disappearing. This is what I whispered in the phone to one of my dearest friends after my third therapy session.

Yes, let’s get that elephant out of the room first shall we – I started therapy. I tried so hard, so very hard, to handle the death of my child on my own. I tried to bury all of my feelings and emotions in the busyness of life and advocacy. But this weird thing happens when you try to suppress – it has a funny way of creeping up anyway and usually uglier than you ever thought possible. This was my December. I sank to an all-time low. This is when I realized I really can’t do this on my own. These demons I want so desperately to avoid are eating me away.

My first two sessions seemed to be okay, but the third – wow! Those demons, those emotions I was afraid were going to come out if I did therapy – yep, that all exploded like fireworks on the fourth of July. Third time is a charm I guess.

And when I left, I didn’t feel good. It was like all at once I was hit by a tsunami of emotion and that’s when I realized…therapy is actually working.

I feel like he is disappearing.

This is the end result of that third session. I can’t really hear him laugh anymore. I have to concentrate so hard in my brain to try and listen for it. I knew eventually this would happen, but it’s only been six months. I should have more time than this. And I’m mad at Nikolai for not coming to me in my dreams to talk to me or let me know he’s okay. I’m open to it. I’ve always been open to it. I had numerous visits from my mother-in-law and both of my grandparents, but only one from Kola. Why? Was that the only one I get?

That third session brought out more anger than I have experienced these last six months.

I am angry that the normalcy of life has taken over and seems to be washing him away. 

I am angry and I feel guilty for moving on, for lack of a better term. 

I am angry that the world moved on from Kola’s death long ago.

I am angry that I spontaneously combust on the daily still.

I am angry that I still can’t do Monday’s and now I have no choice.

I am angry about so many things that I can’t even verbalize.  

The angrier I get, the lonelier I get. Grief is very lonely. No one gets how you feel, nor can they – the death of a child is not something most have experienced (thank God). My tribe is so huge, loving and supportive that I feel guilty even saying that out loud. What I can say, is that without this tribe of mine, things would be so much worse. I feel your love every single day. And I use it like air to breathe from, to keep me going, to cry and scream and laugh when I need to. 

While therapy didn’t feel so great this week, it was necessary and I realize that now. All these feelings have to come out in order for me to move through and let go. And even though I can’t hear Kola laugh hardly at all anymore, I know that he isn’t really disappearing. We have a million memories of his amazing life and I cling to those with all of my might.