One Month

I am still here.  One month later and I am still here; devastated.  Is this going to get easier?  Last night I cried myself to sleep and I woke up in tears again.  I feel sick to my stomach.  I don’t want to be around anyone and I can’t seem to concentrate on anything but being sad.  I’m getting to be very efficient at being sad.

I have moments where I say to myself “He is never coming back.” and then all the air goes sweeping out of my chest and I feel dizzy at the thought of it.  How can this be?!  My every worst fear in life has come true with the loss of Nelson.  I feel like I may never be okay again.  I know rationally that today is extra hard because we’ve reached the one month milestone….  but really each day is a milestone worth saying out loud.  Each day without him is one more I wish I didn’t have to face.  The idea of doing this forever is so overwhelming.

It’s been a rough week.  As I write this, it is Friday.  NelsonCooper is with Ava for the weekend.  I took him to our halfway meeting point yesterday.  It has been really hard being apart from him.  He called last night and left me a message because he was sad.  We facetimed at 11pm.  He told me that he had been texting Nelson’s phone number.  He has been crying a lot this week.  He goes to his room and just weeps.  I have also heard him through his closed-door talking to Nelson Oscar.  It is the sort of raw hurt you never want to see your child experiencing.  I can’t fix this.  Nelson will no longer be the sweet boy who was untouched by deep hurt ever again.  I suspect I will be angry about this at some point.  It is not fair.   Judd and I had a conversation earlier this week about it and we acknowledge that we need to bring our best parenting to the table right now because the way we help him through this will make all the difference.  We have the potential to lose Nelson right now – to put him on the road of a sad, glum adolescent without the emotional tools to deal with all that has happened.  I don’t want that.  I hate it is a possibility.

Nelson has begun his therapy sessions.  It has been quite a kick in the teeth for me.  His therapist makes me feel judged.  She asked me if I was second guessing the decision to tell Nelson that Uncle Nelson had hung himself because in her words “Eight year olds have hung themselves”.   I fell apart.  My friend, Chris reminded me that I have no experience dealing with these things and I am doing the best I can.  I can’t second guess myself.  What’s done is done.  Nelson is angry about going to counseling.  He says he thinks his sadness is private and only for the family.  He also got very angry that this woman told him he didn’t have to take care of me.  She’s not the God BOSS OF ME he said.  #truth.

I keep ruminating about change.  The fact that this has changed me.  I am changed.  I am in the process of changing.  I know the desirable thing is to try to harness the changing process and find myself somewhere healthy when the changing is done but the fact remains this has been a trauma and trauma has a way of yanking the best changing plans out of your hands and flinging them to a place outside of your reach or control.  And that is where I find myself now; feeling out of control.   I went to work today to update my computer.  I am due to go back to work next Thursday.  I don’t want to go back.  I am not ready.  When I pulled into the parking lot I felt like I might vomit in my car.  I was in tears most of the hour and a half I was there.  All I could talk about with my colleagues is Nelson.  I know that won’t always be the case and I know the prevalent logic is to get back to your normal routines as quickly as you can to ‘distract’ yourself.  But why is that the way to heal?  Why is that the way to move through the darkest days of my life?

This writing is a mess.  It is as unfocused as I am.  Enough for now.  I miss you Nelson.  Very, very much.



Benny and Joon

We had friends, Kim and Jeremy,  invite us to their beach house for the weekend.  They have a place in Duck.  We went for a long weekend last July 4th but returned home in time to go see fireworks with Nelson Oscar.  It was just one of those things that had become habit.  I asked him to go to see fireworks and he said yes.  I held my breath and asked again the next year and again he said yes.  I’m not sure how many years he came with us but it felt like several.  It was enough that the 4th was going to be a big deal for me.  And it was.  I ended up not going to see any fireworks this year and sat at home alone and cried instead.  It sounds pathetic but I could not rally.  The idea that we would go and do normal things just didn’t resonate with me.  Anyway.

So we got this invitation and my first inclination was to say no.  No, no no.  I can’t spend a weekend acting like everything is fine or crying in front of people I don’t know well enough to cry in front of all weekend.  They have kids too; a son Nelson’s age and a daughter who is five, I think.  Good people, like-minded and I know the invitation was an act of kindness to our family but it was a hard invitation to accept.

Nelson and I drove down Friday morning.  The ride was sweet and lovely.  We went down Route 460 which is an easy, nostalgic drive.  I thought about Nelson a lot.  Route 460 is mostly country road sprinkled with small towns that somehow reminds me of North Dakota and summer car trips with my mom and dad.  Nelson Cooper read books to me and played on his ipad.  I listened to a book that made me cry.

Nelson was also worried about the weekend.  He told me on Thursday night when I picked him up from camp that he had seen a little boy crying at camp for some unspecified reason and Nelson said he couldn’t go near him because he was worried he would start crying and not be able to stop.  He was concerned about crying in front of his buddy, Luke.  We talked about it and agreed that we might just have to cry and that we could search each other out as needed for comfort.  I also assured him that if it was too difficult we could come home.  I’m not sure I told him this but I had decided that we would go mostly because I feel like we have to try to accept kindnesses when they are offered and we need to try to remain engaged in our lives as much as possible.  I haven’t been back to work yet and am not maintaining routines very well.  I sense that I could easily slip into isolation so I have to try to say yes to opportunity.

Nelson and I arrived a bit after 1pm.  Our friends were in their swimming pool so we suited up and joined them for a bit.  They fed us lunch and in general made us feel really good about  being there.  We headed to the actual beach later in the afternoon.  Jeremy was kind enough to feel my pale girl pain and got me squared away with an umbrella.  And then Nelson got to play.  I had been dreading the idea of going to the beach this summer because Nelson and Nelson were such good beach buddies and I kept having these visions of Nelson Cooper standing at the water’s edge alone.  Having the opportunity to watch Nelson play with friends helped me release that image at least for the time being.  And I found myself feeling relaxed and able to talk about something other than Nelson Oscar’s death for a bit.  I had pangs of guilt when I’d realize that I was just engaging in normal conversation but I was able to hold myself together and remain present which were both big accomplishments in my mind.  We stayed on the beach for hours and enjoyed the ‘golden hours’ where the light turns beautiful and the sun and swim crowd slowly slip away leaving most of the beach to us alone.

Judd arrived that evening after we had a dinner prepared by Kim and Jeremy.  They teased me for my chicken and cheese dinner but it was perfect and carb free.  Tasty and keto for the win. And the best part?  Jeremy was on the back deck grilling the chicken.  It was well past dusk.  He called me to come to the deck.  ‘Look there’, he said pointing to a grouping of trees directly across from us.  ‘Do you know see that?  It’s one of the owls.’ he explained.  They have two owls that they have named Bennie and Joon.  Bennie and Joon – from the movie.  Bennie the brother looking after his complicated sister Joon.  Irony.  It had a happy ending.  Hollywood.  But there it was an owl which all by itself reminds me of my brother.  To twinge this moment even more Nelson Oscar – an owl lover -had actually seen these owls himself a couple of years ago when we happened to be at the beach at the same time as Kim and Jeremy and spent an evening at an outdoors concert with them and then went to their place to make smores.  It was a lot to mentally digest and I didn’t tell them all these connections of course but I stood there on the deck barely breathing watching that owl until he flew away.  It was gorgeous and sad.

The kids went to bed close to 10pm.  The day just got away from us.  We ended the night putting together a puzzle.  I was pretty drained by this point and just sort of sat watching and trying to appreciate the company and the fact that I was there.  

I won’t lie, I cried myself to sleep ruminating on possible triggers for Nelson’s suicide and had nightmares all night but the next day I was able to pull myself up and get dressed and walk to the bookstore with Judd, Jeremy and the kids.  It was super hot and humid (Yay North Carolina!) and was drenched with sweat and a bit dizzy if I’m to be honest but we went to the bookstore and got Judd coffee and books for the kids and a “Happiness Project’ adult coloring book for me because I could use some happiness.  We walked the elaborate series of board walks along the sound and looked at birds and turtles.  I was just another beach goer taking in the town of Duck culture and it felt good.  I did think about Nelson Oscar often and had moments where my breath would catch in my throat but I also had moments where I could talk with genuine interest about owls and the community of Duck and the endless things that fascinate the kids.

We went to the beach for the afternoon.  The water was cold, cold, cold.  I think Judd got in once and I touched it with my toes.  Nelson spent almost the entire afternoon in the surf.  It’s not so bad he said.  He’s 8 and clearly not to be trusted.  Kim brought lunch for everyone down to the beach – file the act under kindness because she specifically brought me a Caesar salad and cheese and salami because my eating habits aren’t normal.  We all need friends like this.

Judd taught the kids how to do word searches and soduku puzzles and I watched Jeremy fly his drone.  Each family is so unique and their habits and routines so their own.  It was both comforting and foreign to be able to lean in to another family group and just go with their rhythm for a while.  Part of their rhythm is to take advantage of the restaurants and bars in Duck.  Kim made us a dinner reservation at the Paper Canoe a place Judd and I didn’t even know existed despite vacationing in Duck for many, many years.  She arranged pizza and a babysitter for the kids.   We rode to the restaurant in the Jeep with the top down.  I held my hair in place like a rock star vomiting.  I ordered the chicken because it came with sugar snap peas.  They were insanely good.  Judd and Jeremy both got shrimp and grits and loved them. Kim had an overcooked steak and sat in front of an overly efficient air conditioner.  We talked college years, dating and neighbors.  It felt easy and good.

Leaving dinner we were greeted with a rapidly darkening sky and thunder rumbling a little too close by for comfort.  We raced back to their house to stow the jeep and jump into Judd’s new car.  We hightailed it over to their favorite cocktails and sunset spot and made it under the covered outdoor bar area with seconds to spare before the sky opened up.  Needless to say, no sunset.  But they had a nightcap and I had an ice water and we sat outside and watched the lightning all around us and counted down the thunderclaps.  We talked books and raising kids in this complicated world.  I told them about my planned rock garden for Nelson Oscar and we took (stole) a rock from the landscaping of the outdoor bar for this purpose.  Later Jeremy would give me two more rocks from the river rocks lining the side of his beach house.  How are awesome are these people!?

This morning we went back to the boardwalk to replace the Geocache box their family maintains.  Geocaching is a not something we have ever done and we got an education about all the experiences we could be having.  I think Judd may just give it a try.

Nelson did great this weekend and for the most part his biggest concerns revolved around getting sunscreen in his eyes.  This morning he did tell me that while in bed last night he was thinking about Uncle Nelson and had gotten very sad and wanted to cry.  I asked him if he had and he said he was scared to start crying because Luke was already asleep in the next bed.  We had a long hug.

It will be a long time before we are able to really go and let go for a weekend without feeling the loss and hurt that is still so fresh and real for us but this weekend gave us a safe and comforting place to practice the motions of normal life – the kind of normal life that involves friendship, food, laughter and ocean waves.  Tonight I sit here feeling sad but also grateful.

Yeah, he’s my husband.

So there was this woman yesterday that I wanted to throttle but didn’t.  You’re welcome airport woman.  You’re welcome.

She’s still on my mind which in some ways really pisses me off because she shouldn’t be- but my brain is not my own these days and I don’t seem to have any control over who comes to visit.  Yeah, so I’m ruminating about her.

It was a brief interaction and it went like this:
Lovely Virginia family of three enter Portland airport shop for ‘plane treats’ for the 8 year old member of family and Diet Coke for the 48 year old member.  Don’t judge me.  I don’t care what is in Diet Coke these days.  It’s delicious.  And life is crap right now so I take delicious where I can get it.

The shop is pretty standard stuff except for this really amazing end cap full of Oregon chocolate.  Who doesn’t want to load up on Oregon chocolate to take home?  I don’t know.  We were fixing to load the f-up.  I’m having this pretty in depth conversation with the 8 year old son about it when I notice this woman standing next to us.  Not just standing.  Staring.  At us.  It went on long enough that it got awkward.  Thanks for that lady.  I look around trying to figure it all out and I realize she is the store clerk and we are blocking one of possibly 14 ways for her to get to her register.  She isn’t looking at us in a ‘can I be of help’ sort of way before you jump to that conclusion by the way.  She is definitely giving us her well rehearsed glare that I can only assume she bestows on customers who annoy her on the regular.  At first I was so startled to realize she was standing there and appeared to plan to remain there until we moved that I gave a little “Oh!” and pulled the 8 year old away from the product I’m assuming her employer would like us to buy so that she could get to the register via her clearly preferred route.  But about one nano second later I was annoyed.  Like, inside voice coming out my mouth annoyed.  And I mumbled something.  Something stupid.  Not bad just stupid.  And in all honesty not loud enough for her to hear.

This is where I should probably point out that under normal circumstances where I’m not dealing with the traumatic death of one of my favorite people on the planet that I’m not quite so reactionary but I don’t want to be disingenuous so let’s just move on.

I go back to the task at hand of loading up armfuls of empty calories for the plane when the husband comes by and remarks that the cashier is grouchy.  AHA!  If JUDD thinks she is grouchy then she is grouchy.  I haven’t contaminated Judd so thoroughly yet and he can be trusted to be objective.

By now we have enough food to put a dent in the 8-year-old’s college fund.  Judd is at the register holding his wallet and casting about for an escape hatch.  I throw him a life ring and say “I’ll get this stuff…..” and look down at my own armful of Diet Coke and sweet and sour gummy worms.  (What did we agree about not judging?) and so he proceeds with his transaction.

About now, I become aware that the cashier would rather we just combine all this into one transaction.  On some levels I get it.  I’ve been the cashier.  Each customer is its own creepy thing you have to do.  If everyone is together can’t you just check out together?  In another universe and on another day when you hadn’t forced me to step aside so you could go through in such a passive aggressive way you would be exactly right cashier lady.  But not today.  Not today.  Before she gave Judd his total she actually came to a full stop and looked at the items I was holding for a full beat.  She moved her hand to gesture ‘this stuff too?’ because why bother speaking to us?  And I said “Oh no, I’ll pay for these separately.”  Sweet smile – because I’m the bigger person.

Judd completes the transaction and herds himself and 8-year-old out the door.  I put my items down in front of cashier lady.  She looks at my stuff like it is covered in Zika and before she touches any of it she says to me, “Sorry, I thought you were together.”  I give her a genuine smile (seriously – genuine).  “Yes we are together but I am paying for this stuff… sorry we’re weird like that I guess.”  She levels me with a really ugly look and says “I thought he was your husband.” To which I say (admittedly confused) “he is.”  She starts to ring me up with the speed of an arctic glacier and then stops (STOPS!)  waits a second and says  without looking at me “You’re very weird.”

Record scratches to silence………

Did this woman just say I was weird???

“What?” incredulous me says.

“He’s your husband and he didn’t pay for this.  It’s weird.”

And then……  well, I can’t actually remember what then because I think I blacked out or went into a feminist fugue or something.  I have no idea what I said but I remember my lips moving and I also remember feeling like I was really holding myself in check *proud moment* and then, blink, I was out of the store on the concourse again looking for our gate and shaking my head in amazement.

And ever since then I have been having periodic flashbacks where I rewrite the ending.

I’m Tony Soprano during that moment of calm right before he reaches out and chokes some lacky.  You know it’s coming and everyone in the vicinity holds their breath and takes a slow step backwards.

I’m Merryl Streep delivering a Devil Wears Prada level verbal smack down.

I’m me but meaner and I look at her and say “Shhhh, you’re stuck here and I’m not.” and I walk away cool like ice.

I run the scenarios 100 different ways until I’m actually tired of the exercise.  And I feel better and I realize I still bought Oregon chocolate.  Let me repeat.  I bought Oregon chocolate.  Life is not all bad.FullSizeRender

The more things change

On the night of June 14th my world was upended with the news that my brother, Nelson, had been found deceased in his backyard. That was the word everyone was using: deceased. I don’t even understand that word. The prefix ‘de’ means negative or remove and cease means to stop or bring to an end. Either part of the word seems descriptive enough but together it is unbearable.

Today’s kick to the teeth is sponsored by the medical examiner’s office which estimates it will take a month to complete their final report. Why does it matter? Because until that report is complete the detective assigned to the case can’t release anything collected from the scene and that my friends, includes Nelson’s suicide note; which by the way was addressed to his family not the detective.  How is that for some insult on injury? When I think about the fact that Nelson took time to address us before he took his life and yet we will be the last to see it…. well. It is a painful, breath catching thing.  Is his note pinched under the clasp of some clipboard? Is it in a file? Is it languishing in the middle of some pile of paper? And just as I am losing myself in the sorrow of these questions the real question comes barging in; knocking the others out of the way. And of course that question is “What does it matter?”  What will be changed when we know what the note says? Will he be sitting with me again? Will his voice be back in my home? Will his text messages light up my phone? Will I find him washing Christmas dishes at the sink?  Or will I be more sad than I am right this very minute because either the note will say too little or maybe too much? 

I am afraid of who I will be if after all of this we don’t end up with the note in our hands.  But in some ways I’m even more scared of who I will be if we do end up with it.  Will the thin scab provided by time be ripped away, forcing me to start over?  What if it says something that shatters my heart the rest of the way?

I had similar feelings when my brother Bart and I were at the funeral home and were told we had to identify the body.  I was so full of dread and the pull of avoidance so strong.  Had we not been told just two nights before not to go to the backyard because we would never be able to un-see?  Why were we suddenly equipped for the task now?  I was caught off guard not realizing this would be required of us.  In taunt television crime dramas no one ever identified bodies at a funeral home!!!

My initial response is so self protective but almost as quickly I realize that if I refuse then Bart will have to do it alone.  (There is no version of things that involves us saying no thank you to this step of the process. )  So if I leave it to Bart alone he will have to suffer something the rest of us will not. It will be his to carry with no one to look to in order to say ‘you know what I saw. You relate. ‘ And that -that realization solidified things for me. We would have to do this together. I could not abandon him to the task.  And so we did it together.  Sort of. In the end, my body was shaking so much that Bart looked first while I held his hand and braced for him to collapse.  Somehow he did not.  He gave me some words about what to expect and then I looked too – slowly.

The actual identification was done with a picture.  It was covered by another piece of paper and left for us on the funeral home meeting room’s table.  I ended up sliding the cover sheet down slowly, incrementally.  I don’t know what I thought that would accomplish but it seemed more tolerable than seeing the entire image all in one gut wrenching moment.  First I could see just his hair, then his forehead and then his beautiful eyes; closed as if sleeping.  I moved the paper down to his chin.

There he was.  My brother I love so very much.  While the image itself did not end up traumatizing me, having to face the image did.  I was one person before I got the call from Bart that Nelson was dead I was another afterwards.  I changed again when I had to call and tell my father.  Telling my sister was another version of me.  Further and further I move from the woman I was.  I can’t even see her anymore.   Looking at his face in that photograph left an indelible mark.  And I know with certainty that while the waiting for access to the suicide note is some of the most agonizing waiting I’ve ever done the reading of the note will not bring me peace.  It will just be more change crawling all over the person I used to be.  Robbing me of the unknowing.  I wish I was strong enough not to want the note.  Strong enough to leave it unread.  But I am not.  Knowing Nelson meant to communicate some final thing to us compels me.  My changing incomplete.

Now What.

This is where I start but it will not be where I end.

I can hardly move.  I have this sensation that if I just sit still I won’t have to cry anymore.  Like a mouse aware of a snake in the barn I’m frozen in anticipation; hoping grief will forget that I am here and move quietly on its way.

I also have this immense feeling of dread.  I can almost feel that the sadness is gathering strength somewhere in my peripheral and is waiting to catch me unaware and then it will unleash itself on me full strength.  As bad as it is now I have the strongest sense that it plans to get worse.  Darker.  It will try to eat me if I let it.

I don’t really know why I am trying to write about this.  Maybe I’m not.  I’m just trying to put my brain to use.  To force it to organize thoughts.  Preparing for Nelson’s memorial took hours of pretty serious concentration and it was helpful for me.  I looked at his face in hundreds and hundreds of pictures and thought of him intensely non stop for hours on end as I put together photo montages and selected songs.  But those were the moments I wasn’t crying and I wasn’t floating aimlessly.  Of course now there is no more memorial to plan and the world is beginning to uncurl its edges and go back about its business and we’re left here trying to go on.  I guess I am hoping this can be the replacement activity to the memorial planning.

Already I am doubting though.  I don’t understand the website or its features or why I would want to assign a category.  The category is ‘my life is destroyed’.  Is that a category? Tag this ‘my brother died and I don’t know how to go on’.

I want to feel normal again.  I want the bliss I was unknowingly experiencing when Bart called me to tell me.  I want my brother back.  I want this to be the worlds longest nightmare.