Dealing with Death

After my husband died, I went into nursing.

Seems like an odd choice of careers – after spending 159 days watching my husband get better, get sicker, get better, get sicker and finally die – that I would choose a profession that would force me to watch people get better, get sicker and die.

I’m a Licensed Practical Nurse now. I work with people who are mostly stable. My scope of practice says that I deal with patients who have a stable, predictable state of health.

Except when I’m a part of a code team.  The code team deals with trauma, cardiac arrest and other life threatening situations.

The hospital I work at allows LPN’s to do 1 of 2 jobs on the code team: compressions or record.

In order to record, you must have taken a course – which I have not – so I frequently am the compressions person. (Or code white – but that’s a different role)

At 0625 this morning, Code Blue was called. ETA 5 mins or something like that.  That means – 3 of us from the floor are running to the ER prepared to try to save someone’s life. And we ran. And heard the 2nd call – Mat (something I didn’t hear) Stat.

On the elevator, waiting to go to the 1st floor, we talked – was the Mat call related to the Code Blue? We hoped not.

We were wrong.

This was my first code where I was responsible for compressions.  My first code where I was not a student, or a new grad or anything but JUST ANOTHER TEAM MEMBER.

And my job was as important as the others. I was part of the team.

The report we were given when we got to the ER?  14 day old baby in cardiac arrest.

W. T. Everloving F?

My brain raced – do I remember how to do compressions on an infant? I didn’t get to do the NRP – will I be enough? Should I excuse myself? Could I handle this? Tears were welling up in my eyes and the baby wasn’t even there yet. How can I possibly be an effective nurse, an effective member of the team when I can’t control my emotions?

And then they arrived. I watched the EMT perform compressions. I took several breaths.  Waited until they were done report before tapping him on the shoulder and letting him know I could take over.

And then I did.

And my world narrowed to just what I was doing.  Trying to focus on the tiny human in front of me, willing her to breathe on her own, her heart to beat on its own. Listening and watching the RN’s around me do their job with amazing precision and execution.  Watching the doctor and the nurses move together like a well orchestrated team.

And I was doing my part.  Ignoring the cries and heartbreak of the parents behind me, beside me, in front of me. Because the moment I allowed them to penetrate my consciousness – my emotions came back.

We worked on that baby for 43 minutes.

43 minutes we kept going – hoping beyond hope that we weren’t too late.

43 minutes.

That beautiful little girl did not get to see her 15th day. She won’t get to see her 1st birthday, her 16th, have kids, get married, break hearts. She won’t get to learn to crawl, walk or talk.

It’s moments like this – that I question my ability to be a nurse.  Moment’s like this that I wonder if I have the emotional fortitude – especially given my own trauma and grief – to carry on and support the families of those who die.

I walked out of the ER, down the corridor and was overcome with big ugly cries at the elevator.  Grieving for a life cut short.

I got to the top of the elevator, grabbed my stuff (end of shift and all) and got to the staff entrance to the parking lot and just outside, my knees buckled… more big ugly cries. Grieving with the parents who have to face life without their child.

In my car – crying on my way home – pull into my driveway and bawl. Grieving for myself having spent about 1/2 those 43 minutes hoping for a miracle.

I will cry over this little girl – who’s name I never got – for a while. It will make me a better nurse, better caregiver. I will learn the things I want to learn and do and be because we learn from the mistakes we make, the situations we experience and the things we do in nursing.  We don’t learn from books -we learn from experiences.

I wonder.  Did Mark’s nurses cry with me when they got off shift?  Did they grieve? I like to think so. They’re who inspired me to become a nurse – and I can’t imagine they were not affected by what happened.

I get it now though. I remember asking at the beginning – how do you separate feelings from work?

You just do.  You stuff it into a box, and let it out when you’re in a safe place and can feel.

Because when you walk away from the tiny human who doesn’t get to go home… you still have a job to do – and the rest of your patients need you.

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Grief Storms

But damn the grief has hit me.

I keep going back to my wedding photos of me marrying my Sexxy Chef hoping that it will pull me out of my funk but the reality is that loving the Sexxy Chef does NOT override missing Mark.

So I’m at work, feeling like a lead blanket is draped over me, grateful my patients are fairly stable and undemanding.

Because I just want to curl up and ignore life for the next few days.

 

The Month of Changes

So much has happened in the past 37 days.

It started with a bachelorette party. On my dead husband’s birthday. Weirdness and shit. But fun.  Glitter dicks everywhere. Drunk me danced the night away. Drunk me decided to walk home late in the night with one of my bridesmaids.  Drunk me had a good time.  Hungover me was not impressed with drunk me. It was a weird thing, celebrating my upcoming nuptuals with a new guy on my dead guy’s birthday. My daughter planned the day and it was fantastic.

Then the wedding.  What a glorious, fantastic day. It was amazing and magical and incredible. My Smith family showed up which made it so much better. I stood there at my reception, staring at what is now all 6 branches of my family. The Smiths, the Cavanaghs, the Teichmans, the Mortimers, the Leylands, and the Beech’s. As I said then… some people are blessed to find one great love in their life. I have been blessed to find two. Loving my Sexxy Chef does not mean my love for my dead guy has changed. The heart expands and grows to encompass more love. And I am blessed far more than I feel I deserve with all the love that surrounds me.

Fairy Tale Wedding
Photo credit Throughout Time Photography

Last night… my 3rd child graduated. Mark was watching, somewhere, I know. The tiny baby who was smaller than our cat at the time… is now a grown up adult. Graduated from high school.  Ready to start life as an adult. But in that face… I still see the tiny baby. I still see the tiny human who kept me up for an hour every hour. And I remember all the plans we had, the promises we made, the hopes and dreams we had for the future and our children and grandchildren…

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Andrew Grad 2018

My heart hurts for all that he’s missing. But my heart is full of love and life and laughter at the same time. It’s a strange dichotomy.

It is June 23. Typically the time between May 18 and June 26 is a slow progression of increasing stress and pain and fighting to convince my brain that suicide is not an option. With all that has happened it has kept me distracted from that. It’s amazing how much LIVING can keep me from wanting to die.

I still hurt though. I sat in my living room last night, fighting tears, fighting the pain of him not being here, not really succeeding but holding it together enough.

The excitement is all done.  The planning/preparation for the wedding is complete.  Graduation has passed. And I’m faced with 3 more days before his angelversary.

I’m left with my thoughts, my feelings, and the reality of somehow balancing my love and excitement of being married to my new husband with the abject, overwhelming pain of not having my dead husband here. I’m not sure how to balance that. Any suggestions would be fantastic.

On the drive up to decorate the hall for my wedding, my graduate asked me why we had a picture of Dad. I said it was to go on the display of people who we miss and wish were here.  He was like… …ok… and I laughed and said… of course if Dad was here, we wouldn’t be doing this.  He laughed as well…and we carried on.

Such is the strange dichotomy of a remarried widow, a new wife, who has been blessed with a man who loves her enough to accept all of her… the past, the present and the future.

I am blessed.

Holding Hands Ceremony
Photo credit Throughout Time Photography

‘Twas the Night Before the Wedding…

Can this be the only time I write this blog?  The night before my wedding?

Because I don’t believe in divorce.  And I sure as FUCK don’t want to be widowed twice…

So tonight, before I marry my Sexxy Chef, I’d like to make sure this is the only time I write, on my widows blog, that this is the night before my wedding.

I am full of conflicting emotions.

Excitement to be his wife.

Sad to let go of the name I’ve had for the majority of my adult life.

There was a conversation between my future sister-in-law and me tonight while we were decorating.

In the “memorial” for those who have passed… we included Mark.

She asked, somewhat hesitantly, “Is Ryan ok with this?”

Yes, yes he is.  He’s ok with it. He knows that I’m not coming into this marriage fresh and free with no past. He knows that part of my heart forever belongs to Mark.  He’s ok with it because Mark was my past and he is my future.

I don’t stop being a widow because I’m getting married.

I don’t just turn off the feelings about my dead husband because I’m about to have a live husband.

Changing my name doesn’t change how I feel about the men I love.

But I am blessed to have someone who loves me enough to walk through fire with me, to weather the grief storm with me, to build a future on a foundation of love with me.

So on the night before my wedding… sleeping alone in my bed for the first time in a long while… I get to reflect on how lucky I am to have loved, not once, but twice, enough to wear the title of wife. How lucky I am to have been someone’s happily ever after. How lucky I am that tomorrow, I get to marry the man I will spend the rest of my life loving.

Part of my vows to him:

I can’t promise to love you for the rest of your life, but I promise I will love you for the rest of mine. 

I will love Mark for the rest of my life.  I will love Ryan for the rest of my life.

My heart is big enough to love them both.

Grief Storms Still Happen

I’m getting married in 24 days.

I was reading a post made by a fellow derby girl who also happens to be a recent widow.

Tears threatened.  I’m at work.  Not cool.

And then I was blogging on the other site (my fitness blog) and adding a picture to it and there was my husband’s face.  His glorious, handsome, full of love, face.

And tears again.

Dammit.

I’m 24 days away from my wedding.

I’m so in love with my fiance. I am looking forward to spending my life with him.

And I am incredibly lucky that he understands that the grief storms do not in any way diminish those two statements.

6 years out. I’m coming up on my hell month – the time between Mark’s birthday and his death day.  And all the dates in between.  And I quite deliberately stuck my wedding date in there.

Because grief storms happen.

Grief happens.

Love happens.

Joy happens.

And I don’t want all my life to be about the grief and the sadness.

I am ok with it when it shows up, like tonight but in the end, I want to celebrate life. His life, my life, my new life, my old life.

I want to celebrate who I am and how far I’ve come.

I miss him. I love him. And he is forever a part of me.

And I am happy in life.

The Damned Parking Spot… and other triggers…

I pulled into the parking lot at the pizza place. I had just under 20 mins to get my pizza and get back to work – half hour break does not give me much time to clear my head.

I looked down at the parking space. It had one of those concrete barriers in front of the store-front protecting the walkway and the pizza store.

I could faintly read the letters “Video Update Parking Only”

Oh fuck I gotta tell Mark this….

Oh wait.  I can’t.

Sadness washed over me.  Not the deep, broken, painful grief storm that hits me when a trigger gets me, but the sadness of “oh yeah… that’s gone” and the reminder that for a moment, I forgot and I wanted to tell him something.

Something he’d think was funny.  Something he could relate to but no one else in my life could.

A Video Update store I’d never been to but I knew where it was now. It was on the cusp of his territory as District Manager.  He managed from Williams Lake to Prince Rupert and I’d never been to the Williams Lake store.

And I saw it… the faint markings of the remnants of a business that died out in 2010… well actually before that. 2010 was when the company that bought out Video Update finally went bankrupt.

It was the faint markings of a life gone by.

I let the sadness wash over me, then I picked up my pizza and headed back to work.

At work, I was dressing the wound of a patient who was from my home town. We talked about the places we knew. We talked about how much it changed. We talked about how it was not our home anymore.

And then he started talking about his medical history.  About how he used to be diabetic but he wasn’t.  How he had had a pancreas transplant. How this had happened at Vancouver General Hospital 20 years ago.

And all I could think about was how 6 year ago, I was told it wasn’t a possibility. That maybe somewhere, some one had done it, but it wasn’t really possible.

And in the middle of wound care, my most favourite thing in the world to do in nursing…

I fell apart and had to leave the room.

I lost my mind and started crying.

Because 6 years ago I was told that it wasn’t possible and what if it had been and it would have saved his life?

It’s all a moot point now.  But at that moment, on that day, my heart broke again.

And instead of the wave of sadness like at the pizza joint… I was hit with the deep ugly sobs that always result in me looking like I’ve smoked a lot of pot.  Bloodshot eyes and blotchy face and cannot hide that from anyone.

I’m happy for the gentleman who is living his best happiest.

Life is full of triggers.  Some will be a gentle reminder….  some will be a brick wall I run into full force.

I’m grateful that I loved well enough to still grieve that hard.

This is Us

It has taken me almost a week to write about the Superbowl episode of This is Us.

It shook me, more than Grey’s Anatomy’s depiction of Derek Shepherd’s death (sorry if you’re not caught up on that – but it’s been a few years…) It shook me not because of the way he died, because Derek’s death was more like my husband’s but because of the aftermath.

The having to tell the children. The having to parent the children. The 20 years in the future and how the memories still affect Rebecca and how the children cope and how life was so drastically altered as a PARENT.

Not just the wife. The mother.

I can’t find a video of it, the moment where she goes to Miguel’s house to talk to the kids.  Where she stands in the doorway and tells him that she needs to be strong for her kids and if he can’t, he’ll need to take a walk until he can.

But in watching that…. all I could see was myself. How my kids went home in one car and I went home in another and I was lost. I was not a pillar of strength for my kids. I was not strong, I was not able, I was not the rock they needed to lean on.

All I could see in that moment was how I failed my children when their father died.

How one of my kids would tell me that she thinks of the good memories and is happy.  And I thought that was such an amazing thing. But really – she didn’t want me to be sadder.  Now, when her life is changing so much, she needs her dad and he’s not here and she’s ANGRY because she hasn’t grieved.

How one of my kids asked me after a fight with my chapter 2 if things were ok, because he didn’t want me to be sad again.

How my daughter says flat out that when I’m old, one of my other kids will be responsible for me because she took care of me when he died. She did her part.

How I failed them.

I don’t know how to fix that.

I was in so much pain. I hurt so badly. I couldn’t move past it. And I failed them.

This is Us showed another side of being a widow. It showed what happens on the other side – not just from the widow perspective, but from the children’s perspective.  Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t. The kids are a plot line, a side story that come out every once in a while to make a point.

And because of it, This is Us, the episode where Jack died, the episode after where they went to the funeral (and the odd needing to have him with her at all times) that affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of how I abandoned my kids when they needed me the most – not on purpose – just because I didn’t know how to cope with it myself.

How do I fix that? They are my heart.

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