Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cheap Therapy

When Ella died, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  Wait.  Scratch that.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone professional – doctor, therapist, counselor.  I didn’t see how it could help.  I barely wanted to talk to family and friends, so I certainly wasn’t going to open up to a complete stranger.  I also didn’t feel like talking to other bereaved parents in group settings.  It just didn’t seem like a comforting idea to me, and my logic, however faulty or flawed, was that talking wasn’t going to bring my daughter back, so why “waste” my time?

I’m still on the fence with regard to talking to a grief counselor or going to a support group.  I’m not ruling those out as possibilities in the future, but for now, I’m sort of using some cheap therapy to help me.  No, I’m not talking about beer.  It’s cheap to be sure and super dooper tasty, but I don’t think being in a drunken stupor would be that therapeutic.  Yummy, but not therapeutic.  The perfect accompaniment to chips and salsa, but not therapeutic.

Nope.  My cheap therapies are pretty basic, run of the mill, routine activities that have helped me in the months since my sweet girl died.  While I don’t discount the good work that therapists, counselors, and support groups do by any means, I’ve found my own brand of therapy that’s working for now.

Walking – Initially, the idea of taking long walks through my neighborhood depressed the ever loving crap out of me.  I had always imagined taking my daughter on walks, pushing her in the stroller and enjoying that outside time together.  That small dream was no longer, so why leave the house at all?

Well, the boys were in school.  Family had all gone home after the funeral.  I was alone and lonely at home, and sitting on my butt just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  So I got up and out.  I started walking for about an hour a day – long, fast walks that made me sweat.  Long walks during which I cried at random intervals, muttered a lot, prayed even more, talked to God and yelled at Him, and thought about my sweet baby.  I walked through the mourning and sweated out the grief. 

There are still days when I just don’t want to get off my hind end to leave the house.  Those are the days when my husband gently reminds me that “once you get out the door and get started, you’ll be fine.  (You) just have to get out the door.”  He’s so wise.  And hot.  ;) 

So many times I think what I want to hear is an affirmation of my own lazy lack of motivation, but what I need to hear is the encouragement that he gives me.  And he’s right.  I always feel much better after a walk than I did when I started it.

Watching what I eat – Weird one, huh?  There’s a crazy logic to it, though.  I could have very easily let myself go, so to speak, once I got back home from the hospital and made it through the funeral.  I could have eaten crap all day, gained weight like it was nobody’s business and been fat and happy.  Or at least fat.

But I didn’t do that.  Once I got back and lived in my own home again, I could better control what I ate.  No more hospital fast food, no more “guess who’s coming to make dinner?” meals at the RMH, no more day-old Starbucks pastries for breakfast.  Being home meant that I could take control of my diet and my health and that I had no more excuses for not eating healthier foods.  It helped that I recently got an iPad and began using a very helpful app that helps me track my food intake and exercise.  It’s really just a glorified food diary that keeps me accountable for everything I eat and drink and for everything I do or don’t do physically.  Because of that, I’m eating healthier foods, drinking way less soda, and becoming more aware of how “diet” and exercise affect me positively. 

It’s one thing to hear all of that on TV or to read it in a magazine, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it yourself.  I’ve lost a bit of weight, and I feel better about what I’m eating.  I actually crave fruits and healthy proteins over sugary sweets…who knew?! 

That I haven’t “let myself go” both surprises me and pleases me about how I’m coping with my daughter’s death.

Listening to Christian music – I was so angry – livid, furious, freaking ANGRY – with God in the time immediately following my baby’s death that it kind of surprised me how much I listened to the Christian radio station.  I won’t go into too much with regard to particulars because that’s a whole other long post, but I truly believe that the music and the lyrics were ways that God used to reach me even in the depths of my sorrow and to remind me that He was with me through the pain, the tears and the heartache.

Texting – Thank you, Jesus, for the person who invented texting!  When I say that I really and truly did NOT want to talk to anyone following Ella’s death, I mean it.  I was never much of a phone talker when times were good, so you can imagine how much I wanted to avoid it when times were at their worst.  After making the worst calls of my entire life to tell family of Ella’s passing, I wasn’t feeling too amped about using the phone again.  I let both my cell phone and my home answering machines get full, and then I let them stay full for months.  I talked to very few people, but I let them know that I would reply to texts.

Texting was really a godsend when I was at the hospital with my daughter.  I couldn’t have my annoying ringtone go and risk waking a sick baby, so I turned off my ringer and resorted to quick texts to keep in touch with people.  When Ella’s health deteriorated further and it became too painful for me to talk about, I relied almost solely on texting to communicate with family and friends.

I still hate talking on the phone.  I’m still not quite in control of my moods or of when the sorrow will surface.  I mean, it’s always there, but sometimes the pain is so close to the surface as to overwhelm.  At those times, I am grateful that I can fall back on texting.

Writing – I’ve only began writing down my thoughts a few months back, but just that quickly I noticed a difference in myself.  When I write, I feel a bit lighter, as though a small load has been lifted because I finally got the words out of my jumbled mess of a brain and onto the screen.  Even if no one reads these words, I know they’ve done some good for at least one person in the world:  me. 

The children’s hospital where Ella was a patient has been good about providing reading material and coping ideas regarding grieving after child death.  One of their suggestions was to keep a journal.  They say that “a journal can be like a best friend you can confide in.  It can be a way to share your feelings without fear of being judged….It can be a way to ‘let off steam.’”

I have to agree.  Though I’m sharing my thoughts with you all, I’m writing them down for me.

Peanut Butter – Oh, peanut butter…sweet, peanuty nectar of the monkey gods.  I have no idea why I lovelovelove the smell of peanut butter so much, but I do.  Thank God I’m not allergic to it!  That wonderful scent from heaven has a physically calming effect on me.  A few years ago I started “sneaking” into the pantry to take a sniff of it during those times when the boys were tap dancing on my very last nerve.  I would just twist open the can of Skippy [though I’m not brand loyal…a good smell is a good smell no matter the label] and inhale to my heart’s content.  Call me crazy, but Yankee Candle and traditional aromatherapy have got nothing on the soothing scent of peanut butter.  I highly recommend it.  Get it?  Highly?  Get it?  Moving on ;)

Hugs – I’m a hugger.  I’ve always been a hugger.  I like hugs.  And by saying that I like hugs, I mean that I love hugs.  I love ‘em, I love ‘em, I love ‘em!  I can’t remember when I started saying this, but I frequently walk up to my husband and say, “you look like I need a hug.”  After almost 15 years of marriage, he knows that a hug keeps the crazy at bay, so he’s better off assuming the position and hugging until I’m done hugging!  My boys know that I love a good hug in the morning.  And one of the things I loved most about caring for Ella and being with her every day was that I got to hold and hug her sweet little self a lot.  She had leads, oxygen and med lines attached to her, but do you really think I’d let a few lines come between us?  She got hugs and lots of them.

Hugs have restorative powers.  Honest to pete, there’s nothing like a good hug to lift the spirits.  And they’re FREE!  Take a break from reading this, and go hug someone.  I’ll be here when you get back.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation – I was really hesitant about including a Sacrament in a blog post called “Cheap Therapy”.  I don’t consider confession a form of therapy, and I certainly don’t want to come off as flippant about something as important as a Sacrament.  That said, I can’t deny that my first confession after my daughter passed away was very therapeutic for me.

I am so thankful that my first confession after Ella died was with a kindly, old, Irish priest.  I cried almost immediately as I told him that this was my first confession since my baby died.  He was patient and understanding.  He let me talk and he listened, and then he offered wise counsel in return.  It was in the confessional that I realized how intensely angry I was with God, and telling that to the priest – actually saying that out loud in the confessional - unleashed even more tears.

But the suffering I felt before going into the confessional that evening was nothing compared to the freedom I felt coming out of it.  My walk the next day was lighter.  My prayers still full of pain but free from anger.  It was at that point that I could quit screaming at God and just talk to Him and cry on His shoulder.  If anyone knows the intense sorrow of watching a child die, it’s our Heavenly Father.

That wasn’t my last trip to the confessional by a long shot (ha!!), and the anger still rears up every now and again.  But I’m thankful that the Sacrament of Reconciliation served to remind me of the healing grace that only God can offer when we come to him truly contrite and truly sorrowful for the ways we’ve damaged our relationship with Him.

So there you have it – eight run of the mill, fairly routine things that have helped me survive life post-Ella thus far.  I can’t guarantee that the same activities will help others, especially if they’re allergic to peanuts, and I would never presume to suggest that others might not truly need to talk to a professional to help them through the hard times.  But I can attest to the fact that these routine things have helped me immensely. 

Let me ask you something - what have you done to get through tough times?  What routines or things have you clung to when it seems like everything around you is falling apart?  What cheap therapy have you relied on to cope with the crap that life throws at you? 

When you weren’t in the mood for lemonade, what did you do with all of life’s lemons?

St. Ella, pray for us!

Friday, June 22, 2012

I after E

When I got to the hospital that morning, my daughter Ella’s resting heart rate was around 140.

Dear God, please help her.  Please heal her.  Please.

As the day went on, her heart rate increased until it stayed around 180.  Her temperature rose as well until it was well over 103*F (39.4*C).

Please, Jesus, help her.  Oh God, help her.  Oh my Jesus, help her.

I held my baby in my arms, swaying and praying, hoping and begging that she’d get a miracle.  I held her for hours.  My friends got me lunch, but I never ate it.  I couldn’t.  Doctors offered me a chair to sit in with her, but I stood and swayed because that’s what she liked.  And I prayed.  Dear God, how I prayed.

Mary, pray for her.  All the angels and saints, pray for her.

The medicines she was on were no longer doing enough for her heart.  Her heart was beating so fast that it had no time to relax.  I had texted my husband to get to the hospital ASAP because I just couldn’t do it alone anymore.

Oh my Jesus, I trust in You.  Help me to trust you.  Please Jesus, help her.

The only option left was to try to sedate and intubate her to take some of the work off her heart, to give it a chance to relax, to give her a chance. 

Oh God, please.  Please.  PLEASE.  Oh Jesus.

My husband and the boys were finally there.  The boys waited in our friend’s hospital room while my husband and I waited in the hall and watched our daughter’s numbers on the monitor. 

We watched when her heart rate climbed from 180 to 190 and again to 200.

We watched when her heart rate topped off at 212.

And we watched when it plummeted to 76 and then 54.

Oh God oh God oh God oh God.

A doctor came over to tell us that they were trying to resuscitate our baby.  To mention the possibility of ECMO.  To then inform us that the surgeon said that because chest compressions had been done, ECMO was no longer a possibility.

Please, Lord, please.  Please.  I’m begging you.  PLEASE.

I had already asked that the priest be called.  He was there with us when the doctor told us that they couldn’t feel pulses in her extremities, that stopping compressions would mean……

Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh Jesus oh Jesus oh Jesus

On Thursday, December 22, 2011, at 820pm, surrounded by my husband and the boys, I held our sweet Ella in my arms as her poor, broken heart beat for the very last time. 


To say that her death has profoundly changed me would be a ridiculous understatement.  I am not the person I was before my baby died.  I am not the same wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend that I was before because when she died, a part of me died, too.

I wish you could have known me then, the me with the whole and unbroken heart.  I was so much quicker with the humor, the smiles, the opinions and comments, the snark.  I was more willing to be out there in the world - less the anti-social introvert and more likely than not the person who’d offer a smile and a “hi!”  I wouldn’t say I was a social butterfly, but I liked being with friends.  I liked being out and about.  I loved sharing stories about my crazy boys and the whacko stuff they did to make me smile, to make me nuts, or BOTH.  And I loved sharing those stories on Facebook because I knew my family and friends would get as much a kick out of them as I did.

If you knew me before, then you knew how much I loved talking politics and religion.  I talked politics with friends and read politics at home on the computer.  I read Catholic blogs and newspapers, and I shared posts and articles on FB and via email.  I cared enough about the topics to want to talk about them and frankly to tell others how wrongheaded their opinions were, especially about politics!

Before, I would think of funny things to post or say and would be antsy to share them.  I wouldn’t just think of them and keep them to myself.  I had fun making people laugh, though I never really liked being the center of attention.  Even during the very hard and very long stay at the hospital with my daughter, I would try to laugh, try to make people laugh, try to keep my snark sharp and at the ready.  I would act goofy with friends and with nurses and with nurses who became friends.  I would keep the humor up and running because the serious was so painfully freaking serious.


Every now and again, I do miss the old me.  I miss her because when she was here, she was fun.  She was such a HUGE pain in the ass - just ask my husband! - but she meant well and was quick to laugh.  I miss her because she didn’t think so much about thinking.  She didn’t second guess opening her mouth to say something so much, and she didn’t withdraw rather than engage.  But most of all, I miss her because when she was here, it meant that the most awesome baby on the planet was still here. 

I decided to start writing a blog because of how I changed after my daughter’s death.  My brain, or at least the way it works, sort of changed.  I swear to pete, I think in paragraph format now.  I picture the words and the typed font.  I write the paragraphs in my head, and I edit as I go.  There are so many words up in my noggin just jumbling around and needing a place to go.  I’ve been living with internal prompts to write for the last four or five months.  I’m thinking that either I start writing now or I deal with the annoying, nagging prompts forever! 

Whether or not anyone ever reads this is less a concern than actually getting the damn words out of my head.  Releasing them finally so that they release me.  This just may turn out to be the single most depressing and fleeting blog ever written, but if it frees me, then so be it.  It will have served its purpose, though I do hope it ends up being more than that.  I hope at least some of what I have to say is relevant to a reader or two out there.  I hope the writing isn’t merely to keep me sane and functioning, although that would be a big freaking bonus.

I’m not the same person I was before my baby girl died.  Though I’ll never be the same now that she’s gone, in an even bigger sense, I’ll never be the same because she was here.  I am better for being her mommy. 

This is me since she’s been gone. 

This is the I that I’ve become after my sweet Ella left. 

This is I after E.

St. Ella, pray for us!