“GET OVER IT!”
How to endure the loss’
of the ones you love and still
triumph to the other side…
A novel by Kate Sorenson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MY LOSS OF A SON IN KEITH…..2
MY LOSS OF A SISTER IN LINDA…..22
MY LOSS OF A MOTHER IN KATHRYN…..28
MY LOSS OF A FATHER IN ARNIE…..31
MY LOSS OF A STEP-SON IN JASON…..33
MY LOSS OF A DAUGHTER IN KATELYN…..35
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER…..37
MY LOSS OF A SON IN KEITH
My name is Kate. I’m a registered nurse. I’ve been one for 14 years now, and today that’s quite the accomplishment. So much is against us as patients and caregivers in these times of managed care, corporate dictates and the bottom line with the Hippocratic and nursing oath thrown into the mix. The patient gets missed. The caregiver’s original intentions get missed. And, the family gets missed. But that’s another story. My story is about grief and loss and lots of it. It begins on August 17th, 2006, progresses backward, and plunges ahead. Indulge me in this. You’ll find a place among my ramblings, I promise. That is, if you yourself have experienced paramount loss of a loved one in your life as well.
I thought my world was finally knit and comfortably secure until approximately 7:00 am August 17th, 2006 when I was feeding pudding laced with medication to one of my patients where I work. I was a psychiatric nurse on the night shift at the largest mental hospital in New York State’s Capitol then. Going about my regular duties on pay day of all days, I had no idea what was to transpire. I wound the shift up, typed my notes, counted off the narcotic medications and gave report to the oncoming charge nurse. Then gleefully I left, having escaped a looming mandatory overtime shift, and skipped to my car to shop. It was pay day after all! We’re not allowed to carry cellular phones in the hospital and mine was off. Since I was only going to Walmart and home, I never thought to turn it on. It wasn’t my habit. I got to my car, unloaded my gear and proceeded happily in search of pillows and towels for my newly redecorated bathroom. I took my time getting home since there was nothing pressing to do. It was summer and my 19 year old, Keith was graduated and had his own work and social life. My 15 year old son, Jesse, was simply sleeping in; I was sure, enjoying summer’s lazy offerings. It wasn’t until 9:15 or thereabouts that I pulled sleepy eyed into my driveway. I parked the car in the drive and Jesse and his friend Fred were sitting on the bench. Jesse leapt up and opened the car door in one motion with the cordless in his hand. He yelled, “Mom, where have you been. Keith’s dead and I’m not joking!” I sat in my car a moment, looked up at the sky in disbelief and tried to cry. I couldn’t cry to save my life. It was all too horrendous. Then Jess shoved the phone in my face and said, “It’s Dad”. My husband works out of town Monday through Friday and he was crying, yelling and going out of his mind. I finally had to yell into the phone at him to pull himself together so he didn’t drive himself off the road (having just realized he was on his way home from New Jersey). Once we hung up, Jesse told me all he had done.
About a half hour after I left work the state troopers came there to locate me to impart the news of my son’s demise. As I was nowhere to be found, a trooper knocked at the door of our house and asked my 15 year old son if there was a neighbor they could go to that he trusted. Jesse took him to a trusted friend down the street who had a son herself and delivered the news there. Jesse digested the news with much stifled emotion, I’m told. Always the practical one, he rushed home with his friend, Fred, who had been at the neighbor’s house overnight with her son, Rob. Jesse called my 28 year old son, Bobby, in NJ, my 32 year old stepson, Jason who lives locally, my brother, Ted, near the city, my husband, Keith, and my cell and work phone. He apologized to me for not knowing my daughters phone number! All this from a 15 year old that not only received this news alone, but also lost his very best friend and brother. After Jesse told me all he’d done, we hugged and loved, and then went into the house to begin going through the motions. We thanked Fred for sticking by Jess and he returned home. A different trooper came shortly after and questioned us for about half an hour until I finally asked him to leave so we could go to the funeral home to view my son, or what was left of him. He made polite talk and took his leave graciously.
We think now that Keith got up early for work, went to gas his car up five miles from home and come back to the house briefly before going to work. The accident happened right up the road from our house. He was probably tired because he’d been with a Navy buddy on leave for the first time in a year and another buddy the night before. Anyway, about ¾ of a mile before he would have made it home his driver side front tire hit the guide rail and began to ride it. There were no skid marks and the odometer read the speed limit. He rode the guide rail about 10-15 feet and the car turned to a point that the roof hit a utility pole dead center. The impact caused the car to sever completely in two. My son was thrust into the backseat as it landed on the woods side of the guide rail and crumbled onto it’s self. The front half of the car landed on the other side of the rail in the road. Keith’s skull was crushed by the metal and his brain avulsed. His body remained completely intact, meaning nothing was torn apart or off. I know all of this first hand because I viewed him at the funeral home later that day. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting on with it, we went to the funeral home. The director wasn’t there, just his secretary. I told her I wanted to view my son’s body. She said she “was just a secretary and had never seen a dead body before. She didn’t want to open the body bag. I said I could do it. I had to see him and it had to be now. I asked her to get the director on the cell phone and tell him that I’m a registered nurse, authorized by the state of NY to pronounce persons dead, and I want to view my son. He allowed it. I went in. Jesse said he wanted to view him too. I spoke with him briefly and deeply, and said yes, but that he had to wait outside until I had the bag opened and then I’d bring him in. I went in. When I had the bag entirely un-zippered, I had to catch my breath. Nothing in my ten years of nursing could have prepared me for this. There lay my beautiful, blond haired, blue eyed son with his skull comminuted in fracture throughout the right side, the brain exposed and avulsed. I followed with my eyes down his entire body finding all else relatively intact, except for his abdomen, again on the right side which was lanced and disemboweled. At this point, Jesse just walked in. I wanted to scream, “I told you I’d come get you”, but didn’t. He just looked amazed, wide eyed and aghast. And then he turned and walked out. I stayed another few moments. I had to lift my son’s head to see what was on the other side. There was a semblance of a face in disarray. But, I could recognize something of him. Where there was no eye on the right, I could see my darling’s bright blue eye on the left for the last time in this world. I lingered long in stare on it, knowing I had to feast there and then and lose the opportunity beyond that moment for anymore. Then, for the last time also, I kissed my baby on his full, cold, lifeless lips embedded with sand and glass. I said, “Goodbye Lovey, I will love you always.” That was it. It was enough.
The image of my beloved son on that gurney, with his head misshapen and scrambled as it was to my view haunts me, but I’m earnestly working today to replace that image with an angelic brilliance of a heavenly creature ever walking at my side. Regardless of my mind’s view, I would never give up the opportunity to experience it again, given the choice. My real regret is that my husband and I didn’t request to wash his body before the parlor took over his postmortem care. We bathed him as a newborn baby, infant, toddler and youngster. It fits in my mind that we should have been there to bathe him before his aftercare. Oh, and he was so fastidious about his cleanliness. That young man used more shampoo and conditioner than any girl could ever have hoped for. I know this for fact now that he’s not been here to use it up and I to buy the replacement. I’d buy cases of the stuff just to have him back, you know. I believe wholeheartedly in the renowned psychiatrist’s, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ writings on death and dying and the five stages of grief and her other theories on death and dying. She theorizes that most people can’t accept their loved one’s passing unless they see them in a state of death. This is why I allowed my 15 year old son to view his brother. There was no way on this green earth we would have been able to hold a viewing of my son, no matter how talented the mortician. This was the only chance Jesse had to seal his mind of the fact that his brother was, in deed, dead. Elizabeth also theorizes that we will all go through five stages of grief at different times and repeatedly until we finally come to terms with our loss. These stages are, and not in any particular order (for obvious reasons): anger, resentment, denial, guilt and acceptance. I’m in any or all at any given time, even to this day. Sometimes I don’t understand why I’m still standing. I really don’t. People tell me that they think I’m probably the strongest person they know. I just know that, if I don’t continue, the alternative is something I can’t consider. I did at one time, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once we were through with the funeral home it was time to continue the motions and get on home. Jesse, bless him, asked for McDonald’s and we fortified ourselves with a McChicken sandwich for Jess and, for me, the usual, a plain hamburger/no pickles. We still needed nourishment. Once home, our very good friends began to arrive. Judy McClung being the first, loaded down with lunchmeat, flowers, soda and pictures of Keith and our collective families she had developed. Oh, and let’s not forget her infamous full at you hugs. God love the woman, she could wipe the tears from the face of Africa. Then the many others began arriving, the so many others. It was like a parade. Now that everything is quieted down I miss the parade. The quiet can kill you. So they came loaded with fruit baskets, plants, lunchmeats, rolls and cakes. Ice, soda and coolers were there for the taking along with potluck suppers. We accumulated so much food and drink we had to lay it in the mudroom on tables to rest until the memorial service. It was such a tribute and testament to our son and the man he was. What an imprint he left on so many. Even the youngsters came with candles, songs, letters and flowers. A memorial table soon fashioned itself in our dining room. I found a deep purple table cloth to put over the sideboard and on it things went. His graduation picture, a penguin he loved, the seatbelt piece that gave way, a chain he wore, his teddy bear from his youth, his drivers license, his employee tag from the ski mountain portraying his rosy cheeks in the picture. There are so many tributes to his living and his life here for us to gaze at. And we keep adding to it even now with the little things we find. It just didn’t stop, I guess because we don’t stop. We continue to mourn, feel, breath, most of all breath. Oh, that we would just stop breathing. But that just won’t happen. We’re simply not that fortunate or blessed. I’m certain I’ll be cursed to live to see 100 just so I can say I’ve had the burden to know 54 years of living without my beloved son and best friend, Keith who knew me better than anyone on this good green earth. Now that would be a kick in the pants. But we go on, we do and think as best we can because we must. Because to do less is to sully the memory of the one we’ve lost and that would be worse than death itself to me. He was too good for that. He was too good for this world and maybe that’s why it took him, that’s why he’s gone.
So we went on. The day progressed and we found so much more to do. I got it into my head what we should do for a memorial service. Being as there was no way a viewing could take place traditionally in a funeral parlor, as no mortician could put my son together no matter what his talent, we needed an alternative. The alternative, I decided would be a hippie service which Keith could sink his teeth into. I began calling around for a tent, chairs and tables for our backyard and found a dealer in our community who would take no money from us. He insisted on donating the next largest tent, 100 instead of 50 chairs and a podium to Keith’s memory. Unfortunately he was out of tables, but that was rectified for us by a close friends and all was good. Mike West, the owner of Big Top Tent Rental in Cairo NY had the whole shebang up in our yard by that afternoon. I got our old pastor, Pastor Beeman to come to the service to officiate even though we hadn’t been to church for years. He did a fantastic job, along with the rest of his family. We’ve all been pretty tight through the years.
That night I poured over all of Keith’s drawings and there were many of them. I was astounded at all the notebooks and stacks of free drawing paper he had. I spent hours trying to pick out the best of the best to send with his father on Friday to have them blow up to mount on poster board to display during the memorial service. This was a monumental task because the best of the best kept becoming to daunting a task to wield down to a number of ten! But somehow we did, and the next day Dad drove off with his task in hand. While he was busy doing his errands with that and others, I and the many who rose to my side began readying the house and backyard for the service. We cleaned, rearranged, redirected, reorganized and re-fabricated the landscape to accommodate the many who would converge on us the next day. It kept our minds occupied and our hearts from breaking, which is always a good thing. My good friend, Donna, came by to help and I gave her the task of tidying up Keith’s room, just making sense of the everything trail he always had on his floor entwined with clothing which was also strewn on the furniture and whatever else. My daughter, Katelyn, would be coming up from Manhattan and I intended for her to sleep there. May have seemed morbid, but it was the only room that would supply her peace in the house. Unknown to me, about a month and a half later, Donna would tell me that was one of the hardest tasks she’d ever been asked to do. She was so broken up while doing it, but she did it for me because she would have rather have been the one over me to do it. I was so touched because I knew exactly her meaning. She took a bullet for me that day because she was very close to him. We lived right next door to each other for years and she watched him grow into a man.
So, the preparations continued on, and then the day itself came. The weather was full of sun and blue sky, calm and serene. We couldn’t have asked for better. It was truly custom ordered for remembrance. Flower and plant arrangements continued to arrive. The tent with ribbons and all Keith’s artwork looked awesome. We had two very large poster size portraits of Keith along side the podium looking very impressive, and a poster sized sketch he had done of a bald man looking downward with sad dark eyes and severely lined face. It was all beautiful. When guests began arriving a long procession began streaming up the hill, sometimes into and out of the house, most of which were young adults and teenagers. It was a living testament to the number of people whose lives Keith touched. All said many of the same things, that he was always there to listen without judgment and offer advice without recrimination of whether it was taken or not. He just cared. Many wanted to live on as he lived in remembrance to him so a part of him wouldn’t die. Such caring young people themselves. Our future is not really in such bad hands after all.
So, the memorial service and the parade of mourners with the food, the flowers, the fruit, the cards, the hands of help and the constant vigilance came and went, and in its place came the hours. The many, many hours filled with silence and more silence. Silence so loud I thought it would burst my eardrums to deafness. Or perhaps it is only my heart telling that to my brain. Whatever, it’s hard to hear when all I heard and felt was constant activity fluttering around me the week following his death. And now to only hear and feel this black silence is almost unbearable. But, I was warned, so many at the service warned me it would happen. I suppose we’re never prepared to be finally left alone with the hours. Because this is where it sinks in, where we finally meet the shock and realization head on. And, we don’t meet it once and conquer it and say “well, now, I’ve dealt with that, let’s move on.” Oh, no, we meet it again and again, repeatedly for how long we won’t know, perhaps forever. I’ve read experts who say, it takes five or so years to come to terms with the death of a spouse and 20 or more and perhaps a lifetime to come to terms with the death of a child. I believe it. I walk, talk, bathe, dress, toilet, eat, sleep or not, smile (sometimes blankly), and otherwise proceed through all my activities of daily living by rote course. But something in me is absent and I can’t find it anywhere. I muse to myself that it died with Keith.
Now I go back to work after 11 days of being out, seven of which I took off bereavement time, and everyone thinks me so strong to come back so early. I feign that I do better with grieving when I have work to occupy me when in reality I’m on my customary one year probation with the State of New York as a new employee and I have to watch my time off. I also didn’t have anymore sick time to take as the state gives you 15 days bereavement time which it makes you charge to your sick time. I had eight days to take. I wished at the time that I lived in Europe. I hear the culture there is more sensitive to family and bereavement issues. But, I don’t, I live here and so go back to work with a torn heart. I’m greeted by my co-workers and a collection plate they took up of $209 for my family and I’m touched. They all tell me they’re on my side and will be watching out for me. Not to worry. I’ll make my probation and they’ll see that I do. This is important, especially in nursing with the state, because nurses tend to eat their own. Its dog eat dog everywhere in nursing, trust me. We are not the helping profession when it comes to our colleagues. To have them on my side meant the world.
I did well back at work, and the heat had been turned up. The facility normally operated on 31 nurses, while then they were operating on 21. On my unit we’ve lost so many registered nurses that our monthly notes jumped from four to seven each. This is a lot because the notes are lengthy and packed with critical and current information. With these notes on our primary patients we were also expected to do treatment reviews as they arise, usually two a month, and annual nursing assessments and physicals as they arise. And, we were expected to do all of these during our eight hour shifts in which we are floor nursing, meaning we are supervising staff, patients, administering medications, seeing to a separate list of chores everyone does, ordering supplies and medications and this is not all inclusive of what we do. Attach to this what is called mandatory overtime which is a nice way of saying that during our working shift right up to the last minute of it, the facility supervisor may call and say “you’re mandated for the next shift and you’re assigned to Unit J or K or whatever”. In other words, I can’t go home when my shift’s done and I may not even be able to stay on my unit. I can hope that the phone calls I make to the people I know that may come in for me might bring someone in to relieve me before the full eight hours of overtime are complete. If I’m unsuccessful, then I must work the 16 hour shift and, if I’m due to come back to work that night, I better be back. No night off allowed because I was mandated, no break, no compensation other than the pay. The stress from this was phenomenal to say the least.
The mandated overtime is seen by administration as part of our “core group of work duties”, meaning it is as much a part of everything we do in our 40 hour work week as anything. If we cannot perform mandates along with our 40 hours than we are not fulfilling our job requirements and are subject to termination on the spot. When we’re all hired we’re lied to about the mandatory overtime being only about once a month when it is as much as two and three times a week. Now, suffering the loss of my son and returning to work full time and performing the mandates, I did well for a time. After a month of keeping up with all I’ve previously outlined as shift duties and being mandated for three full 16 hour shifts in one week and a half, I nearly lost my mind. I had decided to see a psychologist prior to this and on my first appointment asked him for a doctor’s note to put me on no mandate status and try this. I submitted it to my director of nursing and she gave me what she said was all she could give which was a customary two weeks no mandate status. Beyond that, I would have to go to Personnel and file for something called “Reasonable Accommodation”. I did that and ended up with one month of no mandate status. In the meantime, there have been two job postings for which I’m qualified for on the day shift, both of which are Monday through Friday with no weekends or holidays worked and no mandatory overtime required. One was for a utilization review nurse and the other for a staff development nurse. Both job postings have come down and neither had been given to me, probably because they thought I’d be too unstable with grief to begin a new position.
Back to the family, Jesse, my 15 year old son, was my primary concern then. He had remained nonverbal in his responses to my questions about his grieving process, stating he’s fine and not to worry about him. He’d been saying things like that up until he finally opened up. He told me that he’d been lonely nights when I’m at work and he’s alone in the house. That’s when he’d be missing Keith the most. His stepbrother, Jason, 32, has estranged himself from the family for a variety of reasons I’ll get to, along with the grandchildren. He and Amy, his significant other (SO), her three children (the step-grandchildren) and his two daughters would all come over most every weekend before Keith died. Jesse said he’s lonely without the activity of everyone being here on the weekends too. He wants the family back as close to what we were before Keith died and he knows that it can never be the same; that we’ve all changed. Hell, I want all this too! He said he wanted to try to speak with Jason and tell him all he’s feeling to convince him he has to get over his pain and anger at me and his father and come back to the family. He went over there for a weekend to try to do this. They say a child shall lead them.
Jason’s angry at me for two reasons. One afternoon I stopped by their house to say hello, having been in the neighborhood. We were sitting on his bed talking about Keith and everything when he reached over, patted my knee and said, “Kate, we have to move on.” I reciprocally reached over and tapped his knee, with the icy stare everyone says I have when I’m livid, and said, “Jason, when you’ve lost a child to death, that’s when you can tell me to move on.” Then I let some awkward time go by, made an excuse and left. When a couple of weeks went by and they didn’t come over and I hadn’t heard from my other son, Bobby, since the memorial service, I was up late one night crying over it all, and wrote in my MySpace website blog that I wish God would bring Keith back like he did Lazarus in exchange for one of my older sons who don’t seem to care whether I live or die because at least I know Keith would understand my grief and loss and be grieving with me, not against me. Bobby later forgave me after he discovered it. He said, “I know you, Mom, and I know how you can get.” He was disappointed and a bit distressed at first, but understood and forgave me. Jason hasn’t, although I’ve since deleted the post, put up an apology in its place, sent him an email apologizing and did the same briefly by phone. He says he forgives, but they still haven’t come over. We’ll see what Jesse does with it.
My husband Keith had been coping as well as could be expected. He continued to work out of town Monday through Friday. He was able to take more time off than I was for Jesse and I was grateful for that. He was also greeted by his colleagues and bosses when he returned to work with a collection, this time of $900 for the family. He bought me a new computer with it because the old one was causing me so much frustration as I had been trying to upload graphics and such to memorial websites I was creating in Keith’s honor. I had been finding this cathartic in working out my grief. That had been my focus that first year of mourning, 2006 to 2007. However, my depression continued to deepen to the point that I simply drove all of my family away from me.
My husband started working out of town more weekends in addition to the weeks he already worked. Jason and his family just never came around, even on major holidays, except for a quick cursory visit. I virtually never heard from Katelyn, Bobby was busy with a new found love, and Jesse spent as much time up in his room or away from the house as he could possibly arrange. So, it ended up to be me and our three golden retrievers for company and solace. The Internet stopped filling the void, so I attempted to establish an afterschool community activity outreach at a local building built in town for just such a thing. The whole idea was shot down by the Town Board due to insurance and liability issues. I grew increasingly depressed.
I continued to work at the psych hospital, but on my off hours I began hitting the biker bars on my Harley Davidson Sportster 1200cc to drink, play pool and meet people to try to get out of my self. It worked for a while until one evening someone turned me onto cocaine. I’d done it infrequently in my early twenty’s, but now, in my depression, it seemed to fill a void. I took it and ran with it. Not only did I become addicted to the coke and drinking, playing pool and staying out most of the night, I also began cheating on my husband. This was 2007, and it led to my second DWI since 1985. I got off easy on that one because so much time had passed. I paid some hefty fines, went to Drinker/Driver school, and that was that. With all the financial disruption and impact on my career and family, I still didn’t acknowledge that I had a huge problem with addiction to cocaine, alcohol and sex, and that I was only trying to fill my “God shaped hole” in the wake of my son’s demise, as well as that of my mother and sister’s. During this time I had been having womanly problems with a fibroid that wouldn’t stop bleeding and was on injections to stop it to no avail for a full year until finally in October of 2007 I underwent a total radical hysterectomy. My hormones and my mental disorders (being bipolar disorder of the depressive type and anxiety disorder) were all over the page.
Time passed and in 2008 I caught charges during a routine traffic stop of having my prescription medications (Xanax and Lortab) from my doctor for anxiety and arthritis pain outside their container in a fanny pack and a joint. I kept them there if I needed them while working in the psych hospital so patients couldn’t go through my purse. I was arraigned on these charges in 2008 and given three years misdemeanor probation, community service, and a bunch of fines I have yet to have been able to pay because, when an RN such as I am is arrested, the police have to inform the employer. The psych hospital removed me from service, drug tested me and of course I came up dirty for coke. I never could get clean after that until in March 2010 I called them to quit, stating that I just can’t get clean on an outpatient basis. My healthcare insurance wouldn’t pay for an inpatient stay at that point.
By that time snorting cocaine had progressed to smoking coke in freebase form, which is almost crack but purer. I just tell everyone I smoked crack when I tell my story because it’s easier. I did this for approximately six months while drinking flushes to try to beat the outpatient urine tests. At the end of October, 2009 my stepson, Jason, found out my girlfriend who was living with us and I were smoking it and told my now ex-husband. He kicked both of us out of the house. From then until I came back to my husband the beginning of March 2010 we couch surfed wherever we could find a place to lay our head. On March 28th, 2010 I walked out the door of my husband’s house while he was sleeping at about 7pm, got in my car and drove to a drug associate’s house to pick her and her husband up to go get some coke to freebase. We made two trips that night in a snow storm. I stopped and got some wine. We partied like rock stars. I took some pills too and smoked some pot. When we were all done, we all bedded down, I on the sofa in the living room. I couldn’t sleep because I was so depressed over everything, both my deceased sons, the loss of my job, our impending foreclosure, just everything. I grabbed my coat, hat and purse and slipped out the door into my car. I’d decided to kill myself. While in the car, I decided to drive my car directly into something hard at a high speed. I was so whacked I didn’t even see the State Trooper behind me. When I saw a concrete garage, I turned the wheel and headed for it, but ice or God redirected my path, and I missed it landing in a field. The car was totaled, and I had broken my left ankle, but I was alive. In fact, I’m told I was so alive that I was cussing the trooper out telling him I was worthless and to leave me alone. I’m told I tried crawling under the slightly open garage door to get away from the Trooper, and that he and the paramedics had to drag me out of there.
I was taken to the local hospital in Hudson NY where my ankle was stabilized, I was given something for the pain, and then I was transported the next day, what I consider my clean date, March 29th, 2010. I remember waking up once again for probably the fourth time to my husband standing over me in an ER. I knew I’d hit my rock bottom right then and there. From then on I spent a week and a half in the psychiatric unit, and 30 days in the inpatient substance abuse treatment unit called First Step at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston NY because my probation officer demanded it of my insurance company while steps were taken to convert me to Medicaid and Dept. of Social Services.
Inpatient services didn’t stop there. My probation officer, Donna, (please God bless her) obtained a court order for me to be transferred to a long term inpatient care facility for not less than six months. I was taken to a therapeutic community for substance abuse treatment called The Renaissance Project, Inc. in Ellenville NY on May 10th, 2010 and stayed for just about a year, completing on May 2nd, 2011, discharging to a sober house in Ellenville NY where I’m currently writing this from my room.
On October 12th, 2010 I went to court to face my charges on my third DWI (aggravated felony) and about six other tickets. With the stipulation that I complete everything my probation officer wants me to do, everything was reduced to another misdemeanor DWI and parking on pavement and another three years of misdemeanor probation to run concurrently with what I’d already served. So, in actuality I’d only end up serving one year more probation. I also incurred more fines for which I still need to pay, but this will come in time. They’re being very patient with me, as I’m in my seventh month of Interferon injections and Ribeviron capsules which I need to take for a year to rid myself of Hepatitis C having contracted it during my addictive behaviors. My Hepatitis C was very symptomatic and I should have done this long ago. Now today I’m trying to do the next right thing one day at a time.
My RN license is in the hands of the State Education Department, Office of Disciplinary Charges as I write this. My counselor at my outpatient substance abuse clinic, Step One, in Ellenville where I’ve been going since leaving Renaissance in May wrote an excellent letter on my behalf. I’ve put this in my God’s hands. Although I never took any of my patient’s medications, I did go to work with drugs in my system from the night before. To my knowledge, that never influenced my behaviors on the job or caused any of my patients harm, but I am making amends to all my patients on paper in the 12 steps of my Narcotics Anonymous program. I go to at least four or more meetings a week today, I have a sponsor and a support network, I read my program literature daily, stay away from persons, places and things that might cause me to use, and take my psychiatric medications as prescribed by my doctors. There are other things I do too numerous to mention that I do to keep well. The children I have that are still living don’t seem to want or need a relationship from me, so I no longer call or write them anymore. It’s just not healthy for me because it causes me to become depressed. I’ll always look with hope to a day they initiate contact with me, but it will have to be their decision.
I had to leave my marriage of 26 years when I discharged from Renaissance because my ex-husband still uses, is addicted, but denies he has a problem. We also have a very long history of domestic violence in which I usually ended up trying to kill myself. I still love him, but I love myself more. I pray for him every day that my God works His will in my ex-husband’s life as He did in mine. I pray the same for my living children, if in fact they are using.
As for my Keithie, I know he’s in a better place, and that I’ll meet him again along with all those loved ones whom I’ve lost. Keith was a beautiful soul inside and out. To look at him I would feel warmth deep in my stomach that transcended to my heart. He was always so gentle in speech, touch, thought and sight. His eyes could penetrate completely through me as he spoke. For me, he was a kindred spirit, always knowing when something was wrong or if I needed to talk about something. His talent for art was renowned in our small community. He was self-taught, and would sit for hours upon hours on the living room couch to try to get some aspect of a drawing just right. I speak with him through my pendulum from time to time. He always speaks back. Even in death he comforts me. I miss you, Keithie ~ Mom
MY LOSS OF A SISTER IN LINDA
My sister, Linda, was stolen from me just as much as my son, Keith. I had only 26 years with my best friend and sister when she left us all one night at the age of 39. It was late at night and she was having car trouble, and had called AAA to come tow her. She lived in South Philadelphia. While she was waiting a cabby (cab driver) she knew stopped to see what he could do. My sister worked the carnivals in Philly, and knew all the cabbies. Linda told him she could use a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes, so he went around the block to get them. When he returned, he couldn’t see her inside or outside the car. He ran over, and she was gone, passed on in death, face down into the passenger side floorboard. He, of course, called an ambulance from a local payphone, but it was too late. Lin had suffered a massive grand mal seizure which I was told by the coroner the next day caused her heart to “short out”. As an RN, any nurse or doctor I’ve ever told that to has been amazed that such a thing could happen, but that’s what I was told.
I was living with our Mom and Dad in Freehold, NY in the upstate Catskills of NY at the time. I’ll never forget the call at my secretarial job to come home. My boss took it in front of me, and told me to get home quick. Nothing more was said. I left hurriedly. When I got home and walked through the kitchen door, Mom and Dad were huddled and brought me in to the two of them, Mom stating through her tears, “Linda’s dead”. I was in utter disbelief, shock really. The rest of that time was really a blur as I can’t recall what happened until I was on my was driving toward Philadelphia the next morning as it had been decided that I would identify her body, get her remains and keys and go to her apartment to start packing things up while the rest of the family began the funeral and viewing arrangements. I remember at the coroner’s office they wouldn’t allow me to go down to Linda to see her or touch her. I couldn’t do anything but look at a video of her to identify her. If it were me today, I would have put up such a fight they would have had to take me down to her. But, I was only 26 years old, and this was my first real loss. I was naive.
After identifying Linda, I went to her apartment to start packing things up. It was so weird to be to be in her apartment without her being there. I just felt wrong. It seemed that I was running on autopilot. My first husband, whom I was in the midst of reconciling with at the time, and my sister argued fiercely with me against my doing so, arrived to help me. He was more of a hindrance than a help. We did get together after the funeral, and he ended up cheating on me. She was right. Big sisters are like that. The next day my father and brother came with a truck to load all of her belongings. My ex drove my sister’s car up to Freehold. I drove my car back. My parents had been in the midst of moving to New Milford CT to curate a museum there called Harrybrook Park, so they picked a plot there, and all funeral and viewing processions would take place there. This all took place because my brother, Ted, and his wife lived in the same town. So, naturally the family plot would be near them. Funny thing is, though, they live a thousand or so miles away from there today in Somers NY, and the “family” plot bears no room for me. It never did from the conception. The funnier thing is that I never questioned it. I don’t like my brother and his wife even less.
That aside, Linda’s viewing; funeral and Irish wake/party went off to perfection according to those fitting the bill, meaning Ted and his wife. According to Linda, she would have been completely aghast at the dress my mother chose for her, the make-up the master mortician impressed upon her and how she was lain out in the coffin as if she had no tits! She looked utterly hideous. I don’t know where they got this guy, but I could have done a better job, and in fact, I’m thinking these days of doing just that; going into home funeral midwifery. This is when we bring the funeral and all the procession that goes with it back where it always has been save the past century, back into our homes. Go ahead and Google it, it’s quite an ingenious movement. Enough said, getting back to my sister. All had a wonderful time at the wake, we went to the cemetery, said the appropriate sayings, went back to my brothers house, where everyone proceeded to continue to drink, save my mother who only took Valium, bless her soul.
Judging from Linda’s life, this was a perfect ending. Hers was a hard life to say the least. My father was in prison until she was about 12 years old, approximately 10 years for felony armed robbery of airports with some associates he had. I was the planned product of his reuniting with my mother. I believe to this day that this is why my brother dislikes me, and why we have no relationship. Linda and I always had a very special relationship. She was like my second mother as well as my sister. However, when she was diagnosed with epilepsy at 13 years old and I was one years old, she was given a medication that made her skin turn yellow. This caused her to be non-compliant with the medication, causing more seizures, causing institutional hospitalization, usually in psychiatric hospitals. That’s how they handled things back then. So, I saw Lin on and off through my growing up years, and during a lot of those years there were battles, slapping, yelling and hitting between her and my father. I always kept waiting for my Dad to hit me. One year, when she was 14 or 15, she actually ran away to Puerto Rico, and my parents had to have her brought back.
I remember when she was around 20 years old she married this guy, Jimmy, who was abusive to her. I think that lasted a year, and she was home again. She used to tell me when I was little that she was going to take me to Hollywood and make me the next Shirley Temple. I believed her and kept waiting. It never happened. She used to have a lot of magical thinking going on through out her life. She always wanted to get her GED, go to barber school and learn to drive, but the Epilepsy always prevented it all for a long time because the seizures would wipe out things she knew for the GED and if she had a seizure, and she always had them for medication non-compliance, she’d have to wait another six months or more for a cat scan to reveal she was alright to drive. Driving finally happened in her 38thyear I think it was, and then she died.
Linda did a lot for me. She took my part in the family and fought for me. She made Ted take me in when I was 22 to teach me about computers and to type so I could learn something legitimate. I went to college because of that. She sent me to Bartender School when I was 21. She took me in and watched over me when I got a hernia at 21 from working in a factory moving metal sheets for telephone booths. But most of all she doted on me and loved me as a sister and best friend. My heart aches in the telling of who and what she was to me. We could make a day of it walking down on South Street in Philly, just going in and out of shops and looking out at the bay. I’ve never made a woman friend like I had in her since she died, and I’ve tried, really tried. It was probably a good thing for her that she died when she did because she suffered from emphysema, and just couldn’t stop smoking cigarettes or pot. She would give me money to clean her apartment when I lived in Philly with her, and I adamantly told her I’ll clean everything, but not your spit cups! She’d laugh at me, and get me laughing too. When she died we were talking about getting a house together, but I told her that my ex-husband Bob and I were talking about reuniting. We had the biggest phone argument then. That was about a week before she died. I felt so guilty about it for the longest time until God made me see through other people that Linda knew the love I had for her, and I knew the love she had for me. Had she lived, Bob and I would have gotten together, he would have cheated, I would have seen his distrust, and Linda and I would have gotten the house together. Things just happen as they should. I’m the person I am today because all that happened and didn’t happen.
I remember when Linda was married to Jimmy, and my Mom and Dad, Ted and I lived up in Mansfield Center CT, and there was a steep hill in a field next to our house. Jimmy, Linda and I stayed out all afternoon just sledding down that hill, walking up it and sledding down again. And, I remember Linda had a rosebud canopy bed that we would lay under and she would tell me story after story until we’d get so tired we’d fall asleep in a nap.
One time she saved the whole family in the middle of the night from a fire she smelled out of a dead sleep and we all were able to make it out safely. This was very unusual because Linda was known for not being able to wake up easily at all. When she was older my dad had to make a gong alarm clock so she could wake up.
When Linda was a bit older in her late 20’s she became pregnant by a mean man named, Joe from Philly where she was living. While she was still pregnant Joe beat her up so badly she had to go to the hospital. My dad and Ted went to get her, but not before beating Joe up so bad that he would never entertain the thought of looking Linda or the baby up in the future. I mean, from how I heard it, Joe barely made it, and I say good! Linda went on to have a beautiful baby boy she named Sean Aaron. Unfortunately, because of Linda’s sleep patterns associated with her epilepsy medications, she was unable to properly take care of Sean and CPS was called in. This was 1979, and rather than lose Sean to the foster care system Ted and his wife, who couldn’t conceive, decided to adopt Sean. While that was excellent for Sean, it tore apart whatever family structure we had up until then. Linda was ostracized as being the birth mother, and asked not to attend family functions. To me it was a mess. I also had a prejudice at the time against Linda’s giving Sean up for adoption, but this is where I was to learn the “never say never karma” piece in my life because two years later I was to adopt my daughter Katelyn to another family.
Poor Linda, she suffered such losses in her life; a husband who really didn’t love her, a boyfriend who beat the daylights out of her as her father had, a baby she wasn’t equipped to keep, and then to die alone. My poor sister, let Jesus wipe all your tears away. Someday it will be us again. We’ll have our rosebud canopy and tell our stories again, and then walk on the waters at the bay near South Street. I miss you my sister. Love always and forever ~ your sister.
MY LOSS OF A MOTHER IN KATHRYN
Kathryn Elizabeth McMahon Smeland departed this earth too soon also at the age of 57 when I was 27 years old. She died a little over a year after my sister Linda died, and my head was still reeling from that. Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Renal (Kidney) Cancer about a month after we buried Linda. Even though the cancer was so advanced Mom wanted to attempt to fight it with chemotherapy and radiation, and did for many months. When the prognosis finally relented that no hope remained, Hospice was brought in. During this time I had grabbed onto the only life preserver I could see out within my life after Bob had cheated on me and left. His name was Keith Pebler, and he and I had started dating just before my sister died. I ended up becoming pregnant by Keith just after my mother and father told me about my mother’s cancer, and delivered Keith James Pebler, Jr. on June 23rd, 1987. Mom was able to interact and hold him, and he was a joy to her while she was still coherent. The cancer was quick to emaciate her body taking her weight down in a quick and short year from 140 to 80 pounds. There was nothing to her. On October 23, 1987, surrounded by her husband, grandson, son and his wife, my mother slipped away. My Dad tells me two shooting stars fell from the sky minutes after she passed. I had made my peace with her that morning, and had planned to return two days later on Saturday after tying things up at the office. The Hospice workers believed she had waited for me to leave as I was the youngest and she didn’t want me there when she died. However, I asked for and received the privilege of seeing her as she was when she died before the mortuary makeup was applied. This was very cathartic for me, and I recommend it to everyone who is in transition of loss. It answers so many questions from “did they die peacefully” to “were they properly attended to”. This is only my experience, nothing more.
My mother was vivacious, loving and believed the best in everything and everyone. When she set her mind to something, she found a way to do it. She always believed the best in me. Sometimes I wonder why. My regret of all time with her is 1) that I didn’t comfort her more when she lost her daughter; that I didn’t try to make as much of what I could do easier on her and talk to her more about what a great daughter she had in Linda; and 2) that I took her only granddaughter away from her through adopting her to another family. I stole from my mother what she could not bring back into the family. Most all of my reasoning for giving Katelyn up was for Katelyn’s own good, but there was a smidge of “I’ll get you back for deciding not to help us when we truly needed you”. I am so ashamed of that; truly ashamed, and I will take that to my dying grave.
What fun we would have had with that little girl my mother and me. But, there’s another coulda, woulda, shoulda that should never be asked. The tears pour as I write this, and yet I feel my mother beside me. I know she sees; she sees it all, and its fine.
I wore black for a full year after she passed. I simply could not move past the mourning. It got to the point that my husband, Keith, began getting irritated, and the domestic violence began. That got to the point that I first started leaving to motels, then it kept escalating after we moved to the Freehold house, and I slit my wrists after an episode. I was taken to the ER and released with a prescription for mental health follow up which never happened. The next time, I went to a domestic violence shelter for three months, this time with our second son of six months, Jesse, as well as Keith Jr. We went through significant DV therapy, and we came home with a contract which lasted a number of years. He was still always mentally, spiritually and emotionally abusive, and on occasion physically abusive.
I never really got the chance to grieve and mourn my mother because of the domestic violence. I learned to medicate or drink it away. Today, in substance abuse recovery I’m continuing to explore my grief. Although it’s painful, it’s worth it, and it’s needed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be finished. I don’t think I will. I think that grief and loss, as in substance abuse recovery, it’s a process, not an event. I miss you Mommy ~ love Kate
MY LOSS OF A FATHER IN ARNIE
Arnold Randall Smeland is the only member of my family that I can honestly admit died at an appropriate age. He was 73 when he died after I put him on failure to thrive on Hospice following end stage stroke which he contracted in 2000, and finally died from complications in 2003. The stroke left him paralyzed on the left side of his body, which totally pissed him off. The evening of the stroke he had just come in from a cool summer’s evening of mowing our expansive lawn. I found him in his apartment bathroom on the floor unable to move, probably within minutes of the stroke. We took him to the hospital I worked at as an RN case manager in Hudson NY. I kept waiting for them to deliver a clot buster like streptokinase to stop any further damage, but they didn’t. My deep regret with Daddy is that I didn’t take him into Albany to one of their hospitals. I really think things would have been different. We kept him home for the years following his stroke, and he died in our living room, him on one couch and me on the other.
Daddy didn’t want any viewing, wake or funeral. He took me with him before his stroke to the neighborhood funeral parlor, and picked out crematory package. Apparently, in NY State one must have a coffin to be cremated in, so he chose the cheapest. He even picked out his own urn, of modest means of course. Dad’s ashes are still at my ex-husband’s house along with Keith’s for scattering on a “someday” that probably will never come.
My dad was an alcoholic just like me, although unlike me, he would never admit to that. He was diagnosed with depressive disorder after the stroke and put on antidepressives, which he rarely took. He was of the old school, and, having spent 10 years in prison, had that mentality. A person doesn’t shake that. He never knew that I knew he had gone to prison, Riker’s Island, I believe it was. At least I don’t know that he did. He was as good a father as he could have been. His expectations of me were confusing at times, and we moved a lot when I was growing up (13 times by the time I was 10) due to his alcoholism. But, he did the best he could with what he had. Between the time my father died and August 2005, I lost the job I held when he was home with us with his stroke. I had ended up spending myself trying to make it all work those two years that I couldn’t keep a nursing job. My hands would shake when giving injections, I couldn’t remember simple tasks, and I ended in a breakdown. That August, after losing yet another job, Keith became physically abusive to me, and I swallowed a bottle of Tylenol, along with a lot of wine and some Lortab and went to bed to die. That was about 10pm. The following afternoon my 14 year old, Jesse checked on me, and swore to his father I wasn’t breathing. He insisted Keith call 911. The paramedics said if he hadn’t I’d have been dead a half hour later. As it was I spent a week in ICU and a month on the psych unit. You can never know what taking care of your loved ones can do to you until it may be too late. I miss you Daddy ~ Your Kassideech
MY LOSS OF A STEP-SON IN JASON
My step-son, Jason, also died suddenly, traumatically and much too soon at the age of 34 on November 5, 2009 when, in a depressive state of mind and without any warning to any of us, his family, he loaded a shotgun in his mother’s garage, aimed it to his head and pulled the trigger. I’m told that the suicide note he left behind was almost unreadable because of the shrapnel and blood. Jason had been in substance abuse recovery for alcohol for 15 years, and married to his common-law wife for almost that long. He left behind his wife, her two daughters and son, his two daughters from his first marriage, his mother and stepfather and half-sister, his father and me, and his two half-brothers, along with his maternal grandmother, many aunts, uncles and nieces, nephews and cousins. Jason was also a member of his local fire brigade.
I was Jason’s step-mother from the time I met him at 17 years old when his mother brought him over to meet his father because “he had become such a handful that she felt she needed Keith’s intervention”. He spent so much time with us during the summers, on weekends, and grew up with Jesse, Keith and Bobby. Every time he’d come around he’d pick me up and twirl me around like a Barbie doll, then give me a big old hug and kiss and tell me how much he loved me. Keith and I saw Jason and his first wife through the difficult time of adjusting at 19 to their first baby, and then the next. So much living we did, and so much was left to come. I don’t know if he just couldn’t take life anymore without Keith there, or that contributed to the marital problems he was having with Amy. I’ll never know. Nobody will tell me because I’m the outcast now.
Jason was a top rate auto mechanic, working for the same shop owner for about 10 years. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it more than he did, and he loved all his kids dearly; stepchildren and his own. He was inseparable from his brothers growing up, and loved family life. He and his father would sit in the garage doing things for hours. One summer he reworked our boulder fence lining our property, and those that didn’t fit he made into rock gardens. He would take the younger boys into the back woods and make lean-to tents to camp out in. When we had our four-wheeler, he would take them on joy rides. I remember his high school graduation, and how proud he looked, and even prouder later when his father gave him his first two tier Craftsman tool shelf to start out with. Many summer nights were spent with the whole clan in the back yard eating at long picnic tables, and then sitting around in lawn chairs in front of the burn piles talking the evening away, catching fire flies and roasting marshmallows. Jason, I miss you so ~ Love Kate
MY LOSS OF A DAUGHTER IN KATELYN
Katelyn Marie DeMatte Shelly, now 31 years old, and a married woman. I know you’re married because I saw it on Facebook September 17th, 2011! Oh, how that wounded me to the core. It hurt seeing your bridal party on FB, but to see your wedding, and not even have gotten a call from you that it was going to happen was the worst. Thirty years and two months ago I found us in a position where I couldn’t provide properly for the two of us. I asked my family for help, and your biological father’s family for help, and found we were alone. In my mental illness I tried to slit my wrists to commit suicide yet again. The ER bandaged me up and sent me home with instructions to seek mental help which of course I didn’t. What I did was the only responsible thing I could at that point. My babysitter, Bonnie, told me about your parents, and I thought about it for a night. The next day I asked to meet them, and we spoke.
They said it could be an open adoption; that I could send you letters and gifts and visit you from time to time, all of which they never allowed to transpire. When they took you from me, they took everything, and renegotiated the terms which to my chagrin were all verbal. I never had recourse, except renegotiate the terms within the first year and take you back, which I decided not to do because by that time it would have disturbed two many lives, especially yours.
When I gave you up, I gave you a life I couldn’t give you at the time. It was for you. Never once did I think I would be sweet talked by you on the phone with a “we should get together sometime” comment. Then, I see you beautiful in a wedding dress, and married, and I, the dreaded biological mother not even being informed before or after. Perhaps I wasn’t informed for fear I might hide in the bushes for pictures? I didn’t need to. I have them all from FB.
All I can think of is that I’m that shameful to you in all I’ve gotten caught up in through my life. But, just remember, honey. You’re cut from my cloth. What’s wrong in my head might surface in yours. You might want to get to know the enemy a little better before you throw her away. At least I’m trying to get better. Are you? Katelyn ~ I still love you more than you can know ~ Kate
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
So, here’s where I tie everything into a neat little bow, and present it to you, the reader, as a finished work. That it was that easy, but it is not. This grief and loss business is not a cut and dry, as though we deal with it now, and then we’re through. I find this is especially true in the loss of a child, whether it be a grown or growing child. I lost Katelyn (albeit alive and as a part of my own decision) at nine months old. However, I still grieve the loss of the little girl and grown daughter I’ve never and will never have. Jason and Keith, both traumatic and sudden in their deaths, will be grief and loss processes I will never “get over” simply by virtue of their being our children and their being gone from this earth too soon. Linda and my mother and also my father are easier to take for me because they were a bit older. But my mom was only 57 and Linda 39. I certainly feel cheated all the way around.
So, what to do? Having gone through inpatient 12 step recovery for substance abuse treatment, and
being a registered nurse of almost 15 years, I’ve discovered a wealth of tools at my disposal to deal with my
loss and grief issues, especially when they’re coupled with my mental health disorders (bipolar and anxiety
disorders). As I said back near the beginning, I follow a program called NA (Narcotics Anonymous)
because it includes medication, sex and alcohol and anything else I’d like to throw in like, say anger. I keep
everything in the day by taking one day at a time. I mean REALLY; I don’t think about yesterday,
yesteryear or tomorrow. If I find myself thinking about anything negative beyond today, I call someone in my
support group, preferably my sponsor (and I make sure I always have a sponsor). I attend NA meetings, at
least 3-4 a week. I read NA literature daily; I read inspirational books and the Bible daily. I go to clean
functions (no drugs or liqueur). I pray to my Higher Power whom I choose to call God every day and
through the day. I have a black cat I call Meetsi (German diminutive for cat) to love and I care for a bunch
of plants to make me happy. I watch a lot of funny movies. I work the 12 steps of my program and am
currently on my eighth step. I really try to change my character defects and shortcomings. Someone has said
“a shortcoming is having a car with four flat tires, but a character defect is driving that car with four flat tires”.
I like that because I’ve done it, and it’s insane. I don’t want insanity in my life anymore. The best advice I
can give you is get a program, take your medications if you too have mental illness like me, find a goal and
work toward it, and try like hell to live in today. Namaste ~ Kate