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August 2020

Signs

John and I were just discussing the other day how, after Luke passed away, we spent every minute reading and researching about *Heaven* or what happens after you die. I had always believed in a life after this one, but John was a bit more scientific and struggled around the where and the how of changing planes, so to speak. We read a number of books by mediums, books by people who had made successful connections with their loved ones on the other side, and books by people who had near death experiences and could describe what *Heaven* looked like. What we really wanted was to understand how to maintain our connection with our boy who no longer walked on the Planet Earth. And to know that Luke was okay wherever he was. This. SO MUCH.

Signs frequently come up in grief books and talks as validation from a loved one that they are near by and thinking of you. When you first lose someone, I think you look desperately for those signs – a dime on the ground, a cardinal, a feather – these are considered traditional tokens from the other side. I joke about this now, but when Luke first passed away EVERYTHING was a sign, lol. Every song, every bird, every combination of numbers represented my boy trying to send a message to his momma. And that is OKAY. I tell fellow grievers that if it makes your heart feel a little bit better believing that something is a sign, then IT IS. Grief is a personal journey and anything that makes it more tolerable is truth for you. Lukester for me now is a blue jay – Canadian, loud mouthed, pushing his way into the feeder squawking as much as to say – Look at me guys! I am here! I love that kid and I love that darn bird.

I think the signs that catch you by surprise are the most satisfying for the soul. You know the ones you just can’t quite explain, but there it is? John and I have had a number of incredible experiences that have solidified our belief that Luke is still in our lives and messing with us.

It was July 2015. Three months after Luke had passed away and I was eagerly anticipating our upcoming visit with Heather Lee, a local medium. It was like we had scheduled a meeting with Luke and I desperately wanted him to come through and tell me he loved me and he was sorry. (Sidebar – so that didn’t happen. Darn kids. He did come through, however. See my blog, http://pattyinwood.xyz/are-you-there-luke-its-me-merm/ to read about this visit.)

In the week leading up to our appointment, I was making my regular daily treks to the cemetery. On one of these days, I happened to move a plaque, placed by Luke’s grandma by his headstone, to clear away some dead grass and lo and behold, a teeny tiny frog was sitting there. Now, if you know my son’s story you know his gaming handle was…. wait for it, Froggir. Little tiny frog hanging out at the cemetery – coincidence? I believed not. That little frog was there every day for the week or so before we went to see Heather, and every time I saw it, I smiled a little secret smile. I see you son, I would think to myself. It gets better. The day we were going to see Heather, it was a gorgeous summer day and so Logan and John and I headed out to Long Pond for a boat ride. We pulled the boat behind the Durango the few short miles to the water, backed it down the boat ramp, and got ready to jump in. And as I swung my leg over the side, I spotted it. Sitting smack dab in the middle of the boat… was a frog. I know, I know, its a lake, Patty, surely that can happen. But in the history of our adventures on Long Pond, some seven years perhaps, NEVER had a frog come along for the ride. Think what you want, but that it happened on this of all days? Luke. Definitely.

Luke and I have quite a connection over music. He likes to mess with me and throw *his* songs on when I am in the car or listening to music at home or school. I will never forget one particularly hard day I was at B.E.S. I had a student who was giving me a run for my money and to regroup during my prep period, I put on Pandora to relax and refocus while I graded some papers. It was my Dierks Bentley station – country – and about two songs in, See You Again came on. ‘Cause THAT’S country, lol. Oh, Lukester. I had a good cry and felt like my kid was saying, “Hey, you raised ME. This student is a piece of cake, lol.” It helped.

John feels Luke when he sees hawks. My man loves to golf and there is a red-tailed hawk that often shows up when John is on the course at Quail Hollow. It likes to perch on a branch nearby and look at him. John likes to talk to him when he is alone. I love this image. Sigh. <3 Once John was golfing with two of our bestfriends and the hawk literally followed them around the course, flying over them from hole to hole. Tim and TJ noticed the bird and remarked on how odd it was. John didn’t come out and say, uh huh, that’s my boy, because that would sound crazy, lol, but we were both in awe when he shared the story with me later that evening.

Last story. It was my birthday this week. Yep, another year older. Logan and his girlfriend, Cailyn, came out for dinner on Saturday. It was Cailyn’s birthday this week, too! We had elected to order from a local restaurant, Ladd’s, because the boys were in charge of dinner and this was just easier for them, lol. We ordered pizza and I had a hankering for Hawaiian. I love pineapple and don’t often order something that only I will eat, but hey! It was my birthday. We did that newfangled contactless delivery and John and Logan set up all our munchies on the table in the screened-in porch. Only problem was there were three pizzas, but no Hawaiian! Logan and Cailyn had their pepperoni, John had his Dishboy, and my pizza? Turns out the last one was a Buffalo Chix pizza – LUKE’S favorite! HA!!! Still f*cking with you, mom. Especially on your birthday.

So here’s what I need you to know: If you haven’t lost someone you love, you have just read all of my words and thought to yourself – this woman is certifiable! lol And you are allowed. Talk to me when death graces your doorstep. And if you have lost someone you love, you have read my words and know exactly what I am talking about. Trust in YOUR signs, whatever they may be. May they bring peace and lightness and maybe even a little laughter to your heart. Keep’em coming, son. From this world to the next – I love you. Xxx

I need you to know, Things that help

No Chance for Goodbye

I believe one of the hardest things about losing a loved one suddenly is the lack of closure. When you don’t have a chance to say good-bye or tell someone you love them or hold them one last time, it weighs on you. It is like one big regret that you simply can’t get past.

From the moment I understood that Luke was truly gone, I wanted to see him. I wanted to lay my eyes on his seventeen year old face one more time; maybe hold him in my arms and cradle him like when he was a little boy. I asked the poor officer who drove me to the high school, a number of times, when I would be able to see Luke, unaware of what had actually happened at the crash scene. He somehow danced his way around answering that one. It wasn’t until we were all sitting in the conference room at Wachusett that a female officer explained that it wasn’t going to happen – and that I shouldn’t see him – for my own sake. I am grateful for this advice now because I am not sure I would have recovered from seeing Luke after he had been in the fire. My beautiful boy was consumed in the flames, you see, and they needed dental records to confirm his identity for the autopsy. Sigh. I am able to delete this thought out of my mind, most days, at this stage in my grief journey, but I know others who found their loved ones – after heart attacks or suicide – and they have to live with the image of their loved one at the end. To have to process this type of trauma, on top of the feelings of loss, leaves me in awe of those of you doing it.

So here’s what I need you to know: We are not gifted with the knowledge of the day and time of our own passing or of when you might see someone you care about for the last time. Usually. I mean there are those situations where someone has been ill and family and friends have the opportunity to gather and say their final farewell. There is peace in knowing that love has been expressed as someone leaves this world. That someone is closing their eyes and knows full well they were loved.

But that isn’t always the case. So, as we get back into a new school year, and the chaos of mornings and rushing to after school activities is upon us, might I suggest we slow down just one millisecond to see each other off. That we take the time to hug. Say I love you. I think I hug Logan every third step he takes as he makes his way from the kitchen to his car when he visits, lol. I don’t want their to be any doubt in his mind that his mother loves him. She’s a little extra, sure, lol, but she loves him.

So maybe make it a rule! You know how you tell your kids they can’t leave the house till they brush their teeth and put on their deodorant? Add *give parents a hug* onto that list. Especially for those surly teenagers, lol. Take it from this momma, you’ll be glad you did.

I need you to know

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Writing my blog last week was like saying good-bye to my son a second time. Truthfully, I had put off telling this part of Luke’s *story* because sharing his life with you all has made him seem more *here* than when I am holding him to myself in my heart. It has been incredibly healing to go through this experience and I am beyond appreciative to everyone that has shared their words of support over the two years it took me to get to this place. You have my love. Xxx

PLUS! I knew writing this sh*t would be hard, lol. And therein came the inspiration for this week’s blog. Here’s what happened last Sunday:

John had headed out to golf with a buddy and the time seemed right to pull out my laptop and get the blog done. I often write when John is out of the house because I know how hard it is for him to watch me drag myself back down the emotional path of losing Lukester. When I hurt, it hurts him, too. Sigh. He is a good man.

So, I sat in my fuzzy chair in my girl’s room and finished the final chapter in the Rise and Fall of Luke Inwood. And with my last keystroke, I wailed. I am usually a quiet cryer, but when the whole horrible reality of Luke being dead hits me, it rises up and comes out of me sounding more like a police siren. Alert! Alert! Mother with a broken heart coming through! “You’re okay!” I can hear my sister saying, and I want desperately to make it so.

I am still crying as I put my laptop away on the table, and I decide to try and remove the heaviness of my heart by floating in the pool in the sun. There is nothing more therapeutic for my soul than being in the warmth of the sun with nothing but the chirp of the birds and my own quiet breathing to still my emotions. But to do that, I need to put in my contacts and change, so I head up the stairs to our bathroom.

Standing at the vanity, contact case in hand, I catch myself in the mirror, and the woman staring back at me just looks so forlorn, so tired, that I start to cry again – because that woman is ME after all. “I’m okay,” I keep whispering to myself, gulping for air, ” I’m okay.” It was comical, really, because I am trying so hard to convince myself when all evidence points to the contrary. I am not okay. I have lost a son. I have relived it for all to see and it has dragged out all the old trauma and emotions. Today, after feeling Luke die a second time, I am definitely not okay.

So here’s what I need you to know: Whether today is your Day One or Day 100, you need to know that sometimes your sadness just has to get out – it’s okay to not be okay. Perhaps you haven’t lost a loved one, but the stress of these Covid and quarantine times are getting to you – it’s okay to not be okay. Maybe you are one of my lovelies and you are feeling the pressure of supposed to be having your shit together, when really you don’t –it’s okay to not be okay. I know we don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole in a trail of negative thoughts, but everybody experiences a day or two. I feel like society demands we put on a brave face – keep calm and carry on and all that – and I think all that does is push the pain down. And you know it’s going to pop up when you least expect it, lol. And what about social media? As we struggle to contain our feelings of sadness or being overwhelmed, we feel like less than others, because, hey… all those people on Facebook and Instagram are totally together. Right? UGH. When was the last time you saw a mother’s pain on social media? Never happens.

It’s okay to not be okay. It is not weak to let your emotions show. The important thing is to acknowledge that space – Take a moment, breathe, let the feelings out. Tell someone how you are feeling: A friend, a teacher, a therapist, a helpline, Miss Patty. Connecting and sharing our feelings reminds us we are not alone. I was lucky a few of my besties reached out to me last Sunday.

“I am wrecked,” I told them.

“We love you and we’ve gotchu,” they told me. And it helped. It’s okay to not be okay today… and maybe even tomorrow. Better days are coming. Hold on. Xxx

I need you to know

The Last Day

April 14th, 2015 began like any other day. It was a school day. I was up at 5 am, had my coffee, started all my routines to get ready for work. Went in to Luke’s room at 6:30 and gently shook his leg and told him it was time to rise and shine. There was no rumble of thunder or a voice from above saying – “Remember this…. this is the last time you are ever going to touch your son.” Sigh. If only….

Leaving the house that day is not in my memory. The first days of grief will do that. Luke and I probably go out the door at the same time because we usually did. You will have to forgive me when I say I don’t know how Logan got to school that day. Did I drop him off? Bus? Luke? Probably Luke. No, probably me. John was still fast asleep upstairs in bed. Turns out he will have seen our son for the last time the night before. He hates that his final words to him were nagging him to move his car, but hey, it was a normal father/son kind of interaction. As I said, there are no indicators that this would be it. #WeHaveRegrets

We know Luke had a flurry of activity on his cell phone that morning. We could see from the records who he was texting and what time, but not the actual text content. The kids all say it was the usual kind of stuff. Sometime midmorning, Luke was sitting in class when he was pulled out by an administrator and read the riot act about something. Maybe he was tardy that morning? Wait, maybe he had a run in with the teacher first? I don’t remember anymore and honestly, it really doesn’t matter at this point, does it? But there are witnesses to this exchange and that is how we know it transpired. Luke returns to class pissed off and I am surmising here that the black tunnel that is suicide has started to swirl like dark clouds before the tornado. He asks to use the bathroom and actually heads there because one of the kids we know has a conversation with him. And then he walks himself right out of the high school. The King has left the building.

I think this is when Luke decided he was literally and figuratively done with life. To the best of our knowledge, he drove home and wrote a note. His penmanship was shakey and it’s usual level of difficult to decipher. There were three lines. He said he was sorry to us, his family, but that he was tired of being a burden. He mentioned three of his friends by name – a lasting tribute to his boys. He mentioned how he had hated himself for a long time. That was it. No long, drawn out final essay on the meaning of life. No rage about his perceived injustices. No ” I love you”. He left the note and the pen he used to write it on the island. He carefully tucked his wallet and his favorite red ear buds on my side counter. We are guessing he went downstairs, probably to the garage, and smoked. The autopsy report said there was marijuana in his system so we assume it was from that day, but maybe it was the night before. Again, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that he climbed into his Altima, sent another text or two, and if I was a betting person, put on a song. Not just any song, but something that was going to get him through this next step. Probably Kid Cudi. Whatever it was, he turned it up loud and took himself down Glenwood, up Main Street, and turned left onto Millbrook. This stretch of road was a favorite of his, Logan told us, because it was windy and he liked to drive it fast. I often wonder if he had planned out this spot in his mind before hand. I often wonder if he drove that first quarter mile, stopped at the top of the hill, and looked out over Rutland one last time. I often wonder if he cried.

It is another quarter mile down the hill, and at the bottom where it curves, just before the stream, there is a grove of trees. The first one is formidable and probably a few hundred years old. Luke accelerated that car as fast as it would go and hit it at top speed. The impact wrapped the Altima around the tree, where it then flipped over and landed between two other trees. Luke was ejected and died instantly. Whether it was the impact of the crash, or hitting a tree himself we will never know. The first witness on the scene said he looked like an angel asleep with his arms over his head. He was gone.

So here’s what I need you to know: Everything one might read about the hereafter tells us that God, the Universe, Source, whatever you believe, pulls your soul out of your body just before the end so you don’t feel any pain. John and I take comfort in knowing that Luke didn’t suffer in the accident. The harsh reality, however, is that he did suffer when he was alive. That is what death by suicide is all about – it’s not someone being selfish; it’s not someone trying to give a big *screw you* to their family. It is an individual suffering SO much emotional pain every single day that the idea of ending their lives looks like a relief. John and I take comfort in that, too. That our sweet boy has finally found some peace. We love you, Lukester. From this world to the next. Xxx

Need help? – Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8355

The Rise and Fall

Baby Steps

I wrote a blog last week; I promise you I did. I worked away on it for the usual two hours on Saturday and as I reread it for maybe the fourth time, I realized something was not sitting right with me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So… I let it be. If you write, even something as simple as an email, you know that you sometimes have to step back from the keyboard to get a fresh perspective and make sure, as I like to tell my students, that is says exactly what you want it to say.

Early the next morning, I asked JB if he wouldn’t mind giving it a read. I am not sure I have ever asked for a second opinion before hitting *publish* as I can usually feel in my heart when I have put down the right words for the week. But like I said, something was tugging at me about this blog. John gave it a slow once over and as he finished, I pressed him for his feedback.

“It’s depressing,” he finally said, “You may have felt all that sadness at one time, but that is not who you are now. Five years later, you represent, you know, HOPE.”

And there it was. He was right, but don’t tell him that, lol. The blog was titled, “This is Hard” and it was all about well, how hard going through the grieving process is. Because it is. Truly. It is a darkness and a despair I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But to John’s point, the heaviness of grief is not what I want to focus on as I blog. It is not the core message I believe in and it is not who I am in my heart. It is not why I created my non-profit. I believe in the power of HOPE and LOVE and MOVING FORWARD. Those who know me know that I am an eternal optimist – proud wearer of my rose-tinted glasses! When Luke first died, choosing HOPE was all I had and I hung on like a kitten clinging to the dining room curtains, lol. It is not to say I didn’t have my fair share of tough, emotional days – of course, I did, I had lost a son! But I just wanted each day to be a little lighter, a little less painful. And with the love and support of my family and friends, that’s what happened and I got through. I continue to get through. Baby steps.

So here’s what I need you to know: If today is your Day One, I am so very sorry. The pain is excruciating. I remember it well. I also remember questioning, every day, how I could possibly ever learn to live a life without my boy in it. But I did. And I know you don’t believe me, but you will, too. Let me be your therapist and I will listen to the aches of your heart as you make your way. Let me be your cheerleader and I will walk beside you and remind you of how far you have come. Getting through grief is like baby steps. And just like your momma stood across the room, while you tottered and fell and tried again, finally crashing into her arms with success – so do I wait for you. Baby steps. You’ve got this. I’ve got you. Xxx

I need you to know