All posts by heidi

Hope of Notre Dame

candle at the crown of thorns

Do you feel like Notre Dame Cathedral, gutted by the fires of grief? Do you feel like a husk of your former self, burned out, weakened and emptied?

That’s how I felt after my son Brennan drug me through two years of addiction and then a deadly heroin overdose. The terrible sorrow left me completely bereft, weak and vulnerable.

Our Lady of Paris is now weak and vulnerable. Yet when I see post-fire pictures of the church’s interior, the altar and cross are still standing. The deepest heart of the cathedral is still intact.

After my son died, my heart was broken, yet still intact. I did everything I could to grieve in a healthy way, just as the firefighters did everything they could to salvage what they could of the massive church.

Now this monument is at its most vulnerable and most in need. And so are we while dealing with our devastating losses. Yet people are coming forward to rebuild her, as people came forward to help me rebuild my life, giving generously from their hearts and their time. I hope you are blessed with the same support. To turn down assistance is a disservice to ourselves and others, just as it would be a disservice to Notre Dame to not rebuild her.

And as a service to my own soul–especially because I had been sent home to die from cancer in 2011–I have done some bucket-list traveling. This past fall I was most fortunate to visit Notre Dame de Paris, specifically to light a candle before the crown of thorns, a Christian relic experts say dates to the first century. I wanted to pray for us and for our loved ones lost to addiction. To me, the crown represents an injury to the head sustained by Christ–just as our loved ones sustained injuries to their brains. I sought, for us all, the compassion of The Compassionate One, one who bore a head injury and who was intimately acquainted with sorrows and grief.

Fortunately, the crown of thorns was spared from the fire. And so was the sculpture of Mother Mary with Jesus, and the symbol of resurrection above them.

Let Our Lady stand as a symbol of hope for you—that after the phoenix fire has burned its destructive path, we can rebuild and restore our lives, with our hearts still intact. It will take time and effort, but we are worth it.

And that is what our dear ones would want for us.

How Safe are Your Medications from Thieves?

A man and his two accomplices allegedly murdered his cousin, a woman with stage 4 lung cancer, for her opioid medication. She was found dead in a wooded area in Kentucky.

The suspect knew where she kept her opioids, and she had just received another shipment of 120 pain pills on June 8. She disappeared from her home June 9, and her body was found six days later.

Storing opioids

If you have pain killers, where do you store them? I tried locking things in a footlocker with a padlock. My teenager could crack into it within minutes.

I have talked with others who have had medical treatment. Do they lock up their prescriptions? Usually not. Like me, some don’t realize many painkillers are basically heroin pills and can be addictive.

Here is a list of opioid medications:

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any of these? If so, are they effectively locked up?

“My child wouldn’t take these.”

That’s what I thought. My child did take them. And became an addict. And overdosed on heroin. If he hadn’t taken them, a friend of his might have.

I found a digital lock box is the best solution for controlled substances in my home. It costs more, but I know only I can access the contents.

Other addictive prescription drugs to lock up:
— Tranquilizers and depressants, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
— Stimulants, including Ritalin and amphetamines such as Adderall.

Easing your Grief:

According to 2015 government estimates, more than two million people are addicted to opioids. Encourage people to protect themselves and their loved ones. Please put your medications in a digital lock box.

Sources:

https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article213429614.html

http://local12.com/news/local/new-allegations-about-cancers-patients-robbery-murder-revealed

https://patch.com/kentucky/across-ky/terminal-cancer-patient-murdered-her-painkillers-report

https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/opioids-and-morphine-derivatives.html

https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA17-5053-12/SMA17-5053-12.pdf

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/03/22/most-addictive-prescription-drugs-on-market.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-opioid-prescriptions-dropped-20170707-story.html

Anniversary of my son’s heroin overdose: 3 spiders descending

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Proverbs 30:28, Christian Bible

Small spiders where I live have taken hold of their webbing and descended, appearing right in front of my face.

It’s never happened before, that I recall. Yet it’s happened three times within eleven days, starting on June 5, the three-year anniversary of my son’s heroin overdose. It occurred once while I walked under a tree in my yard. Once while I sat in front of my computer on my deck. And once while I sat indoors at my regular desk.

White Spider

I felt there had to be some significance to this, especially because the first little spider was white.

Many years ago a Jungian psychoanalyst gave a presentation about a white spider that appeared in one of her dreams. Once awake, she went to the local bookstore and saw a book called The White Spider. She got an intuitive vibe that this was important for her. The book was about climbers’ first attempts to ascend the north face of the Swiss mountain Eiger. Success entailed crossing a steep, funnel-like, spider-shaped ice field called The White Spider.

Writing about the opioid epidemic

Hmmm. I have had my nose to the computer screen for weeks now, working on Grieving an Addict’s section about the opioid epidemic. I was attempting to funnel hundreds of pages of information and 20 interviews into about 25 pages. It included the story about a woman who had severely painful surgeries for cancer treatment, and was on opioids for eight years—not as an addict, but simply to manage the consequences of her surgeries. And she lost her son to opioid addiction.

Grieving mothers

Sometimes I have been overcome with grief, and have shared my sobbing with my sturdy backyard oak tree. It accepts my tears as they pour out, yet continues to stand tall and strong, like a ladder from heaven.

Afterward I stare at the calm green foliage, breathe deeply, and try to restabilize my emotions. The terrible agony so many people have endured during this opioid epidemic is beyond comprehension.

Another sign

Then I go back to my computer. Slowly, paragraph by painful paragraph, the first draft of this section is nearing completion. When the middle spider descended, it attempted to weave a web on the side of my laptop as I typed.

Like the spider, I have taken hold of the strands of stories and integrated them into the fabric of understanding.

Weaving stories

Weaving is the work of arachnids. And writers. I find it especially interesting that all three spiders used their webbing to descend right in front of my face. According to one website, the ancient Chinese people thought that when a spider dropped down, it was like gifts were dropping down from heaven. I hope they are gifts for writing this book.

Healing on the Other Side?

Ironically, my deceased son was terrified of spiders. Perhaps he was letting me know, too, that he has been healed of this phobia on the Other Side. That all of us can heal on the Other Side, when we enter into kings’ palaces in paradise. Maybe there can be a good ending to this story for all of us, after all.

Sources:

https://goodlucksymbols.com/spider-symbolism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Spider

Fathers can’t always fix it with addiction

My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.

–Clarence Budington Kelland

Fathers in our culture are given the role of Mr. Fixit, like the repair fox in Richard Scarry’s children’s books. They are expected to be the family adviser, problem-solver, protector and provider. They are expected to control their children. When their children get out of control, they are expected to fix it.

These expectations are enormous and completely unrealistic. Some things simply can’t be fixed. Even Mr. Fixit repeatedly fails in his role of repairing.

Losing a child

When we lose a child, we agonize. “What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t I have fixed it?”

Don, a 30-year addict turned 30-year licensed independent chemical dependency counselor, said, “The thing that really puzzles are substance abusers who come from a house where the parents provided and put them through school and did all the right things, and yet their kids turn out to be heroin addicts or alcoholics. So they say, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Well, they really didn’t do anything wrong.”

Father doing his job

This spring, the cardinal nest next to my porch provided an example for me of what Don said. Sometimes I caught glimpses of the father standing next to the nestlings, probably feeding them.

I later learned male cardinals typically protect their territory and provide food for the little family. They even feed the mothers, calling them away from their nests for dinner.

This father clearly was doing his job, because his ugly nestlings grew rapidly.

Losing control

About ten days after hatching, one of the fledglings perched on the edge of the nest. It had no tail feathers, and simply sat there awhile. Frankly, Fledgling 1 reminded me of a human teenager daring to take off on its own with no parental control.

Mother and Father chirped madly nearby.

As I continued with my day, Fledgling 1 disappeared. My son and I looked around for it a few times, but never saw it again. What became of the bird? Did one of the feral neighborhood cats catch it? It’s quite possible—only 15 to 37 percent of cardinal nests produce fledglings, and Fledgling 1 was quite vulnerable. The dangers were real and close. The parents had no say in what their offspring chose to do or not do, or on dangers lurking so close.

The next day Fledgling 2 perched on the edge of the nest for a while. Later in the day I saw it hop from branch to branch around the shrub.

As I approached, both father and mother took turns flying at the bush and creating a ruckus, flapping madly and chirping with piercing volume. Both did their absolute best to lure me away from their remaining baby. Neither succeeded.

The next day, cardinal chirping slit the air from high in a nearby pine. And then it ceased. Fledgling 2 most likely made it into adulthood.

The parents provided

The parents provided a home, nourishment, and every attempt at a safe environment. Yet perhaps one of the two didn’t make it into adulthood. It is not the parents’ fault.

We can only do our best

We must accept that we are not in charge, ultimately. We do not control the choices of our children, their genetic makeup, nor their social, cultural, and economic environments. We can provide and influence and plead, but in the end, we cannot always Fix It. All we can do is our best.

May you find peace in the example you set for your loved ones, whatever the outcome.

Easing Your Grief:
If you feel lost in grief over your loss, perhaps make a list of things you did try to fix the issue. It probably will be a long list.
For a little pleasure, you can hear a cardinal chirp on this page https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/norcar/introduction and watch a father cardinal feed his young here: https://americanexpedition.us/learn-about-wildlife/northern-cardinal-facts-information/

Source:
https://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Cardinal.html

A Mother, a Brother, and a Hard Holiday

I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory. 

–Mitch Albom

In 1972, my mother was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. She surprised everyone by going into radical remission for seven years.

When the cancer came back, we didn’t know for awhile, but I felt a sickness in my belly on the morning I watched my mom and dad drive off for a trip south. About three hours later I got a call… she had stumbled and fallen—the result of a growing numbness in her spine, which turned out to be the return of the cancer. At the time, I was a teenaged college student. None of us had much of an idea what to do, think, or expect—especially my younger brother, who had just become a teenager.

Cancer death sentence

This time the doctors predicted she would live six months. She got Prevention magazine (the only health magazine she probably could get back then), ate better food, and saw a hypnotherapist. Her goal was to live long enough for my younger brother to remember her.

Remarkably, she lived another three years.

Perhaps she helped save my life

She unknowingly taught me to explore options. Perhaps she helped save my life with her example.

All of us came to see her days before she passed. After a short visit I had to get back to Kansas if I wanted to keep my job. There was no hospice. After all us out-of-towners left, she crossed over, alone, in a hospital bed.

Getting The Call

I remember the terrible phone call, the endless drive back to Iowa, and the torturous days that followed, like it was yesterday. This was my first real exposure to death.

Of course, I have lost many more people during the intervening 34 years, including my firstborn son, whom I lost to heroin three years ago.

This spring I listened to some old copies of cassette recordings from my childhood Christmases. With a heavy heart, I realized I had forgotten the sound of my own mother’s voice. I knew by the spoken words it was her, yet the timbre of her voice had faded from my memories. Fortunately, with today’s technology, I have my son’s voice so I can listen to it when I want to.

The taste of memories

Also fortunately, memories of the taste of my mother’s cooking had not faded. My younger brother was able to visit me this Mother’s Day. His memories of her were far more hazy, yet he remembered certain dishes that gave a feeling of comfort and belonging.

Together we made corn fritters, hamburger pie, Barb-b-cups, cheesecake, springerle cookies, and peanut brittle—unfit food we normally never eat. It brought a feast of memories and even some laughter. My younger son enjoyed the eats.

And I was able to glide busily and deliciously past my third mother’s day without my firstborn son. I appreciate this gift.

Source:
https://soyummy.co/mothers-day-quotes-food-moms-best-cooks/

Irises: Rainbow Bridges between Heaven and Earth

As soon as the goddess entered and brushed away the dreams that hovered around her, her brightness lit up all the cave.

“The Halcyon Birds,” Bulfinch’s Mythology

In the Greek myth “The Halcyon Birds,” the goddess Iris dons her robe of many colors, then paints the sky with a rainbow on her way down to Earth. As Iris’ radiance fills the sleeping god’s cave, she delivers her message to him that a king had died. Then she returns by her multi-hued arc to the heavens.

Bridge between heaven and earth

The iridescent rainbow goddess Iris represents a connection between earth and heaven through the bows she creates with her robe—the female version of an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat—when she traverses the air.

Iris blossoms bear her name

The iris flower bears her name. Symbolically, this bloom bridges earth with heaven because of its great beauty. It represents the ability to communicate messages with those who reside with (the) God(s).

If you have lost a loved one to addiction, the iris might take on some extra significance for you.

Opioid overdose

Irises have been growing for decades at Grailville in Loveland, Ohio, which has served as a spiritual bridge between the human and the Divine.

It is sacred ground upon which my 19-year-old son Brennan inspired one final time before overdosing on heroin.

Buckets of irises

Buckets of extra irises from the property found their way into my little car in 2017, thanks to Mary Lu.

They now are planted in Brennan’s garden behind my home. From sacred ground to hallowed ground, the irises connect the spiritual with the profane, the light with the dark, the living with the deceased.

They help bring the Spirit to my son who sought the Spirit in the false highs of heroin. The flowers now provide a symbolic way to communicate with him.

Iris symbolism

The iris has another symbolic connection for me. Early usage of the French royal symbol, the fleur-de-lis/fleur-de-lys, probably referred to the iris, which grew abundantly along the river Lys, rather than to the lily. The fleur-de-lis is a symbol for the Boy Scouts, in which Brennan earned the Arrow of Light honor.

The first Siberian iris has begun beaming its iridescent radiance this spring. There is no more meaningful addition to his garden.

Easing Grieving:

To invoke the energy of the rainbow, or of communication with your loved ones on the Other Side, perhaps meditate with a drop of iris essence or essential oil on your forehead between your eyebrows, or with an iris blossom next to you.

Sources:

Richard Martin, ed., “The Halcyon Birds,” Bulfinch’s Mythology (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1991), p. 65

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis, November 1, 2017

Remember the Rachels on Mother’s Day–grieving mothers

Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.

Matthew 2:16-18, New Living Translation

Rachel was an early biblical character who died giving birth to her second son. She was buried by the road to Bethlehem. Bethlehem would later become the birth location for a king, according to Matthew’s gospel.

And Herod, the jealous and frightened ruler at the time, sent his soldiers to kill all the male infants and toddlers near Bethlehem to remove this new threat.

One cannot imagine the kind of imperishable grief such an act would produce on a vulnerable population.

Mothers who grieve

This story is part of the birth narrative of Jesus. When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about this trauma in connection with the nativity story?

It seems to me that mothers who grieve their children appear easily overlooked.

The world is full of Rachels who weep disconsolately for their deceased children. My friend Joan just lost her daughter to diabetes.

Opioid epidemic

With the current opioid epidemic, mothers who are cancer patients need to be wary. I was told in 2011 to “stay ahead of the pain,” and was sent home with a month’s supply of what I now realize were heroin pills.

Recently I talked with a cancer survivor who also had leftover opioids and a teenaged son at home. I urged her to get a digital lockbox or return the pills to a pharmacy.

Even if her son doesn’t find or use them, a friend of his might. Then the treacherous slide into heroin overdose begins.

If I ever doubt myself as a mother…

If I ever doubt myself as a mother fighting for her children, all I have to do is look at this Mother’s Day card my deceased son made for me about ten years ago. I’m seen as firm with my words and my sword… with a kind smile on my face, all centered in a heart glowing with love.

I’m hardly alone. Even my son’s memorial garden was just visited again by Rachel’s weeping.

A mother bird in the sweet gum tree had fought valiantly for her eggs, evidenced by the circle of feathers; but her efforts simply weren’t enough.

The nest fell to the grass and her babies were hungrily consumed.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is approaching. Ugh. For me, and for perhaps hundreds of thousands of mothers, this time on the calendar is a terrible reminder of broken hearts and empty arms.

Despite all we do, sometimes we still lose our children. Some mothers lose their only children—I know two such women who lost theirs to heroin. I have heard of one woman who lost all three of her children to heroin overdoses.

Stigma of death to drugs

Losing your children is bad enough. Add on the stigma of death to drugs and you have an unfathomable nightmare.

I am most fortunate that one of my brothers will be here and we will spend the day making and eating delicious meals our mother made when we were growing up—a time of innocence. My younger son will get to indulge with us. (He loves to tell me there’s no food in my house.) Foods I typically now avoid, yet that give comfort and solace to an empty heart. Corn fritters, hamburger pie, cheesecake, springerle.

I’ll still be weeping for my child, as I do nearly every day, yet with social support I also will have some consolation.

Easing your Grieving:

Mothers fight for their offspring, though not always successfully. Many of these mothers are single. It can be such a lonely time, especially with the isolation that can come from losing a child to drugs.

On Mother’s Day, please pray for or send positive intentions to the Rachels everywhere. Those who have suffered heavy losses need comfort and love—a kind word, a simple text, a card—something to let them know they are not entirely alone.

Message in a cardinal for grieving mothers

If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young;

Deuteronomy 22:6, JPS Tanakh 1917

The compassionate act for a hungry person of ancient times was to take only the eggs from a bird’s nest and leave the mother. This created benefits: humans had food and birds could again reproduce, making more human food.

Fortunately I can walk to a store open 24 hours every day and get a variety of foods to eat. I don’t need the eggs in the nest by my porch to satisfy my survival needs.

Cardinal nest by my door

The cardinal nesting by my side door probably is the one that tried to create a nest on my porch light. Hanging from this light fixture is the beautiful wind chime given to me by Kay so my son, whom I lost to a heroin overdose, could make it sing for me.

Perhaps the mother bird gave up when the door kept swinging open and shut, open and shut.

So she moved to the tree next to the porch. As close as she could get without the constant disturbance.

Nest eggs

Her nest cradles two eggs. I enjoy seeing her as I walk by.

How did those eggs get out of her little body?

How does she know to sit on her eggs? The sea turtle lays her eggs and abandons them, returning to the sea.

How does she know to leave the eggs alone? If she were human, I imagine she’d be neurotically inspecting the eggs, rolling them around, listening for any sounds.

Simply being

Nope. She sits calmly, quietly, still as stone. Watching. Waiting. Being.

She makes me wonder about my way of being as a mother. I was anxious, wanting everything to work out perfectly for my two offspring. Instead, one turned to drugs, and three years ago lost his life.

Blame and shame

Would I blame the bird if one of her eggs broke, or if a hatchling fell out of the nest, or if a creature ate one?

Today I found a broken robin’s egg on my driveway, not five feet from the tree where the cardinal nestles. This is life. These things happen. We do not control outcomes, especially with terrible illnesses like cancer and addiction.

Parental fallacy

James Hillman (American psychologist, 1926 –2011), in his book The Soul’s Code, calls the inordinate self-blame of grieving parents “the parental fallacy.” It is false to think we have enough control to manage every outcome. We can try and influence, yet ultimately, it is not up to us.

Maybe it’s a message

Perhaps this is why the cardinal tried to build a nest right above my son’s wind chime and the robin lost her baby.

Maybe it’s a message, like, “It’s not your fault, Mom. You did everything you could. Sometimes terrible things happen. And I am near you now, singing through the wind chime, watching you through the eyes of a bird nesting by your door.”

They are reminders to have compassion for myself, as I have compassion for these mother birds.

Editing grant work completed

During the summer I was awarded the Ohio Arts Council’s Artist with Disabilities Grant for 2017. I used the funds to receive valuable editing assistance from John Overbeck for the narrative about my son’s life. This phase of editing has now been completed. His suggestions helped me reduce the story by 6,000 words, ramp up the writing skill level, and alter the start of the narrative. I am grateful!

3 Birthday Feathers for Making Wishes

…he said: ‘Now you have seen me, you shall see me no more, unless you are willing to serve seven years and a day for me, so that I may become a man once more.’ Then he told her to take three feathers from under his side, and whatever she wished through them would come to pass. Then he left her at a great house to be laundry-maid for seven years and a day.

“Three Feathers,” More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1894

In this tale, a woman is not allowed to see what her own husband looks like.

With untamed curiosity, one night she lights a candle so she can see him. Jacobs writes, “He was handsome enough to make all the women of the world fall in love with him. But scarcely had she seen him when he began to change into a bird.”

The bird-man exiles his wife to seven years and a day as a laundress so he can regain his human form; yet he also gives her three feathers for making wishes.

Through the feathers she really doesn’t do seven years of labor. The feathers do the work for her.

Like the wife and her husband, I finally looked upon the truth about my son Brennan; soon thereafter he flew away into the unseen realm, a victim of a heroin overdose.

Signs of his presence

My friend Kay taught me to watch for signs of his continuing presence in my life.

A week ago would have been his 22nd birthday. Like the bird-man, he sent me three feathers to let me know he’s nearby, working his magic. And like the wife, I have labor to perform, writing a book about grieving. It is a labor of love.

The first feather presented itself a few days before his third birthday after passing. It appeared at Lake Isabella in Loveland, Ohio, while I walked and talked about him with my friend Laura. The large turkey vulture feather stuck straight up in the grass next to the road. Turkey vultures are symbols of devoted motherhood. Their plumage would probably make good quills for writing. Perhaps Brennan has sent me a Quick-quotes Quill from Harry Potter.

Right in front of me

The second feather floated down out of the clear blue sky, landing right in front of me on the day before his birthday.

I knew then that feathers would be the sign of his presence for this birthday.

A third feather

On his birthday, I discovered the third feather–caught somehow on a gossamer thread hanging from the shelf above my laundry sink.

I believe my son, invisible to me now, left me three birthday feathers for making wishes as I labor on his book.

And there will be three parts to his book–-perhaps a feather for making wishes and receiving inspiration from my son as I write on each section.

It was a beautiful gift to me on his birthday.

Relieving Grieving:

Signs from our deceased loved ones can be subtle. Keep an open mind and heart and watch for them. My friend Kathy, whose sister Karen passed a year ago, writes, “It’s also interesting to me how often animals appear in some significant way when people move on… when Mother died, we heard a Mourning Dove…at 1:30am, a rather unusual time for bird song.

“As we walked to the door to enter the house to say Goodbye to Karen (after all the police/medical investigations were done – standard procedure for an “unattended death”), someone happened to glance to the left and there in the field was a doe, looking right at us. She stood for the longest time, unafraid, then bounded away into the cedars looking so graceful and free. ”

What signs have you received from your deceased loved one?

Source:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/meft/meft08.htm