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Pulling the Trigger

Last weekend, someone I love took his own life. It brought a whole new rawness to the mysteries I ponder over suicide.  It brought sadness and wondering and questioning from places that did not feel very good.

In the aftermath of the unexpected suicide of our beloved actor, Robin Williams, there was this heightened awareness of the possibility that anyone, at any time, could chose to end their own life.  I appreciated that it suddenly was not the elephant in the room, and  scatterings of suicide hotline ads lined public places and television commercials. People were having conversations about how a person gets to that place. It saddened me though that it took someone so iconic to bring about that shift. It saddens me more that once the shock wore off, we went right back to our comfortable lives and forgot about the life around us that keeps being snuffed out at their own hands.

flowers marguerites destroyed dead
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

I will tell you, after working on an ambulance and in the ER for 13 years, the ones that actually do it are not the ones you think. Yes, often times the warning signs are there, but too often it is the person who never brought it up, the person who everyone thought had it all together, the person who had no reason to feel that way. Their loved ones stand in stunned disbelief. Those calls are some of the ones that haunt me the most.

One of my son’s classmates died by suicide not long ago.  The star of the team.  The boy who made everyone feel like a friend.  The boy no one expected.  What if that is exactly why he did it?  That’s a lot of pressure to maintain the status everyone looks up to.  That pushes the door wide open to feel not quite good enough.  I watched my son wrestle hard with the questions, and I didn’t know what to say.

It’s all around us.  It’s in the young boy angered by his parents’ divorce, the teenage girl struggling to fit in, the elderly man no longer visited by his family.  It’s in the movie star who seems to have it all, the business man who gives the perfect pitch, and the mother grieving the loss of her child.  It’s in the pastor’s wife, the put-together, the successful, and the disheveled.  It’s not only in the trauma, it’s also in the mundane.

Depression isn’t always because something terrible happened, sometimes it just shows up.  It’s stuffed and tucked and disguised and ignored, but remains that constant companion beneath the dull-eyed smile.  We frown upon it; frown because they must be doing something wrong, they’re not trying hard enough, or they aren’t thankful for what they have.  Wrong.  Depression can show up anytime, anywhere.  I know because I have fought it.

From bouts of post-partum depression after a few of my births, to a longer streak of hopelessness when my body was so worn, to a perfect joy-filled blessing-soaked day of wanting nothing but to cease to breathe, I realized this is not something so easily defined.

I do not know the answer.  I’m afraid no one does.  I want us to keep looking though.  Keep talking about it. Stop shaming people for seeking the help of a counselor, or for needing to take anti-depressants.  Stop entertaining your assumptions, and get out there and make people feel enough. Make them feel loved, and cared for, and seen.  Be kind.  Take the time to connect, even if it’s just for a few seconds.  I feel like none of us know when we might be the one standing between a person and their death.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Giving it Up

This week I had a pretty hard doctor appointment that revolved around the words “severe muscle impairment,” “tracheotomy,” and “ventilator.” The same day I received an email reminding me it is nearing time for me to recertify my national Paramedic license. It was a sobering day.

For these past couple years, I have let my husband’s encouraging words and glass-half-full spirit spur me on in believing that I will walk in my Medic boots again. He was always reassuring me that we would get through this; I would get strong again and go back to the career that I love. During that time I have struggled with who I am when I’m not a paramedic or a firefighter. It became such a big part of what motivated and moved me that when it was gone I struggled with depression and wondering who I was. I still do at times.

Being a paramedic and firefighter is unlike any job on earth. To get to walk into people’s lives at the time they need you most, it’s indescribable. It was a privilege and an honor to get to show up in homes, cars, churches; all the places people have built their beautiful messy lives, and serve them at their most vulnerable moments.

I know that I am loved and cherished as I am. I know I am still me, and the people that matter the most will accept me as I am, but it has been a painful walk to slip further and further from my polished boots, the distinctive smell of bunker gear, and the smooth weight of my stethoscope around my neck. Like most folks in my line of work, I am a strong type A that likes to have everything under control. It is extremely humbling, and sometimes discouraging to see that I have lost much of that control, and have to surrender to something that controls me, rather than myself controlling it. What an important lesson in life though; one I undoubtedly needed to learn. We are not our own, and the power is not ours.

Most nights I don’t dream, but when I do it is of being back on the streets alongside my cherished partners, rushing toward the danger and the opportunity to help save a life. I know they are just dreams, but until I can’t anymore, I will keep clinging to them with a smile.

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The Long Goodbye

Today I am remembering my pastor’s wife, and sweet friend Kara, on the day she left this world for the Heaven she so joyfully believed in. She is missed, and the legacy she left behind is one of great encouragement and grace. I know I was honored to learn from her about life, family, and faith.

Today her documentary came out. I encourage you to watch it and learn what made this woman such an inspiring friend. I am still challenged by many of our conversations, and always striving to love big like she did.

Click here for a link to the trailer.

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Vacancy

After another night of tossing and turning, I woke this morning with my heart feeling heavy, raw. A strange, sick-butterfly feeling tumbled in my stomach. It’s funny what the heart remembers before the mind even has a chance to catch up. Today it has been five years since I was woken by the call that my little brother had unexpectedly passed away.

I suppose it still feels so raw because in the years that have passed there have been many curveballs to handle, which have left little time for the grieving process that I know is still to come. Even so, my chest squeezes tight and my eyes pool with watery thoughts as I ponder back on the special friendship I shared with my brother. There is so much I wish and need to talk to him about right now, and it’s crushing that I can’t.

I want to work on the streets again with him side by side. I want to drive to Kansas to cheer through his epic fourth of July firework extravaganzas. I want my youngest to know his Uncle Ben as he grows. All these things in a beautiful, painful tangle of joy and heartbreak and anticipation of an eternity.

The rhythm of life continues to ebb and flow, even with these hole-shaped pieces of my heart unfilled. Someday, all will be new, but while I am waiting I’ll never stop missing him here.

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Glimpses

If you’ve known me very long, you know how special purple, rainbows, and butterflies are to me. Purple was our Ellie’s color, and on the day we buried her, her sister’s butterflies hatched way earlier than expected under the most perfect full rainbow painted across the gray July sky. Every time we see these things now, they are like a sweet hug from our girl, reminding us of her footprint on our lives.

As we celebrated her 8th birthday a few days ago, the mundane parts of a winter day were punctuated amazingly by the sweetest gifts, seeming to be perfectly placed just for us.

As I lay watching a movie with my loves, we all turned to grin at each other knowingly as a conversation about rainbows erupted in the middle of a suspenseful plot. My husband turned to me. “How many movies do you suppose they start talking about rainbows in,” he grinned. It was true. Specific, beautiful reminders of Ellianna Grace were purposely left in plain view for us on the anniversary of her birth. The others I was able to capture, to look back and remind myself of the goodness.

Purple and rainbow, in a dress fit for a princess!

A photo that popped up in my Instagram feed from Pitter Patter Art.

Life is sweet indeed.

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Brave Beginnings

Today we are celebrating the 8th birthday of Ellianna Grace, and I can’t help but smile. Four and a half months seems like such a short time to get to have a person in your life, but eight years later, she is still making a difference and changing lives. From the relationships we have formed because of our journey with her, to the hearts we have gotten to relate to and bring comfort to because we have been there. Her story reaches on.

This week for her birthday we raised money for Brave Beginnings, an organization which provides life sustaining medical equipment to NICUs in order to support these tiniest of babies. With the generous help of our family and friends, we surpassed our fundraising goal within hours. Our little girl, making waves and bringing change. Couldn’t be more proud. My Jesus who promises to hold her, also promised that her story didn’t end with her death, and it most certainty hasn’t.

Happy birthday, baby girl!

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Red Footie Pajamas

I distinctly remember my first time visiting the childrens’ unit at Cedar Springs Hospital. I was new to the city as an EMT, and while I had run my fair share of adult psychiatric calls, this was my first child.  Actually, in my naivety, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a psych unit for kids up to that point.

There I was, walking into the building for a boy under the age of 6 with an arm injury… thinking he must have been the son of someone who happened to be visiting.  I’m certain there was an audible squeak of my boots stopping abruptly against the hard floor as I turned the corner to find the entire wing of the building occupied by children of various ages. A staff member began rattling off the details of how he fallen out of bed, and my mind was searching for the inexplicable reason that he had been sleeping in a tasteless wooden bed in a duplicated room with hard sterile floors instead of tucked into the shelter of his parents’ hugs and kisses in his own familiar bedroom.  I was silently trying to piece together this mystery when another staff member ushered my patient into the hallway; a dark-haired little guy, hardly taller than my hips, padding silently in red footie pajamas.

That night I learned one of those hard life-truths that you don’t learn little by little; one of those truths that smack you in the face like the concrete-sting of a belly flop into icy water.  Though I lost that bit of innocence on that call I still had many questions bouncing around between my mind and the soul that stared out at me from those young brown eyes.

It wasn’t long before running psych calls for youngsters wasn’t unusual for me.  I ran the frantic 9 year old who pleaded with his grandma to give him one more chance after tearing apart the whole house.  I ran the 15 year old cutter who had run away from home, and the 13 year old boy who successfully took his own life.  I saw a new world of confusion and pain and I struggled to understand it.  There were those who were vocal about their opinions; it was easy to assume that a lack of parenting or responsibility had created this brokenness, or that these were just bratty children needing firmer discipline.  While I was never one to say it out loud, I suppose in some ways I thought the same thing.  I wondered if the guardians were just tired of dealing with the hard work of parenting, and wanted to pass the adversity off to someone else.  I wondered if these kids felt so invisible that their gashes and outlandish displays of defiance were the only means left to spark some flames of attention from the people they craved it from.  While I refrained from joining in the open toxic banter of judgement, I still pondered these questions because some things you just can’t understand until you’ve tasted them more personally.

Fast forward several years to my own boy standing at the dawning of teen-hood.  Two parents who loved him unconditionally, a stable home in which all his needs were met, a routine of discipline and appropriate freedom, and yet his soul was changing, darkness clouding his once crystal blue eyes. Despite all the good things in his life my young boy had experienced tragedy that he was never meant to have to bear.  His normal had been ripped and shaken by such affliction over a short amount of time his soul halted in shock from the uprooting of all he knew to be true and safe.  So began this terrible and frightening battle of his entire being trying to reconcile things that his young soul was not created to understand.  He learned to build impenetrable walls to guard his bleeding wounds from further pain.  He forced himself to not feel so that he would never again know the devastation of a hurting heart.

Somewhere between watching his destruction from an utterly helpless distance, and screaming helpless tears into starlight night after night I came to understand the full story of that boy in the red footie pajamas.

It’s not for anyone to judge why these kids are the way they are, because the truth in all of them is that at some point they experienced a hurt that was more than they knew what to do with.  There are insecurities and scars and genetic dispositions, and I guarantee you not one of these kids suddenly woke up one day with a desire to be angry or dangerous or out of control or truthfully, an outcast. There is a world of hurting young people who need not our judgement and our assumptions, but our understanding and our unbiased desire to reach out to them and help fill those gaps and holes that created their unbalance to begin with.  What would the world look like if all the adults stepped up to give the attention and meet the needs that these kids so desperately need met?

It is with greatest sincerity that I say thank you to the adults that have stepped in, or even been forced in, to stand in the gap for my son.  I get it, I do.  I know that your 25th patient contact of the day is exhausting.  I know that you came in not feeling well to begin with, or with your own trouble going on, and yet you still showed up to give of yourself to help my boy, and so many others, with his healing.  I know that in the big scheme of things, the little issues these kids are making monstrous seems so outrageously ridiculous that’s it’s tempting to give a shoulder-shake of reality.  I know that after a long day, 2am was not the time you felt most compassionate when you had to get up and deal with a new admission, or a meltdown,  or a half-hearted suicide attempt for attention, or an all-out brawl.  I know that there are a lot of days you wonder why you chose this, or you think about moving on.  I know that it may seem thankless and pointless some days, and that you may question whether you are even making a difference.  The truth is you are some of the bravest, most selfless, most compassionate people to walk this earth.  This world does need you, and you are making differences, even if they are tiny baby ant steps.  In our universe, those ant steps are huge.

So thank you for what you do day in and day out; for the sacrifices you make and the things you endure so that every story has a chance at a happy ending, and that every hurting young heart that crosses your threshold knows that someone fought for them, even the boy in the red footie pajamas.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

This was such a rotten week you guys. I would recount it for you, but seriously I spent so much of it face down I’m not even sure which days were which.

Mostly what I want to share with you about this week though is today. Today was a day of scrolling through the camera reel and remembering, or maybe just really seeing for the first time the big and beautiful and maybe even amazing things that had everything to do with survival, whether I knew it at the time or not.

There was ugly. There were struggles and new limits and fears and just brokenness, but won’t you look with me? See the undeserved beautiful that cast a beautiful afterglow through the storms.

There were tender snuggles.

There were endless warm blankets and hard day socks. Never forget a pair of hard day socks.

There was HILARITY (slash panic) when my children somehow just haphazardly grabbed a mole and brought it into my bedroom to show me. A MOLE people!!

There was awe at the perfectly inspiring timing at which my sweet mama shared her sky with me from several states away.

There was giggling and excitement as the kids set up our tent in the backyard for an end of summer camp out, which I could see in plain view from the giant bay window at the foot of my bed.

There were breathtaking flowers along the walkway to the hospital.

I wasn’t stalling, there were like, a LOT of them!

There was cheering as my soon-to-be-school-goer beat me at his new letter sounds game.

There was the sweetest little pregnant mama houseguest who seems to think I’m the bestest snuggler of all….

And after… I lost count how many… days of not leaving home for anything other than the doctor, after a few dry runs and a lot of help from my wingman this morning, I busted on out with my two big boys for this…

And this…

AND antiques…

I don’t quite remember how I got back into the house, but I did in a sore, exhausted, pale-ish, and wonderfully happy and satisfied heap, where I intend to stay well into the snuggles of the evening. Who knows, maybe we will find another adventure or two to cram in before sundown. 😉

Look back through your own week; did you miss any hidden gifts that might have been the very things that carried you to the weekend?

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