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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lay me Down

Last night, the song, "If I Die Young" popped into my head.  Not wanting to attend Cory's funeral yet again in my mind, I mentally jerked away from the images that song prompted and began to think instead of the first time I heard that song.

Cory, Jake, and I were watching American Idol in the living room one night, cozied up on the couch in a happy little row, sharing a giant afghan.  That season, Cory loved the young girl who got up and sang a lovely version of The Band Perry's song.  She was the sort of girl who wore white sundresses with cowboy boots, and Cory was eager each week to see what she'd be wearing and what song she'd perform.  We both commented on the dark beauty of the song.  I'll never forget Cory telling me that if she died young, that was just what she wanted- to be laid down in a bed of roses, to the words of her favorite love songs-"and Mom, if you could make the boat thing happen, too, that's like the coolest thing I've ever heard of".  I giggled at this.  I giggled, not able to seriously entertain the idea of having to bury my child.  I casually threw back my standard response to her whenever the subject of Jake or Cory dying came up:  "If that ever happened they'd have to lock me up and I'd spend the rest of my life writing home with crayons."

I would lose my mind.

So then when Cory was killed on the road, I did lose my mind.  They haven't had to lock me up yet, but I've been writing to the world about it ever since the day it happened.  It's the only way I've found to survive.
Cory was laid down in a bed of roses and to the words of her songs- the songs that meant everything to her.  I couldn't make the boat thing happen, but I hope it was close to what she had in mind.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dainty Earring Regret

I've said I have no regrets about anything I've done or not done for Cory except letting her walk to the store.

Maybe that's not exactly true.  There is one small thing, that seems so much larger to me now.

I was watching Grey's Anatomy again the other night- damn that Grey's Anatomy- and noticed one of the young interns was always wearing the teeniest, tiniest, most dainty little earrings imaginable.

This broke my heart.  Here is why:

Cory and I used to prowl Kohl's on the weekends like shopping was our day job.  On one certain Saturday that I remember quite clearly, we happened upon this line of dainty miniature earrings by some celeb- it may have been Lauren Conrad.  There were teeny birds.  There were teeny animals of all kinds.  There were teeny letters.  There was teeny everything!  They were subtle, elegant... softspoken.  Cory was enraptured.  There was only one problem.  She hadn't worn earrings in so long that her holes had filled in.

I had to drag her away from the display with the reassurance that we'd let her start her own dainty earring collection once we'd gotten her ears re pierced.  And well, life went on and we never got around to getting them done.

When she died, she was still waiting for her dainty earring collection.  I had to go out and buy her clip on pearl earrings to go with her pearl necklace in her casket.  It then struck me that I'd gotten too busy doing all the other things to take care of her that I never made the time to go get her state ID so she could get her ears pierced.  I hated myself a little bit for this when I realized this, but it was soon swallowed up by my shock, my brutal grief, and the enormous guilt of letting her walk to the store, which effectively sent her to her death.

Seeing that young woman on tv with little wisps of silver adorning her earlobes brought it all back to me.  I should have made the time.  Cory could've been that bright shining face with the big eyes that didn't even need a stitch of makeup to light up a room.  Cory could've been that healthy, ambitious young woman embarking on a medical career, interning in her neat scrubs, ballerina bun, and dainty earrings.  If only I'd made the time to get her ears repierced.  If only I hadn't let her walk to the store.

If only.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Free, Free, Free

Two things tonight:

One is that I have the app Timehop on my phone that allows me to revisit the past.  Today, this status of mine  popped up from five years ago:  Nicole Mansfield..."sometimes wonders if it will ever end, knows in her heart, it will not and is filled with sorrow."
Cory's depression plagued her.  The voices still bothered her five years ago, although she was doing so much better by that time, and the delusions had subsided. Still, there was that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Always.  Extreme stress could trigger an episode.  Changes could trigger an episode.  Conflict with friends or loved ones could trigger an episode.  There were so many factors at play.

There was always that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop because the goal was always to see her episodes become less severe and less frequent.  I don't think either of us ever dared to hope the mental illness would ever leave entirely.  It seemed almost too much to ask.  For her illness to become manageable was enough; it was everything.  For her mental illness to no longer be the focus of her life, but simply a part of her life- that was the goal.

The second thing is that I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy tonight in which an aging mother and her adult son with schizophrenia were hospitalized for surgeries at the same time.  The mother was more concerned with her son's fear than her stomach nearly rupturing with a growth that needed emergency surgery.  She refused to leave him alone and afraid.  She was patient, incredibly patient, and used little tricks to distract him from the voices, soothe him, calm his fears, and help him feel safe.  It all came rushing back to me, and the tears just streamed down my face.

I remember all of that.  I remember Cory being afraid that she was being followed.  I remember how she became convinced that cameras had been planted in our house and on our property.  I remember how there were certain restaurants and stores she could tolerate and others that she couldn't.  I remember her suspicion if someone looked at her for more than a second in passing.  I remember The Agents and the way that central delusion terrified her and ruled her existence for months.  It got so bad, she started to think her food was being poisoned and that a tracking device had been placed in her body.

The worst thing about Cory's illness was watching her be scared almost all the time.  The second worst thing was not being able to stop it.

As her birthday looms, my anxiety is climbing the walls.  That persistent feeling- Wolf Teeth- of my teeth being too big for my mouth has returned.  My heart is a small black bleeding sack in my chest.  The flashbacks and nightmares of finding her broken and twisted on the road have returned.

Watching this show on Netflix took me back in time to a different personal hell- one I walked with my Cory Girl for far too long.  I'm in hell now, but at least...and it pains me terribly to say this, because I am a deeply selfish woman and I long to have her hand in mine at any least, she is not in this hell.  She is no longer in any hell.  She is not afraid today.  She is not.  It is incredibly frightening to live in this world without her and it is killing me, but there is the smallest comfort in knowing there are no voices berating her where she is.  No one appears to be out to get her or do her harm.  She is safe.

She is safe, and she is free from all harm- real or imagined.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


This birthday thing has made me stumble.  I wonder if there are parents out there who've lost a child that are able to raise their remaining children in a fairly healthy way or if they're all just as screwed up as I am.

 I think I'm better at compartmentalizing my grief than I was at the beginning.  I think that even in the last year, I've been able to give more of myself to Jake, and to look at him as a whole and separate person apart from his sister.  But still...

There is such sorrow.  Watching your children grow should be bittersweet.  Bittersweet.  It is sad because a certain moment in time has passed, but sweet because of the present moment you have to regard their suddenly longer limbs and less childlike face...sweet, too, because of the moments you have to look forward to- the "I wonder what they'll _______ (look like, be like, do) when they are __________(fill in an age here).  So then, when your child is taken from you suddenly, there is so much bitter. You no longer have that moment to gaze upon the beauty of your child and you no longer have any moments to look forward to.

 And when your remaining child stands before you to be regarded for his legs that look just like yours and the mouth that definitely isn't his father's, there is always the ghost of your dead child standing right beside him, begging to be seen, as well.  At least there is for me.

It is difficult.

There is also the deep pain and disappointment that this brother and sister, my dynamic duo, my babies don't have the opportunity to know each other talk, to laugh, to help each other the way they always scheme, to joke, to reminisce about the childhoods they had together.  This relationship they had, this bond is such an incredible loss.

But I have to pivot.  I have to catch my negative thoughts in their tracks and shift just a bit.  Yes, it is painful.  It is sad beyond measure.  But...

the reason it's so painful and so sad is because what they had built in the ten years they had together before Cory's death was so incredible.  They kept each other company through some pretty rough situations and grew closer as a result.  They grew even closer, and they were pretty close to begin with, what with the nine year age gap.  Jacob was always Cory's baby, too.

When Jacob speaks of Cory, which he rarely does, the love in his voice makes my throat ache.  That is something to be grateful for.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Coming Up

I've been in bed since the day after Jake's birthday and every time I've started to write, I've pushed it away.  I have not washed my face, taken a shower, or left the house. I haven't talked to anyone, or wanted to, except maybe Jake.   It's been four days, and tomorrow I have to go back to work, so here I am.  I am showered.  I am writing.  I am coming up for air.

I kept it festive for Jake's birthday.  I didn't mention Cory, but I didn't have to.  Five minutes after I'd woken him up, singing "Happy Birthday" with a lit candle in a cupcake at his bedside, he was crying for her.  Missing her steals his joy, too.  It is our reality.

 I made him go to school even though he wanted to stay home all day and just remember her...just close his eyes and remember what it used to be like when she was still here with us.  The fact that I made him go means I'm stronger.  Last year, I'd have let him stay home, and probably called into work myself.  Progress.

We went on to his birthday dinner.  We were as happy as we could be, and Cory's name was spoken all night long.

Immediately after Christmas comes Jake's birthday, and immediately after Jake's birthday comes Cory's.  Every year since her death, I can feel the depression closing in one me, slowly but surely, like one of those weighted blankets you can buy to help you sleep.

I start to do the math to figure out how old she'd be on any given day.   I start to imagine what she might be like if she were alive, and what the relationship between Cory and Jacob might look like now that he is fourteen, and she would be twenty two years, ten months, and twenty five days old.

I put their pictures next to each other and make wishes.  And I sleep a lot to escape what will never be.

"the hardest part was getting this close to you..and giving up this dream I built with you...a fairytale that isn't coming true"

I never expected my fairy tale to come true.  I gave it my all about three dozen times.  I survived.  I survived not having my family with Bob.  I survived being separated from my husband just fine, and if we someday divorce, I will survive that, too.
 I never expected my fairy tale to come true.
 But I also didn't expect to ever kiss the lid of my daughter's coffin. I didn't expect to ever watch as they lowered her into the ground.  

I could always live without my Prince Charming.  

She's the one I'm really struggling to live without.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


One of the things I notice when I pore over photographs of Cory is what my house used to look like before she died.  It was far cleaner and more orderly than it is now.  There were small touches of comfort apparent in the background- things you don't even think about when life is normal:  fresh veggies for cooking, flowers, blankets, candles.  When I look at those pictures, I remember what it was like when life made sense.  Maybe Cory's illness didn't always make sense to me, but we had each other, and that made everything possible if not always ideal.

What I've had to figure out since Cory died is how to fight for myself.  Fighting for her was easy; it was involuntary, like breathing.  I would do anything for my children.  When she died, I lost a huge part of my identity.  I lost my purpose.  I had to figure out why I was left behind, and what I had left to give.  I had to remember I have a son, and if I'd do anything for Cory, I should be able to do the same for him.

One of the things I've gained during this tour of hell is perspective.  Mental health is not something you either have or don't.  Everyone has it.  And just because yours is pretty solid on any given day doesn't mean it can't change dramatically in the blink of an a second.

I think of the people who survive terrible accidents, but have to learn how to walk and talk again.  Going through losing a child isn't much different.  Your insides are hollowed out.  Your brain is compromised.  You have to learn how to function, how to take care of yourself, and how to begin to start thinking of others.  It's a long, hard road.

One day I hope to look back at pictures of Jake at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen and spy some veggies on the cutting board in the background.  I hope to see some flowers on the dining room table.  I hope to see the flicker of a candle on the countertop.  I hope.

Returning to prior functioning levels isn't just about regulating your sleeping and eating habits.  It's not just showing up at work every day or remembering to pay your bills on time.  It's about relearning the search for joy.  It's about making your environment comfortable and beautiful, or at least wanting to...not just surviving each day, but enjoying the individual moments.

In the end, you remember the moments not the days.  I want to make the most of my moments.  I'm ready to do more than simply endure.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Many Thanks

I stopped in to pay on my account at my local community mental health center today- counseling for me, and counseling for Jake adds up quickly.  When I approached the counter, I saw the receptionist who's been there ever since I set foot in the door with a much younger, very unhealthy Cory Girl.  This lady who I'll call Pam is like a school secretary.  She sees it all.  Nothing gets past her.  She is the heart and soul of that place, whether she realizes it or not.

I guess that's why it meant so much to me to hear her stop in mid-sentence of the standard greeting she gives clients all day long and say emphatically, "Nicole!  You look great, honey!  How are you?  You look so good!"

I thanked her, and told her I felt good, something I'd never have admitted to anyone a year ago, even if I'd been having a really good day.  I pulled out my phone and showed her a picture of Jacob, and she noted how his face is beginning to mature.  We joked about the Knucklecase I carry my phone in, and how a small girl needs protection...this is Battle Creek, after all.  When she gave me my receipts, she also gave me the warmest smile, and I joked that I hoped to see her soon...but not too soon, and we laughed like old friends.

It was completely okay to feel good and be okay in front of this woman because there wasn't a second that I thought she might think I was missing Cory less or that I had forgotten one moment of our life together. We never spoke of Cory in our five minute exchange, but we didn't have to.  She knows how much I miss Cory and I know she sincerely misses seeing Cory come in for her appointments, and being able to witness all the hard won progress she made.

As I walked out to the car, I played it all through my mind:  Cory, a tiny fairy-like creature overwhelmed with her feelings and cut marks up and down her arms,Cory, a little older, her mood swings sending her spiraling out of control, Cory, older yet, feeling safe enough to share with others that she was hearing voices and seeing things other people didn't see, Cory, afraid and confused, suspicious of others, always looking over her shoulder, Cory, finally on the right medication, making strides and looking great- more smiles than tears.

Cory and I sat in those chairs waiting to be called back a hundred times or more.  Jacob was almost always with us.  He grew up in their waiting room.  He eventually joined Cory's therapy appointments because her mental illness affected every person in our household.  We all needed support.  We all needed to be heard.  We all needed to learn how to cope.

Pam smiled at my girl every time she walked through that door.  She smiled at me, too.  She noted, I'm sure, the tears when Cory was overcome with her illness and the dark circles under my eyes when I couldn't fix it for her.

The morning after the accident, I drove myself to Summit Pointe the moment they opened and ran inside their lobby, hysterical and desperate for someone to tell me Cory couldn't possibly be dead.  I had to go somewhere that they knew Cory and loved Cory enough to realize what a nightmare I was in.  I went to the right place.

 Pam ran around her desk to get to me, ushered me gently to a back room before I fell down, and ran to get Dr. Z.  She was crying herself as she did it.

You may be out of your mind during a time like that but you never forget the people who helped you.

 Thank you, Pam, for all you do.