Today I have a story to share with you, an example of the kind of things that have happened to me during the course of my life when it comes to loved ones I’ve lost. I warn you this isn’t one of my typical fluffy posts as of late. I hope you will read this whole post….help me honor a friend and neighbor we lost one year ago today.
I haven’t been feeling well for about a week now and last night I was really sweating and my body felt like it “was fighting something.” Worse than the days before – especially coughing and difficulty getting full breathes. So after I had Kyle fed and off to work I decided to go back to bed and try to put my preaching about “physician heal thyself” to work. The visual given to me was to imagine a spinning ball of light starting in my chest…light and warmth emanating from it. I felt this. Then I was to visualize it moving to all the areas affected by my sickness and I could feel this spiral of light move through my entire respiratory system. Then the phrase that came to me was “By the Love of Michael I am healed” and so I repeated that over and over until I dozed off.
When I woke up again I realized it was time to get up and take care of the animals. Sometimes living in our house can feel like it might feel to live on a farm! Early to rise, food to dish out, water to freshen, litter boxes to clean….that sort of thing. Animals, even more so than us, live their lives by routines.
Well I had put the tuna for the dogs in the last two glass blue Pyrex bowls we had when our Cocker Spaniel Sammy was here. I was going to take them into the bedroom where the dogs were and suddenly at 7:35 a.m. I dropped one….it exploded all over the tile! Damn it! Then there was a quick electrical power outage! Then the question hit me…what was today?
what remained of the blue bowl this morning
The last blue bowl, ghost card and program for Michelle’s memorial
I wondered if it was the day we lost our neighbor and friend Michelle as I remembered her husband Carroll mentioning it was the 1 year anniversary this week. I went to the book where I keep loved ones obituaries and looked at the program from her Memorial….sure enough it was today. A year ago today, around 3 or so p.m. in the afternoon Michelle left us.
The reason this is significant is because last year prior to her death, when she was in Hospice, something just like this happened!
We had bought a pair of blue cookware bowls from her and Carroll at their garage sale and one day before she died I was going to use it. I had it in my hands and it exploded! Glass went everywhere. Then the microwave just stopped working. Cobalt blue was a color she and I liked. She had bought me a large blue glass vase the year she died too!
the blue cookware – I kept the bowl from the twin one that broke and the last blue bowl we have
After I cleaned up the mess so the dogs wouldn’t step in it, I felt that I was supposed to call Carroll and tell him what happened. I felt like Michelle had been here and to make sure I knew, the blue bowl incident happened with the electrical issue. We cried and talked for just a few minutes…3:33…..approximately the time I found out she had left us.
For those of us that knew and loved Michelle, her real first name was Suzan but we called her Michelle, she was such a fragile soul. The very first day we met was shortly after we moved here in 2009. I think I was going to check our mail and she came out to her mailbox and we started to talk. Turns out Michelle and I had something in common….she had been diagnosed Bipolar too.
In the years since that meeting, we talked together many times and often she and I talked about the pain of her past and present life. I won’t go into it but from the very start it seemed like she didn’t have a very fair chance for happiness. Happiness and inner peace was one of those elusive things for both of us but unlike her, I had discovered and developed tools to cope with my “labels.” Kyle knew when he married me what he was getting into and was nothing but supportive, patient and loving with me. Michelle didn’t really have the same kind of support because it was just hard for Carroll to get around his frustration with her behaviors, mood swings, sometimes odd behavior which included issues with her medications. At one point she had taken so much of I think it was OxyContin that she could have died she had taken so much of it. She was addicted and after that Carroll had to put all her medications in a safe.
Over the years it got increasingly harder for me to be with her. I would try and try to help her deal with her issues and share with her ideas and tools to try and “heal” herself but what I said would only stick for a short time and then she’d revert right back to her old ways…what she was used to which included fear, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness. To me she was a lot like a little child trapped in a woman’s body and this never changed even to the end. She was a broken china doll no amount of effort of any of those in her life exerted could put her back together again.
About a year before everything that happened leading up to her death I had told her and Carroll I couldn’t be around her like before. She was just too sick and toxic for me and I just couldn’t keep trying to help her without compromising my own well-being. Many times after we were together I’d feel so tired, sick and sometimes just angry. She’d want to come over and I just didn’t want her to. She’d come over with boxes of random things she wanted to give away and this frustrated me (and her husband Carroll) because a lot of it was not stuff I could use or wanted….junk a lot of times.
When we stopped seeing each other she started reaching out to other neighbors doing the same things. I’d see her from my living room window walking to other neighbors houses with boxes of things. Other neighbors told me she started texting them at all hours of the night. They too pushed her away. None of knew what was going on with her and felt like we could help her even though she was reaching out to us. We just didn’t understand how sick she was. I had been one of her only true friends and when she didn’t have me to turn to, she started grasping.
What was going on with her we all perceived as severe mental illness but when everything started to spiral, we found out she might not have been mentally ill at all! Typical of the medical profession these days, they had focused on the right part of the body but in the wrong way!
It was in May of last year that she had her first major medical emergency. She had not been able to go to the bathroom for weeks and no matter what Carroll did to try and help her she just wasn’t able or completely willing to cooperate. She ended up in the hospital and they found she had an obstruction. In the course of trying to deal with just the obstruction, the lesion that had been on her brain, that NO ONE caught even after all the times she’d been in the hospital, burst and she had bleeding on her brain. Then came the first stroke and then another. Anyone who has had a stroke or knows someone who has had one knows more than one can be lethal.
After her second stroke in August, she was home for a short time and this is a snippet of time I will always cherish with her. Kyle had gone over to help Carroll with his computer and while he was over there I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies. Well after they were done, I decided it might be nice to take some over to Carroll and Michelle. It turns out Michelle had been telling Carroll that day how much she needed to see me!
When I went over she was in her fluffy bathrobe and her head was wrapped in towel. She was reclined in the big comfy chair they had. She was relieved I had come over without her having to ask.
She allowed me to do some Quantum Touch with her and we talked about so many things that had been on her mind. I don’t remember much of what we talked about but one of the things was the problem she had with racing thoughts and worrying. I told her to help with this that when she was starting to have this problem she should think of a positive thing to change her focus. It was a way to distract her from continuing to think about upsetting things. Kind of like a train racing on the tracks and pulling the cord to stop it and send it in a different direction. Carroll later told me this was the one thing, of all the things I had tried to tell her through the years that actually helped her!
A few days later the last and happiest memory I have of her was seeing her sitting on their front porch area with Carroll’s mother and her two granddaughters Kaylie and Summer. The girls were having a spa day! Michelle had those things they use to separate your toes when you get your toe nails painted and she just looked so happy….so at peace. The stroke had made one side of her face droop and she told me how much this upset her. She was such a pretty lady – beautiful blue eyes, light red hair, pretty skin and a lovely smile. To have something like this happen was hard for her.
Then the third stroke came and she lost use of her arm and she was in a couple different hospitals for a time the first one, the one she had gone to many times was Huguley in Burleson…the same one I was admitted to just recently. We all feel they are partially responsible for what went wrong initially and so Carroll moved her to another. I wasn’t able to muster the courage to visit her at either hospital but I did write her letters.
They did everything they could but after a point threw up their hands and she transitioned to a wonderful hospice their daughter-in-law worked at called Mission Hospice in Burleson.
When she arrived and for a about a week she was cognizant and responsive to visitors but she was in so much pain and she had a fever. After a time she was no longer able to open her eyes and eventually became unresponsive, struggling for each breath and her organs began to shut down. I can remember one day being alone with her for a few moments and sitting next to her and I just sang a little song for her….she loved music. This was around the time I had learned about the importance of music and people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and paralysis. Her son Logan played a song from their favorite movie Ghost before she was silent; “Time of My Life” and they were able to sing it together one last time.
I was in a state of denial those last weeks. I would sit in my back yard and just sob about her..plead and pray for her to be healed. She was so innocent and young! Only 54 years old! How could God be so unfair, so cruel to allow this child to die like this…to end her life of so many trials like this?!
I was just certain she was going to come back to us. She was going to be like Lazarus of the Bible and rise again! I would do Quantum Touch on her and just wanted so much for it to bring her back. The truth we all wanted to deny was she was ready to leave and as we’d come to find out when Carroll found her will she’d written the year before, she had already known she was leaving. Her daughter-in-law Kristy seldom left her side nor did the rest of her close family….Summer and Kaylie even spent a lot of time with her….so brave.
My Aunt Ruth and cousin Tony were going to be attending Tony’s son Mitchell’s graduation from Basic Training just before Michelle died. We had planned to meet them there but with how much and how fast Michelle was fading I just felt we couldn’t leave. It broke my heart not to see my Aunt…was I ever going to see her again?! It had been so long since the last time! My grief over this missed opportunity was amplified by the duality of these same fears with Michelle. Turns out they were founded and the Sunday we would have been gone we found out Michelle took her last breath surrounded by her loved ones.
The Memorial for Michelle was held at the same church the main Missions Hospice case worker Nancy (BEAUTIFUL LADY!) attended, Seventh Day Adventist Church of Burleson. Many neighbors attended in addition to her and Carroll’s family. It was a beautiful, loving way to celebrate her life and mourn her loss. At the end of the service, each of us made a colored fingerprint on a poster made in Michelle’s honor and chose a balloon in which we attached a personal message of our special memories of her. Kyle’s was of the day he went over and played poker with her, Carroll and their sons and kicked all their butts lol. Mine was much more sentimental. Then we let all 54 balloons go off into the clouds. Kyle and I watched them until we couldn’t see them anymore.
Michelle had been an organ donor and because of her, two separate people had their vision restored! Two of the best parts of her were able to live on in others. She had her body donated to science in the hopes that may be they would be able to figure out why her life had been what it was. She was always willing to give everything she had away to help others and in the end she continued to do that.
This is the poem they chose for her Memorial Program:
God looked around his garden
And found an empty place.
He then looked down upon the earth,
And saw your tired face.
He put his arms around you
And lifted you to rest.
God’s garden must be beautiful,
He always takes the best.
He knew that you were suffering,
He knew that you were in pain.
He knew that you would never
Get well on earth again.
He saw the road was getting rough
And the hills were hard to climb.
So He closed your weary eyelids
And whispered “Peace be thine.”
It broke our hearts to lose you
But you did not go alone….
For part of us went with you
The day God called you home.
As we know, there are 5-7 stages of grief (specific list at end of post. After denial and guilt, Carroll, Kyle, other people who loved her were so angry about all that happened! Huguley should be sued for their negligence! So many healthcare so called “professionals” especially in the Mental Health community who mostly plied her with drugs, should be held accountable for what their negligence did to this poor woman. The anger subsided over time and we straddled stages 4, 5 and 6 with 7….Acceptance and Hope. In this stage were left with the harsh truth that her dying was a mercy for her and those she left behind. We don’t think she would have been able to recover from losing mobility from the strokes and Carroll with his own medical issues, would have had a very hard time taking care of her the way he would need to. The other part was with everything I had seen her go through mentally, physically and spiritually during the time I knew her….this extreme liberation was the only way for her to be at peace.
So today we come full circle…shards of blue glass in the garbage can and the power flickering on and off. The little ghost card from my Aunt Ruth, the same one I put in the window a year ago to honor Michelle is back in the window. I hadn’t been sure what to write about to today and Michelle remedied that!
Thank you for those of you who manage to read this whole blog. I know sometimes when I see blog posts over 700 words I don’t always want to read all of them. May be this one will be different because it will resonate with you somehow….help heal a fresh or old wound created by such a story I’ve shared with you about Michelle.
I believe our loved ones never truly leave us….they just walk through a door to a new adventure….a new beginning. Sometimes they come back for a visit to remind us they aren’t completely gone and as is the case with Michelle, they let us know in extremely obvious ways!
Thank you Suzan….always Michelle to me….for everything you were, all the lessons you taught me with your friendship and sharing one of your last waking moments forgiving me for abandoning you….telling me you loved me too.
Suzanne Michelle Sullivan – my neighbor and my friend. She was only 54 when she died on this day in 2014.
Michelle and Carroll
Glamor shot of my friend Michelle who died 19 Oct 2014 from complications of a brain lesion and multiple strokes. I miss her and wish I had our pictures taken together while she was still here! Don’t ever take it for granted you have all the time in the world with those you love and care about. You only have this moment guaranteed!
last note from Michelle in 2011 after our cocker spaniel Blondie died
Michelle at Christmas, her favorite holiday
just being herself at home
Much love and hugs through the wires to all of you visiting here today.
“The 7 Stages of Grief”
Here is the grief model we call the 7 Stages of Grief:
1.SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2.PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3.ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
4.”DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
More 7 stages of grief…
5.THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
6.RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7.ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
You have made it through the 7 stages of grief.