|The Empty Chair
Most days, I cannot imagine my life without my son. Perhaps this is why starting my day is so difficult. It isn’t always like this, and after two years and almost 11 months, I am sometimes able to greet my day with gratitude and balance, a centeredness that defies my tragic loss. But today? This week? Last week? I’ve fallen–long, far, deep, and I seem unable to rise from the thrust of what’s got me so incredibly far down.
Dylan died on June 25th, and try as I may, I’ve never been able to get past the heaviness that bears tangible weight within me passing through the 25th of every month. And today, today I realized we have come upon Memorial Day weekend. Ugh. Blindly unaware of date and time, I live best suspended in my life now, as is, as now.
It was in a sales flyer for a grocery store where Memorial Day sale graced the front cover. It was in the Eastside Messenger freebie newspaper that I glanced through this morning—Memorial Day Parade, May 25th.
May 25th. Early for Memorial Day. I remember 2012, Memorial Day, hot, sultry, early summer. I sat outside at the back of a local, family-owned pizza shop, Vic’s Pizza, with a friend. We were waiting for pizza. The radio was playing. We were under a canopy. My phone rang.
Hello? Beth, it’s (my roommate). The police were just here (my house) and said Dylan OD’ed again, and that he’s at Mt. Carmel East hospital. Okay. I hung up. Suspended. Scared. Holding my breath.
This was Dylan’s 5th suicide attempt in 5 months, 1 attempt per month, January 2012-May 2012. Horror does not begin to describe my life, his life, this time suspended, hovering between breath and death.
This was to be the worst attempt yet. I got the pizza to go, drove across town, and found Dylan tethered to an ER bed. He was unconscious. Breathing tube. IV’s. Beeping of monitors. Nurses in and out. Doctor. Noise. Someone was talking to me, telling me there’s nothing I can do. Best to go home, get some sleep, a nurse will call me. Leaving, not knowing whether breath or death in my son, paralyzed, numb, screaming in my head but no voice, my not breathing fully. Hoping, praying, desperate.
At 6:00 a.m., a nurse called. “The best we can hope is that he open his eyes.” I cannot even tell you where I was when she told me this, not physically, for I was up getting ready for work, but emotionally, pulse-wise, in my own body. I felt shock and fear and terror, and I wanted someone, somewhere, to fix this, to make it better, to save my son. I prayed, “God, save my son.”
I flew to the hospital that morning. Called work. Told them I’d be late, if at all. Critical care. Huge room. Lots of machines. Sound of rhythmic breathing–the machine breathing for my son. Always two nurses. More IV’s, tubes, beeps, clicks, a nurse whose name I don’t remember telling me her son’s name is Dylan.
Dylan was in critical care for 4 days. He did come to, ripped out the breathing tube, went into convulsions. I lived at the hospital in the mornings and evenings. I spent more time there than I did at work or at home. I was falling apart. And I lacked support. I could not have been more alone. Little did I know this would be the way I would feel all the time after June 25, 2012, not quite a full month later, when Dylan died by suicide.
Dylan was stepped down from critical care to a 24-hour suicide watch. I’d never even heard of this. There was an elderly black woman, stocky, knitting—or crocheting—or something, in a chair in the corner of Dylan’s room. Dylan wouldn’t look at me.
I brought him Reese’s peanut butter cups. His favorite. No acknowledgment. He didn’t want to be here. He wolfed down the candy, then turned away.
My life would never be the same. Dylan’s eyes were vacant. Washed out. Distant. No light. No life. I was losing my son.
Today is Tuesday. Memorial Day is next Monday. And I didn’t even make plans for this weekend. I know this is because I didn’t want to face up to the fact that it really is nearing the end of May, that we really are on the cusp of June, that the cottonwoods are blowing here in central Ohio, and if the cottonwoods are blowing, then it must be June. Oh God, no, not June. Please God, no, not my child. Take me. Let him live. Please God, please—not my son.
June 25th 2012-June 25th2015. It will have been 3 years. For me, everything just happened yesterday. In fact, it is happening all over again inside me today. PTSD. Hell on earth. The constant reliving of my life’s tragedy.
In mindfulness, I find relief. The sun is shining. It is in the high 60’s. The sky is blue. The keys beneath my fingers feel silky and smooth. I am wearing a blue lightweight sweater with a summer white sweater thrown over it. I brushed my teeth. Life goes on—sadly, life goes on and so must I along with it.
It won’t always be like this. Thank God. Gratitude. The tears bubbled up this morning when I found, in the midst of some paperwork, a Mother’s Day card Dylan had given to me. He signed it “I’ll love you forever mom. Love, Dylan.”
When I can get my head around knowing that I will see Dylan again, be with him again, that the agony and hell for me now is this separation and distance, then I’ll be able to breathe again. I think the tears will have to fall first, the opening of the floodgates within that used to be called my heart. My world is cloudy black and threatening severe storms because I know the pain of living without what sustains me, nourishes me, and gives me life.
I know others can’t see this and don’t get this about me. Tonight, I’m due to meet a few of my close friends for a birthday dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Great food. Homemade pasta. Homemade marinara. We will laugh, share lives (theirs, not mine, or at least not the real me on the inside), toast our friend’s birthday.
I will smile even though my heart is spilling over in tears, I will celebrate my friends because in the end, that is why we’re here—to love, both give and receive, love, and I will wear bright colors even though my world is earth-shattering gray right now.
God grant me strength.