Sharing my mourning journey as my family learns to live a new normal after the death of my 19 y.o. son in an auto accident on 10/12/08.

Archive for the ‘insomnia’ Category

Fear of Sleeping

For me, night intensifies even the most mundane of concerns. Sunday’s NY Times Style section had an article with a title that made me blanch: \”Sleep Medication: Mother\’s New Little Helper\”. I hesitated to read it wondering if I would find the article as condescending as the title. But, read it I did and was actually comforted to know that there are many women and it seems mothers in particular who battle insomnia. Apparently that golden time when as new parents we’re able to boast about our babies sleeping through the night coincides for many women with the last time they can remember being able to tout such an accomplishment.

I’ve never slept well and have always been one of those people that awaken repeatedly during the night. The night wakening didn’t bother me too much until it was accompanied by anxiety about going to sleep. The cycle of fatigue had me so worried about getting a good night’s sleep that I couldn’t fall asleep. I resisted sleep aids other than the occasional Benadryl; justifying it by telling myself I needed it for my allergies anyway. But there came a time after my daughters were born 12 years ago that nothing I tried was helping. Sticking to a bedtime routine, taking Melatonin, warm showers before bed, not working in my bedroom, darkening the room, etc. left me still wide awake repeatedly during the night.

The worrier part of me came out in full force at night. Should I have gone over Merrick’s math homework with him, why didn’t I quiz Jordan for his history test. I complimented Kendall but not Lindsay, did they notice? Nighttime started to feel like dread time and I felt powerless to change it.

When I finally went to my family physician and told her of my battle with sleep, after a long talk and many tears on my part she suggested I try Ambien. “But I don’t want to get addicted to sleeping pills.”

“You’ve got a real problem that other methods haven’t been able to address. Look at you, you’re exhausted and depressed and right now my major concern is that you get sleep.”

“I agree. But you know me, I hate taking medicine.” (Said I, the woman with the chronic illness already on numerous medications)

“That’s why I’m here. Don’t worry about addiction, let’s get you some sleep.”

So, I trusted my doctor who knew me and had never thrown medication at me. Ambien worked, for a little while. I slept and woke up feeling rested for the first week or so and then things changed. It didn’t work anymore. I’d take it on an empty stomach as prescribed and wake up at 2 0r 3 am ruminating on my old woes. Would I ever get a good night’s sleep?

In the midst of the ordinary was the phone call on October 12th, 2008 in the middle of the night, followed by the police officers at the door telling us about the car accident. Jordan was dead and sleep has never been the same. In the days and weeks after Jordan died Mark and I wondered if falling asleep let alone staying asleep would ever come naturally? We  began a new ritual of helping each other prepare for bed, both knowing that even though we’d been prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the face of our trauma, sleep would elude us. As I showered, he would sit in the bathroom talking to me when I was able, and listening to me weep when I wasn’t but he would stay and at the sound of the water being turned off, I would open the shower curtain knowing he’d be standing there to envelop me in my towel, wiping the soap from behind my left ear, a spot I always seemed to miss. He’d stand holding me for a moment and then the pattern would reverse. I’d sit waiting for him, sometimes talking, sometimes not but waiting with an outstretched towel to cover him and bring him in close as he’d done with me.

Three years later, Mark and my ritual is not daily but still occurs. I continue taking a small dose of a sleeping aid that allows me better sleep. That, coupled with the meditation exercises suggested by my counselor have made sleep much less frightening. I still have many nights where I awaken. Now the mundane mixes with the surreal. Things like- “Do the girls have food for their lunches tomorrow? Did I remind Merrick to reserve the shuttle to the airport for Thanksgiving? Share space with, “Jordan’s really gone. I have a dead son.” All of these thoughts running through my mind make me grateful for any amount of sleep. It is the elusive respite I craved during the baby phases of all 4 of my children. I keep going; reminding myself that time has brought progress. At least now I’m learning how to be less afraid to go to sleep.

11-18-49 Hike!


Halloween circa 2002

It is the last day of October. In the shower this morning I stood and cried, thinking of Jordan, freshly feeling the pain of losing him, and how we lost him. Water fell around me as the intrusions of traumatic days and dates surged causing me to sob. In 2008, October 11th was the day Jordan told me he was going to Baltimore. The 12th is the day he died in a car accident. On October 13th, in the early morning hours the news of his death was forced upon us. The 16th is the day we viewed his body one last time at the funeral home. The 17th was the day he was cremated and the 18th was the day of his Memorial service.

On the heels of all these days comes October 20th, Merrick’s birthday. A bright spot that feels flung at us after the pounding traumatic remembrances early October brings. The 20th is the gasp of air given to my family after being held underwater for days by shock, flashbacks, turmoil and grief. I got to breathe a little knowing there was life to celebrate even though it was swirling with the vestiges of death and loss that wafted around us.

Merrick approached his 18th birthday with resolve and reflection. I asked him what he thought about such a milestone birthday, being able to vote, society’s view of him as a quasi adult? He felt more circumspect than excited. “This time next year my friends and I will be scattered around the country, attending different colleges. Our time as, “the guys” hanging out together like we do now will be over. “ I listened to his words, hearing no cynicism only the matter-of-factness that is a by-product of facing the loss of his brother. “The world is yours,” promise, so giddy and hopeful in it’s bumper sticker mentality doesn’t resonate the hopefulness the way I always imagined it would for all of my children. Merrick has firsthand knowledge that nothing is really promised. I selfishly wanted Merrick to proudly declare, “I’m 18,” with excitement. He didn’t and he wasn’t. I watched him try to find traction for celebration after days of lost sleep, quiet contemplation and wanting. The ultimate and unreachable gift, his brother to congratulate him on being 18 was unattainable. Awareness of mortality, embracing moments, and a loss of innocence were firmly placed in Merrick’s path in the month of October.

Yesterday my parents were here briefly as they started a train trip to the West Coast. They’ve always wanted to travel cross-country by train, replete with sleeper car and the luxury of time. October 28th was their 49th wedding anniversary and after years of talking about travelling by train, this year they are doing it. They sat at my kitchen table talking about the books and movies they brought along with them for their trip. I go through my checklist and they tell me they remembered the camera and look forward to sitting in the observation car watching the landscape float by. They’re finally taking one of their dream trips and a part of me senses how final it feels. As independent as they are, Daddy needs a wheelchair to get him onto the train. I ask him if he has his medication and how his arthritis plagued ankles are holding up? His response is as it always is, “Oh girl, I feel good. The doctor says I’m fine.” I ask who is picking them up from the train station and they tell me their high school friend will be there to meet them. Daddy laughs, excited about catching up with old friends. He tells me that his friend wanted him to bring him a taste of moonshine. I laugh along with him but am relieved that none of them will be drinking moonshine. Clearly their West Virginia roots are still firmly entrenched. Mark takes them to the train station and I stand in the driveway waving and yelling, “Have fun.” I walk back inside thinking and praying, “I hope they have a good time. Don’t let anyone get sick.  Bring them home safely.”

Today is Halloween and I witness my 11 year old daughters pour bags of candy into a basket that will be empty by the end of the evening after all the trick-or-treaters make their way by our home. The girls’ excitement this year is less about running from house to house filling their candy bags to the brim, than it is about attending their friend’s haunted house party. Wanly I watch them, glimpsing the teenagers they will soon be. They are my youngest and my wish to have time stand still, to keep their youthful exuberance about costumes and counting their candy at the end of the evening, “Mama, I got 3 BIG candy bars,” is overpowering. I’m stuck in a nostalgia time warp that is making me teary in wanting things I cannot have. The days of having a parent accompany my daughters, waiting on the sidewalk as they run from house to house, racing to ring the doorbell are over. They look forward to trick-or treating with a group of their friends. If I want to hear them say, “Trick or treat,” this year I’ll have to force myself on them or follow them from a distance. They are acting like typical “middle schoolers” and my gratitude that they embrace normal activities without being too weighted down by grief is tempered by wariness and melancholy. What am I doing letting them explore the world and have independence? Am I insane? I’ve lost a child, yet I keep encouraging my others to find their way in the world.

I made it through October again. A new month beckons and as ceremonial as it is, I’m relieved that the calendar page is about to turn. I need the surges of grief and middle of the night weeping that are now hallmarks of October to be quieted.

To Sleep

“I’m afraid of the dark. You can fool yourself in the daytime, but not at night.”

From “Love Warps the Mind A Little” by John Dufresne

Sleep has never come easily to me. Since Jordan’s death, there is the added burden of nighttime being filled with unanswerable questions echoing in my head and all around my room:

  • Did my fear of death make Jordan die? Is this my lesson?
  • Were we too proud of our kids? Is that why Jordan’s gone?
  • Did I miss the signs that he was going to die?
  • Why didn’t I call him when he was driving back to school the night of the accident?
  • Why didn’t I know he was going to die?
  • Why Jordan?

I’ve begun to treat sleep as a chore instead of a respite. I go to bed nightly hoping for the best and more than anything else wanting sleep to come quickly. There are signs in our home that sleep is a struggle for all of my family. Mark and I alternate playing sentry for each other. He hovers, waiting for me to fall asleep before he tries to sleep. I wake in the night at the slightest movement from his side of the bed asking if he’s okay. We both ready ourselves for the chance of nightmares and have spent many nights holding and comforting each other.

When sleep does come for me I sleep lightly so as to hear the sounds of my children wakening in the night.

“Merrick are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, just using the bathroom.”

The other most glaring sign of wishing darkness away is the hallway light that is on every night. It is the light that my daughters need to fall asleep. The light they need when they wake, to lead them to my room when sleep doesn’t return quickly. The hallway light has become the beacon of our grief. I see it shining underneath my door and see it for what it is, the sign of our loss and thoughts that creep in at night.

When my daughter Kendall was three and couldn’t sleep she would come into my bedroom and always have the same request, “Help me make it morning.” I always found her words so endearing and understood her need to make the dark go away so that morning with its light would be her refuge. Now when I lay down at night I find myself offering up the same plea, “Help me make it morning.” I don’t want to lay in bed eyes shut tight willing sleep to come as the unanswerable questions plague me. All I want is an uneventful night of rest.  I don’t want to be awakened by disturbing dreams or wake up crying from a nightmare that feels too real. Grief has made sleep a battle to conquer. Slowly though, I’m learning to take the nights as I do my days, breath by breath. Figuring a way to change my view of sleep so that nighttime is not dreaded with fears of phones ringing and children lost, but a sweet refuge, however brief.