grief, MOTIVATIONAL, RECOVERY

Live Your Life or Plan Your Death

About depression and a pet cricket named Elvis

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I had a pet cricket named Elvis.

Mama said you can’t really have a cricket for a pet. The truth is, I never saw him once, but Elvis sang to me every night, so I reckon he decided to keep me instead of the other way around.

On a normal summer, a cricket chirping in your bedroom would be downright annoying and might even make you want to jump off a bridge if you couldn’t figure out where he was, so you could step on his head. I’m sorry to say I’ve stomped on quite a few crickets in my life, plus a whole lot of other bugs I won’t name here, for fear of offending some bug-loving, revenge-taking, article-reading slight acquaintance of mine.

I tend to hang with a different kind of crowd, but I know you need to watch what you say and do sometimes.

The deep end is a whole lot closer for some people than it is for others, if you know what I mean.

The summer Elvis sang to me was a different kind of summer than most. Mama’d run that old ceiling fan, swearing the whole time that she hated it. It was how we kept cool though. Never bothered me. I liked the noise of it.

When the fan was on, the curtains in my room would billow inward and create a little tent on my bed. I liked to sit in it, and it was from there that I ran a library for the neighborhood kids. I had plenty of books, and I figured it might do some of them at least a little bit of good if they’d read one or two of them. It sure couldn’t do them any harm.

If I didn’t have my little library, I doubt I’d have talked to another kid all summer long. I rarely stepped out of my room.

Most of my waking moments were consumed with writing poems about killing myself and trying to build a new nose out of orthodontic wax. I hated my nose.

I was never sure where the jokes started, but they started in my own family.  My nose got made fun of a lot. Mama said I had “Daddy’s nose,” and the boys would all snicker because I guess Daddy’s nose was supposed to be obnoxiously big or something. It looked like a regular nose to me, but I fell in with the jokes because I knew I was supposed to. I compared my nose to one of my brother’s and we always argued about whose was the biggest.

It’s all I could see when I looked in the mirror.

A nose without a face, just sort of floating there. The one time I experimented with acid, I looked in the mirror and my green bulbous nose was pulsating and growing. I never touched the stuff again.

My nose isn’t the reason I was preoccupied with planning my own death though. I’m not sure why I was sad. I just was. I think I was born that way. It’s taken me a lifetime and unimaginable grief to find joy. Nothing in this world makes any sense. I don’t expect it’s supposed to.

After Samuel died, I was caught up in fantasies about dying again.

Samuel was my baby boy. He died when an intrauterine blood transfusion failed due to doctor error. The grief was unbearable. I stopped writing poetry after that. Occasionally, one comes to me, but not often. Some spaces can’t be filled with words.

I remember sitting on the tractor with Johnny while he baled hay and wondering what it would be like to fall under its wheels. Other times I’d be driving down the road and press the accelerator hard, ready to ram the car into something, but then I’d ease off and live instead.

Later, after I found Mikey dead, there didn’t seem to be a reason to stay on this earth. I was just done. He was only 16 years old. A mother should never have to bury her baby. Mikey made three for me. It was too much grief for my heart to process.

For months, hiding in a coat pocket in my closet was a bottle of pills, ready for me to take myself out of this world.

Mama knew the state of mind I was in, so she went tearing through my house, emptying bottles. She didn’t realize she got rid of my depression medicine. She never found the ones in the closet.

My other kids made it impossible for me to leave, but I carried those pills around with me for a long time before I got enough courage to pour them out.

When I finally got around to cutting myself, I don’t think I had intentions to die.

I think I just needed to hurt myself. I needed to be punished for not being perfect, for failing, for everything. It’s a twisted way of thinking, but everything I was doing at the time was a direct attack against my own life. Too much drink and too many bad choices led to a meltdown.

Recovery for me started on my knees.

I have a lot of things I wish I could say to the young girl back in that room letting Elvis sing to her–things about her nose and how precious life is. I’d tell her to enjoy every single moment and to dance and sing every day like it’s her last one on earth.

You never know when death will come around.

But I know she’s figured it all out for herself. I also know she’s alive and well, and finally made her way out of the darkness.

I don’t know exactly when it was that I started planning my life instead of my death. My nose is the same as it’s always been—just a nose, not too bad. It’s certainly not noteworthy.  I’m proud I have Daddy’s nose, but I hardly ever notice it. If a cricket were to come sing to me in my bedroom now, I’d smile as I remembered my little friend, Elvis, from days gone by. For a minute, I’m sure I’d enjoy the song. Then I’d search him out and stomp his little head, because you can’t really have a cricket for a pet.

They’re annoying and might make you want to jump off a bridge or something, and I’ve got a life to live.

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A railroad crossing with a stop sign on a misty morning.
RECOVERY

The Train Is Coming

Today I was reminded that I am not the only one who grieves.

I read a social media post today, written by someone I’ve known a very long time. Like me, he has buried three sons, two as infants, one at 12 years old. The older child got killed in a tragic train accident.

There was no way anyone could have stopped the train or pushed him out of the way. It wasn’t an accident anyone could’ve predicted.

Sometimes awful things happen, and we can’t make sense of them because we live in a broken world.

My friend said he felt like a failure. I tried to muster up the words to cause him to see himself as I see him. At the same time, I understand from my very soul exactly how that feels.

Even though he was in no way to blame, he is a Daddy. A Daddy always feels responsible for his child, as does a Mama.

I say “Daddy” and “Mama” because that’s what we call our parents here in the South, and that’s what our children call us. We love our babies, and all their lives we believe it’s our responsibility to keep them safe.

If something goes wrong, as parents, we blame ourselves.

We strive to protect them with our lives. God forbid that anything should happen to them! But something did happen to our kids.

The FAILURE TO PROTECT

That’s what I call it relating to me. Of course, I don’t see it the same way when I look at others. It doesn’t matter if this is rational or not. When your child dies, rationality flies out the window, and only flies back in once in a while.

I wrote out a little bit of my story one October, and here that is:

It had rained so much that week that we were stuck at the house and I had just had surgery, so I wasn’t doing much anyway. We got tired of watching the trash float by so my husband set up a stuffed bear in the yard, and we sat on the front porch and took turns shooting his eyes out.

It’s astonishing where the mind will take you when it needs some stimulation! Mikey walked back and forth, cooking steaks on the grill and shaking his head, muttering to himself about who was really crazy–us or him.

He stopped a few times to take his own shot at the bear, sometimes laughing and sometimes just handing the gun back with no expression after he made the “kill.” 

Those were the best steaks I had ever had, and ever WILL have now. Mikey had a secret ingredient he used in everything he cooked. I was pretty startled when I found out what that secret was.

It didn’t always work out for the best, but it made a steak that day that my mouth still waters for—as do my eyes.


It’s hard to believe how much detail I can remember from that week and how little I remember from the next couple of years!

We missed one Dr.’s appointment because of the rain, so we combined our appointments that day and went together. After I got out of my appointment, Mikey wanted to shop for a guitar.

I didn’t have the money to buy one, but we decided to look anyway. We found a music store and right away Mikey spotted the Warlock. The cashier said that for that day only, they’d let us put it on layaway for $20. 

I’d started out with money, but we had eaten, then I’d bought Mikey a couple of green drinks—something energetic I think. I had $18 and he wanted the guitar so much that I went to my truck and scraped up all my “gummy money” and gave the sticky mess to the sales girl.

She was very gracious about it and laughed with me as we counted it together. I’m pretty sure that Mikey was both embarrassed and relieved. He was so EXCITED about that guitar that I had to choke my tears back, because he hated it when I cried. 

The next day I went to get Mikey’s prescriptions filled, and this time he stayed home. He was agitated and angry and when I got home, we argued. Later he came into the house and lied down on the couch, because he just couldn’t keep his eyes open.

A lot more happened that day and that week that I have shared at times with others. What I remember right now is the way it got cold overnight—much like the way it felt this morning when I woke up. Because it’s THAT week, and tomorrow is THAT day.

I got up that morning to get myself a blanket, and so I got Mikey one too. I’d checked on him all night long, but when I threw the blanket over him, I accidentally brushed his back with my hand—and the horror that would become my life started when I realized that he was dead.

I couldn’t scream him awake, couldn’t shake him awake, couldn’t join him in that place to simply ask him how he could leave ME like that! 

I cried and cursed and screamed to GOD that I had PRAYED, I had STAYED, I had done EVERYTHING that I thought He was asking me to do, so then “WHY did He take my CHILD—my —BABY, one of the reasons that I existed and found the courage to let my feet hit the floor each morning??” 

Sometimes there is no answer for things. I still don’t know, although God and I have made our peace and I do know that Mikey is safe in His Hands where we all long to be.

But…I am only human, and at times I forget the GOODNESS of God, and only remember that He ALONE had the power to save Mikey yet chose not to do so. That’s when He reminds me that HE DID.

Mikey was rescued from a world that he did not belong in, and taken to God’s Kingdom, where he never has to worry about being labeled this or that and can just be “Mikey.” 

I love my son, and I miss him, and no day goes by that I don’t still say a prayer for him. So now, as always, I whisper, “God, please take care of Nic, Tiff, and Mikey and keep them safe,” and He whispers back that He is….

So that’s my struggle, at least my biggest one.

It’s my own heartbreak that leads me to finally reach out to others in their own desperate loss.

To embrace the semi-colon.

To say that we will live to fight another day. To cry with those in the depths of their own sorrow. And to notice those who, like Mikey once told me, are out there and just like him. The people on the outside–the fringes– the remnants–the ones left behind.

It might be the guy sitting on the side of the road with a dog and a sign. It could be the lady standing in line at Walmart with hollow eyes, the desperate addict with nowhere to turn, or the homeless and jobless person who everyone has given up on. It’s always either someone seeking something but not knowing what it is, or someone who has long since given up the search but is still here.

I want to reach them because I know what some people didn’t know and couldn’t know–THE TRAIN IS COMING.

The train is coming, and I have the responsibility to push as many people as I can out of the way before it gets here.

Wouldn’t you do that if you could?

I know someone who would have, but never got the chance. Today I am asking God to give that Daddy and Mama comfort and the peace of knowing that there is nothing bigger than God.

Not even that train.

KCS Railroad Track Jefferson TX
photography by abridges

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