Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Climbing Mt. Rainier to honor Tristan and raise awareness for Substance Use Disorder was truly a life changing experience that occurred because of the most dramatic life changing experience I have lived through - the loss of our 21 year old son to overdose.
Training for this expedition was healing in ways I never expected. I would hike through forests, mountain paths, biking trails, on paved streets, along the lake and up steep hills in our community. I trained in freezing cold, rainy and blistering hot conditions. I was determined and committed. And in the end I was able to achieve my personal goals for this trip. It was a lot of hard work, but so worth it! Not only did I get back into some resemblance of 'shape', considering my age, but I felt empowered and a sense of healing throughout the journey.
My love affair with nature started as a child when I played for hours each day and evening in the woods behind our childhood home. My granddad was a forester. I use to imagine him out there, trekking through the forest by himself and wondering about all of the places he went and why he spent so much time in "the woods". And then Tristan came along, and he seemed to love the outdoors just the same. He rarely stayed inside to watch tv or play video games. If I couldn't find him I just yelled his name out the back door and he would come running up from the ravine behind our house. He was my nature boy. So after his death it seemed natural to want to go on a pilgrimage for him, someplace off the grid maybe, but definitely someplace serene. Mt. Rainier was suggested by my friend and coach, Kellie. She lives inside Mt. Rainier National Forest and wanted me to climb with her. So I said Yes! In the end Kellie had to cancel because of her participation with PKD - Preventing Kidney Disease - and helping to locate a donor for her long time friend Mark. So I climbed without her.
But the trip was always about me...and about Tristan. I wondered if I would feel his presence on that mountain, or if I would know he was there. What I experienced was heat, sweat, hard climbing and light air before being rewarded, at 9,200 ft, with a visit from a beautiful butterfly. Just as I plopped down on the snowfield on the approach to Camp Muir a small, solo butterfly passed just in front of me ! It startled the gentleman to my right. We had not seen any butterflies or birds up at that elevation. He burst out that the site of the butterfly must surely be "reassuring" to me ~ and YES, it was! It assured me that Tristan WAS there with me. The butterfly is our symbol. When we had to bury our sweet baby Drew who died four days after birth of heart defect I looked over to see tiny yellow butterflies swirling around Tristan's head. It was a sight I have never forgotten. Three days after Tristan's death, missing him and still reeling from shock, I walked out on the back deck to be greeted by a large black and blue butterfly. It sat on a leaf on my hibiscus plant for a good three or four minutes before taking flight and swirling above my head. My husband watched in amazement and I grinned from ear to ear, realizing that yes, my beloved Tristan would no longer walk this earth, but he is still here. And now, when I am out on my hikes, or at the lake or biking, many times when I am thinking about him, or Drew, the other kids or our work with Speakup About Drugs, and usually when I am missing him the most, a butterfly will appear. I've been visited by many other winged creatures since Tristan's death in ways I had never previously experienced including an owl, a moth, the blue herren and of course the cardinals ~ but the butterfly always comes when I need it the most. As I sat up on that magnificent mountain and pondered our future without Tristan in it, the future of this non-profit we created to help others on this journey and the experiences ahead for our family I felt a sense of peace and certainty that this is really part of God's plan and that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be. On the trail back down I saw that butterfly. It had died from lack of oxygen and laid on the snow field about the same area where I had seen it the day before.
The mountain was huge and scary. Life without my child feels the same way - so overwhelming at times. But I conquered that mountain ~ and I believe I can conquer this new reality as well. It's not easy. And there are days when I would rather go on to Heaven, or at least stay in bed all day. But I show up, and I train for this thing called life because the view at the top is magnificent! God created this beautiful world for us to enjoy, and sent each of us here with a purpose. I have always felt that Drew accomplished his purpose. And I guess, at least pray, that Tristan accomplished his. I think that he did. But if that is the case then his mission was just the beginning of what I am supposed to finish, and that's where this non-profit work comes in. This is NOT a journey I ever expected to take. Some days I wonder for a second if this is anything I really even want to do. And then I think of the mountain, and of Tristan, and I move forward with the conviction that YES, this is EXACTLY what I am supposed to be doing.
One of our favorite songs was Stevie Nick's Landslide. " I took my love and I took it down... I climbed a mountain and I turned around....and I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills, and the landslide brought me down" And so it is.....I've seen my reflection in the snow covered hills, and I've survived the landslide of death... and my love for Tristan and the life we shared will carry me forward to do this work that is so vital for the welfare of our community and those struggling with addiction. And the mountain is not so scary after all. Together, we CAN do this!
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Hallmark holidays have never been important to me and I am not a fan of 'forced celebrations' like Valentines Day or even wedding anniversaries. I am more in the camp of 'everyday is a reason to celebrate' and impromptu joy-filled moments.
The first 12 months of child loss are full of 'making it through' these forced celebrations that I would just as soon ignore. They are painful reminders of the love that has been lost, of the joy that is no more. Mother's Day is definitely one of those days. Two of my four children live in heaven which makes me feel like a HUGE failure as a mother. It's tough to not make that correlation. That aside, I am just very sad. My heart is broken. I do not feel like celebrating.
Thursday leading in to this weekend I received beautiful roses from my sweet husband whose sole intention was to make this weekend as easy for me as possible. But the roses were a harsh reminder of what is lost. He asked about planning a family dinner with my parents and my first instinct was a negative response. Not because I did not want to see them, but because I did not want to feel the pain of the day. And I've been thinking about the hear-wrenching sermon that is sure to come in this morning's sermon at church. Again, more pain that I would prefer to avoid. Friday morning as I was getting ready for work, make-up halfway done, I burst into tears. And this morning, Sunday, I awoke with a heaviness, a shattered heart and spent an hour pouring out my grief. This day is hard.
But throughout these past few days, when my mind was clear, as I have pondered the question of how to 'make it through' this day, Mary has come to mind over and over again. Jesus' mother. The young girl who was given a child she did not ask for. The woman who lost the son she cherished. Mary endured much fear and pain in her motherhood journey. When I compare my journey to hers I see that I too received a child I did not ask for and experienced much pain and fear.
This started with Drue, Jake's twin. I did not set out to have twins and was initially very scared about it. And then Drue was taken to heaven, and I was left with enormous pain and asking God WHY; why give me a child I did not ask for only to take him away. And God gave me an answer. Drue was sent here to save my life. There was a tumor growing inside my brain that I was not aware of. Drue's presence, along with Jake, inside my body, caused that tumor to grow more rapidly than it should have so the Doctors could locate it. The neurosurgeon who diagnosed it told me that the twin pregnancy saved my life. So, God did have a plan, and it was bigger and better than mine. And there was purpose to my fear and suffering.
But Tristan....how does his life and death compare? Mary was forced to stand by and watch her beloved son Jesus walk towards the cross to be crucified. He chose death. Jesus died for our sins. He was doing the job he was sent here to do and all Mary could do was stand by and watch, and pray and grieve. Tristan also chose to walk towards death. Now I know it was not to serve the greater good, he was doing what he wanted to do and so it does not seem like there would be any comparisons, but the months leading up to Tristan's death were filled with amazing moments. From the beginning of his life Tristan was introduced to Jesus, at his baptism, in the youth group I led and at the summer camps he attended. One year, his first at Kamp Kanakuk, Tristan received the All Around Best Camper award. I will admit that I was shocked! Tristan had a heart for Jesus in his younger years. But then adolescence and drugs came along and he quit going to church, didn't seem to be interested in God. My son willingly walked towards death. He chose, over and over again, to use drugs, though I told him many times that death was a possibility once you walked down that path. In October of 2016 when he was in a mental hospital for evaluation after a psychotic episode we had a strange and fascinating encounter with an elderly gentleman. Tristan had spent his time there reading from one of his books about Buddhism. This gentleman approached us telling us he had been with Jesus during times when he was being persecuted. He talked about death and suffering. He gave Tristan one of his own books about the Dahli Llama. And he looked directly at me and said that there was a lot of hard work ahead and more pain and suffering to come. I remember being transfixed by him. That moment stayed with me long after we left the hospital. And sure enough, there was more pain and suffering leading up to and since Tristan's death. But along the way, Tristan did several things that were, it seemed like, a direct result of his heart for God, that I had not seen in years. First, when his good friend was in the throes of addiction, and could not be convinced by anyone else to take that final step into treatment, Tristan reached out, at exactly the right moment, and convinced him to take that final step. (I am happy to report that today, this friend is on his own recovery journey and making good progress.) A few months later Tristan was, what I now believe to be, experiencing a hypo-manic episode. He and another buddy went off on what we called a 'boon-doggle'. Tristan was inconsolable about a billboard in Harrison, Arkansas that projected racial hatred. It was a billboard put up by members of the KKK. And Tristan cried over this billboard and the evil message. He and his friend, late one night, drove over to Harrison. And at 4am they walked through an overgrown field with spray-paint and a recorder and Tristan de-faced that sign writing BLACK LIVES MATTR across the base of it. He did not take any photos though we were able to get one before the property owner had the sign removed shortly after Tristan's death. When I called him out about it, he was so proud of himself for taking a stand against bigotry to make a positive difference. And he did.
We all rejoiced when that awful piece of hatred was removed ! When Tristan returned home from that road trip, still in a hypo mania state, he told me that God had performed many miracles for him that saved his life several times and that driving home he was out of gas, rolling in on fumes, but God got him here safely. He said to me that his 'religion was changed'. Tristan remembered his heart for God. And then he was gone. And all I could do was stand by and watch, with fear and heart-wrenching pain.
Being able to hold on to and reflect on these meaningful moments, as a mother, fills my heart love, pride and joy. Even in my brokenness, I know that both of my sons are with their Heavenly Father, right where they are supposed to be. And that I am still here, living in pain, but right where I am supposed to be, to do the work that God has laid out before me, sharing my faith journey of motherhood, sharing Tristan's addiction story in the hopes it will help others, and doing what I can to make a positive difference in this world.
My own mother is 76 years old. Someday I will mourn her when she is no longer here to celebrate with on Mother's Day. And I have several friends who were young mothers that left this world too soon, unable to raise their own children. I have been blessed with the experience of raising three of my four children. So today I will celebrate this day with the joy of those blessings, with thanksgiving for my own mother and with gratitude for the role model of Mary. I pray to have her heart and strength and will journey on to do God's will until that day comes that I am reunited with my sons and able to live with our Heavenly Father in his eternal kingdom.
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Yes, the Struggle IS REAL.
Because you have found your way to this site and my first blog I will assume you have struggled. Perhaps like me, you loved, and lost, an addict. Or maybe you are the addict. But whatever has happened, you are still here, so you are brave. And yes, you may also be brokenhearted, but you are brave.
I have ave four children; two here on earth and two in heaven.
Drue, who was Jake’s twin, died four days after birth of a genetic heart defect. He was perfect when he was born, on the outside. But inside his heart was underdeveloped and could not sustain life. He struggled. As I held him to feed him, read to him, and soothe him when it was his time to go, Drue looked sad and hurt. He was struggling to live. And yes, struggling to die. His life was so short. And I was broken-hearted. BuT I had to be brave because I had his new born brother, Jake, and older brother, Tristan, to care for. We all struggled during that time.
Tristan struggled for years with Drue’s death. When he was 11or 12 years old I sat him down for “the talk”. But at then of the long explanation about puberty, sex and reproduction, Tristan just wanted to know why his brother died. And he cried.
When he was in high school Tristan began using marijuana, and then Adderall. We took him to counseling and grounded him and tried to reason with him. He grew older and the drug use worsened. Tristan became addicted. He struggled to stay clean, to keep a job and relationships. He could not stay in school or do the active things he had once loved to do. He fell, over and over. he did manage to help a friend, encourage him to go to treatment. Tristan encouraged his friend to be brave. But he could not do the same himself. He continued to use, and he died. And again, I am broken-hearted.
After Tristan died I found a recent drawing in one of his notebooks. It was a tree trunk, with roots splayed at the base. Drue’s name was written there, attached to the roots. And I knew, he had always struggled, to,accept that loss and to understand why. And then to accept and understand the other inevitable losses that followed....his parents’ divorce, the desth of a beloved grandmother, a move from his home state. He was brave, but he must have been broken-hearted
Life is hard. This world we live in is tough, and it can be a struggle much of the time. And yes, we will all fall at some point. But take heart, and be brave. Have faith. God gave us this life, with all of its highs and lows, struggles and triumphs. We came here to learn lessons, and to teach others. We came to experience love, yet we also experience fear. But we experience joy. And God gives us strength. And He carries us when we fall. And our broken hearts heal.
Yes, the struggle IS REAL, but so is the joy. Be brave, move forward, and have faith.
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Maybe it will take one year, maybe 10, maybe a lifetime.
There are so many losses in life, both little ones and monumental ones. And we grieve each in different ways, at a different pace.
And then one day, like a snake shedding its winter skin, we break-through and are able to let go and move forward, with a deeper sense of purpose and faith, humility and grace.
Intellectually I know that day will come. But I am not ready for it - nowhere near ready for it.
But I am letting go of other things. Of ideals, and plans, hopes and dreams - and picking up or creating new ones that fit this new reality.
There are no time limits. I will move freely forward, in my own way, at my own pace. In time.
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Easter is coming...as it always does. I love Easter. I love Holy Week and all of the services leading up to ”the big one”! I grew up in the Episcopal Church with parents who participated in EVERY Holy Week Service so each year I attended probably six services that one week. And now I am so thankful for all those years of services. For it being ingrained into me that Jesus came here, to live as one of us, to die for our sins, and on the third day to be raised from the dead and ascend into Heaven to live eternally in God’s kingdom. Yes, I am a Christin. And I have seen, first hand, how the birth, death and resurrection work in today’s modern world.
In 2002 I gave birth to two beautiful baby boys, Jake and Drue. Jake was and still is a very healthy boy. Drue however was born with a genetic heart defect. He died four days later. After his birth we had him baptized. I held Drue when he died, repeating over and over, “ go be with God”. I can recall his sweet but sad face looking up at me. He obviously did not feel well.
Two week’s before Drue and Jake were born we learned that, in all likelihood, Drue would not live. I was devastated. I did not really want to be pregnant with two babies, but then accepted it and was happy to be having twins, and then to find out that one would not make it .... it was almost cruel. What was the purpose ?? What was happening and why? Was this really part of God’s plan?? As it turns out, yes, I believe it was. More to come on that in future blogs.
As I held Drue, talking to him and crying, I was filled with a sense of peace and awe that I never expected. Drue was blessed. He was going home, to live with Jesus, in God’s heavenly kingdom. I wished it was me God was taking. But I had Jake, and his older brother Tristan, to take care of. As I learned later, Drue came here to take care of me.
So we buried him, on a beautiful spring day, up on a little hill. And the butterflies came, and they danced all around Tristan.
Since then I always watched for the butterflies, for the ones that seem to come here for me. And they always remind me of Easter, and the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Yes, Easter comes to all of us. And even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I know in my heart that my sweet Drue waits for me, right where he is supposed to be. And now he has his brother Tristan with him. They are together, and someday, in God’s time, we will all be together, because Easter always comes