Mar 6, 2009

Group night - reflections on what happened

Last night was group night again and it’s still a bit awkward for me. Aunt Jen brought the kids to meet me with dinner prepared for the pot luck (Thanks again!) and the crowd was a bit thicker this week. It was interesting to see how people have progressed (or not) in the span of a couple of weeks. And it was really nice to know the feelings are very similar for those that lost some one regardless of the circumstances. Some were lost to medical conditions, some drugs, and a couple of participants were dealing with suicides; all of us were dealing with grief.

In only our second visit the agenda has already become routine. They gave us the outline of what the children would be discussing and then we proceeded to our introductions. Very quickly after we all had our turn at saying hello the floor opened to who ever wanted to share about getting the news of a loss. The topic was a continuation of our last visit but it was just an ice breaker. Quickly raw emotions were being shared with virtual strangers and it was beneficial for most everyone. I didn’t share; not this time. But the words of others did make me think about the morning that Mindy left us. And this morning I thought that if it helped so much in group…why not try to finally post the event here. I’ve tried before but couldn’t find the right words. In any case, here is my latest attempt to describe that morning and the hours that followed.

I woke up at about 6:30a on Wednesday August 6, 2008 and nothing about the morning was much different from any other morning before it. I walked through the house to the laundry room to get my clothes for the day; Mindy and the kids were strewn about the living room asleep on couches and taking up floor space. They had a “party” the night before as there was no school and Mindy was probably going to be gone for a while starting in a couple of days. The Teen was upstairs in her room but I was the only one up. Mindy was imitating a train with her familiar snore that could almost shake walls as she slept on the floor next to Sugarbear and just below Princess who had taken a couch. I quickly gather my things and returned to our bedroom to start my day.

Just under an hour later I was showered, dressed, and ready to leave the house. I went to wake everyone as I left so they could start their day and noticed that Mindy’s snoring had stopped. I didn’t think much of it at the time so I woke the little ones and as I went to wake Mindy I found she was not breathing. Shocked, and scared I yelled for our then almost teenager to bring me the phone, and do so quickly; not remembering that I had my mobile phone on my belt. She brought me the phone and I had her usher her siblings upstairs away from the ensuing action. I dialed 911 and proceeded to administer CPR. My wife was now lying below me, a blue tint to her face, ignoring my attempts to get her to breathe.

The EMS responders got there quickly and I moved out of the way. As they began hooking up sensors and IV lines I quickly called Mindy’s father, he was my first thought for contact. I answered the questions from EMS in between updating her father to what was happening on my living room floor. After several minutes with no response they powered up the defibrillator and began to play out a scene from a tragic movie. My children were upstairs and couldn’t see what was going on…but I’m certain they could hear every word as I panicked on the phone while a stretcher was brought in my front door. EMS loaded her into the ambulance and started for the hospital. I quickly got the kids situated and followed them. Mindy’s father watched over the kids who in retrospect must’ve been completely frightened as I rushed to the hospital only to be held in a waiting room while they “looked for a nurse” to give me an update.

I don’t think I’ve ever prayed as insistently or sincerely as I did that morning. I begged God to make her okay. I begged and repeated my words over and over because I couldn’t think of anything else. Mindy was bipolar and addicted to prescription pills. The two individually were hard to deal with; the fact that she blurred them together nearly destroyed our marriage. But that morning I would be released of all those issues; God would lift that burden to make room for a new one.

After what must’ve been 5 – 10 minutes, and what seemed like an eternity, a door opened into the waiting room where they put me; two people walked in to greet me. A blonde female nurse in blue scrubs who never said a word and a male doctor with black hair and black scrubs who told me my wife was gone. He was like death itself standing there with no emotion on his face as my mind raced and my eyes blurred. Warm tears ran down my face and my throat began to close as I tried to answer his questions about how we came to be at his hospital.

The doctor dressed like death allowed me to spend some time with her in the now empty emergency room. At one point I saw her eye flutter for a fraction of a second. It could’ve been my imagination or it could have been some nerve reflex in her body but either way it reinforced my prayer that she would be okay; even though she wasn’t. I held her cold hands and kissed her now swollen face. My heart was broken…my mind enveloped in a fog of disbelief.

I would find out later that Mindy died from acute accidental drug overdose, which basically means she took several pills that didn’t play well together in her body. It shut down her heart and lungs and she probably died in a very peaceful sleep. I’m still very mad that she left us but I’m also grateful that she doesn’t have to fight her demons anymore. She’s done with addiction and depression.

Of all the books we have on Bipolar disorder none have a section on what to do when the afflicted person is gone. There is not chapter on how to reconcile your anger and your loss. The last two weeks I had with Mindy were really nice; she wasn’t on a big mood swing and she wasn’t out of her head from all the prescriptions. The fact that we ended our marriage on a positive note was a true blessing. If things had not worked out so well before she passed I couldn’t imagine how I would deal with the anger that is left from her passing; anger from her leaving me to raise our children alone and having to fight her ex-husband for custody of a daughter he’s never cared for. The anger of trying to find ways to compensate for her not being in their lives when we all know that no one could ever replace her, but mostly I’m angry that she amputated my soul. She took with her the best parts of us that I can’t recreate on my own.

In a nutshell the roughly 1,200 proceeding words are what I recall of those hours. These are the thoughts that dominated my mind as I sat quietly in a room full of grieving adults last night. It’s because of thoughts like these that I’ll be glad when the group environment is no longer needed for my kiddos. I’d rather go on putting up my “I’m okay” face during the day to keep the questions at bay. Then leave the nights to grieve in my own time, my own way. I’ll be glad when this part of my life is a memory in the rear view mirror…if that’s really possible.


  1. It took me two years to do what you did after seven months. It is so hard to share your story with strangers and with loved ones who weren't privy to all the details. But I think it is a healthy step in the right direction. The more we keep things inside, the harder it is to heal.

    I, too, do most of my grieving in private. But I also think it is somewhat comforting for my daughter to see me show emotion and am not as apt to hold back when I am consoling her.

    I think it is possible that this will someday be a memory, but I am also awaiting that day.

    Again, thanks for your willingness to share with others you meet on this road.

  2. I have been reading your blog for a while but never commented. I admire your courage to take each day and move forward. Your children are very blessed to have you for their father. You are an inspiration to all that read your blog. Thank you for sharing the most intimate details of your journey with us. It takes a lot of strength to do that. God Bless you and your family.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your encouraging words. My family gives me strength and encouragement. But it's nice to hear it from "outside the walls" as well.

  4. You are a true fighter. My grandmother committed suicide in front of me and my young sister, I was angry for a long time, but now I realize she is no longer in pain. The worst kind of disease I have learned is, is that of the mind. But you are right. Your wife is no longer fighting herself. If you feel down, please remember that I am thinking about you.

  5. I am sorry for your loss. I have bipolar and attempted suicide in 2007. Thank you for sharing. This is the kind of reminder I need every day so that I make good choices for my children and family.

  6. My name is Amanda and I was a friend of Mindy's from high school. I was so shocked and saddened to hear of Mindy's death, esp. in such a senseless way. I do remember that she had the BIGGEST smile of anyone I have ever known, even to this day. I lost my three year old son on 8-8-01 and my daughter and I went to the WARM Place as well. I am very grateful for them because I made some good friends by going there and was able to work through my grief in a healthy manner. I hope you and the kids were able to as well and are doing alright these days. I want to ask a question but I didn't want it to seem as I am prying, but...I have a close friend who is also dealing with bipolar depression and addiction. Would you mind telling me what meds she sadly became addicted to? I am trying to get my friend to accept help but it's very difficult as I am sure you well know. I'm so glad a mutual friend of myself and Mindy forwarded your blog link to me tonight. You have beautiful kids and I know Mindy is now a guardian angel for you all. Please take care of yourself and keep being the best father you know to be. I am sure you are doing a wonderful job, esp. with the unimaginable circumstances you have been placed in. God bless.