Those closest to me know…I haven’t the foggiest clue what short and to the point is. Some call it rambling…me, I just call it long-winded. I hope you will bear with me on this post because it is a tragic, heart rendering story and one that needs to be heard, especially if you have gone through a similar experience.
This post has taken me almost a year to get the courage to do. Because this WordPress is a personal website I created to showcase my art and other important aspects in my life too, I decided to add this page. I had intended to make a separate WordPress altogether, but I have several sites already for my art career and it’s time-consuming. I can only hope it reaches the people whose life parallels mine so they may be comforted by the artwork and maybe the story itself will bring some understanding to some very difficult issues.
On November 5th, 2013, I lost my 31-year-old daughter, Michelle, to sudden cardiac arrest. She left behind two amazing beautiful girls. Until I lost my daughter, hearing about another parent losing a child, was simply tragic and I could only pray I would never experience it. Well it happened to me and NOW I get it…I had no clue. It is undeniably the most difficult, inexplicably painful loss. I am left with a permanent void, emptiness, and unbelievable heartbreak. It has been close to a year and is still so fresh. I hear over time it gets better. I don’t see how. It only seems to be get worse as time goes by and the reality and permanence of her absence sinks in. I figured this blog would be a good outlet and may help me to move forward and progress in my recovery. Speaking .outwardly about her death is very painful but writing maybe healthy…or so I have heard.
As many mothers and daughters butt heads we did and at times it became very challenging…and that may be putting it mildly. One might assume it would make it easier to deal with her passing knowing I would no longer have that conflict in my life. Well, I even miss THAT! You see as fiercely as we battled, we cared about each other with the same intensity. She knew how to make me feel better when I was down and what buttons to press to get to me. She knew me and understood me more than anyone in my life. I miss her daily. I miss her beautiful smile and her silliness. She was the one person in my life that I spoke to every day and she is no longer there so I can pick up the phone when I need a friend…yes she was my best friend and at times my worst enemy. I miss her endless daily calls that always started with “whatcha doin” and not ten minutes later “whatcha doin” again…my response was always the same…”the same as when you asked me minutes ago”. I would assume she was just bored and needed to talk, because on many days this went on all day. But looking back now, in reality she was probably having a bad day, as she suffered from severe anxiety and needed the security only a mother could give her child.
She suffered for a lifetime from a severe chemical imbalance that went untreated until she finally reached out for help. She was hospitalized in ICU for 3 mos,and on a respirator in critical condition for several weeks. When her husband of 13 yrs left her, she went into deep depression, shut down, quit eating, and drank heavily. So I would not find out how bad she was physically and mentally, she would shut me out. By all accords she should never have survived. But her incredible inner strength brought on a fight that enabled her to battle her way back. She was simply an amazement to all those who treated her in the hospital and in physical therapy during her rehabilitation. The mental health clinic which treated her through her mental rehabilitation considered Michelle one of their best success stories. A miracle. Yes, I heard that word so many times. Leave it to my daughter to do that twice in one short life!!!
In fact had God not decided it was her time join him in heaven, I think she would still be on a mission to help people who suffered as she did. A mission cut way too short. In the year she had with us after her illness, she was reaching out to people who she knew had problems with substance abuse, and each one of those people suffered from a chemical imbalance too. One study showed over half the people suffering with bipolar disorder have a substance abuse problem…self mediating…an attempt to fix the problems that plaque their mind. It pains me that these people are so misunderstood.
MOTHERS DAY 2014
My personal mission is to help others who have lost a child to feel some comfort. For me looking at her pictures is painful and brings tears to my eyes. I feel like I am weak and dishonoring her memory, but it’s still too fresh and hurts. On the other hand, when I look the cross I painted in memory of her, I feel comforted. Because of this, I decided to paint a series of crosses in her honor. They all have a specific message or meaning in honor of the life she lived. I hope that anyone who has lost a loved one who may be in need of a remembrance will reach out to me and contact me about obtaining a reproduction of any of the crosses I have put in production thus far. I have Michelle’s Wings sitting on my bedside table so she is the last thing I think of before I go to sleep and the first thing I think of each morning when I wake. I have the others on the walls around the house I am reminded that she is always with me…especially when I miss her and loneliness sets in.
Etsy Shop Link to Michelle’s Wings:
At her memorial service, her brother Joshua gave the most beautiful heartfelt eulogy. One of my close friends said it was one eulogy that she didn’t want to end, and she wanted to hear more. She said she finally truly understood a person she had misunderstood for many years. He and I collaborated on it because it was imperative to both of us that Michelle was understood, and not mistaken for a “dead beat” alcoholic or drug abuser. She was a special, very strong and beautiful person who suffered from a disease…she was bi-polar, and a self-medicating a chemical imbalance is all too common. Many people who abuse drugs or drink heavily have an underlying chemical imbalance or depression, that if diagnosed and treated, could end the substance abuse. I believe her story is important so that anyone who is suffering from this problem may look at her success and reach out for help as she did. Before she died suddenly of cardiac arrest (Right Ventricular Dysplasia-formal terms on her death certificate), she was living proof that it could be done. She was under stress in the weeks before her death and sadly her heart went into arrhythmia, and they could not revive her. Had her heart not given out, I am sure she would still be sober today, living a happy productive life with her two children. Many people who do not know all the facts have misconceptions that Michelle overdosed or did something to cause her own death. That could not be farther from the truth. She was sober and was proud of her sobriety and proud that she had control of the anxiety and mood swings that controlled her for most of her life. She was extremely relieved to feel NORMAL for the first time in her life and swore alcohol would never touch her lips again.
Below I have posted a copy of the eulogy spoken at her memorial because it explains Michelle’s short life. It explains how she became bi-polar and how she had an impact on so many peoples lives. If you would like to get to know who Michelle is and her story, feel free to read it. If not simply scroll down and view the crosses that I have painted in her honor and in memory of all those who have left us too soon.
Born Oct 31 1982, she came into this world a fighter, and fought until her very last breath on November 5, 2013. Being strong came naturally to Michelle. On the day she was born, due to a forceps delivery that fractured her skull she was rushed into emergency surgery where a partial frontal lobectemy was performed. She wasn’t expected to live, much less make the speedy recovery she did. But as neurosurgeons predicted months of recovery in the hospital, that strong willed baby was released in 11 days…the first time she defied odds…she was a miracle baby.
The result of that surgery, removing the smallest segment of her brain, would plague for rest of her life. She was left with a severe chemical imbalance and emotional highs and lows. This condition would one day spiral out of control as it escalated as she reached adulthood. The doctors predicted this would happen and over the years medications were introduced to no avail. Michelle had extreme anxiety and fear of medication, she would stop.
As a child Michelle would capture the show no matter where she was. She was outgoing, dynamic, dramatic and she’d capture the center of attention no matter what the occasion. As a small child she and her papa Jake were inseparable. She could be found at the Fairgrounds Race Track with Papa Jake and Dianne sitting in their box seats handicapping horses, betting a Trifecta hoping Ten Times Ten, her favorite of Papa Jake’s horses, would be the winner. She had no clue how old she really was…always in her mind she was well beyond her years. After the races they would all go home and she and Papa Jake would sing and dance to the oldies.
She also had an extremely close relationship with her God Mother, who she called Nanny. Since Pam, my mothers sister, was the first person to hold her as a baby they had a special bond. She and our mother were separated at birth in different hospitals for a week. We know she would want her Godmother to know just how very special she was to her and how she appreciated all the help she gave her throughout the years.
Michelle was never an ordinary child. When she was good she was real good, and when she was bad she was real bad. When she put her heart into something she went all out. But when she found something distasteful she would shut down in a big way. This led to many problems as she grew to adulthood. Michelle was sometimes very misunderstood and being so strong willed she would push away those people she loved the most, including her mother, when she needed them the most.
Losing her father Russell in 1999 had a detrimental effect on Michelle. She missed him greatly, and her biggest regret in that tragic loss was that he never got to know her amazing children, to hold them and play with them as he did with her when she was young. We know now they are reunited and she is in his arms once again, the place where she always felt safe and protected. She will also be reunited with Adam, her very best friend who passed 6 mos ago. Adam too suffered from a chemical imbalanced and he self medicated…leading to his death shortly after she came home from the hospital. She was devastated over that loss. Adam was special to Michelle, as one of her best friends growing up, but mostly for the support he gave her and her daughters in the days before she finally reached out for help. He was instrumental in her finally making that call for help from our mother that led to her sobriety.
When her 13 yr marriage ended, she found herself homeless, alone, afraid, and simply shut down. Her chemical imbalance had spun out of control. Never meaning to take her own life, she was merely at a point she was powerless to seek help and physically hit rock bottom. But on October 16th she reached out to our mother and asked for help…a day that will always be a day of remembrance for both of them. This October 16th marked one year of sobriety, and that is one goal she reached with fierce pride and dignity. We were all so proud of that accomplishment.
That hospital stay marked the second fight of her life. She was hospitalized from severe malnutrition, a condition known as Scurvy, which is mainly seen in people who have been held in concentration camps. She had literally starved herself for almost a year and to compound problems she had been self medicating for over a decade by drinking. By all accords she should never have walked out alive, and her doctors did not have a clue how she walked into the hospital alive. She was in and out of ICU for 3 mos, as her body rejected the food as it was introduced to her. When her levels spiraled out of control, she coded and had to be revived. At that point a DNR was discussed and immediately, the advice was sought from one amazing nurse, Shelly, one of our mothers long time friends. Upon taking her advice, after a couple weeks Michelle took an amazing turn for the better. We know Michelle would want to recognize you and your amazing belief in miracles, the power of God and the human spirit. Because that is what it took to buy her that extra year.
God gave her another chance at life. It wasn’t quite her time to go. She still had more to do. In this last year, Michelle has touched the lives of many people in a big way. Many of you sit here at Honakers, and you know who you are.
Some people spread their good will over a lifetime. That’s not to say she never did anything significant in her earlier life, just the most significant giving took place in this last year. Over the years Michelle was always giving and helping someone. After hurricane Katrina, a family of 4 crammed in a small trailer, she took in two extra children whose mother needed help with her children when she found herself a home devastated by the storm. In fact over the years she always had extra children in her home, because she was the one person those mothers trusted to love and care for their children as if they were her own. She had the capacity to love children like no other.
Michelle leaves behind two amazing daughters who she was fiercely proud of…Alexis, 13yrs old, (or Lexie as she prefers to be called) and Lindley, who just turned 9. She was an amazing mother and those children are a testament to that.
Michelle came out of the hospital after 3 mos in ICU with a changed look on life. She no longer needed alcohol to stop her mind from racing. She was medicated for the first time in her life and feeling NORMAL. After being released from the hospital, she and our mother sat down and made a list of all the things she would do in her life. Her goal was to become a productive person in life, and make up for lost time. She took it step by step, and that meant literally learning to walk again. Having been in ICU on life support, a feeding tube was inserted to insure she would return to a healthy weight, and her body was adjusting to a regime of medication that would finally give her the opportunity to have a healthy mind and balance the chemicals in her brain… She had an uphill battle to return to normalcy.
Being in the hospital for so long she became well known by most of the hospital staff…some thought the world of her and others not so!!! She made it known if she wasn’t fond of the staff member and her nursing staff and sitters were hand selected during shift changes. She would rename those nurses, aids and doctors that were closest to her. One of her sitters she was extremely fond of became known as “EGG”, and thankfully she thought it was hysterical. Upon leaving there were tears of joy by the many people who had helped her along the way in her journey back to health.
These people had seen her come into the hospital frail and on deaths door and they watched her take her first steps to return to the outside world in amazement that she had defied odds. She is still to this day, friends with many of those people, some of you are here to say good bye, and she would want you to know how much she loved and appreciated your endless support. Many months of physical therapy planted a seed in her mind that one day she too wanted to work with people like herself in need of physical therapy. She had grown immensely fond of her PTA’s and the timeless dedication they showed her that contributed to her amazingly quick recovery.
Our mother took her children in during the months she was hospitalized and after being discharged she went to live there too. They worked together to accomplish these goals…one goal at a time. One important goal was getting an education so she could one day support her children on her own. She began taking online courses in order that she would be able to take that course to fulfill her dream of working with people faced with rehabilitation. When it was time, and she had finished her rehabilitation, she found a place for her children and lived independently for the first time ever. This step was a huge step and she was so proud of her new apartment where she raised her two girls.
Her life may have been cut short, and her death was so sudden, but this past year was a gift she was given from God, to make amends for the shame she felt for a really bad era of her life. This year was her chance to find new love, independence, and have a healthy relationship with her daughters, as she carried herself with dignity and pride in her sobriety.
Along the way during this short year she has been an integral part in so many new people lives…all of you know who you are. She wishes more than anything she could still be here to help you all get through your struggles. But she would want you to be strong and still lean on her in your time of need. She will still be with each of you because you will carry her in your hearts.
And her final message to us all is to remember just how precious and fragile life truly is. We must all remember her with that beautiful smile because in this year she was able to smile, and that was something she was not able to do for too many years.
God Bless You All!
You can find several crosses that are for sale on my Etsy Shop-Studio D Art at the link below.
Facebook page in memory of Michelle. Crosses for sale and a portion of each sale is designated for worthy causes: Crosses4Cures