Emotional Intensity and the Truth About Santa

Poppop Taylor reading to Patrick, 1995?

Patrick loved Christmas. In fact, it was looking at the Christmas lights while driving home from Geneva’s house in 1993 that prompted his first sentence. I was pointing out the Christmas lights on the houses driving home. His first sentence was, “No home Mommy, more ‘yights’ pease”.  He spoke that sentence from his car seat as we pulled into the drive way, he was not quite 18 months old. Needless to say, I backed out of the driveway and took him around the neighborhood to see more ‘yights’.

Finding out the truth about Santa was a very painful experience for Patrick. He was in fourth grade and I think he’d suspected for a while, but one afternoon after school he asked me if Santa was real. I gave him the speech about how the Christmas magic is in your heart and he was devastated. He marched into the living room and started to pluck all of his Santa ornaments from the Christmas tree. I asked him what he was doing. With tears in his eyes he said, “It’s all a big lie.” I put my hand on his to stop him removing the ornaments and asked him to come with me into the kitchen.

With tears in our eyes, I told him that he couldn’t do that. Now that he knew, it was his job to keep the Christmas magic for Brendan, who was only three at the time. Patrick promised to help keep the secret and agreed to put his Santa ornaments back on the tree.

A little while later I found him laying under the Christmas tree, looking up into the tree with tears filling his eyes. He said, “But Mom, the wrapping paper that the Santa gifts are in is always different than the paper on the gifts from you and Dad.” I explained that I had rolls of wrapping paper and tags in the crawl space, just for the Santa gifts. I could see him grow even sadder. He so wanted to believe in the magic of Christmas.

For a few years, we kept the magic alive for Brendan. Patrick took that job very seriously. Then Emily joined our family and we had more years of Santa magic, as both boys conspired to make Santa real for Emily. We had a wonderful 9 1/2 years together as a complete family. They are Christmases that will live in my memory forever. They were truly enchanted times.

As I have learned about the overexcitabilities that often co-exist with giftedness, I keep thinking about this exchange with Patrick about Santa. All kids are sad when they learn the truth about Santa, but this was a really big deal for Patrick. His belief was shattered and he didn’t know how to handle the situation. The emotional intensity that was part of the fiber of his being made facing this reality very hard for him.

I know these intensities, as I have them too. So often I am disappointed when a situation is not what I had hoped it would be. I can see all the possibilities with such clarity that it makes them almost real, but they are not. And when reality sets in, it can be so very disappointing that I can’t keep my emotions in check. This is the plight of many who I know and love, family and friends who feel so deeply and fully and are often disappointed by the world we live in. It is a blessing and a curse.

As I was preparing to write this blog, I searched Christmas photos of Patrick. Every single one I found shows this intensity, even in 2010 when I had to bribe him to put his ornaments on the tree with gourmet chocolate covered pretzels. Like I said, Patrick really loved Christmas.

Since he left us in 2011, I have not been able to write the family holiday newsletter. Perhaps we can chalk that up to my own emotional sensitivities. My world is no longer simple enough to summarize neatly on a single sheet of paper with tidy accomplishments and photos for each family member. I haven’t even tried.

So this year, this blog will suffice. Below are a selection of  images from Patrick’s teen years that show the sweet intensity and love for Christmas that I will cherish always.

Hanging Ornament 2007, He had the most beautiful wavy hair.

Patrick helping Emily hang her stocking, 2004

The classic Koala Bear hug that they shared!

Christmas 2005, the most wonderful Christmas of all.

A Grinch impersonation, I think.

Patrick & Emily share a hug while decorating her little tree.

Patrick hanging his ornament, 2009

Kids hanging ornaments, 2009

2010 Patrick’s last Christmas with us

And this one from the Christmas parade is perhaps my favorite, those wide blue eyes in absolute delight with the wonder of Christmas.

Patrick & Peaches, Christmas parade

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Christmas, engagement, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Healing, hugs, Overexcitability, Remembering, Santa, Traditions | 1 Comment

Post-Traumatic Growth is Real

A portion of my 2017 Vision Board

I am very excited to be bringing my most talented friend Marguerite Ham to lead a Vision Board activity to many of my Jeffco friends this holiday season. The image above is the bottom corner of my 2017 Vision Board that I made with Marguerite last year.

I remember distinctly being very excited when I saw the image of the tree, mostly dead, but with new growth in a magazine last December. It seemed to me to be a perfect visual representation of personal growth in the aftermath of loss or trauma. The concepts of growth and expansion have been a big part of my personal goals this year. My vision board sits next to my desk, so it is an ever-present reminder and serves to center me and help me set intentions throughout my work day.

A couple of months ago I had the great honor to meet and talk with Joanne Cacciatore, author of Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief. Dr. Jo lost a child, so she is a counselor, academic, and a healing Mom herself. I mentioned the idea of post-traumatic growth to her and she said that she has seen incredible growth through loss in many of her clients, as well as herself. She shares some of their stories in her book.

There is still much I need to learn about this concept, but it feels like an accessible way for me to describe my own grief journey and how my lessons learned have made me feel more centered, accessible and compassionate. This growth will never give me my son back, but I hope it makes me a better Mom to Brendan and Emily. And I know it has allowed me to open my heart to the kids in the GT Center at WRHS.

As another quote that made it to my 2017 Vision Board says, “I’ve lived long enough to know that every hiccup, heartbreak, and setback is really just a setup for something better than I can imagine right now.”

I will carry those hopes and beliefs into 2018.

Posted in Christmas, friendships, Grief, Healing, Jeffco, Marguerite, Reaching Educators, Recovery, Remembering, Success, teachers, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

Caring for the Newly Bereaved

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had friends reach out to me to ask for advice about how to best help their friends (or themselves) who have recently lost a loved one. Yesterday, I was talking to one friend on the phone whose dear friend lost her son to suicide a few weeks ago. I started through my own list of what helped me in those early, most awful days and weeks.

Then I remembered that my dear friend and grief buddy, Marguerite Ham, wrote a list in April, after we’d both lost our boys in March, 2011. I looked up that post and it’s all right there. So I am referencing Marguerite’s great list here. The only thing I would add, is JOURNAL, even if it’s rambling crazy talk. I have one composition book with ripped pages where I held the pen so tight with anger and sadness. No one else ever has to read it, get it OUT of your system. Better out than in!

With gratitude to Marguerite for her wisdom so early in her own grief journey. http://eyeofthestormfoundation.org/2011/04/09/grieving-how-you-can-help/


Posted in engagement, friendships, funerals, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief, Grief triggers, Healing, hugs, Marguerite, Recovery, Regret, Remembering, Suicide, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gratitude for a Special Role Model

I had the opportunity to attend the WCET annual meeting last week. I haven’t attended the full meeting since 2009. I am appreciative to be a part of the WCET team, even if my work is not the most challenging or appreciated. My first WCET meeting was in 1997, 20 years ago when I presented about CU Online the first time.

I was moderating a panel discussion about the cost and price of distance education, based on the research I conducted with a colleague last year. One of my panel members is a colleague who was instrumental in the creation of the Western Governors University (WGU) in the late 1990s. She was someone who I looked up to at the time, and still do.

It was my plan to tell her about the influence she had on me as a young professional during the crazy start-up phases of CU Online and then WGU. I remember being heavy pregnant with Brendan in 1996 and watching her talk with incredible enthusiasm about the vision for WGU, how competency-based distance education would change lives. And it did! WGU has 80,000 students today and 90,000 graduates. They just celebrated 20 years this summer.

As it turned out the second day of the conference started with a panel of young female computer science students and recent graduates. These articulate young ladies talked about what it was like to still be the minority in most of their classes. They also talked about how they recognized and utilized their unique skills to be successful. Near the end of the panel, talk turned to the women who had inspired them, their role models. I just knew that now was the time to talk to Sally. She happened to be two tables away from me.

I approached her and said, “You know you were that person, a role model, to me.” She looked genuinely surprised, then touched. We shared a hug. Then she said, “You know that’s my Emma”, pointing to the young woman next to her. Emma and Patrick were the same age. We had discussed potty training strategies back in the day.

My eyes filled with tears and I said, “You know my Patrick…” She nodded, knowingly. Another big hug. I said, “I really want to talk to her, but it’s hard. You might have to explain why the lady had tears in her eyes.” Another hug.

Then I turned around and met Emma again, as a grown-up. I had a few wonderful conversations with her and her colleague from WGU over the course of the conference. Both are young people on the front lines at WGU, working daily with their students.

It was a full circle moment, and the highlight of conference for me.

Posted in friendships, Gathering, Grief, Growing Up, Healing, hugs, Recovery, Remembering, time | 1 Comment

Thousands of Lives Shattered

I have been struggling to write something about the devastating loss of life in Los Vegas this week. I sat looking at a blank blog page and flashing cursor for quite a while on Monday. I simply had no words. I was inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s discussion and his straight-forward words about gun control (specifically controlling access to automatic assault weapons). He simply said, “It’s a safety issue.”

And I am overwhelmed with grief for the many thousands of lives impacted by this tragedy. I know from my own experience that the ripple of an untimely death is wide and long-lasting. I keep thinking that my own grief experience is magnified by thousands. It makes me very sad. So today, I will simply re-post what I wrote a couple of years ago when I learned the news that another Jeffco students had completed suicide. We’ve had a few suicide attempts too close for comfort this fall and this lesson is timely, again.

Originally published in January, 2015:

We lost another Jeffco high school student to suicide this week. As I read the text from a friend, I found myself in tears. I know very little about the situation, but I do know that another family has been shattered. Anyone who hasn’t experienced the loss of a child, has no idea the long term effects on the family and friend group that are left behind. Any loss is devastating, but knowing that your loved one choose not to live in this world is just so hard to bear. The guilt, feeling like you didn’t see their pain, you didn’t do enough to help, is just awful. Patrick’s situation was not the typical, he gave us no chance to intervene, to put him into counseling or on medication. He just made a decision in the heat of the moment and we were faced with the consequences many hours later.

He was suddenly just gone from us, no explanation, just gone. There is forever a huge hole in our family. We are shattered.

It makes me wonder which is harder to face. Is it worse to have a loved one you know is at risk for suicide, to worry for days or years and ultimately, they take their own life anyway? Or is the fait accompli worse? I don’t know, I guess it really doesn’t matter. What I’ve learned through my own grief journey is that missing the person, no matter why they left too soon, that is key. How you come to terms with the hole in your life. How you find ways to keep their memory alive. How you recognize them on special days. How you ease your own pain and find comfort in the good memories. And how you eventually find the elusive “new normal” so that you maintain some stability for those who are left behind.

In the case of my boy, I feel that I must tell his story and I believe that it will inform the field of Gifted Education. My hope is that the research conducted by William and Mary (I have blogged about the study previously) will lead to better identification of GT kids at risk, and better interventions to stop this madness.

I fear that we are facing an epidemic of suicide among young adults. I have to do something, but I don’t even know where to start. I know that another Jeffco family is shattered and I don’t even know how to tell them that I’m sorry for their pain and I’m here to help if they ever want to talk about it…

They have just become members of the club that nobody wants to be a member of.

For that, I am sorry.

Posted in funerals, Grief, Grief triggers, guns, Jeffco, Regret, Remembering, Squaw Pass, Suicide, suicide prevention, Telling Patrick's Story, The Study | Leave a comment

Grief Burst at the Mexican Market

Saver’s Market Bakery Chips Patrick’s Favorite

Back to School week has been tough for me. I don’t like the constant scurry to procure odd school supplies that we weren’t informed about ahead of time. I don’t like to see my kids stressed when they are placed in a class that’s a bad fit. It’s hard to watch them go through the transition from happy go lucky summer schedule to waking up at ‘oh dark night’ to get a 6:30 am bus. And it always reminds me that one kid is not ‘rising’ to the next level. My friend Jenny blogged about being triggered in a coffee shop last week and the picture she painted stuck with me. I can kind of feel it when I’m due for a grief burst.

I have blogged about back to school previously, and I know that I have anticipation for it that doesn’t help the situation. But on Wednesday, I totally lost it at the Mexican market. It was my first day off in well over a week, so exhaustion was involved as well. I had to take Leisa back to her place that morning, so I texted Shane to see if I could take him out to breakfast. Shane is such a blessing to me and when I miss Patrick, a Shane hug and/or visit usually goes a long way to let me get those emotions out. He gets it and he lets me hold the hug as long as I need to. I really appreciate that.

Shane wasn’t feeling well so he declined the breakfast invitation. He did come down and give me a very big hug while I was at the Nugget. We visited for a few minutes and then I headed off to do some grocery shopping at the Mexican markets on Federal Boulevard. I got my fruits and vegetables at the one where I usually shop. But the Savers has the very best tortilla chips. They can’t be good for you, cooked in oil and the bottom of the bag is usually slippery from the oil leaching through the plastic. But boy are they good.

Patrick loved those chips. A couple of weeks before he died, I had bought four bags of them. I put two in the usual place and I hid two bags of chips so that Patrick didn’t eat them so fast. After he died, I kept thinking about the chips. I was convinced that he’d found my hiding spot and had devoured all the chips. I should add that Richy has since told me that he also loved them and that he was often party to complete demolition of a bag of chips over night.

A couple of months after Patrick’s death, I found the two hidden bags of chips. This threw me for a loop. I felt so guilty that I had denied Patrick these stupid $1.89 bags of chips. It truly was one of the biggest guilt trips I put myself on at the time. And the chips were stale, so I had to throw them out.

Subsequently, I’ve been able to face the Savers and buy the chips. But Wednesday, I had the bag of chips in hand (they’ve increased the size of the bag and increased the price to $2.99) at the register. There was a woman about my age and her daughter with a cart full of groceries ahead of me in line. There was only one register open.

So I put the single bag of chips on the snack cooler while I waited to pay for them. This nice lady said, “You go ahead of me, you only have the one thing.” I thanked her and then I told her about Patrick loving the chips and that he died. And I turned into a puddle in the middle of the check out at Savers. She was kind and asked if she could give me a hug. I let her.

I came home and ate some chips and salsa, just like Patrick’s used to. I sure do miss that kid.

Posted in Brendan, Emily, fall, friendships, Gratitude, Grief, Grief triggers, Healing, hugs, Patrick's friends, school, Shane, Traditions | Leave a comment

On Not Being There

Today is the Wyckoff family reunion. All the big boys are finally there this year, except mine.

Jeremy is the oldest and he lives nearby, so he’s never missed it that I’m aware of. Patrick was the next oldest and he’s missed it the last 7 years, but he often sends a prey bird over the marsh as an affirmation, just as we serve the lunch. Then came Matt and Caleb, both about a year younger than Patrick. Both have been busy with work the last few years and haven’t made it to the reunion. Actually, I think Matt came for the day last year, but didn’t hang at the beach with the Ohio cousins.

When we finally made it to a reunion after Patrick passed away, it was really hard for me to see all the kids hanging out, and Patrick wasn’t there. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been because at least the other big boys weren’t there. This year they are there and Brendan isn’t there to hang out with them. I remember so distinctly the last time Patrick hung out with all of his cousins at the last reunion at Buddy’s house. On the way to the airport he said, “Mom, why didn’t you tell me I had all these cool cousins?”

The boys had stayed up late into the night around the camp fire, with Aunt Gayle in charge. It was a very memorable time for my boys.

I’m sorry that Brendan and Emily can’t be there this year to just hang out on the beach with their cousins. Hopefully, next year.

Posted in beach, Brendan, Celebrations, family reunion, Food, Gathering, Regret, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

“Adulting” Then and Now

Sponge Bob was a favorite of Patrick’s.

With so many young people in my life, I have been witnessing a lot of “adulting” these past weeks and months. Add to that, Patrick would have turned 25 on June 25, and it takes me back to very vivid memories of when I was turning 25.

I was living in Boston with Becky and Jenny. Becky was a teacher, Jenny was working at Tufts as a researcher, planning for medical school. I was a year older than them and I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I recall vividly that this concern hit me really hard in the run up to my 25th birthday.

I got through the birthday weekend itself with the help of roommates and dear friends who surrounded me. Beth and Heather even made the drive from PA to help me celebrate. Michal took us all to the beach on Cape Cod.  A good time, and a fair amount of tequilla, was had by all. But when everyone left and the party was over, I was still worried about what I had not yet accomplished at 25. The anxiety was real and it motivated me to plan my next steps toward education and career.

I spent the next six months or so researching graduate schools, applying, updating my business skills, etc. I started my MBA the following June (while still 25 :). It all worked out, more or less, despite my very real anxiety about what the future held for me.

I see this same anxiety in Avery. He is stressing early, having turned 24 in February. But he has been faced with big decisions these past weeks. I have been blessed that he trusts me to talk through these things with. I had the honor of helping him pick out his first nice car over the past couple of weeks. I think we nailed it, a 2010 Outback, with 65,000 miles. We got him a car that looks brand new and will be reliable for his commute to Castle Rock, with a reasonable payment. Now he thinks maybe it’s “too nice”.

Avery starts his new job, with a desk and computer on June 26, the day after Patrick would have turned 25. It will be safer than working HVAC on the 27th floor of a half-built sky scraper. It pays more and there is room for advancement. They will even pay for school for him to finish his degree. He’s going to do just fine. As are the rest of the kids who are “adulting” around me.

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The Gang’s All Here!

We had a wonderful dinner and evening of fun last night with nearly all the boys. I made quesadillas again, and as often happens when I do, the kids come out of the woodwork to eat them. I blogged about this once before in 2015.

It started earlier this week when Avery came over to use the computer and get support looking into a job opportunity. I told him to come back Wednesday night since I was making quesadillas. He promised to bring vanilla ice cream if I’d made an apple crisp for dessert. There’s nothing quite like warm apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. So a plan was hatched.

Meanwhile, Shane texted Brendan that he wanted to hang out while Tyne visited with Abby and her Mom. Then since Shane was here too, someone suggested that Evan come over too since they don’t see each other as often as they’d like. He said he could make it, which was great news.

Finally, I said we better call Steven since he lives nearby and he really likes my quesadillas. All in all, I cooked for 9 people and used up every tortilla in the house. It was so great to see the kids all together (we missed you Sam!) laughing and sharing stories. They remain a great support to each other as they learn all about “Adulting” in this crazy world.

Having them here last night was particularly soothing for me. I had spent the day in a workshop focused on suicide prevention. I handled the day pretty well, and I was supported by my neighbor who lost her husband to suicide about a year before Patrick died and by another friend of the family, who was actually at the funeral. I came home from the meeting tired, but appreciative for the information that I learned. Now I can (maybe) engage in the conversation about whether someone has a suicide plan. As the kids all started to arrive, I felt appreciated and I just love knowing that they all remain in each other’s lives. I just know that Patrick was looking down on us last night as we assembled to eat and celebrate together.

Posted in Evan, Food, friendships, fun, Gathering, Gratitude, Growing Up, Healing, hugs, Patrick's friends, Recovery, Remembering, Shane, suicide prevention, Traditions, Tyne | Leave a comment

The March to March 16

I hate this week. I hate it every year. Now that I know what was going on with Patrick in the days leading up to his suicide, I march through these days with a heavy heart. I don’t know why he didn’t ask us to help him. I don’t know why he tried to hide the very adult situation he was trying to navigate. I am still furious that the little bitch lied about a pregnancy and my son is dead because of it.  I still can’t fathom that he thought killing himself was the best solution to this problem.

Having helped so many other kids doesn’t lessen my sadness and regret that I couldn’t help my own son, he never even gave me a chance. It makes me feel like a total failure.


Posted in Evan, Grief, Grief triggers, Regret, regrets, Suicide | Leave a comment