Grace: To Mom, From Deegan

Oh hey.

I’m a nurse.  And a mom, and a wife, and a daughter, and a sister.  I’m a granddaughter, and a niece, and a cousin, and a friend. And there’s one hat that I wear no matter which role I’m playing at the time: I’m a fixer.  When someone has a problem, big or small, I want to fix it for them.  I’m a people pleaser, sometimes to a fault.  I will wallow in my own misery before I make someone else uncomfortable, and I DO NOT like asking for help.  

We always taught our boys: Never watch someone struggle.  If you see someone with their hands full, open the door for them. If you have $20 and your friend doesn’t have any money, buy him a Slurpee too. If you see someone hurting, find a way to make their day a little better. Meanwhile I’d be the girl walking to my car with 69 bags of groceries and a baby on my hip, and if someone asked me if I needed help, I’d say, “No, I got it!  Thank you though.”

When we were told that Deegan was gone, I couldn’t even pick myself up out of the street.  I remember very little about the rest of that day.  What I do remember is the people that love us sweeping in to take care of us, without question.  While I sat there in the street that day, my son Christopher’s best friend – my honorary third child – and his girlfriend, came to comfort me.  And at that very moment, I took off my “fixer” hat for the first time in as long as I could remember.  

When we got back to our house – I couldn’t tell you how that happened – friends and family began to arrive.  Some of them had been gathered in the road, waiting to support us when we learned that our son was gone, and came back to our home with us.  Someone brought gas to our truck (we ran out of gas on the way to him – we were too afraid to stop, trying to make it to him in time), and drove the truck and our boat home.  Someone backed the boat up our driveway, which is not for the faint of heart.  It’s long, and curvy, and it ends at the top of a hill.  Someone emptied the cooler, and unloaded all of our other belongings from the boat.  Someone put the cover on it.  Pizza was delivered, cases of water appeared.  We didn’t ask, these things just happened.  I’m thankful for that because I would have never asked for help on my own, but that day, I desperately needed it.

My best friend swooped in and began taking care of all of the things.  All week, she was the first to come, and the last to go.  She and her husband rearranged their entire lives that week to take care of us.  I remember thanking her husband for letting me hog her, and he simply said: She’s where she needs to be.  She’d bring muffins and fruit in the morning so the people coming and going would have something to eat.  When she saw that first morning that I was nibbling the fruit, the next day she brought extra because she knew I would eat it.  She walked my dog, and received my guests.  I remember her asking me when the last time was that I did “big” grocery shopping (thankfully, I’d just gone), because she didn’t want me to have to worry about anything in the weeks to come.  

I didn’t ask anyone to do anything for me when Deegan died.  I wouldn’t have.  I love to host friends and family.  When people come to my home, I like them to feel welcome.  I want them to feel cozy.  I want them to stay, and chat awhile.  Maybe it comes from growing up with an Italian father – I like to feed people.  Mangiare! Eat!  It fills my cup.  But here was my best friend of 28 years, greeting my friends and family, and making sure they were fed.  Making sure I was fed.  

I remember Deegan’s visitation.  It was from 2-9pm, the Friday after he died.  I remember being exhausted, having spoken to dozens of people already.  I told myself to hang in there, that it was almost the end of the night.  And then I looked down at my watch to find that I’d only been there 45 minutes.  I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of people that came to say goodbye to my son, and the grief I felt wishing that he could have known how loved he was.  I remember Libby’s mom pulling me aside that night, along with my husband and my son.  She corralled us into the kitchen area at the funeral home, and made us eat.  She’d ordered dinner for my husband and my son, and warmed up the chicken soup that I’d brought with me.  My father asked me the night before what he could do for me, and I asked for his chicken soup.  That was at 9 o’clock at night, 4 nights after his 17-year-old grandson had driven his car into a tree, taking his own life.  And my father went out, bought all of the things he would need, and made chicken soup for me to have the next day.  Libby’s mom stood guard in the kitchen, and told people they couldn’t talk to us until we ate.  I remember Libby checking on me throughout the visitation.  Making sure I drank water, and bringing me furry slippers when I was six hours in and my feet couldn’t take my heels for five more seconds. 

I didn’t ask for anyone to do any of those things that week, and yet there they all were.  And for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t say, “You don’t have to do that, I got it.” 

I tell people that I still see the good that Deegan does down here.  His death forced me to take care of myself, and to allow other people to take care of me.  I’m so fortunate to have a support system that extends from my husband and son, all the way to strangers in my community – some of whom have become my friends.  I follow a podcast for mothers grieving the loss of a child.  They tell you that when you lose a child, you need to give yourself grace.  They also say that when your child dies, people don’t know what to say.  So they want to help.  Let them.  

And so I did.

I learned to say, “Yes, I would love that.” and “Thank you!”, instead of, “No, I got it, but thank you anyhow.”  I learned to say, “Would you mind helping me with…”, instead of becoming silently overwhelmed with everything I was trying to do to take care of everyone else.  I also learned to say no.  Unapologetically, no excuses given, just no.  It’s been one of the best self care techniques I’ve ever come across.  Better than yoga, or running (okay let’s be honest, I’ve never run a day in my life), or getting a pedicure.  No, because I really don’t want to.  No, because I could, but it would make me miserable, and no because I do need to give myself grace.

I still want to make people happy.  I still want to be kind, and make people feel welcome.  I still want to be the fixer when I can.  But not at the compromise of my own mental health.  And that, friends, is the key I think.  Yes, I can pick up that shift for you on my Saturday off so you can go to your kid’s baseball game.  No, I can’t skip my kid’s game to do it.  No, I really don’t want to hang out in the garage.  But I’ll bake some chocolate chip cookies for you while you’re out there. No, I do not want to go golfing because I suck at it, but I’ll come along for the company.  You can be kind, and still say no.

And you can also say yes!  Yes, I would love a cup of coffee, thank you! Yes, I would love it if you kept my dog for me while we’re out of town, it would make me feel a lot better about leaving her.  Yes, I would LOVE it if you responded to those emails so I don’t have to.  

Deegan has taught me to give myself grace.  To put as much into taking care of myself as I do into taking care of others.  He’s taught me to give others the opportunity to return the favor when they’d like to.  And he’s taught me that those things are okay.  I don’t deserve those things because my son died, I deserve that because I’m human.  We all deserve to give ourselves grace.  Maybe give yourself a little.   

1 thought on “Grace: To Mom, From Deegan”

  1. People did all of those things for you because they love you. They love you because of who you are and to my knowledge have always been. God gave us the ultimate grace…you deserve more than your fair measure. May his peace, that passes all understanding surround you, Chris and Christopher.

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