It's been a year; actually, 365 days plus a week since the initial call to me from a friend of Eric's letting me know that Eric had fallen fast into a very dark space and desperately needed help. I was fortunate to get a flight a few hours after the initial call to get to U of Iowa Hospitals. I prayed from a miracle, but in my heart, I knew time had run out to fix the pain Eric carried from his father’s death just 14 months before his own death. It was too late to do more than hold his hand, talk to him, enact Plan B (Organ Donation) and start the process of letting him go with myself, family, and a few very close friends.
The advice I held on to was from the Chaplin given to me at 5 in the morning after my arrival a few hours earlier and no sleep. She reminded me, I knew my son, what he would want, our bond, and this was between him and me to figure out how to handle — no one else. I thought about her words a lot over the next hours, days, and months to come. Not everyone agreed with my decisions yet; I always beleived I did the right thing for Eric and me. Have you ever been a mom who lost her only child 14 months after losing his father, who had been in your life since you were 21 years old?
One of the decisions I knew without question was Eric wanted to be an Organ Donor. It was a family thing. Eric has decided to donate tissue, bone, and cartilage of his father after he passed. I didn't know much about the organ donation process, but I quickly learned that would elongate the process of letting Eric go by an additional five days for me. It was a lot of work to coordinate - the guy organizing the organ donations was on three phones at once part of the time. Those five days were very, very hard. I can't even describe how hard. I almost said, "I can't do this anymore." I am so grateful I hung in there.
I knew no matter what, I had to live. Eric and I always had a powerful bond and love, even when we didn't agree with each other. And a ton of memories and photos to share that with others. There is very little you can do when the person you love the most in the entire world is leaving this world except to be able to tell their story. Death is a part of life, but the loss is tough to accept. Out-of-order death is unexplainably harsh. That is the term used when you lose a child. Pain so severe you can't find relief. When taking your own life, there are no words to describe what that does to a parent, family, and friends. Suicide happens far too frequently.
I know Eric was a lover from his heart, tender soul, and huge lover of life. He loved me, his family, his friends, and people he didn't even know because that was the kind of guy Eric was. He had told me, "Mom, I don't want to die but I don't know how to live" as he was trying to adjust to the factors in his life around his dad's death. That conversation stays in your heart forever.
In preparing for Eric's Celebration of Life in Georgia and then in Iowa months later, when I thought I could handle it, I went back to the Chaplain's original advice. Provide a true celebration of my amazing son. Friends and family helped me create beautiful celebrations for Eric. The Dash poem by Linda Ellis was handed out, and to date, I think I have given about 800 cards with that poem inscribed. Thank you to everyone who helped me and attended these celebrations. As a mom, you always want to brag about your kids. I think most of you can relate! Check out my Mom's Love to Brag page full of photos and videos so you can get to know my son.
Therapists, doctors, personal trainer, horse therapy, books, FB pages, posting a zillion pictures of Eric and stories couldn't even begin to prepare me for all that was ahead. Family and friends stuck with me when I would have cried uncle because I had had enough of me. Have you ever wondered not for a day or two or even a week, if you would ever experience any emotion beyond sadness | deep darkness for the rest of your life? Many months later, the deep darkness started to lift. The same message came to me over and over everywhere I turned for help; you will never be the same yet in time, plan on 18 months to 3 years or more and then you'll start to find joy and happiness again. Being a problem solver in a quick-fix world well....it took more than a month for me just to accept and begin understanding just that one message. Acceptance of things you don't want to in life is hard. Quite honestly, I just wanted to wake up from this nightmare and Eric to be here with me. Reality is a reality, whether you accept it or not. I knew I was better working with reality, especially if I genuinely wanted to live the rest of my life in a healthy manner, sharing Eric's legacy with others.
Self-introspection and discovery require an extraordinary amount of hard work, especially when it comes to areas of life; you are without experience or knowledge. I didn't know a thing about grieving the loss of my only child to suicide, nor would I recommend learning how to handle suicide loss with any person in your life. Nor did I know how to balance my grief with the life-changing joys Eric's organ recipients were experiencing yet I posted away, and EVERYONE circled, bonded, and stayed with me, sent messages, posted on my page, sent cards, books, called and through an uncharted walk with the recipient families I believe we quickly became a part of each other lives forever! WOW! That was the best gift ever... to see the recipients' gratitude in a manner I couldn't even begin to explain. All I know is if you think you are having a bad day, listen to what someone's life is like waiting for an organ transplant and what they go through just in the hope they have another day. And how sick they have become to even get on a donation list and then wait for the call, praying they get the call, the surgery, and their body accepts the organ. The freedom for them is unexplainable, having the gift of life and their gratitude is unbelievable. I have a video I encourage you to watch #mullensmiracles from the Organ Donor walk | picnic we held with some of Eric's donors, families, and friends in Iowa City, August 17th, 2019. A day to be treasured forever by all of us.
We made it back to my parents within less than 12 hours after that event to tell my dad goodbye after he had been diagnosed with Cancer several days prior to his passing. My dad was always a hero for me, and I am at peace, knowing Papa and Eric are together again. My third rock in my family to be gone two years and two days apart from each other.
I must be a bit of a strong-willed survivor even though many days I didn't know how to get up, function, and get through a day. I continue to work on my recovery every day.
This journey has been far from smooth... feathers have been ruffled more than once - mine and those of others. I believe I have made the best decisions for me and what Eric would have wanted.
I can't express the gratitude I have for each of you who have been on this journey with me and have supported me to keep going. I miss Eric and will until we are together again. I look for the smiles he promised me every day. I have many Angel treasures from feathers at the right time to heart-shaped rocks and many things in between.
I am honored to share a very special thank-you going out to Jeff Pike for having the gifts of patience, love, and support for me on this journey as we forge ahead with our lives. You committed to stick by me, and you have never wavered even on the tough days. Thank you for always standing up for me with others that really can't understand. Neither of us could have begun to imagine the impact on each of us and those in our lives. It is funny to think we have hiked more than Eric did between Oregon and now GA when it was HIS thing! We have hit trails on both the PCT and Appalachian - hikes Eric had planned in his future. Thanks for hanging with me, saying yes to adventures that have provided me the strength to keep living.
May you find peace in your life...
Eric's Mom, Kathy
Can I just say WOW!!!
What an incredible event. Powerful stories...New friendships...Lives forever changed.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart! - Kathy Mullen
“In 2017, my son Eric closed on purchasing his first home at the age of 25 — saving pretty much everything he made to buy this home. Eric was so very proud of himself. His journey hadn’t been an easy one, yet he had finally found a space he was comfortable in with life.
Two days after closing, Eric arrived at his dad’s to start his moving adventure. It was cut short as within 10 minutes of Eric’s arrival, Larry, a diabetic for more than 40 years, had a heart attack from which he did not recover. Eric and Larry’s girlfriend were able to revive Larry, get paramedics and have him transferred to the @uihealth. With all of the miracles the hospital tried, and with with heavy hearts, it was time to let Larry go. We were able to donate tissue to help others.
Losing his father was a significant struggle for Eric. Some things he just wasn’t able to overcome, like the pride in himself of purchasing his first home and his father never seeing it. More challenging though was having to remove his father from life support while holding his hand as he took his last breath. It was devastating beyond words for Eric.
As a mother, there is nothing more heart wrenching than to watch your child in pain and be helpless on ‘fixing’ life. Eric and I were very close, and we kept close tabs and we tried to get him help. Many friends and family were there for never-ending support for us. Mental health availability with the qualifications to truly help Eric were non-existent in Iowa.
Months later, Eric moved to the Atlanta, Georgia area. He was able to spend the summer of 2018 with us, getting the help he so desperately needed. He completed an outpatient rehab program, found an incredible PTSD therapist and had registered to finish his degree.
We had made a trip back to Iowa together to clean out his house and get it ready to be rented out. We ran out of time to complete everything so he returned to finish up things such as cleaning out the garage, which held a lot of his dad’s things, sell his dad’s truck and a project car they were both working on.
In the end, Eric made the last trip by himself and I stayed at home. It had been an incredible struggle in so many ways — balancing my love for Eric, helping him, taking care of me and trying to hold on to my job.
One thing that Eric shared with me after his father passed that will always stick with me is, ‘Mom, I don’t want to die, but I don’t know how to live.’ Profound. I understand far more deeply than I could have ever imagined after losing my only child, my beautiful Eric. He stole my heart the minute he was born and continues to share it with me every day.
Eric’s last text to me promised to smile for me every day. Now, these smiles come in the form of Eric’s organ recipients, their families, many friends, and sometimes strangers. But I always look, knowing he is close by, forever.
There is no way to the ease the pain of my losses except with time and knowing the gift of life these amazing men gave to others. Take the time to educate yourself on organ donation. Discuss with your family. Update your wishes so they are noted properly. Life is precious and organ donation is a gift that is truly priceless.
I am blessed to have the honor of three of Eric’s organ recipients and their families and friends in my daily life along with an amazing support system made up of family and many, many friends.
Never underestimate a memory, a photo, a conversation, hug, kiss, or an opportunity to have a kind word with others or most importantly, sharing the gift of life. You never know how many more memories you will have the opportunity to create.
Take a quick moment to appreciate life and those surrounding you with their love and support. Create a memory. Make a difference. Smile.”
Let me share with you the story about my tattoo...
Whaaat? Me a tattoo???
Well, I did it. On Halloween. No other day would have been right to do something that indeed was a bit out of character for me.
Halloween. That was almost more important at our house than Christmas. Starting with Eric's first Halloween when he was just five months old. Larry, his dad, set him inside of the pumpkin. The decorations year after year got bigger and better. Eric was more excited about having a Halloween party than a birthday party.
On top of that, my parent's wedding anniversary was on Halloween. There are some stories to tell about their costumes for parties. We'll save those for another day.
Now that we have gotten Halloween out of the way, why I choose to get a tattoo. And that one.
Years ago, I had learned that Amy Bleuel, inspired by her struggle with depression, mental illness, suicide attempts, and loss of her father to suicide, initiated a project turning the semicolon (;) into a symbol of hope and love for those who were struggling. I have also seen the (;) used as a symbol of hope and continuation, an affirmation that we have the power to move forward.
With experiencing the tragedy of losing the most important person in my life ever, I needed a way to be able to talk about Eric with ease. Trust me, mental illness, suicide, and death are not topics people are comfortable discussing. With the (;) project already in place, so is an awareness of the meaning as a tattoo. The heart symbolizes our love, the placement of the (;) is a reminder for me. I am keeping hope and the power to move forward.
Eric's physical being may be gone from this life, yet he lives on in many others, and I pray together; we can share love and hope with others to keep on living.
Can you help me with sharing this message with others who struggle?
P.S. It is the most personal and meaningful thing I have ever done for me.