Updated: Feb 4
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 the University of Iowa Hospitals. I prayed from a miracle, but in my heart, I knew the time had run out to fix Eric's pain just 14 months after his father's 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 with no sleep after my arrival a few hours earlier. She reminded me, I knew my son, what he would want, our bond and this situation 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 believed 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 too, who had been in my life for more than 35 years?
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 took 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." Thankfully a dear friend, also a liver recipient, helped me remain committed to my decision. 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 that I continue to share 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 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 they use 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 also know Eric was a profound lover from his heart, tender soul, and lover of life. He loved me, his family, 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 and around his father's death. That conversation stays imprinted in your heart forever.
In preparing for Eric's Celebration of Life months later, first in Georgia and then in Iowa, I went back to the Chaplain's original advice to me - doing what Eric would want, when I thought I was ready to could handle it. Provide a true celebration of my amazing son. Friends and family helped me create beautiful celebrations for Eric. The Dash poem written 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 | attended these celebrations. As a mom, you always want to brag about your kids. I think most of you can relate!
Therapists, doctors, a personal trainer, equine 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 even 5, you'll start to find joy and happiness again. Eric will never leave my thoughts of him a thousand times a day, but you do start accepting you and your life has been forever changed. Being a problem solver in a 'quick-fix world' well....it took far more time than I could have imagined just to accept and begin understanding 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 healthily.
Self-introspection and discovery require an extraordinary amount of hard work, especially when it includes every area of life, and you are without any prior 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.
I struggled to balance my grief with the life-changing joys Eric's organ recipients were experiencing, yet I posted away. EVERYONE circled, bonded, and stayed with me, sent messages, posted on my page, sent cards, books, gifts, 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 before it's too late, then the surgery, and prayers 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 being diagnosed with Cancer several days before 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, or know how I would get through the 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 by my side when no one can really ever understand the pain. 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, Washington, and Georgia 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, drastically changing both of our lives.
As I move forward, I am working on a #mullensmiracles website that will focus on Suicide Prevention and Organ Donation Awareness. When it is ready for the public, I hope you will continue to follow Eric's story and help others with me too.