author/source: Wendy Juergens

Photo Courtesy of Nik ShuliahinNovember and December holidays are top of mind for most people. It’s the time of year when families and friends get together to give thanks and celebrate the new year. With the holidays come a myriad of emotions. For those trying to cope with mental illness, it’s a different story.  So many are suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. These people may be your friends, family members, or neighbors. Many times, we are not aware of their pain. Then there are those who are on the cusp of suicide. I am finding that suicide deaths are a total surprise. The majority of those who die by suicide show no sign of being in that much pain. Somehow, they can hide it, or people around them do not treat the moodiness, depression, or sadness of their friend or loved one as anything serious. Sometimes we need to reach out and ask if they are all right.

In my case, this is a time of year when my son who died by suicide in 2012 will show his heart. Yes, I’m talking about the spirit world. It makes me happy when I receive a sign that reassures me that he is okay. Signs help me to accept the difficult times we went through, and to forgive myself for my ignorance of how he was feeling upon his return from the Navy.

Photo Courtesy of WendyNick joined the Navy right after high school. He attended the Navy’s nuclear power school and then served on a submarine for four years. He came home after his discharge from the Navy in 2004. Things were different. I can only speak for myself because I didn’t ask Nick or anyone else how they were feeling, I found myself crying a lot with no idea why. I was sad that my son came home to the unknown. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He did not want to work in the field of nuclear power. Nick had always been sure of what he wanted and worked hard to accomplish those goals. I was blaming myself. Did I talk to anyone about it? Of course not. I did not realize until after Nick’s death that being on a submarine with his mates was like being part of a family. He was always a homebody, so joining the Navy was a big step for him. Leaving the Navy was an even bigger step because he was dealing with the more intense emotions of leaving his Navy family. None of us understood what he was going through and I’m sure if we asked, he would not have been able to or wished to tell us.

Once he figured out what he wanted to do, his mood improved. He told us that he was going to study funeral services. It was a surprise to everyone that he picked that profession, but I had an idea as to why. Nick had experienced quite a lot of losses in his life and never really processed the grief. He was a stoic man of few words. His losses included dogs and family members. I encouraged him as best as I could to talk about his feelings, but it was next to impossible. He did listen to what I had to say though, so he internalized and privately processed his feelings as best he could.

Photo Coutesy of Roberto NicksonChristmas may have been Nick’s second favorite holiday. I believe Halloween was his first. Christmas represented family gatherings, gift-giving, and fantasy. He believed in Santa for longer than most kids. I’ll never forget the day he came to me with a telephone number that he had written on a piece of paper. It was a number he could call and talk to Santa. I was going to allow it. I saw it had been advertised on TV so thought it would be okay. I told him I’d have to be sitting with him when he made the call. The next day he went to school and told a friend of his that he was going to call Santa. His friend questioned him and then said, “Nick, Santa Claus isn’t real.” Oh my. The bubble was burst. He was so angry when this happened. So we had the Santa talk. He listened intently but you could see the disappointment on his face. No tears, but truly hurt. Even as a young boy, he was very stoic. I ended our conversation with a request that he not tell his grandfather that there isn’t a Santa Claus. He asked why. “Because Papa still believes in Santa Claus.” His eyes got big and then a big smile. He could continue his Santa fantasy after all. I called my father to let him know what happened and he was so excited to play this game.

We always looked forward to decorating the tree together. Nick would take the time to examine every ornament – store-bought, handmade, old family ornaments, and ornaments that kids made over the years. Every ornament had a story. The stories changed over the years as we tended to elaborate upon each one. It was like taking a trip through time, traveling from one branch to another and from one ornament to the next. Such a variety of colors and textures tell stories of days past. I have since discarded a lot of the ornaments labeling the exercise “downsizing.” Really what I think was going through my head when I packed them away was that I couldn’t bear to look at those ornaments again without having Nick around to make fun of them, to have someone to share with, someone who would laugh about them along with me.

Photo Coutesy of WendyI cannot clearly remember our last few Christmases with Nick. He was struggling with depression since his return home from the Navy. It seemed to get worse every year, and I was struggling with my emotions as well. I was trying to do the right thing, and say the right words, but I will say today that I don’t feel I put enough effort into it. Nick’s last year was the most difficult. He was having trouble working, his relationships were being tested, and I think his search for a happier life seemed impossible. Still, he did not talk about these things. I learned of most of his struggles from his friends and peers after he passed. So, as Christmas comes into our lives once again, Nick is on my mind. What could we have done to make our last Christmases together happier, especially for him? As I look back on these days, I wish I had the wherewithal to pay more attention to everything that was going on, but I realize that it wasn’t possible for me. I was dealing with depression myself. Having an adult child struggling with mental health issues took my attention off the holidays. It also reminded me of the struggles I had when I was his age. They were not happy times for me which I’m sure affected others.

It wasn’t Nick’s last year with us, but maybe the year before, or the year before that I remember coming home to a decorated tree. As happened quite often, I think Nick was tired of waiting for me to say, “Let’s decorate the tree today.” I was such a procrastinator. The sadness I felt that night when I saw the decorated tree is to this day crushing. Why did I put it off? I knew Nick was struggling and that spending time with him decorating would have provided him some relief. I am sharing this story with you because I am imagining the pain Nick was feeling, but not sharing. And honestly, as I write this, I am processing my own emotions. We can’t know how someone is feeling emotionally, but we can ask. We can make sure we acknowledge our feelings in hopes that they will acknowledge theirs. We can practice being in the moment, which is something I was unable to do or was ignorant of back in the day. I recently read about someone feeling inadequate in a similar situation. They said they were lazy, they were procrastinators. Well, there it was. I was a pro and procrastination.  

Now, more than ten years later, I am hoping to receive a Christmas message. It will come in the form of a scent, a song, or maybe an item. For those of you reading this today who have lost a loved one, do you receive messages from them during the holidays – or any other significant days? I have a couple of stories of when I received a sign from Nick at Christmas. I believe in my heart that he sends me signs this time of year to let me know he’s okay and considering it is a difficult time of year, to give me something to laugh about.

Photo Courtesy of WendyDecember 13, 2013, Journal Post (our second Christmas without Nick)

Walking through a local Job Lot store today, attempting to do some late Christmas shopping. I was trying to distract myself from my sadness. Christmas just wasn’t the same anymore. While walking through the store, an odd scent swept into my nostrils. It was incensed. I looked around and there was no incense to be found, and certainly no burning incense. It started to fade, so I stopped in the aisle. The smell disappeared as quickly as it came. Maybe that’s the key- it got my attention. I was physically in the store but not mentally. I wasn’t paying attention to the task at hand, which was to find a gift. Getting frustrated, another odor caught my attention. It had a citrus smell. Again, I stopped and looked around. There were no oranges, no sprays, and nothing nearby that would have given off a citrus odor. So, here I stood in the store wondering where these odors were coming from.

Let’s start with the incense. Nick loved to burn incense. He would always have it burning in his room. I often wondered if he was trying to mask other odors in his room but concluded that he simply enjoyed incense. There’s a message there. It was so easy to buy Nick gifts because of his variety of interests and his enjoyment of simple, practical gifts. I would often purchase incense for him. If I bought it for myself, he would always help himself to my stash to try new scents.

The story behind the citrus odor is funny. Buddy and I picked Nick up for dinner one evening. Nick got into the back seat of our car, said his hellos, and then did one of his little giggles. Why he was giggling, we didn’t know. He wasn’t a big conversationalist, so everything seemed normal, until Buddy and I started noticing a citrus odor. Buddy was the first to ask, “What’s that smell?” Nick laughed. “It’s my new cologne. Do you like it? (pause) I think I put too much on.” We all laughed. It became the car deodorizer for the night.

So, there I was, wandering around the store smelling incense and then citrus. It didn’t occur to me until we were driving home that it was a sign from Nick. He was having fun with me. Buddy never picked up on any scents, so I’m sure the signs were directed at me only. I always gave Nick the benefit of the doubt that he was trying to help me with my Christmas spirit. It worked. He made me smile by bringing back happy memories.

Nick by Wendy JuergensDecember 8, 2014 Journal Entry: A Very Special Gift

Today was a sunny, cold day. I returned to my home office from a meeting around 11:00 a.m. My office assistant Amanda had arrived at the house a couple of hours earlier. I walked into her office to say good morning. She immediately told me that since arriving she had been hearing a very odd noise. She was alone in the house but usually felt safe having our two dogs in the house with her, but she had a look on her face that told me she was a little freaked out. She had been hearing this noise since she arrived. She had already opened the front door to see if she could hear anything and then went into the kitchen to listen. Nothing. When she walked back into the office, she heard it again! “What does it sound like?” I asked. Was it a noise an animal would make? A scratching noise? Was it a squeaky or creaking-type noise? She was having a difficult time trying to describe it. I assured her that I was staying home for the rest of the day and asked her to let me know if she heard it again. Just as I started walking out of her office, I heard “the noise.” It was a muffled, electronic-type noise, and it was coming from the corner of the office near the front door. There were about six boxes of Christmas decorations that we had taken down from the attic and stacked in the corner the weekend prior.

“Is that the noise you’ve been hearing?” She nodded yes. I said, “Okay - let’s find this noise.” I opened one of the boxes, took a couple of items out of it, and heard the noise again, but it wasn’t coming from that box. It was coming from another box. This was like a treasure hunt. I moved that first box aside and started opening another. As I was attempting to open the second box, I heard the noise come from yet another box. We started laughing at this point. “I think it’s this box!” As I started removing articles from the third box, I placed them one by one onto the floor, and then I heard it again. “It’s in here.” It was music. I recognized the tune and when I saw the source, memories came flooding back. Almost overwhelming. It was an old greeting card from Nick. The front of the card had “Mom” on it. Also on the cover was a picture of a red rose and the U.S. Navy insignia.

Photo of Nick Courtesy of Wendy Juergens“It’s Nick!” I said excitedly. It was a Mother’s Day card in amongst Christmas items. I’m sure I put it there out of laziness, figuring it would be a safe place for it. That’s why I have a difficult time finding things that I put in a “safe” place. I lifted the card out of the box and opened it. It was one of those musical cards. Elvis was singing “Love Me Tender Love Me Do.”

Nick sent that card to me while stationed at Pearl Harbor, so the card had to be at least fourteen years old. Who would expect a musical card - that old - to still play? It was not only that,  but it was playing while it was closed! (Are you freaked out yet?) I held the card in my hands, looked at it, looked up at Amanda, and said, “Can you believe this?” I opened the card and it played again. I closed the card and it stopped. I opened it again and listened until the music stopped. That was the last time that card played. Amanda was awestruck. We had had many conversations about Nick, so much so that Amanda felt like she knew him. On occasion, she had felt his presence in the office, but she wasn’t sure what she was experiencing that morning. Nick loved buying gifts and cards for people, gifts and cards that were specific to the person he was gifting, so I considered this card to be a very special gift from Nick. Once again, he was giving me a sign that he was okay and that he loved me. One of Nick’s other favorite things to do was to scare people, so I wondered if this happened to scare Amanda. It makes perfect sense to me. I know he would have liked her, so she would have been someone he would tease.

So, I now wonder what THIS December will bring!

Wendy JuergensBIO:  

Wendy lives in Norton, MA, is married, has two children (one living and one deceased), and has two grandchildren. She is very proud of her two sons, who both joined the military out of high school and during their enlistment became non-commissioned officers. In May of 2012, Wendy lost her youngest son to suicide. She has had many personal challenges in her life, but the suicide has been the most extraordinary.

For over 18 years, Wendy has worked with a nutritional supplement company that uses the direct sales business model. Also 18 years ago, she and her husband founded a more traditional company - a septic pumping company that they called Pump Grump. The company’s tagline was “You’ll be happy with the grump.” She believes they reached excellence in branding with that name.

Wendy’s specialties include sales, networking, training, team building, speaking, writing, and editing. Upholding the importance of integrity and using humor are her two mainstays.

You can connect with Wendy: