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A New Normal

Bridget Connelly

As I sit down to write this, many thoughts are running through my mind. Memories, thoughts, feelings and a whole hell of a lot of emotion. Emotions ranging from hope, peace, brokenness, anger, sadness and pain. Pain that I can feel in every ounce of my being, from my fingers down to my toes. Pain so strong that oddly enough I feel numb. Facing death and loss is a hardship we all have to face. Pain is a part of life. But in the last year the number of tragic losses has been too many. How do we carry on with our lives when our worlds around us feel like they are crumbling before us? How do we keep moving forward when the blows have been too many for any person to face? I don’t have the answers for that. But I’m going to keep trying.

When someone is taken from us too soon, it just doesn’t feel fair. I question God. I get angry with God. I try to find comfort in God. Even in the depths of my hurting, I try to find hope that there is going to be a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Death has faced my loved ones and I in challenging ways this last year — car accidents, cancer, unexplainable situations, and suicide.  When you lose someone in these ways, sometimes suddenly, questions abound in the midst of the agony. Why them? What if I could have been there? What if I could have done something differently? What if they didn't leave at that time? What if I called them? Why didn't I tell them something different? But the questions that seemingly never end, could make us go crazy. My cousin Kelly so bravely reminded us all about the 3 C’s. You did not cause it, you cannot control this and you cannot cure this. We have to try and dig deep to know there was nothing we could have done. Life will happen no matter what we try to do to fix, change, or take care of. We have to let go of control and know that God is the only one in control. Something I have to remind myself daily.

Suicide is a subject that is so difficult to touch on. Even typing the word makes my stomach churn, but unfortunately we don't talk enough about it. Suicide awareness and prevention has to come to the forefront. Mental Illness, Depression, Anxiety — these are topics that have such stigma against them and it needs to end. 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness. It’s a disease, just like cancer, or anything else. It’s a sickness of the mind and body and in most cases unexplainable. When we have an illness, such as cancer, in some ways it’s easier to grasp. It is a downright horrible disease, but we understand it better. We know there are treatments in cases and we know that, painfully, there are not in others. We can physically see it and work at curing this ugly animal. With mental illness this is not so much the case. It’s extremely challenging to understand why it affects some and not others. Why does it come about? How does one feel facing this? What is going on in their brain? One day might be good, another day might be the lowest of lows. This is not to put aside how terrible any other diseases are, but mental illness is unattainable, yet so many face it, and yet so little talk about it.

My cousin Patrick, he was one of a kind. My favorite memories with him growing up included — playing “house” in the Mullins basement (sorry Pat), swimming and playing in Lily Lake for hours on end, and our endless family parties filled with laughter. He was soft spoken, quite witty, as intelligent as they come, and was so proud to be a Mullins. Patrick had suffered from depression and mental illness for the last few years. He didn't want this. He didn't choose the feel this way. He woke up every day and he gave it his all. Some days painfully harder then others, but he worked at himself every day. He fought the good fight. We are so proud of our Patrick.

When I got the call last Thursday that we lost Patrick, my world started crumbling before my eyes. I couldn’t fathom a life without him. As I caved in my grief crying out and shaking at this news, my mind went to his family. His sisters and mother who cherish him so immensely, and my Uncle Mark, whose bond with Patrick is something to be in awe of. I sank lower and lower in my misery. I could not wait to get home to Chicago and be with my family.

Our hearts shrank to next to nothing when we got this news, but as my Uncle Mark said, being surrounded by our incredible, supportive family in these last few days, it has helped our hearts start to grow and beat again. I'm realizing more and more how special it is to have cousins, aunts and uncles that are essentially my brothers, sisters, and extra parents. They are my everything. We have clung to each other, cried out, and wept until we have felt there is nothing left to give. 

It has been a journey of grief and pain that I can’t describe, but watching Pat’s immediate family hold it together, honor Patrick and be strong for us has blown me away. My Uncle Mark gave a speech at Pat’s wake and funeral and told us to get it together. Ha! That’s why we love him. He reminded us that Pat didn't want this. He didn't want to be sick like this, but he gave everything he could until he could no longer keep battling. He wants us to be happy — to remember the good years and time that God blessed us with Pat. He shared with us his notes he had written that he kept by his bedside. Pat worked at being positive every single day. They were reminders to be happy, to be strong, to see the light, to remember there is always hope, to live life to the fullest, to embrace every day and to remember that his family understands. We did and we do and we will never forget. Reminders that come so naturally to some, but living with this illness, these thoughts are anything but natural. It is a full blown war inside, while still trying to keep these things in perspective. 

Mark reminded us, that this is about suicide. This needs to be talked about more as does mental illness, depression and awareness. It’s something I will continue to talk about and spread knowledge about for the rest of my life. I ask you to do the same. Each and every one of us faces battles within us. We have our pains, our demons, our pasts, our brokenness. I know myself, I struggle with anxiousness and feelings of always trying to be in control of my surroundings. It’s something I have to continually work at and refine. I know the wounds of my past, the grief of losses and I try to face these head on. But I certainly have days that are a downright struggle.

Aside from mental illness and depression, life can still just get you down. Big time. And guess what? It’s OK to be sad, people. It’s ok to feel anxious, worried, lost, confused and broken. But you have to remember you are not alone. Everyone has something in one way or another. In this day and age it's so easy to fall victim to this social media bubble — which shows a highlight reel of our lives. But the reality is, that’s not real life and life is just hard at times. It’s ok — feel it, all of it, break down, grieve it and lose it when you need too. But reach out and tell someone. Let someone know you are hurting or are in pain. We were brought in the world to help each other, to love each other and to carry the burden of each other when it’s too much to carry on our own. I know I would not have been able to get through this week had loved ones not been carrying me through it. If it’s too hard to share with a friend or family member, call a counselor or therapist. It is SO healthy and normal to do this. Honestly, most people should. Don’t be scared. Don’t feel embarrassed. Don't feel weird or different.  No one should have to face a battle alone. You are loved, you are cherished, you are worthy and you are NOT alone. 

Even when when it feels like everything is falling apart, like the grief is too much to face every day, like there is no way out of your situation, remember there is. Taking your life is not the answer. It doesn’t solve anything. It leaves so many in immense, body encompassing, heart-wrenching pain. It may seem in the moment, this is the only thing to cure yourself, but please know it’s not. There is ALWAYS hope. Do not be afraid. Pain and sadness can be brutal, but pain does not last forever. These feelings are temporary and you mustn't forget that. God wants you to be happy. He wants you to have a good life. He doesn't wish this pain for us. At times it feels like evil can take over the good, but good will always reign in this life. Don't lose hope. 

Watching my family and a family I cherish lose another loved one this week after Patrick, has brought me to a place of suffering I didn't know existed. Holding onto our family friends, wailing, crying and grieving another loss. It makes no sense. I’m worried about my family and friends. I’m angry as hell. I'm completely terrified. I just don't get it. These past few agonizing days will always be engrained in my mind, body and soul. I’m going to let myself feel this pain for right now. I need too. I also know I need to be strong for those who I cherish and cannot stand on their own. But we must grieve in order to pick our broken pieces up and begin to heal. If we suppress our pain we may feel temporarily alright, but that pain will make its way back out in some form or another. It could leave us worse off then before, if we don’t face it head on. In the midst of this pain, I’m finding comfort in the fact that I’ve seen some of the deepest wounds heal. They may leave us with scars, but they are reminders of sometime, someone, or something. Good or bad these scars make us who we are and who we are supposed to become.

I like to think that grief is love turned inside out. We love so deeply, so we hurt so deeply when someone leaves us behind. But hurting is a way to remember them, feel them and love them, which we will never stop doing. Our lives will forever be changed from these losses, but somehow someway, life will still go on. This life without them is our "new normal." On Patrick’s mass card it stated, “God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the Best.” Our broken hearts will heal one day at a time, but will always feel different. I'm finding some peace knowing God received the best angels this past week. They will live on with us forever.

My cousin Kathleen shared with us her favorite Harry Potter quote this week at her brother's funeral. She reminded us that, "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." We will keep remembering that. That's what our loved ones above us would want.  To find happiness in the midst of these broken places. To turn the light on, every day. Even when life deals you an unfair hand, and people are taken from us too soon, we are still here. We still get to live this life, which is ultimately a gift. We are not promised tomorrow. So let's try and live the life those who we have loved and gone before us would have wanted us too. Like my cousin Patrick always said, “Embrace today, There's always hope, Be happy, and Live LIFE to the fullest. And damnit I’m going to for you, Pat. <3


Please keep the Mullins and Haefner families in your prayers. 

For more information and to support awareness and research on mental illness please see here

For more information on suicide awareness and prevention please see here

If you're in need of someone to talk too and are struggling, please do. You are worth it. Please call here: 1-800-273-8255

To donate and help support the Haefner family please see here

In loving memory of some of the Best Angels <3: Mary Jean and Robert Connelly, Rachel Smylie, Kevin “Otis” Green, Anne Smedinghoff, Mike Reeney, Tom Marshall, John Malone, Patrick Mullins, Mike Maddock, Debbie Brandt, Tom Klepeck, Mr. Murray, Kathleen O’Brien, Deirdre Haefner