Meet Mikey

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Meet Mikey. 

Husband to Emily. Father to Blakely. Uncharted Trail adventurer.


I had the real pleasure of joining Mikey and 3 of his closest friends early in August for an Uncharted Trail weekend in the North Georgia mountains. After some hiking, intentional conversations, hot tub time, waterfall swimming, and a few heated games of Settlers of Catan late into the night it's easy to see why Mikey is so loved by his friends and family!

I was introduced to Mikey through a shared acquaintance while his daughter Blakely was still in utero. Blakely was diagnosed during pregnancy with alobar holoprosencephaly, a condition that comes with a pretty discouraging outlook: many children with this diagnosis don't survive childbirth or live much longer after birth because of the compromised brain development. Knowing that I had gone through something similar with my son, Ezekiel, our mutual acquaintance connected us so I could share some of my insight and experience with Mikey. We talked on the phone a few times and texted some, but I had never met Mikey in person before this weekend.

Without going into too much detail, thankfully Blakely DID survive childbirth and lived a beautiful (and difficult) 10 months before passing away. Mikey chronicled his family's journey in a much more beautiful way than I ever could at https://blakelybumblebee.com/

 

On top of Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail)

On top of Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail)

After Blakely's passing, I reached back out to Mikey to offer him an Uncharted Trail weekend experience. After sharing the vision, he was hooked!

It takes at least 2 months to coordinate the right weekend, contact the friends, and make the accommodations necessary when customizing an entire weekend, but Mikey was looking 5-6 months down the road because of his summer work commitments. The longer timeframe worked to our advantage because finding a common weekend where 4-5 people all from different cities can meet up is definitely a challenge! Thankfully, 3 of Mikey's longest-running and most intentional friends were able to make it for a weekend we'll all remember!

 

All of our crew was traveling from Florida and south Georgia, but Mikey wanted a weekend in the mountains, so we made the most of our 8+ hour road trip up I-75 to Blairsville, GA, which is about 2 hours north of Atlanta, with some time getting to know each other, hearing each other's stories, and laughing about the dumb stuff dudes talk about on road trips.

The guys did me a huge favor and opted to travel through Athens on our way to Blairsville, so I was able to show them around beautiful North Campus of my alma mater, The University of Georgia, and treat them to my cheap college restaurant of choice, Barberitos. We also took a chance to ring the historic Chapel Bell...even though they weren't sure if I was setting them up to get in trouble!

 

Treating some FSU fans to the true "Harvard of the South"!

Treating some FSU fans to the true "Harvard of the South"!

After dinner in Athens, and a beautiful ride up through the mountains, we made it to our cabin ready to rest and truly start the weekend.

We made it to the mountains!

We made it to the mountains!

The first intentional conversation on an Uncharted Trail weekend is all about "Now". We give our main adventurer the opportunity to share openly and honestly about how the tragedy and trauma they've endured has changed them. It takes some soul-searching and a deep commitment to brutal honesty, but it's the most cathartic experience of the weekend. It's one of those "what happens on the trail, stays on the trail" conversations that some might call sacred. I'll suffice to say that Mikey's love for his wife and his daughter was on full display... and we all resorted to a roll of toilet paper because I forgot to buy tissues for the night!

After getting out more tears than most of us usually share amongst men, we hit the hot tub! Nothing quite like 5 dudes in a tiny hot tub to accelerate the bonding process!

No, it's not a time machine.

No, it's not a time machine.

Saturday is the big adventure day!

We took on a hike from Vogel State Park up to the Blood Mountain summit on the Appalachian Trail up 2,250 ft of elevation change through the nasty Georgia summer humidity. Over 9.5 miles. 4+ hours. At least 1600 calories burned. Literally puddles of sweat. A power nap on the summit. A dip in the lake after the hike. And some authentic southern BBQ when we were all done.

It was glorious!

 

The final two intentional conversations on an Uncharted Trail weekend are titled "New" and "Next".

NEW basically asks - "Who do you want to be and what do you want to accomplish in this next season of life?"

NEXT helps clarify -  "How can we, as your community, best love, serve, and keep you accountable to healthy, productive living going forward?"

We tackled those subjects Saturday night & Sunday morning. But before we finished off the weekend with a long ride back to Florida, we had one more challenge to overcome.

A waterfall polar bear plunge!

 


Thank you to Mikey, Jason, Boyd, and Skylar for taking on an Uncharted Trail weekend with full hearts and no hesitations!

Thank you to Mikey's wife, Emily, for encouraging and empowering this opportunity for Mikey and the crew.

And thank you to Blakely, for making Mikey a better man.

Ripple Effect - Energy

It's not just the shock & trauma of the initial loss. The domino effect of everything else that's affected is something called "secondary loss"... or what I call "The Ripple Effect". For more on secondary loss, do a quick google search or read this article.

For me, the ripple effect has hit much deeper and lasted much longer than I knew to expect. It's been nearly 3 years since our baby, Ezekiel, died just minutes after he was born, but I'm just now noticing some of the ways I've been effected.

Where I used to have the energy to “get back on the horse”, I now have to wait until an entirely new horse comes along!
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Recently I've had to recognize and admit to myself that I've lost my edge for discipline and energy in the wake of losing my son. I used to be very self-disciplined and focused. One of those "if you put your mind to it" type of people. I mostly see it in my health. I put on at least 20lbs within a few months of Ezekiel's death, which isn't necesarily surprising, but it's the fact that I haven't been able to recover the energy or discipline to work it back down to a healthier weight... that's what I'm missing. That "edge" to turn the corner and make a change - it's gone now.

I might find it for a few days, but as soon as something derails me it takes weeks to put in the effort again. THAT is the ripple effect of loss for me. Where I used to have energy to "get back on the horse", I now have to wait until an entirely new horse comes along!

Discouragement is stronger.

Defeat lasts longer.

And for everything that requires effort I now think, "Is it really worth the fight?"

-- --

So, for those of you that can relate...

How has the ripple effect of loss changed YOUR energy and fight?

Disposable Coping

Like most people grieving, when everything was first going down and confusion was my default state of mind, I turned to the external world for coping. Food, music, exercise, hobbies, etc. And they weren't necessarily bad things... in fact, most of them (aside from junk food) could probably be seen as very good and healthy means of coping. I wasn't deep-diving into porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling, video game binges, extramarital affairs, or just completely abandoning my family. And trust me, if you're in the position where you're dabbling in that stuff to cope, I totally get it. It's just not really my flavor of coping, in general. And there's definitely ways to cope that aren't as destructive to yourself or your loved ones long term.

I wish I had known before my grieving to choose “disposable” coping methods.

What do I mean by "disposable" coping?

It means choosing healthy coping methods while avoiding anything that you value and want to preserve.

For me, I really liked running, exercising with a group of guys early in the morning (F3), movies, and some really specific types of music. I also had a faith framework and regularly attended church. And I enjoyed all those things. They brought me comfort. So I went full-bore into them when I didn't know what else to do in the midst of my grief.

BIG MISTAKE.

What I didn't realize is that as I engaged the things I loved during my grieving, my brain started to re-wire the emotional associations with all those things. What was formerly associated with joy, confidence, pride, and strength started to unintentionally pair itself with my overall sense of defeat, sadness, purposelessness, frustration, and weakness.

And I honestly didn't even recognize it at first.

It was several months after my son Ezekiel died, and I was moving into a season where I felt like I could breathe again for a few days at a time without being overwhelmed. But as I went to embrace all the healthy things I used to enjoy, I'd find myself immediately back in that emotional place of defeat that I'd felt in the early months of grieving. It was confusing. And VERY discouraging. I didn't realize that my grief had re-colored and re-purposed all those mental associations as I embraced the things I loved while trying to cope.

I'm no neuro-scientist, but I think of it like a big bowl of soup. The general emotional condition of my mind is the bowl of soup, and all the things I was doing to cope were like pieces of bread. I was dipping the bread into the bowl of soup hoping that the soup would change flavor, or at least that it would make the soup more palatable. But what was really happening is that the bread was saturating up the soup, and the bread itself was changing flavor, NOT the soup.

So here's my suggestions on how to cope in a healthy way:

  • EXERCISE - If you like to exercise, do it! Just don't exercise in the way that you really love. Find a new exercise hobby for a few months or a year, so that when you're emotionally in a place where you start to feel a little "back to normal" you can return to the exercise you've loved all your life. Find a new gym. Do a new routine. Maybe pick up boxing, jiu jitsu, or another physical combat activity that helps channel your anger & aggression, but also one you don't plan to engage in for the long-term.
  • MUSIC - If you like a particular artist or type of music - avoid it for this season. Find music that connects with your current emotion, but know that it will also kickstart that emotion for you later in life. For me, I absolutely LOVE Andy Squyres and Sleeping At Last because of their raw emotional honesty. But I also don't listen to them anymore unless I'm choosing to enter back into my grieving for a short time. Or if you 
  • RELIGION / SPIRITUALITY - If you are part of a religious or spiritual tradition, consider taking a break from regular attendance for a while. I know this may sound discouraging to disengage the thing that may primarily define your identity, but this suggestion is if you want to be able to return to that familiar place of comfort & peace you found in your spirituality once you're out of the intensity of grieving season. It's very common for people who go through trauma to see their faith structure affected in a deep way. You could be strengthened in your faith by the difficulty of the season. Or you could be so shaken during your grieving that your past faith just doesn't carry the same meaning that it used to. This is a much deeper conversation, and in no way am I trying to encourage anyone to walk away from their faith. On the contrary, this suggestion is so that you may find some preservation in your faith during a season that is very unpredictable.
  • TV & MOVIES - Just know that the TV & movies you watch during your season of grief may bring you back to that place when you re-watch them later in life. This can be very cathartic and help toward processing your grief, but you may not want to watch your all-time favorite TV & movies to try and help you grieve. For me,  Arrival and Interstellar are movies that remind me of my grieving season. I love those movies, but I also know if I want to watch them that I'll get kickstarted into some sadness because of the emotional ties for my season of grief.
  • FOOD - This is probably the area that I failed hardest. And it has one helluva feedback loop! I absolutely became an emotional eater during my grieving. Primarily with sweets and junk food. I know how hard it can be to eat even close to healthy while grieving, but if you find yourself driving to the grocery store at 9:30pm to get Ben & Jerry's to make you feel better, I can almost promise you'll get that itch for ice cream around that time of night for years on end even when you aren't grieving. I speak from experience on this one! Food can also get tied to the activities or locations you're in while you're emotionally eating. This goes along with the TV & Movies category. We watched through The Office while grieving Ezekiel and scarfed down pints of Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's. Now when I watch the office, it makes me crave ice cream and feel a little emotionally numb at times.

You're going to cope. That's expected. But if you want to preserve some of the things you loved before your season of grieving so that they carry the same meaning once you're a little further "along the trail", try coping with some disposable methods. Because it can really suck to come out of deep grieving only to find that the things you loved are now "gone" too.

Keep pressing on.

Books

See what has helped others, and post your comments on what helped you along the way or join the conversation on our Facebook page.


BOOKS

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff - this short diary from a father who suddenly lost his son reminds you that "someone else gets it".

After the Death of a Child: Living with Loss through the Years by Ann K. Finkbeiner - this book gave me the peace of mind to know that there is no real timetable for adjusting after the loss of a child. Hear stories from parents who lost children of all ages and how the loss radically affected their lives.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor A. Frankl - when you're past the shock and numb phase of your grieving and ready to start asking "What does it all mean?" this is a challenging book about Frankl's experience in a Nazi death camp where he recognizes that the meaning you attach to an event is just as impactful as the event itself.

Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller - a book about a road trip and questioning the "how and why" of God & life. This book is not about grieving, but the idea of being on a journey and questioning all you've held as true strikes a chord.

 

Good Questions

The seed of possibilities roots down and draws life out of a composition of death

My wife & I had the opportunity to visit NYC in October 2017 for a weekend. We didn't plan much. Just to walk around, people-watch, and eat ramen at some point.

One of the primary things my wife wanted to do was walk along The Highline, an elevated greenway created on a former railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan. (and yes, I just basically copied the first line of description from Wikipedia!)

It was a leisurely stroll for us and fulfilled 2/3 of our NYC plans... I'll give you a hint: We didn't eat ramen on The Highline.

Bill Keys, the poem guy.

Bill Keys, the poem guy.

As we got to the end of The Highline, we noticed a man wearing a brown corduroy sports coat sitting at the end of a long bench with a small typewriter in front of him. A small, handmade sign in front of the typewrite simply read POEMS about anyone or anything.

We were immediately intrigued, but there was a group of young women already engaging the guy. Should we wait around for our turn? Or just keep walking & people-watching?

We stopped. Hesitated. Started off on our way. Then turned back around. It was just one of those moments where you realize, "What's the rush?" and you trust your gut.

We waited it out as the man questioned the group of girls about their travels & work & relationships & favorite songs & whatever whatever. I honestly started to get restless. "Is it going to be worth my time to wait this out?" We only sat there 15-20 minutes or so, but when you're surrounded by the hustle & bustle of NYC, 15-20 minutes feels like a long time.

Eventually we got our turn. We didn't even introduce ourselves. He just started right away. Well, right away after opening a small bag of Doritos.

"What would you like a poem about?"

We weren't really sure. We just wanted to see where it would end up. We were looking for a sign. Waiting for the Spirit to move. Hoping for some prophetic word from this stranger's old typewriter. We didn't want to outright tell him our story and end up weeping in front of a stranger, surrounded by even more strangers in the middle of New York City. We just wanted him to magically already know!

After looking at each other for a minute, Kristina finally answered "Something about questions that have no answers."

A few more questions from the poet, probing what we were really after. But we kept it as vague as we could.

And slowly he got to work.

He would pause to think. Type a few words. And gaze off in the distance to think some more. It was honestly kinda nerve-wracking. I just wanted to know what he had to say!

Thankfully, he had a small pre-made book of poems for us to read as we waited. His own original work.

Finally, he looked up from his typewriter, scrolled the small piece of paper out, and asked, "Would you like me to read it to you?"

Blame it on the Arabs
(didn’t they invent math)
for the emergent belief that
there are conclusions
that can be counted on
Blame it on Samuel Johnson
and his dictionary canon
that trapped words in their cagey definitions
People worship gods of definitive justice
fathering reason ridden creatures
People are convinced they can BE somebody
can become anyTHING
When clearly one good look at life
reveals that everything is constantly becomeing
something else
The seed of possibilities roots down
and draws life out of a composition of death
to convert light to fruit
The violent death of the gazelle becomes the cub
The quest of creation is constantly revealing
new forms profuse with out conclusion
The great questions are vehicles
taking us on wonderful journeys
into the music
in our heart of truth
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And there we stood. Weeping in front of a stranger, surrounded by strangers, in a strange city.

It's not a poem I would've written for myself. And to be honest, when I heard the first line, "Blame it on the Arabs", I thought to myself Oh God, what did this guy just write? Is he just a kook in NYC still burning from the rage of 9/11? Are the strangers around us going to think we asked for some hate-filled, racist poem? What else is he about to say?!?

Thankfully, my fears were dissuaded, and we now have something I will cherish forever.

Without mentioning a word of our journey through grief and the unearthing of our new selves, this random poet at the end of the NYC Highline had snuck into the bedroom of our souls and left a note reminding us that we are still seen. Still heard.


Learn more about Bill Keys, the poem guy

Learn more about the the NYC Highline

Learn more about the ramen we finally ate at Minca in East Village

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