Note – This post discusses a funeral as part of my mental health story from 2018 to 2020 and may trigger unwanted thoughts or emotions in those that have suffered traumas. This post is part of a story told chronologically.
The dream confirmed my decision to leave Caterpillar. As I planned to leave in March 2020 and write full-time, a new set of fears and concerns occupied my thoughts. For fifteen years, I had lived a structured life, first in the military, and then in the corporate world. I had always been a disciplined person with an internal drive that sometimes pushed me too hard without the accompanying madness agitating me to jump off a cliff.
The realization suddenly grasped me in late September 2019. Did I have enough savings? Would I need to find a part-time job? Would this be a sabbatical or a career move? Couldn’t I continue working full-time at Caterpillar and write on the weekends?
I didn’t know if leaving would be a career move. But I wanted to write the Cornerstone trilogy, then see where I was in life to write additional books. I knew I had enough savings to live on, but fears told me leaving Caterpillar was foolish. When I confirmed with Tricare that I could pay into a Reserve health plan, fears about working without insurance vanished.
After a few weeks at Caterpillar, depression washed over me again. The thoughts, the pains, the anxiety, insomnia—all of it greeted me again. Fears warned that I’d be without a job and money if I pursued a hobby. I discussed this with my boss. We agreed it was best to leave as soon I knew it was time to leave. I decided to take the leap of faith and officially leave on 1 November 2019. I typed a resignation letter and handed it to my boss.
I texted Robyn about the decision and that I was planning to visit her family again in October or November. She replied, “Great. We miss you. So looking forward to it. Don’t forget we’ll talk Friday.”
We spoke that Friday and discussed her upcoming speaking engagement at a Charlotte writing conference. She was excited to speak about using proper voice in novels. I hadn’t followed up with her to ask how the conference went, but I received a few calls from her around lunchtime on Tuesday, 1 October. I thought the repeated phone calls were unusual, but I didn’t worry. I texted her saying I was busy at work and asked if we could speak around 430.
After I sent the text, the phone rang. It was from her cell phone. I answered, but it wasn’t Robyn. It was her son. That sinking feeling fell down my chest, and I worried that something was wrong.
“Mike,” he said tonelessly, “I’m sorry for calling you at work.”
“No problem,” I said. “Is everything ok?”
“Robyn would want you to know.”
“She loved working with you on your book.”
I paused, hoping it wasn’t the worst case, but the tone in his voice suggested otherwise.
“Mike,” he continued, “mom died last night. And dad and me thought you should know.”
“Oh—I’m so sorry.”
“The funeral is tomorrow, and we hope you can come.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll definitely be there.”
The four-hour drive from Raleigh to the mountains was long and agitated. I arrived early. I hugged her son and her husband. The hug with her husband was emotional, as I gave him a unicorn pin I was planning on gifting Robyn during a Cornerstone book release party. During the funeral, I learned that Robyn wasn’t feeling well after delivering an excellent speech at the writing conference.
When they got home, Robyn drank water and went to bed. She didn’t wake up. Her doctor later said there wasn’t anything her husband could do. It was likely a stroke connected to her diabetes.
The four-hour drive to Raleigh seemed like it was three times as long as the drive to the funeral. My anxiety nearly crippled me during the drive as fears exploded from within. My heart beat audibly, I twitched, I sang loudly to drown the sorrow, I prayed the Rosary several times, my jaw clenched, and my teeth hurt. Fears of dying in my sleep assailed me. I worried about my heart. The normal ping-ponging between bad thoughts and concerns about my heart stopped. I only heard my heart.
Since Robyn’s death, I didn’t sleep more than the usual three to four hours a night. I used a variety of tools in my kit to attempt to fall back asleep. Or, I succumbed and used a full or half sedative. I lost a friend, a mentor, and a writing coach. She was more than my security blanket to help me navigate this brave new world of publishing. Like Courtney, Robyn had become an intimate friend as I shared my emotions through the writing. I didn’t reconsider my decision to resign from Caterpillar because I believed leaving to write was the correct decision. But I did feel terribly lonely again. I’ll share more of my rough October next week.