Breaking

Yesterday morning I had the chance to have a nearly two hour conversation with one of my dearest friends. Just under a month ago my friend lost her mom to cancer. The conversation didn’t start out talking about that, though. Instead, we spent nearly forty five minutes discussing everything else we needed to catch up on. Because we talk about everything . . . there was much to say! Eventually, the conversation naturally turned to her mother’s passing.

I listened. She talked about the truths we learn when someone intimately close to us dies. The words people share in an attempt to comfort. Words that, at times, miss the mark. All of the empty sayings meant to move us toward believing the death of our loved one is a good thing, in the long run. She’s out of pain now. She’s in a better place. She’s happy where she is. Her time here was up and God needed her more. My beautiful friend cried as she told me how angry those words make her. I get it. I understand. None of those bits of intended comfort  soothe us when all we want is our loved one back. Next to us. Alive. 

This was the first opportunity we’d had the time to have a lengthy conversation since her mother’s death. But, I’d been thinking about her and her family since I first learned her mother was home with hospice. 

I don’t know what it is like to hold vigil at the bedside of a loved one as they die. I didn’t have the chance to have the time to say goodbye to my daughter. I don’t know if I could bear it. The waiting for the inevitable. That takes strength and my friend is one of the strongest women I know.

But, I could hear the tiredness in her voice as it wavered between happy and sad. Not only from the pain and mourning she is passing through now, but also the realization that her life has been altered. There is a heartbreak that has been added to her soul that she will carry with her for the rest of her days. She’s already bone tired and has decades ahead of her to live through.

Every single one of us has been living through a very difficult year. And, this was in my mind as I thought about my friend. Her year moved into hellish when her mom died. Then, the funeral had to be cancelled because of positive Covid cases in the immediate family. My amazing friend, and her family, could not celebrate and mourn her mother in the traditional way. Her mother was taken. A wife. A grandmother. Aunt. Sister. Daughter. Friend. All those who love her could not come together for comfort. That’s not fair.

I worry about the weight of it all for her. With small children to care for and worry about through this pandemic. Her father, who just lost the love of his life, mourning in isolation because of this pandemic. Her children, not having school as a distraction from the loss of their grandmother. Every day it’s just more to carry. I worry about them.

I worry about everyone.

I worry about myself. 

Each year, since losing Becca, has gotten a bit easier to navigate. I’ve gotten stronger or things weigh less. I’m not sure. I have from February until somewhere around Labor Day to “rest” and gather reserves of strength I’ll need to use when the year turns toward my darkest days. Well, those dark days are just around the corner and I don’t feel like I have any strength to fall back on. I haven’t had the chance to gather any. None of us have.

Since this all started I have been certain that another one of my children will die. I was making and mailing them masks within the first week it was said we needed them. Their Easter basket boxes had multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in them. I begged Matthew to come home from DC so I could make sure he remained healthy. The thought of either of them going out in public brought me to tears. 

When you’ve lost a child you know that the death of another is a real possibility. Probability.

It only took about six weeks but I got down off that ledge, eventually.

My twins turn twenty seven a week from today. I won’t see them for their birthday and they won’t be together this year. That saddens me. Becca’s birthday is eleven days after the boys’. She would have been thirty seven this year. She missed out on so much.

Because of the raging pandemic I am not sure what the holiday season holds. There is a good chance I won’t see either of them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Then, the inescapable turn of the year. I’ll live through another twenty one day period in which I try to figure out how to reach my hand through the stack of January 21st’s and save her from dying again. 

I won’t figure it out. I never do. I’d give my own life if I could. 

I reached a breaking point today. It is all just too much.

There is so much sadness in the world.

Our government halted aid to help the children in cages, at the border, with their mental health. 

There are record numbers of people dying from this virus and we haven’t figured out how to stop it.

Those I love are carrying heavy burdens of their own and I can’t help them.

People are losing jobs, savings, homes in trying to survive these difficult times. 

Mental health is taking a hit.

I want my daughter back.

People are going to bed unsure what tomorrow will bring. 

The planet is on fire and we are watching it die.

Our connectivity is fragile because we have to isolate . . . yet we NEED to be together.

We need each other. 

I need every single person who is in my life in order to get through it. 

I am going to go to bed in a few minutes. It’s time to call this day. I know I am going to cry myself to sleep. I will cry for my daughter who I long to hold. For my boys who are so loved by me. For the other bereaved mothers I know. And, the mothers who are going to bed tonight with fear for their own childrens’ wellbeing. For the children in cages with little hope of seeing their mothers again. For those sitting vigil at a loved one’s bedside. For the person who did the best they could today and are unsure as to how to do it again tomorrow. For every person I know, and love, because these are terrifying times. For the new mother, who brought a precious life into the world, and doesn’t know what the world is going to end up being. For the inhumanity that seems so rampant in today’s world. 

And, I cry for my friend as her tears fall over the death of her mother. 

Love each other. Please. That is the absolute best we can do in this world.

Happiness Found

Earlier today I laid my phone down on the dining room table and walked away to care for the dogs. Since there are five of them . . . this took a few minutes. When I was finished I circled back to pick it up and noticed there was a single sentence, typed in the message bar:

“Mom can you come in”.

It wasn’t there before.

Without hesitation I said hello to my daughter.

“I love you I love you I love you,” I shouted to her in the empty kitchen, “thank you for coming to visit me!”

I then took my time making coffee and continued to talk to her. All the things I say to her daily except this time I knew she was here listening to me. 

“I miss you. I want you to come back home. Are you ok? Are you happy? I want you to be happy honey. I miss you. I know you are here . . . I want to hold you.”

I always stand still when I say the last part. “I want to hold you.” I put my arms out and hope that her spirit is slipping between them and she is leaning into me. Sometimes, I can feel a sudden denseness of the air in front of me. It feels slightly warmer, more solid. The sensation is always fleeting, though. I’m left yearning for more.

“Are you happy?” I asked her again and hoped for an answer. I want to know my child is happy. 

Pondering the message that was in my phone I asked her, “Where do you want me to go? Am I ready to come where you are? Is it time? Do you miss me so much, even where you are and knowing the whole picture, that you need your mother?”

The months following her death were the hardest I have ever experienced. Truly, an endless nightmare. I did not want to be here anymore. If there had been a way to join her . . . I would have. One that would not send me to a place where I would not be able to see her. I needed to be with her wherever she was and I was willing to leave everything in this world behind. I would have walked up to the ledge and fallen into the abyss without a second thought.

Today, I realized, this isn’t my truth anymore.

‘I’m not ready to go’ flashed across my mind and sliced deep into my heart.  

Oof, I thought. What the hell is wrong with you – I chastised myself. If given the chance to see your daughter you’d say no? What kind of mother are you?? You don’t love her very much if you can turn down the chance to see her so easily!

Then I thought of my sons. What kind of mother would I be if it was so easy to leave them behind? At the beginning of this child loss journey I thought dying would protect them from my love. What my love does to my children. Over time I’ve let go of this thought. I know it isn’t true. I no longer feel as if they are in danger because of how much I love them. I know I need to be here for them. But, I realized, there is something else behind my desire to remain where I am. Not just my sons.

I wanted to stay here because I am finding happiness.

I don’t think you know how difficult it is to write that sentence. 

The words carry with them a betrayal of the deepest kind. 

Yet, I am haunted by my other words. A thought I’ve written about many times: bereaved mothers can’t continue to live only for others. Telling myself that I have to be here for the boys, though true, doesn’t touch upon the fact that we need to find a reason within ourselves to continue to live. 

Is it okay for me to say that I want to stay here because I am happy? But am I also saying that I am fine with Becca being killed and gone? Do I have a right to happiness? Should my happiness outweigh my sadness? Is the guilt I feel worth the happiness? There must still be a part of me that measures my love for my deceased child by the pain I feel over her absence. Have I been punishing myself for the last thirteen years by denying most joy that I have felt? Has my love for her turned into a burden for me to forever carry?

Stop it, I tell myself. Just stop. You know better than that! You’ve told other mothers, of dead children, to be gentle with themselves. To not judge themselves so harshly because when we do we always tend to find ourselves lacking. I check off each line in the list of reasons I shouldn’t feel as if her death is my fault. Yet, I feel hollow. I haven’t convinced myself that I’m not to blame. I wonder if I ever will. 

Grieving moms will fight against feeling joy. We don’t think we deserve it. Feeling happiness, when our children can’t, is obscene to us. Laughing when we usually cry thousands of tears is foreign and uncomfortable. Pleasure doesn’t belong in the center of extreme heartbreak. 

But, we deserve i t, don’t we? If anyone needs to feel a bit of happiness, it’s a grieving mother. We’ve experienced enough pain.

We tell ourselves truths that we think we believe and then we have a moment when we know we actually believe them and were previously wrong. I’d been actively (or so I thought) cultivating happiness in my life. Going through my days in a purposeful manner, yes, but also on a very narrow and controlled path. It’s much easier to keep your world the way you want it if you keep it small. Is that happiness or an illusion? It’s surviving not thriving.

I am ready to be happy. Deeply happy. I love my daughter, with all of my heart, but I am not ready to leave this world yet. Those five words that mysteriously appeared on my phone this morning made me realize this. 

And, in truth, I know my daughter wants me to experience joy while I am here. That is what she wanted for me when she was alive and I have to believe that is amplified because of where she is. She knows everything now.

There is another aspect to this whole happiness thing. I believe my happiness here is mirrored by her’s there. My grief is an anchor for her spirit. I envision her, sitting on the edge of the day, shedding tears because I am crying into my pillow below her. I don’t want to be a burden on her soul. I don’t want to be the reason she isn’t investigating every corner of the universe or searching behind each star. 

I truly believe as I move toward being full of joy that she moves toward the same thing.

Mom can you come in.

I will honey, I will, just not yet. I have things to do here.

I miss you sweet girl. I’ll see you again, I promise.

I

When The Other Shoe Appears

For thirteen years I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Today, I see it hovering above my world. I’m having trouble not giving in to the panic and fear. My PTSD is in overdrive. I imagine I am not alone.

I’ve often shared the truth of my emotionally distancing myself, from my sons, after Becca was killed. I pulled back for two reasons: to protect them and to protect myself.

My young life was full of pain. It seemed, to me, anything I loved was taken away. Losing Becca proved my perception. Anything that came within my orbit was ruined by my existence. I couldn’t let that happen to them, too. Loving them . . . needing them . . . put them in danger. I wouldn’t let them be hurt because I was being selfish in having them around.

After Becca died, I would ask myself daily, how are you even still alive? How can you be breathing? Thinking? Surviving? Existing. I felt as if I was made of the thinnest porcelain and would completely shatter if anything touched me. I was empty. I had nothing to give. I couldn’t chance loving a child that would die because whatever was still left of me would crumble.

As the years passed and I grieved I was able to understand why I’d pulled away from Gabriel and Matthew. In little bits, I learned to trust life again, to a point. I never (and still don’t) trusted life fully. I was always on alert. Waiting. Waiting for that other shoe to make an appearance.

And now . . . it has.

My child died. I would like to think that this truth was a sort of vaccination in keeping my other children safe. It isn’t. I know too many other bereaved mothers who have buried more than one of their children. Losing one doesn’t mean we won’t lose another. And, we know all too well that children die.

So, here we are as a country. A world. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and people are dying. Young, old. Seemingly healthy, others compromised. Grandparents, parents, brothers and sister. And, children.

Initially, the news was reporting that those under 30 seemed to fare much better if they became sick. Thank god . . . I thought. My boys are 26. Under the age of worry. A factor in their benefit. In the past few days I have heard differently. Young healthy adults, under 30, are ending up in critical condition. Dying. Or living, possibly, with permanent issues in their lungs. Gone is any hope I had that they were immune.

As a bereaved mother it is easy (and almost immediate) to go from it’s gonna be ok to my child will not make it out of this alive. We’ve traveled the road before. We know the way.

Thankfully, both of my boys have been very understanding with how I have reacted to this. Checking in with me. Answering when I call. Being patient with my “overboard concerns”. I told them I would “Walking Dead” my ass down to DC to pick up Matthew if need be. I know it sounds funny but I mean it. My need to protect my children is insane and on high alert right now. I’m doing everything I can to not spin out of control and just completely lose it. I am actually pretty proud of how I am doing.

Though bereaved mothers know what it is like to bury our child/ren . . . I know that non bereaved mothers are fearful for their own children, too. Covid-19 is a real threat to every single person. It’s still evolving and the professionals are learning new things about it every single day. What will tomorrow’s news bring?

I’ve never seen stores in this condition. As I walk through the local grocery store the past ten days I have felt the general mood go from that of little true fear and jokes to another that is serious and worried. As someone said to me today, “this is getting real”. Indeed it is. And, it’s f*cking terrifying.

Earlier today I had the radio on in my car and realized the commercial was actually a PSA. The person talked about limiting our exposure to the news right now. Listen for an hour a day, he suggested, to get the facts and learn what you need to know. But, don’t have it on all day long. He went on to explain the signs of anxiety and urged listeners to seek professional help if they were suffering from it. Great advice.

There is a real mental health component to this pandemic. And, it shouldn’t be ignored. Take breaks from the onslaught of the continually updating news. Do something that brings you joy and peace. Share your worries with others. Pray, if you are so inclined. Protect your mental health. Give your soul a time out from the stress of the current world situation.

And, for my fellow bereaved mothers, breathe.

We are in this together, you and I. I am here for you just as I know you are here for me. These are tough times. But, we’ve been through tougher times, haven’t we? We survived those and we will survive this, as well.

Be kind to each other. Help where you can with what you have.

And, breathe.

 

Dreams Fulfilled

Last week I made a dream of my daughter’s come true.

I stood in front of a class at a local high school as a “teacher”. A visiting artist, actually. I spent three days, an hour each day, leading the students in a watercolor demonstration. Nervous initially I ended up enjoying myself, immensely.

Upon graduating from high school my daughter decided she wanted to attend Grand Valley University. Her major: criminal justice. The reason: she thought Scully was cool. For those of you who don’t who Scully is . . . she is the female FBI agent and partner, to the X-Files Mulder. Becca liked the suits Scully wore, her “accessories” i.e. gun, handcuffs, smart mind, and her close proximity to Fox Mulder.

Becca’s freshman year courses changed her mind about going into law enforcement, though. She said to me: “Mom, did you know that officers lay their hand on the back window of a car they are approaching at a traffic stop in case something goes wrong? Then there will be proof that the car, and people, were involved in whatever happened.” That terrified me. It scared her as well. She decided to change her major, slightly, to work with kids within the system.

This was the path she walked for a few semesters. Then came a moment, actually working with kids for a class, when she changed her major again. Becca said, “Mom, it’s heartbreaking. It’s like once kids get into the system for being in trouble they rarely get out again. I’d rather work with kids when they are young. When I can help them get onto a course in life that will keep them out of trouble.” Once again, her major changed.

She decided to pursue a degree in early elementary education. It was a perfect fit for my girl! She was often the “go-to” for parents looking for a good babysitter. One of her jobs, while attending college, was at a daycare center. She absolutely loved the children. Her job, when she was killed, was as a nanny for a little boy. My daughter, my Becca, would have changed the lives of any child she encountered positively. Of this, I have no doubt.

Last week, as I stood in front of the class, I thought of my daughter. A future that could have been, SHOULD have been, rushed in. How would she have decorated her classroom? Would her students love her? Would she, as she always planned, be working in a bilingual school? What would be her favorite part of being a teacher? Would I be a visiting artist in front of her students?

All of these thoughts made my head swirl. I silently stopped myself from spinning out of control.

Diane, I told myself, you are standing exactly where your daughter wanted to be standing. Exactly where she should be standing. Don’t think about the should haves, might haves, could haves . . . those will paralyze you. Think about Becca. She’s with you. She’s here. Do this for her. Don’t waste this chance to fulfill a dream of hers, momma. Do this for your girl.

So, I did. I did it for both of us.

I stood up and confidently told the class about myself. The art teacher, Danielle, shared pictures of my work. She showed two pieces I had in a local art competition. Both of them are about losing Becca. Then, for my daughter and myself, I jumped right into the demonstration. It wasn’t until the three days were finished that I broke down to cry.

I cried for my girl who never got to fulfill her own dreams. My tears are for the children who will never know her love. I will always believe the world dimmed and is a lesser place because of her absence. I sobbed because I should NOT be the one who realizes her dreams. I cried until there were no more tears that night.

When you are a bereaved mother there is always another side to the joyous moments in our life. It’s inevitable that the “other side” balloons up and insists we pay attention. We just try to do it in private because, often, outsiders don’t understand how there is so much sadness entwined with joy. This is our existence . . .until we are no longer.

I’ll take the sad with the happy, any day. Every day. It means I am living life and carrying my Becca, through it, with me.

Below are the pieces of art I talked about in this blog.

83785635_2789087087848172_3225721203247284224_n

Artprize 2018

86299203_182728116294877_4967756111689023488_n

Artprize 2015

86185175_192363715172095_2743662736893280256_n

The watercolor done during the demonstration last week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cecily AKA Big Girl

A decade and a half ago I had to make the difficult decision to have our family dog, Alex, put to sleep. She had tumors growing quickly throughout her abdomen and her legs no longer held her weight. We carried her up and down the stairs at night. Helped her outside every few hours. I would have continued to do this for her but she had no quality of life. So, I made the tough call.

Alex, also a black lab/shep mix, was part of our family before the boys were even born. In fact, she was not a happy puppy when we brought them home from the hospital! She managed to poop on anything of theirs that was on the floor. That’s talent. Eventually, she fell in love with them and they with her.

The final vet appointment with Alex was traumatic. The medicine did not do what it was supposed to do, the staff didn’t handle the situation well, and she suffered in her last moments. It was horrific. Becca was with me, unfortunately, and her heart was broken that her Alex was in pain. After she was gone, as a family, we decided it would be a while before we welcomed another dog.

Then Cecily appeared. She was a small, unwanted “mistake” in the corner of some guy’s garage. I saw her, when I went with a friend to look at a car for sale, shivering on cold cement. She was so small and her head hung down. Of course, me being me, I went over and scooped her up into my arms and held her against my chest. Except for the white chest, and the tips of her toes, she looked a lot like Alex. I reminded myself that we were not getting another dog for a while because we couldn’t replace Alex so easily.

I asked why she was alone in the garage, with no blanket or bowls, and the man replied that she was worthless. His registered black lab female had gotten pregnant by a random german shepherd and the puppies wouldn’t be salable. He’d found homes for the other ones but not this one. Continuing, he said he was going to throw her into the pond behind the garage because he didn’t want her. With this information about her future, I had no choice but to take her with me. I remember thinking, “well, I guess it’s time for another dog”.

I took the puppy. My friend didn’t take the car.

Cecily came home with me during the first year after losing Becca. I thought it might be good for the boys to have another dog to love. I didn’t realize it would be good for me, too. The first few years of Cecily’s life the boys still lived at home. But, they were growing up, spending less time playing in the backyard. Much less time hanging out on the couch, watching TV, because there were weekend activities to attend. Eventually, the time came to graduate and they both left to go to college. In retrospect, I realize that I was not easy to be around during this time, either. I imagine it was much easier for them to stay away from home and I completely understand why. That left Cecily and I alone . . . together.

Those first months, after the boys left, I plunged back into deep grief. Terror consumed me. I kept my children alive while they lived at home. Did I just allow them out into society to be killed, too? Matthew was a few hours north of me and Gabriel was south by an hour. Too far away if they needed me. Did they even love me anymore? They were so eager to get away from me. Our home. I found it impossible to keep all of the negative thoughts and difficult emotions at bay. Renewed depression clutched my life and I gave in and let it take hold. I didn’t care anymore. The best days of my life were over and I was just riding time until my life was done.

Then, Cecily.

I knew I had to make her life good because I was all she had. I would like to be able to say that I snapped out of it and we were good from there on out. It didn’t happen that way. Slowly, I started to include her in more of what I did. My life started to revolve around her instead of just “making it through another dark day”.

We started to take a walk every night. Which turned into two walks day. The walks were no longer just for her to relieve herself. Instead, they were “sniff walks” where we just meandered around to where the interesting smells pulled her. This forced me to be out in the fresh air more often and for longer periods. When I got a vehicle we took trips to different parks because, I told her, there would be so much more to smell than in our neighborhood. When I started to sleep in my bed again (I slept on the couch for a very long time) she jumped up and slept with me every night. Instead of eating while standing in the kitchen, because the table we’d shared family meals at was too difficult to sit at alone, I ate at the end where her food bowl was. We ate together.

All decisions I made were based around what was best for her. It is easier, sometimes, to care for another when you can not care for yourself. And, in caring for her . . . I began to do the same for myself. She actually did want me to be better. Cecily helped me to slowly re engage in life. She loves me unconditionally and I love her in the same way. She is my big girl.

Last week, she and I, took a hit.

During her yearly dental cleaning and physical the vet found a large lesion under her tongue. I was sitting in Denny’s when the photograph popped up in my text messages. I was devastated. Instantly, I started to cry as I sent a reply to the vet’s question as to whether I wanted a biopsy or not. I declined. The cost is much more than I can afford at this time. In my head I was screaming NO! This could not be real. Not my Cecily. It’s not time. I’m not ready for her to be gone. The vet went on to explain that it could be a lesion or cancerous but we wouldn’t know unless we had the biopsy done. A small piece was taken and stored for future testing if I decide to do so.

Getting this information was four days before the date of my daughter’s death. At that moment my mind began to shut down. When I am completely overwhelmed my mind clicks off right after it tells me it’s going to go into sleep mode. I drove to my friend’s, Stacey, job and she let me sleep in an empty room at her facility. (She’s a nurse in a medical rehab center.) I slept hard for a few hours then woke and left to pick up Cecily.

I cried the entire ride home. I told her I was sorry and that I loved her. During that ride I made the decision that I would not have the sample biopsied because it does not matter. Not now.I won’t put her through invasive, painful, or lengthy treatments. My girl is twelve. She is happy and well loved. Her life, though not perfect in the beginning because of me, has been wonderful in the past years. I will make sure the remainder of her time, as long or short as it may be, is filled with the same.

Cecily is a tie to Becca. One of the few physical ones I have left. Big girl came into our life when I was in the early throes of grief. Though I know when it is time for her to go I will be there and help her . . . I am not ready.

Right now, she is laying behind me on two fluffy blankets, licking peanut butter out of her Kong. She stops long enough to look at me when I tell her she’s my favorite girl. I want this forever.

Big girl: you help heal me and I love you with all my heart.

 

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Today is here. The thirteenth January 21st since my daughter was killed. Just over a dozen years since I’ve seen my beautiful girl. Some days it feels like she died yesterday. Others, it’s lifetimes ago. Today . . . it’s both.

Each “anniversary” seems to be more manageable. And, I hate that.

Being a grieving mother is to live a life full of dichotomies. Darks and lights. Yesterdays that we hold onto with a white knuckled grip and tomorrows which we have no choice but to face without our child.

Laughing when we really want to cry.

Living when we sometimes want to die.

Experiencing new things when we’d give anything to go back to the old.

Keeping calm when others tell us to “move on”.

Taking part in everyday activities when we’d rather just cocoon in bed.

This brings me to an important point. Outsiders (non bereaved people) do not know how strong a grieving mother really is deep inside. We may look like we are wallowing but believe me . . . we are not. The hardest healing work we need to do is that which is inside of us. Physically going through our days is exhausting, yes, but the internal struggle to find peace in the midst of the war that’s waging within us is unceasing.

I wake up tired.

However, I wake up. I get up. I go about my day. I work. I care for others around me. And, every single grieving mother I know does the same. That is true strength. We show up. For ourselves, each other, and you. I need people to know that about us.

This brings me to something I said above. I hate that each year becomes easier. Yes, it’s because I am strong (and I have no choice) BUT I feel as if losing my Becca should never be acceptable. That is part of the conflict within myself.

So, I walk that line between yesterday and tomorrow. Light and dark. What was and what will be.

About this time, thirteen years ago, I was on my way to tell the boys that their sister had been killed. I was in a weird time between when she was alive and her being dead. And, I had to shatter their world.

Today I will remember my daughter. Her laugh, love, smile, intelligence, beauty, sense of humor, strength, and amazing spirit.

I love you, Becca, forever.

Everyone Has a Grief Journey

While out driving, going about normal my daily activities, I noticed a line of cars parked in St. Mary’s Cemetery. The sun, which has been covered with clouds for days, was out and it glinted off the cars as I passed by. It wasn’t until the flashing of the sunlight stopped that I noticed a group of people at a graveside. They stood in somber colored clothing, huddled together, under the bare branches of huge trees. The dark gray tips of the branches looked as if they were reaching toward Heaven.

How appropriate, I said to myself.

A thought entered my mind: I wonder if any of them are looking at me driving by? Is one of them wishing that their life was as it had been just days before this one? Did one of them want to trade places with me . . . seemingly going about my business . . . instead of standing at the edge of a newly dug grave into which their loved one had been lowered into already? Or, more probable, were they so consumed in the fog that grief brings that they don’t even notice what’s happening around them.

When I found out with certainty that my daughter WAS the young woman who had been zipped into the black body bag (a weird thought just slipped in between my words: are the bags reused?) it had still been dark out. It was “still the night she had been alive in”. When the sun came up that morning, as I was going to tell her twin brothers that their sissy had been killed, I realized I was in the first day that didn’t include her alive. The sun, bright on that January morning, pissed me off. How could it come up like everything was the same as it had been yesterday??

Briefly and painfully, the fog of grief that had settled upon me parted and I saw beyond my existence. Others were driving by in their own cars. Heading to who knew where but probably somewhere they went every day. “I want that again!” I screamed. “I want yesterday!! I want Becca!!”

Rage slid into the space where the fog had parted.

How, I thought to myself, did the sun still fucking rise? The world should have stopped spinning. Everything had changed. Why didn’t others see it? My daughter is dead – how are you going to work? My child was killed – you can’t laugh. My daughter is gone – why is your child in the car with you?? My entire life had shifted sideways. Some things were the same . . . but forever different. I didn’t know it then, that first morning, but I would spend years trying to find a place where I fit in again. Truth be told, there was a long time I didn’t want to fit in at all so wanting to find a place didn’t come until much later.

Seeing the funeral today brought me right back to the feeling of isolation and utter aloneness I felt after Becca’s death. This time of year, so close to the date of her death, these emotions are closer to the surface anyway. It doesn’t take much to have the thin skin covering them ripped open and allow them to bleed out.

Just as quickly, I thought, the group of people in the cemetery are starting their own grief journey. Who, in their life, had died? Was it the expected death of a beloved elderly person who lived a long life full of love? An unexpected death of a young person who still had years ahead of them? Was it cancer that stole a future? Or, violence? Was the coffin small enough to hold the little body of a child? Maybe the final resting place for grandma, lined with her favorite color, in which she could spend eternity? I won’t know the answer. What I do know is this: another grief journey has started and they have a long road ahead of them.

I bristle when someone compares the death of their loved one (spouse, parent, sibling, pet) to the death of my child. Though the death of a parent, for example, brings so much with it . . . it is not the same as losing a child. And, it never will be. No other death compares.

Yet, I know that any death brings with it intense sorrow and only feeling the grief will begin the healing. Healing from a death is difficult. Healing from the death of child is near impossible. But, we can all be there for each other when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to another’s pain.

As I drove home tonight, past the same cemetery, the sun had sunk below the horizon. The cars were gone and there was no one around that I could see. What a different scene from the one I saw earlier.

The trees, however, still reached for Heaven.

 

Year Of Healthy Boundaries

Years after the sexual abuse in my childhood ended I was told a story that chilled me. It saddened me for the little girl I used to be. I can picture here sitting on the chair afraid to move. It also angered me toward the people who were involved.

The one who perpetrated the incident as well as the one who watched. And, did nothing. It enrages me to know the witness knew this story the entire time the women in my family were giving depositions against an uncle who molested us. She chose to remain quiet AND have a close sibling relationship with the man. She is complicit in my abuse and covering it up. To me, she is no better than my uncle.

I was around four years old when my pedophile uncle made me sit on a chair and drink water. He told me (the witness related to another family member) that if I got off the chair to go to the bathroom, I was going to have my pants pulled down and spanked. If I peed on the chair . . . the same thing would happen. The witness did nothing. Didn’t tell him to stop. Didn’t call for help. Didn’t tell my parents when they got home. Nothing. She kept it to herself for decades. I don’t know what prompted her to eventually share and I don’t care. She saw child sexual abuse happening and watched. To me, that is a pedophile as well.

This year I went to a family gathering on Christmas Eve for the first time in well over a decade. I’ve needed to keep a buffer between certain family members and myself. The time spent, over the years since my last attendance, was spent growing stronger and healthier. I had a lot of familial shit to work through. (Don’t we all.)

I was nervous that the witness would be there. How would I react when she rushed over to give me a hug? Would I let her? If I did, that would be a betrayal of the four year old me who no one stood up for. If I shoved her away then I would be “behaving irrationally” as this happened over fifty years ago. “Let it go,” I’d be told. “There goes Diane . . . troublemaker, ruining a perfectly nice time.” Again, no one would be standing up for me or the four year old me. And, would a small part of me feel guilty? Would that abuse survivor’s shame rise up? Even writing this may anger some in my family but that is not my problem.

Fortunately, she didn’t show up. My understanding is that her life is a mess and that’s fine with me. Sometimes, you actually reap what you sow.

This story brings me to the new year ahead of me.

I have a right to my boundaries. I have an obligation to explain them to someone who has crossed one when I am pushed. Theoretically, I will calmly define said boundary and let the individual know I am not going to accept their crossing it. In practice, however, I know it won’t go that smoothly. I’m just not that in control of myself. I wish I was but that went out the window when Becca was killed. Emotions are always close to the surface now.

If I am face to face with the “witness” and she attempts to engage in conversation I am going to stop her and say: “you watched me being abused. Mentally and physically, probably sexually, abused and did nothing. Go away”. Then I would turn and leave. Not caring about her reaction. Not concerned by how others will view me for my truth. She should be ashamed. Not me. They should feel guilt over their part in it all (if they had any) not me.

I am tired of being quiet because my words might upset someone.

I’ve gotten better over the past year. Standing up for those who are being harassed. Stating, loudly, when a situation is wrong and should be stopped. This year, I plan on doing this for myself more often. Isn’t it interesting, as women, we tend to fight for others more than we fight for ourselves? That has to change for me. I’m worth fighting for and I won’t let the little four year old inside of me down any longer.

I don’t like resolutions much. They never seem to stick for me. But I can make a change in how I interact with others and my surroundings. I deserve complete peace in my life.

So do you. Do what you need in order to attain it! Use your voice and set boundaries.

 

Forgiveness Tour

“If this is an intervention baptism you need to let me know,” I told Joseph.

Two weeks ago, when we had coffee, he told me about a young man he’d met after listening to him speak at a conference concerning suicide prevention and mental health. I am unsure as to the exact order the different meetings took place between the three men and Joseph. Ultimately, he set up a meeting that included me.

The reason for the gathering was to discuss the possibility of us being involved in program in which we share our stories of forgiveness. Mine and Joseph’s story being important because of the fact that it surrounds the death of one beautiful woman.

He’d told me that the group was “pretty Christian” because he wanted me to be aware before I agreed to attend. Most of you who know me, or read my blog, are aware that I am skeptical when it comes to organized religion – of any kind. Both, because I have not had any good experiences and I’ve watched as churches have supported immoral leaders and become rich beyond any necessity.

I went in with an open mind. As open as I could allow it to be. People screw up religion. People, I am assuming, can also make it good. I figured: what have I got to lose.

We shared pleasantries. Then started talking about forgiveness. One of the gentleman, the one who’s house we were at, asked what forgiveness meant to me. I fumbled with my words a bit too much seeing that I am a writer. It means that I harbor no ill will toward the person I have forgiven. That I truly want good for them in their lives (the absence of revenge). That I am not angry at them (I have faced what happened and though I still hold them responsible I carry no rage). It’s an interesting question . . . isn’t it? Forgiveness will mean something different for each person.

Then, the man who is a pastor, asked Joseph how his relationship with the lord was. I silently waited until I was asked the same question because I knew then I’d have to “spill the beans”. I felt like a fraud. Not because I am ashamed of who I am but because I did not want to mislead anyone into believing my views align with theirs. I respect what they want to do and I do not want to affect it negatively.

The conversation veered away from each of our relationship with deity into less intense subjects. Then, the man who asked what forgiveness meant to me said “This has to be Christ centered/based or it isn’t worth doing”.

That prompted me to ask the question: What about Muslims? Budhists? Jews? My intent in asking the question was this: if forgiveness can only be attained through Jesus . . . what about the millions of people who don’t believe in Jesus? Are they doomed to carry the weight of non forgiveness until they DO believe in Jesus? Does that mean that Native Americans, for example, didn’t have forgiveness in their world? Either my question was not understood or I did not understand the answer because I still have the question.

A lot was being said.

Again, I am unsure as to the order of events or topics arising, so I am doing the best I can to share the events of last night. I am sorry if it all seems a bit disjointed. My mind is still reeling.

I was asked how it would be if the “forgiveness tour” was shared at Grandville High School (a local school that is connected to a person in the above mentioned group) where religion could not be a part. All of the anxiety of being involved in a “world” that I did not believe in melted away. I could see that my story, my part in our story, could be impactful to others.

But. Then there is the whole evangelical aspect to it.

One of the comments that threw me was when the pastor said he was surprised (?) that I managed to find forgiveness without a partner next to me. I am still pondering this statement.

While they were discussing the money aspect of this whole thing . . . a thought came into my head. What if they didn’t want me included because of my differing beliefs? I would be angry that my story wouldn’t be heard because I don’t necessarily believe Jesus is who they say he is. If I say no to being a part of this program because I don’t believe the same as they do about Jesus . . . wouldn’t that be just as wrong? Simply, yes.

I am accepting of everyone having their own path. I can NOT be unaccepting of those who have chosen Christianity as their faith path. That would make me a hypocrite. And, I really dislike hypocrisy.

February is when we will reconvene to discuss how we all processed this whole project. I go back and forth, but in the end, I want to talk about my daughter. I want to share how forgiveness has changed my life. Maybe after the rest of the group reads this I will be quietly uninvited to take part in the entire thing. Which, I will respect. As I said . . . I want this to be successful for the people who will find healing in the message of forgiveness.

Since yesterday, I have talked to two women, who I know well and trust implicitly. One of them is a non denominational reverend (and my cousin) while the other is a school teacher who I consider to be a true Christian. Both have listened to me and given me good advice.

“Don’t feel rushed, pushed into something that isn’t real or genuine. It’s taken you time to process, feel and forgive. If someone else pushes you too hard, too intensely, too quickly, it’s not genuine. And then it’s not your story of forgiveness but someone else’s. Then,when you do finally share it will be really impactful because it’s yours.”

This is my story. This is Becca’s story. And, Gabriel and Matt’s story. Joseph’s story runs parallel to ours . . . but it’s his. All I can say is that I am glad I have a few months to mull over the varied emotions and aspects of the entire venture.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any advice! I know I have a lot to learn!!