Deeper Meanings

A friend of mine gave me an unexpected present this afternoon. She handed me a pink gift bag, that was heavy, and stuffed with glittery white tissue paper. Four items were in the bag: a little pink envelope containing a sweet note and gift card, a bottle of body wash/bath foam, a big bar of soap, and a bottle of lotion. All three are the same scent: Eucalyptus Spearmint. They smell amazing. She said, “That’s what I use . . . you always tell me I smell so good.” (Sidenote: she does) I couldn’t wait to get home tonight and wash the anxiety of the day away with this stress relieving scent!

Her gift made me feel cared for.

I have a very bad track record of not taking care of myself. Not so much self destructive behavior, though I know I’ve had a handful of years of that in my past, but of just not giving myself the care I give others. Somewhere in my twenties, after reading a book titled “The Courage to Heal”, did I realize this is a pretty common thing when it comes to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The reasons we are this way are as varied as each individual story.

After digging through the layers of control my uncle used on me . . . I came back to one simple sentence he’d said to me over and over: you will never be loved because you will never be worth anything more than sex. When a child of four hears this, repeated over the years, it’s understandable that it’s ingrained in our self worth. So, I treated myself like I was not worth anything. For decades.

I was so bad I refused to look at myself in the mirror. When I did, I would always keep one closed so I would see as little as possible. Still, to this day, I catch myself doing it. I hate that I do it. But, it’s just part of me.

I’d give myself the bare minimum care. Quick showers. Hardly ever went to the salon. Cheap makeup. Goodwill clothes. (I still buy Goodwill clothes but that’s because I don’t like mass consumerism). I even allowed myself to scrape the bottom of the barrel in love and accept the bad treatment because, as my uncle said, I wasn’t worth loving.

Becca knew all of this stuff. When she was old enough . . . we talked about it. About my childhood and my uncle. The topic had come up because he’d just been released from prison and she started to ask me questions. She wanted to see his face. So I showed her. Her heart was broken for me. After that, she understood why I was the way I was. She realized I didn’t care for myself like I did everyone else. Becca, my beautiful daughter, took it upon herself to care for me in ways I couldn’t. She’d give me little gifts . . . always with words of love and support.

The last Christmas we had together she’d given me a basket of bath items from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The scent was Brown Sugar Vanilla. All of it smelled delicious. She was so proud of herself for choosing the perfect gift and happy that she could help me see I was worth it. She made sure to tell me to “use it, mom, you deserve it”. I did. Even after she was killed I continued to use it. It was a tie to her. To her being alive. To her love for me. To our shared life and the bond between a mother and daughter. I would cry in the shower for my dead child while I washed with one of the last gifts she’d given me. Then, it was almost gone.

To me, the body wash and lotion were priceless. I had to save the last bit of it because another thing to her could not be gone forever. There would be no more intimate gifts, like this, from my daughter. None other would know the reason for the pain in my soul, watch me battle the demons that lived in my head, and support me in the fight and long journey back. She was gone. Her love for me was gone. She’d no longer be rooting in my corner.

I tucked the plastic bottles back in the rear of one of deep shelves in the bathroom closet. When I would open the door and see their shape against the wall I felt comforted. “Becca touched those” I would tell myself then cry.

There is no one in my life, right now, that would give me a gift like that. I thought. I have not boyfriend who would do so, or a family that remembers my birthday, and my boys (being boys and probably feeling creeped out by buying their mother bath items) don’t do it either. In full disclosure however: one of my sons girlfriends told him to get me bath bombs years ago – which I love – but don’t think it’s worth spending the money on. No pampering products for me anymore.

Then my friend brought me the little pink bag today. A present that says: you are worth taking care of. You are cared about. A gift of self care in a little bag that looks like it could have been chosen by Becca, herself. Pink, her favorite color at the time of her death, with glittery white paper. The memory of Becca’s purchase, twelve years ago, came rushing back.

After I got home tonight, and had let all the dogs out and fed seven hungry animals, I took the bag up to the bathroom and took a very hot shower. It felt like a hug from someone who cares about me. Of course, I cried. A combination of emotions ranging from missing my girl to knowing I can be loved.

I still have those nearly empty bottles that Becca gave me in 2006. My hope is to be washed with what’s left when I am prepared for cremation (or probably a green burial). To have the lotion smoothed onto my clothing before I’m cared for . . . for the last time. In my head, you see, we show up in Heaven in what we left this world in. I want to smell like Becca’s gift when I get there and I hold my daughter again. I want her to know I haven’t forgotten her. That I love all she did for me. That she is cherished and I never let her go.

Until then, I will let the people who love me . . . care for me when I can not care for myself. And, I’ll keep using this Eucalyptus Spearmint stuff until then.

Thank you Miya.

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Bereaved Fathers

I started this piece in the morning of June 16th. Father’s Day. It’s no longer the holiday but I wanted to share this regardless. 

Today is Father’s Day.

A day I have not celebrated in over a decade. I have not been in touch with my family for almost twelve years. Don’t feel sadness for me, or pity, please. It was a choice I am thankful I made when I did. If I hadn’t . . . I know I wouldn’t be where I am now in terms of my healing and emotional health.

My family was broken. I am assuming, maybe incorrectly, that they still are. Being that my son was told, by my sister, half a dozen years back that “her” parents were not interested in seeing them as “their life was full and happy” as it was . . . I lean toward their continued dysfunction. Without going into great detail I will share a few facts. My father was physically abusive with me. To the tune of two (probably three) broken noses and his choking me to near unconsciousness as recently as the one year date of my daughter’s death. I was continually told that I pushed him to these actions. My mother scolded me, in an emergency room because of an injury caused by my father, for even thinking of making a police report and “getting him into trouble”. Abuse, neglect, indifference, blame. I’d had enough.

I often think of other “father figures” in my life. Not to me . . . but to my children.

My daughter’s father didn’t truly come into her life in any real way until after she was eighteen. And, only because, she pursued the relationship. They had three, maybe four, years spent as father-daughter together. During that time she got to know her baby brother so after her funeral I wanted to give her father something to give to her little brother. He and I were in my sons’ bedroom alone, talking, when I asked him if he regreted not having been in her life for a longer period of time. His response? “No. I am satisfied with the time we had together.” I was incredulous. I’m still saddened by his response.

Through his own actions, my sons’ father removed himself from their lives for a period of time by going to jail. A good portion of their younger years were spent without him. They’ve had years of anger with him, anger towards me, anger at their sister’s death, anger at circumstances but have come out on the other side, whole. I am in awe of them and know, if they choose to, will be great fathers some day.

Recently, I was scrolling through Facebook and stopped on an article that said losing a pet can be as difficult as losing a family member. As always, when reading this “fact”, I feel angered. I don’t know why I do it, but I read through some of the comments posted, and could feel myself getting madder. This time, I read a comment posted by a bereaved father who said he’d lost pets, and a son, and he could tell you which was worse. My heart hurt for him: both for his the loss of his child and because other’s were saying “don’t judge someone else’s loss”. I felt the need to let him know he was understood. So I responded.

I told him I could relate. That others who had not lost a child couldn’t. And, that I was thankful they couldn’t. But, that I knew his pain and shared his point of view. He ended up private messaging me and we chatted. We shared stories about of deceased children. How we lost them. The time that’s passed since they died. How we feel now. How we felt then. We have had good conversations.

It’s not often that I get to talk to a bereaved father so intimately. To hear about a man’s emotions after child loss is interesting. His words made me consider how the men in my daughter’s life had grieved her death. Not well, I told myself. But, after talking to this grieving dad, maybe I am judging them a bit too harshly.

Are they so different from grieving mothers merely because of gender? And, it it is because of gender, does the difference lie in our physical makeup or rather the emotional? Men are taught to be “strong” and “stoic” and keep their feelings to themselves. Crying is a weakness. Boys don’t cry. Crybaby. Young boys grow up learning what society will accept from them in reference to their emotional behavior.

If it’s not so much the nurture part of things . . . then is it nature? Do hormones play a part in how demonstrative each sex is? Women are said to be “more emotional” when they are on their periods. We are told that our hormones are out of whack during this time and that’s why we cry so easily. Or, get angry. Even rage. This is why we are irrational we are told.

Or, is it because we carry our child tucked under our hearts, for months before they are born? Is our son or daughter more real to us because we are physically bound together for nearly ten months? A father isn’t physically affected by the pregnancy which produces their child. Only the mother. Before the child enters the world . . . the mother has already felt the baby move separate from herself. The baby hears its mother’s voice from the inside . . . from all around them. Mother and child are in love with each other long before the father has a chance to forge that kind of bond.

I am not saying a father’s bond is less. Just different. How could it not be? So, in truth, I have no way to begin to understand what a bereaved father goes through. Maybe Becca’s father wasn’t being so callous afterall. I am going to have to give that idea more thought before I reach a conclusion.

I am thankful I got to talk to a grieving father just prior to Father’s Day. I am sad that I know another parent who has had to survive the un-survivable. I am happy to know my two sons will make much better fathers than the one I have.

There is now a deeper interest inside of me to understand the point of view of the bereaved dad. I think men suffer alone after this loss. They have to be strong for everyone else. They have to “fix it”.

This man told me he had written his first blog about child loss from the father’s perspective. I applaud him for his courage in opening up in such a transparent way. It takes courage to write about the ugly stuff. To lay pain open for the world to see. To be brave enough to say: damn it . . . I hurt and I can’t do this alone.

Maybe, if I’m honored, he’ll let me share one of his pieces of writing in my blog. I believe it will be helpful to so many people and informative for me. Pain connects grieving parents. When we find someone, who is like us, it’s easier for us to open ourselves and be vulnerable

My story, my loss and subsequent path, will hopefully be a survival guide for the unfortunate bereaved mothers (in the future) who stumble across my writing. I think his writing will be a guide for other fathers who have experienced child loss, too.

When we share our stories . . . we help others in numerous ways. Be brave.

Share your story tomorrow. I guarantee there is someone who needs to hear it.

 

Lost And Found: Joy

Words have eluded me for months. I’ve been incredibly stuck in my own thoughts. I decided to “shake it up” a bit and give myself a real challenge. Something far out of my comfort zone. I chose to write a short play. I was shooting for ten minutes but I’m not sure how close I came to that mark. In truth, I am just happy that I was able to write as much as I did. And . . . dialog. Yikes! I forced myself to shut off the inner critic and just write.

My intention was to share this piece without asking anyone what they thought. Just write it and share it. Opening myself up to vulnerability – as Brene Brown says – and authenticity. I caved. I shared it with two people. One a writer, and the other not. I listened to what they had to say but didn’t change a thing I’d written. Edited pieces may be smoother and more palatable but I think first drafts tend to be the most honest.

Let me state this: I am not a playwright. I’ve thought of writing a play (what writer hasn’t) but never seriously sat down and attempted to do so. My format is one of my own making and does not follow any rules, I am sure. I hope those of you who are trained can find a way to forgive me for bastardizing the format.

So, here it is. I am happy with it. I am thrilled I’ve started writing again. I can, again, work through the loss of my child with the written word.

I love you Beccabug.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Scene opens with two women on an empty stage. The stage is dark except for a single light directly over each of the characters. The first (W1) is disheveled and dressed in dark colors. She’s clearly agitated. W1 is far stage right. The second, far stage left (W2) is humming and wearing light colorful clothing. Their backs are to each other. W1 is getting noticeably more irritated while glancing over her shoulder at W2.

W1 (turning toward the audience but looking at W2): Aren’t you going to say anything to me? You know I’m here.

W2 (without turning around) I do. I was waiting for you to be ready to talk to me. (continues humming)

W1 (turning toward W2 and walking halfway to center stage): I don’t want to talk to you . . . but you’re irritating me with your humming and you’re ignoring me. I don’t care what you have to say, really. You just bother me, that’s all.

W2 ( turning fully toward W1 – causing her to flinch and take a step back) I’m sorry. I’m not ignoring you. I just don’t want to add to your pain or make you angrier . . . but it seems I have, anyway. You have enough to deal with.

W1 (crossing her arms defensively across her chest) that’s not true! You haven’t said one thing to me! You just keep humming like an idiot! (imitating W2’s humming in an exaggerated manner while flailing her arms around – suddenly stopping and rushing toward center stage) And, anyway . . . I have a good reason to be angry. ( looking at W2 accusingly) You should be angry, too (her voice breaking) you lost her just like I did.

W2 (flinches slightly) You are right. I did lose her. (placing her hands over her heart) there is a part of me, deep down, that will always carry the anger in the unfairness of it all. I understand why you are full of rage. (reaching her hands toward W1) are you ready to talk?

W1 (putting her hands up toward W2 in an attempt to ward her off) Don’t! Don’t you come near me!!You don’t love her as much as I do! If you did . . . you wouldn’t be able to smile. Or, laugh, or fucking hum!

W2 (letting her hands drop to her sides) I . . .

W1 (clenching her fists) Don’t. You don’t get to say anything. If you cared, at all, you wouldn’t be so god damn happy.

W2 (flinches again becoming slightly defensive) that’s not fair! You don’t know how hard it’s been to get here!

W1 (loudly and slowly punctuating each word) I . . . don’t . . . give . . . a . . . damn. (she turns and walks toward far stage right turning away from W2)

W2 (attempting a calming tone) That’s not true. Why are you being hurtful toward me?

W1 (with a sarcastic laugh) really? Why? Because you’ve forgotten her and I am not going to let that happen, that’s why.

W2 (shaking her head) I have not forgotten her! I remember everything!

W1 (turning toward center stage and with each question she takes a step toward W2) What was her favorite doll? What was her name in the foster home when she was going to be adopted? What birthday cake was her favorite? (coming right up to the center of the stage, without crossing, but leaning into it) what does her voice sound like? You haven’t heard it since the day she was killed.

W2 (crumbles to her knees and sobs into her hands)

W1 (crosses her arms in a satisfied manner) Good. Now you remember her. (listening to W2 cry) Now you REALLY remember how much it hurts. Bet you won’t be humming anymore.

W2 (remaining on the floor, wiping her eyes, looks up at W1) I remember every little thing about her. Her doll? Baby Laurie. I sleep with her every night. Cuddling her close, holding her little plastic hands, with the fingers chewed off, in mine. Smelling her matted hair. Kissing the well worn cheeks like she used to do. Caroline was the name given to her in the foster home. It still hurts me that someone else named her, even for a short time, before I did. And it nearly kills me to know that she might still be alive if I’d released her for adoption. And, the cake? I made her favorite. Chocolate. I decorated it with deep purple frosting which stained all of our mouths for a few days. Remember?

W1 (with a little smile nods her head)

W2 (continues) I worked so hard on that cake! It was one of the best I’ve ever made! She deserved all the beauty I could give her. I made a frosting basket on the top of it and filled it with a dozen colorful flowers cascading over the sides. She absolutely loved it!

(they both fell silent while remembering the little girl who squealed with delight at seeing her cake) (the sound of Becca squealing and clapping her hands can be heard from backstage “oh mom, it’s perfect!)

W2 (continuing with a catch in her throat) her voice? Her voice is the music in my thoughts every day. I hear her constantly. Her laughter mingles with my own when I find a reason to laugh. My voice is her voice.

W1 (falls to her knees then lays down and sobs her whole body heaving)

W2 (scooting as close to W1 as possible without crossing center stage) Her laugh! Remember how she loved to make us all laugh? Especially her brothers. She felt happy when she could make another person feel joy. After she died, after her funeral, I read the cards and notes people had written about her. Nearly all of them said “her smile lit up a room”. And, it did, didn’t it? (W1’s sobs start to lessen and her body becomes calmer) Like I said before, I am angry, too. There is a rage that resides inside of me. You (reaching out and touching W1’s head) you are the rage that lives deep within my soul.

W1 (stops crying at W2’s touch)

W2 (taking W1’s hand) I know you have to be angry. I know it’s our honest feeling. I just can’t live in the middle of it every day. So, I’ve left you to exist in the most painful part of my soul. Sometimes, I think I’ve sacrificed you so I could find some happiness again. I feel guilt because I have found a way to “go on” but have not been able to take you with me. That’s why I come back. To try to make up for leaving you behind. So that you know you are not truly alone.

W1 (pulling her hand away and sitting up . . . now the two are knee to knee on the floor) I have to stay here. Our anger will never be gone completely. And . . . I don’t ever want it to be. We will always be mad that she is gone. Her life was cut short. She didn’t deserve that end.

W2 (taking W1’s face into her hands and putting their foreheads together) No she didn’t. I understand that. But, she also deserves to be remembered with joy. She was . . . is . . . our joy. That light was the biggest part of her. We can not let her legacy be one of anger. It must be one of happiness. She deserves that.

W1 (bends forward and puts her head on W2’s shoulder – W2 wraps her arms around W1) I can’t leave here though. I have to stay.

W2 (holding W1 and rocking her back and forth) I know. And, I will always come back to check on you. You know (she chuckles) it didn’t take you quite as long to talk to me this time. I think we are making progress!

W1 (pulls away and smiles) You’re right.

( Both women get to their feet, still on either side of center stage)

W2 (reaches for W1’s hand) do you want to come over here for a while?

W1 (accepting her hand) ok . . . (she steps over center stage and W2 starts to walk to backstage far left) I . . . I can’t go that far though (she hesitates and pulls back)

W2 (changing course so she is walking slightly off center stage toward the back) ok, not too far. (they slowly walk toward the back curtain) Did you recognize the song I was humming?

W1 no

W2 (putting her arm around W1’s shoulder) it was “you are my sunshine” we used to sing it to her every day.

W1 oh yeah . . . I DO remember that!

W2 I guess we have a lot to teach each other (she starts humming the song again)

(they walk off center stage through curtains and the lights go dark

 

After Solitude

When I take a break from writing, which happens every so often, it seems to be difficult to start up again. The longer the time I spend away from the keyboard the harder it is to return to it. I wonder if other writers feel the same way.

My breaks from writing allow me a chance to turn inward toward my healing. I always liken it to an animal, that has been hurt, who needs to find quiet solitude in which to tend to its injuries. To rest. Find strength. Quiet the mind. To lick the wounds. And, heal. All energy turned toward the pain. Then, to return to the world, prepared.

Last year held two events which shook my life. The first: the near death of one of my children. Second: meeting the man who killed my daughter. I don’t think I realized, until the end of January, that I hadn’t fully processed either one.

Because December through January is the most difficult time of year for me I was already carrying much pain and anxiety on my surface. My cup was full . . . so to speak. So, those two events just sort of sat perched on a shelf waiting for me to pick them up. I knew they were there and I could see them sliding slowly toward me on the slanted wood. I would have to face them eventually and I had to do it before they smashed to the ground spreading broken pieces around me. I kept pushing them away, not able to deal with all that comes with grieving a dead child, and these new truths, too. To be honest . . . they almost fell. Taking time away from writing was what I needed to do. I needed to turn inward.

I painted.

Painting is prayer. It’s meditation. It’s therapy. Though I am intent on what I am putting on canvas – I am also able to wander around my own mind. Search new places, delve into dark corners, sit in the middle of the storm. Pick up the constructs of the new events and hunt for the places where they fit. Spaces in which they are secure and won’t damage me anymore. Or, do as little harm as possible, at least.

I didn’t write because I didn’t know what I needed to say.

I’m not sure I would have survived the death of another child. I think my already fractured soul would have shattered completely. I can not let my mind go to the place where it asks the question as to how I would truly react. The first two sentences in this paragraph are as far as I can go toward that outcome. I needed to find the place where the consequence of Gabriel’s death resided and make a decision as to how to proceed. While I was painting . . . I found myself at the threshold of this possible aftermath and quickly (and firmly) shut the door. That traumatic event is over. It did not end in his death therefore I can leave it behind.

Meeting Joseph. I’ve talked about this in a few other blog posts. I had to ruminate on what meeting and forgiving him meant. Possibly, I had to see if the forgiveness “stuck” after the emotions of the initial contact dissipated. Again, I needed to whittle this event down to it’s smallest piece and inspect each shaving. I had to make sure there was nothing hiding in the pile that would come back and become a splinter to my soul. Did I really forgive him? Yes. Would this help him? I believe so. Did it help me? Yes. Will it help my boys? I hope so. Is forgiveness really needed? Yes. If so, is it more for the person forgiving or the one being forgiven? Both. Then the big question: am I dishonoring Becca by extending forgiveness to Joseph? By hoping he has a good life? By being willing to help him do so in any way I can?

I think I am honoring Becca’s life by wanting to nurture life. At least, I hope I am.

As I’ve said, the two months that bookend a new year’s arrival are painful for me. Cold months in which I remember, heal, mourn, learn, and reevaluate. I’m licking wounds, both old and new, in order to prepare for the coming of the spring and the advent of new life.

I love you all deeply, Becca, Gabriel, and Matthew. And, I want to be a better person – a better mother, for the three of you.

 

Creating A Wall

For the first time, I’ve been asked to write about one particular aspect of child loss. How we seem to push others away. I hope I can answer the question, fully, posed to me. This is written using my own experience and those others have shared with me.  I always hope those struggling with child loss will find a trained professional who is equipped with the knowledge and tools  to help them.

There are so many things that bereaved parents share on this path. Yet, each of our experiences is completely different. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Even two people, who have lost the same person, will have their own unique journey. Yet, there are enough similarities that we can recognize where another person is. The subject I’ve been asked to write about is very important because if we don’t recognize it . . . it can destroy us.

All bereaved parents seem to have, at some point, the propensity to push others away from us. The reasons we do this are varied and complex. It’s done both knowingly and without insight. There are times when we can see that we are engaging in this behavior. When we do, we can work through our isolating tendencies with help, so we don’t add more pain to an already anguished situation. Other times, sadly, we don’t see what our actions are doing to those around us, and more importantly, to ourselves.

Over the years, since losing my child, I’ve realized that I had to identify who I was after her death. After the “dust had settled” and life around me went back to everyone else’s normal, mine didn’t. The person I was before no longer existed. Not only did I have to find myself – I had to figure out how I fit into a world that was new to me. I was not a mother to a living daughter anymore. I was the mother of a deceased daughter. An identity I didn’t want and had no idea how to wear. I railed against this change in my who I was.

Please understand: It is going to take us an extremely long time to accept and become comfortable in our new life. We DO NOT want this life we were forced into when our child died. The time it takes for a bereaved parent to come to terms with the death and find peace surrounding it will be different for everyone. Sometimes, it never happens for the person. But, it will be on our personal timetable, no one else’s, and we have to do the work. The tricky part is knowing what work we need to do. There is no “one size fits all” guide.

The simple answer to why we push people away is: vulnerability.

We don’t, as a society, know how to be vulnerable and not feel weak. Instead, we feel as if we are failing when we show emotion, somehow. Especially, men. Vulnerability leaves us open and raw. There is always the chance we will be hurt more. So, we build that wall . . . we push away our family . . . before they have the chance to cause more pain. We are putting a boundary between us and the outside world.

I did this to my twin sons. One of the first blinding insights I had the day Becca was killed was that if something happened to them, I would never survive it. At that moment, I didn’t even know if I was going to survive losing her. So, I told myself I couldn’t love them as much as I did. I had to pull back and create a safe space. I felt relieved when they went to their dad’s because to look at their horrified and tear streaked faces caused my heart to break even more. And, loving them might kill them. Forcing distance between us could keep them safe, and would certainly help me, my fractured mind rationalized. Without the insight of a calm mind I thought we needed a physical separation. Therefore, I allowed it to happen. It was an attempt to protect myself.

Pushing people away, however, happens in non physical ways, too.

Most often, I think, anger sprouts from pain. If we trace the root system backward, and underneath, we usually find it to be true. It is hard to see pain, for what it is, when you are immersed in it. Like trying to gauge the immensity of the ocean when we are at the lowest point between two waves.

When children are little, and don’t have the words to adequately express what they are feeling, they act out. I’m not sure it isn’t the same for adults who don’t have a way to communicate the mass of feelings they are carrying after their child dies.

Responsibility, which can will lead to shame and guilt, when you look behind it. If you don’t take anything away from this blog but the next sentence, then it will still be worth reading. It does not matter if we were with our child at the time of their death, or not, we do feel responsible.

The one job we have as a parent is to protect our child. Our deceased child’s age does not matter, nor does how far away from us they were in the world: wherever, whatever, however, we should have been able to see it and stop it. I was not in the car Becca was killed in. I was not the driver. I didn’t serve the driver alcohol that night. I was home. Asleep. Powerless.

Yet. If my daughter hadn’t seen me go out dancing on the weekends, maybe she wouldn’t have thought it alright to do. If she’d never seen me drink . . . maybe she wouldn’t have ended up at the bar that night. Ridiculous, right? See how easily we can twist facts until we are solely responsible for their death.

Then, sometimes we may actually hold some responsibility. How do we even start to work through that? I am close to someone who believes she owns a portion of the responsibility for her child’s death. Whether she does, or does not, her perception is what matters most. It is the heaviest of weights to believe we caused our child to die. Somehow, we have to figure out how to put it down or it will drive us into the dirt.

To feel we could have saved them, but didn’t, makes us feel powerless, now. All of this emotion has to go somewhere. Either we destroy ourselves or those around us. Usually . . . a bit of both.

The guilt that is coupled with holding responsibility can be debilitating. With the guilt comes the shame. We feel shame in failing. In being part of the circumstances that led to our child dying. We may feel shame at some of our behaviors in the months that follow a child’s death.

These three things: responsibility, guilt, and shame are braided together so tightly – they are sometimes impossible to break because of the strength in which they give to each other. I think this might be one of the hardest aspects of grief to unwind and figure out.

The next part of parental grief I want to talk about is the “others”. The outsiders. The people around us who don’t know what to say, what to do, and often don’t realize they’ve said something which lands like a punch. When this happens to us enough times . . . we don’t allow ourselves to get into situations in which pain is added to us. People say stupid things not knowing any better. Sometimes they do know better yest say it anyway. We lose some friendships. Some relationships because the chasm between us and them is just great to cross.

Seeing intact, happy families, can be unbearable for a bereaved parent’s broken heart. I would time going to the store, late at night, so there was less chance of running into any families. Anger would swell up quickly when I saw mothers and daughters together. Rage. Jealousy. I wanted my child and I would never have her again. I hated the mothers who still had their daughters. Hated. I felt rage toward everyone and everything. I didn’t know where to put the hostility. So, I just stopped being around people.

After our child’s death, after the funeral, we will run into people that we are seeing for the first time since the passing. Of course, they will pay condolences and we have to re answer questions surrounding the whole thing. It’s exhausting. Immediately, we are shoved back into the first days and we relive, and reignite, the deep burning pain. We don’t have to survive these encounters if we just hibernate and see no one.

Other people’s expectations of what grief is often wrong. It’s not neat. It doesn’t run along a straight path. Dealing with A does not lead to B, and so on. The “stages of grief” that people know and expect us to follow is unrealistic. I had a woman call me just months after Becca was killed and asked: are you done crying yet? I blew up at her. After the passing of some time and with a lot of self evaluation I have come to understand what a question like this truly does.

It made me feel like I was failing in how I was grieving. I wasn’t “getting over it” quickly enough. Was I wallowing in self pity?” What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I grieve right?? Truthfully, to this day, I feel as if I’m not far enough along. When we feel judged, whether we can verbalize it or not, we pull away. It’s easier to just be alone.

Being alone can be easier. We don’t have to fake anything for anyone. We aren’t able to understand the maelstrom of emotions that have taken over our minds, yet, we react to them anyway. Sometimes, we even create situations that will force others to leave us. In an attempt to to protect ourselves. Or, to punish ourselves when we feel responsible for our child’s life ending.

The only thing we can do, to help ourselves and others, is to identify why we are isolating and pushing others away. Identify and find the help we need to do the work in order to start truly healing. If we don’t . . . we risk the chance of never finding happiness again. Of losing relationships with those we love. Of never healing.

And, our child wouldn’t want that for us.

Place of Peace

As I have shared, over the past eight months, I’ve had the incredible chance to live closer to Lake Michigan. It’s not just an beautifully immense body of water to me. I am, somehow, connected to it. I can’t remember the first time I saw it yet it’s somehow always called to me.

My small family, the three kids and I, spent a handful of days each summer on the beach. Soaking up the sun, generally getting pretty good burns as we are all fair, and playing in the waves. That is the Lake Michigan most people know. Summer on the lake.

Then by accident, and divine intervention of some sort, I found myself at the lake on a frigid winter day. Everything that came with the death of my child was too much for me to handle. The enormity of the truth of it all was an avalanche that I needed to escape. I got into my car and drove. Most of the drive, I remember, I was in tears. I don’t remember, however, making the conscious decision to go to the park where I ended up. Kirk Park. The one we always went to as a family. But, there I was.

The natural surroundings were an outward manifestation of my anguished grief. Destructive and raw. The waves crashed and the seagulls screamed. Strong winds pulled at the edges of my coat and tangled my hair into a mess. I wasn’t physically prepared for the intensity of the elements. No mittens. A bare head. Tennis shoes. Yet, I don’t remember feeling cold. Now, with years between that moment and this, I think it’s because my soul was frozen with shock.

I screamed. I raged. I swore at the heavens. I hated.I sobbed. I contemplated walking into the water and letting the waves end my pain. I didn’t cover my face as it was sandblasted by the frozen bits of earth. I didn’t have a desire to protect myself from anything. At that moment the raving beach was me.

Over the years, since that first visit to the beach after Becca’s death, I’ve come to love the lake in the winter. More so than I do in the summer. Often visiting it once or twice a season because it was a 45 minute drive from where I lived. Now, it isn’t. I can hop in the car and in less than ten minutes I am standing on the lake that is so much a part of me and my healing journey.

Which is exactly what I did yesterday. And, I found a lake that I have never seen. Instantly I felt a deeper connection than the last time I was there.

I won’t go into details, but it bears mentioning, that we’ve experienced a blast of Arctic air over the past week. A polar vortex it’s been called. I underestimated the change it would cause to the lake.

Yesterday was gray. Everything seemed to be in shadow. A mist, heavy enough to leave clothing wet and hair damp, hung in the air. The piles of snow in the yard were tinged with the color of soot. The day wasn’t particularly pretty in any way. I wasn’t prepared for the beauty the lake would show me.

I drove the road that follows the lakeshore, through a small neighborhood, and spills out into the along beach. The view in front of me was monotone. The foggy mist was a film in front of everything and made it appear flat. Dark, almost black, bare trees stretched toward a pale sky. The snow was dirty here, too. Even the snow fences, a bright red at the beginning of the winter season, were dulled to almost nothing. And, where was the water?

There were a few other people parked in the spots closest to the pier. I was the only one who got out of my car and started toward the lighthouse. I’ve always been a bit careless. In my defense, my being needed to get as close to the water as I possibly could. Turns out, there was no chance of me getting anywhere near the water. In fact, the waves were so far from shore I could neither see nor hear them. I’ve never been at the lakeshore when there was no sound whatsoever. Until yesterday.

When I got far enough away from the parking lot there was silence. Not just a moment of quiet. Complete and utter stillness. Even the rain falling made no noise. It was as if the world was wrapped in cotton batting.

I walked out as far as I could on the cement pier. I’ve never been to it’s end because as much as I love the lake I respect her power. Water gives life and takes it away and I am no longer hoping to die. When I reached the farthest point I could . . . I just stood still, closed my eyes, and was.

When I turned my back from the parking lot the terrain looked as if I was on another planet entirely. The mounds of sand, snow, and ice were endless. As far as I could see seemed otherworldly. Ice at my feet. Then sand mixed with snow. Followed by ice stacked on ice covered with a sand snow mix. Even farther out evenly spaced peaks of ice chunks. I wonder how tall they were? I wanted to see where the still moving water washed up and over adding to their size with each wave. I wanted to hear the waves crashing loudly and the ice groaning under its own weight. I needed the movement that the lake always provides.

Then I realized . . . I didn’t.

This was exactly how my soul really felt, at this moment, if I stopped and listened to it.

Calm. Peaceful. Content?

With no noise to drown out my thoughts I could clearly hear what my soul was whispering to me.

“You are at peace.”

Before I could throw out all the reasons I shouldn’t be at peace . . . my soul continued.

“This is where you are. Today. You can not bring her back. You have accepted that fact. Your sons are happy and healthy. You’ve faced the unknown by connecting with Joseph. You are actively cultivating a calm existence. This is contentment.There will be hard days, always. But for now . . . let it be.”

And then I cried. Tears of missing Becca. Others of joy for my two boys. Out of gratefulness for what, and who, I have in my life. And, because I finally know what peaceful contentment feels like.

I know I won’t feel this always. As my soul said: there will be hard days. I will rage again. Feel hopelessly broken beyond repair. Endure the heavy weight of empty arms longing for my child.

But, for that one moment yesterday, I was still and my soul was well.

“You’ve found a real place of peace, at the lake, haven’t you?’ my son Gabriel said to me.

Indeed, I have. Both at the lake and within myself.

 

Tonight

I’ve always been more comfortable in the night than in the day. The sun’s light is warm and bright but the moon’s is soft, ethereally illuminating and draws me more often to it. I can remember, as a child living in the country, how the landscape looked when the moon was full and silver light washed across the fields. Otherworldly.

I believed the moon could see me.

Last year December, right around Becca’s birthday, I heard about the full blood wolf moon eclipse that was going to happen on January 21st. “Appropriate,” I thought. Makes perfect sense. Such a monumental event on a monumental day.

I thought the sun should have fallen from the sky the day my daughter was killed. It’s rising was a mockery to the fact Becca was no longer here. How could a new begin in her absence? Why hadn’t time stopped with her last heartbeat?

I was wrong. The sun shouldn’t have stayed below the horizon because of her death. The moon should have fallen to the ground and shattered into a million little pieces. You see, my Becca, was the soft energy in my life.

She was the gossamer lace design the tree branches made against a full moon flooded sky. The delicate curve of its shape was mirrored in her high cheekbones. Luminous was her skin and her energy was magical. My daughter held the wisdom of a thousand lifetime’s behind her brilliant eyes.

She is me and I’ve lost a part of myself. My daughter, the continuation of me being a woman, was an extension of the women before me. The feminine energy of the moon doesn’t have another vessel to move into in my future.

The veil between worlds is thinner at night, I think. And, when events happen like this full moon, I think it becomes even thinner. Gossamer threads. I was reading something about why tonight’s moon will appear red. Scientifically, it has something to do with the particles in the atmosphere. I wonder, if the particles are being reflective in a different way, will I catch a glimpse of Becca in the ring of glowing light cast from the total eclipse? Will my child be visible in the brilliant corona?

I am torn. I want to stay up and watch as this heavenly body travels it’s journey tonight. It’s completeness will take place at 12:12 a.m. For the first few years after Becca’s death, I stayed up during the time I was told she had died. I had to be awake and mark her death with tears and cries of anguish. I’d let her go through it alone the first time. I couldn’t let that happen again. Someone had to hold vigil for the end of her life.

This became too painful. My already broken heart would barely make it through until the next day. Instead, I would make sure I was fast asleep before that moment came. I didn’t think my weakened soul could stop the bleeding as my heart was torn from my chest again and again.

So, here I sit tonight. Balancing on the time before and after. Anxious because I still can’t stop her from dying. The passing of the years hasn’t made me any smarter or moved me any closer to finding out how to save my child. Tomorrow will come, without her, and I will have to go on.

To you, my dear daughter:

You were the magic I saw in the moon.
The beauty that comes from it’s fullness.
You brought an energy into my life I can only describe as true love.
I miss you with an ache that is never ending.
You are in everything I do. Everything I create.
The piece of my soul I am forever searching for.
Know that you are love, and are loved.

Maybe, if you have a chance, could you come into my dreams tonight and tell me what the moon’s glow feels like up close?

I love you my baby girl.