WHEREVER YOU GO . . .

When my daughter was killed she had been preparing to study abroad for a semester. Becca was earning her degree in early education with a minor in Spanish. Her dream was to move to a large city and work with immigrant children. Her semester overseas was to be spent in a coastal Spanish town. She could not have been more excited! Unfortunately, she never got the chance to live anywhere else in the world or follow her dream in education. The saying “life is short” couldn’t be more accurate in her case. I don’t want it to be so in mine.

I always thought geographical therapy might be a good thing. I just never had the means or the courage to do it. 

Right after losing Becca, it was unbearable to drive past places that had held my child, our life. I’d take circuitous routes to get to a destination so I didn’t have to see a house. The funeral home. Where her first apartment was located. Her high school. Where we all went trick or treating. There were so many haunted spots in my city that it was hard to avoid them. Living in a haunted city is exhausting, so I stayed home. I hid.

As the sharpness of her death started to dull (a little bit) those haunted places had started to become comforting. I could physically be in a place my daughter had inhabited before her death. Before I was forced to live in a world that had forgotten her. I’d purposely drive to her old apartment and replay the times I’d seen her run out the door and hop into my car. I’m surprised no one called the police on me. A woman crying in a car for hours should have raised suspicion. Thankfully no one did.

I would go into a store where we had gone together just so I could touch the handle she had touched. I sat in the parking lot of the funeral home because I could see the “exit” sign that had been in the viewing room where I had touched her body for the last time. Sometimes, I think I was trying to prove to myself that she had existed. My beautiful Becca wasn’t a dream. I had actually had a daughter that was no longer here. But she was mine, once.

Those physical places had comforted me for a lot of years. I didn’t think I would ever be able to move away from the city where I had raised my family and lost my daughter. But, after the passing of years, I was able to. Not a huge move, mind you, but another city completely. After moving to Muskegon I gave quite a bit of thought to the term I mentioned above, geographical therapy. There was a lightness in moving from Grand Rapids. I realized the memories of my child are carried within me. They are in my heart and mind. And, on paper and on the computer. The city that had held comfort had become uncomfortable. Cumbersome. Moving to another place had been a very healing move. The future wasn’t heavy with the past any longer.

I’ve had three summers in my new hometown. I’ve felt myself grow. There have been huge strides in my healing. I know leaving one town for the other was exactly what I needed to do. Now, I believe, this move was my training wheel move. There is another one I am in the process of making, it will take a while, but I am committed to making it happen. 

A few weeks ago I saw a Facebook article about an Irish island that was looking for Americans to move there. I playfully shared the article and made the comment that I wished my job would allow me to move there. A yearning started to build within my chest. I had people telling me to do it. My sons both told me to do it. One friend even said that of all the people she knows I would be the one who COULD do it. I kept thinking about that comment. Amazed that people thought of me this way. I consider myself unconventional but not sure I am the bad ass that moves overseas. Turns out . . . I am. Well, I might be.

This past week I had an epiphany that washed away all of my “buts” when it comes to choosing my future. I was in a wolf enclosure helping to microchip them. Though I was outwardly cool (I hope) I was screaming inside. I was actually touching these animals. It has been a dream of mine to be able to near wolves. (In all transparency, these are wolf dog hybrids, but they were cool as Hell.) I realized that I could mark this off of my bucket list. Then, I thought, why the Hell am I not crossing more things off of my list?? Why not move overseas??

Why not. I have no reason except not having the courage. I am not part of a couple. My kids are grown. There is no one I have to answer to. My future is what I decide to make it. Why not make it somewhere else in the world. I am bad ass enough to do it. I’ve done harder.

I won’t be going to Ireland though. I have the opportunity to move to Sicily, my ancestors’ island of origin, and spend time there. I am very early in the process of making this happen. There is a lot of work to be done but I know it is something I need to do. I want to do. It won’t happen tomorrow, sadly, this move will be about a year in the making I think. Which might be a good thing. I have a good friend who was born in Sicily and she is helping me make all of the arrangements. She even connected me with a woman, in the town of Partinico, who runs an animal rescue! I talked to this woman tonight, via messenger, using Babel translation because neither of us spoke the other’s language. Everything is falling into place for me to make this move. 

I’ve had the drive, since losing Becca, to do some of the things she had wanted to do but never had the chance. I honestly hadn’t thought about her doing a semester abroad in a number of years. This decision brought it back to me. I can do this for myself and for my girl. I can be strong enough to do this for the both of us. We, she and I, will be walking hand in hand as I traverse the streets of my future new hometown. I want to fall in love with the world, again.

I have survived losing her. Now it’s time to find myself. 

I know the future me is out there, somewhere, waiting.

ON WILDNESS AND TRUST

The summer before last I found myself in the right place at the right time to rescue a gravely injured baby possum. I had turned the last corner, heading home, when I saw a tiny gray creature staggering down the center of the road. My brain took a moment to register what my eyes were seeing. The animal had no face. But it was still moving, blindly, trying to get to safety. I realized that I was the safety it needed. 

I did the only thing I could do. I stopped and picked up the bleeding baby and tucked it into my shirt. Frantically, I called around to find someplace that could give the animal care it so desperately needed. I found the place. Fast forward since that day and I am now a sub

certified wildlife rescuer and transporter for the non profit Wildlife Rehab Center in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Since that day I have had the honor of rescuing, and rehabbing, dozens of birds and other wildlife. I’m getting a reputation around my smallish city as the one to call when there is an animal in need. I always have the time to head out on a rescue. I get to touch and care for vulnerable little creatures who need me. 

This past summer was unbelievably busy with various newborns who were orphaned. I hand fed dozens of Starlings, every two hours, and watched them go from naked little babies into fully feathered adults yearning to fly. There were a few Robins mixed in there, as well as one Cardinal. The last bird I rescued, three weeks ago, was a gorgeous red headed woodpecker. His wing was broken and there was no way to fix it.

There were two foxes. One had a broken leg, probably hit by a car, and she survived! The other, sadly, had distemper and he was euthanized. He was beautiful. All of the animals are beautiful.

I also had three Redtail Hawks! One of them we had to chase down and capture with nothing but a blanket. He was a juvenile and was tired and dehydrated and couldn’t fly. My friend and I followed him around a housing complex until he got himself cornered in a side yard. I was pretty scared as I approached him! He was on his back, wings spread, with his taloned feet clawing at the air. I laid the blanket over him and scooped him like a football and he was safe and transported to the rescue. A little rest and sustenance and he was able to return to the wild. The two other hawks didn’t make it. One had a shattered wing that was not repairable. The other had an old break, which kept it from flying, and he died before I could get him into the rehab’s care. He was starving before I even got him so there was little I could do. My heart was still broken. 

My favorites are the possums! I’ve had the tiniest babies to a big old grandad with a scarred face and missing toes. On one of the hottest days of this year I picked up a deceased momma possum that had a pouch full of babies still attached to the nipples. I can not tell you how bad she smelled as I drove the forty five minutes to the rescue. (I don’t have air conditioning in my van). Time was of importance because the babies can not detach themselves and eventually the milk flowing through the nipples will become toxic and kill them. Baby possums swallow the nipples so they can not just be pulled off or the nipple will break and the baby will choke. I made it to the facility and I was taught how to firmly hold the baby’s head and gently slide the nipple out of its mouth. Then I learned how to tube feed them. 

The tiny ones I don’t care for often. I fill in the gap between weaning and release. This year was my first year in this role and I believe I raised and released 11 (or 12) of them. The only hard part of the process is keeping my hands off of them when they are so small and cute! Their care is minimal as the goal is to keep them wild and fearful of humans. I feed them until they weigh two healthy pounds then I set them free. It is amazingly fulfilling and makes me feel like I am making a difference in the world. A world so full of pain and sorrow.

I had someone recently ask me: why don’t you put this much energy into helping people instead of animals? I mean, they are just animals.

Oh, where to start.

Animals are pure. I can not say that about humans. There are always hidden agendas and ulterior motives. We never know the truth about another person. It’s weird though . . . I will help another person at the drop of a hat. Even though I don’t trust most of them. But, the animals are different. I know they are labeled wild. At least with this kind of wild I know what to expect.

When I was cautiously approaching the Redtail Hawk, cornered in a yard, I knew the danger it posed to me. Its wings were spread as wide as they could be. He was trying to intimidate me with his size. Leathery feet with inch long talons rapidly clawed at the air. I knew they were dangerous and would slice through my skin with little trouble. I also knew he needed help even if he didn’t understand that. But, knowing the truth of the predatory bird’s nature made me careful as to how I approached it. I knew the worst that could happen.

We don’t know those things about people, do we? Each has their own set of behaviors they exhibit as we interact with them. Except these behaviors are not to warn us off but to bring us in closer. These behaviors are not unadulterated but used to garner an intended reaction. There is thought behind them. Most times, I’ve found, these thoughts are to serve the purpose of the person who is performing them. Not all purposes are for the good of both people involved. With this being said . . . how do we trust each other? I don’t know if we ever can.

I can, however, trust the wild animals that I rescue and rehabilitate. They just want to be left alone and survive. They don’t want to size me up and see what they can get from me. They don’t lie. Or hide things. Play mind games to manipulate my feelings. Or, change the rules when they’ve had enough. 

Animals are pure. Their love is genuine. Their needs are simple. 

This is why I choose to help animals. Not over people because I still help my fair share of people. But, with animals: what you see is what you get. I don’t get anything from them in return for my care. I do feel happy that I have helped a vulnerable creature and made a difference in their life. I give them what they need in order to get to the next chapter. I am a better person for it.

I can not say the same about my interactions with most people. I know that sounds sad but until we learn to treat each other with pure intention we can’t fully trust. So, I’ll keep giving my time and attention to some of the most vulnerable creatures on earth. There are thousands of organizations that are set up to help people in need. I will let them do what they do and I’ll stick to chasing hawks and fattening up baby possums. 

There is little chance of me being hurt by a wild animal . . . unless I am careless. 

The picture I shared at the top of this blog is of an injured possum I picked up this evening. The text I received said there was a “neuro possum” that needed to be cared for overnight and transported tomorrow. A probable head injury. He’s not very mobile and would not have been able to get to a warm shelter. Currently, he’s snuggled in clean straw, covered with a towel, in my basement. There is a little dish of water, some dog kibble, and a sliced up banana for him to eat. He is safe and secure and tomorrow my friend will drive him into the rehab center where he will be seen by a vet. 

I carefully lift up the corner of the towel to peek at my patient. Making sure I don’t get my hand too close to his mouth. I know he will bite me so I act accordingly. Yep, I’ll take an animal over most people any day of the week. 

If I get hurt . . .it’s my fault. No one else’s. 

On Sorrow

“The best we could hope for would be insights that left us feeling common, ordinary, everyday unhappiness.” – Sigmund Freud

Side note: The above photo is from the tea I had this afternoon. Interesting that it fell into the theme of this blog.

Western societies generally treat sorrow as if it isn’t an acceptable state of being. We do everything we can in order to keep sadness away. Take prescribed medication. Pretend. Shove the pain down deep inside. Keep moving. Self medicate. Get into relationships. Buy things. Over eat. Ignore. Seems we will do anything in order to keep the sadness at bay. “The pursuit of happiness” is even alluded to in the Constitution. The way we live pretty much demands we are constantly striving for complete happiness.

Eastern philosophies have a much different view concerning the sorrow in life. 

Buddhism has Four Noble Truths. The first being: Dukkha. The truth of suffering. Suffering exists. This statement is neither optimistic or pessimistic. It is simply reality. I have done in depth reading on the Noble Truths over the years and recently the desire to understand myself, and my state of existence, has prompted a return to these writings. 

I was having a conversation with someone who is relatively new in my life and he stated that my sorrow was a choice. As if I could just set it aside and not find myself turning back to pick it up again. My reaction was silence. I was at a loss for words.  Then the saying ‘to be human is to suffer’ appeared in my thoughts and I decided to revisit a few old books. I know there are the truths in Buddhism and there is also the Eightfold Path to enlightenment – nirvana to help us rise above the suffering. :

The Second Noble Truth is: Suffering arises from attachment – Samudaya. Which is related to the concept of Tahna, craving. When we desire a thing we set ourselves up to suffer when the craving is not satisfied. Or, it is satisfied, but only briefly. The latter is true of everything. This being a fact means we will always be in a state of suffering. Even when things are good, somewhere inside, we know they won’t always last. There will be an end. And, then the sadness.

When applying this to my personal existence I can see that it makes sense. One of my attachments is to my daughter. I desire my daughter’s presence on earth. This desire will never be met. The time I had with her is over. Moments are fleeting and have no permanency. 

Nirodha. The Third Noble Truth. Suffering ceases when attachment ceases. The attachment to my daughter will not disappear until I, myself, have died. I will never not crave the presence of my child. Therefore, my sorrow will never go away.

I guess I am a failure at Buddhism and living by the Noble Truths. 

I am not as wise as the people who have studied this belief system for years. I don’t pretend to be. I am not claiming to know whether one can actually rise above all that causes sorrow and ultimately reach Nirvana. I imagine some can.  I just don’t think I can. 

Is it because to no longer feel sorrow concerning the loss of my child somehow feels like a betrayal to her life and the love I have for her? Probably. Do I measure how much I love her by how sad I am by her absence? Undoubtedly. I bet it is a combination of those two things and so many more that I am not cognizant of. 

Maybe existing in suffering isn’t so bad. Is the secret to life knowing we must live in the moment and that every moment is impermanent. That there is suffering during and after all things? Accepting that suffering is inevitable in every life? That isn’t to say that there are not moments of joy. There are. But they end. Living in the moment seems the best way to exist. But, we are human and most of us will not transcend the desires and attachments that we have. 

Again, this isn’t pessimistic. It is just reality. And, there are lessons we can learn from the suffering we experience. Wisdom is gained.

We can gain a healthy respect for reality when we have an acceptance of what limitations exist. When we know the boundaries of reality we will not set ourselves up for dashed hopes in attaining a certain outcome. 

Compassion is the awareness of suffering in others and the desire to relieve it. I’ve said this so many times before: people hurting intensely are generally the most compassionate and empathetic. 

Our resilience is built up and we are able to handle the next painful circumstance that arrives. I talked about this the other night when I shared my belief that surviving childhood sexual abuse made me know I had the strength to endure losing Becca. 

The moments we are joyful will mean more to us when we know they will, someday, be a memory. We will give our full attention to what is in front of us because we know it will not last. 

When we finally accept that grief and sorrow are a necessary part of life we will lessen our own suffering. Guilt and shame won’t add to our burdens because we can not seem to attain complete happiness. We will learn we are not alone is our suffering because we all suffer. 

Sorrow and joy seem to be at the opposite ends of a scale of emotions in their definitions. Aren’t they really just two sides of the same coin? Inexplicably combined in the same moment even though they seem opposed. 

There is so much more I need to untangle in the concept of life is suffering and suffering is a necessity. I know I have not even scratched the surface of what I must learn in order to understand my existence. As I said before . . . I write in order to understand myself. My motivations. My life. 

I know that I will always suffer in relation to the loss of my child. That is an attachment I will never be able to break. I am fairly certain I will never be able to walk the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. I will continue to strive to live a life of happiness, however. I think I need to change what I envision happiness to be so I can actually attain it. As fleeting as it seems to be. 

As far as the person who told me that sorrow is what I choose . . . I will give him a pass as he has never lost a child. A sorrow, I think, that is impossible to overcome, completely.

On Sharing and Transparency

I want to add a warning to this blog. There is graphic material contained within having to do with childhood sexual abuse. Please, do not read this if it is going to be a trigger for you.

Every time I share a blog I am showered with positive comments. Many people thank me for sharing such intimate details of my life. I tend to be extremely transparent and it’s taken me some time to figure out why I have little difficulty sharing to the depth I do. I say little because there are still things that I am not ready to talk about due to shame and guilt. I have faith that I will get there eventually, though.

Growing up, as I have written about here and there, was hell for me. So much so, I am often amazed I have turned out as well balanced as I have. There are years of unbalanced living in my past but, now, I can say I am proud of who I have become. When you know the truth of the obstacles I have faced and overcome you will understand. Or, maybe not. I write so I can understand myself. Having others appreciate my growth is less important. 

My life was irreversibly changed when I was four years old. 

I lived with my mother, father, sister, and an uncle in a suburb of Boston MA. As a quick background . . . my maternal grandmother died at a relatively early age due to complications from alcoholism. There were underage brothers and sisters of my mother when her mother passed. I’ve been told that because my mother was the oldest of the children it fell upon her to “make arrangements” for her younger siblings. This is why her brother, Ted, came to live with us when I was a toddler.

At this time Ted was in his late teens if I am remembering correctly. Around this time, my father had an affair and had moved out of the house. Babysitting fell upon my uncle, Ted, so my mother could work. This gave him unfettered access to me, unfortunately. I believe I was his first victim but I’ll never know.

I do know the first time I remember inappropriate behavior . . . my uncle was not the only one in the room. He had an audience. An audience of a few of his friends. I don’t remember their faces. They are merely dark shadowy shapes sitting on the couch. My uncle was in an armchair facing a wall full of windows. I was standing in the room. The windowed wall was to my left. In front of me was the couch holding two or three young men. To my right was my uncle. His pants were zipped down and he was playing with himself. I remember feeling uncomfortable and crying. He motioned me over with his left hand as his right kept rubbing himself. When I was close enough he grabbed my head with the hand he’d beckoned me with and forced my mouth onto his penis. Even at four I remember knowing how wrong it was. Glancing at the others I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t stop him. To this day I can not figure out how monsters like that find each other. 

That incident, and the dozens that happened in the following years, ground me down. I can still hear the words, carried on breath that smelled of an ashtray and alcohol, that he whispered into my young ears as he lay on top of me. “No one will ever love you. You are never going to be worth anything more than sex.”.There are days when his words still bang around inside my head and smash any thoughts of self worth I’ve nurtured to fullness. I hate that this is the truth . . . but it is. 

The truth that matters here is I have been able to overcome most of what happened to me as a child. In fact, I have used my childhood sexual trauma to reach depths of strength most people never have to access in their lifetime. When Becca was killed I had to reach down and find that reserve of strength again. Somehow, in my fog, I knew it was there. But, that’s a different blog.

My uncle, the child molester, was also an arsonist. 

When I was five he set the house on fire while we were all in it. My sister and I were already in bed when Ted ran upstairs. He scooped up my sister in his arms then grabbed my hand and pulled me out of bed. He’d set the fire under the back porch and it had spread to the basement. My feet could feel the heat through the wooden stairs as I hurried down to the first floor. I remember my mother panicking, we raced away from the house because there was a propane tank that was going to blow up, and firemen hurrying everywhere. My uncle just kept hold of my hand and held my baby sister. I often question why he saved us.

That wasn’t the last time his propensity for arson affected our lives. He liked to set kittens on fire in order to make us keep quiet about his abuse. I was told this would happen to my family if I ever said a word. Why would I have doubted him when he’d almost killed us once before?

Do you know what I learned to do? Keep my mouth shut. At all costs . . . keep it all hidden. I remember a day when Ted was watching all of us girls. Six or seven of us in total. There was a little house set behind a larger house across the street from where my cousins lived on Dwight St. One of my aunts, Ted’s sister, lived there. I am not sure where our moms were but he was left in charge of us for the afternoon. One by one, he took us into an upstairs bedroom. I knew what was happening when one of my cousins was called into the house but I didn’t say anything. I wonder if we all knew. Were we all molested? Did any of us get through those years unscathed. I don’t know. And, might never know because we don’t talk about it. 

I was conditioned to NEVER TALK ABOUT IT.

When you don’t talk about things they can never be healed. Or, understood.

I spent decades being quiet about things. Years were lived just surviving. I carried so much pain, deep down inside, for so long that when Becca was killed I knew I didn’t have the strength to carry more, silently. I didn’t realize this immediately after her death, of course, but in the years since I’ve come to understand that I can not live with untold pain inside of me. It is not that I want pity. I don’t. I want release and healing. I want lightness. 

I want understanding from those who love me. Who matter to me. I don’t ever want my actions or silence to cause another person pain. So, instead, I continuously share. 

As I said in the beginning of this blog . . . I am often complimented on my willingness to share the private details of my life. But, do you know what I remember more often? The few people who comment, disapprovingly, on the fact that I am too transparent. As if I am doing something wrong. Or, looking for attention. Or, pity. Or, worst of all, I’m somehow broken. 

I’m not broken. I am being fixed.

Holding everything in doesn’t make one strong. Being stoic is not necessarily an attribute to aspire toward. Keeping quiet creates a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world. A world that holds the people who will support you. When you are removed from others you are fashioning a space in which you are completely alone and this can lead to exacerbated pain and hurt. I think, and have learned, healing will not take place in an empty world. 

This is why I share. And, share. And, will continue to share. If my openness bothers you then maybe you should take the time for some self reflection and figure out why. You may be missing out on the support and love you need in order to find healing within yourself. 

Connect with each other. Say the things that need to be said. Listen to the words that need to be heard. Share your stories. Honor the storyteller. Just listen when someone talks. Without judgement. Engage with each other.

I’ll keep sharing. I have to. It heals me. 

Intimacy

“I’ve never been really loved by a hand that’s touched me.” – Matchbox 20, Push

This blog entry is going to be quite different than my others. As personal as all my others are . . . this one is intimate in a dissimilar way. I’m going to share my first experience in intentionally widening my world. 

A few blogs ago I touched upon wanting to be happy. About the realization I wanted my life to be less controlled. I don’t think most will understand how monumentous a decision this can be for a bereaved mother who is living in a way that keeps her world safe. It’s miraculous, really.

The strength it takes to open one’s eyes each morning and take in a world that does not contain our deceased child. The courage we must possess to look at the world with trusting eyes. Trust that is requisite to engage fully in life. This also includes the people around us. Our trust extends to them as well. Otherwise, what is the point?

So recently, as some of you may know, I made the well thought through decision to let someone in. My advice: don’t expect to receive what you are willing to give.

My choice came after a decade of keeping people away. I overturned my decision to remain removed from others of the opposite sex. Previously, I’d felt that I had nothing to offer. I had no emotion to give another person. Then someone came along who made me feel as if I was ready.

In truth, I think I was. Am. I just wasn’t prepared for the cruelty that lay in wait for me. 

As you may have figured out by now I am very transparent with my feelings and motives. The why’s that cause people to do what they do. Especially my own. The problem is, this time, I let my guard down. I was open, communicative, and honest. About everything. I have to be.

Too many of the choices I made after Becca died were not good for me. The people I allowed to remain around me. The amount of red wine I drank in order to keep the anguish away was unhealthy. I couldn’t see a joyful future no matter what horizon I turned toward. It was hell. 

Now, in the after those first years, I make double and triple sure that my motivation is wholesome. And, I thought I could be certain the other person’s was, too. Fuck was I wrong.

I remember waiting, nervously, to get a copy of Becca’s autopsy report. I know many won’t understand why I had to read it, but I did. From the first page to the last, in one sitting. Then, I read it over again. I had to know everything. Every detail that was contained within the in depth descriptions. 

I know how much my dead daughter’s brain weighs. I imagine that fact makes you recoil. Grotesque, isn’t it? I wish I didn’t know. It might be one of the worst things a parent can know about a child. The weight of one of their organs. But when one can see the very bottom then one knows the worst. That is an important truth. Sadly, at times, the bottom is in someone else’s keeping and can not be seen by another person. When this is the case then we must base our moves in faith. And, hope.

I thought I’d made a decision that was sound. I didn’t rush in. I took my time. I trusted.

I won’t say that what has transpired is all the other person’s fault. I know I struggle with being able to convey my emotions at times. They tumble out in a jumbled mess and fall splat on the floor between the other and myself. Then, I shut down. It’s a defense mechanism I learned as a child. I get that this makes me difficult to deal with at times. I’m honest about how much of a pain in the ass I can be, too. Figuring out who you are . . . where you fit, after your child dies, is almost impossible. You don’t want to fit anywhere but back when your child was alive. Instead, you’re forced to make yourself find a suitable place now. Cultivate some kind of life here.

So, that’s what I did when I decided to open myself up to another person. Cultivate some kind of larger life here. As I said, it did honestly, and clumsily. What matters the most is that I did it with integrity. I can not say the same for the other person involved. 

What have I learned about myself in the past six weeks? 

I have more courage than most. I am not afraid to step into the dark. I am valiant enough to engage in a world that has shown me deep sorrow. Honesty doesn’t scare me. Being open doesn’t make me anxious. I welcome transparency in all interactions. I have a lion’s heart and though I have felt the greatest pain a mother can feel, I am still kind. Considerate. Empathetic. Respectful. 

I would ask what can make a person so cruel? Let me explain cruelty, first. Knowing a person has laid themselves bare in front of you yet having no intention of honoring such nudity. So, back to the original question: what makes a person so cruel?

I know what SHOULD make a person cruel. Pain. Unfairness. A childhood of abuse. The death of a child. Yet, do you know what those things tend to do to a person? They make them kinder. More loving. Deeply empathetic. The most giving people I have ever met are those who have felt the same depth of sorrow and horror that I have. Because we understand what it takes to interact with others in a respectfully intimate manner. 

In short, I would never treat another person as I have been recently treated. I’m not cruel.

The second thing I have learned about myself: I am forgiving. Often, people tell me that they are astounded that I have forgiven the drunk driver that took Becca’s life. While forgiving the driver was by no means easy . . . he wasn’t someone who had intentionally caused me pain.  And, I am hurting deeply right now due to this other person’s actions. I’ve already forgiven him because something must be broken deep inside of him to treat another person with the dismissiveness he showed me. 

Please, when someone opens up to you  . . . honor the space. Don’t exploit it. Treat others as you would your mother, sister. Daughter. Be a worthwhile person. Face the hard things. Be honest. Imagine what the world would be like if we all treated each other as sacred.

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.