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.

 

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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.

 

The Year’s End

Last week, Stacey and I were sitting at a small pizza place waiting for our food to arrive. To pass the time we did what most people do – we scrolled through our Facebook feeds. After a few slides of my thumb I came across an article about the movie, “Steel Magnolias”. It’s been thirty years since the play that inspired the movie debuted on Broadway. Many of us know the story of the characters in the film. We love them. Some of us relate to them. Most of us cry with them. What I didn’t know was that the movie was based on a real story.

The playwright, Robert Harling, wanted to write his sister’s life story. She died young from complications of Type 1 Diabetes. Just as Julia Roberts does in the film. One passage from the article describes how the writer, Harling, wasn’t sure that his mother would want to watch the scene being filmed that day. She’d watched most of the other filming but this day would be a difficult. The scene was the one in which Susan, the writer’s sister, dies when her life support machines are turned off.

Harling had said he thought that it might be too difficult for his mother to watch the character based on her daughter, die. His mother’s response was: “I want to see Julia get up from the bed and walk away.” As a bereaved mother myself . . . I completely understand this concept.

Two weeks ago I chose an audiobook from the library to listen to as I drove the 45 minutes, twice a day, so I could spend the time a bit more productively. This is my third one. The first was “The Ocean at the end of the Lane” by Neil Gamain. A wonderful tale. Then “Travels with Charley” by my favorite writer, John Steinbeck. This choice, my third, was of a book I’ve read multiple times. I am continually drawn back to the characters and the story. As well as the tale woven between women’s lives.

I don’t want to give too much away about the book but I will say . . . it is so worth reading. Also, skip the next couple of paragraphs if you plan on reading it because I talk about some very key happenings.

There is a part near the middle of the story when the narrative character has found love, true love, and finally she is married to him. He happens to be a prince. A prince whose family has very different religious customs. To appease the way the way the whole marriage occurred, her father demands that all the men of his daughter’s new family be circumcised. To which the young prince quickly agrees. But, before this can happen, her enraged brothers kill her new husband.

The story of this young woman, Dinah, starts before her birth with the story of her mothers and their family history. Up through the births of all of her siblings into her coming of age. The writer does an incredible job of weaving Dinah’s story into colorful strands of sentences that knit together around us into something as real and comforting as a favorite blanket. There is a description, in the book, which tells us how rough wool is taken and cleaned and worked until it can be woven together on a loom to make soft and durable material. This small snippet of the whole story is mesmerizing. All of it is mesmerizing.

Dinah, and her aunt/mother Zilpah, are called to the castle where they tend the birth of a baby by one of the king’s concubines. By happenstance, Dinah meets the young prince, Shalem in an anteroom just outside of the birth chamber. They fall instantly in love and the prince’s mother, the Queen, arranges for them to meet up again and her intuition is correct. They are meant to be together. From this point we are told of the deep love between these two young adults. The writer goes on to describe this joining in great detail and with sensitivity that causes my heart to ache. The first time I read this book the next events, which were unexpected but shouldn’t have been, broke my heart. Dinah’s new husband is murdered by her enraged brothers for what they saw as “the rape and kidnapping” of their sister. The bride-price that had been agreed to by the two father in laws wasn’t good enough for them. In reality, I think their motive was jealousy not revenge.

On my way into work one morning, I came to the part when Shalem crawls back into their marriage bed and whispers that an agreement had been reached and he was to go under her father’s knife in three days. The two rejoice at the happiness they feel and the future they will share. Except, they won’t. These two characters, which in my head are as real as you and me, are blissfully unaware of the tragedy about to befall them. But, I’m not. I know what is going to occur in just a few pages. I know dark figures will breach the castle walls and silently move from one shadowed corner to the next until they find their targets. The end of a life will end quickly and with much blood shed.

Knowing that this is where the story would go next I reached up and stopped the disc. I thought to myself. No. I am not going to let this happen again. Shalem won’t die. Dinah won’t mourn. I can create the future they should have had in my own head. Or, at the very least, stop the one that inevitably follows in the book. I knew I could not bear to have Dinah suffer again, as she had, every other time I’d followed the story through. The disc stayed in the player for almost a week until I took it out and put it back into it’s numbered place in the box and readied it to be returned to the library tomorrow.

If a bereaved mother could change one thing about her past life I know it would be to stop the death of her child/ren. Or, the events that led up to her child’s dying. The days prior to the date of our child’s passing are filled with dread, anxiety, longing, anger. And, more emotions I have not been able to put into words yet, even after a dozen years without my daughter.

I’ve shared often about my difficult time of year. It subtly starts as appears at the edges of the trees leaves. The air begins to carry a chill in itself. October 31st is a clear demarcation of “the difficult months”. The dates, which fall concretely within these weeks, can be seen on a calendar. Marked days of renewed sorrow and increased anxiety. Each one ticking away the time until the moment of her death. As always, there is nothing I can do to stop this event from happening.

Nothing.

I can not watch an actress play my daughter, die underneath a flipped car, get up and wipe the blood from the right corner of her mouth. Neither can I switch off the narrated story of her life when the words start leading down the cold highway in the early morning hours. Her last hour. Last minute. Final breath.

I want to. I always feel as if I am failing my child again. I just can not figure out how to stop past events from happening. Or, how to trade places with her. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Another fixed point in time that I have no power over. The year will change, time will move forward, and I will be farther away from my child’s last living moment. Tomorrow night I will go to bed early, as I always do, because the change of one year to the next is incredibly painful. I can’t face it anymore. I face enough pain in my everyday life . . . I think I can take a pass from experiencing yet another one. I will wake up January 1, 2019 and accept that time didn’t stop when my Becca was killed. I will be firmly in another year without her.

I would give anything to rewrite the story of our lives. To unlock the secret which allows me to change past events. To watch my daughter wiggle out from under the black car and walk toward me with a smile on her face and hear her say ‘momma” in the sing song way she had when she called to me from another room. Or, to just be able to shut off the narrative of impending events.

So here I sit, spilling my thoughts onto the screen, hoping for relief? An answer? I’m not sure. Neither? Both. I guess, as morbid as this sounds, I will take some comfort in knowing the arrival of 2019 will bring me closer to the moment I hear her voice call to me again. When I can catch her in my arms and pull her close forever. I know this meeting won’t happen soon, and probably not for decades, but I can look forward to that reunion and it sparks joy in my heart.

I hope 2019 brings you all love, light, and peace.

 

Included in this blog:

Steel Magnolias – a play written by Robert Harling in 1987.

The Red Tent – a book written and published by Anita Diamant in 1997.

Both

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons. Though some years, it seems, that we are hurried through one of them by Mother Nature’s insistence to hurry on to the next. Winter has always been my favorite season of the four. For two very different reasons.

First, I absolutely loved snow days when the kids were home from school. The outside world, and all its problems, didn’t matter for a while. There was nothing to worry about except what was right in front of us. The pure whiteness of the fresh snow begged the children to go outdoors. I’d spend about half an hour bundling them all up from head to toe then send them out the front door. Becca always seemed to come in before her brothers were ready. Little kids seem to endure cold temperatures much better than those who are older. When they did finally give in to the elements they’d come inside with sopping wet clothes and wind chapped cheeks. Becca would help them get out of their snow stuff as I made hot cocoa for all of us. Somehow, they would be sweaty under their clothing, their hair curly from the moisture and their hats, and they’d wrap their small hands around warm mugs. Sometimes, they even had whipped cream with peppermint sticks to stir their drink!

When they were very young . . . a nap usually followed an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones can endure the cold but when they get back into the warmth of indoors they tend to become drowsy. They’d fall into a deep sleep, bellies full of chocolate and faces sticky from the peppermint candy. Becca might take a nap, too. Or if I was really lucky she’d nestle up next to me on the couch and we’d watch a movie cuddled together under a blanket.

As they boys grew older, naps tended to fall away from favor, and I’d often be able to cajole them into a game or two. Our family has only two games we play together. Yahtzee, which I absolutely love . . . and Sorry! which generally ends in a fight because Gabriel hates how Matthew counts the squares by tapping his finger. And, I think Matthew might aggravate his brother on purpose. We STILL talk about it to this day!

Snow days, when we were all home together, were perfect every single time.

The second reason I prefer winter over any other season is because the outer world matches my inner self. Not icy, though I’ve been accused of that a few times in the past. But rather, I am not all sunny and happy and full of fun. Even before Becca’s death I wasn’t. Winter just matches me. It makes sense. Isolation isn’t seen as something bad when everyone is stuck inside of their homes. The beach isn’t full of throngs of people – every one of them having the best day of their lives. Michigan is beautiful in each season though summer here is the one that is talked about the most. It seems almost taboo to not be full of life during this time of the year. In winter, no one is insisting that you “come to the beach” or “come out on the boat” or “we’re having a campfire”. Fun things, yes, but hard for a bereaved mother to enjoy when all she can think of is her own child missing out.

Summer isn’t me. Winter is my time. The quiet solitude of the lake, beach, and forests. The coldness in the air is sharp. Images, in front of my eyes, seem clearer and more focused. I feel more alive. More at peace. Calm. This is the space for introspective and contemplative thinking. The darkness that comes as night falls earlier across the land lulls me into a dream like state. My thoughts have endless hours to chase each other and form themselves into something with weight. There is time to poke and prod and investigate what my soul is trying to tell me. The world, covered with a blanket of snow, is quiet enough for me to hear them. Still enough for me to listen. I find myself to be most creative during these coldest months of the year.

But, with the turn of the seasonal wheel, winter brings my most difficult days. The holidays are hard, for sure, but I have my own personal important dates mixed in with them, too. I’ve often said this time of year is like being in a boxing ring for me. Though I try to prepare, one hit after the other lands on me with stunning accuracy. Halloween marks the beginning of the match and Feb. 1 is the ringing of the final bell. Roughly every two and a half weeks during that period I am gut punched and I fall to my knees. Barely on my feet . . . another punch sends me to the mat.

Interestingly, my favorite season is also my most painful. I guess, in an odd way, this makes perfect sense. The deepest love I have in this life, that which I hold for my children, also causes me the most intense pain. With great light comes great darkness.

I guess that is the truth of the world. Without warmth would we know what cold actually felt like? Sorrow isn’t as deep when we don’t have the joy to measure it against. Life isn’t as precious unless we know the void left by losing it. We grieve as deeply as we love. It’s the price of being human.

So, here’s to winter. It blew in last night appearing to have every intention of staying for a while. I am joyful to know the world matches my soul again and will rejoice in the beauty it brings. The love I have for my deceased child will be matched with intense anguish that is brought to the surface during these icy days.

Beautifully painful. Or painfully beautiful.

I imagine . . . it’s both.

 

Gifts Given

Each one of my children has an artist’s soul. This is one of the good things I have passed down to them! I’ve watched as they’ve heard the callings of the artist’s song and turned this into a creation! From when they were all little, chubby hands wrapped around thick crayons, each spent hours drawing at our kitchen table. As they grew so did their chosen medium change. Gabriel is a very talented illustrator. Matthew can capture an image with perfection. Both can weave words into stories that will captivate the reader. They have the expressiveness that a child of mine would come by naturally.

Watching them create, through the years, has been wonderful for me. Recently, I’ve seen my twin sons talents blossom exponentially. Even using these gifts to work in media and make the world a better place. I can not wait to see what the future holds for them . . . and their art!

But, for my daughter, the story is different. All that she will create has been created. There is no waiting excitedly for the next thing she does. Her contribution to the artistic world is complete.

A few years before Becca lost her life she had started to work with oil paints. In my closet I have the small wooden box she used to carry her supplies. Little tubes of paint, a few brushes, a palette knife, and some crumpled up paper towels. I’ve opened the box, a few times, to peer inside. It’s too painful to do this too often. So, usually, I just hold it and cry.

I have a small watercolor she did, with my father, when she was about eleven. You can tell where he started the line of trees and she took over and finished them. I also have a frame which holds four crayon drawings she did when she was three or so. The red one is me, blue my mom, green my sister, and purple my father. I remember the day she drew them.

She and I were sitting at the kitchen table together. I was sketching and she was trying to copy me. At such a young age she managed to capture the important details of our likenesses very well. I love looking at the pictures and remembering that day.

I thought I had, in my possession, all of the pieces of her art that I would ever have. Then, Friday happened. And, I was given an incredible gift.

In 2004, my daughter was dating a young man named Jose. His family is Catholic. My daughter decided to make both he, and his mother, gifts. One, I knew about, the other I did not. The one I had seen was an oil painting depicting a religious figure. I remember her agonizing over whether it was good enough to give to her. I told her: it’s beautiful, honey, she’ll love it. And, she did.

I have a photograph of the painting. Looking at it makes me obsess about getting real thing. Then, the stars started to move into place to allow me to do just that!

Joseph, for those of you who don’t know, is the driver that took my daughter’s life almost twelve years ago. Joseph works with a young woman who is engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend? Old boyfriend? I’m not sure how to describe him. Anyway, there is the connection to me getting my daughter’s painting. Joseph asked the young woman, the young woman asked either her fiance or his mother, and Friday the painting was given to me. Not just one, however, but two pieces of my daughter’s art!

I told Joseph I would come to his office to get the paintings on my lunch hour. Waiting for noon to arrive was very difficult. I kept checking the clock. I was actually going to get the painting I’d wished I could have! Then, a text from Joseph, he was going to lunch and would be back at twelve thirty. Alright. I adjusted my plans. At about twelve twenty I left my job and drove to his.

When I was walking up to the double glass doors into his building I began to shake. The feeling you get when you aren’t sure your legs are going to hold you up anymore nevermind propel you forward. I entered the lobby and there was a young woman sitting behind the desk. I know I stuttered when I said I was there to see Joseph. I told her my first name and she finished up the exchange with my last. A minute passed before I realized that THIS was the woman engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend.

I was ready to pick up my daughter’s painting but I was not ready to be face to face with this young lady. Let me be clear, I do not have any ill feelings toward her, I just wasn’t prepared to see who had taken Becca’s place. As a bereaved mother, it is hard to see the world move in and fill the hole left by the death of our child. I instantly started to cry even though I fought against the tears.

Joseph was running late so I sat on a couch and waited for him. The young woman, so kind, came around the counter and asked if she could give me a hug. I think I was in a type of shock. Overwhelmed at the very least. We made small talk while I waited for Joseph.

With apologies, he came through a glass door carrying a red bag that held the painting. I hugged him, thanked him, then said I wasn’t ready to look at the painting there. I would wait until I was alone. On legs I was afraid were going to betray me . . . I hurried out of the building.

I pulled into the first parking lot I came to and wiped my tears away. I reached into the bag and there were two pieces inside! Joseph had told me there were actually two but wasn’t sure I could be that lucky until I was touching both of them. First, I pulled out the larger canvas that was the painting I had dreamed of getting back since my daughter died. There, in front of me, was the image of Mary my daughter painted in oils. She was breathtaking. Simple lines. Vivid colors. Religious imagery. Just perfect. And, now it was mine.

The second piece of art was framed in gold. A color pencil drawing of Jesus Christ with a prayer written in Spanish below it. I’d never seen this one before. A piece of my child that I hadn’t known existed was now in my possession. I can not tell you what a rare gift this is for me! Knowing that all that my child will add to the world has been done it’s amazing to find something new and unexpected.

As I held the two pieces I felt as if I was holding a bit of my Becca. An extension of her soul. It’s taken me a few days to write this blog because I selfishly wanted to keep these pieces of my child to myself. I feel contentment in having them near me. I believe they are where they belong.

I did show photographs of the art to a few people close to me. My spirit soared when two of them made the comment: wow, she paints in the same style that you do! Someone else told me that her Mary painting was very reminiscent of the painting I entered into Artprize 2015 “Our Becca”. And, incredibly, it is. My heart is warmed with the thought that I passed down my ability to paint to my daughter. I can see myself in the things my boys do, artistically, and now I can see it in Becca, as well.

I would like to extend many thanks to the people involved in getting these priceless objects to me. I imagine it wasn’t easy to give up a piece of a girl you loved, too. Thank you, Joseph, for being the bridge connecting the two sides together. I did not think my wish for the painting would be answered but it is very fitting that it was answered through you.

The world is an amazing place. Gifts are given all of the time.

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