Cecily AKA Big Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, Cecily.

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

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

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

Last week, she and I, took a hit.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

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

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

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

Laughing when we really want to cry.

Living when we sometimes want to die.

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

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

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

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

I wake up tired.

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, Becca, forever.

Everyone Has a Grief Journey

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

How appropriate, I said to myself.

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

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

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

Rage slid into the space where the fog had parted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trees, however, still reached for Heaven.


Year Of Healthy Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Forgiveness Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lot was being said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Watch Over Them

My visits with her are always unplanned and over far too quickly. I can ask as often as I want but seeing her will always be in her time. Not mine. And, I’ve had to learn to be ok with this. It’s difficult but I have no choice.

Once, I asked her why she didn’t come see me much. Was it because I was always so sad and it made her feel bad? Maybe she was tired of seeing me cry all the time. Possibly, she had better things to do than visit me when she knew there would always be tears. Quite some time passed before she could explain to me why her visits were brief and infrequent. All of it was just too damn hard.

Not seeing me, though. She needed to see me as much as I needed to see her. The situation leading up to all of this was so sudden that we’d had no time to prepare. Our paths had diverged, violently, and only after some time had passed were we able to reconnect. I needed more time with her, though.

It’s so far to travel, she said. I’m new and I don’t know everything yet. When I am able to come my energy is depleted within moments. I’d stay longer if I could . . . I just don’t know how to yet. But, I’ll learn. I promise.

But, I’d reply (there is always a but isn’t there?) but . . . we had plans. Hundreds of plans!

I know she’d say sadly. She would grow pale. Not pale in color. But hazy in appearance. Please don’t go, I’d yell and reach out for her only to feel the remnants of her solidness wash over my skin as a breeze does.

Damn it. We had life plans. We’d planned on life. I’d already given the world the best I had to offer: my children. They were meant to make it a better place. And, Becca had been on her way to do just that. She’d chosen to teach children.

During one of our visits, when I was trying so hard to fight the case for her death being an error someone “up there” had made, I said that to her.

“You were supposed to teach children, though, honey! There are hundreds of children who don’t know their life was just altered because you won’t be their teacher.”

“But, mom, I still get to help children.”


“I’m waiting for them when they get here. Most of them are scared and don’t know why they aren’t with their family anymore. I make them feel safe and comfort them. It’s hard for them and I get to make it a little less so.”

I’m not sure if she explained it to me or just laid her hand on my arm and shared the information with her touch but I saw my Becca with the children. She’d pull them into her lap and hug them. Stroking their hair and singing softly . . . they’d bury their faces into the soft curve of her neck and relax. I’d seen her do this a thousand times with her brothers. Her hugs were healing. I need them now.

I just spoke to a friend who told me about a little boy who died today. I asked for his name so I could tell Becca to be watching for him. My friend shared his name and asked me to tell Becca that he likes his hair played with. I did. I know she knows what each child needs as she goes about helping them understand what’s happened.

My daughter is still the sweet soul I knew here. The soul I know is waiting for me. And, someday far from today, her brothers. I also believe she is helping as many children there as she was supposed to, here. I’d change this if I could, believe me, but my heart is happy that she is fulfilling one life goal. Even if it is in a way none of us expected.

My heart, however, hurts for the newly bereaved parents who didn’t go to bed last night expecting to wake up to this reality. They are facing the unimaginable.

Becca, please take care of their boy, honey.

Love your children. Hold them close. Don’t forget that they truly are a gift.


So It Begins (Too Early)

The first snow fell today. Intermittent flurries of fat white flakes mixed with cold as ice rain. I was about half way through a forty-five minute drive and taking my time travelling the slippery highway. The radio station was playing a decent mix of 80’s hits . . . to which I sang at the top of my voice. Complete with what my daughter would call “car dance moves”. She had some very good ones!

Since seeing a cartoon, earlier today, of two little kids dressed in costumes – but covered with coats, hats, scarves, and mittens because of the snow, I couldn’t stop thinking about an 11 year old Becca on a Halloween long ago.

The weather was much like this . . . with more snow. Her red and white cheerleader costume was covered with her puffy winter coat. I coaxed her into wearing mittens, a hat, and scarf. She wasn’t happy. At each house she insisted on removing all of it to show her costume to the person passing out candy. Just her and I traipsing through the frozen slush. By the time we got home, her voice was hoarse and her cheeks were red and wind chapped. But it didn’t matter because she had fun!

There’s been a lump in my throat since I thought of her, then, this morning. Writing this down has brought forth the tears which have threatened to spill all day. I knew it was bound to happen. The tears coming at some point. Because, Halloween has always been the start of “the holiday season” for us.

So this evening, as I was driving home through the snow, I let myself get lost in the lyrics from four decades ago. I’d just finished a rousing sing-along to “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds when the station announced that tomorrow they would be starting ‘the all Christmas music all the time’ for the season. My forced good mood evaporated like the snowflakes hitting the warm windshield.

November 1 to December 25 is an awful long time to hear Christmas carols. Especially when the season ushers in renewed pain for those who are grieving the loss of their child. Nearly two months of joy thrust in our direction. Seven weeks of anticipated celebration. Fifty five days of being reminded our family is one less this year. One less if we are lucky. I know a woman who lost two of her daughters in one crash. I can’t imagine.

I say this every year: I HATE that the holiday season starts earlier each year. The stores try to get us to buy more – buy bigger – buy it all. Hobby Lobby had Christmas items for sale in September! That’s just ridiculous. Greed and materialism drive this time of year. There is no time for sadness! Yet, sadness still exists for many of us.

October 31 is the official start of my yearly personal boxing match. It lasts until the end of January. There are seven difficult dates sprinkled across that length of time. Halloween, Thanksgiving, the boys birthday, Becca’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the date of my daughter’s death. Spaced every two to three weeks. I barely have time to survive one when another is looming on the calendar. Punch after punch lands squarely on my body and by the time mid January comes around I’m never sure I will survive another 21st. Yet, somehow I do.

For those who have not suffered the loss of a child, please know, we try . . . we really do.

We don’t want to diminish your joy during this season. Or expect you to change what you do because of our loss. Be happy! Sing! Celebrate! Do all of the things we used to do when our family was whole. I know I am jealous I don’t experience the complete happiness I used to before losing Becca. We are happy you don’t understand the pain of an unused Christmas stocking – still hung every year – that once was filled candy canes and chocolate. It’s nearly unbearable.

To the bereaved mommas out there: I see you.

Hiding your tear stained face as you walk past the Christmas decorations for sale in every store. Gritting your teeth as you listen to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…” for the millionth time this week alone. Reaching for something that you know your child will love . . . only to remember they aren’t here to receive it. Buying it anyway because you need to continue to give them gifts. Folding your empty aching arms as you watch a small child climb into Santa’s lap. Sobbing into your pillow at night to release the pain you held inside all day. I see you. I am you.

Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to each other. Feel joy when you can. Let the pain be felt, too. It comes from a place of deep love and is a natural emotion stemming from child loss. Join the festivities if you can and don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t. Reach out if you need me.

And, just breath.

Relevant Anger

Last month, a comment was posted on one of my blogs titled “Just F!ck” that left me irritated. The comment, from someone in my distant past, was condescending, snarky, and meant to let me know that I am doing this grief thing all wrong. Do you know what my reaction to this was? Fuck.

I replied to the uninformed comment before I realized it came from someone I used to know. I kept it brief and non confrontational as I believe learning could take place. Indeed, it won’t.

Upon learning who the author was I became very angry. My anger was disproportionate to what had been written. A stranger could have written that and I would have been irritated then I could brush it off. Seeing as it was from someone who has a god complex . . . who’d belittled me for decades . . . who hasn’t lost a child . . . I didn’t.

I did, however, do some research about anger and grief. One is a natural by-product of the other. Yes, anger can become complicated and be detrimental to healing BUT it is also a portion of the entire process that must be confronted, acknowledged, and worked through in order to gain healing “that sticks”. This being said: working through anger does not mean it won’t reappear as you travel the child loss path. It’s not a one and done kind of thing.

I’ve often likened this journey to travelling through a decimated landscape. One that only slightly resembles the land you inhabited in the “before”. You will find familiar landmarks but they won’t be untouched by the grief. Everything you knew is changed forever. Is this not reason enough to feel periodically enraged? And, when that rage consumes you . . . you must feel it and work through it – UNTIL THE NEXT TIME. Because, there will be a next time.

Do you know why? For the rest of our lives there will be triggers that thrust us into the depths of anger. AND, THAT’S OK.

We have triggers that push us over the edge into renewed deep sorrow. This is to be expected. Ones that pull a happy memory from the back of our minds. How wonderful when this happens!! Jealousies can be set off when we see a whole family enjoying each other. Of course, because we were robbed of our future with our child. And, anger. Anger is just one of the dozens of emotions we will run across again and again as we continually walk toward our horizon. The emotions felt after the loss of a child are too enormous for us to completely work through them in one pass.

DON’T let anyone tell you how and when you should be finished with each of them. Not another grieving parent and, especially, not someone who has no idea what they are talking about! For lack of a better word – they are outsiders. They do not have intimate first hand knowledge of what the child loss journey entails. Therefore, the best thing for them to do is keep their mouths shut. The best thing for you to do is ignore them. Period.

The comment I referred to in the first paragraph had the general tone of “I know better” when it spoke of me “not being able to let go of anger would never allow me to move forward in TRUE healing”. To this sentiment I say: fuck that.

I have very close friends who have lost children and even they don’t know what depth, or width, of healing I have done in the past twelve years. I also have friends, who have never lost a child, that can not even begin to understand the energy it takes to heal as much as I have. So, someone who hasn’t spoken to me in over a decade has no place writing hollow words on my heartfelt sharing about grief.

The two things I wanted to write about in this blog are: 1) Anger is natural and there is no time limit as to when it should be gone. 2) People, especially those who have not lost a child, have no right to make any judgmental statement about where you are in the process. I guess there is a third.3) You have the right to tell someone to exit your life when they think they know better than you just how you should be grieving.

Grieving the death of your beloved child is fucking hard enough without some know-it-all telling you that you are doing it wrong. The weight of what we carry does NOT need to be increased by shame or guilt that someone else decides to heap onto your shoulders.

Each of our journeys, all started with the death of our child, is unique and our’s alone. We have our own order of when things are dealt with . . . our own timetable, too. There is no handbook as to how we are to proceed in the “after”.

Proceed in the way that feels right to you. Your soul will lead you in the direction it needs to go.

Deeper Meanings

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

Her gift made me feel cared for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Miya.