There’s a quality to cold weather that makes us move within ourselves. I think it’s natural. Most of us do it. Like the woodland animals, we are cozy in our dens, waiting for Spring to arrive. Stretching out in front of us are empty hours waiting to be filled. Quiet time that lends itself well to introspective thoughts.
Many times our thoughts search out and find memories of our deceased child and pull them forth. But oh, is it difficult to see those images some days. I’ve found, it’s the only way we can begin to heal. We have to lean into the pain, into the truth, and let it take us where it we need to go.
At times, our minds take us to some very dark places. Dangerous places. This can be terrifying. Overwhelming. We must reach into the shadowy corners and draw forth what we find hidden there. Yes, what we find will scare us. Tear the scab from our ever present wound. Bring us to our knees even. I’ve learned, after my time as a bereaved mother, this is the only way to heal. We have to know the darkest ugliest parts of grieving and face them head on in order to the win the battle to live again.
No one can do this for us. We must journey within our own mind and face what we find there. We’ve already survived the physical loss of our child. We’ve awoken the day after, put one foot in front of the other, and started on our grief path. Doing the internal work won’t be easy . . . but it will be worth it. I promise.
As I look out the window of my studio . . . the street is empty. The only sound I hear is the wind blowing through the tree branches. In an odd way, the cold keeps me warm. I’ve been home for about an hour and the shadowy thoughts are finding their way into my day. It’s alright. I let them come.
I’ll be journeying inward for the rest of my life.
Today, after unseasonably warm temperatures, we are supposed to get snow. It’s been the topic of conversation with more than a few people this afternoon. It seems I’m the only one who is happy the weather is turning more wintry.
Michigan is a state that is fortunate to see all four seasons. Spring is glorious with life bursting forth across the land. The summers are brilliantly sunlit and the air is sweet. Nearly every road is aglow with the fiery red and orange canopies overhead at the height of autumn. In winter, a soft blanket of snow settles on everything and the world is quiet.
I like winter in Michigan much more than any other season. Not because I partake of the many winter activities around me. I don’t. Instead, it’s because I don’t feel obligated to be out of my house and interacting in life. Somehow, the brightness of the sun, so beautiful before I lost my daughter, is painful to my eyes. The laughing crowds at the beach are difficult to listen to when your world has fallen silent. During the summer I feel like I am failing at life because I don’t participate like everybody else does.
Winter is more understanding. The world is asleep. Both plants and animals are in hibernation waiting for the thaw. It’s the same for bereaved moms. Our world is frozen. We wait for a thaw that may never come. Winter is the landscape of our emotions and many of us are comfortable here. I am.
When my children were younger I loved snow days. We’d all be at home together. Hot cocoa. Board games. Blanket tents. These were my favorite days. Snow days now are just as loved but for a very different reason. I can be alone with my sorrow. There is no shame in having a day full of tears. No one looks at me with pity or disgust. I can be truthful to who and what I am. A grieving mother with a broken heart.
The winter my daughter was killed I drove to Lake Michigan often. There were few cars in the parking lot, if any, and I could walk the beach without seeing another soul. The water roared. The bare tree branches were black against the gray sky. What I remember most is the painful scream of the seagulls floating over my head. I could feel my torment escaping my body through their cries. I belonged there amid the frozen things.
I’m not as frozen anymore. The thaw I was waiting for has begun. Pieces of myself have started to shift back into place. It’s going to be a slow process. But the process has begun.
I think I’ll always love winter the most, though.
In the weeks after losing a child, we wander around in a fog, it protects us. Continually, our minds are trying to accept the truth. This doesn’t happen all at once, but rather in little pieces.
When we start to see more clearly, we notice that all around us are other grieving mothers. We didn’t see them before because we didn’t recognize the signs. Then tragically, one day we do. It’s as if a pair of glasses is placed on the bridge of our noses and suddenly they appear. Like the cheap 3D ones at movie theaters, the glasses allow us to see things that have always been there but were invisible to us.
One newly bereaved mom I know said it’s like a bat signal shining on the underside of heaven. Bringing us all together. A signal you were oblivious to until you lost your child. Now you need it because you can’t do this alone.
I have wonderfully supportive people in my life. A tribe I’ve built myself. Try as they might, they can not understand what it’s like to lose a child. And I’m glad they don’t. The other bereaved mothers, do. We are bound together in tragedy and pain. And healing.
Recently, I had an epiphany. When I meet a grieving mom for the first time, I believe our children meet in heaven. Why wouldn’t they? They are still bound to us. They know what we are doing. When I hug the mom, I am certain Becca hugs the child. They can look at us and know for a moment we’ve found understanding.
My first instinct is to rush in and offer comfort. This is my duty. And my honor. Eventually, these mothers will be charging in to give support. Right now, it’s my turn.
As I write this, I know that my daughter is holding a beautiful girl named McKenna.
McKenna’s mom is struggling. I’ll do what I can to help her here and Becca will comfort her child there.
It’s our life now.
Bereaved mothers carry invisible scars. There is no outward indication of the hell we’ve experienced. Most people can’t look at us and know of our loss.
For a long time I wanted a visible scar. My heart exploded like a hand grenade in my chest when I learned it was my daughter dead on the highway. Shrapnel embedded throughout my body making a deep breath impossible. It exploded inward with no physical damage to see.
I wanted a deep angry red scar over my heart. I needed people to know I lost my child and it nearly killed me. These days, I haven’t felt the need for a scar as acutely. I have, however, felt the desire to have myself marked in reference to my loss.
So I got a tattoo. A line of poetry my daughter wrote, in her beautiful handwriting, runs the length of my left forearm.
“She is here in the beginning and there in the end”.
I know Becca is with me. Always. My tattoo will remind me of this when I am struggling. When I’m overwhelmed with grief. When I don’t think I can survive one more day without her.
I run my fingers across the tattooed skin, feeling every word, because it’s so new. Eleven words that give me comfort every time I read them. They do more than that however.
When someone asks about my tattoo I get the chance to talk about my child.
And that’s all I really want.
Yesterday was the day I dread the most all year long. Anxiety is my constant companion every day, but the ones leading up to the 21st, are heavier with it. Like a calendar, the days stack up on each other, and are closer to the same date years prior. In my mind, somehow this year’s 21st it just a few layers up from the one in which my daughter lost her life to a drunk driver. She’s within reach again. Why can’t I figure out how to grab her from the past and pull her into today? What am I missing?
Today, I start a new decade without her. When I look back over the past ten years I can see the path I’ve walked stretching out behind me. It’s not been so long that the first day isn’t still visible. It is. Will it always remain in sight? Part of me hopes it does. Part of me doesn’t. This is one of the truths bereaved mothers struggle with through the years after their child died. The pain is too much to bear . . . yet we don’t want to forget our child. We don’t want others to forget our child. It’s a very fine line to walk and at times can be sharp as a knife.
Through these years I have met other mothers like myself. We are a diverse group as child loss can happen to anyone. Yes, we walk the same path. However, each journey is different. As unique as our child. The hollowed out look of our faces give us away to each other. We share the same stories about being told to move on. They are in a better place. We fight with the truth our child is gone. We try desperately to keep our child’s memory alive. We search for a reason to go on. We attempt to find a purpose.
I have met some wonderful members of this horrific club I am in. I’ve stumbled and failed. Other times, I’ve succeeded. Have I fulfilled the expectations I had for myself since Becca died? I don’t know. Those first days it took all I had to just breath. I do know I wouldn’t be here if not for the love and support of others. This isn’t a journey we should undertake alone. We need help. We need support.
When I am able, I lift my head from the path I walk and check on those around me making the same journey. If I see another bereaved mother struggling, I go to her and say “what can I do”. Then their are times that I am having difficulty, like yesterday, and I can feel the hands and hearts of others surrounding me and carrying me forward.
As I begin my second decade without my beloved Becca I feel hopeful. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to allow that word into my vocabulary. I hope, in this year, I can look up from my own journey more often and become a part of the world again.