Forgiveness As A Choice

When I looked up from the notebook I was writing in my breath caught in my throat. My eyes narrowed as I tried to pull an image from ten years ago to the front of my mind and compare it to the man standing a few tables away. This isn’t the first time I thought I had seen the drunk driver who killed my daughter. In fact, I have always known it might happen because he was released from prison after serving only four years and lives in the same relatively medium sized city I do. My eyes concentrated on his. Could it be him?

He’d be in his early thirties now. Would I even recognize him? Would he know who I was? Does he think about her? About the family he tore apart with his habitually bad choices?

About three years ago, I decided that I couldn’t carry the weight of my anger toward him any longer. It was like acid eating away at my insides. I knew if I was going to start doing any type of lasting healing I had to find a way to let the rage go. Finding a way to do so wasn’t easy. I spent a lot of time soul searching. Releasing the anger didn’t happen all at once. Rather, in small pieces, little by little. I knew someday, I’d see him again, and I would have to tell him I forgave him for killing my child.

Two reasons helped me make this decision.

First, I didn’t want my daughter’s legacy to be one of nothing but pain. Becca lived a beautiful life full of happiness and love before the night her life was taken. She was so much more than a victim of a drunk driver. My daughter would want me happy and as whole as I could be. I want that for myself as well.

Second, she would want him to have the best life he could possibly have. Without getting into a discussion about what happens when we die, I believe where she is she knows it “all”. My daughter was never one to carry a grudge or harbor resentment. I know Becca would want him to be productive and successful with the time he has here. The happy and healthy life she didn’t get to complete. Now, I want that for him, too.

My heart is beating quickly as I try desperately to figure out if the man standing in the coffee shop is the one I spoke to in the courtroom. I waver back and forth between sure and not sure. The answer is revealed when his name is called for his drink order. The wrong name. This isn’t him.

For now, I am relieved of having to make the decision to talk to him or not. This won’t be the day. As I said . . . I am sure that day will come. I hope I have the courage to approach him.

For the time being, I’ll continue to work on forgiving him.

 

 

 

 

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The Passing Of Time

When your child dies before you do . . . so many things in life shift in a way you would never have thought possible. There is nothing that isn’t affected in some manner. Everything you see, hear and feel passes through your new reality. Slowly, you start to accept you’ll never be the same again.

I remember the last birthday I had while my daughter was still alive. In my early forties, I lamented the fact that I was probably about half way through my life. Only forty years left to watch my children build lives for themselves. Marry and have their own children. Four decades to spend loving my grandchildren. Not enough time left. Eleven months and three weeks later that all changed.

My first birthday after losing Becca was eight days after she was killed. Four days after her funeral. Thinking back, I can’t remember if we even celebrated. I can’t imagine we did. Or maybe we tried in an attempt to keep things normal for my twins. I don’t know. What I do remember is thinking that I had too much time left to live without her here with me. Forty years to live in tortured anguish without my daughter. The thought of four decades in front of me was too much to bear. How would I make it that long?

I understand now why birthdays are for the young. As we grow older, losses are gathered along the way. Suddenly, joyous occasions have another depth to them. A sadness that can’t be ignored. Joy and sorrow become inseparable companions. Where there is one you will always find the other. It’s just the way it is now.

This is just one of the thousands of ways life changes after the loss of our child. We try to be happy when we know it’s what others expect from us. Our sadness is kept at bay for as long as we can manage. Sometimes it’s for an entire day. Other times, just a few minutes. Grief is different from moment to moment. And this is o.k.  There is no manual to help us navigate this new way of life.

In three and a half hours I am entering my 52nd year of life. Would my daughter recognize me now? I’m grayer. A bit more wrinkled. I walk a little more slowly each morning. I go to bed earlier. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I have bifocals. What would she think of the older me?

Another shift occurred recently. Somewhere deep inside, a voice that I hadn’t heard in a while, spoke up. Whispering, weak from lack of use, it said “pay attention . . . you only have thirty or so years left”.

I hope I hear this voice more often.

 

 

When The Storm Comes

Earlier today I was talking to another mother who’s lost a child. Like me, she lost her daughter. Our time living this grief journey is almost the same.

At the moment, she’s in the middle of some very big changes. Some she saw coming, a few she didn’t. The ones that show up unannounced send us into a panic. She’s panicking. Her water is starting to churn.

In truth, we generally live on the edge of anxiety. We are always waiting for the next big thing to fall into the center of our lives and blow it apart. Can you imagine living with such intense fear all time? A call late at night must be bad news. Or a call that doesn’t come when it should means something horrible happened. It’s exhausting.  We know it’s exhausting for you to watch us live this way. We are sorry.

There are times when the water threatens to drown us. The waves of grief pound us toward the bottom of the sea. Large swells loom in the distance as far as we can see. Nearly drowning, we fight to survive.

When it seems we just can’t keep our heads above the water and we’re ready to give up, another grieving mother appears as a light to give us direct .

Sometimes I’m the lighthouse, other times I’m the swimmer. It isn’t always turbulent, though.

Every so often we have a calm day. The water’s surface is smooth as glass. Laying back, we watch the sky as the currents carry us along peacefully. We have to learn to be in that moment and accept its beauty. Soon enough, another storm will blow in.

I know this: we grow stronger with each thunderous wave we struggle through. Every time we break the surface of water, and take a breath, we remember why we are fighting to live. We know the shore is there. And someday, we’ll reach it.

If you get there before me, please wait, I will need your light. If I make it before you, I’ll shine bright and help guide you in safely.

I hope you all are waiting for us on the shore, as well.

 

 

 

The Journey Within

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.

Growing In Snow

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.

Ties That Bind

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory Of . . .

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.