Ordinary Days

The past few days my thoughts have particularly active in my head. This is nothing new for me. I seem to go through “dry times” when I can’t put enough words together to make a coherent sentence let alone write a blog! I often doubt, during those times, if I’ll ever have anything worth saying again. Maybe I have used up all of my words. Or, thought of everything I can think of. Weird, I know. I think it’s a writer’s thing. After time passes, the floodgates open and new thoughts and connections come tumbling to the forefront. All at once.

I carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go because I learned the hard way that not all thoughts resurface. Some of them come but once and if you don’t catch them you’ve lost them forever. I know I’ve let, what I consider gems, slip through my fingers. Hence, the notebook. I mean, if spirit is going to send me words then I damn better receive them!

Thursday, Friday, and especially today, the gates opened and the thoughts that have been forming flowed full force into my notebook. The half dozen different ideas, on the surface seemingly very different, all connected beautifully . . . each a pearl strung on the same cord. I am amazed when this happens.

In my apron pocket, at work, was the small yellow notebook covered with butterflies. In between customers I scribbled my thoughts onto clean pages. I filled up three of them. On the drive ,I let my mind nibble on each, trying to choose one for tonight’s writing. I thought I’d chosen one, pertaining to tomorrow, Mother’s Day. Upon arriving home, instead of writing, I decided to work on an art project I am entering into a local contest. The featured picture above this blog is a photograph of the project thus far. I am creating an image of my daughter in heaven.

As I was applying the plaster to the area which is the angel’s dress . . . I froze.

With a different past . . . in another future . . . this could be my daughter in her wedding dress.

The thought, the loss, what was taken from her, from us all . . . came crashing down on me like an avalanche. As I cried, but still continued on making her gown, this blog came to me nearly complete. I won’t be writing about Mother’s Day in the way I had intended.

Instead, I will be sharing my thoughts on the anguish held in ordinary days.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I know far too many women who will be barely surviving while they miss their deceased child. The pain, especially on days like this, is just to immense to be able to describe adequately. We try to find a way to make it through the day. So, we are told to make plans. Make a plan that doesn’t leave us alone. Make a plan to have someone check on you if you insist on being alone. Make a plan to visit your child’s grave, if you want, or a plan to volunteer somewhere. The most important plan is the one we have that saves our lives if it all becomes too much.

With so much emphasis on how we are going to maneuver these harrowing hours on milestone days we are unprepared for the ones that hit us in the ordinary days.We don’t see them coming until they are upon us. We are caught off guard. Our defenses are down. We don’t expect to be blindsided so when the blow lands it’s crushing. Today, for me, was one of those very ordinary days.

I often think of my daughter when I am creating. Even when the subject matter is not how I view her in heaven. When I am holding a paintbrush my mind is calm and she drifts back and forth through all of my thoughts. Today, the art and real life collided in a way I hadn’t expected. And I lost my balance.

I guess the message I hope to share in this short blog is to tell other grieving mothers to prepare as much as you can to survive the “big days”. But also keep in the back of your mind that the very ordinary moments, we all experience, will be just as painful. Actually, maybe even a little more. Our feet are upon a very difficult path, our footing is not always stable, and we are easily toppled. Expect to fall.

To those who love and support a bereaved mom: Expect her to fall. Just help her get back up, please.

She will need you again and again.

Especially on the ordinary days.

Creating Heaven

The past few weeks have been chaotic. In both good, and not so good, ways. But, that’s life, right? It is indeed. So, we have to find ways to ride the changes that we choose, as well as those that are thrown at us, unexpectedly. The latter are the ones that tend to be the most difficult I have found.

The last fourteen, or so, days have been very trying. I’ve had little time to just be. And, just being is essential to maintaining equilibrium in my life. Both emotionally and physically. As I said, it’s been trying. With the little down time I do have I try to cram as much into it as possible. When I do that, however, everything I attempt is lacking. Then I end up feeling as if I’ve failed, which adds even more anxiety to my life. Tonight I’ve chosen to write instead of doing anything else. But, I am going to write about what I’ve spent my creative energy on, as of late.

The picture above is of a 4 ft. x 5 ft panel. I have three of them on which I am creating a 12 ft angel. The angel is a depiction of my daughter in heaven. This first panel holds her face, the tops of her wings, and the night time sunset sky. I’m entering it into a local art show/competition.

One of the many hard things I’ve had to do, since losing my child, is to become accustomed to her not being “here”. Instead, attempting to envision her “there”. My concept of heaven, I’m sure, differs from many others. The movie “What Dreams May Come” (which I refer to quite often) explains a version that comes closest to what I believe. Initially, heaven appears as the most comforting place you can think of, using your ideas of comfort from your living life. Robin William’s character finds himself in a painted version because he loved his wife’s paintings in their life together. This happens in order to ease the person into the truth of having died. Of being removed from our living loved ones presence. I think this is the same for me, here.

When my boys move to a new place I always ask them to send me a picture of their room. It helps put my anxiety to rest if I can see their surroundings. Then I can picture them there, safe, in their bed at night. Just one of the many mental calisthenics I engage in to assuage my fears and give me the belief all is well in my world. I’ve found myself doing the same with Becca. I can’t ask her for a photo of where she is, obviously, so I try to create it myself. “Doing” for me is as important as “thinking”. I have to work through things in order to make them real to me.

About six months ago I started to paint angels. One day, a vision of an angel painting popped into my head. I knew that the canvas had to be textured because I wanted the wings to really stand out. Since then, I’ve done about a dozen or so angel paintings. It wasn’t until I’d been painting them for a month that I realized why I was doing them. Even though it’s been eleven years since my daughter was killed there is still part of me that can’t accept it. Hence, I dove right into creating angels. My soul knew it was time to understand her absence completely. In order to do this I have to be immersed in the concept of heaven and angels.

The first angel paintings were quick and easy. I don’t put faces on them. I said this was because I know I could never make their faces as beautiful as they truly are. I think it’s more accurate that I would want to make every angel face Becca’s and I wasn’t ready for that. I’m not sure if I am or ever will be ready. So, to the people I explained the lack of facial features, I think I’ve excavated the real reason why. Somewhere, deep in my soul, a tear was stitched together a little bit.

When I witness a sunset I always picture Becca gliding across the colors in the sky. Running her hands through their depths. Snapping her fingers she sends the hues skittering across the horizon. I know she is laughing. I see her this way because it is what makes sense to me. It’s what soothes me. Her new surroundings are what I am trying to replicate with this piece of art.

This is the largest piece I’ve ever created. My children are the best things I’ve ever done in life. It only makes sense to bring them together. Creating is my prayer. This piece is a pilgrimage. Moving me toward acceptance. I don’t think I will ever be done “accepting” her death.

So I will just keep creating angels.

Note: If you are interested in following my progress on the art piece I’ve mentioned, please go to “Touching Heaven”, on both Facebook and Instagram. I’d love to see you there.

 

Warriors

Mother’s who have lost children are some of the strongest people I have ever met.

Tonight, I saw a bereaved mother visit her daughter’s grave, as she does daily, then we drove past the jail that held her child’s murderer. We were on our way to pick up a young girl who’s been staying with us. Can you imagine the strength it takes to be her?

She knelt upon the six feet of dirt that lies above her child’s coffin, picturing how her daughter looked the last time she saw her, and places her hands where her daughter’s would be. She quietly talks to her child. Sharing her day. Telling her how much she misses her. Whispering her love into the blades of grass that have started to grow on the rectangle of recently turned earth.

As she does every time, she cleans off the piece of marble where her daughter’s name is etched. Straightens up flowers, waters the blooms that are real, situates the little angel statues that have been placed for her beautiful child. Her daughter no longer has a bedroom for her mother to clean . . . so she does what all grieving mothers do, we care for the place where our child’s body rests. For her, it’s a peaceful cemetery that is bathed in the colors of sunset every night.

She climbs back into my car after visiting with her child. Sometimes, I walk to the grave site with her. Most times, I wait in the car because I don’t want to intrude on such an intimate moment. I don’t want my friend to feel uncomfortable in her grief. Grief is an incredibly intimate affair. I pull around the corner and stop for a minute, always with the window rolled down, so my friend can call to her daughter once more, before we leave, and tell her she is loved. I always say good bye, too.

Tonight, we had to go pick up the young lady who is staying with us, a refugee student from the Congo, after she was finished with her job. The quickest route to take to her job was one of the busy highways in our city. We were upon the jail before I realized it was the one he is being held in until the trial. Immediately, I was worried about her. This could have been a trigger. Especially right now. Last week there was movement in the court proceedings. Movement that caused the pain to wash over the family again. A decision that sent the family reeling with it being placed right in the middle of this grief path they walk,

She didn’t utter a word. Maybe she just couldn’t utter anything about his existence such a short distance from the highway. Possibly, for a moment, she was able to deny his existence, anywhere. I don’t know which one it was. Or maybe neither. The strength and grace she shows every single day is inspirational.

Within a few moments, the brick building with tiny slits of windows, was lost behind the now full trees. We continued north on the highway until we reached the exit for our student’s job site. A few minutes later, the girl sat in the back seat and my friend asked her (with joy in her voice) how her day had been.

Yes, there is strength in the visiting of our child’s grave site. Not falling to our knees and clawing at the hard earth with our hands is sometimes difficult to not do. Or even laying upon the new grass that covers our child’s final resting place, and refusing to leave, because they might need us . . . and we sure the hell need them.

There is also tremendous bravery in being able to be so close to the person who ended your child’s life and not go completely insane. No screaming, in the hope he can hear you. Just grace.

But I think the greatest act of courage must be to allow another young woman into your life and to care for them, be concerned about their well being. When you would give anything to have this be your daughter instead. That, my non bereaved friends, is an act of strength and hope of the highest magnitude.

We become warriors, when our child dies, in order to survive. Eventually, we are warriors for each other, and the children who need us.

YOU are strong. I am strong. Imagine how strong we are together?

Healing Places

I’ve always been an artist. Not necessarily a good one, but drawing did something for me that nothing else could do. I was centered and no where else when I had a pencil in my hand and a sketchpad in my lap. After my daughter was killed, I spent hours silently on the couch. Doing drawing after drawing of rocks. My mind was soothed by the sound of the lead on paper. My body, wracked with pain, would turn it’s attention to the fine motor skills needed to draw, and I’d have a period of lessened physical torture. When I draw, or paint, I am nowhere but right there, in that moment. It’s the closest I come to meditating.

When we lose a child, our life is permanently divided into two distinct time frames. Before and After. The letters used to denote periods of time, BC and AD have a new meaning to me. Before Crash and After Death. It’s how our lives are segmented now. We exist in the after but long for the before. Living in this limbo is exhausting. We know we must participate in the life around us but we can’t help letting our minds wander to days long ago. Or maybe not so long ago. Days so close we can almost touch them.

The only place I’ve found, that gives me a reprieve, is in my studio.

Let me say this: writing helps me heal, as well. But, writing is where I purposely access the emotions and examine them. I have to allow them to wash over me and take over my mind so I can write, as truthfully as possible, about my experience. It’s a painful and exhausting activity. Often, I feel completely worn out need to just finish the day by going to bed immediately after I’m finished. I write because I HAVE to. There is a story in me that I need to share, to lighten it’s weight on my soul, and to hopefully help others not feel alone in this. But painting soothes my emotions instead of bringing them to the surface.

As I said above, we live in an world that has been dissected by the death of our child. We are continually assaulted with “used to be” and “should have been”. I know I often feel as if I am talking myself from the edge of a ledge that leads to all engulfing pain. My heart can only take so much, in one day, before all my closely held emotions spill free. The closest I’ve come to that ledge, lately, is when a pregnant girl and her mother stood at the deli counter where I work. They discussed the cravings they had in common during their pregnancies. A special bonding conversation for mother and daughter that nearly caused me to come unhinged. I’ve learned to hide these moments from others. Most don’t understand.

When I get home, after a day like this, I sit down at my easel and can feel a sense of calm enfold me. I’ve read that meditation helps us detach. It reduces stress and alleviates anxiety,but not for me. I have tried numerous times, over the years, to use meditation as a means to mental well being. Not once has it worked for me. My mind races and starts circling unpleasant thoughts. I begin to worry that I can’t do anything right, even meditation, like other people. I end up feeling worse than when I started. Let me add, I do know meditation works for people and I don’t want to sound as if I think it’s a waste of time. It isn’t. Fortunately, I’ve found my meditative activity.

In the past year, I’ve started doing something I never thought I would have, or could have. I lead painting events for groups of people. Some have been for profit, but the ones that mean the most to me are the ones that I donate my time to help raise funds. Because of being a grieving mom, I’ve met other bereaved moms who have foundations to help others, in the memory of their child. Generally, the painting we do is simple, only taking a few hours, but for those hours I am helping others learn about the healing quality to creating.

Creating, for me, isn’t about the end product (unless I am doing a commission for someone else.). It’s about the process. The journey, not the destination. I’m not looking at the two pieces of my life, the before and after, I am existing in the now. My daughter is with me, I haven’t forgotten her,she is happy because I have found a moment of peace.

The smell of the paint, feel of the brush in my hand, and the colors on the palette are all very soothing to me. My two dogs at my feet, the warmth of the cat on my lap, all work together to create harmony in my soul. Though these moments are brief, they can save a very difficult day from complete ruin.

I’m currently working on a series titled “Healing Places”, which for me, are always in nature. The image above is the canvas I am working on currently. Bringing the two types of healing together for me, being in them and painting them, is having a very uplifting effect on my soul. A peace I so very badly want to help other grieving mothers find. Whether it be painting, writing, running, gardening or meditating. Whatever it is. Our souls NEED this in order to heal. To remain strong. You deserve this time for yourself and your soul.

In that spirit, my studio is always open to anyone who feels the need to paint.