Shifting

The morning I woke up after having the dream was the closest to feeling completely happy I’ve felt in a long time. My daughter didn’t feel eleven years, or another world, away. Her essence clung to everything around me. The warmth of her body hung heavy in the air. It’s as if she had just walked out of the room! I had been in her presence.

Details of the dream were difficult to hold onto at any length. Flashes of images, throughout the day, helped bring them into clearer focus. Over a few hours, I stitched the pieces together into a complete picture. Even remembering I’d been incredulous, during the dream, at being with my daughter again!

A six year old piggy tailed Becca came rushing into the room to see me! A pink and purple puffy jacket squished in my arms as I picked her up into a hug. I held her tight as I kissed her flush face and she giggled! Her sticky little hands held my face and she kissed me!! Somewhere in the dream I asked myself how this could be happening. I pushed it aside and concentrated on the joy of having my child in my arms!

My mother started to pack up Becca’s clothing which signaled to me that my parents trusted me to take care of her again. I don’t know why my child was staying with them but I was elated that I was able to take her home with me. The little voice, that seemed only interested in relaying bad news, told me that this wasn’t real. Not to be too happy because it would all be over soon. As I watched my daughter rushing around gathering her toys I told it to go away. Seeing my daughter so happy, so alive, was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

But, as dreams always do, it ended.

As I am apt to do, I spent the day ruminating over and picking apart everything that happened in my dream. Why had my parents been caring for my daughter? Why wasn’t she living with me? Becca had been so happy to see me, as if she’d not seen me in a while, how long had we been apart? I’d completely forgotten about her pink and purple jacket . . . why had she been wearing that particular coat? How had I forgotten about it? Why did I remember it now? Had Becca chosen to appear to me as a six year old, and if so, what was her reason? Honestly, I drive myself crazy some days trying to figure things out! I can’t help myself.

My mind whirling with dozens of question I told myself to stop. Out loud I said: “Just stop.”

None of that matters. What matters is that you spent joyous time with your child! You had a beautiful visit with your daughter. A visit that is all too rare. Don’t lose sight of what is important here. So I stopped dissecting dream moments to find hidden meaning and instead put my attention towards the incredible joy in the experience.

To me, though this realization may seem small, it is truly monumental when applied to the entire journey through the aftermath of child loss. The change in perspective from one vantage point to another means a world of difference to the viewer. It’s like looking at the day to appreciate what we can see instead of trying to find what we know is missing.

When our child dies we are plunged into deep mourning. There is not one piece of our world that has not been touched by our loss. To know this truth is to understand why we spend a very long time focusing on the child’s death and not necessarily their life. I don’t believe it is a conscious choice we make to do so. It’s all part of the coming to terms with and eventually accepting that our child has died.

Very simply: we need to celebrate their life instead of only mourning their death. Easier said than done . . . believe me. But, as the years pass, how she died isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Notice in the first sentence of this paragraph I wrote the world “only” before mourning. We will always mourn. The tragic fact that our child died before us will forever bring a great sense of loss and sadness. However, the beauty in the fact they lived and the memories we carry will begin to present themselves more often. That’s when the shift in perception changes our lives.

This shift can be difficult. It was for me. Being happy felt like a betrayal to my daughter. Still does. Not thinking about the unfairness of her death made me feel as if I was saying her death was ok. I’m not. Her death isn’t ok. How she died, because of someone else’s decision, makes me rage. All the things she missed out on are unacceptable. Some days I won’t be able to think about anything else but how my daughter was cheated. Her twenty three years (and six weeks) held so much more than the split second in which she was killed, though.

For myself, I have to concentrate on how my girl lived, not how she died. Just as in my dream, I need to tell the voice to go away and let me concentrate on the years filled with our life. Often, I repeat it to myself many times a day. It’s easy to slip back into mourning. Expect to slip . . . a lot. I still do and I am in the twelfth year A.D. (After Death) and I expect it to continue. Just don’t get mired there. Our children don’t want our lives to be completely about their deaths.

The life our child lived, and lost, is both an anchor and a balloon for us. On the hardest days the weight of their absence will drag us to the bottom of the ocean. On the best ones, the memories we carry will be balloons that lift us toward the sky.

Let the shift in perception happen. Allow yourself to be lifted more often. Your child will smile with you. And, together you will fly!!

An added note: The photo above was taken by a very dear friend, Kristina, who makes it a priority to put my Becca’s name wherever she visits. This started with people writing Becca’s name in the sand for me and has blossomed into a tradition very near to my heart. I’m blessed to have many different photos of her name around the world. She’s been seen in places she’s never even been!!

 

 

Storm

January 20th, into the 21st, is my storm.

As the sun sets on the horizon, I can feel the stirrings of change gathering in the dark shadows. For days, I’ve known they were coming . . . but now, I can sense the leading edge of fury growing closer. The winds always picks up, drastically, as the last light of the sun dies away. It’s as if this could only happen under the cover of night. In the dark solitude.  A damp chill settles in me, so I pull my protective cloak tighter, but it doesn’t help. Nothing helps.

I can’t outrun the storm, or hide from it. The harder I try to avoid it . . . the longer it remains swirling all around me. There is no other choice but to give in to it’s demand to be felt. I am on my path of child loss, completely alone. . I look neither ahead of me, nor behind me. At this moment, they don’t matter.  Above me, the black branches scrape the dark gray sky, with loud creaks and the resounding crack of splintered wood. Memories, as delicate as wind whipped leaves, whirl around me. The turbulent air descends toward me and snatches at the edges of my clothing, ripping my cloak from my body, tangling my hair into a mess. Laying my soul bare.

I turn my face toward the moonless sky and let the rain pelt my skin. Tiny drops, icy on the edges, like a thousand little pin pricks all at once . . . tear at my flesh. The only warmth I feel is that from the tears which run down my cheeks. After a minute, even that warmth is gone. Maybe, I’ve cried all the tears I have left.

Beneath my feet, the earth begins to feel unstable, as it’s washed away in the torrents of water. There’s nothing to reach for to steady myself. Everything is moving. Changing. Rushing past me. Yesterday, I thought I had reached a plateau . . . a place of relative safety. Tonight, I’m being pushed toward the edge of a jagged cliff, a cliff I should have anticipated. As always, I stop resisting, and allow the storm to take me where it needs me to go. Even if it’s to the edge of solid ground.  I give in and become part of it. I am carried into the next day by its ferocious strength.

When it breaks, on the 21st, my landscape is scrubbed clean. Dead branches, have been broken from trees, and washed away. Sunlight spills through these new holes, in the treetop canopy, and urges new growth forth. Formerly dark areas are ablaze with light and life. Behind my closed eyelids, I feel the golden glow, and I am warm again. My skin is tender and bruised in some places . . . but, for the most part, I am unharmed. I open my eyes and take in all around me. A playful current of air lifts a long piece of hair and brushes it across my face. I can hear the birds singing again. Their music has returned. Everything is new.

My storm has broken. It’s spent its energy in an explosion of emotions and is now sated, for now. The storm is the tension and pain I needed to release.

I can now turn toward the future, looking straight at the unknown, and continue my journey. The storm and I are still one. I know we will always travel together. My companion on this path. Ready to take a step, I reach down and grab a piece of wood, that wasn’t washed away. It’s the perfect size, to use as a walking stick, as I turn my back toward the cliff’s rocky edge. The air smells sweet and clean as I pull it into my lungs. I can take deep breaths again.

“When does it break for you,” my friend asked me this past Sunday afternoon. She must have been able to feel the calmness I carried within myself. I’d never thought of passing through the pain of the day my daughter was killed, as breaking, but in a sense . . . that’s what it is. I felt all the pain, I cried all the tears, I held my ground in the center of all Hell breaking lose. Coming out the other side . . . I broke through.

I survived the assault and came out stronger. You will, too.