Because We Must

A handful of years back, I had a friend tell me that I always bring up my daughter’s death in conversations. His next statement caused much inner turmoil: It seems you see yourself as a grieving mother before anything else. Did I? Was that wrong to do? Am I wallowing? An attention seeker? Do I want pity? Am I being offensive? Off-putting? Am I completely messing up this grieving thing??

I thought about what he’d said to me. I DID bring it up in a lot of conversations. About that he was right. But, was it inappropriate to do so? I can not tell you how many hours I chased the reasons, and answers, to this question.

Initially, I was hurt by the words. The anger came later.

Was he telling me I needed to stop talking about my daughter’s death? How could he expect me to do that? Did everyone want me to stop talking about Becca? When is the right time to mention my dead child? Does someone need to ask me, “Is one of your children deceased?”, before I bring her up? Is there a handbook of grief protocol I didn’t receive? Not only was I reeling from her absence in my life . . . I now had to remain quiet about it. Maybe he was right, maybe I shouldn’t bring it up in polite social interactions. Screw that.

Then the righteous anger came. Yeah, so what, I DO bring her death up a lot. F*ck him, he doesn’t know. Who the Hell is he to tell me I talk about her too often! Both of his children are alive . . . so he can take his observation and shove it. What I do, what I say, is none of his business. He can f*ck off for all I care!

As the anger dissipated, I started to try to figure out the emotions connected to this situation. First, why did it bother him so much that I did this? Obviously, he felt uncomfortable. He could see the awkward looks on other’s faces as I spoke. Second, why did I feel the compulsion to do this. What he said was true, and after taking the tone of judgement out of it . . . I wanted to know the reason.

Was he uncomfortable because child loss is a terrifying possibility and he didn’t want to think about it? Maybe. The truer answer, probably is, we (read society) don’t handle grief well. It’s foreign because it’s been removed, for the most part, from our life. Years ago, generations ago, death was a part of everyday life. Most families had many children because it was understood some might not make it to adulthood. Child loss was more real, to society as a whole, a hundred years ago. Not so in today’s world.

Does the feeling of awkwardness, in others, stem from our grief being too intimate for them to see? Have we forgotten how to behave when someone else is emotionally hurting? Is our raw pain just too much for outsiders to handle? Yes, yes, and again, yes.

When someone bares themselves to another person, there is vulnerability from both sides. Being vulnerable can be very uncomfortable for many. In our world today, there are so many ways to interact with someone else, that isn’t face to face. We are forgetting how to just “be” with another person. And, as far as the rawness of child loss pain, it can be very overwhelming for those who don’t understand it. Scary, even.

For a while, after my friend made this observation, I tried not to bring up my deceased daughter. I didn’t want others to look at me as if I might be a bit off. But, as I rolled this truth around in my head, I came to realize, there are very real reasons I do this. I needed others to connect with me on this level. I was in a lonely and desolate place. I had to share the pain, share her story, otherwise it remained a silent nightmare. In a world that no longer held her . . . I needed her name to be heard.

The biggest reason, though, was because her death was a monumental life event for me. Think about the huge events that happen to a large number of people: 9/11, the Challenger explosion, any mass shooting. We all gather, in groups, and say, “did you hear?” or “can you believe it?” We share the pain we are all feeling. We need to know we are not in it alone. It’s the same for us. We need a connection. We need validation. We need understanding. We need care.

Becca made me a momma. Her birth completely transformed who I was. It would be foolish for me, or anyone else, to think her death didn’t do the very same thing. Losing Becca changed me at the deepest levels of my being. Of course I am going to talk about it. About her. About my experience on this path. I have no other choice. And, that’s ok.

Let us talk. We need to share. Please . . . listen. Laying ourselves bare, in front of you, is not easy for us, either. Those first months, when we are desperately trying to fit the truth into our hearts, we need to be connected to others. It helps us to accept our new reality. It’s where we start to heal.

We need you.

 

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.

Becca, Always

What would you do if it was your last day on earth? If you knew it was your last . . . would it change how you spend it? Does it make you stop, and think, when you realize one small change in your plans could set you on a path from which there was no return? Do the events of the future, lock into place, seconds before they happen? My mind is a jumble of unanswerable questions, tonight. A tight knot of facts and wishes and questions.

What was Becca doing, eleven years ago, at this time? This year, the date matches up with the actual day. This, somehow, makes the living her, feel closer. Achingly within my reach. Like time has folded, and she’s closer than ever. There is a tightness in my chest as the clock creeps closer to “the minute” and I know I have no way of reaching through and saving her.

Eleven years ago, I was working at a restaurant, waiting tables. I am unsure what time I started to feel the heaviness, that told me, life was going to change forever. I don’t know, at what point, Becca’s life turned toward her death. What was the hour that the drunk driver’s decisions turned him into my daughter’s path? Were they entwined from the very beginning? He, born in another country, became the deliverer of her death when he immigrated here? Did I put her, squarely in his path, when I decided not to release her to adoption? Why do I need to know??

The weekend, Becca was killed, she was supposed to go to my parents’ house in Cadillac. Her nana was going to help her set up her new laptop. Early in the day, that long ago Saturday, a Best Buy employee called my daughter to tell her the laptop wasn’t ready. Becca cancelled the plans to drive up north and decided to go out with her friends, instead. Was this the fateful turn?

My lovely, vibrant, beautiful daughter, stood in front of her bathroom mirror, and got herself ready for a night out. Knowing her, she probably blew a kiss or winked at her reflection, before flipping the light off. Did she stoop down and kiss her cat, Sarah, goodbye? Or, run her hand along her other cat, Blue’s, back? Did she shut the door with a, “I’ll see you when I get home!”
How can so many “lasts” happen, one after the other, and we not know what they are??

Ten o’clock, eleven years ago, is about the time the heaviness I was feeling, bloomed. I knew that whatever was going to happen, was going to be big, bigger than me. Was that the time the drunk driver, Joseph, decided to climb behind the wheel? Behind the wheel of a car, he wasn’t supposed to be driving, because he lost his license six weeks earlier from a second drunk driving arrest? Was this the moment my child’s life was slated to end? Is that why I felt what I did? Did my soul know I was going to lose her?

I spent the rest of my shift, restless. The drive home took too long. I remember kissing the boys good night, then going up to bed. Again, restless. Waiting for “it”? An hour, or so, later, my waiting ended.

The room was completely dark and my door was closed. I had fallen asleep, laying on my right side, facing away from the phone. Behind me, near the bottom of my bed, I felt someone sit down. A hand reached out and rubbed my leg. I felt it’s solidness and familiar touch. I lifted my head, looking for my daughter, but couldn’t see her. That was the moment, I knew with certainty, my Becca was dead. I knew, that when I rolled over, the light would be flashing on the base of the phone, signalling a message. The message would be that she was gone. My brain screamed at me to ignore the little red light. It couldn’t be real if I didn’t hear it. But, I had to know.

The words I heard were in my mother’s voice. Chosen words, to convey the gravity, but not the complete truth. “There’s been an accident . . . and it doesn’t look good.” Even now, I wonder about those words. Doesn’t look good? Violent death never “looks good”, does it? Did my mother already know that her granddaughter had been killed?

I called the police department to find out where a crash had occurred. When I had that information, I started to call Becca’s phone. Deep inside I knew she was gone . . . but I still tried to reach her. On the way to the crash site, I kept calling her . . . six, seven, eight . . .times. I am not sure how many times I waited for her to pick up before the line started to go directly to voicemail. I think that is when I started to cry. I often wonder, who was the person who had shut my daughter’s phone off, that night? Was it too hard for them to see “Momma” on the screen when they were investigating the crime scene? Or, did I just call her so much that I drained her battery in such a short time?

I’ve been talking to Becca all day, today. Laughing at some memories. Crying at most. Where she is, does she mark this date, too? Is she restless, knowing what I am going through, worried about me? Somewhere, in the same city I am in, is Joseph anxious, too? Or, does today pass over him with no more meaning than any other? Will he remember my beautiful daughter tomorrow? Does he wonder if I am ok, if her brothers are ok? Does he remember?

I’m exhausted. The grief is heavier than it’s been in a very long time. It’s pressing on my chest and making each breath painful. My eyes are swollen and my face is red. I feel a hundred years old. I’m glad it’s dark out . . . the sun was too bright. I’m envious of every mother who has her daughter next to her. I’m not strong today. I’m frail and aged and weak. My journey has stalled as I sit to mourn my daughter, tonight. I am allowed this time, this sacred space, to mark her passing.

Even though she is no longer here . . . it’s my duty, my honor, to be by her side, tonight. So, I will sit in the candle light and tell my baby girl that she’s not alone, this time. I will wail and I will scream.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and start walking again.

Daffodils

Roughly, four days had passed before I realized the small park, very near where I am currently staying, was “THE park”. Maybe because it’s been years since I’ve seen it. Or, because when I picture this spot in my head . . . the leaves are green and the gentle slope of land is covered with bright yellow daffodils. Today the trees, barren for winter, don’t offer much in the way of cover from the cars passing close by. The houses seem too near for there to be any privacy. Then again, I was much smaller on that late summer afternoon when my uncle took my hand and I waded through the flowers and into the trees.

I am not generally a “silver lining” type of person. Trying to find the good in every situation can be exhausting. And, sometimes, there just isn’t any good to be found. Not everything betters us. Or makes us stronger. A shitty situation, is sometimes just that . . . a shitty situation. Period.

But, other times . . . events, as horrific as they are, can make us stronger.

Before my daughter was killed, one of the worst things that had happened to me was being sexually abused as a child. It seemed to affect nearly every single area of my life. From getting my period the first time . . . to giving birth to my daughter. And, everything in between.

To me, it seemed, every bit of information brought into my brain passed through the truth of sexual abuse. My thoughts were invaded by it. My self identity was shaped by it. The image, looking back at me from the mirror, was clouded by it. I just couldn’t escape, the effect it had on me, in any area of my life. It was a part of every decision I made. Always present. There was no freeing myself from it’s grasp.

Until Becca was killed. Then, it was a non issue. No longer did it matter. For the first time in my life, the thoughts of being forced to perform oral sex on an adult, were gone. Replaced by the the truth of my daughter’s violent death. Suddenly, I could live with the brutality of sexual abuse, as long as that was as bad as life got. I learned, on a cold January night, that it could get so much worse.

The transition from one trauma being the spider web my life was caught in, to the other, happened in an instant. As quickly as laying the old cloak aside to don the new. Everything changed. My mind shifted.

It’s sunny outside. Yes, but my daughter is dead. Dinner is ready, how can I eat, my child is gone. You need to go to take a shower . . . why, she isn’t coming back, ever. Diane, comb your hair, we have to go out. My hair doesn’t matter when my child has been killed. Your boys need you . . . ok, but they will probably die soon, too. There was no end into which the painful truth of my dead child could be worked immediately. There IS no end, actually. And just like that . . . the spider web became stronger.

There were times, in my young years, when I had to find a way to escape what was physically happening to me at that moment. I would locate the door, inside my mind, that allowed me to shut out the truth. I’d hide behind it until it was safe to come out. I couldn’t do this with the death of my child.

She was just on the other side of every single door. I could hear her laugh. Or, catch a glimpse of her through the small window in the wood. She disappeared around each corner, just as I was about to reach her. The edge of shirt sleeve slipping through my fingers. She was achingly close . . . but on the other side of the universe at the same time.

A handful of years, after her death, the memories of sexual abuse started to surface again. Tangled in with the heartbreaking thoughts of my deceased child. Initially, my thoughts drifted toward what my uncle had whispered to me every time: You aren’t worth loving. You don’t deserve love. No one will love you.” I interpreted these as: You didn’t deserve a daughter so she died. You weren’t a good enough mother . . . so she was killed. I thought, “Enough!!”

I’ve had a lot of inner dialogues with myself since then. What I’ve come to believe is this: I am strong enough to survive the loss of my only daughter because being sexually abused led me to my inner strength at a very young age. What a weird silver lining, right? Don’t think I am thankful for the hell I experienced as a child of four, five, six . . . I am not. However, I can recognize what I learned during that time and acknowledge that it helped me heal in my adult life.

I knew I had doors in my mind. Because of my uncle, I knew how to find them. There was strength behind those doors. A will to live. Hope. Peace. Courage. And, healing.

A few days ago I saw a pot of cheerful yellow daffodils, and without a second thought, I bought them. They no longer remind me of that late afternoon, decades ago, when I was violated in the park.
My daughter’s beautiful smile, that shone like the sun, is what I see in their petals. And as always, each moment in my day is passed through Becca’s having been my child.

As an added note: I don’t always mention my twin boys in my writing on grief. But, I wanted to share that I have flowers that make me see their smiles, too. Sunflowers. Tall and strong. Each like the other . . . but so unique, as well. Open faces turning toward the day, each day, with courage.

In The Coming Together

When a group of women, get together, conversation inevitably turns to childbirth. Each may forget details of former loves, times gone by, but they never forget, even the smallest detail, of each child’s entrance into the world. Sharing labor time lengths, or difficulties during birth, we bond within the universal experience of creating life. As new mothers, from the moment our child arrives, until we are grandmothers, our experience is our “war story” of becoming a warrior. A new “us” is forged in the fire of labor.

Recently, I’ve noticed, grieving moms need to share the story of their child’s death. Just as we bond over the creation of life, so must we find connection in the truth of our child’s departure from this world. Becoming a mother transformed us forever . . . becoming a bereaved mother does the same to us. And, it is such an isolating and painful experience, especially in the beginning, we must find others who understand.

A few hours ago, three of us from the latter group mentioned above, sat in the living room and chatted for a while. Two of us have known each other for just over a year. The third, Wendy, came to know our group within the past eight months. The second time, Stacey and I, spent time with Wendy, we met her at a park that her family knew well. After hugging in the parking lot, she led us through a field, along the length of a creek, to a very large tree. As we settled ourselves under its boughs, through tears, she shared the story of her son’s battle with depression and the ultimate outcome, the depression claiming his life. Pointing above her head, toward a large branch, she showed us where the bullet came to rest. Wendy needed to take us to this holy place, where Cody’s life had come to its end, and share the heaviness of her loss.

Over the months I’ve known Stacey, she too, has told me the story of how her daughter’s life was stolen from her by a deranged human being. Someone she trusted, and loved, had decided that Mckenna’s life wasn’t worth anything to him. He simply chose to end it. And . . . he did. I’m not sure if Stacey has been to the location where her beloved daughter’s body, was ultimately found, by someone walking their dog. If she wanted to, I’d go with her. Any one of us, other bereaved moms, would go with her. Without hesitation. We have to.

Sharing the story about how my daughter, Becca, lost her life is something I must do, too. The details of her death are as important, to me, as the ones surrounding her birth. Why wouldn’t they be? Her birth made me a mother, a warrior. Her death made me something much stronger.

So, there we sat. Three mothers, with three deceased children, and three completely different ways their lives came to an end. One lost his battle to depression, one was brutally murdered, and one was a victim of someone else’s deadly decisions. Different scenarios . . . with the same outcome. We are sisters who walk the path of child loss.

Though we walk the same path . . . the obstacles we encounter, differ. The shadows, that loom around us, consist of varying things. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Hopelessness. They swirl, just above us, invading our thoughts. Reaching for our hearts. Trying to snatch small pieces of our souls to ensure their own existence.

But when we come together, we grieving moms, we are even stronger than when we stand alone. Two paths, through the rocky terrain of child loss, will never be exactly the same . . . but they will resemble each other’s, just enough, that we can help each other upon this journey.

While we walk, side by side, we’ll continue to share the story of our child. From birth . . . to death.

Past, Present, Future

Four months after losing my daughter . . . a woman, who I considered a good friend, called me. The first words that came out of her mouth ended our friendship.

“Are you done crying yet?”

“Are you (a newly bereaved mother) done crying yet (as if four months was enough to mourn my child’s death).”

The word “yet” was a judgement. She made me feel as if I was taking too long and people were getting impatient with me. She was getting impatient with me. She wanted to know if I was finished. I hung up the phone, but the guilt I felt for not being “farther along” stayed with me for a quite some time. I spent so many wasted moments wondering if I was “doing it right”. In truth, I still have those moments, a decade later.

I’ve come to find . . . many bereaved mothers eventually feel as if they are letting others down with their need to grieve. Not only their need . . . but how they grieve, as well.

In the first days, we have no choice but to grieve openly. Our soul’s screams demand to be heard. The intense pain is all encompassing and there is nothing we can do but be in it. There isn’t a way to keep it contained, even if we try, there just isn’t. That kind of anguish can not be controlled. So don’t expect us to do it. If our grief is too much for you then walk away. We don’t need the added weight upon our overburdened shoulders.

As the months pass, and enough people have shown us (or told us outright) that our grief is getting to be “a bit too much”, we learn to hide it. Cover it with a fake smile or a mumbled “I’m alright” when asked how we are doing. We are becoming masters of illusion as to not upset your world. Or, we stop going out as often, not wanting to see the disappointment from others. It’s easier to be alone with the grief. In solitude, we can be who we are. Grieving mothers. Broken and crying.

I wish I could truly convey how I am doing, some days, so you would understand. I know most bereaved mothers, myself included (usually), wouldn’t wish this pain on any one else. But, oh, there are times when I want a callous person to feel what I am feeling.

Do you remember the movie from the mid 90’s, about a young man who is sensitive and other worldly? There is a scene in which the lead character, Powder, uses his supernatural abilities to try to change a man. Powder grabs the arm of a seasoned hunter and shares with him (telepathically) the agony the deer, he’d just shot, was feeling as it died. There are times when I would give nearly anything to have this ability. A way to immediately put someone where I am every day. Just for a moment.

For a long time (months, maybe years) we put on the face society wants to see, and navigate the world in disguise. We go to work, faking it. We participate in holidays, feeling no joy. We laugh, when we really want to cry. We behave in a way that won’t upset those around us. Because, we’ve learned our grief has an expiration date to outsiders. For others, there is a time limit. And for some ungodly reason, many people don’t have a problem telling us so. As my former friend did after just four months of living without my daughter.

The more time that passes . . . the less likely outsiders are to understand why we are still grieving so deeply. Do they think it’s getting easier? I can assure you . . . it isn’t. Does the passage of years somehow soften the pain from losing my child? No, it doesn’t. If anything, it makes it harder. Every dawn brings me farther from the last time I held my daughter.

There is a heaviness added to my spirit with the passing of each day since Becca was killed. A mother with a living child gathers memories along the way . . . as her child lives life. I carry the moments my child never got a chance to live because someone took her life away. How does one ever stop grieving the loss of a child as life unfolds all around us and we are continually, achingly, aware that our child is missing?

A few weeks ago, I had another friend ask me how I was doing. I was honest. I said, “Shitty. Labor day was the last time my entire family was together, so this holiday makes me very sad.” Their reply: “Hasn’t it been ten years? It should be getting easier.”

I can assure you, it isn’t.

If we are lucky . . . we find our voice and can say, with strength, I’ll forever grieve. I generally try to end my writing with something positive to say to the “outsiders”. But, I just don’t have anything tonight. Instead, I’ll end this bit of writing with words for the grieving mothers.

Grieve. Loudly. Or quietly. With your entire being. Don’t worry about what others think. This is your journey, not theirs. Their child didn’t die, yours did. Be pissed at them for not understanding, it’s natural to be angry. Tell them they are wrong. Or tell them nothing. If you can, explain why they are incorrect. If you can’t, don’t worry about it, it’s not your concern. Cry when you must. Scream at the sky. State your truth, whatever it may be, loudly and with courage. Society needs to learn about what child loss grief is and what it isn’t.

To outsiders, we may look crazed and disheveled. Wild and unkempt. But we don’t care, do we? We are beautiful and pure in our grief. Our pain makes us glow with an inner fire and strength. We have been remade from the inside. Our soul was ripped open and we’ve found the truest parts of ourselves. Make no mistake, though we may seem weak in others eyes, we are stronger than they will ever know. We are warriors and we will lead the way.

When you get to the point in your healing, when you can be authentically who you are at that moment, and you make yourself known to the world . . . you make the path, for the grieving mother behind you, easier to traverse. You change the world.

Hellish Waters

“Is she getting any help? Does she go to counseling?”

“No, she isn’t.” was the reply.

“Well then,” said the woman, “ . . . I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s choosing to stay sad.”

I’ve heard this conversation more than once, if you can believe that, in the years since losing my daughter. Both about myself, as well as other bereaved mothers. I’m always left feeling angry and saddened. I simply don’t understand how someone could say “I don’t feel sorry for her”.

Honestly? You can’t muster up ANY sympathy or empathy for a mother with a dead child? There is no feeling of compassion toward a woman who had to make “final arrangements” for her daughter or son?You can sit in judgment, of a place you’ve never been, and make the callous comment, “she’s choosing to stay sad”?

I would tell you to “go to hell” but hell is a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since Becca, my daughter, was killed. Do you want to know what hell is for a grieving mother? I’ll share just a small picture of it . . . then maybe you won’t be so quick to draw conclusions about a broken soul.

Carrying a child for months, preparing for the life he or she will have, then having that life taken from you. From them. Take a moment and sort through the dreams you have for your child. Would it be so easy for you to watch them fade away, then disappear, completely? Which one of your child’s dreams could you erase from the future? How about all of them?

Stop reading for a moment. Go to your child right now, wherever they are, and touch them. Feel the warmth of their skin, take in their scent, listen to their voice. Do you know what I do when I want to touch my daughter again? I lay my hand on a cold marble urn. I’ve wondered how long her ashes stayed warm, inside, after her cremation. Have you any idea how one’s mind can spin out when you think about what your child’s body went through after it was placed in the oven and the door shut? The body you spent days, months, years (if you’re lucky) caring for and watching grow.

I’ve watched more than one mother lean over her child’s grave and wipe bits of newly cut grass off of name plates. Placing hands on thin grass (because it takes a while for grass to grow over a grave) above where she believes their child’s hands to be. Thick grass, right up to the edge of where the grave starts, picturing over and over the last time she saw your child’s face before the coffin was closed? Her last glimpse of the coffin as it’s lowered into the ground. The panic she feels because “what if she isn’t really dead . . . what if he’s scared . . . “.

Ten years have passed since I lost my daughter. A decade. But there are some mornings when I wake up, somewhere between fully aware and dreamland, and I forget she’s dead. For that split second, all is right in my world. Then the ugly truth worms it’s way into the center of my mind and the contentment I feel is shattered. That moment though, oh that beautiful perfect peaceful moment, she’s not gone from me physically. Can you imagine the intense anguish I feel when I realize it will be another day without my child? That, for the rest of my life, every day will be without Becca. As long as I live, I have to choose to be here, knowing I’ll never hear her laughter again? That is hell, my friend.

Those first years after child loss we can be unreachable. We live in a continual hurricane, finding the peaceful eye of the storm once in a while, sometimes by accident. But, there is little calm. Fuzzy clarity, at best. The world, as we knew it, is gone. We have been rocked to the very core of our souls. Our hearts have been both blown apart and imploded in a single second. What we’ve gone through is unexplainable. Something you can barely imagine. And when you try to, your mind does a 180 because you’ve seen a glimpse of the hellish horror. Imagine living there.

No, grieving mothers don’t want to be sad. We are not choosing to stay there. Believe me . . . we would all choose to be with our child, instead. Surviving this is so much more complicated than going to the doctor, to get bypass surgery, after a heart attack. Our hearts are shredded . . . there may not be much to stitch together for a very long time.

The same of a counselor. A therapist might be able to help us, but unless we are in a place to hear what’s being said, it’s doing no good. And we can’t just “put” ourselves into that place, either. And as I’ve explained, neither can you put yourself in ours. Getting counseling from someone who’s never lost a child, to most of us, seems ridiculous. And, at times, it really is. We walk around, each day, carrying the brutal knowledge from experience. Not what we’ve read in a book.

So, I beg you, don’t speak about what you don’t know. If you have any compassion, at all, don’t judge a bereaved mother for not doing what you think you’d do in her situation. You can’t know unless you are there. And I hope you never will be. If you can not say anything kind . . . don’t say anything at all. Simple. She doesn’t need the shame you’ll make her feel by stating your very inexperienced opinion.

Every grieving mother I know is fighting to stay above the waves. Don’t stand back and say “if she’d only . . .” reach out a hand to keep her atop the water. Don’t give her more weight to carry. She’s got enough.

And finally, no grieving mother deserves the heartbreak and pain she is feeling. Not now . . . not ever.

On a side note: I went to counseling. I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Though the one therapist I had that did help me, didn’t lose a child, he taught me some very useful coping strategies. However, it has to be a personal choice and the person has to be in the place to participate fully.

As We Sleep

A few months have passed since my daughter has come to visit me in my dreams. I find myself going to sleep earlier in the hopes she’ll finally appear as I slumber. When she doesn’t, I don’t awake with the immediate realization my dreams were empty of her presence. I just feel the normal ache that one feels when their hands haven’t touched their child’s skin in years. The profound need to hold our child close again never really leaves us . . . but at moments like this, it’s amplified a thousand times over.

I’ve often talked about the first time Becca came to me in a dream. She stood at my front door and begged to be let in. I stood a room away, watching through the door, as my daughter’s voice broke with sadness. They didn’t want me to see her, the way she looked, after the crash. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to hold my daughter again. I needed to help her and she needed me to hold her. We needed each other after the tragedy that had happened.

There should be a place, an in between space, where Heaven and Earth overlap. Always lit with the slanted late afternoon sun that casts a golden glow over everything. The smell of new growth in the dirt is heavy, it mixes with the scent of silvery strands, and somehow we know we’ve been here before. Here we can sit next to our deceased loved one. Laugh and cry, and say good bye, until it’s our turn. Maybe we can only reach this place as we sleep.

This first dream I had of my girl was this. But not quite as comforting. As she walked around the table toward me, I could tell her neck was broken, so I reached out my arms to draw her close. One of her hands steadied her head because she wasn’t able to hold it up anymore. I gently laid it against my chest and I felt her both arms circle my waist. She wanted my help. She asked me to fix it. Sorry. She kept saying I’m sorry, mom, I’m so sorry.

I had to tell her I was sorry, too, because I couldn’t fix this. Everyone around us looked at her as if she was something unnatural. As if I should be horrified at the sight of her. I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why the others were. We stood together, holding each other, swaying back and forth, crying. At this moment, I can’t remember exactly how this dream ended. Maybe it’s written somewhere in one of the many journals I’ve kept. Or maybe the ending doesn’t matter at all. She was there. I held her. We cried because we both knew the life we’d had together was over.

This dream was the absolute hardest one I’ve ever had. About her, about anything. I’ve called it a dream through the first part of this piece of writing because that is what most people would believe them to be. I believe, this was a visit from my dead child. That was the first time she’d been able to get to me. Some time had passed before she had. I’ve wondered why. Because her death was so violently traumatic and instant and unexpected? Was her soul confused at what had happened? Did it take her a while to learn how to move through her new world to find me? I imagine it was something like this. I am so glad she did. And still does.

As I said initially, it’s been a while since Becca’s come to visit me. Some nights my last thoughts are: please visit me baby . . . momma misses you so much . . . please please please.

I miss my girl more than any words can express. The ache is wider and deeper and more full than a few sentences can hold. It’s scream that continually pounds in my chest. A loss that no words can adequately convey. There is nothing I can say to a mother who has not lost a child that will make them feel, even for the smallest slice of a second, the pain that has taken permanent residence in my soul.

When I am sitting across from another bereaved mother, and the haunted part of me sees the same in her eyes, I ask Becca to lead her lost child back to her. Show them how, my sweet girl. Help them sink into their mother’s dreams and let their souls touch for a while. Lead the way, my Becca.

But when you’re done . . . please come back to me. I know there is so much to see where you are, I understand. Tonight though, tonight . . . please come to momma. I miss you.

I need you.

Mother’s Days After

18578515_10209592102466738_978814193_nI haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I’d have to check to see just how many days it’s been. The exact number isn’t important, but the reason I haven’t written is. To me. Mother’s Day just hits me like a punch in the stomach. The days leading up to it are full of anxiety, the day of is difficult, and the days following are full of sadness.

This past Sunday marked the tenth time the day of celebration for mothers passed without my daughter. As I’ve done since the first one, I pulled out a few things I have from past holidays, that she gave me. I ran my fingers over the paper of homemade cards as if they were made of precious materials. To me, they are. These things are irreplaceable. Let me take a moment to give you some advice: save it. Save it all. One day you might be happy you did.

Though this holiday is difficult for me . . . I know it’s harder, in a different way, for newly bereaved mothers. The first one is full of moments of denial. This can’t be real, you tell yourself. Images of last Mother’s Day flash into your mind as you line up the time, to a year before, and think about what you were doing with your child. Every piece of your soul aches to travel back to that day. Any day before your child died, really. Then the weight of the new reality crushes those memories with it’s truth.

On Sunday, I sat at a small Mother’s Day celebration that my friend’s family had. As we chatted, sitting in a circle in the shady backyard, I couldn’t help but notice the four kids sitting across the expanse of grass. Cousins, laughing with each other. Except, one of them was missing. You see, there used to be five. Until one was killed. Her mother, my friend, sat next to me, quiet. Curled into herself.

A few times, I asked her if she was alright. She said yes. We always say yes. The rest of the family, though aware of the huge hole that was left by murder, had all of their children around them. I know they carry immense and indescribable sadness but they can’t experience the pain that my fried carries for the loss of her daughter. I know they understand that holidays will be difficult . . . but I am not sure others can truly understand the depth of our pain on such days. Seeing my friend steeped in her pain, pain that was so real it flowed off of her in waves, broke my heart. I wish I could make it better for her. That I could make it better for all the bereaved moms I know. But I can’t. I can barely make it better for myself.

The Saturday night before Mother’s Day, my friend and I accompanied another mom to the site where her child died last year. She’d spread out a blanket under a huge pine tree, a tree that must have been over a hundred years old, and talked about her son’s last day. We listened to her as she shared her son’s death story. We all need to share the death story of our child. The creek slipped quietly by below us as tears fell upon our cheeks. There is sacredness in these moments. A connection to each other and to life. And death. It’s an honor when mothers share these stories with us . . . let us into their very small and intimate circle of pain.

Being a mother is a sacred act. Raising a child, caring for them, loving them, protecting them, teaching them . . . it’s the most important thing we can do with our lives. Both joy filled and heartbreaking.

The days that led up to Mother’s Day were filled with apprehension for me. I know it’s going to be hard . . . I just don’t know how hard. So I worry I might not make it through. The day of, though it’s been a decade, still brings memories from previous celebrations into my mind. I wonder if she knew how much I love her. If she knows the cards her little hands made were among the most precious gifts I ever could have received. Does she see me get them out every year and cry as I read them over and over. I hesitate as I look at the gifts from my sons, wondering if I should save them “just in case” and then think I am courting death if I do.
The days after are hollow and painful. There is a type of re-realization that Becca is gone for good. She’s not coming back. Even if I cry to the heavens that it’s been too long since I’ve seen her so she should be sent back. It’s a kind of bottoming out . . . again.

I’ve traveled far upon the path in my grief journey. I learn new things every day. But Mother’s Day will forever be one of things I circle back to again and again. One of the many times each year that I need to enter a space I’ve been in before, and work through it again.

Then I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to help the moms who are new to the grief of child loss. Next year, if you know someone who is a bereaved mother, please reach out to her. You will add some happiness to a sometimes very dark day by letting her know she is still a mom. And is remembered as one.