Whispered Messages

I am from a family of strong women. These strong women are creatively gifted. One of these women, in particular, seems to be another piece of me. A piece I didn’t know I was missing . . . but now, can’t imagine living without. This bit of writing exists because of a blog she recently wrote that made me consider, and write, a reply. Thank you, Linda, for knowing what I need when I don’t.

Growing up, my life was filled with rich imagination. Part of it, I think, was a way for me to escape the more difficult times in my childhood. There was another part, however, that knew (without any doubt) there were “others” in existence. Call them what you will: spirits, energies, beings, angels. Deep in my soul, I knew, we were not alone. Throughout my life, I’ve had instances when my inner voice has offered guidance . . . and I’ve listened. Other times, I turned away and learned well needed lessons. We all have this voice.

My cousin, Linda, asked in her blog if anyone else had heard these voices . . . and what they meant to them. Oddly, or appropriately, I’d been considering the return of my inner whisperings quite a bit lately. So, her question was a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with myself that past few months!

I started my reply with a resounding “Yes!!” Then I went on to explain, my voice left me after my child was killed. It was no longer there. And I didn’t miss it. As it’s slowly returned, I’ve wondered why it went away in the first place.

One day, last year, I was walking through a store and I saw a sign that read simply “it is well with my soul”. I read it over a few times. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the words. And, I thought, it IS well with my soul. Then . . . I had the internal chastising all grieving mothers do: how can it be well with your soul when your child is dead? What kind of mother are you??

With a start, I realized, my soul is mending. Somewhere, deep inside, the broken pieces are starting to fit together. Hmmm, broken pieces. Is that why I couldn’t hear my voice for so long? My pain, rattling around my soul, like a muslin bag filled with shattered china teacups? Was the noise just too loud for anything else to rise above its volume? Maybe.

I also have to consider the fact, I turned my back on my inner guidance out of rage. Deep seated anger because it only whispered a small part of a bigger truth. Only half of the information I needed to know.

Around ten o’clock, on the night my daughter was killed, I had an ominous feeling settle on my shoulders. I knew something big was going to happen . . . but I didn’t know what. Feeling so strongly that my life was going to change drastically, I told my manager I wouldn’t be back to work. Four hours later, my child was killed on a cold dark stretch of highway. Why wasn’t I given THAT little piece of information? Why the bigger picture, but not the small part that would have saved her life? What kind of inner voice is that half assed??

How many bereaved mothers KNEW their child had died before they were told?

I am thankful to say that the inner whisperings of my soul, my heart, my guide, my ancestors, my kindreds . . . are with me again. I am also very grateful to have found, a piece of my family, that can help me on journey.

Grieving mommas, find other strong women, to help support you. This is a solitary journey, the loss of our child, but it’s one that can not be taken alone.

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.

In The Understanding

I remember sitting, numb, in the big room inside the funeral parlor. The chair was uncomfortable. There were boxes of tissue on every flat surface. Scattered on the shiny table in front of me were multiple binders. Binders which held images of caskets and linings and flower arrangements. I kept thinking it all was a bad dream. That at any moment, my alarm would go off, and I’d wake up. Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, I went to the store and wandered around, trying to find something for my daughter to wear at “her visitation”.

There are no words to explain the pain which accompanies a mother choosing her child’s last outfit. Up one aisle, and down the other, I searched for the perfect outfit for Becca. Finally, I found myself in the sleepwear section of the store. I saw a beautiful white silk nightgown with a matching robe. It looked so much like the simple dress she’d worn for her senior prom. This was what I had envisioned her in. Something that made her look like the angel she now was.

With the clothing chosen, I now had to decide how she would “look”. I told them I wanted her to look like the little girl that I had raised. Very little makeup. Her hair simple, in a pony tail, I wanted her to look natural. I needed her to look like herself. Even now, writing this, my heart is torn in two as I remember her laying there . . . covered by the Care Bear blanket she’d had since she was three. I’d always thought that blanket would cover her children someday, not be cremated with her.

Earlier today, I was in a position to hear two people talking about autopsies. Their conversation was light with some laughter. You need to know, one of the participants in this conversation is going to be a doctor. A discussion about viewing an autopsy is not perverse but expected of a medical student. Though this topic isn’t out of the realm of what is talked about . . . it completely ripped apart my insides as the memory of my daughter’s visitation rushed into the middle of my thoughts.

Because Becca’s death was brought on by the actions of another, she was autopsied. My daughter was killed on a Sunday. She was kept in the morgue, in one of those refrigerated drawers, until her autopsy sometime on Monday. I spent that time frantic because I desperately wanted to sit beside her, so she wouldn’t be alone. I wasn’t allowed. In my bedroom I sat, looking out the window into the snow, aching to be with my child.

The first opportunity I was able to see her was a few minutes before her visitation began. I was led into a room. In the center of the room, there lay my Becca, her hands crossed atop the Care Bear blanket. She was on a gurney because I couldn’t bear to see her in a coffin. A coffin made it too real somehow.

In a future blog, I’ll share more about the visitation. For now, I’ll talk about her autopsy scars.

I remember, hysterically thinking, why are they called scars?? A scar indicates healing. When I gently parted the robe across her chest, and saw the Y shaped incision, my heart nearly stopped. They were not scars. They were cuts. Cuts that were never supposed to happen to her body. Distraught, I felt wild to know if her organs were put back where they belonged. Was she treated with respect? Oh my God, I pray that she was treated with tender care. She was my baby. She deserved to be cared for, even at the end.

As I stood next to my daughter alone, having asked everyone to leave so I could say good bye, I arranged her robe back over the stitches and kissed her farewell. Turning and walking away from her was so incredibly difficult I couldn’t do it. I had to be forced to leave her side.

I’m writing about this today to convey a very simple truth. The meaning of something to us will rarely be what it is to another person. If I had heard the conversation I shared above, a few years ago, I would have exploded. There is too much raw emotion, for me, around the term autopsy. I am a mother who witnessed the remnants of the procedure on her child. The person who talked about it today is a medical student. Worlds apart. Completely different sides of the same thing.

We bring our own experiences to every situation. The little ones, and the big. In no way did these two people mean for their conversation to raise memories about my daughter. They couldn’t know it would shatter any peace I felt today. If they had, I am certain they would not have talked where I could hear them.

Most people are like this. They can’t know the memories behind every day things because they have not experienced them in the way a grieving mother has. I imagine, most of the time, people don’t realize why what they have said has hurt you. I doubt there is much intent in hurting us, further.

If you need to explode, then do it. Those who are close to you will understand. It took me a very long time to realize what I’ve tried to explain above. If you haven’t realized it yet, that’s ok, you will . . . in your own time. And your time is all that matters.

If you are one of the people who’s been hit by the fallout from just such an explosion . . . thank you for sticking around. We are doing the best we can to come to terms with all that’s changed around us, and within us.

The key is attempting to understand each other, even if we fall short in it’s completion, there is deep connection in the act.

(W)hole

When I found the foot high statue in the image above . . . I was struck by what it said to me. A perfect depiction of the hole left in a mother’s chest when her child dies. The gaping wound every bereaved mother suffers when her baby is taken from her. You may not be able to see it, but every single one of us has it. And we all protect it, for the rest of our days.

Over the past few years, finally being strong enough to venture out of my safe little world, I’ve met other mothers who have lost children in as many different ways as you can imagine. But don’t imagine them . . . they will break your heart.

One of the often discussed truths is whether it is easier to lose a child when you’ve had the chance to say goodbye before they go, or when their death is sudden, with no preparation or last words. I lost my daughter in an instant. In the time it took for a car to flip and break her neck. She was here, then gone. I didn’t watch her suffer bravely through a long illness. Holding her hand and telling her I love her as she slipped away wasn’t an option for us. On a Thursday I hugged her, not knowing it would be the last time I would touch her while she was alive. The following Sunday, she was dead. I am thankful for the conversation we had Saturday afternoon when we both said we loved each other. At least, I have that.

I know mothers who did spend their child’s last moments with holding their hands. Telling them it was ok to go. Stroking their hair and kissing their foreheads and easing them into what comes next. At times, I envy this seemingly peaceful farewell. Most times, though, I can not imagine having to watch my child circling toward their death. I don’t think I would be strong enough. Would I have been able to tell Becca it was ok to go? I’ll never know.

Then there are those of us who have someone to blame for our child’s death. A person(s) took the life of our precious child by their actions. There is deep rage when our child’s death is the outcome of someone else’s choices. I’ve shared in prior writings the fact that the drunk driver that killed Becca had been arrested just six weeks prior for a second drunk driving offense. His choice to drink enough to show an alcohol level of .28, then drive, took my daughter from me. From the life she was building.

When I wanted to see her, touch her, I was told she was “evidence” of a crime, so I could not. Later, I was informed that the driver would not be charged with vehicular manslaughter because killing someone while driving intoxicated is an intention-less crime. Intention or not, my daughter isn’t any less dead. A law that benefits the guilty. You better believe there is a deep anger inside of me.

Then there is the horrible truth of murder. The person had intent to kill another human being. Someone decided that your child didn’t deserve to live. That they had the right to decide to cause them death. I don’t know how to even begin to wrap my mind around this truth. There is another level of complicated grief when there is an actual person to place blame on for our child no longer being here with us.

What about the soldier killed in war? Who do you place the anger on then? Where do you direct your rage? Toward an entire people? Ideology? I don’t know. I’m not sure there are any adequate answers for these questions.

The one thing all grieving mothers have in common is the hole blown through our chest . . . the space where our heart used to be, whole. Every one of us lives with this state of being. The individual facts that surround each death make our grief journey our own. The smallest truths we have to grapple with, over and over in the still dark of the night, are what we must find a way to heal intimately.

The answers we need to find are most often within ourselves. You can’t give them to us. We need you to help us remain strong enough to keep walking this path. To know that, even as we sit quietly, our minds are racing over the facts that surround our child’s death. Very rarely do we have a waking moment that is not influenced, in some way, by our child being gone.

We all have an empty space and we are trying to repair it as best we can.