This Is Not Goodbye

“Now I’m the one going ahead . . . I’m not afraid . . . I can be brave, too . . . “ – Beth, Little Women

For a years, I’ve gone over nearly every aspect of losing my child. I imagine there are ones I’ve not thought of yet . . . but I have the rest of my life for them to find me. I’ve healed in some ways, not completely (never completely) and there are others which I’ve not inspected too closely. Simply, I’m not sure I will survive them. Yet, they stay visible in my peripheral vision . . . waiting their turn. This one, the one I’m attempting to write about, has been heavy on my heart since the moment I knew my daughter was dead.

Each detail of that night is like an autumn leaf that I keep pressed between the pages of the book of our lives. Most are worn from being held, in my hands, multiple times. If I turn to one page, in particular, one I’ve skipped past dozens of times . . . the leaf is in perfect shape. Vivid colors, the veins still strong. The smell brings me right back to the moment my boyfriend stepped out of the back of the police chaplain’s car.

I could tell by the look on his face that the young woman’s body was that of my daughter, Becca. As he held me, he told me they had allowed him to kiss her still warm forehead. I kept screaming, “I need to help her . . . I need to help her!” Later, he told me her spirit had ridden back with him in the car. I believe him. I asked him what she looked like. He answered, confused . . . lost.

When I think about this, anguish rises in soul and I can’t help but think I failed her at the most important time of her life. The end.

Mothers teach their children about life. I wasn’t given the chance to help her through her death.

When I took Becca to school, the first day of kindergarten, she and I both cried. She didn’t want me to leave and I didn’t want to go. But, I knew at the end of the day, she’d be home again. I could talk to her about all the new things. She would know I would be there to pick her up and she could trust that I wouldn’t leave her. Our time apart was more acceptable because we would hold each other again. This made the separations much easier on both of us.

Her death, I couldn’t hold her after and tell her everything was going to be alright. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what that conversation would have been like.

“Mom, mom . . . what happened?”

“Come here,” I’d say, taking her in my arms, “you were killed in a car crash, honey.”

“But why? Why? How?” she would ask, confused, as I held her close to my chest.

“A drunk driver killed you . . . oh baby, I’m so sorry!”

“What do I do???? Where do I go? Do I have to leave you?? I can’t leave you, momma, the boys, I can’t go. I’m afraid. I don’t know what’s there!”

“I know honey, and I’m so sorry I can’t go with you. I don’t want you to either, but we don’t have a choice, my Becca.”

“But what do I do??? How do I go??? How do I leave you??”

“You have to be brave, sweetie. You have to be a brave girl. I know you can do that. I know you are strong enough to do this. It’s scary, I know, but just like when you went to school . . . I’ll see you again after, I promise.”

“Mommy . . . momma . . . I don’t want to go!!”

“You have to turn around and walk away, honey . . . “ even with these words, neither of us loosens our grip.

I take her face in my hands and look into her beautiful green blue eyes, “You have to go before all of us. I didn’t want it this way . . . but it’s what we have to do right now. I will always be your momma and you will always be my Becca. My only daughter. The one who made me a mother. I know you are scared, I’m scared to be without you . . . but our love will never fade. You are beautiful and smart and strong and brave. I promise I will be there with you one day. We will all be there. The boys will come. We will all be together again, I promise.”

I can feel her head shake slightly in my hands.

“Go now, my Becca, go and wait for us. Be strong. Soar through the heavens. Glide past stars. Dance in the winds that blow around the entire world. Play. Laugh. Visit us when you are lonely. And know, you are always loved. It’s been such a privilege to be your mother . . . you were my first true love, my girl.”

I would gently kiss her forehead and let my hands drop to my side, as my daughter turned away and bravely walked into her heaven.

Advertisements

Shores

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend a night on Mackinac Island. For those of you not familiar with this location, it’s an island off the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, with Lake Huron lapping it’s shores. We arrived in a small town at the edge of the Mackinac Bridge. Parking our car, we left our luggage with the porters and waited to board the ferry. The waters were a cold steel gray topped with fast moving whitecaps. I was scared. I’ve never been to the island, ridden the ferry, or been on one of the great lakes when the waves were so large.

Traveling with another bereaved mother, who’d been to the island many times, we boarded the boat. This trip was a sort of pilgrimage for her. Anxious about going somewhere she’d last been with her deceased child, she settled into her seat and looked out the foggy window. I ran my sleeve across the glass . . . trying to clear it enough to see outside. The ferry started to move and the swell of the waves grew larger as we pulled into open water.

My friend told me where the life vests and exits were “just in case”. Then, thinking it was funny, started to sing lyrics from “The Edmund Fitzgerald”. I looked at her with horror and she said “it’s a nurse’s sense of humor, dark”. Not long after that we hit a huge wave that lifted the boat about five feet into the air. Now, you have to know this boat seats nearly a hundred people and has two decks. Being tossed that high means the water was rough! For a moment, we hovered in the air as the boat fell. Then we slammed down into our seats. And I thought, if I die, I’ll see Becca. I think we lose our fear of death when we have a child that’s gone before us.

Either the captain slowed down or the waves calmed down as we approached shallower water, I don’t know which. I was then able to concentrate on the hazy shapes in the distance. I asked if the shape I saw was Mackinac Island. My friend said no, it was another island, but we were almost there.

My mind starting thinking about how grief is often times described as waves. How we are fighting the currents and just trying to stay afloat. I agree with this description. Then, a thought flashed into my head. She’d been here before. She knew what the islands looked like when the weather was sunny and the waters a clear blue calm. She’d never been here when the weather was as it was that day. But she knew that the mist covered shape in the distance was solid ground. Even though, at the moment, she couldn’t see it. The trip across this stretch of the lake wouldn’t last forever. She KNEW there was land.

Our ground was solid when our children were alive. When our child died, a tsunami swept across our land and wiped much of what we know away. On our good days, we stand on that ground, looking at the drastically changed landscape surrounding us. On the bad, the waters rise and sweep us to sea.

During these moments, the ones when we think of how easy it might be to slip below the surface and give in, we have to look across the water and find a familiar shape. We know there is land. Reaching it might be difficult . . . but it’s there! The waves rise and fall. When they carry you to their crest, find the land and swim towards it. Keep doing this, over and over. Until you make it to shore.

I think my friend was calmer than me on the ferry because she knew what lay ahead. I didn’t, therefore I was more anxious. We can help ourselves, and each other, by remembering what we stood on before our child died. Reminding each other that the maelstrom won’t last forever.

As we drew closer to the island, the soft shapes started to come into sharp focus. My friend pointed out a white church very close to the shore. She told me that her daughter, Mckenna, wanted to get married there some day. Now, she wouldn’t have the chance. Her mom was going to leave a rock, with her daughter’s name on it, outside of the church. Her pilgrimage.

The ferry slowed, we floated on the waves, and I took a picture of the church through a foggy window. A picture taken for a grieving mom, a daughter who’s future was stolen by someone else’s hand, and for me. Someone who didn’t know this shore existed, but felt blessed to visit it.

I don’t always know where my journey will take me. I do know that the journey can be better if you don’t always do it alone.

What I Do

A few days ago, a friend reached out to me for advice about grief. One of her friends lost her child, suddenly, earlier this month. My friend’s friend is lost and hurting. I was asked if I could talk to her. Of course, I said without hesitation. I never hesitate.

One of the bereaved moms I am close to said something when we were talking a few months ago. There is a “bat signal” that seems to always be in the dark sky. A signal we can’t see until our eyes are covered with the haze of grief. Or maybe uncovered when we lose trust in the life. I’m not sure.

Somehow, though, we seem to find each other more easily. Is it because before our own loss we didn’t spend much time thinking about the grieving mom? To immerse ourselves, willingly, into the reality of it would make us realize it can happen to anyone. We see how easily death could visit us one day. So, we don’t stay in that “space” for very long. If we give it too much thought, will our energy make it come true? Prayer is energy. Could acknowledging these types of thoughts give them life, too? Why risk it. Fortunately, if you haven’t lost a child, it’s easy to leave that “space”.

The longer I walk this path . . . the more I realize how many others are traveling on a parallel course. Every week or two, it seems, I learn of another newly bereaved mom who has just set a foot on her own path of loss. When we are standing there, at the beginning, we are at a crossroads. One we didn’t choose to stand in willingly. But here we find ourselves.

Two paths “Y” off before us. We desperately want to take the one on which we live our lives with our child. But that path is no longer available to us. It lays in ruin. Blown apart. Lost in the rubble that was our life, before. Life forces us to move. So we do. Hesitating as we turn toward the other arm of the “Y” which leads to a life we never considered.

Never have I seen a more broken being than a newly bereaved mother. Confused, numb, half alive. Her heart in her hands. Eyes full of anguish. And anger. Fleeting moments of hope that it isn’t true. Moments of clarity in which the blinding truth stops her from breathing. Physical collapse because any ability to hold herself up has drained from her body.

When I meet a grieving mom, especially one who’s loss is recent, I am completely humbled by the invitation (of sorts) I’ve been given to enter the very intimate place she is. The fog, which settles upon us the second we find out our child is dead, parts slightly and I am allowed in. This is a sacred place. A holy place. All of the minutiae of everyday life is gone. None of it matters. We are two injured souls finding comfort in each other. Maybe strength. Most certainly, understanding. When words fail . . . which they sometimes do, tears fill in the space between.

I often wonder if anything I say helps another grieving mom. I so desperately want to say something, anything, that will help ease the pain. Though my early months (years) on this path are hazy, I don’t remember anything anyone said to me making a big difference. I didn’t have another grieving mom to talk to, though. Maybe that would have made a difference?

When I meet a mom, after the loss of her child, I feel a responsibility to her. And to her child. I’ve mentioned before that I believe when we moms meet here on earth, our children meet in heaven. I always ask Becca to go find this new child, explaining the child may be sad or perplexed, and hug them and help them. My daughter has been there for ten years. Her goal in life was to help and educate children. I hope she is doing this up there, comforting the newcomers.

In truth, sometimes the weight of this aspect of life is very heavy to carry. I think of the pain these moms will be experiencing and it breaks my heart. Because I’ve been there. It’s a very solemn and holy task to be a touchstone for someone. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. Though it can be tiring, and I can become overwhelmed, I know I have to use my own experiences to make the way easier for someone else. That is what we are supposed to do . . . I truly believe this. What choice do we have but to do the best we can with what we have been given?

My daughter was amazing. Becca was always the first to jump up and in to whatever she could do to help another. If she saw someone with a need . . . she did what she could to fill it. Without question. And without asking for anything in return. In a lot of ways, my daughter was much wiser than I am. She was a very old soul. I miss her to the depths of everything I am.

Though my hearts grows a bit heavier every time I am asked to help a newly bereaved mom, I will continue to do so. Using my life to make the path easier to travel, for others, also makes my injured soul heal.

Please. We are not very different from each other. One single moment in time could put you right where we are. I truly hope this doesn’t happen to any of you. But it will.

Help who you can, where you can, any way you can. When we get down to the very basics of life . . . being there for each other is what matters most.

We are all one.