Both

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons. Though some years, it seems, that we are hurried through one of them by Mother Nature’s insistence to hurry on to the next. Winter has always been my favorite season of the four. For two very different reasons.

First, I absolutely loved snow days when the kids were home from school. The outside world, and all its problems, didn’t matter for a while. There was nothing to worry about except what was right in front of us. The pure whiteness of the fresh snow begged the children to go outdoors. I’d spend about half an hour bundling them all up from head to toe then send them out the front door. Becca always seemed to come in before her brothers were ready. Little kids seem to endure cold temperatures much better than those who are older. When they did finally give in to the elements they’d come inside with sopping wet clothes and wind chapped cheeks. Becca would help them get out of their snow stuff as I made hot cocoa for all of us. Somehow, they would be sweaty under their clothing, their hair curly from the moisture and their hats, and they’d wrap their small hands around warm mugs. Sometimes, they even had whipped cream with peppermint sticks to stir their drink!

When they were very young . . . a nap usually followed an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones can endure the cold but when they get back into the warmth of indoors they tend to become drowsy. They’d fall into a deep sleep, bellies full of chocolate and faces sticky from the peppermint candy. Becca might take a nap, too. Or if I was really lucky she’d nestle up next to me on the couch and we’d watch a movie cuddled together under a blanket.

As they boys grew older, naps tended to fall away from favor, and I’d often be able to cajole them into a game or two. Our family has only two games we play together. Yahtzee, which I absolutely love . . . and Sorry! which generally ends in a fight because Gabriel hates how Matthew counts the squares by tapping his finger. And, I think Matthew might aggravate his brother on purpose. We STILL talk about it to this day!

Snow days, when we were all home together, were perfect every single time.

The second reason I prefer winter over any other season is because the outer world matches my inner self. Not icy, though I’ve been accused of that a few times in the past. But rather, I am not all sunny and happy and full of fun. Even before Becca’s death I wasn’t. Winter just matches me. It makes sense. Isolation isn’t seen as something bad when everyone is stuck inside of their homes. The beach isn’t full of throngs of people – every one of them having the best day of their lives. Michigan is beautiful in each season though summer here is the one that is talked about the most. It seems almost taboo to not be full of life during this time of the year. In winter, no one is insisting that you “come to the beach” or “come out on the boat” or “we’re having a campfire”. Fun things, yes, but hard for a bereaved mother to enjoy when all she can think of is her own child missing out.

Summer isn’t me. Winter is my time. The quiet solitude of the lake, beach, and forests. The coldness in the air is sharp. Images, in front of my eyes, seem clearer and more focused. I feel more alive. More at peace. Calm. This is the space for introspective and contemplative thinking. The darkness that comes as night falls earlier across the land lulls me into a dream like state. My thoughts have endless hours to chase each other and form themselves into something with weight. There is time to poke and prod and investigate what my soul is trying to tell me. The world, covered with a blanket of snow, is quiet enough for me to hear them. Still enough for me to listen. I find myself to be most creative during these coldest months of the year.

But, with the turn of the seasonal wheel, winter brings my most difficult days. The holidays are hard, for sure, but I have my own personal important dates mixed in with them, too. I’ve often said this time of year is like being in a boxing ring for me. Though I try to prepare, one hit after the other lands on me with stunning accuracy. Halloween marks the beginning of the match and Feb. 1 is the ringing of the final bell. Roughly every two and a half weeks during that period I am gut punched and I fall to my knees. Barely on my feet . . . another punch sends me to the mat.

Interestingly, my favorite season is also my most painful. I guess, in an odd way, this makes perfect sense. The deepest love I have in this life, that which I hold for my children, also causes me the most intense pain. With great light comes great darkness.

I guess that is the truth of the world. Without warmth would we know what cold actually felt like? Sorrow isn’t as deep when we don’t have the joy to measure it against. Life isn’t as precious unless we know the void left by losing it. We grieve as deeply as we love. It’s the price of being human.

So, here’s to winter. It blew in last night appearing to have every intention of staying for a while. I am joyful to know the world matches my soul again and will rejoice in the beauty it brings. The love I have for my deceased child will be matched with intense anguish that is brought to the surface during these icy days.

Beautifully painful. Or painfully beautiful.

I imagine . . . it’s both.

 

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Gifts Given

Each one of my children has an artist’s soul. This is one of the good things I have passed down to them! I’ve watched as they’ve heard the callings of the artist’s song and turned this into a creation! From when they were all little, chubby hands wrapped around thick crayons, each spent hours drawing at our kitchen table. As they grew so did their chosen medium change. Gabriel is a very talented illustrator. Matthew can capture an image with perfection. Both can weave words into stories that will captivate the reader. They have the expressiveness that a child of mine would come by naturally.

Watching them create, through the years, has been wonderful for me. Recently, I’ve seen my twin sons talents blossom exponentially. Even using these gifts to work in media and make the world a better place. I can not wait to see what the future holds for them . . . and their art!

But, for my daughter, the story is different. All that she will create has been created. There is no waiting excitedly for the next thing she does. Her contribution to the artistic world is complete.

A few years before Becca lost her life she had started to work with oil paints. In my closet I have the small wooden box she used to carry her supplies. Little tubes of paint, a few brushes, a palette knife, and some crumpled up paper towels. I’ve opened the box, a few times, to peer inside. It’s too painful to do this too often. So, usually, I just hold it and cry.

I have a small watercolor she did, with my father, when she was about eleven. You can tell where he started the line of trees and she took over and finished them. I also have a frame which holds four crayon drawings she did when she was three or so. The red one is me, blue my mom, green my sister, and purple my father. I remember the day she drew them.

She and I were sitting at the kitchen table together. I was sketching and she was trying to copy me. At such a young age she managed to capture the important details of our likenesses very well. I love looking at the pictures and remembering that day.

I thought I had, in my possession, all of the pieces of her art that I would ever have. Then, Friday happened. And, I was given an incredible gift.

In 2004, my daughter was dating a young man named Jose. His family is Catholic. My daughter decided to make both he, and his mother, gifts. One, I knew about, the other I did not. The one I had seen was an oil painting depicting a religious figure. I remember her agonizing over whether it was good enough to give to her. I told her: it’s beautiful, honey, she’ll love it. And, she did.

I have a photograph of the painting. Looking at it makes me obsess about getting real thing. Then, the stars started to move into place to allow me to do just that!

Joseph, for those of you who don’t know, is the driver that took my daughter’s life almost twelve years ago. Joseph works with a young woman who is engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend? Old boyfriend? I’m not sure how to describe him. Anyway, there is the connection to me getting my daughter’s painting. Joseph asked the young woman, the young woman asked either her fiance or his mother, and Friday the painting was given to me. Not just one, however, but two pieces of my daughter’s art!

I told Joseph I would come to his office to get the paintings on my lunch hour. Waiting for noon to arrive was very difficult. I kept checking the clock. I was actually going to get the painting I’d wished I could have! Then, a text from Joseph, he was going to lunch and would be back at twelve thirty. Alright. I adjusted my plans. At about twelve twenty I left my job and drove to his.

When I was walking up to the double glass doors into his building I began to shake. The feeling you get when you aren’t sure your legs are going to hold you up anymore nevermind propel you forward. I entered the lobby and there was a young woman sitting behind the desk. I know I stuttered when I said I was there to see Joseph. I told her my first name and she finished up the exchange with my last. A minute passed before I realized that THIS was the woman engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend.

I was ready to pick up my daughter’s painting but I was not ready to be face to face with this young lady. Let me be clear, I do not have any ill feelings toward her, I just wasn’t prepared to see who had taken Becca’s place. As a bereaved mother, it is hard to see the world move in and fill the hole left by the death of our child. I instantly started to cry even though I fought against the tears.

Joseph was running late so I sat on a couch and waited for him. The young woman, so kind, came around the counter and asked if she could give me a hug. I think I was in a type of shock. Overwhelmed at the very least. We made small talk while I waited for Joseph.

With apologies, he came through a glass door carrying a red bag that held the painting. I hugged him, thanked him, then said I wasn’t ready to look at the painting there. I would wait until I was alone. On legs I was afraid were going to betray me . . . I hurried out of the building.

I pulled into the first parking lot I came to and wiped my tears away. I reached into the bag and there were two pieces inside! Joseph had told me there were actually two but wasn’t sure I could be that lucky until I was touching both of them. First, I pulled out the larger canvas that was the painting I had dreamed of getting back since my daughter died. There, in front of me, was the image of Mary my daughter painted in oils. She was breathtaking. Simple lines. Vivid colors. Religious imagery. Just perfect. And, now it was mine.

The second piece of art was framed in gold. A color pencil drawing of Jesus Christ with a prayer written in Spanish below it. I’d never seen this one before. A piece of my child that I hadn’t known existed was now in my possession. I can not tell you what a rare gift this is for me! Knowing that all that my child will add to the world has been done it’s amazing to find something new and unexpected.

As I held the two pieces I felt as if I was holding a bit of my Becca. An extension of her soul. It’s taken me a few days to write this blog because I selfishly wanted to keep these pieces of my child to myself. I feel contentment in having them near me. I believe they are where they belong.

I did show photographs of the art to a few people close to me. My spirit soared when two of them made the comment: wow, she paints in the same style that you do! Someone else told me that her Mary painting was very reminiscent of the painting I entered into Artprize 2015 “Our Becca”. And, incredibly, it is. My heart is warmed with the thought that I passed down my ability to paint to my daughter. I can see myself in the things my boys do, artistically, and now I can see it in Becca, as well.

I would like to extend many thanks to the people involved in getting these priceless objects to me. I imagine it wasn’t easy to give up a piece of a girl you loved, too. Thank you, Joseph, for being the bridge connecting the two sides together. I did not think my wish for the painting would be answered but it is very fitting that it was answered through you.

The world is an amazing place. Gifts are given all of the time.

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Keys

“Can you tell me about being engaged while you were in prison,” I asked last night.

So, he does, in detail. Painful detail . . . for both of us I imagine. Him, because the engagement didn’t result in marriage. Me, because it put a finer point on one of the things my daughter never had the chance to experience. True love.

Without giving too much detail into his story, as it is not my place to do so, I’ll quickly summarize what he shared. A previous girlfriend went to his side after the crash that killed my child. They rekindled their romance and even became engaged. The union broke while he was still in prison and she has since moved on. All of this, he told me through texts and to his credit, he was completely honest.

In my head, I started a parallel timeline of events in each of our lives.

He had someone at his bedside in those first few days. Someone who loved him and wanted to give him comfort. I was at my daughter’s side, for only a moment, at the morgue . . . once. A day later, they performed the autopsy. I was told I could not know when her body was being transported to the funeral home. All I wanted to do was be by my baby’s side through her last travels on earth. I just wanted to do what a mother must do . . . tend to her child. Whether alive or dead.

He had someone supporting him from his sentencing and into his incarceration. I don’t begrudge him this person, this relationship. But if I am honest with myself . . . it hurts me that something positive came from his choice to drink and drive and I faced nothing but anguish from day one. He found love. I found sorrow that soaked deep into my bones.

Two and a half years into our side by side journeys he had the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend. A momentous occasion. The decision to spend the rest of their lives together. Years to fill with love, family, and memories. Thirty months into my journey, I was still reeling and was making a mess of my life because I wasn’t sure I wanted it anymore. All I could see were years upon years, stacked up in front of me, full of empty spaces in which Becca would have lived.

About a year before his release he broke the engagement. He’s shared his reasons with me but I think they fall under the heading of: not mine to share, so I won’t. I am sure this was a painful time for him and there is a part of me that thought: now you know what it’s like to not have the future you envisioned. I don’t mean that in a cruel way . . . I’m just stating a fact. For one moment I feel he knew a portion of the pain of a lost future.

I wept for most of the night . . . even when I slept. My dreams shifted so quickly I couldn’t catch hold of them. Images were blurred. I got no real rest. Or, relief from my thoughts. I woke with a renewed heavy feeling of loss. A deeper sense of what my daughter lost when she died that night.

I struggled with whether I had the right to tell Joseph how his story made me feel.

My other thought was: what if I tell him, and he feels as if he’s caused me increased pain, and decides he won’t give me the full story next time. I sent him a text, that simply read, “full disclosure?” He replied, “About?”

“I cried last night thinking about how Becca never had the chance to be in love. Your story stirred profound sadness in me. No anger. Just bone deep sorrow,” I wrote to him.

His reply, “I hesitated because I thought it might.”

I think our brain works in amazing ways we barely understand. It has an incredible ability to filter what we feel in order to keep our minds from imploding from the weight of the entire truth. It knows how to keep us safe. Maybe, our brain and our soul coordinate things and do their best to keep us from disintegrating completely. When they both are in agreement as to what time to dispense information is best . . . then we are allowed the knowledge. And, possibly, a key is required to unfasten the lock.

I have come to realize, and accept, that Joseph holds many of the keys I need to unlock deeper healing. I think it completely natural that his life is a sort of measuring stick as to what Becca has lost. The crash is a set point in the past that started a new future for them both. Lack of a future for my child, unfortunately.

Joseph apologized for causing me pain with his story. He said he didn’t want to bring those feeling about in me. I told him those feelings were already there. They are always there. I had dealt with some of them, already, to a point. Just like everything else . . . it takes more than one time to make it last. His story could have been the key I needed to unlock deeper mourning. Deeper mourning I need to do in order to bring about more complete healing.

The knowledge we gain is a chance for either more complete understanding, or increased pain, in any given situation. Sometimes we don’t have the ability to choose either one. Our mind and soul choose for us. Thankfully, they agreed that I am ready for broader healing within myself and concerning Joseph. Moving toward more understanding regarding my Becca’s death.

I think our healing capacity is not limited. Rather, it is boundless. Ever growing. Deepening and widening and can encompass all. I hope so, at least.

Sometimes, the key lies somewhere other than in ourselves.

We must keep searching to heal.

Be Brave

Today, I sent another message to the driver that killed my daughter. It’s been a little over a week since we last exchanged texts. Or has it been two? In the last response he sent me, in connection with meeting each other face to face, he said I could take my time in setting a date.

I sat with his words from a Sunday to a Tuesday. Either nine days . . . or sixteen. I guess the actual length of time doesn’t matter. What matters is why I sat passively as the days clicked past. My idleness wasn’t because I’d changed my mind in meeting him. Rather, I needed to digest what making contact with him meant. I had a lot to work through.

I’d purposefully decided to veer off course and take a new path. A path that will lead me into his world. One that will allow him to set foot in my life, welcomed. We will be creating a new reality, together. A new ending to a tragic story that could have had multiples tragedies along the way.

But, before I could do that, I had to come to terms with many ideas and feelings I’ve been carrying since January 21, 2017. Where I am now, though it’s a painful existence, it’s safe. There is a security in knowing that I feel a wrenching anguish, each day, concerning the absence of my only daughter. Today was sad, every day is sad, and tomorrow will be no different. There is an odd comfort in knowing this. A solid painful place is still solid.

So, I had to slow down and just “be” in the place I am for a little longer. For eleven years I have lived with him being the “drunk driver” in my head. He has been faceless for the entire time.  An undefined male image. As I’ve said before . . . he’s remained the twenty three year old he was when this all happened. He’s been a fleeting picture in my thoughts. One of Becca’s friends recently said to me “he isn’t a faceless monster any more”. And, indeed, he is not.

In reaching out to him I have set into motion an entirely different future for us both. It reminds me of the in between space I stood in on that cold highway wondering if it was my child who was dead. Moving from the life we all had together into the new one that didn’t include her. Waiting in the dark for the information that would catapult me into the “after”. Those precious moments from when I was told it was my Becca until someone I knew positively identified her at the crash scene. Minutes I could almost convince myself that I could stay put in the life I loved. Having someone who knew Becca, tell me that yes . . . it’s her, closed a door on our life together and forced me into a new room. It will forever be the point marking the before and the after.

Meeting him will be the same kind of moment. In a different way. I feel as if I will be exiting the dark room I’ve existed in for a little over a decade and entering another that will be much lighter. It is another before and after moment. These points are always life altering. And, I needed to rest and gain strength in order to face the shift. So, I lay on the plateau I had reached by connecting with him.

The years since her death have been heartbreaking. The path I’ve been on has some sharp ups and downs. But now I realize it’s been on a steady incline since the day she died. I never noticed this until right now. I have been ascending, all this time, to the upcoming meeting.

It’s been such a long climb up to this most recent ledge. I’ve found myself bare, bleeding, and bruised. Not sure I had enough strength to go any higher. Then, this level ground appeared and I decided I needed to rest in the “in between” for a little while. Remain in this new light pondering this new life. However, I know that I can not stay here indefinitely. It’s not the end destination for me. Or, for this story. Instead, it’s a place to take a respite from the gut wrenching reality of her being gone. And, it’s a new beginning.

I liked it here. In the in between. As I said . . . it is safely predictable. A segment of time bookended by the letter to him and meeting him. I know I can not set up household here. It’s not meant to be my new home. Being here is starting to feel wrong because it’s been too long. Not a place of deserved rest as it had initially, but a place to hide away from this big thing. Today, I finally sat up and acknowledged that my time here is done. No more inaction. The time has arrived to start climbing again.

So, in the spirit of moving toward healing, I messaged him again. I asked him what days and times work for our meeting. He said weekends. Weekend afternoons. I replied with “A Sunday”? He said yes.

There it is then. A more concrete plan. Not completely worked out . . . but forward movement.

Today I stepped firmly on the path that will lead to our meeting. I am glad I had a chance to rest because it’s made me feel strong enough to traverse this new section of my healing journey.

We will meet on a Sunday afternoon, which seems appropriate because Becca died on a Sunday, but I’m not sure of which one, yet.

Small steps give surety to my footing and balance to this journey.

Always, in memory of you my beautiful girl.

 

My Son

Saturday, I drove halfway across the state of Michigan, to pick up my son. Two weeks ago he was nearly killed in a car crash. I needed to have him with me so I could reach over and touch him to prove to myself that he was still alive. The momma soul in my yearned to care for him during this healing period. Burning in my heart is the need to nurture my child.

The weekend of the crash I rushed across the state after receiving the news in a phone call. When I reached the hospital, I parked my car crookedly, and sprinted toward the doors. My other son, his twin brother, met me in the lobby to walk me up to his brother’s room. Surprisingly, their father trailed right behind him. My son wanted to prepare me for what I was going to see when I got to the room. I immediately started to cry.

My twins father and I are no longer together. We don’t get along. Years of crap have built a wall that is high. And, it is much stronger than I thought, because I was hoping the near death of our child would break it down. It didn’t. He was icilly cordial to me the entire time. The last day I was at the hospital I asked him if his cell number was the same, he replied yes. Good, I thought, I can get updates and be contacted if something goes wrong.

The next day, I started to message him, asking when our son would be released from the hospital. No answer. Throughout the day I both called and messaged him at least a dozen times. With every inquiry that went unanswered the scenarios of what must be happening grew darker in my thoughts. Nearly eight hours had passed from the initial text to my first communication with someone in that household. Eight hours of wondering if my son had relapsed. Had the brain bleed started to grow larger? Did the MRI not catch a fracture in his neck and he moved into paralysis? By the time I talked to my other son I was frantic. I was sure that his brother was dying and that I wouldn’t make it over to say goodbye. My children die. A slow spiral had started, gaining speed downward, with each hour that ticked past. I found myself in a full blown PTSD episode.

With my son’s phone call I finally got some answers about his brother. I was anxious and highly stressed and not handling anything very well. I explained to my son that I’d been trying to contact his father all day long and didn’t get one response. He informed me that his brother was home and resting comfortably and all was as well as it could be. I asked if I could come to visit my hurt son and I was told that my visit with my child could be from 10 to 2 the next day.

Fueled by PTSD adrenaline I became mad and asked why I was being ‘granted’ four hours. He’s my child, too. No, I said, that isn’t good enough. I needed to see my son and I would spend as much time with him as I wanted. Here, I should state that my boys are staying with their father. The next phone call, just a few minutes later, my son told me that my hours had been shortened from noon to 2. To which, naturally, I blew up. As you might expect things disintegrated from there. The third phone call informed me that I had “lost my privileges” because I was being difficult and that I could Skype or Facetime with my injured son.

“Are you fucking kidding me!?” I screamed to my son.
Everyone, but me, was able to spend time with him. His father, brother, stepmom, and aunt were all at the house. But somehow keeping his mom away seemed a fair idea. Bullshit. I was told I was being unreasonable. Playing the victim when I wasn’t the one that had gotten hurt. I needed to respect their father’s rules for his house. (This is where it really hit me that the wall between us is never coming down). I was told that I “did it to myself” and I had to accept the consequences. A lot of words flew out of my uncensored mouth. Words crafted in fear, terror. Some of them were unkind and accusatory. My son told me that their father had blocked my number years ago so he got none of my inquiries. Seriously, I thought, who the hell does that? Who can be so cruel?

But, I had to accept not seeing my son. What choice did I have? I was told coming to the house was going to cause a domestic problem with police and did I really want to add that to what was already going on? My mind was on fire with anger and the pain from not being listened to.”I caused this??” I yelled at my son. “This is fair?? Do you understand what I am going through over here? And how it’s exacerbated by hours of no contact with anyone there?” That “the momma, who’s already lost a child, needs to see him to calm her fears.”

Didn’t matter. None of it mattered. A few days later I was able to more calmly convey to my son, the intermediary between his parents, why I was reacting the way I was. Still didn’t change my being able to visit but my son and I took the time to understand each other. Then, this past Saturday, my injured son said he wanted to come stay with me for a bit. We tried to arrange a time.

Last summer my boys went to Europe. The trip had no definite end date. So, the boys agreed to spend the night with me to have dinner and visit. While we were eating dinner I was told that they wouldn’t be able to spend the night after all as their father had planned a birthday party for their stepmother. He wanted them to be there. I tried not to be mad. Notice I said tried. After a quick dinner I kissed them both goodbye and went to bed and cried. This almost happened again on Saturday. In trying to coordinate a time to pick my son up he asked me “could it be a little later . . . today is McKenna’s birthday”. McKenna is their little sister. For fuck’s sake.

Not only have I had the terror of nearly losing another child to deal with, but, I’ve been given the feeling of not mattering. Of being a second thought. Of being a nuisance. Bothersome. Unimportant. Part of me feels as if my sons have turned away from me. I feel cheated out of helping to care for my injured boy. That I am viewed as unhinged and untrustworthy.

Invisible and easy to forget.

No longer needed.

That is a lot for a bereaved mother to shoulder. Having one child killed, another who seems to view me as their father does and nearly losing another, the weight of emotions was enough to send me far down into the black hole. The descent was quick because the spiral is greased with everyday fears, feelings of guilt, loneliness. Oiled with the absence of my daughter. It’s a lightning fast ride to the bottom. I spent almost fourteen days at the bottom this time. And, I was left there alone. Saturday I crawled up out of the abyss, got into my van, and drove east to get my child.

Eleven years have passed since I lost my Becca. This crash, that almost took my son’s life, brought me right back to that day over a decade ago. The treatment I received after anchored me in the dark. Picking up my son was like the sun rising after a very long night.

PTSD is difficult to deal with. You never know what is going to trigger you. Or how long it will manifest. Surround yourself with others who understand and want to work with you, not against you. Find people who hand you a pair of wings when they see you in trouble . . . not attach a ball and chain around your ankle.

Most of all: believe you will rise again.

Because you will.

Again.

A few weeks ago one of my twin sons, Gabriel, came to visit me in the town to which I’d recently moved. I was so excited when he told me he was going to visit! There were two “firsts” I was looking forward to. One, he hadn’t seen the historic home we’d moved into and I was eager to show it to him. Two, he was bringing a young lady he’d been dating for a while and this was going to be our first meeting. The visit was everything I had expected . . . and more!

Since losing my daughter it’s been a struggle to feel truly happy. I have had moments of happiness, which have grown longer and larger, but the day he spent with me a few Sundays ago really made me feel confident that life was going to be ok. I told him this, too. Always with the qualifier “without your sister here” so as not sound like I’m over her passing. As I said those words to him, “I’m really as happy as I can be” . . . I meant them. Both of my sons were doing well. Working. Living. Loving. What else can a mother want? I have it all. (except for my daughter).

I felt certain that the hardest part of life was behind us. I was satisfied this was the truth. Then, on a beautifully sunny Saturday, lightning struck twice. It was as if some invisible hand had parted the clouds, picked me up by the back of my shirt, and dropped me right back into the day my daughter was killed.

I was at work when I received a phone call that began with these few words:

“Mom, listen to me . . . I want you to know he’s alive.”

I started to spin out of control quickly because my son, Matthew, kept saying:

“MOM! MOM! He’s alive . . . calm down . . . Mom, I need you to calm down . . .”

I flew out of the bathroom, already running and telling anyone that would listen, I had to leave NOW. Standing in the back warehouse, with all three of my bosses looking at me, I was asking my son if his twin brother was in a coma. I was yelling. I was spinning around, in place, with one hand across my forehead in disbelief. How could this be happening. Again. I’ve already lost one child . . . didn’t this mean the chance of losing another was nearly zero? Wasn’t closing down the life of your child like a vaccination of sorts?

What I remember hearing in that first conversation with my son was that his brother had been in a bad crash. He told me where Gabriel was: a hospital in Flint. Flint is 113.6 miles from my job. Travel time is 1 hour and 39 minutes. At that moment it might as well have been half way across the world. They were too far away. I was frantic

I have recollection of Matthew telling me there was no brain damage. Holy shit, I thought, this is really bad. There didn’t seem to be any paralysis, either. Holy fuck, how bad is it when they are checking for those things? I must have asked my son if he was telling me everything, or if he was telling me the truth, because he kept saying:

“I promise, Mom, I’m not holding anything back. Please, don’t rush here, I need you to drive safely. He’s ok.”

I didn’t believe him. I was CERTAIN he was holding the most devastating information back because he didn’t want me to speed and have my own crash. Was he downplaying the truth of his brother’s condition so I wouldn’t drive like a maniac to get there? Yes! My mind told me. YES!!! It screamed at me! “YOUR CHILDREN DIE!!” I kept shaking my head as my son tried to calm me, console me, make me believe his brother was, indeed, alive.

“I need you to be ok, Mom!! Promise me you won’t speed, promise me you’ll be careful!”

All I kept saying was, “I have to leave . . . I have to go . . . I have to get there now . . . I know you aren’t telling me the truth . . .”

I was in my car and on the street within seconds. I didn’t know what to do first. I needed air in my tires but I couldn’t waste the time getting them filled – there wasn’t enough gas in my van yet it would take too long to fill it up – how far could I get on what there was . . .

I think I drove in circles in the parking lot, trying to figure out what I needed to do first, because I had to keep moving. I had to be doing something. I was literally spinning my tires in panic.

Fortunately, a coworker messaged me and told me she didn’t want me going alone. I had it in my head that I just needed to get on the highway and get the hell across the state. She told me that Joe, a high school friend of the boys, would go with me. I almost ignored her message, turning left toward the highway instead of turning right and going back to work. I didn’t and having Joe with me for the long ride helped.

As we drove toward the highway I filled him in on what little I knew. Something inside of me told me that I had to hold it together for Joe. I was the adult, even though Joe is 24, and I had to appear calm for him. As I explained Gabe’s condition (as I knew it to be) I tried to hold back the tears. Why was I able to remain calm for someone else but not myself?

In between conversations with Joe, about mundane things, horrible thoughts were racing through my mind.

Would my child have a cognitive disability. I know Matthew said no brain damage but he could be just saying that. Gabriel is sarcastic and fast witted and intelligent. In a lot of ways, he is my most difficult child, always testing the boundaries and not caring about consequences. He’s thoughtful and philosophical and questions everything. Full of angst. At times, it seems, he carries the sadness of generations that have come before him. An artist’s soul with a deep well of emotions. What would I do if I had to look into his beautiful eyes and know he’s lost part of who he was? Would he be aware that he had been permanently changed? Somewhere deep in his mind would he know he wasn’t fully himself anymore? Would this realization sadden him? Or was there a chance that he might never know who he was before this crash?

These thoughts rushed in but I kept pushing them back so I could concentrate on the highway.

Oh my god. What if he is hurt badly enough that he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair? I know Matthew told me there wasn’t that kind of damage but my son knows me well enough to be concerned that I would drive well over the speed limit to get to them. What if Gabriel could no longer use his legs? Both boys played soccer in high school and continue to play to this day. Gabriel recently discovered a love for disc golf. Are the courses wheelchair accessible? His arms. Paralysis could include his arms! How in the world would he feel if he could no longer run or kick or shoot a baskeball?

Which would be better? A cognitive issue, or a physical one? Would one be easier to overcome than the other? How would Gabriel approach the loss of either one? OR BOTH?? Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.What the fuck!! Why did the miles seem endless as I sped toward the east side of the state?! I needed to touch my child. Matthew needed me there, too. I am the mom. I am supposed to make everything right. No matter their age . . . children still look to their parents for guidance. I had to get there and DO.

I was told the car flipped between 40 and 50 mph. No airbags deployed. Unsure of seat belts. The crash happened in a construction zone and wasn’t found for a few hours. A female officer knocked on their father’s door to ask if they knew a Gabriel Kelly. She said there was a crash and he was in serious condition. I was told by the boys’ stepmother that Matthew anguished over what to say when he called me. He had to give me the news yet keep me calm enough so that I didn’t freak out (which I did anyway) and hurt myself getting there. Then Matthew had to sit next to his twin brother’s bed, while doctors and nurses tended to him, all the while wondering if he’d just lost another sibling. Trying to remain calm as old wounds were opened and blood started to spill. Angry at his brother but thrilled he was alive. Matthew had also been placed in a space from eleven years ago . . . instantaneously.

On a beautiful late summer day, the kind that can only be found in Michigan, Matthew and I were standing on that cold gray highway in January again.This time it wasn’t me trying to protect him, but instead, him attempting to shelter me. Side by side, we sat at the foot of Gabe’s bed, and just looked at him. Grateful when he surfaced out of the drug induced sleep long enough to say something. Crying when he would moan from the pain. Matthew told me how much it hurt to see his brother this way. That he wished he could take the pain away. I wished I could take the pain from both of them into myself.

A few days after the crash, when my mind settled down enough to move from the emergency state, I thought: Damn it! That is what I get for saying I was happy. For thinking life was going to be good. To be openly optimistic and hopeful. Life said: Yeah? Watch this. Then it proceeded to recrumble the ground beneath my feet. Why? Why did another tragedy have to happen? I’ve had enough! My family has had enough. In the past I’ve half joked around about having been Hitler in my previous life because I was getting a good amount of karmic payback in this one, it seemed. There should be a quota for the number of children on mother can lose. Can we ink that in somewhere? Who do I need to talk to?

My son is alive. We have a future together . . . all three of us. Matthew will heal from the terror and pain he’s been feeling for the past week. He’ll be carefree and optimistic and full of joy again. His playful nature will resurface when he can put the weight of this event down. Gabriel’s healing will be slow but eventually he will be back to the sarcastic funny kid we know. And, out walking the disc golf course “meditating” as he calls it.

Lightning does strike twice in the same place. I have no immunity because my daughter was killed. Any confidence I had that my two boys would be safe because we’ve already faced this is completely gone. There are no rules in child loss. We must not take any part of being a parent for granted. I don’t think life came after me because I was too smug or cocky. Well, most of me doesn’t. But it’s going to take a very long time until I feel “safe” concerning my children again.

Gabriel will be coming to stay with me for a while soon. I will be able to mother him and help him heal. I can hold his hand and tell him how much I love him. We can talk about what he’s feeling. He can tell me about his sister being at the crash, and watching over him, more completely.

Please, for me, if you are able . . . go hug your children.

You never know when a storm might be brewing.

 

Family Tree – A Sapling

The moment you realize you aren’t forced to maintain contact with those who hurt you is both liberating and terrifying. How will life be when you let the toxic people go? I mean, you are used to the chaos. Reversely, when you figure out family isn’t just about DNA, but about bonds between people, you can find happiness and peace. People treat you how you let them. Acceptance of hurtful behavior is silently telling the other that it’s ok. It’s never ok. Family doesn’t get to stay merely because there is a physical connection.

Without going into great detail, I had to do the former with my family, nearly ten years ago. I had reached a moment when the decision had to be made. I knew I couldn’t possibly work through the loss of my child and dwell in the chaos they, without fail, brought to my life. To begin to heal from Becca’s violent death I had to say goodbye to the negative I could let go of. So, for the past decade, I have not talked to them, or seen them, once.

I’ve hesitated to write about this part of my life because I don’t want to open that can of worms. As a disclaimer, when I write about this subject, I am sharing what my perception of the past is. I am quite certain they would have a much different story to tell. I am not going to mention names and will try to speak in generalities where I can. I am half expecting a nasty phone call or a letter from an attorney telling me to stop talking about them. What happens remains to be seen. I’ve chosen to forge ahead because cleaning out the bullshit is important to finding a balance . . . even if the bullshit is a blood relative.

Right around the first passing date of Becca’s death I removed my family from my life. For the first eight years, A.D. (after her death) I didn’t let anyone. I had a boyfriend, a term I use very loosely, and my boys. Now I know I only kept the loose boyfriend around because saying goodbye to another person seemed overwhelming at the time. I’d lost Becca, my family was gone, and the boys weren’t very happy with how I was existing. I isolated myself from any real connections outside of the house.

One day, I started to let people get closer to me. Just a little at a time and I still remained guarded. If I kept one foot out of the relationship door I could quickly put distance between myself the offender. You can’t be in a toxic relationship if you leave, right? Sort of. You are in a toxic relationship with yourself if you keep any form of connection at arms length. People need connections with others to remain healthy.

I’d always had trouble bonding with other women. I felt as if I was in a contest with them somehow. Especially when I was with my loose boyfriend. I never felt good enough because he continually cheated. When we were out together his eyes constantly scanned our surroundings for other women. He’d even make comments to me about how hot they were or how good they’d be in bed. This behaviour added cracks to my already broken soul. Eventually, I got to a place where he was gone, too.

Then a funny thing happened. Without having to worry about whether loose boyfriend was going to slip another random woman his number I didn’t have to judge myself against them. I found out that women can be friends. Allies. Support. They help me stay afloat when the waves are relentless.

So, I started to let them in! It was scary. In truth, it took awhile to completely trust each of them. But I am so glad I could. And did. Slowly, without realizing it, I was rebuilding my family. Creating a group of people in which I felt bonded. Safe. Belonging to something larger than just me. In doing so . . . I have allowed the sunshine into some dark corners in my life.

A few of them have trusted me enough to let me into their life. To allow me to know their children. When I look at them, all so beautiful, I can almost feel what being a grandmother is. The only thing missing is the DNA tie. Sigh, that is something I just have to accept. I am so very grateful to be anything at all in these children’s lives. Having them in my life eases some pains and brings me great joy. A joy I wouldn’t have if not for the kind moms I have met.

I used the term borrowed grandchildren. One of the moms I know said she didn’t care for that term. She said I wasn’t borrowing them, instead, I was building a loving relationship with them. She is a strong and courageous woman. She is my family, now.

I have learned that the journey through life is easier with family. My troubles are lighter when I have others who help me carry them. Moments are happier when a little one wants to share their most precious toy with me. Or, slides their blankie onto my lap so I feel comforted.

So, I am building my family. I still have people I am related to in my life. But the majority are those I have no physical connection with. I feel safe in this group of chosen members. The village has helped me heal! I am sorry I waited so long to let others in. If you find yourself in the place I was . . . you can change things. Purge the negative and allow in more positive. We need family.

And, it’s never too late to build one for yourself.