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.

 

LIKE BONES

A few mornings ago I was drinking a cup of tea while I was scrolling through Facebook. My feed is filled with positive and uplifting posts that make me smile, most of the time. Once in a while, a post will hit me the wrong way and send me reeling. This particular post wasn’t negative or offensive in any way. Quite the opposite. A lovely photo of a woman, I know, and her grandchild. My friend’s words were simple, sweet, and hit me like a gut punch.

Before I started to write this particular blog, I asked her if it was alright to use her words to share my reaction. And, the why for my reaction. She graciously said yes. So, here it is. My ugly truth.

I don’t remember her words, verbatim, but they were something along the lines of God always knowing what she needs and providing her with what she needs when she needs it. Again, I haven’t gone back to look at the post because it hurt to read those words. I hope I am somewhat accurate. But, I guess, what I interpreted is more important than what she wrote if I am to convey my reaction.

Most often, when I write the word god, I don’t capitalize it. To me, the capitalization of the name gives it a Christian feel and I am not “down with” what I see Christianity standing for in many cases. A capital G is a sign of respect for those who believe in the Christian Faith, which I both understand and respect, but it’s not what I feel. In the paragraph above, I did use the uppercase letter because I care for and respect my friend and her deep beliefs. I felt this was important to explain.

Upon seeing the beautiful child’s face in my friend’s post, and reading the words, I thought: bullshit. Horrible reaction, right? Believe me, I know. I think it’s pretty bad, too. But, let me explain . . . I imagine though, to other grieving moms, no explanation is needed.

God doesn’t always give us what we need. Period. No “but He . . . “ or “He will . . .” just NO. The saying: If He brings you to it . . . He’ll bring you through it is ridiculous to a mother who’s fallen to her knees in despair so often she has permanent bruises.

I do want to say I know a few grieving moms who are devout and have a completely different outlook about this subject than I do. And, in truth, I am happy they have their religious beliefs to get them through. But, I don’t and this is my blog and I have to write what is in my heart, head, and soul.

No. god doesn’t always know what you need and give it to you. I needed my daughter to survive the crash that killed her. I need someone somewhere to figure out what a horrific mistake it was that she was taken and give her back to me. I need Stacey to have her daughter Mckenna, her only child, back with her. Patty needs her son, David, to come home from overseas. Mandy needs Megan to be in her thirties now . . . not forever 6 months old. Brookelynn needs to be running around playing soccer with Tonya cheering for her from the sidelines. My friend Amanda needs her son, Caleb, back so he can be a big brother to her Gabe.

We need our children. The children who should not have died. Our hearts need to be mended and the only thing that will ever heal them completely is to hold our child in our arms again.

I read my friend’s words and considered them for a few hours. As I struggled with why I was upset at such a beautiful display of love and faith . . . these words formed in my thoughts:

“I will listen to your godly words – I will roll them around in examination before I swallow them – then, as a snake would, I will expel the ones that don’t connect to my soul – like bones.”

There are parts of Christianity I do believe in, aspects I find beautiful, but there are others that I struggle with deeply. So much so, I don’t call myself a Christian. I think to do so would be disrespectful to those who truly are. So, I am not sure where I fit in.

I feel as if it is easier for those who have not suffered the loss of a child to believe more completely. Yet, I know there are others who have lost much more than I who have a deep belief as well. I mean, what do I say to the grieving mom who believes god had a plan for her child? You don’t understand? How can I say that to her . . . when she does, when she has buried one of hers, too?

There are numerous aspects of child loss that we have to work through, that we struggle with. Religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs are a huge aspect of the entire process, I think, for most of us. I have to believe that even the most devout have had their doubts, too.

I’m a work in progress. Much of what I was before my daughter was killed has been demolished. Broken beyond repair. But, I am rebuilding myself a little each day. Struggling with faith is a part of the process. And, sometimes, something we see will cause us to dive headfirst into the abyss.

I guess it’s how we learn. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow.

Now, back to examining the bones.

Her Angel

I often wonder if bereaved mothers judge themselves more harshly than the average person does. We can be pretty ruthless when noticing our own behavior.

Are we mourning correctly? Too much? Or, the right amount? Not enough? Did we laugh too soon? More often than we should? Are we supposed to go on the vacation we already had planned? How long is it appropriate to wear black? Should we mention our child when no one else does? How do we know if we are grieving the loss of our child appropriately?

First let me say this: someone . . . somewhere, will have a nasty comment to make about how you are surviving in the aftermath of loss. The remarks usually start with “Did you see . . . “ or “How could she . . . “ or “Isn’t it time that you . . . “. The last comment is the one that really gets me because all too often it comes from someone who hasn’t buried one of their children. But this blog isn’t about the insensitivity or lack of knowledge that outsiders seem to bring to us. This piece of writing is about how severely we can judge ourselves.

Monday morning, Stacey and I were having breakfast before a meeting I had for an art show. Sitting in a local eatery, we were chatting about what was on the TV and probably making inappropriate comments about one thing or another, when she started to scroll through her emails.

“Oh”, she said,”here is one about the scholarship.”

She then proceeded to share with me the particulars of the letter. A memorial scholarship has been started in Mckenna’s honor and the first one was presented this year. A 2018 graduate, who is furthering her education in theatre and music was awarded the scholarship. Mckenna was quite gifted in music and acting and Stacey wanted to help further someone else’s dream because she can’t help Mckenna achieve her own.

Stacey said, multiple times, oh that’s lovely. Oh, how wonderful. I’m so happy. Which I am quite certain she was . . . but with the acknowledgement that this girl received the honor to further her dreams it was a reminder to Stacey that her daughter won’t. This scholarship only exists because Mckenna was killed and there is no way to get forget this fact. So, in the middle of the restaurant, Stacey started to cry. And then what did she do? What we all do. She apologized.

I don’t remember her exact words but they were something like: “I’m sorry. I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I’m crying.”

That statement holds so much heartache. There is the surface sadness, the sadness we expect when we’ve lost a child, but there is so much more mixed in there as well.

“I’m sorry.”

For what? You have no reason to have to apologize to anyone. Ever. Crying is expected. Tears are natural. Everyone cries. Please, don’t say you are sorry. Cry when you need to. No explanation is needed to anyone. Tears are a healing necessity on this path.

“I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I am crying.”

Holding it inside is “doing good”? By whose standards? In saying that holding it in is doing good it implies that letting it out is doing bad. Why is that bad? We’ve been conditioned to believe emotions are troublesome and shouldn’t be shared. Being sensitive is seen as a fault. Somehow, society has morphed into a space where we have to keep what is considered “extreme emotions” hidden away. I think this is a huge mistake. It removes us from one another.

But, back to how we judge ourselves in context to how we behave in grief.

Stacey and I have talked endlessly about nearly every aspect of mourning the loss of a child. We always agree that our culture sucks when it comes to both actively grieving and interacting with others who grieve. Both of us think part of our “mission” is to spread awareness about child loss and parental bereavement. When we see another mother crying . . . we understand why. We are compassionate. There is safe space. We can extend this to another, knowing it is what the mother needs, yet we can’t seem to offer it to ourselves. I know Stacey would sit with me for hours, if I wanted her to, so I wouldn’t be crying alone. I would do the same for her. And, there would be no reason for an apology or even the slightest thought that the other was failing. Yet, again, we don’t offer that kindness to ourselves.

It seems we can talk a good game, in theory, but it’s putting it in practice on the playing field where we falter. We still think we are putting others out when our grief overwhelms us and spills into the moment. How do we change societal views when we have trouble changing ourselves?

I guess it’s in small steps. One tear at a time. We didn’t learn to live without our child in one afternoon. Or in a year. Hell, it’s been a decade for me and I still don’t know how. We do the best we can in the smallest of moments.

All judgement has to stop. The judgement from “outsiders”. That which grieving moms have for each other at times, and especially the thoughts in which we hold ourselves up to an impossible yardstick. My way isn’t your way and vice versa. And it shouldn’t be.

Find your way without faulting yourself for the little moments of the journey. Let others find theirs. We are all heading in the same direction, like a spoke of a wheel, toward the center of spirit and healing. Be kind to each other.

Be kind to yourself.

Note: The featured image above is painting Stacey Hilton did of herself and her angel daughter, Mckenna. I’d like to thank her for allowing me to share her story and her pictures in my writing. It adds a dimension that I couldn’t share on my own.

 

 

Again?

Three days ago I posted a blog entry about happiness. I must have been having a good day. With this piece, you will see the path of grief for what it is . . . a non linear journey. As we travel along it’s path, we traipse back and forth over ground we’ve covered dozens of times. It can’t be helped. Nothing is ever healed completely.

Another blogger read my last piece, “When She Laughed”, and left me a comment on my site. She stated that she liked the fact that I was optimistic in what I’d written about happiness. In a reply, I was careful to state that I didn’t want her, or anyone else to think I started my grieving feeling this way. Instead, I started it mad and sad and angry and jealous and bitter. Very little happiness or optimism was involved. I am always fearful that someone who is struggling may think somehow I am doing it right and they are doing it wrong. I don’t ever want to add more weight to an already heavy existence.

Especially, the feeling of failure.

But when I wrote that reply, yesterday, I was still having a good day. It was upbeat and light. I still felt happy. So many things are looking positive in my day to day life. Both of my boys are happy and doing well. There is a move in my future. My art, my writing. I’ve made big decisions that I feel confident in. A handful of people have told me that they are thrilled to see my eyes sparkle again. “You’re so happy!” they’ve commented to me.

Then today dawned cold and rainy and grey. And, magical because of a wedding happening an ocean away. I am not a royal watcher. I didn’t wake up extra early, bake scones, brew tea, don a whimsical hat, and settle in to be a part of the history making nuptials. I honestly don’t care enough to go out of my way to watch an American become part of the British royal family.

Yet, when the highlights played across the screen this evening I watched a few short minutes of the affair. What stuck with me was not the dress or guests. It wasn’t the fact that an actress from the USA became a duchess in England with the words “I do”. Or that so much of what transpired was breaking from tradition. None of that. What caught me off guard was the look on the groom’s face as he watched the woman he loved draw closer to the altar. His face softened when he caught sight of her. He appeared to be utterly mesmerized and completely in love with his bride.

All I could think about is the fact that my daughter will never have the chance to be looked at in that manner. And it is fucking heartbreaking to me that this (and so many other experiences) were stolen from her by someone who was irresponsible. By someone who decided drinking and driving was his right. By a young man who thought a boozy Saturday night took precedence over the safety of anyone else.

As easy as that . . . the happiness evaporated. I felt as if a balloon had deflated because of the piercing truth of my daughter’s death. Because of the enormity of the years, and experiences, she’s lost.

I’m moving nearer the lake. Who the hell cares?? My art seems to be taking off, in some regards, but what’s the use in pursuing it? What I write . . . does it help me or anyone else? Who knows. Nothing major changed in my life today, yet, everything changed in my life today. Nothing else really matters because my child is dead.

The hopefulness skittered away as quickly, and completely, as a cloud passing over the sun and plunging the world into darkness. There and gone.

I guess I am trying to illustrate two points here:

Even after eleven years, and some very deep healing, I still experience the emotions I felt initially following Becca’s death. I am treading over ground I have covered many times before. No one is immune from these circular situations that spiral us back from where we’ve been. Expect it. It happens to all of us . . . no matter where we are in our grief journey.

We heal in little pieces. A stitch at a time. But, not all soul sutures are strong enough to withstand a violent blow. I am not going to chastise myself because I did a u-turn and headed back into a place that I’ve been so many times before. I have a right to be sad for my daughter’s losses. And, for my loss.

So, yes, I will have good days but I’ll also have shitty days. That’s my lot in life now. I imagine I will always vacillate between emotions and this will irritate some people. They want us to be better. To hurt less. And, as quickly as possible. That’s just not going to happen.

Feel happy when you can . . . and embrace the sadness when you can’t. These emotions are critical to healing. Sadness is necessary.

The featured image above is from this past Tuesday when Stacey and I were in Muskegon. A bunch of dandelions growing between a sidewalk and a wall. Joyfully yellow with their heads turned toward the sun. They are beautiful because they exist in a place that isn’t very hospitable to greenery. We exist in a condition that isn’t amenable to complete happiness.

But we can give it our best shot each day to find some happiness among the tears.

 

Just F!ck.

First, I’d like to issue a warning about this blog. I’m irritated and my words may include some strong language. This happens now and then. It’s happening now.

I follow quite a few “pages” on Facebook. Often there are shared posts which are meant to be inspirational. The “me” I was before my daughter’s death would have, undoubtedly, found motivation in their musings about love, life, and the world. The “me” created by her passing isn’t so positive they are completely true. Furthermore, I believe they can only be true for those who have not lost a child.

A few days ago, I ran across just such a post. I won’t share it in its entirety here . . . but I’ll share the lines that gave me pause:

“And then it happens. One day you wake up and you’re in this place. You’re in this place where everything feels right.”

It goes on to explain how you will be at peace with all you’ve been through . . . everything you’ve experienced.

It’s not as often as you think that I comment being that I am a writer. My replies are not as snarky as they were when I was newly bereaved. I was deeply hurting and could not see anything positive, anywhere. I’m willing to concede this might be the case, today, as well.

After reading the meant-to-be uplifting words pertaining to life’s journey that brings you through hard times . . . I had a genuine question. Can we all reach this place? This place I envision as balancing atop the crest of mountain, seeing all that was and all that will be, down below? Where the air is pure and the sun warm and everything in its appropriate place? So, I added a comment.

“I wonder if someone who’s lost a child can reach this. It’s a great concept but sadly I don’t think everyone can reach this place.”

As you can imagine, there were many who replied, and too many who didn’t quite understand. Two replies irritated me much more than they maybe should have. One of them is on my list as to what to never say to a grieving mother: Time heals all wounds. No it doesn’t. Some wounds never heal no matter how much time passes. I know the person saying this is trying to help us but they aren’t.

The second comment that pissed me off is one I’ve not heard in the eleven years I have spent as a grieving mother. I believe my exact response upon reading it was: you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Believe me, it was not because I was elated someone had finally given me the secret to healing from the pain of child loss (if only).

More so because the one word thrown at my question was “willpower”. Willpower! Is that the answer, Christine L. from Doesn’t Matter, USA? All I need is willpower?? Why didn’t someone tell me this sooner!! Holy shit!!

When I’m cradling the marble urn holding my daughter’s ashes I’ll just put it down and sternly tell myself to have more willpower in letting her go!! Each night, as the tears fall onto my pillow I’ll remind myself that all I need is a little more willpower to stop my crying!! As dawn breaks, and I am having difficulty forcing myself out of bed to face another day in a world that doesn’t hold my daughter anymore, I’ll chastise myself with the reminder: All you need, Diane, is more fucking willpower!! Stop being a little bitch!!! Pull yourself together . . . you can will all of this pain away!! Next time I reach for Becca’s baby doll to hold, because I can not hold her anymore, I’ll be strong and turn the fuck away. And in following your answer I will be turning toward happiness, no?

You know what Christine L. from Doesn’t Matter, USA. fuck your comment. Do you want to know why I say fuck your comment? Please, allow me to tell you.

The definition of willpower is: control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. Which part of this definition, Christine, should a bereaved mother use? Hmmm, let’s see . . . should I control my mind in a way that continually turns my thoughts toward happy things? Yes? Alright, I’ll choose a happy memory from my child’s life (ended too early) and concentrate on that!! When the sadness starts to seep into the image I’ll just tell it to go away. How’s that? Fucking brilliant, Christine!! Or maybe, I’ll use the latter part of the definition and restrain myself from from running my hand across the plaster mold of her’s. Just will myself to turn away from that which both give me comfort and causes me pain. Yes?

Let me tell you this, Christine, being alive fucking causes me pain. Her existence came through me and is in me. Attached to every happy memory there is now a sadness that accompanies it. Therein lies the reason I made my comment in the first place. Can we find a place where everything is ok. I doubt it.

We are alive . . . but we are dead.
We are here . . . yet absent.
When we laugh . . . we cry.
Grieving mothers walk in two worlds.
We are the ghost of our former self.
We are the keepers of our deceased children.
We exist. We fucking continue to exist.

So, Christine L. from Facebook, you are fucking wrong. Willpower is for putting down a donut, not healing from our pain. (Thanks for that line, Stacey) Willpower is used to exercise more . . . not for finding happiness after losing a child. Don’t add more guilt to an already monumentally difficult journey by cheapening our experience with a your fucking ridiculous single word answer. If healing were that fucking easy . . . I’d be in the place the initial post spoke of.

I will say this: I used willpower today in not telling Christine to go fornicate with herself. And, it wasn’t easy.

But, I did it.

Her Wings

Earlier this week I started to build the wings of a very large painting I am doing of my daughter. When I started to cut the chicken wire to shape the wings, I wasn’t sure if I was doing it the right way, but I forged ahead regardless. You see, I didn’t go to art school so I have no formal training in anything I do. I just do it. Sometimes it works . . . other times it doesn’t. This time, it did.

Let me give you a little back story about the painting to which I am referring.

Last year, I started to paint angels. Partly, because my mind is grappling with the fact that my daughter is one. Initially, I painted angels which were non descript. No characteristics which belonged to my daughter. In a sense, I was circling around the truth of her being in heaven, without getting to the center immediately. It’s a hard concept to accept even if you have seen your child’s dead body. I think painting angels has brought me closer to accepting the truth. In little steps.

Mid January of this year, I decided I was going to confront myself, and my hesitancy to see Becca in the form she is now. To do this, I started a project that has blossomed into something so much bigger than just me accepting my daughter’s latest incarnation. I’ve found it is also a way for others to join me in my grief journey. I think this is going to be something big.

The painting consists of three separate 4’x5’ panels, hung vertically on the wall, giving it the appearance of one big canvas. Each day, upon waking, it seems I have an addition to what I plan to do! Building the wings to project out of the panel was something I knew I wanted to add. Chicken wire was the best way to form strong wings, which would fold slightly at the top, and look like I picture my Becca’s.

So, I grabbed the staple gun and went to work. Now, I often feel Becca near me, but that day I knew she was there without question. I was listening to U2 and the song that was playing at that moment was “Walk On”. “I know it aches . . . and your heart it breaks . . . you can only take so much . . .” and I just lost it. The words felt as if they were coming directly from her. I sank down onto my knees, dropped the staple gun, and cried into my hands. That’s when I felt her presence envelop me. I could feel her wings wrap around me and I felt her warmth. My daughter was holding me because she knew I was working through something enormous. She’s the wise one now.

I didn’t get very far with the wings that afternoon. Crying hard really takes it out of me. I stopped, shut off the lights, and went upstairs. Thinking I’d cried all the tears I had in me. I was wrong. There are always more tears.

Laying in bed, I decided to send a few of the photos to my friend Teresa. She is running my angel project for me. She also knew my daughter. While we were discussing the pictures. and expressing excitement about watching it come to fruition, I started to cry again. I told Teresa and she did her best to comfort me. But, as I lay there I wondered why this was hitting me so hard. Then I remembered the other time I had made wings for my daughter. When she was five.
Becca desperately wanted to be Tinkerbell for Halloween. I couldn’t afford an expensive costume so I decided to make it myself. I bought green felt material and cut out a dress with the little points at the hem. The top of the dress resembled Tink’s attire, but instead of letting Becca go strapless,I sewed it to a white turtleneck. White tights with little green socks were on her feet. I pulled her hair up into a tight bun and gave her a wand. Her wings, though, her wings were the best part of the costume! I used two wire hangers and attached the curve that you hang them from to each other. On the longest part of the sides I pulled the metal out slightly to give them a more natural appearance. I stretched a white gauzy remnant material over them and voila! She had her wings.

Becca loved the costume. She loved the wings the most. At the Halloween party we threw she kept running around, tapping people with her wand, and asking them if they liked her wings, too! Even though I told her it would be uncomfortable she insisted upon sleeping in them that night. I remember peeking into her room after she was asleep. Her hands clutched the wand. The tight bun was coming undone. Her face was smeared with chocolate. But she lay flat on her back because that was the only position the wings would allow. My heart filled with joy just looking at her.

I’d forgotten about that day, until the wings I am building now, shook it loose. At one point during the party, I had seen her standing across the room from me, not moving. She looked at me intently, holding my gaze for nearly a minute, then flashed me with a huge Becca smile.In her eyes, I could see happiness and a thank you, and it was as if no one else existed. Time stood still. Just me and my girl. She was perfect.

I am building her wings for the wrong reason this time. She shouldn’t be dead. It wasn’t her time to become an angel. I desperately want to be back in the chaos of that day. Staring at my child while our souls connected without words. And, that’s why I was crying so hard. I needed to birth a memory. Birth is always painful.

Tomorrow, I am going to spend time working on her wings, again. They need to be huge so she can travel far. They need to be strong because I know she is doing a lot of flying where she is.

Fly high my baby girl. I know you are smiling because our souls are still connected.

I love you.

 

Standing At The Edge

The day after Becca was killed there was little left of my world. Our world. What remained wasn’t recognizable. I am fairly certain I didn’t see the extent of the damage, initially, because too much debris still hung in the air. It was probably a good thing I couldn’t. The sight would have been catastrophically overwhelming. It takes time for the brain to process the enormity of utter annihilation.

After some time, when the smoke did clear, there was devastation as far as I could see. What was once solid was now rubble. What had existed so completely was simply gone. When I lowered my gaze to the earth beneath me I could see pieces of the ground falling away. I stood on the crumbling edge of a huge crater. And, there was nothing for me to grab to steady myself. Did I really want to, though? A big part of me wanted to tumble into the chasm. But,I chose not to.

Every day, since losing my daughter, has been a variation of that first one.

Upon waking, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and place my feet on the same crumbling edge. As I sit there in the early morning light, I toe the boundary of the massive hole, wondering what I should do.

There are days when the dark swirling depths beckon to me, insistently. I’m mesmerized by the images and sounds calling to me from my life before. They are like a song drifting past my ears. If I stand transfixed for too long . . . I can feel myself slipping. Currents of air flow up from the bottom and toss my hair around me. They feel like hands pulling me down. Unless I want to spiral into the darkness, I have to move. Not just move away from the edge . . . but toward something. Instead of falling . . . I have to rise.

That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Making the conscious effort to move forward because it feels like we are leaving our child behind. I’ve had to find a way to carry Becca with me. Wherever I go. Figuring out how to do this has taken a very long time. Years. It hasn’t become second nature, yet. I still have days when I have no idea how to move in any direction at all, let alone forward. So, I search for ways to be actively working within the world I now inhabit. Doing things that keep Becca beside me.

I was talking to a friend on Sunday about life after child loss. Her boyfriend lost his son two years ago and is, understandably struggling. In the midst of his pain, though, he helped me with a project that I am working on. I know that just as Becca was with me that day . . . his son stood next to him as he built canvases for me. Did the two of them stand side by side, I wonder, arms around each other? Watching their parents come together because of their deaths? Did it bring them any peace to see us working through our pain in this way? It brought me peace. I hope it brought this man peace, too. We both carried our children through the day.

In the past year I’ve gravitated toward painting angels. Not because I am religious.But because when I picture my daughter now, she’s an angel, soaring through the universe on strong white wings. There is an obsession to connecting to and being able to visualize our children now. At least there is for me. (In truth, I ask my sons to send me pictures of their rooms, wherever they are, so I can see/know where they are . . . yeah, so there’s that) I think I try to recreate Becca over and over in the paintings I do of angels. This is how I keep her with me.

The canvases built for me are going to depict my daughter as a 12ft angel. It’s an image I feel driven to create. I’ve shed many tears for this project and it has barely started. It’s going to be healing, I hope, for both myself and my surviving children. And, others.

There is a contentment in finding your way to carry your child. Keep searching for it. I promise it’s there. And, even on the days when you don’t how to move forward . . . believe a reason to keep going will be revealed.

Tomorrow, I know I will awaken and place my feet on the same edge as I did the day before. I’ll hear the murmurings from below. A siren song. I don’t want to crash on the rocks. I have a purpose, for now. I have a way to carry my Becca with me.

Instead of being pulled down, I will let the warm air currents carry me to the skies and I’ll soar.

Maybe, I’ll see Becca!

Be Still

No day will ever be perfect with my child gone. But, the painful truth is . . . some come close. Sunday was one of those days. Yet, I felt guilt in feeling content. I know I shouldn’t but I felt like I was betraying my daughter. I had to give myself permission to be happy.

Lake Michigan has always had a pull to me. Not because of the usual beach activities, though. It’s one of the few places I’ve been that I can feel spirit. Not spirits. But the creator spirit. I can feel the connection between everything. I believe it’s the closest I come to going to church.

Sunday afternoon, as Stacey walked way ahead of me along the water’s edge, I realized how quiet it was. So quiet, in fact, that it stunned me. Then I realized the quietness wasn’t because there was no noise. There was no man made noise. Because, when I stood still enough I could hear the world!

First, just one noise crept in: the ice cracking as the water rose and fell with gentle waves. Then, to my right . . . not only could I see the tops of the trees swaying, I could hear the creaking of the branches! The wind carried the cries of far off seagulls, ones I couldn’t see, to my ears. I kept thinking: this is what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when the Native Americans lived on this land. Very peaceful. I felt completely content. It was amazing.

One thought jolted me back to my reality: you are a horrible mom!! How can you feel content? Your daughter is DEAD. Shit. The voice was right. I am horrible. I have no right to feel content. Is Becca up there, somewhere, broken hearted because I am happy without her??

Then, I felt a presence beside me. Within me. My own soul. I felt her embrace. Her warmth. The understanding that flowed over and through me was electrifying. My soul, my shattered and tattered soul, was knitting itself back together. She wanted me to understand a simple truth. She didn’t tell me to toss the guilt aside. She knew it was part of child loss. She encouraged me to embrace it. The epiphany: the bad comes with the good and all are needed to make my journey complete.

I bought a sign a few years ago. It read “it is well with my soul”. When I saw it, I was having a halfway decent day and my mood was relatively good. I felt pride in being able to accept joy even if only for a moment. I thought, enough time has passed for me to be able to feel healing within myself. The sign resonated with me so I brought it home. Every day it was a reminder to find and feel the happy that still existed everywhere.

But, I was only getting part of the message.

The happy times can not be the only ones that make our soul full. Though important, they can’t be what we base our soul’s health upon. Our soul must accept the bad, too. To fight against it, to deny it, just creates chaos within.

Acceptance is difficult, believe me, I know. For a long time acceptance, to me, was the same as saying what happened is alright. My uncle molesting me will never be alright, but I’ve accepted it’s what happened. I’ve accepted that my childhood was stolen and I can not go back and change it. The same for the premature death of my daughter. Her life was taken by another. This will NEVER be ok with me, but I have to accept it in order to find some peace. I think, somehow, by accepting these horrible truths, by making the battle with them smaller, we make room for happiness to flow in.

I am grateful that the sounds of the beach were natural and pure enough to let me my soul speak. Or maybe it was divinity that I heard. Maybe it was both as we are all pieces of the divine, aren’t we?

As I waited for Stacey to come back to where I was, I lowered myself onto a large piece of driftwood, and turned my face toward the late winter sun. The waves had picked up and the wind had stiffened. Faraway honks, of Canadian geese heading north, floated down through the thin air. I stretched my legs out in front of me and dug my fingers into the cold sand. A sigh of contentment escaped my lips.

We need these moments. We deserve them. Our child wants us to have them. Divinity does, too.  Knowing all of this, I can say:

It is well with my soul.

 

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Shifting

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

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

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

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

But, as dreams always do, it ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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