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.

 

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.