Don’t Forget Her – Please

Yesterday, I was getting another piece of Becca’s poetry tattooed on my arm. The artist, doing the tattooing, is the same one I used last year. We were talking about my daughter, and how hard this time of year is, and he said something that made me think: “You’ve taken something so horrible and made it into a positive.”.

I thanked him . . . but felt ashamed. I am a fraud. Or, at the very least, misrepresenting myself.

Recently, I was going through a housing upheaval in my life. I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea what I was going to do. The best I could come up with was to live, in my van, with my pets. Sharing my worries, with a friend at work, I unloaded through tears. After I was finished . . . he responded to me with this: “I see you as a character, you’ve gone through so much stuff, and I know you will overcome this, too. I’m just watching to see how you do it.”

He has much more belief in me than, I think, I deserve.

Others’ kind words: You are so strong. I don’t know how you do it. You haven’t let the world make you bitter. You are kind in spite of your tragedies. Accolades that come with a dark truth.

I may seem to be at this point, today in my journey, but it wasn’t always so. You haven’t been with me through the darkest of my times. Times I was mean. Hateful. Angry. Vengeful. Weak. Full of self pity. Negative. Immobile. Defense mechanisms that were completely destructive. Self medicating. Behavior that hurt those around me. Those I love the most. Compounded by feelings of failure, guilt.

I’m writing about this . . . not because I want the reader to heap more compliments on me, but because I need you to know that I didn’t head into my grief journey with it all together. I STILL don’t have it all together, to be completely honest! If you were under the impression that I somehow, magically, landed where I am today, I am sorry.

I apologize if I have ever come off as “getting it right”. This is an extremely important aspect of grieving to understand: THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO GRIEVE. Period. No buts, or maybes, or any addition to the above sentence. This being said, there are also very real phases of behavior that seem counterproductive to healing. We MUST go through these phases as well!!

It’s hard for me to revisit the early years of my grief journey. For instance: the years, when I was not the mother to my boys, that I was to my daughter, are very shameful to me. Notice I did not say I wasn’t a “good mother”, but instead, I was a different mother. I used to say I wasn’t good, but I’ve learned to forgive myself for the things I felt were failures on my part.

A quick example: In the first week after losing my daughter, I went to a group for parents who have lost children. As you might expect, my grief was raw, my pain at the surface. I heard two mothers talking about photo albums, of their dead children, they were putting together. I couldn’t believe they were laughing! My anger erupted and I yelled to them, “How can you talk about your dead children and laugh??!” They dismissed me with: “She’s not far enough along, she doesn’t understand.” That was the first time I felt like I was failing at grieving. I wasn’t doing it quite right. In fact, I was doing it completely wrong.

But I wasn’t, was I? I was going through what my soul demanded me to experience. If I had pushed down my anger . . . ignored it, or shamed it into the shadows, I would never have worked through it. This is my fear for anyone who thinks I am doing it right, comparing themselves to me, and coming up with answer that they are doing it wrong.

Please, know I went through so much to get where I am. I have the advantage of eleven years since her death. Just over a decade to unravel the mess our lives are left in after our child dies. Thousands of missteps litter the path behind me. I still stumble. A lot. But it’s ok . . . it’s a process. A long process.

In writing this blog piece, I’ve come to realize I need to do more writings about the dark side to this journey. The things I listed a few paragraphs above. Some that don’t paint me in the best light . . . but you need to know happened. Stuff others forgave me for long before I could forgive myself. These words have opened up an entire segment of grief that might be difficult to talk about . . . which makes it even more important that we do so.

There is no shame in being “broken”. Nor, is there shame in remaining broken, for some time. Don’t feel ashamed if you feel as if you need to give up. Sit down, take a break, and regroup. Reach out to those travelers, who are farther along, they know the way through. Their support and understanding can lead you up and out. If you are always angry, for instance, be true to that emotion. But, find a way to figure out where it’s roots lie. Jealous? Understandable, however, work toward releasing that emotion in small steps. You can not heal what you don’t face. But, please, don’t feel shame!! And, don’t compare where you are to where others appear to be. No one’s ground is that solid . . . trust me.

“Don’t forget her – please” are the words I had tattooed onto my arm yesterday. They are from a longer poem, my daughter wrote, about remembering the little girl inside of each of us as we grow older. To me, when I chose them, they told me not to forget about her. As if I could. Tonight, I realized they have another meaning to me: don’t forget who I was “then”, in the infancy of my grief, because that woman worked damn hard to get this far.

Please, don’t look at me in comparison. Don’t believe I wasn’t, once, where you are. I was, parts of me still are, and other parts may always be. Don’t add pain and guilt, because of comparisons, to an already difficult existence. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t judge others. Just help where you can . . . and take help when you can.

We are all walking in the same direction. Let’s do it, together.

 

Storm

January 20th, into the 21st, is my storm.

As the sun sets on the horizon, I can feel the stirrings of change gathering in the dark shadows. For days, I’ve known they were coming . . . but now, I can sense the leading edge of fury growing closer. The winds always picks up, drastically, as the last light of the sun dies away. It’s as if this could only happen under the cover of night. In the dark solitude.  A damp chill settles in me, so I pull my protective cloak tighter, but it doesn’t help. Nothing helps.

I can’t outrun the storm, or hide from it. The harder I try to avoid it . . . the longer it remains swirling all around me. There is no other choice but to give in to it’s demand to be felt. I am on my path of child loss, completely alone. . I look neither ahead of me, nor behind me. At this moment, they don’t matter.  Above me, the black branches scrape the dark gray sky, with loud creaks and the resounding crack of splintered wood. Memories, as delicate as wind whipped leaves, whirl around me. The turbulent air descends toward me and snatches at the edges of my clothing, ripping my cloak from my body, tangling my hair into a mess. Laying my soul bare.

I turn my face toward the moonless sky and let the rain pelt my skin. Tiny drops, icy on the edges, like a thousand little pin pricks all at once . . . tear at my flesh. The only warmth I feel is that from the tears which run down my cheeks. After a minute, even that warmth is gone. Maybe, I’ve cried all the tears I have left.

Beneath my feet, the earth begins to feel unstable, as it’s washed away in the torrents of water. There’s nothing to reach for to steady myself. Everything is moving. Changing. Rushing past me. Yesterday, I thought I had reached a plateau . . . a place of relative safety. Tonight, I’m being pushed toward the edge of a jagged cliff, a cliff I should have anticipated. As always, I stop resisting, and allow the storm to take me where it needs me to go. Even if it’s to the edge of solid ground.  I give in and become part of it. I am carried into the next day by its ferocious strength.

When it breaks, on the 21st, my landscape is scrubbed clean. Dead branches, have been broken from trees, and washed away. Sunlight spills through these new holes, in the treetop canopy, and urges new growth forth. Formerly dark areas are ablaze with light and life. Behind my closed eyelids, I feel the golden glow, and I am warm again. My skin is tender and bruised in some places . . . but, for the most part, I am unharmed. I open my eyes and take in all around me. A playful current of air lifts a long piece of hair and brushes it across my face. I can hear the birds singing again. Their music has returned. Everything is new.

My storm has broken. It’s spent its energy in an explosion of emotions and is now sated, for now. The storm is the tension and pain I needed to release.

I can now turn toward the future, looking straight at the unknown, and continue my journey. The storm and I are still one. I know we will always travel together. My companion on this path. Ready to take a step, I reach down and grab a piece of wood, that wasn’t washed away. It’s the perfect size, to use as a walking stick, as I turn my back toward the cliff’s rocky edge. The air smells sweet and clean as I pull it into my lungs. I can take deep breaths again.

“When does it break for you,” my friend asked me this past Sunday afternoon. She must have been able to feel the calmness I carried within myself. I’d never thought of passing through the pain of the day my daughter was killed, as breaking, but in a sense . . . that’s what it is. I felt all the pain, I cried all the tears, I held my ground in the center of all Hell breaking lose. Coming out the other side . . . I broke through.

I survived the assault and came out stronger. You will, too.

Becca, Always

What would you do if it was your last day on earth? If you knew it was your last . . . would it change how you spend it? Does it make you stop, and think, when you realize one small change in your plans could set you on a path from which there was no return? Do the events of the future, lock into place, seconds before they happen? My mind is a jumble of unanswerable questions, tonight. A tight knot of facts and wishes and questions.

What was Becca doing, eleven years ago, at this time? This year, the date matches up with the actual day. This, somehow, makes the living her, feel closer. Achingly within my reach. Like time has folded, and she’s closer than ever. There is a tightness in my chest as the clock creeps closer to “the minute” and I know I have no way of reaching through and saving her.

Eleven years ago, I was working at a restaurant, waiting tables. I am unsure what time I started to feel the heaviness, that told me, life was going to change forever. I don’t know, at what point, Becca’s life turned toward her death. What was the hour that the drunk driver’s decisions turned him into my daughter’s path? Were they entwined from the very beginning? He, born in another country, became the deliverer of her death when he immigrated here? Did I put her, squarely in his path, when I decided not to release her to adoption? Why do I need to know??

The weekend, Becca was killed, she was supposed to go to my parents’ house in Cadillac. Her nana was going to help her set up her new laptop. Early in the day, that long ago Saturday, a Best Buy employee called my daughter to tell her the laptop wasn’t ready. Becca cancelled the plans to drive up north and decided to go out with her friends, instead. Was this the fateful turn?

My lovely, vibrant, beautiful daughter, stood in front of her bathroom mirror, and got herself ready for a night out. Knowing her, she probably blew a kiss or winked at her reflection, before flipping the light off. Did she stoop down and kiss her cat, Sarah, goodbye? Or, run her hand along her other cat, Blue’s, back? Did she shut the door with a, “I’ll see you when I get home!”
How can so many “lasts” happen, one after the other, and we not know what they are??

Ten o’clock, eleven years ago, is about the time the heaviness I was feeling, bloomed. I knew that whatever was going to happen, was going to be big, bigger than me. Was that the time the drunk driver, Joseph, decided to climb behind the wheel? Behind the wheel of a car, he wasn’t supposed to be driving, because he lost his license six weeks earlier from a second drunk driving arrest? Was this the moment my child’s life was slated to end? Is that why I felt what I did? Did my soul know I was going to lose her?

I spent the rest of my shift, restless. The drive home took too long. I remember kissing the boys good night, then going up to bed. Again, restless. Waiting for “it”? An hour, or so, later, my waiting ended.

The room was completely dark and my door was closed. I had fallen asleep, laying on my right side, facing away from the phone. Behind me, near the bottom of my bed, I felt someone sit down. A hand reached out and rubbed my leg. I felt it’s solidness and familiar touch. I lifted my head, looking for my daughter, but couldn’t see her. That was the moment, I knew with certainty, my Becca was dead. I knew, that when I rolled over, the light would be flashing on the base of the phone, signalling a message. The message would be that she was gone. My brain screamed at me to ignore the little red light. It couldn’t be real if I didn’t hear it. But, I had to know.

The words I heard were in my mother’s voice. Chosen words, to convey the gravity, but not the complete truth. “There’s been an accident . . . and it doesn’t look good.” Even now, I wonder about those words. Doesn’t look good? Violent death never “looks good”, does it? Did my mother already know that her granddaughter had been killed?

I called the police department to find out where a crash had occurred. When I had that information, I started to call Becca’s phone. Deep inside I knew she was gone . . . but I still tried to reach her. On the way to the crash site, I kept calling her . . . six, seven, eight . . .times. I am not sure how many times I waited for her to pick up before the line started to go directly to voicemail. I think that is when I started to cry. I often wonder, who was the person who had shut my daughter’s phone off, that night? Was it too hard for them to see “Momma” on the screen when they were investigating the crime scene? Or, did I just call her so much that I drained her battery in such a short time?

I’ve been talking to Becca all day, today. Laughing at some memories. Crying at most. Where she is, does she mark this date, too? Is she restless, knowing what I am going through, worried about me? Somewhere, in the same city I am in, is Joseph anxious, too? Or, does today pass over him with no more meaning than any other? Will he remember my beautiful daughter tomorrow? Does he wonder if I am ok, if her brothers are ok? Does he remember?

I’m exhausted. The grief is heavier than it’s been in a very long time. It’s pressing on my chest and making each breath painful. My eyes are swollen and my face is red. I feel a hundred years old. I’m glad it’s dark out . . . the sun was too bright. I’m envious of every mother who has her daughter next to her. I’m not strong today. I’m frail and aged and weak. My journey has stalled as I sit to mourn my daughter, tonight. I am allowed this time, this sacred space, to mark her passing.

Even though she is no longer here . . . it’s my duty, my honor, to be by her side, tonight. So, I will sit in the candle light and tell my baby girl that she’s not alone, this time. I will wail and I will scream.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and start walking again.

Sea Glass and Scars

Losing a child never gets easier, it gets different. And no amount of time passed will erase the pain completely. It becomes part of us. Many of us, in all honestly, wouldn’t want it to go away.

Today is the eleventh time, the moment I last touched my child will exist on the clock. That minute will come and go in silence. Those around me not having been affected by her passing. Especially today. Very few in my every day life knew my daughter as a living person. For them, she exists in the stories I’ve shared and pictures I’ve posted.

The past few years, people have commented that I am handling my emotions better. I don’t fly off the handle at the smallest irritation. Crying is no longer always present . . . just below the surface. This isn’t because the pain has lessened, but instead, because my scar tissue has grown thicker. Each year, that passes, adds a layer of protection around my broken pieces.

Not only do I have added protection . . . I’ve learned to carry the pain differently than in the beginning. It’s weight is spread out more evenly across my soul. Making it easier to manage as I maneuver through the days. Upon waking each morning, I can tell which aspect has become heavier, and I adjust my stance accordingly. Sometimes, this works. Other times, not so much.

There are times when someone will say to me, “You are doing so much better!!”, and I cringe inside. Better? How can I do be better from losing my child? No one should ever be doing better from this event. Does that mean that I am accepting of her death? That I’ve come to terms with it? Or maybe, I don’t love her as much as I used to? Am I forgetting my child??? My brain can tell me these things aren’t true . . . but a part of me still wonders.

I started writing this blog earlier today. I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a friend, so I decided to write through my feelings. When he arrived, I shut the computer and put this writing aside. I just got home . . . and felt the need to finish this, tonight.

I was at work when I passed through the moment. Quietly, I sat with my eyes closed, and concentrated on my Becca. Her solidness as I wrapped my arms around her. The weight of her’s on my shoulders. The smell of her hair when I held her close. Her voice, in my ear, when she said “I love you, mom.” The lighthearted feeling, in the air, when I waved good bye to my girl. Oh, I’d give anything to feel all of that again.

It’s not that I am doing better, or that it’s getting easier, because neither is true. More so, the edges of my pain have become smooth from my tears. Like sea glass. Easier to handle. I no longer slice myself when I adjust it. I know I can pick the pieces up and when I lay them back down, they won’t be covered in my blood. I have taught myself how to handle the pain, more gracefully.

The scar tissue, too, serves a purpose. It’s very existence shows me I am healing. Proof of my progress.

Five hours ago, I stood with others around me, and silently passed through “the moment”. When I opened my eyes, I whispered to my daughter, thank you for being mine. Thank you for choosing me. I miss you, Becs. I love you.

A little while later, a coworker paid for some items she was purchasing. She handed me change, and for some reason, I flipped the quarter over and looked at the year. 1983. The year Becca was born. My girl, telling me, “Mom, I’m with you. I hear the words you whisper to me. I’m always near. Please don’t hurt.” A gift from heaven. A reminder from my girl.
Tonight, I’m hurting . . . deeply. My heart is anguished and my arms feel emptier than usual. But my mind keeps circling back to this truth: I had her. She existed. She is mine. I will feel the pain a hundredfold if that means I can remember what it was like to hold her in my arms.

For this alone . . . I am eternally grateful.

Note: I am not usually one to say “hug your children because you don’t know when it will be the last time” but I feel the insistent urge to say this, tonight. Hug your children. Tell them you love them. Don’t let this moment pass without showing your love. Because, truthfully, we don’t know when the last time will be. Love is what matters.

Knotted Regrets

Eleven years ago, today, was the last time my daughter came over for dinner. Of all the things we discussed that afternoon . . . who knew, I would need to know she wanted to be cremated, just a week later. I didn’t. There are times, when I wonder, if maybe deep in her soul . . . she did.

Becca came bounding through the front door, as she usually did, with a loud hello and a tight hug. She joked around about a show I was watching on the History Channel. She loved to make us laugh. But then, the conversation turned toward the serious. She shared with me how she had made up with a friend, recently, with whom she had a falling out. Then, she started to talk about her childhood.

It wasn’t until she said the words, “I really loved my childhood . . . I wouldn’t change a thing,” did I realize there had been a time when she wanted to have a different one. My daughter had felt, and rightly so, that there had been too much responsibility laid on her shoulders at a young age. I know her friends lives were much different than hers, I guess I just didn’t realize how much it bothered her. Writing this now, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed because my daughter felt “less than”.

Becca had the responsibility of watching her brothers when I had to work. I’d never knew how much that prevented her from doing. I know she said she wouldn’t change a thing . . . but I would. And, herein lies one of the biggest issues, mothers who have lost children, grapple with: the regrets.

Regrets over things we did, as well as those we didn’t do. Continuously playing conversations, we had with our child, over and over in our minds. Wishing we’d said something different or that we would have taken the time to say more of the good things. Hundreds of “I wish” or “I should have” statements gallop through our thoughts every day. Pounding the lost moments and the broken promises and the harsh words into our souls. Each one, like a pinprick, into our hearts. We are punishing ourselves for not keeping our child safe from the world.

The truth is we don’t need to beat ourselves up . . . others do that for us. Depending on how your child lost their life, there will be some, who ultimately blame the parent. But, that is a topic for a different blog. For now, we’ll focus on the regrets.

To say to you, don’t let the regrets steal your thoughts, is wasted. You will. I did, and still do. Regrets we carry while our child is alive, turn into anchors around our neck, after their death. If you think that I am going to say something cliche like: take the opportunity now to tell those you love how you feel, I’m not. I mean, yes of course, do that. But, I also realize how unrealistic it is to think we can live like “everyday may be your last”.

It’s unrealistic because it’s exhausting to live on guard all day, every day. Most bereaved mothers, however, do live this way for quite a long time after their child is gone. Each time my sons left the house, for a long time after losing Becca, I was certain they were going to be killed, too. My behavior, erratic from grief, was exacerbated when they were out of my sight. I’d have cyclical thoughts about them dying and wondering if they know I love them. Them dying . . . and being unsure I did enough to keep them safe. It felt as if I was sending them to their death every time I allowed them to leave the house. A person, simply cannot live, with that level of anxiety and fear. It takes a very deep toll, on both our physical health, as well as our mental well being. I truly believe that losing a child ages us immediately, and, shortens our life span, drastically.

My thoughts caused me to gather even more regrets in those first years. Watching my boys walk down the street, I’d have the obsessive urge, to yell to them that I loved them. What if something happened and I didn’t take that chance? Immediately, the regrets set in. It’s truly a hard thought process to interrupt. But, we need to do just that.

As bereaved mothers, we also need to find a way to put the regrets we do have, down. They are so heavy and cumbersome. They serve no purpose in our lives. We must find a way to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. I believe, where my daughter is now, she has already forgiven me my wrongs. I also believe, she wouldn’t want me to burden myself with them when I set off on this new path. I think this is where the true problem lies: forgiving ourselves.
Child loss grief is such a tangle of truths. Sadness, pain, shame, blame, guilt, regrets, responsibility . . . are all connected and wrapped around each other, tightly. This knot, in our lives, can take years to ease apart. But it’s part of healing. It’s a delicate process.

I made mistakes. I still make mistakes. I’m human. I will continue to make them, of that I am sure. Most of the time, I did the best I could . . . sometimes, I just flat out failed. It’s taken years for me to understand that I can let all of those regrets, hundreds of them, go. I carry enough, with me, on my journey . . . I don’t have room for the negative. When they surface again . . . I’ll let them go, again. And, I won’t beat myself up because I should have been perfect. I’ll never be perfect . . . but I will be authentic.

Examine your regrets. You need to in order to release them. Probably, more than once. But understand they do not define you . . . or your relationship with your child. I know, Becca’s feelings about her childhood, don’t define our relationship.

I wish for you, grieving momma, peace in the thoughts that come to your mind. Peace in your aching heart. Forgiveness for yourself. Love from those around you.

I wish for you, healing.