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.

 

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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!!

 

 

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.

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.