Low Tides

In the spring of 2002, my daughter did something not many teenage girls do. She asked me to go on spring break with her. I was shocked. And elated! We decided to go to California so I bought the tickets.  Before we knew it . . . we were on our way!

The flights were grueling. After eleven hours of layovers and travel, we landed in Los Angeles. Exhausted, we fell into bed and into a deep sleep. Early the next morning Becca gently shook me awake and asked me to walk down the beach with her. In the cool morning air, we quietly walked down to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Together we stood there and took in the incredible vastness of the world.  Becca said she wanted people to know she’d been there. Bending over, she wrote her name in the wet sand. I lifted my camera to my face and took the picture you see above.

A decade and a half later, that’s all I want, too.

A few days after Becca was killed I started to write her letters. Letters turned into writing down all the memories I have of her so they wouldn’t be gone when I die. Which eventually took the form of a book. A book I am currently putting together. Spending long hours going over my writing can be very difficult. Stir up emotions that were settled for a time. Some days, it’s just too painful.Most days, actually.

Somewhere along the way . . . others started to help me remember her by writing her name in various places around the world. When my friends travel anywhere, they thoughtfully send me a picture of Becca’s name in a new location. People I’ve never met in person have done the same for us. I’m humbled and in awe that people are taking the time to help me keep my daughter’s memory alive.

This is what we want. We need to know that our child won’t be forgotten. They were here.

Shortly after Becca died I wasn’t even sure if she’d ever been real. My mind was in the protective fog that envelopes us after a tragedy.  At times I was convinced she had just been a beautiful dream. Now, I do all that I can to put her name in the thoughts of others. That’s where she is now. No longer flesh and bone, she’s made of memories and the love we carry for her. She exists because we exist. And we remember.

In the past three days, two people have sent me photos of my daughter’s name on the beach where they are visiting. Places I’ve never been. Stretches of sand my daughter will never visit. When people walk by, and see her name, they won’t know who she is . . . but my baby girl is thought of and that is what makes my heart happy.

Thank you, all of you, who remember my beautiful daughter. You have no idea the healing it gives my broken heart.

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Empty

In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to share a very real fact: I am not as “healed” as my blog might make me appear. It’s true, I have learned much on my ten-year journey upon this path. I haven’t learned it all . . . and actually, every day I come across something else I need to face. This. Is. Exhausting.

Trudging along this path wasn’t my choice. I had a much different journey planned for our lives. As I know you did. Full of light, not the shadowy landscape into which losing a child plunges us. Today is one of those days when the darkness never really left as the sun rose this morning. Somehow, it clung to me and I just couldn’t shake it. As I write this, the sun has almost set and I am glad the day is nearly finished. Dusk has mixed with the ever present shadows and I feel sorrowful. I am glad this day is almost over.

Today is one of those days when the darkness never really left as the sun rose this morning. Somehow, it clung to me and I just couldn’t shake it. As I write this, the sun has almost set and I am glad the day is nearly finished. Dusk has mixed with the ever present shadows and I feel sorrowful. A state we all learn to live in.

Surviving the loss of a child is the hardest thing we will ever experience. We will be doing the healing work every single moment of the rest of our lives. Even as we slumber, our minds are trying to completely accept our new reality. It’s not often we get a restful night of sleep. The best time of the day is the moment we wake up. That split second before we remember the truth. As we push the bedcovers aside, still weary with the weight we carry, we place our feet on the floor to start another day.

This is an undertaking that must both be done in a solitary state, and with others who understand. We need time alone . . . but just as important is time spent with those who can relieve us of a portion of the weight for just a few moments. I’ve found, even when I can hand my pain to another, I have a needy desperation waiting for it to come back to me. The sorrow is proof that we loved. Our aching empty arms remind us that they once held our child. Our tears will bring forth echoes of laughter. This is the truth of being a bereaved mother.

I wish I had words of inspiration this evening. I don’t. Words of encouragement perhaps. When you have a day that is more difficult than you ever thought it could be . . . remember it’s not going to last. The night will come . . . then sleep. Waking up in the morning, willing to try again, is true bravery. Be gentle with yourself. You are doing very hard work.

When I post this, I’ll close the computer, shut the lights off, then stop to kiss the marble urn that holds my daughter’s ashes. I’ll say “I love you my Becca. I miss you.” then I’ll rub my finger across the picture of her as a baby. The one with the smooshy face. If I am lucky, she’ll visit me in my dreams when she’s finished stringing stars together.

Weary, I’ll lay my head upon the pillow with her name. Tomorrow, I will try again.

You will, too.

Be Brave Little One

There’s a rabbit hole that nearly all grieving mothers stumble upon as they walk the path of child loss. Early on in our journey, we don’t notice it. Eventually, though, we turn toward its gaping opening and peer into the darkness. Believe me, as I’ve done this a number of times, it’s a long way down.

During the first few days after Becca was killed, people showed up at the house, stunned at the news. One couple, old neighbors of ours, told me they had been trying to get ahold of her to ask her to babysit the day she died. The woman cried as she told me she’d called my daughter multiple times because her children loved Becca. “If only she’d answered”.

The Saturday in January I lost my child, her plan had been to go to my parent’s house to get help setting up her new laptop. The store she bought it from had called her and told her it wasn’t ready to pick up, she could get it on the following Monday. Her plans having changed, she didn’t go to her grandparent’s house. Instead, she stayed home and ended up going out with her roommate. Was that what set Becca on the path that would end her life?

I know if my neighbor had talked to Becca, she would have watched the kids, and her life might have been saved. What other events had almost saved her? And why didn’t they? At what point was her life locked onto a path that ended on a cold highway in the winter darkness?

When we pluck at that string, our entire life, as well as our child’s, starts to unravel. We keep pulling, searching for the event that led to their death. Every time I’ve done this I’ve ended at the same place. The moment I stood in the woods and decided to keep my child instead of releasing her for adoption. Did my decision to raise her seal her fate? If I had let her go . . . would she still be here? I wouldn’t know her, but I would sacrifice that for her to have a life. I would give anything for her to have her life back. Even my own.

I think it’s natural to examine all of the “what ifs”. But it’s heartbreaking. We must come up with a way, even if it’s just in our own minds, to give our child a chance at continued life. Spending too much time in the “what ifs” can be dangerous. It can drive us mad.

To heal, however, we MUST be attentive to all the thoughts which come up. I know I’ve written about this before (and I will write about it again) but if we push the scary thoughts aside, ignore the ugly ones, they’ll remain. In time, they will beckon us with their insistent call again. Until they are heard, examined in their totality, they will have power over us. I’ve learned, as with almost everything else on this journey, it will take more than one time to finally accept anything on this path.

Thoughts resurface. Worries come back. Things we thought we dealt with completely will appear on the horizon again. Don’t ignore them. Pick them up. Look at them closely. You will see they are a bit smaller than last time. Paler in color. The edges aren’t as sharp. Acknowledge them for what they are. There are gifts in the hardest places, too.

Tonight I will be thinking about the eighteen-year-old girl, standing in the snowy woods, steeling herself to tell her parents she wants to keep her baby. I’ll comfort her as well as I can. In a whisper, I’ll tell her that it’s ok. She did the best she could. Then I’ll tell myself I am doing the best I can.

And that’s all we can do.