Everyone Has a Grief Journey

While out driving, going about normal my daily activities, I noticed a line of cars parked in St. Mary’s Cemetery. The sun, which has been covered with clouds for days, was out and it glinted off the cars as I passed by. It wasn’t until the flashing of the sunlight stopped that I noticed a group of people at a graveside. They stood in somber colored clothing, huddled together, under the bare branches of huge trees. The dark gray tips of the branches looked as if they were reaching toward Heaven.

How appropriate, I said to myself.

A thought entered my mind: I wonder if any of them are looking at me driving by? Is one of them wishing that their life was as it had been just days before this one? Did one of them want to trade places with me . . . seemingly going about my business . . . instead of standing at the edge of a newly dug grave into which their loved one had been lowered into already? Or, more probable, were they so consumed in the fog that grief brings that they don’t even notice what’s happening around them.

When I found out with certainty that my daughter WAS the young woman who had been zipped into the black body bag (a weird thought just slipped in between my words: are the bags reused?) it had still been dark out. It was “still the night she had been alive in”. When the sun came up that morning, as I was going to tell her twin brothers that their sissy had been killed, I realized I was in the first day that didn’t include her alive. The sun, bright on that January morning, pissed me off. How could it come up like everything was the same as it had been yesterday??

Briefly and painfully, the fog of grief that had settled upon me parted and I saw beyond my existence. Others were driving by in their own cars. Heading to who knew where but probably somewhere they went every day. “I want that again!” I screamed. “I want yesterday!! I want Becca!!”

Rage slid into the space where the fog had parted.

How, I thought to myself, did the sun still fucking rise? The world should have stopped spinning. Everything had changed. Why didn’t others see it? My daughter is dead – how are you going to work? My child was killed – you can’t laugh. My daughter is gone – why is your child in the car with you?? My entire life had shifted sideways. Some things were the same . . . but forever different. I didn’t know it then, that first morning, but I would spend years trying to find a place where I fit in again. Truth be told, there was a long time I didn’t want to fit in at all so wanting to find a place didn’t come until much later.

Seeing the funeral today brought me right back to the feeling of isolation and utter aloneness I felt after Becca’s death. This time of year, so close to the date of her death, these emotions are closer to the surface anyway. It doesn’t take much to have the thin skin covering them ripped open and allow them to bleed out.

Just as quickly, I thought, the group of people in the cemetery are starting their own grief journey. Who, in their life, had died? Was it the expected death of a beloved elderly person who lived a long life full of love? An unexpected death of a young person who still had years ahead of them? Was it cancer that stole a future? Or, violence? Was the coffin small enough to hold the little body of a child? Maybe the final resting place for grandma, lined with her favorite color, in which she could spend eternity? I won’t know the answer. What I do know is this: another grief journey has started and they have a long road ahead of them.

I bristle when someone compares the death of their loved one (spouse, parent, sibling, pet) to the death of my child. Though the death of a parent, for example, brings so much with it . . . it is not the same as losing a child. And, it never will be. No other death compares.

Yet, I know that any death brings with it intense sorrow and only feeling the grief will begin the healing. Healing from a death is difficult. Healing from the death of child is near impossible. But, we can all be there for each other when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to another’s pain.

As I drove home tonight, past the same cemetery, the sun had sunk below the horizon. The cars were gone and there was no one around that I could see. What a different scene from the one I saw earlier.

The trees, however, still reached for Heaven.

 

Say Her Name Please

I had a moment today, the kind that brings you to your knees, while I was at work. I am pretty sure I hid it well as no one asked me if I was ok. In truth, I physically stumbled as images tumbled through my mind. One connected to the next . . . going in and out of focus so quickly it made me feel nauseous. A sweet memory of a three year old Becca followed too quickly by the truth that she is dead. Nearly every thought a grieving mother has is punctuated by the truth of their child’s death.

When my daughter was three I rushed her to the doctor with a horrible rash around her mouth. I was frantic to find out what had caused it and if she was in serious danger! Had she eaten something poisonous? Burned herself somehow? Nothing made sense but I knew the circular red rash around her lips had to be examined. I remember crying in the waiting room as my toddler looked up at me with concern. Sweet girl . . . she was worried about me when she was the one who was sick! This made me cry even harder.

As the doctor examined her face he asked me questions. Were all the cabinets child proofed at home? Had she been left alone for any amount of time? Did we have a pet she might be allergic to? Was there a fall recently? None of those things were a factor in her condition. Then I remembered something. Relaxing a bit I shared it with the doctor.

“That explains it then,” he said, “your daughter has given herself a hickey around her mouth!”

The night before, Becca had been in the tub playing. Toys floated around her, and so did the cup I used to rinse her hair after I’d washed it. I’d often read, sitting next to the bathtub, while she played. At one point, I’d looked at her and she had the rinse cup suctioned onto her face, over her chin. I laughed at her and told her she was being silly! I also told her not to drink any of the bath water but I’m pretty sure she did.

Relief flooded me when I realized what had happened. After her nightly bath, I’d tuck her into bed under her Care Bear blanket, and say good night. The hickey must have darkened somehow, or I didn’t notice it in the dim light, either way . . . it wasn’t apparent until the next day. And then, of course, I panicked.

The image of my beautiful little girl with the creamy skin and red raspberry mouth and chin flashed into my mind today, out of nowhere. I don’t know what caused this memory to shake loose and float to the surface this afternoon. The happiness that was attached to the image, and the reminder of the relief I felt years ago hearing she was going to be alright, swerved into devastation when I remembered that not every situation turns out this way. I can no longer trust that “everything is going to be ok” because that last time . . . it wasn’t.

The days when I could see my children tucked snugly into bed, under my care, safe from the world are gone. No more can I kiss their boo-boos and make them all better. Kisses can’t fix some things. Moms should be able to make everything better, always. We know we can’t. And sadly, bereaved mothers have the proof.

Today’s experience of having the memory and following it to the end was a quick process. Bam, bam, and boom. She was three, beautiful, and full of giggling life. In seconds, she went from a toddler to my deceased daughter. I felt like a tennis ball, lofted into the air to be slammed back to the ground almost immediately. Soaring for a few exquisite seconds. What incredible seconds they were.

It’s like that though, as I said earlier, every memory is ended with the period of their passing. Thoughts all end the same. With identical punctuation. In grammar, a period is defined as being “placed at the end of a declarative sentence indicating a full stop”. My daughter wasn’t done writing the sentence the toddler in her had started.

And I wasn’t done reading her story.

When you think about Becca tonight, and I hope you do, please think of the giggling precocious little girl who smelled of sunshine and maple syrup. The small child who kept us all laughing. My daughter, the one who first taught me what true love really is.

Say her name for me . . . and smile.

 

The Old Moon Asked

When I woke up this morning . . . my heart was full of joy! There was no sadness present.

The smell of my daughter was still in the air when I hopped out of bed. Scents from her childhood hung heavy around me. Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Applesauce. And, maple syrup. She loved pancakes. I truly expected her to be asleep in the other room.

Hadn’t I just put her to bed? Tucked safely under her Care Bear blanket? Her blond hair spread across the small Sesame Street pillow I’d bought her? I knew when I went into her room a wisp of her hair would be stuck to her cheek because we’d missed the syrup from last night’s dinner. I couldn’t wait to bury my face in the crook of her neck and just lay there until she woke from her dreams.

My eyes, still blurry from my own deep sleep, could see her bedroom door just across the room. For a moment I felt bad that her room was really a walk in closet because I couldn’t afford a bigger apartment. She’s so small, I thought, and we won’t be here forever. She’s safe. She’s with you. That’s all that matters.

Then the door to her room turned into a framed Matisse print on the wall. I wasn’t in the small apartment in Boston from 1986. It was 2018 and my daughter had been dead for eleven years.

We have dreams of our deceased child. Then there are times when we visit with our child. What I experienced last night was something completely different all together. I travelled in time . . . back to a moment when everything was alright.

In both the dreams of Becca, as well as the visits with her, I am acutely aware of the fact that she is dead. It’s a truth from which there is no escape. Until last night. There is no other answer that I can come up with other than I was able to access the past. I wasn’t burdened with the knowledge of her absence. I was light with the joy of her existence.

When I held her chubby little hand in mine I wasn’t preoccupied in trying to push her death away. I was a twenty one year old momma holding her three year old daughter’s sticky hand. Becca squealed with laughter as I put her palm on my mouth and made noises! She closed her eyes and whipped her head back and I listened to the music of her giggles. Pure delight for us both.

“Again!!” she said . . . over and over. So I did it . . . again and again.

When she got tired, I showered her face with kisses and my baby girl rested her head in the peaceful place on my shoulder. The day was quietly ending. As her breathing deepened and I felt her relax into my body I started to recite the poem she loved to hear every night before bed:

“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night . . . sailed off in a wooden shoe . . . sailed on a river of crystal light and into a sea of dew . . . where are you going and what do you wish the old moon asked the three . . . we have come to fish the herring fish that live in this beautiful sea . . . nets of silver and gold have we . . . said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.”

This is the first time I have been able to get through that bit of verse without stopping after the first sentence because it was just too painful to finish. I’m crying.

And, I realize I am rocking back and forth. I need to rock my baby again.

Again.

And again.

 

Note: The verse I’ve included above was written by Eugene Field and was published on March 9, 1889. It’s original title was “Dutch Lullaby”. I read the poem to my daughter in it’s entirety hundreds of times. It’s quite lovely and I hope you take the time to read it.

 

Be Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, I was only getting part of the message.

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

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

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

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

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

It is well with my soul.

 

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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.

In The Coming Together

When a group of women, get together, conversation inevitably turns to childbirth. Each may forget details of former loves, times gone by, but they never forget, even the smallest detail, of each child’s entrance into the world. Sharing labor time lengths, or difficulties during birth, we bond within the universal experience of creating life. As new mothers, from the moment our child arrives, until we are grandmothers, our experience is our “war story” of becoming a warrior. A new “us” is forged in the fire of labor.

Recently, I’ve noticed, grieving moms need to share the story of their child’s death. Just as we bond over the creation of life, so must we find connection in the truth of our child’s departure from this world. Becoming a mother transformed us forever . . . becoming a bereaved mother does the same to us. And, it is such an isolating and painful experience, especially in the beginning, we must find others who understand.

A few hours ago, three of us from the latter group mentioned above, sat in the living room and chatted for a while. Two of us have known each other for just over a year. The third, Wendy, came to know our group within the past eight months. The second time, Stacey and I, spent time with Wendy, we met her at a park that her family knew well. After hugging in the parking lot, she led us through a field, along the length of a creek, to a very large tree. As we settled ourselves under its boughs, through tears, she shared the story of her son’s battle with depression and the ultimate outcome, the depression claiming his life. Pointing above her head, toward a large branch, she showed us where the bullet came to rest. Wendy needed to take us to this holy place, where Cody’s life had come to its end, and share the heaviness of her loss.

Over the months I’ve known Stacey, she too, has told me the story of how her daughter’s life was stolen from her by a deranged human being. Someone she trusted, and loved, had decided that Mckenna’s life wasn’t worth anything to him. He simply chose to end it. And . . . he did. I’m not sure if Stacey has been to the location where her beloved daughter’s body, was ultimately found, by someone walking their dog. If she wanted to, I’d go with her. Any one of us, other bereaved moms, would go with her. Without hesitation. We have to.

Sharing the story about how my daughter, Becca, lost her life is something I must do, too. The details of her death are as important, to me, as the ones surrounding her birth. Why wouldn’t they be? Her birth made me a mother, a warrior. Her death made me something much stronger.

So, there we sat. Three mothers, with three deceased children, and three completely different ways their lives came to an end. One lost his battle to depression, one was brutally murdered, and one was a victim of someone else’s deadly decisions. Different scenarios . . . with the same outcome. We are sisters who walk the path of child loss.

Though we walk the same path . . . the obstacles we encounter, differ. The shadows, that loom around us, consist of varying things. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Hopelessness. They swirl, just above us, invading our thoughts. Reaching for our hearts. Trying to snatch small pieces of our souls to ensure their own existence.

But when we come together, we grieving moms, we are even stronger than when we stand alone. Two paths, through the rocky terrain of child loss, will never be exactly the same . . . but they will resemble each other’s, just enough, that we can help each other upon this journey.

While we walk, side by side, we’ll continue to share the story of our child. From birth . . . to death.

Hellish Waters

“Is she getting any help? Does she go to counseling?”

“No, she isn’t.” was the reply.

“Well then,” said the woman, “ . . . I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s choosing to stay sad.”

I’ve heard this conversation more than once, if you can believe that, in the years since losing my daughter. Both about myself, as well as other bereaved mothers. I’m always left feeling angry and saddened. I simply don’t understand how someone could say “I don’t feel sorry for her”.

Honestly? You can’t muster up ANY sympathy or empathy for a mother with a dead child? There is no feeling of compassion toward a woman who had to make “final arrangements” for her daughter or son?You can sit in judgment, of a place you’ve never been, and make the callous comment, “she’s choosing to stay sad”?

I would tell you to “go to hell” but hell is a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since Becca, my daughter, was killed. Do you want to know what hell is for a grieving mother? I’ll share just a small picture of it . . . then maybe you won’t be so quick to draw conclusions about a broken soul.

Carrying a child for months, preparing for the life he or she will have, then having that life taken from you. From them. Take a moment and sort through the dreams you have for your child. Would it be so easy for you to watch them fade away, then disappear, completely? Which one of your child’s dreams could you erase from the future? How about all of them?

Stop reading for a moment. Go to your child right now, wherever they are, and touch them. Feel the warmth of their skin, take in their scent, listen to their voice. Do you know what I do when I want to touch my daughter again? I lay my hand on a cold marble urn. I’ve wondered how long her ashes stayed warm, inside, after her cremation. Have you any idea how one’s mind can spin out when you think about what your child’s body went through after it was placed in the oven and the door shut? The body you spent days, months, years (if you’re lucky) caring for and watching grow.

I’ve watched more than one mother lean over her child’s grave and wipe bits of newly cut grass off of name plates. Placing hands on thin grass (because it takes a while for grass to grow over a grave) above where she believes their child’s hands to be. Thick grass, right up to the edge of where the grave starts, picturing over and over the last time she saw your child’s face before the coffin was closed? Her last glimpse of the coffin as it’s lowered into the ground. The panic she feels because “what if she isn’t really dead . . . what if he’s scared . . . “.

Ten years have passed since I lost my daughter. A decade. But there are some mornings when I wake up, somewhere between fully aware and dreamland, and I forget she’s dead. For that split second, all is right in my world. Then the ugly truth worms it’s way into the center of my mind and the contentment I feel is shattered. That moment though, oh that beautiful perfect peaceful moment, she’s not gone from me physically. Can you imagine the intense anguish I feel when I realize it will be another day without my child? That, for the rest of my life, every day will be without Becca. As long as I live, I have to choose to be here, knowing I’ll never hear her laughter again? That is hell, my friend.

Those first years after child loss we can be unreachable. We live in a continual hurricane, finding the peaceful eye of the storm once in a while, sometimes by accident. But, there is little calm. Fuzzy clarity, at best. The world, as we knew it, is gone. We have been rocked to the very core of our souls. Our hearts have been both blown apart and imploded in a single second. What we’ve gone through is unexplainable. Something you can barely imagine. And when you try to, your mind does a 180 because you’ve seen a glimpse of the hellish horror. Imagine living there.

No, grieving mothers don’t want to be sad. We are not choosing to stay there. Believe me . . . we would all choose to be with our child, instead. Surviving this is so much more complicated than going to the doctor, to get bypass surgery, after a heart attack. Our hearts are shredded . . . there may not be much to stitch together for a very long time.

The same of a counselor. A therapist might be able to help us, but unless we are in a place to hear what’s being said, it’s doing no good. And we can’t just “put” ourselves into that place, either. And as I’ve explained, neither can you put yourself in ours. Getting counseling from someone who’s never lost a child, to most of us, seems ridiculous. And, at times, it really is. We walk around, each day, carrying the brutal knowledge from experience. Not what we’ve read in a book.

So, I beg you, don’t speak about what you don’t know. If you have any compassion, at all, don’t judge a bereaved mother for not doing what you think you’d do in her situation. You can’t know unless you are there. And I hope you never will be. If you can not say anything kind . . . don’t say anything at all. Simple. She doesn’t need the shame you’ll make her feel by stating your very inexperienced opinion.

Every grieving mother I know is fighting to stay above the waves. Don’t stand back and say “if she’d only . . .” reach out a hand to keep her atop the water. Don’t give her more weight to carry. She’s got enough.

And finally, no grieving mother deserves the heartbreak and pain she is feeling. Not now . . . not ever.

On a side note: I went to counseling. I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Though the one therapist I had that did help me, didn’t lose a child, he taught me some very useful coping strategies. However, it has to be a personal choice and the person has to be in the place to participate fully.

Mother’s Days After

18578515_10209592102466738_978814193_nI haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I’d have to check to see just how many days it’s been. The exact number isn’t important, but the reason I haven’t written is. To me. Mother’s Day just hits me like a punch in the stomach. The days leading up to it are full of anxiety, the day of is difficult, and the days following are full of sadness.

This past Sunday marked the tenth time the day of celebration for mothers passed without my daughter. As I’ve done since the first one, I pulled out a few things I have from past holidays, that she gave me. I ran my fingers over the paper of homemade cards as if they were made of precious materials. To me, they are. These things are irreplaceable. Let me take a moment to give you some advice: save it. Save it all. One day you might be happy you did.

Though this holiday is difficult for me . . . I know it’s harder, in a different way, for newly bereaved mothers. The first one is full of moments of denial. This can’t be real, you tell yourself. Images of last Mother’s Day flash into your mind as you line up the time, to a year before, and think about what you were doing with your child. Every piece of your soul aches to travel back to that day. Any day before your child died, really. Then the weight of the new reality crushes those memories with it’s truth.

On Sunday, I sat at a small Mother’s Day celebration that my friend’s family had. As we chatted, sitting in a circle in the shady backyard, I couldn’t help but notice the four kids sitting across the expanse of grass. Cousins, laughing with each other. Except, one of them was missing. You see, there used to be five. Until one was killed. Her mother, my friend, sat next to me, quiet. Curled into herself.

A few times, I asked her if she was alright. She said yes. We always say yes. The rest of the family, though aware of the huge hole that was left by murder, had all of their children around them. I know they carry immense and indescribable sadness but they can’t experience the pain that my fried carries for the loss of her daughter. I know they understand that holidays will be difficult . . . but I am not sure others can truly understand the depth of our pain on such days. Seeing my friend steeped in her pain, pain that was so real it flowed off of her in waves, broke my heart. I wish I could make it better for her. That I could make it better for all the bereaved moms I know. But I can’t. I can barely make it better for myself.

The Saturday night before Mother’s Day, my friend and I accompanied another mom to the site where her child died last year. She’d spread out a blanket under a huge pine tree, a tree that must have been over a hundred years old, and talked about her son’s last day. We listened to her as she shared her son’s death story. We all need to share the death story of our child. The creek slipped quietly by below us as tears fell upon our cheeks. There is sacredness in these moments. A connection to each other and to life. And death. It’s an honor when mothers share these stories with us . . . let us into their very small and intimate circle of pain.

Being a mother is a sacred act. Raising a child, caring for them, loving them, protecting them, teaching them . . . it’s the most important thing we can do with our lives. Both joy filled and heartbreaking.

The days that led up to Mother’s Day were filled with apprehension for me. I know it’s going to be hard . . . I just don’t know how hard. So I worry I might not make it through. The day of, though it’s been a decade, still brings memories from previous celebrations into my mind. I wonder if she knew how much I love her. If she knows the cards her little hands made were among the most precious gifts I ever could have received. Does she see me get them out every year and cry as I read them over and over. I hesitate as I look at the gifts from my sons, wondering if I should save them “just in case” and then think I am courting death if I do.
The days after are hollow and painful. There is a type of re-realization that Becca is gone for good. She’s not coming back. Even if I cry to the heavens that it’s been too long since I’ve seen her so she should be sent back. It’s a kind of bottoming out . . . again.

I’ve traveled far upon the path in my grief journey. I learn new things every day. But Mother’s Day will forever be one of things I circle back to again and again. One of the many times each year that I need to enter a space I’ve been in before, and work through it again.

Then I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to help the moms who are new to the grief of child loss. Next year, if you know someone who is a bereaved mother, please reach out to her. You will add some happiness to a sometimes very dark day by letting her know she is still a mom. And is remembered as one.

What I Do

A few days ago, a friend reached out to me for advice about grief. One of her friends lost her child, suddenly, earlier this month. My friend’s friend is lost and hurting. I was asked if I could talk to her. Of course, I said without hesitation. I never hesitate.

One of the bereaved moms I am close to said something when we were talking a few months ago. There is a “bat signal” that seems to always be in the dark sky. A signal we can’t see until our eyes are covered with the haze of grief. Or maybe uncovered when we lose trust in the life. I’m not sure.

Somehow, though, we seem to find each other more easily. Is it because before our own loss we didn’t spend much time thinking about the grieving mom? To immerse ourselves, willingly, into the reality of it would make us realize it can happen to anyone. We see how easily death could visit us one day. So, we don’t stay in that “space” for very long. If we give it too much thought, will our energy make it come true? Prayer is energy. Could acknowledging these types of thoughts give them life, too? Why risk it. Fortunately, if you haven’t lost a child, it’s easy to leave that “space”.

The longer I walk this path . . . the more I realize how many others are traveling on a parallel course. Every week or two, it seems, I learn of another newly bereaved mom who has just set a foot on her own path of loss. When we are standing there, at the beginning, we are at a crossroads. One we didn’t choose to stand in willingly. But here we find ourselves.

Two paths “Y” off before us. We desperately want to take the one on which we live our lives with our child. But that path is no longer available to us. It lays in ruin. Blown apart. Lost in the rubble that was our life, before. Life forces us to move. So we do. Hesitating as we turn toward the other arm of the “Y” which leads to a life we never considered.

Never have I seen a more broken being than a newly bereaved mother. Confused, numb, half alive. Her heart in her hands. Eyes full of anguish. And anger. Fleeting moments of hope that it isn’t true. Moments of clarity in which the blinding truth stops her from breathing. Physical collapse because any ability to hold herself up has drained from her body.

When I meet a grieving mom, especially one who’s loss is recent, I am completely humbled by the invitation (of sorts) I’ve been given to enter the very intimate place she is. The fog, which settles upon us the second we find out our child is dead, parts slightly and I am allowed in. This is a sacred place. A holy place. All of the minutiae of everyday life is gone. None of it matters. We are two injured souls finding comfort in each other. Maybe strength. Most certainly, understanding. When words fail . . . which they sometimes do, tears fill in the space between.

I often wonder if anything I say helps another grieving mom. I so desperately want to say something, anything, that will help ease the pain. Though my early months (years) on this path are hazy, I don’t remember anything anyone said to me making a big difference. I didn’t have another grieving mom to talk to, though. Maybe that would have made a difference?

When I meet a mom, after the loss of her child, I feel a responsibility to her. And to her child. I’ve mentioned before that I believe when we moms meet here on earth, our children meet in heaven. I always ask Becca to go find this new child, explaining the child may be sad or perplexed, and hug them and help them. My daughter has been there for ten years. Her goal in life was to help and educate children. I hope she is doing this up there, comforting the newcomers.

In truth, sometimes the weight of this aspect of life is very heavy to carry. I think of the pain these moms will be experiencing and it breaks my heart. Because I’ve been there. It’s a very solemn and holy task to be a touchstone for someone. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. Though it can be tiring, and I can become overwhelmed, I know I have to use my own experiences to make the way easier for someone else. That is what we are supposed to do . . . I truly believe this. What choice do we have but to do the best we can with what we have been given?

My daughter was amazing. Becca was always the first to jump up and in to whatever she could do to help another. If she saw someone with a need . . . she did what she could to fill it. Without question. And without asking for anything in return. In a lot of ways, my daughter was much wiser than I am. She was a very old soul. I miss her to the depths of everything I am.

Though my hearts grows a bit heavier every time I am asked to help a newly bereaved mom, I will continue to do so. Using my life to make the path easier to travel, for others, also makes my injured soul heal.

Please. We are not very different from each other. One single moment in time could put you right where we are. I truly hope this doesn’t happen to any of you. But it will.

Help who you can, where you can, any way you can. When we get down to the very basics of life . . . being there for each other is what matters most.

We are all one.