As We Sleep

A few months have passed since my daughter has come to visit me in my dreams. I find myself going to sleep earlier in the hopes she’ll finally appear as I slumber. When she doesn’t, I don’t awake with the immediate realization my dreams were empty of her presence. I just feel the normal ache that one feels when their hands haven’t touched their child’s skin in years. The profound need to hold our child close again never really leaves us . . . but at moments like this, it’s amplified a thousand times over.

I’ve often talked about the first time Becca came to me in a dream. She stood at my front door and begged to be let in. I stood a room away, watching through the door, as my daughter’s voice broke with sadness. They didn’t want me to see her, the way she looked, after the crash. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to hold my daughter again. I needed to help her and she needed me to hold her. We needed each other after the tragedy that had happened.

There should be a place, an in between space, where Heaven and Earth overlap. Always lit with the slanted late afternoon sun that casts a golden glow over everything. The smell of new growth in the dirt is heavy, it mixes with the scent of silvery strands, and somehow we know we’ve been here before. Here we can sit next to our deceased loved one. Laugh and cry, and say good bye, until it’s our turn. Maybe we can only reach this place as we sleep.

This first dream I had of my girl was this. But not quite as comforting. As she walked around the table toward me, I could tell her neck was broken, so I reached out my arms to draw her close. One of her hands steadied her head because she wasn’t able to hold it up anymore. I gently laid it against my chest and I felt her both arms circle my waist. She wanted my help. She asked me to fix it. Sorry. She kept saying I’m sorry, mom, I’m so sorry.

I had to tell her I was sorry, too, because I couldn’t fix this. Everyone around us looked at her as if she was something unnatural. As if I should be horrified at the sight of her. I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why the others were. We stood together, holding each other, swaying back and forth, crying. At this moment, I can’t remember exactly how this dream ended. Maybe it’s written somewhere in one of the many journals I’ve kept. Or maybe the ending doesn’t matter at all. She was there. I held her. We cried because we both knew the life we’d had together was over.

This dream was the absolute hardest one I’ve ever had. About her, about anything. I’ve called it a dream through the first part of this piece of writing because that is what most people would believe them to be. I believe, this was a visit from my dead child. That was the first time she’d been able to get to me. Some time had passed before she had. I’ve wondered why. Because her death was so violently traumatic and instant and unexpected? Was her soul confused at what had happened? Did it take her a while to learn how to move through her new world to find me? I imagine it was something like this. I am so glad she did. And still does.

As I said initially, it’s been a while since Becca’s come to visit me. Some nights my last thoughts are: please visit me baby . . . momma misses you so much . . . please please please.

I miss my girl more than any words can express. The ache is wider and deeper and more full than a few sentences can hold. It’s scream that continually pounds in my chest. A loss that no words can adequately convey. There is nothing I can say to a mother who has not lost a child that will make them feel, even for the smallest slice of a second, the pain that has taken permanent residence in my soul.

When I am sitting across from another bereaved mother, and the haunted part of me sees the same in her eyes, I ask Becca to lead her lost child back to her. Show them how, my sweet girl. Help them sink into their mother’s dreams and let their souls touch for a while. Lead the way, my Becca.

But when you’re done . . . please come back to me. I know there is so much to see where you are, I understand. Tonight though, tonight . . . please come to momma. I miss you.

I need you.

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Raging

Last night . . . the rage came back. It’s not visited me in a while. Maybe it feels as if it hasn’t spent enough time with me lately. After a decade together, we’ve managed to maintain a fragile relationship, and I thought it was gone from my life. I was wrong. Following the tears I cried last night, the rage slipped in and flamed brightly. Sleep eluded me as I lay there struggling with the feelings that engulfed me. I was angry that I was angry. I was so god damn mad that I had a reason to have this much rage in my soul. I have no where to put these feelings but on paper. Today, that just isn’t enough. I need to break something.

No longer do I have the corner of my garage set up for “smash therapy”. If you haven’t tried this, and you have anger welling up inside of you, I highly recommend it. You will need a cement wall, safety glasses, thick gloves, and a supply of old dishes from a thrift store. Oh, and an understanding family. There is something quite satisfying about hurling a plate at the wall and letting out a scream as you do it. I wish I had that corner right now.

Instead, I guess I’ll throw my anger at this page.

I’m angry that the driver who killed my daughter is out of jail and living his life. Has he forgotten her? Does he live a life that honors the one he took? I want to know. But what if I talk to him and he isn’t? What if he has shoved her out of his thoughts? I am not sure I could contain my reaction. I’ve forgiven him, for me, for Becca. I hope he changed his life after his time in jail. Maybe I shouldn’t look him up, after all.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down last night. The blog I wrote was about the things Becca will never get to do. Especially, become a mother. Then, I wondered, is he a parent? Does he realize he took that from my child? His mother. Is she a grandmother? Does he even think about the fact he took that from me? His siblings. Are they aunts or uncles? My boys will never be uncles to Becca’s children. That’s not fair. He drove drunk. HE should be the one who loses all of these chances. NOT my child.

He had two prior drunk driving convictions. The second one happened six weeks prior to the one that killed my daughter. His license was revoked. His car impounded. Why did his parents decide it was ok to buy him another car? Let him drive without a license? They should be punished with no grandchildren from him. I shouldn’t be sitting here wondering what my granddaughter might look like. Would she have her mother’s feisty personality? Or if my grandson would resemble my boys. None of this is ok. AND I AM MAD.

My day, today, was ruined by the difficult night I had. I was quieter than usual. Nearly breaking into tears a few times. A few people asked me what was wrong. How can I answer that? The answer is too complex. Multi-layered. And . . . I’m not sure I could voice it without falling apart. So, I don’t. I say “nothing is wrong . . . I’m just tired”. Because it’s easier to do this then explain how this loss is like a cork being split into pieces as the corkscrew keeps turning into it’s center.

I’m mad because there are others who deserved to die long before my beautiful child did. When I start to think about this fact, I wonder why people even try to do the right things in life. It doesn’t matter, does it? My daughter dies . . . but my uncle, the pedophile, lives. What is the reason for this??

To stumble into this maze on our journey is common. Just as I am walking confidently upon the path I was placed on, looking toward the bright horizon, my foot finds the hole that leads to dark and angry thoughts. I trip and tumble into it’s depths. I wonder if I will ever be done falling.

It’s time to climb out of this hole, wipe the darkness away, and start to move forward again. So I reach for a tree root and pull myself toward the light. There is a time to lean into and embrace the anger . . . then it’s time to set it down. I won’t survive for long if all I do is succumb to the rage. I want to survive.

I have a Terra Cotta planter outside. It’s already cracked from the move. I think I’ll smash it against the foundation of the house. Then, I’ll climb into a hot shower, let the healing water cleanse the dirt from under my nails, and concentrate on the peace I feel as the darkness washes off and circles the drain.

I hope I sleep well tonight. I hope all the grieving mothers, I know, find peace this night. We deserve it.

Broken Heart

For the past few days I’ve been giving much thought to having a broken heart. Right after Becca was killed I remember thinking “how is my heart still beating? It should just stop.”. Before I lost my daughter I don’t think I ever gave any thought as to whether a person can die from heartache and loss.

According to science, broken heart syndrome is a real condition. Just last year we saw it happen with a famous mother and daughter. The mother died the day after her daughter passed. After reading about the condition, I’ve learned the medical term is: stress induced cardiomyopathy. Women are more likely to suffer from this than men. It’s a reaction to a surge of stress hormones. These facts are clinical. Here’s my truth about a broken heart.

Mine shattered when I was told my daughter was the young woman dead in the body bag. There was “proof” it was her, but I didn’t believe it until a friend came back from seeing her. He told me they unzipped the bag and let him kiss her forehead. She was still warm. Inside of my chest . . . my heart exploded. As I tried to wiggle out of the police officer’s arms, so I could run down to my daughter, my heart beat so wildly and out of time that I thought I might have a heart attack on the same highway where Becca died. There are days, still, when I wish I had.

The thought that our heart physically changes when we lose our child won’t leave me. As if it DID blow apart, but somehow, quickly knitted itself back together enough to keep my body functioning. The pieces reattached to each other, yes, but not arranged the same as before. My heart is different than it was when Becca was alive. I am different. From the smallest cells to the farthest corners of my mind, I’ve been changed.

I also believe I’ve been both weakened and strengthened. I know that sounds odd . . . and makes little sense, but I’ll do my best to explain what I mean.

The cracks in my broken heart have exposed a strength I’m not sure I would have found if not for losing my child. A strength that every single mother gains when she gives birth. The moment we hold our child for the first time, and whether they are with us for an hour or seventy years, we have the truth we could lose them. We don’t often consciously think this thought because it’s too horrifying, isn’t it? Yet, we do know that to love so deeply means we may hurt as deeply someday, too. So, way down inside of our mothers’ hearts, there is a small seed of strength waiting to be called upon if we ever need it. Sadly, some of us do.

When my heart broke wide open and the blood rushed out, so did the combined voices of all the bereaved mothers before me. The lineage of women behind me, cried with me, as I mourned my daughter. I didn’t know it, but I was being lifted by my feminine ancestors. We are held by the hands of those who went before us. Sometimes, in the quiet of the night, I thank them for walking with me during my journey.

All of this being said, personally, I would rather not have found out how strong I really am. I could live without the knowledge that a broken heart can repair itself. That I can march through the days, empty of my Becca, with some hope for my future.

Remember, even when we are alone, we aren’t truly alone. Our hearts can heal. Don’t expect to be the same as “before”. You won’t ever be that person again. The person you  become, however, will amaze you.

Let your heart heal. Your child would want you to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fearful

When the phone rang in the middle of the afternoon, a few years ago, I was surprised to see it was my son. Excitedly, I answered the phone and said hello!! My son’s first words were, “I’m gonna need you to not freak out.” That’s when I heard the sounds of hospital monitors in the background. And I did, indeed, freak out.

I started yelling, asking him if he was ok. Not taking into consideration that he was speaking to me, so he was ok. He told me to stop yelling, he couldn’t talk to me when I was like this, or he would hang up. You can probably guess he eventually hung up on me. With the promise he’d call back when I could be calm. When he did finally call back, I learned the details of the car accident he’d had on the slushy highway a few hours earlier. A crash that left him crawling out of a car, that had landed on it’s roof, in oncoming traffic. His only injury was a snapped collarbone, thankfully.

Even after I knew what had happened, I was still mildly hysterical, and a complete mess. My child was safe. He was hurt, but he would survive this. When I had calmed down enough to process what had happened, I realized I would never be the same when it came to my children being hurt. Bereaved mothers nearly always feel the fear that another one of their children may be taken by death.

Late last week I was talking with another grieving mom I know. She told me her very young son had been sick all day. High fever, lethargic. One of her sentences was heartbreaking. She shared she had been a nervous wreck all day, beyond worried. The truth that she’d had to bury one of her young children already was far too real to not take into consideration when her other child was so sick. This mom’s son was killed by a distracted driver. An adult who was checking his social media. Nothing this mother did led to her child’s death. He wasn’t sick. But even though the two situations involving her children were not the same, her mind circled the truth of child death. We go to the worst that can happen because we know it’s not impossible.

Even now, when my children travel to and from where they live and when I live, I am a ball of anxiety. They’ve had their licenses for years. They are both good drivers. Millions of people travel the roads of Michigan everyday without dying. But part of me is certain they will die, like their sister did, well before their time. When my son had a serious illness over this past Thanksgiving, I started to cry uncontrollably when he said he was going to play soccer, against the doctor’s orders. I begged him not to. Again, I was worried it would lead to his death. So much of the grief path is spent walking in exhaustion. Worrying about our surviving children, KNOWING death takes the young, we are always on guard. Always hoping to see the thing that might end their life before it reaches them.

Others, trying to comfort us, will say “oh, you’re worrying for nothing . . . everything will be alright.”. In our broken hearts, the truth courses through our veins with each heartbeat. No, it’s not always alright in the end. Like so many other things about child loss, unless you’ve been through it, it won’t make much sense to you. We don’t want to be a worried mess. We don’t want to struggle with allowing our child to live a normal life, one not full of our fears for them. However, we are forever changed.

I’ve shared before the fear I have for my twins who just turned the age my daughter was when she was killed. On January 11th, they officially became older than their sister ever did. For me, their life is delicate and could easily be taken at any moment. I wrestle with this truth and the other truth, I have to allow them to live their lives.

But it’s so difficult to know there is the chance that we may lose another child. To know this and to attempt to remain optimistic about the children we still have here. It’s hard as hell. Please understand this.
I want to take a moment to mention the mother who lost her only child. I can not speak to what it’s like to live in this reality. I haven’t experienced it. I do know one mother who did lose her only daughter. Her strength and courage amazes me daily. Maybe one day she’ll be able to share her feelings here as a guest writer. I think she has a story to tell . . . one that can reach the mothers I can not.

There is beauty in the broken. I see it everyday in the women I know.

All Our Children

My entire life, I’ve not liked meeting new people. I carry matching luggage filled with insecurities and self doubt. Since I lost my daughter, I’ve added new contents to these bags, which go everywhere with me. Though there are many additions . . . tonight, I will talk about just one. But it’s a really big and difficult one. For most people meeting others, it’s a question that’s asked an answered without much anxiety. Not so for bereaved mothers. We grow to dread this particular inquiry.

The question? How many children do you have. A common question for those meeting each other for the first time. I don’t like having to answer it. The situation can go one of two ways and either is stressful for us. Only one is stressful for the other party. I’ve reacted both ways, but there is a price I pay either way.

At times, we can simply answer with the number of children we have and the conversation goes no further. Often, however, the follow up question is asking us to share the ages of our children. This is when grieving mothers really start to panic. How do we answer this?

We can simply give the ages of our living children, then the age our deceased child left this world.

Ages are a weird thing. My twin boys just turned the age their sister was when she was killed, twenty three. In fact, on January 11th, they passed the age when she was the oldest she was ever going to be. They are older than their older sister. I can barely wrap my mind around this truth. If I answered in the way I’ve mentioned above, it would seem I have triplets, which isn’t the case. And the thought of answering in this manner has always made me feel uneasy, so I’ve not chosen to do it. I don’t fault mothers who do. We each have to choose what is best for us, no judgment.

Sometimes, in an attempt to keep the follow up question from being asked about our dead child, we don’t mention them. At all. It’s just easier, we think, to not have to make anyone else feel uncomfortable with our reality. This is a dangerous way to go, I’ve learned from experience, because we are left with a new guilt. We carry enough guilt for not saving our child, somehow, and now we are being disloyal to their memory by not admitting their existence. Internally, we are bleeding to death because of their absence, but we don’t let this fact show on our faces lest we cause discomfort in another.

I’ve chosen this tactic, early on in my new life without Becca, I am ashamed to say. The pain I saved the other person from feeling was heaped upon that which I already carried. The half dozen times, maybe more, I’ve done this have left me crying in the dark begging my daughter for her forgiveness. I don’t hide the fact she existed anymore. Not for anyone’s comfort. Not anymore.

We can, and eventually do, answer the question in a truthful manner. Not ashamed of the fact we have a dead child. No attempt to soothe their nervousness.. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes when I’ve said my child is deceased. A mix of panic and uneasiness. They don’t know how to respond. And, I’ve learned, it’s not up to us to care how they respond. They’ll figure it out, or they won’t, but either shouldn’t change whether we talk about our child or not.

This is how my most recent conversation with a new person went:

“How many children do you have, Diane?”

“I have three. Becca, Gabriel, and Matthew.”

“Beautiful names! How old are they?”
“The boys are twins, they turned twenty three late last year. My daughter would have been thirty three.”

“Oh . . . would have been?” (that’s when the panic first flickered in his eyes.)

“Yes, she was killed ten years ago, by a drunk driver, she was twenty three.”

I saw his face grow red and he stammered something about having to get back to work.

Generally, this isn’t how uncomfortable this conversation can be. Most times people say they are sorry for my loss. I thank them and we move on. I have learned I can either chance the possibility that the other person will not react well by my answering honestly or I can omit my daughter’s having existed by leaving her name off the list. For me, the choice has become quite simple.

I won’t ever keep the life of my daughter to myself because of how others may react. I don’t care anymore. She’s my child. She was here. Her life mattered. Her death happened. I will say her name any and every chance I get.

When we begin walking the path of child loss, we are still finding our way in everything, because all we know has been replaced by our new reality. It takes a while for us to become strong enough to stand up to society’s expectations of a grieving mother. We have to find our legs and stand again. We must find our voice and speak again. We are the keepers of our child’s life. There is no shame to be felt for this.

For those of you who are on the side of the conversation, where you could feel discomfort, please don’t let it overwhelm you. We know we make you uneasy. That our child’s death forces you to face the fact children die. That if it happened to us . . . it could happen to you. The horrifying fact is: it can.

It happened to us. Please don’t add pain to our already anguishing journey. Stay with us and let us talk about our child. It’s the greatest gift you can give us.