When She Laughed

As I was getting ready to sit down and write a blog my eyes swept across a picture I keep on a table in my bedroom. It’s a photograph of Becca and I laughing hysterically, while sitting next to each other, at a friend’s going away dinner. The moment is embedded so deep within my memories that I can feel her sitting to my right and telling me a wildly inappropriate joke. That daughter of mine was hilarious! She never failed to make us laugh!! And, we laughed a lot. I miss her laugh.

Being a single mom I couldn’t always afford everything we needed. So, once in a while, I had to let a bill slide. Generally it was the cable bill because it wasn’t a necessity. I remember one of those tv-less nights when we were all tired of board games and were just sitting around. Becca jumped up and started to act out scenes from her favorite movie, “Clueless”. The boys and I were entertained for at least an hour while she acted and re enacted the scene where one of the girls gets hit in the head with a shoe. Every time Becca fell to the floor the boys would squeal with laughter! Which just made her fall more theatrical the next time. After that we would often turn off the TV and shout out scenes for her to act for us. I would give anything to go back to those times. The four of us safe in the house and in love with each other and life.

I have a few questions for grieving moms. Do you remember the day the laughter stopped? Did it die with your child? Were you, too, sure that you would never laugh again? And, when you did, were you disgusted with yourself? Was there shame?? Is there still shame and guilt if you’ve found laughter again?

Laughter. Such a normal, and necessary, part of human existence. It comes from sensations of joy. Joy: delight, pleasure, happiness, glee. I am willing to bet that joy disappeared immediately from your emotional condition when your child died. As did laughter. For me it did. I never imagined myself laughing again. And . . . I didn’t for a very long time. Which was, among other things, very unfair to my surviving children. It was also unfair to me and her memory.

Everyone who knew Becca still remarks, to me, about her laugh. It came from her belly and was loud and she was unapologetic for the noise. Her laugh made me laugh. It’s true, it’s contagious. And a wonderfully beautiful thing!! We don’t laugh enough, us grieving moms, for various reasons.

How can I laugh when my child is dead?
There must be something wrong with me to be able to feel joy.
Do I love my child as much as I think I do because if I do I should be beyond repair and unable to find happiness without them.

The reasons we don’t laugh are as varied as each of us. Though there is some commonality in the experience, each of us must find a reason to laugh again.

The dictionary defines joy as follows: the emotion evoked by well being, success or good fortune or the prospect of getting what one desires. NONE of those pertain to our situation after child loss. Yet, we must come to a place where we can feel some of what is listed above. But why?

Our grandmothers had it right when they told us that laughter is the best medicine. There are so many physical benefits to a good chuckle. For one, our immune systems take a dive when we are thrust into bereavement. In that first year after my daughter was killed I had diarrhea continually. Constant headaches. Little sleep. My body was physically going through grief, too. A good laugh can help strengthen our immune system, release tension and anxiety, make us feel more positive and hopeful. Laughter can help diminish pain and protect us from the damage that stress from losing a child puts on our systems.

Laughter relaxes the body.
Laughter lightens the heaviness of anger. (and boy do we feel anger)
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins.
Laughter protects the heart. (our broken hearts need all the help we can find)
Laughter strengthens resilience.
Laughter shifts perspective.
Laughter bonds people to each other.

Stacey and I laugh. A lot. Probably more than we ever thought we would be laughing again. I think we are learning that though we find a reason to giggle . . . the sadness never goes away. It’s takes a while, but you can and hopefully will, find your way to laughter again. It is a necessary part of life and a large component to healing from the loss we’ve experienced.

If none of the reasons in the list above are enough for you to find your way to laughter again, how about this one:

Your child would want you to laugh.

Don’t you think so?

I know when it’s my time to join my daughter . . . my sons are going to be heartbroken. They will mourn my passing and grieve the loss of their mother. But I hope, with all of my heart, that they can remember how much we laughed and find a reason to laugh again. I want them to.

My daughter would say to me: laugh mom. Laugh because I laughed. Because I existed. For the boys. But mostly, for you. I want you to be happy.

I remember a story I heard about Jesus in the garden with the children in Heaven. He invites them all to join him in a walk. Gleefully, they all get up to follow him except for one little boy. Jesus asks the little boy why he isn’t coming along. The boy responds that his mother is crying and he is worried so he has to stay and look out for her.

Hearing that story made me think of how horrible it would be to have my daughter, with the entirety of heaven and space at her fingertips, won’t enjoy it because I am keeping her anchored to me. Anchored to me because of my sadness.

Don’t let your child’s legacy be one of continued and complete sorrow. What a horrible thing it would be for your life to end when your child’s did. It takes so incredibly long, and a lot of inner emotional work, to come to the place where you celebrate your child’s life with laughter. But, I know you can do it.

Find a reason to laugh today. I know our children rejoice when we do.

Healing Places

I’ve always been an artist. Not necessarily a good one, but drawing did something for me that nothing else could do. I was centered and no where else when I had a pencil in my hand and a sketchpad in my lap. After my daughter was killed, I spent hours silently on the couch. Doing drawing after drawing of rocks. My mind was soothed by the sound of the lead on paper. My body, wracked with pain, would turn it’s attention to the fine motor skills needed to draw, and I’d have a period of lessened physical torture. When I draw, or paint, I am nowhere but right there, in that moment. It’s the closest I come to meditating.

When we lose a child, our life is permanently divided into two distinct time frames. Before and After. The letters used to denote periods of time, BC and AD have a new meaning to me. Before Crash and After Death. It’s how our lives are segmented now. We exist in the after but long for the before. Living in this limbo is exhausting. We know we must participate in the life around us but we can’t help letting our minds wander to days long ago. Or maybe not so long ago. Days so close we can almost touch them.

The only place I’ve found, that gives me a reprieve, is in my studio.

Let me say this: writing helps me heal, as well. But, writing is where I purposely access the emotions and examine them. I have to allow them to wash over me and take over my mind so I can write, as truthfully as possible, about my experience. It’s a painful and exhausting activity. Often, I feel completely worn out need to just finish the day by going to bed immediately after I’m finished. I write because I HAVE to. There is a story in me that I need to share, to lighten it’s weight on my soul, and to hopefully help others not feel alone in this. But painting soothes my emotions instead of bringing them to the surface.

As I said above, we live in an world that has been dissected by the death of our child. We are continually assaulted with “used to be” and “should have been”. I know I often feel as if I am talking myself from the edge of a ledge that leads to all engulfing pain. My heart can only take so much, in one day, before all my closely held emotions spill free. The closest I’ve come to that ledge, lately, is when a pregnant girl and her mother stood at the deli counter where I work. They discussed the cravings they had in common during their pregnancies. A special bonding conversation for mother and daughter that nearly caused me to come unhinged. I’ve learned to hide these moments from others. Most don’t understand.

When I get home, after a day like this, I sit down at my easel and can feel a sense of calm enfold me. I’ve read that meditation helps us detach. It reduces stress and alleviates anxiety,but not for me. I have tried numerous times, over the years, to use meditation as a means to mental well being. Not once has it worked for me. My mind races and starts circling unpleasant thoughts. I begin to worry that I can’t do anything right, even meditation, like other people. I end up feeling worse than when I started. Let me add, I do know meditation works for people and I don’t want to sound as if I think it’s a waste of time. It isn’t. Fortunately, I’ve found my meditative activity.

In the past year, I’ve started doing something I never thought I would have, or could have. I lead painting events for groups of people. Some have been for profit, but the ones that mean the most to me are the ones that I donate my time to help raise funds. Because of being a grieving mom, I’ve met other bereaved moms who have foundations to help others, in the memory of their child. Generally, the painting we do is simple, only taking a few hours, but for those hours I am helping others learn about the healing quality to creating.

Creating, for me, isn’t about the end product (unless I am doing a commission for someone else.). It’s about the process. The journey, not the destination. I’m not looking at the two pieces of my life, the before and after, I am existing in the now. My daughter is with me, I haven’t forgotten her,she is happy because I have found a moment of peace.

The smell of the paint, feel of the brush in my hand, and the colors on the palette are all very soothing to me. My two dogs at my feet, the warmth of the cat on my lap, all work together to create harmony in my soul. Though these moments are brief, they can save a very difficult day from complete ruin.

I’m currently working on a series titled “Healing Places”, which for me, are always in nature. The image above is the canvas I am working on currently. Bringing the two types of healing together for me, being in them and painting them, is having a very uplifting effect on my soul. A peace I so very badly want to help other grieving mothers find. Whether it be painting, writing, running, gardening or meditating. Whatever it is. Our souls NEED this in order to heal. To remain strong. You deserve this time for yourself and your soul.

In that spirit, my studio is always open to anyone who feels the need to paint.