Forever Searching

As I’ve shared in my writings before . . . I have a very complicated relationship with divinity. The easiest way to explain it is like this: I feel that “god” is a person I am angry with but can’t seem to remove completely from my life. Yet, I have no intention of ever getting close to him again. I have relatives like this, too. They’ve hurt me deeply. I know they exist but I don’t have them in my life. There is a silent truce between us and I am fine with this.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone to church more than I have in the past ten years. The first time, I told myself, was to support my friend. Like many mothers who have lost a child . . . our faith is damaged and we seek answers. That is what I said to the Bishop when he asked me what questions of faith I was struggling over. But, I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I said above, I initially believed I was going to be of support to someone else. Sitting in a pew in a catholic church, then a folding chair in an old mall, and today, in the lobby of Martin Luther King Elementary School, I’ve realized I’m searching, too. I consider myself Agnostic because this term comes closest to what I seem to be. I know there is “something” but I don’t know what, exactly. There are times when I wish I had unflinching faith, but it’s not to be I guess. Not for me, anyway.

I felt that today, as I sat in a group of six people, listening to the Bishop speak. My friend and I were invited to this service personally by the Bishop. He knows our stories of child loss. And I truly think he thought he could answer our questions, assuage our fears. I am thankful he cared enough to want to do so.

Listening to his words, I believe he was trying to tell us that god takes, but god gives, too. That god took something from our lives to make room for something else. A seed has to die for a plant to be born. God has to squeeze us hard to get the best juice. I understand what he was attempting to explain to us. But, I have trouble with it.

God could have squeezed me in a different way. God could have taken something else from my life. If a seed has to die, let me be the seed. The flower that should be growing is my daughter. I am sure my friend feels the same way. I think nearly all grieving mothers would gladly change places with their deceased child. Happily, and without a second thought.

If we could, we would give them life, twice.

Near the end of the service, the Bishop asked me to share what my questions were. I’ve not had this chance before. A one on one discussion, with a man of the cloth, where I could honestly voice my thoughts. So, I did.

I told him I don’t understand a god that would take my child yet let my pedophile uncle live. I have trouble believing “god is good” when Syria is happening. That there even is a god who would let the horror in the world continue without doing something about it. None of it makes sense to me. And his answer was the same one I’ve been told over and over again: you just have to have faith.

That answer isn’t good enough for me. It wasn’t good enough before my beautiful daughter was killed, and it sure the hell isn’t good enough now. I am not angry with the Bishop, I am thankful he cared enough about me, my friend, about my struggle to take the time to build a sermon around it all.

Later this afternoon, Stacey and I were walking around a thrift store. There were two Willow Tree angels sitting on the shelf. One of them was titled “thank you for the gift” the other was “angel of learning”. I don’t think those angels were there by chance. Our children are our gifts. The brightest blessings we could ever receive. And learning. Oh the things we’ve learned since losing our daughters. The biggest? How to live without them here.

I read once that our relationship with the deceased keeps developing as we learn more and we come to terms with their absence. I think I will forever search for answers. Answers about her death. Answers about all “the bigger questions” and that’s alright.

The searching keeps me moving forward.

Dark Truths

There are things about grieving the loss of a child that are very ugly. Thoughts we have may seem cruel to outsiders. Honestly, they seem cruel to us, too. You don’t see the world through the shattered glass which covers our view now. The spidery cracks change the image we see. Like a kaleidoscope, when we move just a bit, everything looks different. Before, we knew how things appeared. In the after, we see sides and pieces we hadn’t realized existed.

Yesterday, I was taking a box of pictures out of my car to finally put in the house after my recent move. As moms usually do when photographs are near . . . I started to leaf through a few bunches of them. I came across a photo from the late eighties that started my mind down a very dark road. I’m not happy my thought process took the path it did, in fact, I’m a little ashamed. But pushing the shame aside, and examining the thoughts I had, is more important than any attempt to remain kind in appearance.

One of the biggest questions we have when we lose a child is why. Why? Why my child? Why in this way? Why did this happen? Why am I left living without my baby? Even if we were to be given the answer . . . would it be acceptable enough for us to completely understand and agree with the reason? To be alright with their absence? Never.

Yet we still ask.

The picture I found both instantly made me angry and guilty at the same time. I remember the day it was taken. If I close my eyes, I can hear the delicate laughter of two little girls. Second cousins who had basically grown up together. Both daughters of young single moms. Five year old girls who were more like sisters than anything else. When I read my daughter’s journal, after her death, she had a poem written about her cousin mixed in with those about life. Their relationship shaped them both, almost.

You see, one of the girls took Path A while the other, Path B. The girl who took “A” went to college, worked two jobs, and was building a future for herself. Path “B” led the other girl into a life of young motherhood, drug use, and criminal activity.

In the past, I’ve written about my inability to understand why my daughter died and my uncle who molested a large, unknown, number of young girls, still lives. When I verbalize this thought most people understand. Yes, they say. It’s unthinkable that a young innocent woman should be killed but a pedophile, recently released from prison (who has undoubtedly molested since) remains alive. It’s completely understandable that I think this man should have died long before my child, isn’t it? But what of my dark thoughts that Becca’s cousin should have died before her? Is that as easy for you to understand? Or does it make me a monster in your eyes?

As I held the photograph in my trembling hands, my mind ran a mental checklist and ticked off the accomplishments of both girls. I know both girls. I have loved both of them. Each was a small baby, held in my arms, that I kissed as she slept. So why does my mind keep saying it wishes the other had died in the place of my child?

The night Becca was killed, I sat a mile from the crash scene in my parents red pickup truck, waiting for my friend to come back after seeing my dead daughter. Waiting to hear if the woman that had been killed was really my child. I kept praying, pleading, begging that it not be Becca.

“But there is a dead girl up there. It’s someone’s daughter if it isn’t yours,” a voice in my head told me.

“I don’t want it to be Becca!!” I screamed.

The voice replied, “Then it’s another mother’s child down there.”

“I don’t want it to be anyone’s child,” I wept.

“It’s your child, or it’s the child of someone else. Which would you prefer?” it said to me.

Neither I kept saying to myself. I couldn’t imagine another mother finding out their child was dead. Yet, I can look at the picture of a child I loved, cared for . . . and can say, I wish it had been her, instead. You have no idea how difficult it is to have this thought and to have to admit to it. But there it is. My truth.

I don’t think I am a monster. I certainly don’t wish this young lady dead now. I haven’t talked to her in years. I don’t have much communication with my family so I am unsure as to what her life is like now. I hope she is doing well, I really do, because having a life is an incredible gift to waste. She’s friend requested me a few times on a popular social site but I’ve declined each time. It’s painful to see Becca’s friends attain life goals she’ll never get to . . . somehow, seeing this young woman do so would be utter anguish. Again, I’m not proud of this. It’s just my truth.

My daughter’s poem surfaces as I look at the photograph of two beautiful light haired little girls. Especially this part:

“She was my sister,
not by birth but in my heart.
Our days together consisted of
Play-Doh, swing sets, and Barbies.
And it was like the time would never end.”

Oh my Becca, I miss you so much my beautiful girl.

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.

Broken Circle

When I think of all the things my daughter will never do, and those that I will never get to do with her, my mind becomes overwhelmed. They number in the thousands. I once tried to make a list, but the more I wrote, the harder I cried. I gave up. Of all of them, there is one that hurts the most.

My daughter will never become a mother. I will not have the chance to guide her into finding her confidence with her own child. Impart my wisdom . . . share my mistakes. The passing of information, from mother to daughter, is a spiritual act. A profound transferring of generations of mothering from one to the next.

Becca was in school to become a primary education teacher. Her job, at the time of her death, was as a nanny for a little boy. My daughter loved children. Anyone who knew her, could attest to this fact. Always the first one parents would call if they needed a sitter. My daughter would have made an incredible mother.

My heart aches for the many things she’ll never do.

She’ll never call me with the excited news she’s expecting. Knowing her, she would have found a unique way of telling me. But I’ll never know what that is.

She’ll never rush into my home, clutching the ultrasound picture, bubbling over with information of whether I will have a granddaughter or grandson. I’ll never know who my first grandchild would have been.

I’ll never get to shop for anything that might make her upset stomach feel better. She’ll never ask me to hold her hair while she gets sick when the crackers don’t help.

We won’t lay in my bed, her stomach huge, talking about all the fears expectant mothers have as their day grows nearer. I won’t be able to tell her it’s ok, I had those fears, too. It’s normal, honey. But, I’ll be right here to help you.

The call to get to the hospital will not ring through on my phone. I won’t stand next to her, holding her hand, while she pushes through labor. She always told me she would need me there or she wouldn’t be able to do it. I know she would have, though.

I will never get the chance to look upon my beautiful child holding her own beautiful child. Seeing Becca lift her head and look at me. Her eyes holding the understanding that all new mothers gain. Now finally understanding all of the fears we had for them, all the reasons we were so protective, all the times we said no.

This circle will never be complete for me. And the one she would create with birthing her own daughter, will never open. I feel like an old flower in a barren garden. I released the seeds to create new flowers years ago, but they never had the chance to blossom. I have to try to keep the beauty for as long as I can because my child never will.

I have two sons who I hope will give me grandchildren, someday. A mother’s place is much different when it is her son having a child than when it’s a daughter. It’s not my place to become an intimate part of the process when it’s not my daughter in the throes of childbirth. That sacred place is where her mother should be. Not me.

I mourn this part of my life with my daughter very much. My heart aches knowing she never got to experience this incredible part of being a woman. So much was taken from her . . . and this is one of the biggest. She would have rocked.

All I can hope for is that my sons will call me when their child won’t go to sleep. Or they don’t know what to do. I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

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.

Traces Of The Past

Sometimes, it’s hard to travel the streets I know intimately without seeing ghosts. They don’t appear every time . . . but when they do, the images stay with me for days. There is one street in particular that holds many impressions of happenings from the past. For the first seven years after Becca’s death, I chose a circuitous route in order to avoid that particular road. The memories scattered along it’s length were too hard to recall.

For a brief time those faint traces of Becca’s life were comforting. The life we had all lived together existed when I could see the physical locations. As the months pass by . . . it seems as if our child’s existance is slowly being erased. The years start to accumulate and new buildings go up, old ones come down, we no longer recognize the world that once was. Was that store there when she was alive? I’ve reached for my phone to ask her, forgetting for a split second, then realize I can’t.

Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately (depending on where my level of sadness is), the main markers of our life together still stand. In the distance of about three miles there is a memory on every block of the street. From our life to the funeral home we used after her death. It’s only very recently that I have been able to travel said street without flinching, as I drove along, as I passed each memory.

And it’s recent that I have decided it’s time to leave the house she knew me in. This is an incredibly difficult decision to make. But, I know it’s what is best for me. I have worries about this move. My biggest worry? Will my child know to follow me to where I am going. I know for some this sounds silly, however, it’s a fear that is very real for me. I imagine it’s a fear for other grieving mothers, as well.

In this house, I can lay my hand on a doorknob and know my daughter touched it once. I can stand on the section of floor where she stood, letting me hold her, while she cried. If it’s quiet enough I can hear the laughter. When it’s dark, I can see her form in the shadows. As I right, this I wonder if I am making the right decision, after all. Am I strong enough to leave the space our life inhabited for so long?

When I stand in my living room for the last time I am going to say, very loudly, “Becca, it’s time to go. Come with me, honey.”

In the spring, when the earth has thawed, I am coming back and cutting up the patch of lawn where I held her for the very last time.

I’m not odd . . . I’m a grieving mom.