Place of Peace

As I have shared, over the past eight months, I’ve had the incredible chance to live closer to Lake Michigan. It’s not just an beautifully immense body of water to me. I am, somehow, connected to it. I can’t remember the first time I saw it yet it’s somehow always called to me.

My small family, the three kids and I, spent a handful of days each summer on the beach. Soaking up the sun, generally getting pretty good burns as we are all fair, and playing in the waves. That is the Lake Michigan most people know. Summer on the lake.

Then by accident, and divine intervention of some sort, I found myself at the lake on a frigid winter day. Everything that came with the death of my child was too much for me to handle. The enormity of the truth of it all was an avalanche that I needed to escape. I got into my car and drove. Most of the drive, I remember, I was in tears. I don’t remember, however, making the conscious decision to go to the park where I ended up. Kirk Park. The one we always went to as a family. But, there I was.

The natural surroundings were an outward manifestation of my anguished grief. Destructive and raw. The waves crashed and the seagulls screamed. Strong winds pulled at the edges of my coat and tangled my hair into a mess. I wasn’t physically prepared for the intensity of the elements. No mittens. A bare head. Tennis shoes. Yet, I don’t remember feeling cold. Now, with years between that moment and this, I think it’s because my soul was frozen with shock.

I screamed. I raged. I swore at the heavens. I hated.I sobbed. I contemplated walking into the water and letting the waves end my pain. I didn’t cover my face as it was sandblasted by the frozen bits of earth. I didn’t have a desire to protect myself from anything. At that moment the raving beach was me.

Over the years, since that first visit to the beach after Becca’s death, I’ve come to love the lake in the winter. More so than I do in the summer. Often visiting it once or twice a season because it was a 45 minute drive from where I lived. Now, it isn’t. I can hop in the car and in less than ten minutes I am standing on the lake that is so much a part of me and my healing journey.

Which is exactly what I did yesterday. And, I found a lake that I have never seen. Instantly I felt a deeper connection than the last time I was there.

I won’t go into details, but it bears mentioning, that we’ve experienced a blast of Arctic air over the past week. A polar vortex it’s been called. I underestimated the change it would cause to the lake.

Yesterday was gray. Everything seemed to be in shadow. A mist, heavy enough to leave clothing wet and hair damp, hung in the air. The piles of snow in the yard were tinged with the color of soot. The day wasn’t particularly pretty in any way. I wasn’t prepared for the beauty the lake would show me.

I drove the road that follows the lakeshore, through a small neighborhood, and spills out into the along beach. The view in front of me was monotone. The foggy mist was a film in front of everything and made it appear flat. Dark, almost black, bare trees stretched toward a pale sky. The snow was dirty here, too. Even the snow fences, a bright red at the beginning of the winter season, were dulled to almost nothing. And, where was the water?

There were a few other people parked in the spots closest to the pier. I was the only one who got out of my car and started toward the lighthouse. I’ve always been a bit careless. In my defense, my being needed to get as close to the water as I possibly could. Turns out, there was no chance of me getting anywhere near the water. In fact, the waves were so far from shore I could neither see nor hear them. I’ve never been at the lakeshore when there was no sound whatsoever. Until yesterday.

When I got far enough away from the parking lot there was silence. Not just a moment of quiet. Complete and utter stillness. Even the rain falling made no noise. It was as if the world was wrapped in cotton batting.

I walked out as far as I could on the cement pier. I’ve never been to it’s end because as much as I love the lake I respect her power. Water gives life and takes it away and I am no longer hoping to die. When I reached the farthest point I could . . . I just stood still, closed my eyes, and was.

When I turned my back from the parking lot the terrain looked as if I was on another planet entirely. The mounds of sand, snow, and ice were endless. As far as I could see seemed otherworldly. Ice at my feet. Then sand mixed with snow. Followed by ice stacked on ice covered with a sand snow mix. Even farther out evenly spaced peaks of ice chunks. I wonder how tall they were? I wanted to see where the still moving water washed up and over adding to their size with each wave. I wanted to hear the waves crashing loudly and the ice groaning under its own weight. I needed the movement that the lake always provides.

Then I realized . . . I didn’t.

This was exactly how my soul really felt, at this moment, if I stopped and listened to it.

Calm. Peaceful. Content?

With no noise to drown out my thoughts I could clearly hear what my soul was whispering to me.

“You are at peace.”

Before I could throw out all the reasons I shouldn’t be at peace . . . my soul continued.

“This is where you are. Today. You can not bring her back. You have accepted that fact. Your sons are happy and healthy. You’ve faced the unknown by connecting with Joseph. You are actively cultivating a calm existence. This is contentment.There will be hard days, always. But for now . . . let it be.”

And then I cried. Tears of missing Becca. Others of joy for my two boys. Out of gratefulness for what, and who, I have in my life. And, because I finally know what peaceful contentment feels like.

I know I won’t feel this always. As my soul said: there will be hard days. I will rage again. Feel hopelessly broken beyond repair. Endure the heavy weight of empty arms longing for my child.

But, for that one moment yesterday, I was still and my soul was well.

“You’ve found a real place of peace, at the lake, haven’t you?’ my son Gabriel said to me.

Indeed, I have. Both at the lake and within myself.

 

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On Writing

There are multiple times each day in which an idea for a blog presents itself. They often come at inopportune moments, though. I used to tell myself I would remember them for later but I rarely did. To remedy this, I’ve taken to carrying multiple pads of paper to scrawl thought segments on (one pad would be too easy!) and I also send myself voice messages if one of the many pads isn’t handy. It’s not a perfect system, by any means, but I am remembering more than I forget now!!

Being constantly given connections for writing balances on a very thin line between healing and falling. My goal is to use my writing to heal myself, and hopefully help others, but at times the subject matter is just too heavy to delve into each day. On the days when it is just too much to write about I feel a tremendous guilt and shame. The fact that I am letting down my daughter keeps screaming through my head. Shouldn’t she be the first thing I do every day? Every time?

I’m reminded by the inner voice, if the wound is deep you can not let it scab for too long or the injury will become infected and start to fester. But, I reply, if I continually pick at it I’ll bleed constantly. A bereaved mother, trying to heal, is walking a razor’s edge. To slide down either side hurts.

The truth is: grieving the loss of a child is exhausting. Another truth: we must take short breaks from the healing work or we will wear ourselves down to nothing. Refilling our well is necessary to do the hard work we know we will face. It’s an ebb and flow.

When I need to step back from writing about my journey of loss, love, and healing, I find some other creative outlet to spend time doing. Sometimes, it’s writing about something else. For nearly two years I wrote my own zombie apocalypse story! My main characters were so far from who I am . . . a female dog trainer who is blind and a 14 year old Indian boy . . . that I don’t have to think about myself or my situation. My mind swirls with ideas and spirals down into back stories for each character! I can lose hours writing imaginary worlds filled with people I create and name. If you’ve never tried it . . . I suggest you do!!

Do you know why I suggest you do? No matter what we are writing . . . we will find healing. The words you put to paper need not be for anyone but yourself. They don’t even have to spelled correctly and your punctuation doesn’t matter. Just let the words flow! Let the the thoughts loose! Make up a character and put her through outlandish situations!! You’ll be surprised what you end up with! Some of what you read, after you’ve written it, will ring true to who you are now. You may find answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Or find questions in things you thought you understood fully. You will come to know yourself deeper and connect with the world around you, wider.

I recently wrote a blog about the century old house I am living in. The Irish part of me is drawn to the history the walls have seen. I imagine the sorrows they have absorbed. Laughter that bounced around in the corners. Little lives that took their first breath here . . . and those that took their last. Growing families and stories unfolded. I desperately wish the walls would whisper the houses secrets to me. Maybe she is but I don’t know how to hear them. I’ll have to figure out how to listen more clearly. Or more deeply.

The first week I was here I saw the bottom edge of a curtain ruffle itself from one side to the other. I was walking from my bedroom into the dining room and to the kitchen. Nowhere near the parlor. The ceiling fan was broken at the time. None of the animals were in the room and all of the windows were closed. I had hung a lace curtain over the rather large window that faces the neighboring home. I glanced in that direction when, from left to right, it appeared someone had run their hand along the bottom seam. It just fluttered out, rippled along, and then laid flat again.
At the time, it unnerved me slightly, but now I’ve come to think maybe it’s one of the home’s former occupants. A sweet lady, from the early 1900’s, admiring the lace and joyful to see the home being returned to its former finery. And, just like that . . . I’d created another character!

In my Google drive I have four unfinished blogs waiting for my attention. Each day that passes, without me opening up the documents and writing, adds anxiety to my already anxious existence. I know I must complete each one. They were important enough to start and they deserve my full attention to reach their completion. Upon waking, I have every intention to do so, but lately I’ve had shitty follow through. I silently yell at myself for not making the ramifications from my daughter’s death a priority. Losing her was the biggest thing that has happened to me. It should be of utmost importance to write about. But I get stuck. A form of writer’s block, I guess.

Today, I told myself: You are going to write. Period. Instead or attacking one of the half finished blogs I started an outline for an idea I have for a novel. A story inspired by the blog I wrote about hidden healing. A novel I am going to write with my cousin, Linda. The outline maps out characters and time periods and important events. As I was writing it . . . dozens of scenarios presented themselves to me and I couldn’t write fast enough!! I thought, it feels so good to be writing about something that has nothing to do with my child dying! (insert tremendous guilt here). I was checking historical dates and meeting new characters as they formed in my head and it was magnificent!!

Then, as I re read what I’d written, I realized (again) I was writing about myself over and over. The words held the questions that I wanted answered. If I re read it again, maybe there are answers I haven’t been able to see.

In the zombie story I mentioned above I have a character named Allison. She is a mother of four who lost her husband in the first wave of dead. The first zombie she encounters happens to be the young daughter of a neighbor. Allison decides to end the child’s unnatural condition and upon doing so, takes the little girl’s bracelet to give to her mother, if she ever sees her again. This starts Allison’s “job” in the apocalypse. She believes her meaning in life is to collect artifacts from those she must kill and return them to the relatives. To let them know their loved one is no longer here, in any condition, and they were treated with mercy at the end.

I find myself in those paragraphs. A part of me exists in Allison’s character. Just as a part of me can be seen in the blind heroine. And, maybe, the Indian boy she is traveling with is me, too.

I can assuage my anxiety by continually realizing that writing, any writing, is working through my grief. Whether it’s a blind woman, a disenchanted psychologist, or a spirit . . . it all stems from my mind, my experiences, and my existence. I still feel bad that I haven’t been able to sit down and tackle one of the blogs. The shame and guilt is still there.

But at least I sat and wrote today.

The secret is to start.

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.

 

Whispered Messages

I am from a family of strong women. These strong women are creatively gifted. One of these women, in particular, seems to be another piece of me. A piece I didn’t know I was missing . . . but now, can’t imagine living without. This bit of writing exists because of a blog she recently wrote that made me consider, and write, a reply. Thank you, Linda, for knowing what I need when I don’t.

Growing up, my life was filled with rich imagination. Part of it, I think, was a way for me to escape the more difficult times in my childhood. There was another part, however, that knew (without any doubt) there were “others” in existence. Call them what you will: spirits, energies, beings, angels. Deep in my soul, I knew, we were not alone. Throughout my life, I’ve had instances when my inner voice has offered guidance . . . and I’ve listened. Other times, I turned away and learned well needed lessons. We all have this voice.

My cousin, Linda, asked in her blog if anyone else had heard these voices . . . and what they meant to them. Oddly, or appropriately, I’d been considering the return of my inner whisperings quite a bit lately. So, her question was a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with myself that past few months!

I started my reply with a resounding “Yes!!” Then I went on to explain, my voice left me after my child was killed. It was no longer there. And I didn’t miss it. As it’s slowly returned, I’ve wondered why it went away in the first place.

One day, last year, I was walking through a store and I saw a sign that read simply “it is well with my soul”. I read it over a few times. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the words. And, I thought, it IS well with my soul. Then . . . I had the internal chastising all grieving mothers do: how can it be well with your soul when your child is dead? What kind of mother are you??

With a start, I realized, my soul is mending. Somewhere, deep inside, the broken pieces are starting to fit together. Hmmm, broken pieces. Is that why I couldn’t hear my voice for so long? My pain, rattling around my soul, like a muslin bag filled with shattered china teacups? Was the noise just too loud for anything else to rise above its volume? Maybe.

I also have to consider the fact, I turned my back on my inner guidance out of rage. Deep seated anger because it only whispered a small part of a bigger truth. Only half of the information I needed to know.

Around ten o’clock, on the night my daughter was killed, I had an ominous feeling settle on my shoulders. I knew something big was going to happen . . . but I didn’t know what. Feeling so strongly that my life was going to change drastically, I told my manager I wouldn’t be back to work. Four hours later, my child was killed on a cold dark stretch of highway. Why wasn’t I given THAT little piece of information? Why the bigger picture, but not the small part that would have saved her life? What kind of inner voice is that half assed??

How many bereaved mothers KNEW their child had died before they were told?

I am thankful to say that the inner whisperings of my soul, my heart, my guide, my ancestors, my kindreds . . . are with me again. I am also very grateful to have found, a piece of my family, that can help me on journey.

Grieving mommas, find other strong women, to help support you. This is a solitary journey, the loss of our child, but it’s one that can not be taken alone.

This Is Not Goodbye

“Now I’m the one going ahead . . . I’m not afraid . . . I can be brave, too . . . “ – Beth, Little Women

For a years, I’ve gone over nearly every aspect of losing my child. I imagine there are ones I’ve not thought of yet . . . but I have the rest of my life for them to find me. I’ve healed in some ways, not completely (never completely) and there are others which I’ve not inspected too closely. Simply, I’m not sure I will survive them. Yet, they stay visible in my peripheral vision . . . waiting their turn. This one, the one I’m attempting to write about, has been heavy on my heart since the moment I knew my daughter was dead.

Each detail of that night is like an autumn leaf that I keep pressed between the pages of the book of our lives. Most are worn from being held, in my hands, multiple times. If I turn to one page, in particular, one I’ve skipped past dozens of times . . . the leaf is in perfect shape. Vivid colors, the veins still strong. The smell brings me right back to the moment my boyfriend stepped out of the back of the police chaplain’s car.

I could tell by the look on his face that the young woman’s body was that of my daughter, Becca. As he held me, he told me they had allowed him to kiss her still warm forehead. I kept screaming, “I need to help her . . . I need to help her!” Later, he told me her spirit had ridden back with him in the car. I believe him. I asked him what she looked like. He answered, confused . . . lost.

When I think about this, anguish rises in soul and I can’t help but think I failed her at the most important time of her life. The end.

Mothers teach their children about life. I wasn’t given the chance to help her through her death.

When I took Becca to school, the first day of kindergarten, she and I both cried. She didn’t want me to leave and I didn’t want to go. But, I knew at the end of the day, she’d be home again. I could talk to her about all the new things. She would know I would be there to pick her up and she could trust that I wouldn’t leave her. Our time apart was more acceptable because we would hold each other again. This made the separations much easier on both of us.

Her death, I couldn’t hold her after and tell her everything was going to be alright. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what that conversation would have been like.

“Mom, mom . . . what happened?”

“Come here,” I’d say, taking her in my arms, “you were killed in a car crash, honey.”

“But why? Why? How?” she would ask, confused, as I held her close to my chest.

“A drunk driver killed you . . . oh baby, I’m so sorry!”

“What do I do???? Where do I go? Do I have to leave you?? I can’t leave you, momma, the boys, I can’t go. I’m afraid. I don’t know what’s there!”

“I know honey, and I’m so sorry I can’t go with you. I don’t want you to either, but we don’t have a choice, my Becca.”

“But what do I do??? How do I go??? How do I leave you??”

“You have to be brave, sweetie. You have to be a brave girl. I know you can do that. I know you are strong enough to do this. It’s scary, I know, but just like when you went to school . . . I’ll see you again after, I promise.”

“Mommy . . . momma . . . I don’t want to go!!”

“You have to turn around and walk away, honey . . . “ even with these words, neither of us loosens our grip.

I take her face in my hands and look into her beautiful green blue eyes, “You have to go before all of us. I didn’t want it this way . . . but it’s what we have to do right now. I will always be your momma and you will always be my Becca. My only daughter. The one who made me a mother. I know you are scared, I’m scared to be without you . . . but our love will never fade. You are beautiful and smart and strong and brave. I promise I will be there with you one day. We will all be there. The boys will come. We will all be together again, I promise.”

I can feel her head shake slightly in my hands.

“Go now, my Becca, go and wait for us. Be strong. Soar through the heavens. Glide past stars. Dance in the winds that blow around the entire world. Play. Laugh. Visit us when you are lonely. And know, you are always loved. It’s been such a privilege to be your mother . . . you were my first true love, my girl.”

I would gently kiss her forehead and let my hands drop to my side, as my daughter turned away and bravely walked into her heaven.

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.