Gifts Given

Each one of my children has an artist’s soul. This is one of the good things I have passed down to them! I’ve watched as they’ve heard the callings of the artist’s song and turned this into a creation! From when they were all little, chubby hands wrapped around thick crayons, each spent hours drawing at our kitchen table. As they grew so did their chosen medium change. Gabriel is a very talented illustrator. Matthew can capture an image with perfection. Both can weave words into stories that will captivate the reader. They have the expressiveness that a child of mine would come by naturally.

Watching them create, through the years, has been wonderful for me. Recently, I’ve seen my twin sons talents blossom exponentially. Even using these gifts to work in media and make the world a better place. I can not wait to see what the future holds for them . . . and their art!

But, for my daughter, the story is different. All that she will create has been created. There is no waiting excitedly for the next thing she does. Her contribution to the artistic world is complete.

A few years before Becca lost her life she had started to work with oil paints. In my closet I have the small wooden box she used to carry her supplies. Little tubes of paint, a few brushes, a palette knife, and some crumpled up paper towels. I’ve opened the box, a few times, to peer inside. It’s too painful to do this too often. So, usually, I just hold it and cry.

I have a small watercolor she did, with my father, when she was about eleven. You can tell where he started the line of trees and she took over and finished them. I also have a frame which holds four crayon drawings she did when she was three or so. The red one is me, blue my mom, green my sister, and purple my father. I remember the day she drew them.

She and I were sitting at the kitchen table together. I was sketching and she was trying to copy me. At such a young age she managed to capture the important details of our likenesses very well. I love looking at the pictures and remembering that day.

I thought I had, in my possession, all of the pieces of her art that I would ever have. Then, Friday happened. And, I was given an incredible gift.

In 2004, my daughter was dating a young man named Jose. His family is Catholic. My daughter decided to make both he, and his mother, gifts. One, I knew about, the other I did not. The one I had seen was an oil painting depicting a religious figure. I remember her agonizing over whether it was good enough to give to her. I told her: it’s beautiful, honey, she’ll love it. And, she did.

I have a photograph of the painting. Looking at it makes me obsess about getting real thing. Then, the stars started to move into place to allow me to do just that!

Joseph, for those of you who don’t know, is the driver that took my daughter’s life almost twelve years ago. Joseph works with a young woman who is engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend? Old boyfriend? I’m not sure how to describe him. Anyway, there is the connection to me getting my daughter’s painting. Joseph asked the young woman, the young woman asked either her fiance or his mother, and Friday the painting was given to me. Not just one, however, but two pieces of my daughter’s art!

I told Joseph I would come to his office to get the paintings on my lunch hour. Waiting for noon to arrive was very difficult. I kept checking the clock. I was actually going to get the painting I’d wished I could have! Then, a text from Joseph, he was going to lunch and would be back at twelve thirty. Alright. I adjusted my plans. At about twelve twenty I left my job and drove to his.

When I was walking up to the double glass doors into his building I began to shake. The feeling you get when you aren’t sure your legs are going to hold you up anymore nevermind propel you forward. I entered the lobby and there was a young woman sitting behind the desk. I know I stuttered when I said I was there to see Joseph. I told her my first name and she finished up the exchange with my last. A minute passed before I realized that THIS was the woman engaged to my daughter’s boyfriend.

I was ready to pick up my daughter’s painting but I was not ready to be face to face with this young lady. Let me be clear, I do not have any ill feelings toward her, I just wasn’t prepared to see who had taken Becca’s place. As a bereaved mother, it is hard to see the world move in and fill the hole left by the death of our child. I instantly started to cry even though I fought against the tears.

Joseph was running late so I sat on a couch and waited for him. The young woman, so kind, came around the counter and asked if she could give me a hug. I think I was in a type of shock. Overwhelmed at the very least. We made small talk while I waited for Joseph.

With apologies, he came through a glass door carrying a red bag that held the painting. I hugged him, thanked him, then said I wasn’t ready to look at the painting there. I would wait until I was alone. On legs I was afraid were going to betray me . . . I hurried out of the building.

I pulled into the first parking lot I came to and wiped my tears away. I reached into the bag and there were two pieces inside! Joseph had told me there were actually two but wasn’t sure I could be that lucky until I was touching both of them. First, I pulled out the larger canvas that was the painting I had dreamed of getting back since my daughter died. There, in front of me, was the image of Mary my daughter painted in oils. She was breathtaking. Simple lines. Vivid colors. Religious imagery. Just perfect. And, now it was mine.

The second piece of art was framed in gold. A color pencil drawing of Jesus Christ with a prayer written in Spanish below it. I’d never seen this one before. A piece of my child that I hadn’t known existed was now in my possession. I can not tell you what a rare gift this is for me! Knowing that all that my child will add to the world has been done it’s amazing to find something new and unexpected.

As I held the two pieces I felt as if I was holding a bit of my Becca. An extension of her soul. It’s taken me a few days to write this blog because I selfishly wanted to keep these pieces of my child to myself. I feel contentment in having them near me. I believe they are where they belong.

I did show photographs of the art to a few people close to me. My spirit soared when two of them made the comment: wow, she paints in the same style that you do! Someone else told me that her Mary painting was very reminiscent of the painting I entered into Artprize 2015 “Our Becca”. And, incredibly, it is. My heart is warmed with the thought that I passed down my ability to paint to my daughter. I can see myself in the things my boys do, artistically, and now I can see it in Becca, as well.

I would like to extend many thanks to the people involved in getting these priceless objects to me. I imagine it wasn’t easy to give up a piece of a girl you loved, too. Thank you, Joseph, for being the bridge connecting the two sides together. I did not think my wish for the painting would be answered but it is very fitting that it was answered through you.

The world is an amazing place. Gifts are given all of the time.

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Be Brave

Today, I sent another message to the driver that killed my daughter. It’s been a little over a week since we last exchanged texts. Or has it been two? In the last response he sent me, in connection with meeting each other face to face, he said I could take my time in setting a date.

I sat with his words from a Sunday to a Tuesday. Either nine days . . . or sixteen. I guess the actual length of time doesn’t matter. What matters is why I sat passively as the days clicked past. My idleness wasn’t because I’d changed my mind in meeting him. Rather, I needed to digest what making contact with him meant. I had a lot to work through.

I’d purposefully decided to veer off course and take a new path. A path that will lead me into his world. One that will allow him to set foot in my life, welcomed. We will be creating a new reality, together. A new ending to a tragic story that could have had multiples tragedies along the way.

But, before I could do that, I had to come to terms with many ideas and feelings I’ve been carrying since January 21, 2017. Where I am now, though it’s a painful existence, it’s safe. There is a security in knowing that I feel a wrenching anguish, each day, concerning the absence of my only daughter. Today was sad, every day is sad, and tomorrow will be no different. There is an odd comfort in knowing this. A solid painful place is still solid.

So, I had to slow down and just “be” in the place I am for a little longer. For eleven years I have lived with him being the “drunk driver” in my head. He has been faceless for the entire time.  An undefined male image. As I’ve said before . . . he’s remained the twenty three year old he was when this all happened. He’s been a fleeting picture in my thoughts. One of Becca’s friends recently said to me “he isn’t a faceless monster any more”. And, indeed, he is not.

In reaching out to him I have set into motion an entirely different future for us both. It reminds me of the in between space I stood in on that cold highway wondering if it was my child who was dead. Moving from the life we all had together into the new one that didn’t include her. Waiting in the dark for the information that would catapult me into the “after”. Those precious moments from when I was told it was my Becca until someone I knew positively identified her at the crash scene. Minutes I could almost convince myself that I could stay put in the life I loved. Having someone who knew Becca, tell me that yes . . . it’s her, closed a door on our life together and forced me into a new room. It will forever be the point marking the before and the after.

Meeting him will be the same kind of moment. In a different way. I feel as if I will be exiting the dark room I’ve existed in for a little over a decade and entering another that will be much lighter. It is another before and after moment. These points are always life altering. And, I needed to rest and gain strength in order to face the shift. So, I lay on the plateau I had reached by connecting with him.

The years since her death have been heartbreaking. The path I’ve been on has some sharp ups and downs. But now I realize it’s been on a steady incline since the day she died. I never noticed this until right now. I have been ascending, all this time, to the upcoming meeting.

It’s been such a long climb up to this most recent ledge. I’ve found myself bare, bleeding, and bruised. Not sure I had enough strength to go any higher. Then, this level ground appeared and I decided I needed to rest in the “in between” for a little while. Remain in this new light pondering this new life. However, I know that I can not stay here indefinitely. It’s not the end destination for me. Or, for this story. Instead, it’s a place to take a respite from the gut wrenching reality of her being gone. And, it’s a new beginning.

I liked it here. In the in between. As I said . . . it is safely predictable. A segment of time bookended by the letter to him and meeting him. I know I can not set up household here. It’s not meant to be my new home. Being here is starting to feel wrong because it’s been too long. Not a place of deserved rest as it had initially, but a place to hide away from this big thing. Today, I finally sat up and acknowledged that my time here is done. No more inaction. The time has arrived to start climbing again.

So, in the spirit of moving toward healing, I messaged him again. I asked him what days and times work for our meeting. He said weekends. Weekend afternoons. I replied with “A Sunday”? He said yes.

There it is then. A more concrete plan. Not completely worked out . . . but forward movement.

Today I stepped firmly on the path that will lead to our meeting. I am glad I had a chance to rest because it’s made me feel strong enough to traverse this new section of my healing journey.

We will meet on a Sunday afternoon, which seems appropriate because Becca died on a Sunday, but I’m not sure of which one, yet.

Small steps give surety to my footing and balance to this journey.

Always, in memory of you my beautiful girl.

 

Excavating Muskegon

I found another piece of my Becca.

A piece I knew I would stumble upon, sooner or later, it just happened to be sooner than expected. That’s ok, though. I wasn’t completely prepared to find it . . . but all of a sudden, there she was.

Muskegon holds very little history for my children and I. In fact, it’s the place that has the least amount of history along the Lake Michigan shoreline. There are other places, beaches mostly, that we spent much more time together. One in particular, Kirk Park, is the most difficult to think about visiting. My stomach clenches and my legs feel as if they can’t hold up my weight. I’m not ready to visit there, yet.

The knowledge that there is a soccer field, in Muskegon, that we’d been to has been in the back of my mind since moving here. I think a few weeks had passed before I remembered the name of the street we took to reach it happened to be the same one I drive down to get home every day. The field is about half a mile to the right of the first intersection I pass through when I exit the highway. In my memory, it wasn’t that close the freeway at all. In trying to figure it out I recalled that we had gotten lost and driven right past it and had to backtrack a good ways!

The sad thing is: I can not remember if Becca rode with us for the long drive or if she met us out there. I can’t call her to ask, either. That is one of the things I hate, among the thousands there are to hate, about her dying. I am the keeper of all the memories . . . and when I can not remember a detail, I fail. And she is erased a little more.

My car, at the time (and many other times in our life) wasn’t the most reliable, so the drive was stressful for me. I wonder if the boys could tell? But, I wanted to at least seem as if we were as carefree as all the other families seemed to be. I should have realized we had what really matters, love.. Anyway, I remember Becca and I sitting on the small section of bleachers next to the soccer field. Was it a hot day? Or a cold one? I can’t remember. The feeling of my daughter next to me, and my boys running around on the field, is what I can remember. I am happy I have not forgotten how she feels.

Becca was always over the top when it came to emotions. She was a very dramatic girl! Which grew into her being a very dramatic young woman. One of the things I both loved and admired about her!! She was not shy when it came to expressing her feelings! Happy or sad, you knew!. On that day, long ago, my girl – the boys big sister, jumped up and rushed down the bleachers. Before I knew it, she was running up and down the sidelines, jumping like a fool, and cheering for her brothers. She possessed an ability to behave ridiculously without any fear of what she might look like to others. Becca was wise. Wiser than me. I didn’t conquer that fear (and some days I haven’t at all) until after she’d been killed. What is there to fear? I’ve lived through the worst, haven’t I?

I imagine her brothers might have been a bit embarrassed, then. I wonder if they remember this day? Or how much their sister loved them. Could they tell they were everything to her? I hope they could. I hope they both realize that now. That girl would have done anything for them. And, I know, they would have done anything they could for her, too. The three of them loved each other more than I ever could have hoped for. She was theirs and they were hers and I am so blessed to have been a part of this family.

My boys have had days when I know they could have used a big sister. For advice. Or support. Maybe kick someone’s ass. (She would have done all three, happily.) I’ve had days when her words would have jerked me out of my low places and set me right again. Every day without her is hard, but, there are days that are nearly unbearable because of her absence.

Then there are the days when I find a bit of her and, for a moment, she’s next to me. Maybe my journey isn’t meant to be moving away from the explosive impact of her death. Instead, what if it’s about going forward to excavate the pieces of our life that landed far away?

When I was young, I wanted to be an archaeologist, digging up treasures from civilizations long gone from this earth. Like most children that dream about this career, we envision ourselves in a far away land, digging up the tomb of an ancient ruler filled with gold or finding proof of a people we weren’t sure existed. My younger self (the one who was still in consistent contact with my soul) possibly knew I would be searching out a different kind of treasure one day. Searching for and gathering my most precious memories.

Discovering this piece of Becca has allowed me to remember the joy of life in that girl! Her laughter is ringing through my head! The love the three of them felt for each other is warm as it surrounds me. The happiness we all had together, even though we didn’t have much materially, brings a smile to my face and new tears to my eyes. I found a perfect moment, again.

Carrying the weight of my dead child is exhausting. But, it’s a heaviness I can not put down. Yet, picking up pieces of her while I travel makes the weight a little lighter. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but I’m glad that those of you who don’t understand, don’t.

Maybe tomorrow I will be strong enough to walk up those bleachers from years ago. Or, maybe all I will be able to do is glance in that direction. Either way . . . I’ve found gold.

My Becca.

Mending The Broken

 

 

At first glance, I know the statue I used as the featured photo doesn’t look like much. However, she’s become very dear to me.

When I acquired her it had been just over a year since I’d lost my Becca. I’d seen her, in the store I worked in, every day. Having just gone back to work after nearly a year of being unable to perform any job . . . I didn’t have the money to purchase her. When I saw her face, and it’s serene look, I knew she belonged to me. I remember hoping that she would be there when I could afford her. Thankfully, she was.

A decade ago, when I finally owned her, she was much different looking. Delicately sculpted arms reached toward the heavens. Her graceful hands curved around the thick edge of a bowl she held aloft. Almost as if she was making an offering. Or sacrifice. She was sending energy upwards.

One day, I looked at her and thought, “maybe she’s gathering whatever the universe let’s fall down to earth.”. A few days later I realized that it could be both. So, I started to place natural objects into her vessel as my own gift to the powers that be. Or, I’d put in little things I’d bought for Becca, in hopes she would see them. Every time it rained, and the bowl caught the drops, I’d dip my fingers into the water. I’d wipe the wetness, imbued with energies from above, across my forehead and over my heart.

The second winter I had her I decided to leave her outside instead of putting her in the garage. Crisp white snow piled up in the little bowl and her face looked beautiful decorated with the lacy snowflakes that fell onto it. Her dark gray figure surrounded by the pureness of the snow made life look like a black and white photograph. She was beautiful.
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Being that she was made of resin, and not cement, the weather weakened her arms. First, the bowl fell to the ground. Her arms, minus hands, still reached upward. I wasn’t sure if she was worth keeping any longer. But, her face remained peaceful.

Shortly after that both arms broke at the shoulder and dropped to the ground. She could no longer offer or receive anything, I surmised. Yet, the calm expression remained. This girl was armless and it hadn’t phased her one bit. Her delicate chin and closed eyes still faced the heavens. If she could stay centered, in the midst of her tragedy, then so could I.

In the past year I have moved five times. This statue has travelled with me to each new location. It’s one of the first things I need to unpack and find a place where I feel she belongs. Her presence is consistent.

If you look closely at her you can see the large cracks that wrap her body. More than once I’ve carefully spread glue along their edges and put her back together. On her side there is a hole that I can’t fully repair. The piece was lost when Cecily wrapped her leash around the statue’s waist and pulled her into the bushes. This hole has come to represent the piece, we all have, that is missing . . . never to be returned. We learn to live with the empty spot, don’t we? That is part of the healing, I believe, the acceptance that life will never be fully whole again. The realization that we have no other choice but to come to terms with our loss. Maybe that is the start of true healing?

When you heal you start from somewhere deep and unseen in your soul. The tiniest broken connection is mended together and a spark of the divine glows again. Then, like a ripple from a stone tossed into still water, the spark spreads outward. Broken pathways are reconnected. Our soul grows warmer as the spark travels throughout. I’ve learned it’s a slow process.A process that will continue occurring until we take our last breath.

Our new house has a large front porch with a wide staircase down to the front yard. On either side of the stairs there are wide pieces of cement meant to hold flower pots. Stacey placed a small statue, a little girl and her mother, on one side of the stairs. When I saw her put it there I said, “maybe I will put my statue on the other side!” Knowing what my statue looked like she kind of made a face. I said, “I know . . . she needs some fixing.”

But, she doesn’t, really.

She’s perfectly imperfect. My scars are represented by hers. If I fix her so that they don’t show should I fix myself as well? The line you can see across her abdomen is where the glue seeped out of the crack while she was drying. Now, that spot is stronger for having been repaired. That line is beautiful because you can see the repair! To make her physically perfect again would be a disservice to all she has been through.

Our scars are where people can reach into us. They show those around us that we are not perfect. Our inner healing can be seen beneath them. Their glow is a light to guide others. Scars, both physical and emotional, are the truth of our stories. They are the unspoken heartbreak that we have in common.

I won’t put her on the front porch, not because she is an eyesore, but because I don’t want anything to happen to her. She means too much to me.

Mend your brokenness but don’t ever hide it. It’s what brings us together.

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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.

Ordinary Days

The past few days my thoughts have particularly active in my head. This is nothing new for me. I seem to go through “dry times” when I can’t put enough words together to make a coherent sentence let alone write a blog! I often doubt, during those times, if I’ll ever have anything worth saying again. Maybe I have used up all of my words. Or, thought of everything I can think of. Weird, I know. I think it’s a writer’s thing. After time passes, the floodgates open and new thoughts and connections come tumbling to the forefront. All at once.

I carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go because I learned the hard way that not all thoughts resurface. Some of them come but once and if you don’t catch them you’ve lost them forever. I know I’ve let, what I consider gems, slip through my fingers. Hence, the notebook. I mean, if spirit is going to send me words then I damn better receive them!

Thursday, Friday, and especially today, the gates opened and the thoughts that have been forming flowed full force into my notebook. The half dozen different ideas, on the surface seemingly very different, all connected beautifully . . . each a pearl strung on the same cord. I am amazed when this happens.

In my apron pocket, at work, was the small yellow notebook covered with butterflies. In between customers I scribbled my thoughts onto clean pages. I filled up three of them. On the drive ,I let my mind nibble on each, trying to choose one for tonight’s writing. I thought I’d chosen one, pertaining to tomorrow, Mother’s Day. Upon arriving home, instead of writing, I decided to work on an art project I am entering into a local contest. The featured picture above this blog is a photograph of the project thus far. I am creating an image of my daughter in heaven.

As I was applying the plaster to the area which is the angel’s dress . . . I froze.

With a different past . . . in another future . . . this could be my daughter in her wedding dress.

The thought, the loss, what was taken from her, from us all . . . came crashing down on me like an avalanche. As I cried, but still continued on making her gown, this blog came to me nearly complete. I won’t be writing about Mother’s Day in the way I had intended.

Instead, I will be sharing my thoughts on the anguish held in ordinary days.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I know far too many women who will be barely surviving while they miss their deceased child. The pain, especially on days like this, is just to immense to be able to describe adequately. We try to find a way to make it through the day. So, we are told to make plans. Make a plan that doesn’t leave us alone. Make a plan to have someone check on you if you insist on being alone. Make a plan to visit your child’s grave, if you want, or a plan to volunteer somewhere. The most important plan is the one we have that saves our lives if it all becomes too much.

With so much emphasis on how we are going to maneuver these harrowing hours on milestone days we are unprepared for the ones that hit us in the ordinary days.We don’t see them coming until they are upon us. We are caught off guard. Our defenses are down. We don’t expect to be blindsided so when the blow lands it’s crushing. Today, for me, was one of those very ordinary days.

I often think of my daughter when I am creating. Even when the subject matter is not how I view her in heaven. When I am holding a paintbrush my mind is calm and she drifts back and forth through all of my thoughts. Today, the art and real life collided in a way I hadn’t expected. And I lost my balance.

I guess the message I hope to share in this short blog is to tell other grieving mothers to prepare as much as you can to survive the “big days”. But also keep in the back of your mind that the very ordinary moments, we all experience, will be just as painful. Actually, maybe even a little more. Our feet are upon a very difficult path, our footing is not always stable, and we are easily toppled. Expect to fall.

To those who love and support a bereaved mom: Expect her to fall. Just help her get back up, please.

She will need you again and again.

Especially on the ordinary days.

Moving Toward The Storm

One of the things I love about my state of Michigan is the thunderstorms we get in the spring. Because of Lake Michigan the weather can become severe as it blows onto the shore from the west. This makes for heaving thunder and lightning when things really get stirred up!! I don’t know about you . . . but storms affect me on a spiritual level. There is a feeling of release as the sky flashes and rumbles, and then, a cleansing when the rain falls in heavy drops onto the land. I find the storms both invigorating and calming.

I live nearly forty miles inland from the lake. Sadly, often times the storms will have lost some of their power as they reach Grand Rapids. About an hour ago I heard the meteorologist break into “regularly scheduled programming” to announce an impending storm. A thick line of orange and reds slashed the left side of the state map. There was even mention of a curve in the radar. This would be our first big spring storm and I was excited. Except about the lightning. That scares me. But that is another story for another blog.

Wanting to be able to concentrate on the incoming weather I came up to my room. (For full disclosure let me say I did go downstairs and sit by Stacey so the lightning couldn’t find me.)

Alas, as it usually does, the storm I was hoping for hasn’t materialized. Then I thought: in less than a month (hopefully) I will be living about ten minutes from the big lake and I will be able to see the storms, now in full force, as they blow into Muskegon. How lucky I am!! Then this brought me to another thought: I am moving from a city I’ve known for most of my life to one I’ve not spent much time in.

What’s interesting about this is I am moving toward something instead of away. This is huge for me. It’s also an important distinction for bereaved moms who are contemplating a relocation. Years ago, my counselor called it geographical therapy.

I had been sharing with him how I would plan my driving routes around certain areas of the city because they were too difficult to see. But then, there were the days I purposely drove through the painful streets because I needed to physically see a place Becca had been. To prove to myself that she had, indeed existed, once upon a time. During that particular visit, I had told him I just wanted to move out of the city that was haunted with my daughter’s ghost. No place, I’d said, was far enough. I wanted to run away. I didn’t understand that everything would follow me. You cannot outrun grief.

Late last year one of my sons learned this lesson, too. He was in Europe, Spain to be exact, and he found himself being overwhelmed by emotions surrounding his sister’s death. He even said the words: it doesn’t matter how far I go because it all comes with me. How right he was. He cut his trip short and came home to work through some things. Which I am very proud of him for doing.

Eleven years have passed since Becca was killed. Any move I might have made before this point would have been one of putting distance between myself and my grief. Now, I feel ready. The move is very positive and I think it is just what I need. Yet, there is trepidation.

Though seeing remnants of my daughter everywhere can be painful . . . there is also a comfort to these images. Physical places can be anchors and seeing them can help keep me grounded. On the days when it seems she was my most beautiful dream, and I am not sure she really existed, I can go to place I know she was and prove to myself that she was alive once. I need that.

My life will be completely different in Muskegon. I feel a bit guilty that I am leaving my child’s world and going to one she never knew. As if, somehow, I am erasing her from my everyday life. I’m not, I know that . . . mostly.

I’m not leaving her. Or erasing her. I am adding to my life. Enriching it with new experiences and surroundings. Fulfilling a lifelong dream to live near Lake Michigan.

And I know she is coming with me.

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