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.

 

Standing At The Edge

The day after Becca was killed there was little left of my world. Our world. What remained wasn’t recognizable. I am fairly certain I didn’t see the extent of the damage, initially, because too much debris still hung in the air. It was probably a good thing I couldn’t. The sight would have been catastrophically overwhelming. It takes time for the brain to process the enormity of utter annihilation.

After some time, when the smoke did clear, there was devastation as far as I could see. What was once solid was now rubble. What had existed so completely was simply gone. When I lowered my gaze to the earth beneath me I could see pieces of the ground falling away. I stood on the crumbling edge of a huge crater. And, there was nothing for me to grab to steady myself. Did I really want to, though? A big part of me wanted to tumble into the chasm. But,I chose not to.

Every day, since losing my daughter, has been a variation of that first one.

Upon waking, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and place my feet on the same crumbling edge. As I sit there in the early morning light, I toe the boundary of the massive hole, wondering what I should do.

There are days when the dark swirling depths beckon to me, insistently. I’m mesmerized by the images and sounds calling to me from my life before. They are like a song drifting past my ears. If I stand transfixed for too long . . . I can feel myself slipping. Currents of air flow up from the bottom and toss my hair around me. They feel like hands pulling me down. Unless I want to spiral into the darkness, I have to move. Not just move away from the edge . . . but toward something. Instead of falling . . . I have to rise.

That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Making the conscious effort to move forward because it feels like we are leaving our child behind. I’ve had to find a way to carry Becca with me. Wherever I go. Figuring out how to do this has taken a very long time. Years. It hasn’t become second nature, yet. I still have days when I have no idea how to move in any direction at all, let alone forward. So, I search for ways to be actively working within the world I now inhabit. Doing things that keep Becca beside me.

I was talking to a friend on Sunday about life after child loss. Her boyfriend lost his son two years ago and is, understandably struggling. In the midst of his pain, though, he helped me with a project that I am working on. I know that just as Becca was with me that day . . . his son stood next to him as he built canvases for me. Did the two of them stand side by side, I wonder, arms around each other? Watching their parents come together because of their deaths? Did it bring them any peace to see us working through our pain in this way? It brought me peace. I hope it brought this man peace, too. We both carried our children through the day.

In the past year I’ve gravitated toward painting angels. Not because I am religious.But because when I picture my daughter now, she’s an angel, soaring through the universe on strong white wings. There is an obsession to connecting to and being able to visualize our children now. At least there is for me. (In truth, I ask my sons to send me pictures of their rooms, wherever they are, so I can see/know where they are . . . yeah, so there’s that) I think I try to recreate Becca over and over in the paintings I do of angels. This is how I keep her with me.

The canvases built for me are going to depict my daughter as a 12ft angel. It’s an image I feel driven to create. I’ve shed many tears for this project and it has barely started. It’s going to be healing, I hope, for both myself and my surviving children. And, others.

There is a contentment in finding your way to carry your child. Keep searching for it. I promise it’s there. And, even on the days when you don’t how to move forward . . . believe a reason to keep going will be revealed.

Tomorrow, I know I will awaken and place my feet on the same edge as I did the day before. I’ll hear the murmurings from below. A siren song. I don’t want to crash on the rocks. I have a purpose, for now. I have a way to carry my Becca with me.

Instead of being pulled down, I will let the warm air currents carry me to the skies and I’ll soar.

Maybe, I’ll see Becca!

Because We Must

A handful of years back, I had a friend tell me that I always bring up my daughter’s death in conversations. His next statement caused much inner turmoil: It seems you see yourself as a grieving mother before anything else. Did I? Was that wrong to do? Am I wallowing? An attention seeker? Do I want pity? Am I being offensive? Off-putting? Am I completely messing up this grieving thing??

I thought about what he’d said to me. I DID bring it up in a lot of conversations. About that he was right. But, was it inappropriate to do so? I can not tell you how many hours I chased the reasons, and answers, to this question.

Initially, I was hurt by the words. The anger came later.

Was he telling me I needed to stop talking about my daughter’s death? How could he expect me to do that? Did everyone want me to stop talking about Becca? When is the right time to mention my dead child? Does someone need to ask me, “Is one of your children deceased?”, before I bring her up? Is there a handbook of grief protocol I didn’t receive? Not only was I reeling from her absence in my life . . . I now had to remain quiet about it. Maybe he was right, maybe I shouldn’t bring it up in polite social interactions. Screw that.

Then the righteous anger came. Yeah, so what, I DO bring her death up a lot. F*ck him, he doesn’t know. Who the Hell is he to tell me I talk about her too often! Both of his children are alive . . . so he can take his observation and shove it. What I do, what I say, is none of his business. He can f*ck off for all I care!

As the anger dissipated, I started to try to figure out the emotions connected to this situation. First, why did it bother him so much that I did this? Obviously, he felt uncomfortable. He could see the awkward looks on other’s faces as I spoke. Second, why did I feel the compulsion to do this. What he said was true, and after taking the tone of judgement out of it . . . I wanted to know the reason.

Was he uncomfortable because child loss is a terrifying possibility and he didn’t want to think about it? Maybe. The truer answer, probably is, we (read society) don’t handle grief well. It’s foreign because it’s been removed, for the most part, from our life. Years ago, generations ago, death was a part of everyday life. Most families had many children because it was understood some might not make it to adulthood. Child loss was more real, to society as a whole, a hundred years ago. Not so in today’s world.

Does the feeling of awkwardness, in others, stem from our grief being too intimate for them to see? Have we forgotten how to behave when someone else is emotionally hurting? Is our raw pain just too much for outsiders to handle? Yes, yes, and again, yes.

When someone bares themselves to another person, there is vulnerability from both sides. Being vulnerable can be very uncomfortable for many. In our world today, there are so many ways to interact with someone else, that isn’t face to face. We are forgetting how to just “be” with another person. And, as far as the rawness of child loss pain, it can be very overwhelming for those who don’t understand it. Scary, even.

For a while, after my friend made this observation, I tried not to bring up my deceased daughter. I didn’t want others to look at me as if I might be a bit off. But, as I rolled this truth around in my head, I came to realize, there are very real reasons I do this. I needed others to connect with me on this level. I was in a lonely and desolate place. I had to share the pain, share her story, otherwise it remained a silent nightmare. In a world that no longer held her . . . I needed her name to be heard.

The biggest reason, though, was because her death was a monumental life event for me. Think about the huge events that happen to a large number of people: 9/11, the Challenger explosion, any mass shooting. We all gather, in groups, and say, “did you hear?” or “can you believe it?” We share the pain we are all feeling. We need to know we are not in it alone. It’s the same for us. We need a connection. We need validation. We need understanding. We need care.

Becca made me a momma. Her birth completely transformed who I was. It would be foolish for me, or anyone else, to think her death didn’t do the very same thing. Losing Becca changed me at the deepest levels of my being. Of course I am going to talk about it. About her. About my experience on this path. I have no other choice. And, that’s ok.

Let us talk. We need to share. Please . . . listen. Laying ourselves bare, in front of you, is not easy for us, either. Those first months, when we are desperately trying to fit the truth into our hearts, we need to be connected to others. It helps us to accept our new reality. It’s where we start to heal.

We need you.

 

Daffodils

Roughly, four days had passed before I realized the small park, very near where I am currently staying, was “THE park”. Maybe because it’s been years since I’ve seen it. Or, because when I picture this spot in my head . . . the leaves are green and the gentle slope of land is covered with bright yellow daffodils. Today the trees, barren for winter, don’t offer much in the way of cover from the cars passing close by. The houses seem too near for there to be any privacy. Then again, I was much smaller on that late summer afternoon when my uncle took my hand and I waded through the flowers and into the trees.

I am not generally a “silver lining” type of person. Trying to find the good in every situation can be exhausting. And, sometimes, there just isn’t any good to be found. Not everything betters us. Or makes us stronger. A shitty situation, is sometimes just that . . . a shitty situation. Period.

But, other times . . . events, as horrific as they are, can make us stronger.

Before my daughter was killed, one of the worst things that had happened to me was being sexually abused as a child. It seemed to affect nearly every single area of my life. From getting my period the first time . . . to giving birth to my daughter. And, everything in between.

To me, it seemed, every bit of information brought into my brain passed through the truth of sexual abuse. My thoughts were invaded by it. My self identity was shaped by it. The image, looking back at me from the mirror, was clouded by it. I just couldn’t escape, the effect it had on me, in any area of my life. It was a part of every decision I made. Always present. There was no freeing myself from it’s grasp.

Until Becca was killed. Then, it was a non issue. No longer did it matter. For the first time in my life, the thoughts of being forced to perform oral sex on an adult, were gone. Replaced by the the truth of my daughter’s violent death. Suddenly, I could live with the brutality of sexual abuse, as long as that was as bad as life got. I learned, on a cold January night, that it could get so much worse.

The transition from one trauma being the spider web my life was caught in, to the other, happened in an instant. As quickly as laying the old cloak aside to don the new. Everything changed. My mind shifted.

It’s sunny outside. Yes, but my daughter is dead. Dinner is ready, how can I eat, my child is gone. You need to go to take a shower . . . why, she isn’t coming back, ever. Diane, comb your hair, we have to go out. My hair doesn’t matter when my child has been killed. Your boys need you . . . ok, but they will probably die soon, too. There was no end into which the painful truth of my dead child could be worked immediately. There IS no end, actually. And just like that . . . the spider web became stronger.

There were times, in my young years, when I had to find a way to escape what was physically happening to me at that moment. I would locate the door, inside my mind, that allowed me to shut out the truth. I’d hide behind it until it was safe to come out. I couldn’t do this with the death of my child.

She was just on the other side of every single door. I could hear her laugh. Or, catch a glimpse of her through the small window in the wood. She disappeared around each corner, just as I was about to reach her. The edge of shirt sleeve slipping through my fingers. She was achingly close . . . but on the other side of the universe at the same time.

A handful of years, after her death, the memories of sexual abuse started to surface again. Tangled in with the heartbreaking thoughts of my deceased child. Initially, my thoughts drifted toward what my uncle had whispered to me every time: You aren’t worth loving. You don’t deserve love. No one will love you.” I interpreted these as: You didn’t deserve a daughter so she died. You weren’t a good enough mother . . . so she was killed. I thought, “Enough!!”

I’ve had a lot of inner dialogues with myself since then. What I’ve come to believe is this: I am strong enough to survive the loss of my only daughter because being sexually abused led me to my inner strength at a very young age. What a weird silver lining, right? Don’t think I am thankful for the hell I experienced as a child of four, five, six . . . I am not. However, I can recognize what I learned during that time and acknowledge that it helped me heal in my adult life.

I knew I had doors in my mind. Because of my uncle, I knew how to find them. There was strength behind those doors. A will to live. Hope. Peace. Courage. And, healing.

A few days ago I saw a pot of cheerful yellow daffodils, and without a second thought, I bought them. They no longer remind me of that late afternoon, decades ago, when I was violated in the park.
My daughter’s beautiful smile, that shone like the sun, is what I see in their petals. And as always, each moment in my day is passed through Becca’s having been my child.

As an added note: I don’t always mention my twin boys in my writing on grief. But, I wanted to share that I have flowers that make me see their smiles, too. Sunflowers. Tall and strong. Each like the other . . . but so unique, as well. Open faces turning toward the day, each day, with courage.

In Her Presence

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the presence of my daughter around me. Tonight, I think, my soul was peaceful enough to allow her essence to reach mine. And, I felt complete.

The first year after Becca’s death I had dreams, which I now know were visits, from my recently deceased child. One of them, in particular, made my heart hurt even more than it always did. My daughter showed me how much energy it takes for their spirits to visit ours, especially when they are newly crossed to the other side.

In the beginning of the dream, she seemed full of light, her joyful self. As it progressed, though, she dimmed. Her colors became washed out. Curled up, she was exhausted, and very weakly, she explained that the energy she had to concentrate just to reach me shut her soul down for a while. I felt horrible at the thought of causing her more pain, more sadness, because I selfishly wanted her to visit me every night. I remember I kept telling her how sorry I was. Before she evaporated, she told me that even though I couldn’t see her . . . she would always be just on the other side.

Even, she explained, when she learned how to travel through the universe, she’d still be next to me.

Tonight, I know she was here. She’s still here, but for a moment, I could smell her. I could feel her.

When her scent enveloped me, I simply said, “Hello, my Becca”. And I smiled. I placed my hand, palm up, on the couch next to me and I felt a warmth solidness brush my skin. My daughter touched me. I touched her.

The moments before her appearance, I was sitting on the couch, with Cecily next to me. For those of you who don’t know . . . Cecily is my black lab shepherd mix. Near my feet was my other dog, Pepi. Under the huge window, Walter the cat, was on his back, his feet up in the air, relaxing. I was watching the moths fly around the light at the edge of my covered patio. I thought, they seem to be dancing. Light tinkling came from the half dozen wind chimes hanging just beyond my door. Past the edge of the patio, across a narrow dirt path, lay the dark woods. I was taking stock of how grateful I am at this moment. I thought, “I’m happy”. My animals surrounding me, nature everywhere I could see, I felt content. Almost everything was right with my world. Almost.

That’s the caveat grieving mothers often feel they must express when acknowledging joy in their lives. Yesterday, I even said to my sons, “I’m as happy as I can be without Becca.”. That meant a lot to them. It means just as much to me. But, that’s an different blog, back to this part of my story.

Immediately, after I thought how content I was, my mind snapped to, “I wish Becca was here, then it would be perfect.” And then, she was. I thought, I think I feel her presence. At the same time, her smell washed over me. Not the Victoria Secret perfume she loved, but the smell that clung to her when she came rushing through the door as a child after a summer’s day of play. Sunshine and innocence. The scent of her laughter warmed my skin. She was tangible. Touchable. So, I lay my hand down and felt her pudgy little girl fingers touch my own. The moment was perfect. For a minute, my world was completely as it should be. Then she was gone.

The past six months have been full for me. Both, with wonderful things, as well as difficult ones. All the “noise” has kept my soul from being still. Like static on a radio station. I believe the chaos, that had been in my life, prevented me from being able to receive the gift of her presence. Whether it’s good or bad, continual activity seems to interfere with souls coming together. The signs of their presence can be so very small . . . if we are distracted by the minutiae of every day life, we might miss them.

When my soul is at ease . . . it’s more open, and able, to connect on levels that have little to do with ugliness of life. Pain, it seems, is a part of every soul’s journey. Yet, it brings gifts with it’s arrival. Not everyone loses a child, but none of us get through life without pain disrupting it’s flow. It is the human condition. Joy and pain.

Tonight, I was blessed to feel utter joy. Blessed to feel my daughter, again. Has she learned how to visit me without it depleting her entirely? Have I been too busy, too distracted, to feel her presence? Did the planets, in my world, have to align in order to open the path? I don’t know. Maybe the right amount, in my life, is calm enough to allow the meeting. My peace was her beacon.

So, as I write this, I’m happy. Tears are streaming down my face. All of the animals are within touching distance from me. The moths are still dancing. The leaves, caught at the edge of the light, sway back and forth.

And, the wind chimes sound like my little girl’s laugh.

I love you, my Becca.

In The Darkness

There are days, when I wake up and think, “It’s going to be a good day. I’m going to do the best I can.” Then I go about doing just that. My best may not be very much . . . but it’s what I have to give.

Then there are the days that I wake up and think, “Why the hell even bother”. On those days, I may still try . . . but the attempts are hollow. Today is one of those days. Why effing try.

Bereaved mothers seem to have a greater need to help others. To feel as if they have a “mission” to fulfill before they leave to join their child. Or children. There has to be a meaning to our being alive and our child, not. Doesn’t there?

So, many of us fill our time with projects, foundations, and non profits to keep ourselves busy. Often naming them after our deceased child in the attempt to keep their names alive. In order to keep their dreams alive . . . we usually choose to pursue something our child was passionate about. Whether it be soccer or theatre. Or a small shop that gives away free clothing, in a non humiliating store front, in memory of a little boy. We know our child would have made a difference in this world, had they survived, so we pick up their mantle and carry it as far as we can.

Doing this, working toward a better world to honor our child, helps on some of our hardest days. The darkest days, though, those most bleak and black times even this doesn’t seem enough to carry us along. I’ve had times when I feel enraged that I am working so hard to make a too often times ugly world, better. To what end? For what purpose?

No matter how many times I donate my artistic abilities to help someone raise money for their organization . . . my daughter isn’t coming back. I can help single moms with easy stuff, formula or diapers, but this won’t bring Becca home to me. My “good deeds” are not being tallied somewhere so that when I earn enough, I can cash them in for my child’s return. Again, why bother?

There are days when the reason to continue is obvious. Hugging my sons. Hearing a thank you for some small kindness. Knowing my presence helped make a part of someone’s journey easier. Or less lonely. We are all in this life together. This is the biggest reason I can find: we are meant to lift each other when we see struggles. Some days, this isn’t enough.

Today is a dark day. I don’t feel needed, or particularly wanted, so what’s the point? I know this is the small voice that is weak and scared. And angry. I’m aware we all have this voice. Somehow, in grieving moms, it cuts more deeply in our souls. We tend to listen more closely to it than other moms, I think.

I wish I had some inspirational words to share here. Something about finding the “silver coffin lining” in our child’s death. Today, I can’t find the words. I’m angry. I’m lonely. I’m unsure of what life holds. I’m afraid of the next loss I’ll have to face. Yesterday, I felt a security. This evening, I don’t. It’s what our life is now.

I can say this: as the dark days cast their shadow across our lives and we feel hopeless, just as surely as we know they will appear, we can count on the good days being sprinkled into the mix. Just hold on during the inky black moments . . . and wait for the pin prick of light which will reveal itself within the darkest times.

Then walk toward that.

Mother’s Days After

18578515_10209592102466738_978814193_nI haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I’d have to check to see just how many days it’s been. The exact number isn’t important, but the reason I haven’t written is. To me. Mother’s Day just hits me like a punch in the stomach. The days leading up to it are full of anxiety, the day of is difficult, and the days following are full of sadness.

This past Sunday marked the tenth time the day of celebration for mothers passed without my daughter. As I’ve done since the first one, I pulled out a few things I have from past holidays, that she gave me. I ran my fingers over the paper of homemade cards as if they were made of precious materials. To me, they are. These things are irreplaceable. Let me take a moment to give you some advice: save it. Save it all. One day you might be happy you did.

Though this holiday is difficult for me . . . I know it’s harder, in a different way, for newly bereaved mothers. The first one is full of moments of denial. This can’t be real, you tell yourself. Images of last Mother’s Day flash into your mind as you line up the time, to a year before, and think about what you were doing with your child. Every piece of your soul aches to travel back to that day. Any day before your child died, really. Then the weight of the new reality crushes those memories with it’s truth.

On Sunday, I sat at a small Mother’s Day celebration that my friend’s family had. As we chatted, sitting in a circle in the shady backyard, I couldn’t help but notice the four kids sitting across the expanse of grass. Cousins, laughing with each other. Except, one of them was missing. You see, there used to be five. Until one was killed. Her mother, my friend, sat next to me, quiet. Curled into herself.

A few times, I asked her if she was alright. She said yes. We always say yes. The rest of the family, though aware of the huge hole that was left by murder, had all of their children around them. I know they carry immense and indescribable sadness but they can’t experience the pain that my fried carries for the loss of her daughter. I know they understand that holidays will be difficult . . . but I am not sure others can truly understand the depth of our pain on such days. Seeing my friend steeped in her pain, pain that was so real it flowed off of her in waves, broke my heart. I wish I could make it better for her. That I could make it better for all the bereaved moms I know. But I can’t. I can barely make it better for myself.

The Saturday night before Mother’s Day, my friend and I accompanied another mom to the site where her child died last year. She’d spread out a blanket under a huge pine tree, a tree that must have been over a hundred years old, and talked about her son’s last day. We listened to her as she shared her son’s death story. We all need to share the death story of our child. The creek slipped quietly by below us as tears fell upon our cheeks. There is sacredness in these moments. A connection to each other and to life. And death. It’s an honor when mothers share these stories with us . . . let us into their very small and intimate circle of pain.

Being a mother is a sacred act. Raising a child, caring for them, loving them, protecting them, teaching them . . . it’s the most important thing we can do with our lives. Both joy filled and heartbreaking.

The days that led up to Mother’s Day were filled with apprehension for me. I know it’s going to be hard . . . I just don’t know how hard. So I worry I might not make it through. The day of, though it’s been a decade, still brings memories from previous celebrations into my mind. I wonder if she knew how much I love her. If she knows the cards her little hands made were among the most precious gifts I ever could have received. Does she see me get them out every year and cry as I read them over and over. I hesitate as I look at the gifts from my sons, wondering if I should save them “just in case” and then think I am courting death if I do.
The days after are hollow and painful. There is a type of re-realization that Becca is gone for good. She’s not coming back. Even if I cry to the heavens that it’s been too long since I’ve seen her so she should be sent back. It’s a kind of bottoming out . . . again.

I’ve traveled far upon the path in my grief journey. I learn new things every day. But Mother’s Day will forever be one of things I circle back to again and again. One of the many times each year that I need to enter a space I’ve been in before, and work through it again.

Then I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to help the moms who are new to the grief of child loss. Next year, if you know someone who is a bereaved mother, please reach out to her. You will add some happiness to a sometimes very dark day by letting her know she is still a mom. And is remembered as one.