Creating Heaven

The past few weeks have been chaotic. In both good, and not so good, ways. But, that’s life, right? It is indeed. So, we have to find ways to ride the changes that we choose, as well as those that are thrown at us, unexpectedly. The latter are the ones that tend to be the most difficult I have found.

The last fourteen, or so, days have been very trying. I’ve had little time to just be. And, just being is essential to maintaining equilibrium in my life. Both emotionally and physically. As I said, it’s been trying. With the little down time I do have I try to cram as much into it as possible. When I do that, however, everything I attempt is lacking. Then I end up feeling as if I’ve failed, which adds even more anxiety to my life. Tonight I’ve chosen to write instead of doing anything else. But, I am going to write about what I’ve spent my creative energy on, as of late.

The picture above is of a 4 ft. x 5 ft panel. I have three of them on which I am creating a 12 ft angel. The angel is a depiction of my daughter in heaven. This first panel holds her face, the tops of her wings, and the night time sunset sky. I’m entering it into a local art show/competition.

One of the many hard things I’ve had to do, since losing my child, is to become accustomed to her not being “here”. Instead, attempting to envision her “there”. My concept of heaven, I’m sure, differs from many others. The movie “What Dreams May Come” (which I refer to quite often) explains a version that comes closest to what I believe. Initially, heaven appears as the most comforting place you can think of, using your ideas of comfort from your living life. Robin William’s character finds himself in a painted version because he loved his wife’s paintings in their life together. This happens in order to ease the person into the truth of having died. Of being removed from our living loved ones presence. I think this is the same for me, here.

When my boys move to a new place I always ask them to send me a picture of their room. It helps put my anxiety to rest if I can see their surroundings. Then I can picture them there, safe, in their bed at night. Just one of the many mental calisthenics I engage in to assuage my fears and give me the belief all is well in my world. I’ve found myself doing the same with Becca. I can’t ask her for a photo of where she is, obviously, so I try to create it myself. “Doing” for me is as important as “thinking”. I have to work through things in order to make them real to me.

About six months ago I started to paint angels. One day, a vision of an angel painting popped into my head. I knew that the canvas had to be textured because I wanted the wings to really stand out. Since then, I’ve done about a dozen or so angel paintings. It wasn’t until I’d been painting them for a month that I realized why I was doing them. Even though it’s been eleven years since my daughter was killed there is still part of me that can’t accept it. Hence, I dove right into creating angels. My soul knew it was time to understand her absence completely. In order to do this I have to be immersed in the concept of heaven and angels.

The first angel paintings were quick and easy. I don’t put faces on them. I said this was because I know I could never make their faces as beautiful as they truly are. I think it’s more accurate that I would want to make every angel face Becca’s and I wasn’t ready for that. I’m not sure if I am or ever will be ready. So, to the people I explained the lack of facial features, I think I’ve excavated the real reason why. Somewhere, deep in my soul, a tear was stitched together a little bit.

When I witness a sunset I always picture Becca gliding across the colors in the sky. Running her hands through their depths. Snapping her fingers she sends the hues skittering across the horizon. I know she is laughing. I see her this way because it is what makes sense to me. It’s what soothes me. Her new surroundings are what I am trying to replicate with this piece of art.

This is the largest piece I’ve ever created. My children are the best things I’ve ever done in life. It only makes sense to bring them together. Creating is my prayer. This piece is a pilgrimage. Moving me toward acceptance. I don’t think I will ever be done “accepting” her death.

So I will just keep creating angels.

Note: If you are interested in following my progress on the art piece I’ve mentioned, please go to “Touching Heaven”, on both Facebook and Instagram. I’d love to see you there.

 

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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!

Pieces Of Her

This past Monday, I drove over the spot where my daughter was killed. My friend, Stacey, knows I try to avoid the north part of the city at any cost, especially that section of highway. She’s even shown me an easy off, then back on, so I can bypass that area. As we drew closer to the exit I would need to take to in order to do so, I decided that I wasn’t going to avoid it this time. Heading onto the segment of road, where my daughter took her last breath, was something I needed to do. I wasn’t sure why, though. I just did it.

I tossed and turned for most of that night. Sleep eluded me. When I nodded off I was barely under. The thin dreams, I did have, were full of Becca. Young Becca. Older Becca. Angel Becca. It wasn’t until mid afternoon the next day, when I realized that a new truth about this journey of child loss, was being birthed. My soul struggled with the enormity . . . trying to put it into a concept I could understand. The dark uneasy hours were labor. When daylight came, the truth revealed itself and was born into existence.

Grieving mothers must gather the pieces of their children that are scattered across the world.

Last week, I went into a grocery store that my daughter and I had visited, years ago. The layout of the store was the same. I could picture her moving back and forth, across the aisles, as she had long ago.. In my heart, it was as if I had stepped back into time. But my head knew differently. I doubted anyone, working in the store now, had been there that day we had gone shopping. No one would have seen Becca skipping around, chattering continuously, as I followed her wherever she went. To me, though, her spirit was still there. I could see her.

When I left the store, my heart was torn into pieces, and I was overwhelmed with feelings. Being somewhere our child had known, for the first time after their death, is very difficult. The only way I can describe the feeling of longing and pain is to say it’s akin to a starburst exploding from our hearts. The ache is just too powerful to keep inside our chest.

A small voice, speaking from the center of my soul, whispered to me on the day of this truth’s birth. The soft words said: “Yesterday, you gathered the pieces of her she left there that day. Your soul whirred around her and she was pulled into your being. You carry them now, and forever. You are putting her life back together.The pieces of her life are still there . . . for you to find. Keep looking.”

This thought makes me feel joy! It makes me want to sing! I can still care for my child in this very intimate way.The life we had together has not been destroyed completely. Don’t misunderstand me. I would give anything to have my girl back with me. Without a second thought I would give my own life.

There are days when the anger rages and I hate the unfairness of it all. Other days, I’m so bogged down in the sadness, I can only see a few more minutes of being able to survive this pain. Jealousy, of your intact family, comes to the front and threatens to spill out. Those are the hard days. The darkest of the days. When all I can think of doing is lying down and refusing to continue with this new broken life. The thought of watching the snow, fall from the sky, as it covers me . . . seems a peaceful way to join my child. Like I said, those are the dark days. And I know, they will always come. I’ve accepted this.

Yet, now I know, there are going to be days when I will come across a piece of my daughter, unexpectedly. A beautiful golden moment where she existed, we existed, together. The initial pain will lay my chest open, yes, but it will also allow my soul to gently call to her’s and bring her home.

Our souls are entwined with our children’s long before they are conceived. They are tethered to us. Always connected. When I looked at each of my children’s faces, for the first time, I thought “well there you are!” They were familiar before I even saw them. They are part of us, and we, them. This is how it is meant to be.

My days will still hold much sorrow. It’s the price I pay for loving my child beyond comprehension. Now, I know there will be moments of blinding beauty and immense healing, too. What I do on my journey has become even more important. As her mother it is my calling to search for and gather all of her pieces.

And, carry them with me until we are together again.

Reaching the Past

One of my best friends absolutely loves Dr. Who. To listen to her explain the show, and all its intricacies, is quite interesting.Especially, the concept of “wibbily wobbily timey wimey”. A non linear progression of time. I will admit, I have only watched one complete episode of the show, so my knowledge is extremely limited in anything other than that basic definition given above. However, it is a concept my soul felt to be true, before I heard this phrase. This, and alternate realities or dimensions. And yes, I do realize that if we could go forward and backward, changing anything would be prohibited. But, I bet there is not one bereaved mother who would not jump at the chance to go back and save her child.

Eleven years ago, in 2007, my daughter had five days to live. Five short days. Today was the last Tuesday she was alive. Tomorrow . . . the last Wednesday. Thursday, the last time we hugged each other. If I could travel back to that very moment, that Thursday afternoon, I would hold her and tell her not to leave. I would bring her inside my house, and explain to her what was going to happen, and keep her safe. I would change this history.

Her last Thursday, and Sunday in the early morning, are the two times I wrack my brain over trying to get back to. I feel, if I was smarter, and could figure out a way to travel back, I would be able to save her. I just have to learn HOW. This is where the Dr. Who concept of time comes into play.

Reaching back through 11 years, or roughly 4,105 days, seems a daunting feat. The distance is just too far. But, as the calendar days stack up on each other, I only have to find a way to reach through eleven days. Much more doable. I once wrote a poem about Becca now consisting of memories and love and stories. If I could push all of those aside, all the gauziness, then I could grab her and drag her here. She’d be flesh and bones and laughter and embraces. We’d marvel at just looking into each others eyes again. I’d hold her and tell her how the world has changed since she’s been gone. And, how much better it is with her back.

It just seems so easy, in theory. And plausible. But, I am too dumb to figure it out.

As these next five days pass, I will become increasingly anxious, and will beat myself up because I can’t figure it all out. Today, I was supposed to spend some time with a friend. I cancelled because my mind just couldn’t get itself out of the loop: she’s gone . . . but you can change it . . . no, she’s dead . . . but you can figure it out, think harder . . . keep trying.”
Thursday, around three, I’ll be near a full panic because another chance to save her has slipped through my fingers. I’ll be silently screaming: damn it damn it damn it!!!! I just need to get to that moment. Saturday night, into Sunday, will be the other time I am frantic. I’ve slept through the time she was killed, 2:20 a.m., a few times in the beginning. Now, it’s my sacred vigil to be aware in the moment my child was killed. I talk to her, I sing to her, I cry. I don’t want her dying moment to go unrecognized. I wasn’t there the first time. I wasn’t able to help her then. I need to be there every time, now. This one moment, the minute just before, is the absolute hardest for me. Because, I fail every year. Just like the first one.

Which circles back to my feeling responsible for her death. Just like all bereaved mothers do. I always apologize to her for not being able to keep her safe. I have wonderfully supportive friends who would be by my side if I asked them. However, it’s a space in which I need to be alone. Just me and my Becca.

It’s a part of my healing journey.

So, I go to bed on the 21st, with the grief as raw as it was that day. The ache to hold her, stronger. The emptiness, deeper. The need to have her next to me, fuller. I can feel all of these, stirring in my soul, becoming insistent. As I fall asleep, I’ll let the notion of time travel, go.

Until this time next year. When I know she is close.

The Path

Often, I describe the journey of child loss in a physical manner. In my mind I see the path, we walk, as a dark and sometimes treacherous trek. We have no choice but to keep moving forward into the unknown terrain.

The first time the sun rose, after Becca was killed, the land around me wasn’t the same as before. A haze hung in the air and muddied my view. Hills rose where once the land was flat. Deep fissures had opened across what I could see. Landmarks, which previously stood proudly, were reduced to rubble. And, worst of all, there was no clear way for me to set off on my journey. Scattered everywhere were pieces of her life, our lives. There was nothing to help me get my bearings because it had all changed in an instant.

I wanted to stay balanced in the moment between what life used to be and what it was now. We can’t, though. The moment comes, when every bereaved mother, has to decide where to place her first step on this alien land. And we do so . . . woefully unprepared.

My path is long buried, heaved to the surface through trauma, rich dirt. The size varies: sometimes wide, other times barely there narrow. There are times when it stretches out in front of me and I can see for miles. My difficult times are when there is a sharp turn into thick woods and I have to walk by faith alone. Storms come, and drench the earth, making it difficult to keep my footing. I’ll slip and reach to grab at something, I know was there, only to find out it isn’t. And, down I go . . . covered in mud and hopelessly overwhelmed.

Continuously, obstacles loom ahead of me. Often times, they are ones I thought I had overcome previously. A handful of years had to pass for me to realize . . . these obstacles will keep appearing until I have dealt with them fully. They are too large to overcome in one interaction. When we realize this, that we will have to work through certain things multiple times, we start to feel a bit more in control as we travel the length of our grief path. We have no other choice but to attend to our obstacles or they will keep reappearing – larger than the last time.

I’d like to take a moment here and give you some hope. It’s ok that some things keep appearing in front of us. The enormity of what we must come to terms with, and accept, can not be done in one interaction. You have not failed because an issue has reappeared for the tenth time. This is a life long process . . . integrating what we’ve been through into our every day. We didn’t say good bye to our child, completely, at the funeral, we do so in little moments each day. So goes the process of acceptance.

Though everything on this path seems to be fixing the shattered . . . there are moments when we see beauty and can just “be”! I’ve come around a dark corner to have the sunshine splashed across the path in front of me. I’ve made it to the top of hill, after much hard work, and been rewarded with a panoramic view of a green valley spread below me. I’ve come upon others, who walk their own grief path, and for a bit . . . we sit and share our stories. Giving each other hope, strength, and understanding.

Though being with others in “down time” is healing . . . we must also turn away and continue on our own. As I have often said: this is a solitary journey that can not be taken alone. So, on we go. One foot in front of the other, not knowing what is going to appear ahead of us, just trying to survive. We do the best we can . . . which changes from moment to moment.

This trek is arduous. It makes me feel bone weary most of the time. My hands are raw from dragging myself over the rubble. Wounds from Becca’s death reopen when I catch their edges on a branch I didn’t see. I muddy my own way as my tears fall upon the earth. So many times, I sit on a boulder, convinced I can not move a muscle because there just isn’t any strength left in me.

Turning my head, I let my gaze fall upon the stretch of path ahead of me. A slice of sunshine illuminates a small section. Inside the beam of light, I see my Becca, standing and waving at me. Her smile widens as she sees me push myself off the boulder. With her hand, she beckons me toward her, and renewed . . . I continue on my journey.