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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The Year’s End

Last week, Stacey and I were sitting at a small pizza place waiting for our food to arrive. To pass the time we did what most people do – we scrolled through our Facebook feeds. After a few slides of my thumb I came across an article about the movie, “Steel Magnolias”. It’s been thirty years since the play that inspired the movie debuted on Broadway. Many of us know the story of the characters in the film. We love them. Some of us relate to them. Most of us cry with them. What I didn’t know was that the movie was based on a real story.

The playwright, Robert Harling, wanted to write his sister’s life story. She died young from complications of Type 1 Diabetes. Just as Julia Roberts does in the film. One passage from the article describes how the writer, Harling, wasn’t sure that his mother would want to watch the scene being filmed that day. She’d watched most of the other filming but this day would be a difficult. The scene was the one in which Susan, the writer’s sister, dies when her life support machines are turned off.

Harling had said he thought that it might be too difficult for his mother to watch the character based on her daughter, die. His mother’s response was: “I want to see Julia get up from the bed and walk away.” As a bereaved mother myself . . . I completely understand this concept.

Two weeks ago I chose an audiobook from the library to listen to as I drove the 45 minutes, twice a day, so I could spend the time a bit more productively. This is my third one. The first was “The Ocean at the end of the Lane” by Neil Gamain. A wonderful tale. Then “Travels with Charley” by my favorite writer, John Steinbeck. This choice, my third, was of a book I’ve read multiple times. I am continually drawn back to the characters and the story. As well as the tale woven between women’s lives.

I don’t want to give too much away about the book but I will say . . . it is so worth reading. Also, skip the next couple of paragraphs if you plan on reading it because I talk about some very key happenings.

There is a part near the middle of the story when the narrative character has found love, true love, and finally she is married to him. He happens to be a prince. A prince whose family has very different religious customs. To appease the way the way the whole marriage occurred, her father demands that all the men of his daughter’s new family be circumcised. To which the young prince quickly agrees. But, before this can happen, her enraged brothers kill her new husband.

The story of this young woman, Dinah, starts before her birth with the story of her mothers and their family history. Up through the births of all of her siblings into her coming of age. The writer does an incredible job of weaving Dinah’s story into colorful strands of sentences that knit together around us into something as real and comforting as a favorite blanket. There is a description, in the book, which tells us how rough wool is taken and cleaned and worked until it can be woven together on a loom to make soft and durable material. This small snippet of the whole story is mesmerizing. All of it is mesmerizing.

Dinah, and her aunt/mother Zilpah, are called to the castle where they tend the birth of a baby by one of the king’s concubines. By happenstance, Dinah meets the young prince, Shalem in an anteroom just outside of the birth chamber. They fall instantly in love and the prince’s mother, the Queen, arranges for them to meet up again and her intuition is correct. They are meant to be together. From this point we are told of the deep love between these two young adults. The writer goes on to describe this joining in great detail and with sensitivity that causes my heart to ache. The first time I read this book the next events, which were unexpected but shouldn’t have been, broke my heart. Dinah’s new husband is murdered by her enraged brothers for what they saw as “the rape and kidnapping” of their sister. The bride-price that had been agreed to by the two father in laws wasn’t good enough for them. In reality, I think their motive was jealousy not revenge.

On my way into work one morning, I came to the part when Shalem crawls back into their marriage bed and whispers that an agreement had been reached and he was to go under her father’s knife in three days. The two rejoice at the happiness they feel and the future they will share. Except, they won’t. These two characters, which in my head are as real as you and me, are blissfully unaware of the tragedy about to befall them. But, I’m not. I know what is going to occur in just a few pages. I know dark figures will breach the castle walls and silently move from one shadowed corner to the next until they find their targets. The end of a life will end quickly and with much blood shed.

Knowing that this is where the story would go next I reached up and stopped the disc. I thought to myself. No. I am not going to let this happen again. Shalem won’t die. Dinah won’t mourn. I can create the future they should have had in my own head. Or, at the very least, stop the one that inevitably follows in the book. I knew I could not bear to have Dinah suffer again, as she had, every other time I’d followed the story through. The disc stayed in the player for almost a week until I took it out and put it back into it’s numbered place in the box and readied it to be returned to the library tomorrow.

If a bereaved mother could change one thing about her past life I know it would be to stop the death of her child/ren. Or, the events that led up to her child’s dying. The days prior to the date of our child’s passing are filled with dread, anxiety, longing, anger. And, more emotions I have not been able to put into words yet, even after a dozen years without my daughter.

I’ve shared often about my difficult time of year. It subtly starts as appears at the edges of the trees leaves. The air begins to carry a chill in itself. October 31st is a clear demarcation of “the difficult months”. The dates, which fall concretely within these weeks, can be seen on a calendar. Marked days of renewed sorrow and increased anxiety. Each one ticking away the time until the moment of her death. As always, there is nothing I can do to stop this event from happening.

Nothing.

I can not watch an actress play my daughter, die underneath a flipped car, get up and wipe the blood from the right corner of her mouth. Neither can I switch off the narrated story of her life when the words start leading down the cold highway in the early morning hours. Her last hour. Last minute. Final breath.

I want to. I always feel as if I am failing my child again. I just can not figure out how to stop past events from happening. Or, how to trade places with her. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Another fixed point in time that I have no power over. The year will change, time will move forward, and I will be farther away from my child’s last living moment. Tomorrow night I will go to bed early, as I always do, because the change of one year to the next is incredibly painful. I can’t face it anymore. I face enough pain in my everyday life . . . I think I can take a pass from experiencing yet another one. I will wake up January 1, 2019 and accept that time didn’t stop when my Becca was killed. I will be firmly in another year without her.

I would give anything to rewrite the story of our lives. To unlock the secret which allows me to change past events. To watch my daughter wiggle out from under the black car and walk toward me with a smile on her face and hear her say ‘momma” in the sing song way she had when she called to me from another room. Or, to just be able to shut off the narrative of impending events.

So here I sit, spilling my thoughts onto the screen, hoping for relief? An answer? I’m not sure. Neither? Both. I guess, as morbid as this sounds, I will take some comfort in knowing the arrival of 2019 will bring me closer to the moment I hear her voice call to me again. When I can catch her in my arms and pull her close forever. I know this meeting won’t happen soon, and probably not for decades, but I can look forward to that reunion and it sparks joy in my heart.

I hope 2019 brings you all love, light, and peace.

 

Included in this blog:

Steel Magnolias – a play written by Robert Harling in 1987.

The Red Tent – a book written and published by Anita Diamant in 1997.

Both

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons. Though some years, it seems, that we are hurried through one of them by Mother Nature’s insistence to hurry on to the next. Winter has always been my favorite season of the four. For two very different reasons.

First, I absolutely loved snow days when the kids were home from school. The outside world, and all its problems, didn’t matter for a while. There was nothing to worry about except what was right in front of us. The pure whiteness of the fresh snow begged the children to go outdoors. I’d spend about half an hour bundling them all up from head to toe then send them out the front door. Becca always seemed to come in before her brothers were ready. Little kids seem to endure cold temperatures much better than those who are older. When they did finally give in to the elements they’d come inside with sopping wet clothes and wind chapped cheeks. Becca would help them get out of their snow stuff as I made hot cocoa for all of us. Somehow, they would be sweaty under their clothing, their hair curly from the moisture and their hats, and they’d wrap their small hands around warm mugs. Sometimes, they even had whipped cream with peppermint sticks to stir their drink!

When they were very young . . . a nap usually followed an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones can endure the cold but when they get back into the warmth of indoors they tend to become drowsy. They’d fall into a deep sleep, bellies full of chocolate and faces sticky from the peppermint candy. Becca might take a nap, too. Or if I was really lucky she’d nestle up next to me on the couch and we’d watch a movie cuddled together under a blanket.

As they boys grew older, naps tended to fall away from favor, and I’d often be able to cajole them into a game or two. Our family has only two games we play together. Yahtzee, which I absolutely love . . . and Sorry! which generally ends in a fight because Gabriel hates how Matthew counts the squares by tapping his finger. And, I think Matthew might aggravate his brother on purpose. We STILL talk about it to this day!

Snow days, when we were all home together, were perfect every single time.

The second reason I prefer winter over any other season is because the outer world matches my inner self. Not icy, though I’ve been accused of that a few times in the past. But rather, I am not all sunny and happy and full of fun. Even before Becca’s death I wasn’t. Winter just matches me. It makes sense. Isolation isn’t seen as something bad when everyone is stuck inside of their homes. The beach isn’t full of throngs of people – every one of them having the best day of their lives. Michigan is beautiful in each season though summer here is the one that is talked about the most. It seems almost taboo to not be full of life during this time of the year. In winter, no one is insisting that you “come to the beach” or “come out on the boat” or “we’re having a campfire”. Fun things, yes, but hard for a bereaved mother to enjoy when all she can think of is her own child missing out.

Summer isn’t me. Winter is my time. The quiet solitude of the lake, beach, and forests. The coldness in the air is sharp. Images, in front of my eyes, seem clearer and more focused. I feel more alive. More at peace. Calm. This is the space for introspective and contemplative thinking. The darkness that comes as night falls earlier across the land lulls me into a dream like state. My thoughts have endless hours to chase each other and form themselves into something with weight. There is time to poke and prod and investigate what my soul is trying to tell me. The world, covered with a blanket of snow, is quiet enough for me to hear them. Still enough for me to listen. I find myself to be most creative during these coldest months of the year.

But, with the turn of the seasonal wheel, winter brings my most difficult days. The holidays are hard, for sure, but I have my own personal important dates mixed in with them, too. I’ve often said this time of year is like being in a boxing ring for me. Though I try to prepare, one hit after the other lands on me with stunning accuracy. Halloween marks the beginning of the match and Feb. 1 is the ringing of the final bell. Roughly every two and a half weeks during that period I am gut punched and I fall to my knees. Barely on my feet . . . another punch sends me to the mat.

Interestingly, my favorite season is also my most painful. I guess, in an odd way, this makes perfect sense. The deepest love I have in this life, that which I hold for my children, also causes me the most intense pain. With great light comes great darkness.

I guess that is the truth of the world. Without warmth would we know what cold actually felt like? Sorrow isn’t as deep when we don’t have the joy to measure it against. Life isn’t as precious unless we know the void left by losing it. We grieve as deeply as we love. It’s the price of being human.

So, here’s to winter. It blew in last night appearing to have every intention of staying for a while. I am joyful to know the world matches my soul again and will rejoice in the beauty it brings. The love I have for my deceased child will be matched with intense anguish that is brought to the surface during these icy days.

Beautifully painful. Or painfully beautiful.

I imagine . . . it’s both.

 

Keys

“Can you tell me about being engaged while you were in prison,” I asked last night.

So, he does, in detail. Painful detail . . . for both of us I imagine. Him, because the engagement didn’t result in marriage. Me, because it put a finer point on one of the things my daughter never had the chance to experience. True love.

Without giving too much detail into his story, as it is not my place to do so, I’ll quickly summarize what he shared. A previous girlfriend went to his side after the crash that killed my child. They rekindled their romance and even became engaged. The union broke while he was still in prison and she has since moved on. All of this, he told me through texts and to his credit, he was completely honest.

In my head, I started a parallel timeline of events in each of our lives.

He had someone at his bedside in those first few days. Someone who loved him and wanted to give him comfort. I was at my daughter’s side, for only a moment, at the morgue . . . once. A day later, they performed the autopsy. I was told I could not know when her body was being transported to the funeral home. All I wanted to do was be by my baby’s side through her last travels on earth. I just wanted to do what a mother must do . . . tend to her child. Whether alive or dead.

He had someone supporting him from his sentencing and into his incarceration. I don’t begrudge him this person, this relationship. But if I am honest with myself . . . it hurts me that something positive came from his choice to drink and drive and I faced nothing but anguish from day one. He found love. I found sorrow that soaked deep into my bones.

Two and a half years into our side by side journeys he had the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend. A momentous occasion. The decision to spend the rest of their lives together. Years to fill with love, family, and memories. Thirty months into my journey, I was still reeling and was making a mess of my life because I wasn’t sure I wanted it anymore. All I could see were years upon years, stacked up in front of me, full of empty spaces in which Becca would have lived.

About a year before his release he broke the engagement. He’s shared his reasons with me but I think they fall under the heading of: not mine to share, so I won’t. I am sure this was a painful time for him and there is a part of me that thought: now you know what it’s like to not have the future you envisioned. I don’t mean that in a cruel way . . . I’m just stating a fact. For one moment I feel he knew a portion of the pain of a lost future.

I wept for most of the night . . . even when I slept. My dreams shifted so quickly I couldn’t catch hold of them. Images were blurred. I got no real rest. Or, relief from my thoughts. I woke with a renewed heavy feeling of loss. A deeper sense of what my daughter lost when she died that night.

I struggled with whether I had the right to tell Joseph how his story made me feel.

My other thought was: what if I tell him, and he feels as if he’s caused me increased pain, and decides he won’t give me the full story next time. I sent him a text, that simply read, “full disclosure?” He replied, “About?”

“I cried last night thinking about how Becca never had the chance to be in love. Your story stirred profound sadness in me. No anger. Just bone deep sorrow,” I wrote to him.

His reply, “I hesitated because I thought it might.”

I think our brain works in amazing ways we barely understand. It has an incredible ability to filter what we feel in order to keep our minds from imploding from the weight of the entire truth. It knows how to keep us safe. Maybe, our brain and our soul coordinate things and do their best to keep us from disintegrating completely. When they both are in agreement as to what time to dispense information is best . . . then we are allowed the knowledge. And, possibly, a key is required to unfasten the lock.

I have come to realize, and accept, that Joseph holds many of the keys I need to unlock deeper healing. I think it completely natural that his life is a sort of measuring stick as to what Becca has lost. The crash is a set point in the past that started a new future for them both. Lack of a future for my child, unfortunately.

Joseph apologized for causing me pain with his story. He said he didn’t want to bring those feeling about in me. I told him those feelings were already there. They are always there. I had dealt with some of them, already, to a point. Just like everything else . . . it takes more than one time to make it last. His story could have been the key I needed to unlock deeper mourning. Deeper mourning I need to do in order to bring about more complete healing.

The knowledge we gain is a chance for either more complete understanding, or increased pain, in any given situation. Sometimes we don’t have the ability to choose either one. Our mind and soul choose for us. Thankfully, they agreed that I am ready for broader healing within myself and concerning Joseph. Moving toward more understanding regarding my Becca’s death.

I think our healing capacity is not limited. Rather, it is boundless. Ever growing. Deepening and widening and can encompass all. I hope so, at least.

Sometimes, the key lies somewhere other than in ourselves.

We must keep searching to heal.

This New Path

My life has had some profound shifts the past few weeks. For the better. Changes I set into motion . . . and not something that happened to me. I think that is an important distinction to acknowledge because not many life upheaving events have been by my doing. Instead, they’ve been in reaction to an event thrust upon me. The major changes in life can be easier to handle when we’ve made the choice to make the change.

Recently, I’ve written of communication with the man who killed my child eleven years ago. I have had just over a decade of time to react to my child’s untimely death. To wear down the edges of it so I’m not continually sliced open with its existence. To accept, a bit more each day, that it really happened and this is what my life is now. To accept that someone else’s choice forced a life altering reality into my own. I have had to react to Becca’s death, in a thousand different ways, over the course of the past eleven years.

But now, I have the chance to alter my life again by choosing what path I will take. Each day is full of healing possibilities for me. For every bereaved mom, I think. Sometimes we see them and can hold them close and learn from them. Other times, the air around us is heavy and the light is dim and we can’t see what possibilities lie at our feet.

Then there are the times when we see a path veering sideways off of the one we are walking on. I am sure the path has exposed itself to me before but I just wasn’t ready to see it. It’s always been there, I think, but my eyes couldn’t accept it as being a possibility. I think, when I did finally notice it, I might have tentatively set a foot onto it . . . leaving the safety of the uneven ground I knew so well . . . to peer into its shadowy depth. There were times that I didn’t think this new path was for me. No thank you. I’ll continue to travel the hazardous road of child loss instead of venturing into somewhere I don’t know. I know, by now, the monsters I will face on my journey. I don’t know what hides in the dark curves of the unknown terrain.

This new path exposed itself to me a few years ago. It didn’t seem so daunting, for once. It wasn’t as dark as before. But, I still wasn’t ready to leave the security of what I have known for a decade plus. I stopped, looked at the spot where one path met the other and decided to stay where I was for now. I knew it would present itself again, eventually. And that, one of these times, I would be ready to confidently set foot upon new earth and move forward into it.

This new path didn’t so much present itself to me as I was actively looking for it. I had been seeing it more frequently in the past few years so I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to find. I just had to gather a few things before I set forth upon it. An address. My boys blessing, or maybe just their acceptance. A willingness to face whatever was on the other side in the heart of the other person. The person who killed my Becca. Finally, one day, I had all of those things. I took the step.

I chose to move toward forgiveness and deeper healing rather than not explore what it could be for me. For him. For all of those who were impacted by my child’s death. I didn’t know exactly what I would face as I turned the corner that hid my former journey from me. I had bravely decided to see where this change in my journey would take me. I wasn’t sure. Would it open old wounds? Is there unknown anger lurking just under the surface of my conscious mind? I don’t think so. I am done being angry. The chance that something wonderful could come from forgiveness is worth the risk of changing course.

When I think of where I have been and where I am going I really visualize a path. A physical place with rocks and water and bushes that scratch me when I pass too close to them. Quicksand catching hold of my foot and anchoring me in place while I slowly sink. Sections that are ink black because the sun is blotted out and I can’t see any light. Anywhere. Others that are sweet with tall grass and clean air where I remember my child alive. Places where the horizon looks like a duplicate of what I just passed through and fought so hard to overcome.

Is this new path, I have chosen, a shortcut to the end? The end being complete healing? I don’t think there is complete healing. So probably not. But, it’s a chance for my healing to be wider as I veer from what I know. Will it lead me back to familiar ground? Probably. When I get back to the original path I will be more equipped to fight through the battles that are waiting for me.

I’ve chosen forgiveness and I believe it’s made me stronger.

Know The Truth

“I love watching all the amazing things that you and Stacey do. You’re both really living life and I’m proud of you.”

Another bereaved mom, that I know, sent this message to me recently. I thanked her for the kind words but inside I felt like a fraud. A few days later, I read them to Stacey, and remarked that people see us as an inspiration. Her reply: maybe you, but not me. I felt incredulous that she felt this way. But that’s the truth . . . we feel as if we are not the good that people say they see in us.

These feelings are more complex than simply feeling worthy of such praise. I feel as if the image I create is a smokescreen of half truths. That I share enough of the “good” to trick others into seeing me for more than what I am.

The past month has been a whirlwind of activity centering around the local art competition known as Artprize. Both Stacey and I had pieces that were accepted and shown to the public. Each of our entries has to do with the death of our child and where we are at this point in our healing journey. Much time was spent by each of us, standing beside our project, explaining its meaning to those who were kind enough to listen to our stories of loss. Truthfully, Stacey spent more time than I did and even when I was there I let her do some of the talking for me. It was just so hard to do . . . repeatedly.

Please, for every positive thing I do, know there is negative not far behind.

Being a part of Artprize allowed me the platform from which to speak about my Becca. There were so many people willing to listen that I put myself into a dark place and danced at the edge of depression, again. I’m happy it’s almost over.

We had the chance to open our home to other artists who needed a place to stay during the competition. Many of them traveled from far away just to be a part of this. The expenses of creating art, shipping art, traveling here . . . are high. When you add the cost of staying here, it’s often times undoable. We are lucky enough to be relatively close and have a very large house. Offering to host artists was really a no brainer. But, it came with a price. An emotional price.

Home is my sanctuary. Where I retreat when the outside world becomes too much for me to process. It’s a (mostly) controlled environment shutting out the uncontrollable. I am by no means a perfectionist. If I was I wouldn’t be living with five dogs and two cats. My things don’t need to be in order or in precise condition. Nothing needs to match. I just need my personal surroundings to be as stress free as possible and generally quiet. Calm. Or, not calm if I need to fall apart. It’s my soft safe place where I give the most vulnerable parts of myself, freedom.

The freedom to be ugly and undignified. Petty and jealous. Furious and damaging. Because . . . all of these emotions are part of this journey I am forced to take. When I blow up at something that shouldn’t elicit such a reaction, Stacey understands. And, that goes for her, too. It’s hard to control these feelings when someone else is in your space. When I’m the host, it’s up to me to make sure my guest has everything needed to insure a pleasant time. There were days, while we had our artist guests, that I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I’d spend time talking about my dead child, sharing her story over and over, only to have to pick up one of the artists from their venue and drive them home. Upon reaching home, I had to cook them dinner and spend the evening chatting about the day. Or, chat happily as one of them cooked dinner for us. Lovely to have a French man cooking our meal but there were many times I just wanted to climb into bed and cry myself to sleep. When my space isn’t my own, I tailor my behavior to those around me and this can be damaging to my well being. I was relieved when they left and the house was empty . . . except for us.

It was fun to tell people we were cool enough – interesting enough- bohemian enough to house artists but it was exhausting. I would love to say that the entire experience was wonderful from start to finish but, as I’ve explained, it wasn’t. Not because of them, mind you, but because of me. So, all the “how awesome!!” we got from people envious that we were living such a colorful life make me feel fraudulent. I often feel like a lie. A misconception to others. A hollow inspiration.

I’m not always living. It might seem that way but most days, in all honesty, I am just surviving.
Surviving in a world that doesn’t include my child is difficult on the best days. Imagine the days it’s harder. The days when I don’t give a fuck what’s happening outside of my bedroom door. What kind of role model am I then? I desperately need people to know that I am not always doing great things. I am not always hopeful and positive. I’m not squeezing every moment of joy out of this life.

I have my down days. Many bad days. Days when I am a bitch because I am jealous that you still have your child with you. Ones in which my anger rages because I have to talk about Becca in a past tense. A lump in my throat because I have to swallow what I really want to say. Hopelessness because I know I just can’t do one more day without my daughter by my side. Those days are as real as the good ones I share on social media. Please, please, know this.

I don’t want to mislead anyone in any way. It wouldn’t be fair to them or to me.

So, I’ll just keep bumbling along this uneven path my feet are on for as long as I am here. If I have given you the impression that “I’ve got this” . . . understand, I don’t.

I do my best. Accept my worst. And, keep moving through.

Again.

A few weeks ago one of my twin sons, Gabriel, came to visit me in the town to which I’d recently moved. I was so excited when he told me he was going to visit! There were two “firsts” I was looking forward to. One, he hadn’t seen the historic home we’d moved into and I was eager to show it to him. Two, he was bringing a young lady he’d been dating for a while and this was going to be our first meeting. The visit was everything I had expected . . . and more!

Since losing my daughter it’s been a struggle to feel truly happy. I have had moments of happiness, which have grown longer and larger, but the day he spent with me a few Sundays ago really made me feel confident that life was going to be ok. I told him this, too. Always with the qualifier “without your sister here” so as not sound like I’m over her passing. As I said those words to him, “I’m really as happy as I can be” . . . I meant them. Both of my sons were doing well. Working. Living. Loving. What else can a mother want? I have it all. (except for my daughter).

I felt certain that the hardest part of life was behind us. I was satisfied this was the truth. Then, on a beautifully sunny Saturday, lightning struck twice. It was as if some invisible hand had parted the clouds, picked me up by the back of my shirt, and dropped me right back into the day my daughter was killed.

I was at work when I received a phone call that began with these few words:

“Mom, listen to me . . . I want you to know he’s alive.”

I started to spin out of control quickly because my son, Matthew, kept saying:

“MOM! MOM! He’s alive . . . calm down . . . Mom, I need you to calm down . . .”

I flew out of the bathroom, already running and telling anyone that would listen, I had to leave NOW. Standing in the back warehouse, with all three of my bosses looking at me, I was asking my son if his twin brother was in a coma. I was yelling. I was spinning around, in place, with one hand across my forehead in disbelief. How could this be happening. Again. I’ve already lost one child . . . didn’t this mean the chance of losing another was nearly zero? Wasn’t closing down the life of your child like a vaccination of sorts?

What I remember hearing in that first conversation with my son was that his brother had been in a bad crash. He told me where Gabriel was: a hospital in Flint. Flint is 113.6 miles from my job. Travel time is 1 hour and 39 minutes. At that moment it might as well have been half way across the world. They were too far away. I was frantic

I have recollection of Matthew telling me there was no brain damage. Holy shit, I thought, this is really bad. There didn’t seem to be any paralysis, either. Holy fuck, how bad is it when they are checking for those things? I must have asked my son if he was telling me everything, or if he was telling me the truth, because he kept saying:

“I promise, Mom, I’m not holding anything back. Please, don’t rush here, I need you to drive safely. He’s ok.”

I didn’t believe him. I was CERTAIN he was holding the most devastating information back because he didn’t want me to speed and have my own crash. Was he downplaying the truth of his brother’s condition so I wouldn’t drive like a maniac to get there? Yes! My mind told me. YES!!! It screamed at me! “YOUR CHILDREN DIE!!” I kept shaking my head as my son tried to calm me, console me, make me believe his brother was, indeed, alive.

“I need you to be ok, Mom!! Promise me you won’t speed, promise me you’ll be careful!”

All I kept saying was, “I have to leave . . . I have to go . . . I have to get there now . . . I know you aren’t telling me the truth . . .”

I was in my car and on the street within seconds. I didn’t know what to do first. I needed air in my tires but I couldn’t waste the time getting them filled – there wasn’t enough gas in my van yet it would take too long to fill it up – how far could I get on what there was . . .

I think I drove in circles in the parking lot, trying to figure out what I needed to do first, because I had to keep moving. I had to be doing something. I was literally spinning my tires in panic.

Fortunately, a coworker messaged me and told me she didn’t want me going alone. I had it in my head that I just needed to get on the highway and get the hell across the state. She told me that Joe, a high school friend of the boys, would go with me. I almost ignored her message, turning left toward the highway instead of turning right and going back to work. I didn’t and having Joe with me for the long ride helped.

As we drove toward the highway I filled him in on what little I knew. Something inside of me told me that I had to hold it together for Joe. I was the adult, even though Joe is 24, and I had to appear calm for him. As I explained Gabe’s condition (as I knew it to be) I tried to hold back the tears. Why was I able to remain calm for someone else but not myself?

In between conversations with Joe, about mundane things, horrible thoughts were racing through my mind.

Would my child have a cognitive disability. I know Matthew said no brain damage but he could be just saying that. Gabriel is sarcastic and fast witted and intelligent. In a lot of ways, he is my most difficult child, always testing the boundaries and not caring about consequences. He’s thoughtful and philosophical and questions everything. Full of angst. At times, it seems, he carries the sadness of generations that have come before him. An artist’s soul with a deep well of emotions. What would I do if I had to look into his beautiful eyes and know he’s lost part of who he was? Would he be aware that he had been permanently changed? Somewhere deep in his mind would he know he wasn’t fully himself anymore? Would this realization sadden him? Or was there a chance that he might never know who he was before this crash?

These thoughts rushed in but I kept pushing them back so I could concentrate on the highway.

Oh my god. What if he is hurt badly enough that he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair? I know Matthew told me there wasn’t that kind of damage but my son knows me well enough to be concerned that I would drive well over the speed limit to get to them. What if Gabriel could no longer use his legs? Both boys played soccer in high school and continue to play to this day. Gabriel recently discovered a love for disc golf. Are the courses wheelchair accessible? His arms. Paralysis could include his arms! How in the world would he feel if he could no longer run or kick or shoot a baskeball?

Which would be better? A cognitive issue, or a physical one? Would one be easier to overcome than the other? How would Gabriel approach the loss of either one? OR BOTH?? Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.What the fuck!! Why did the miles seem endless as I sped toward the east side of the state?! I needed to touch my child. Matthew needed me there, too. I am the mom. I am supposed to make everything right. No matter their age . . . children still look to their parents for guidance. I had to get there and DO.

I was told the car flipped between 40 and 50 mph. No airbags deployed. Unsure of seat belts. The crash happened in a construction zone and wasn’t found for a few hours. A female officer knocked on their father’s door to ask if they knew a Gabriel Kelly. She said there was a crash and he was in serious condition. I was told by the boys’ stepmother that Matthew anguished over what to say when he called me. He had to give me the news yet keep me calm enough so that I didn’t freak out (which I did anyway) and hurt myself getting there. Then Matthew had to sit next to his twin brother’s bed, while doctors and nurses tended to him, all the while wondering if he’d just lost another sibling. Trying to remain calm as old wounds were opened and blood started to spill. Angry at his brother but thrilled he was alive. Matthew had also been placed in a space from eleven years ago . . . instantaneously.

On a beautiful late summer day, the kind that can only be found in Michigan, Matthew and I were standing on that cold gray highway in January again.This time it wasn’t me trying to protect him, but instead, him attempting to shelter me. Side by side, we sat at the foot of Gabe’s bed, and just looked at him. Grateful when he surfaced out of the drug induced sleep long enough to say something. Crying when he would moan from the pain. Matthew told me how much it hurt to see his brother this way. That he wished he could take the pain away. I wished I could take the pain from both of them into myself.

A few days after the crash, when my mind settled down enough to move from the emergency state, I thought: Damn it! That is what I get for saying I was happy. For thinking life was going to be good. To be openly optimistic and hopeful. Life said: Yeah? Watch this. Then it proceeded to recrumble the ground beneath my feet. Why? Why did another tragedy have to happen? I’ve had enough! My family has had enough. In the past I’ve half joked around about having been Hitler in my previous life because I was getting a good amount of karmic payback in this one, it seemed. There should be a quota for the number of children on mother can lose. Can we ink that in somewhere? Who do I need to talk to?

My son is alive. We have a future together . . . all three of us. Matthew will heal from the terror and pain he’s been feeling for the past week. He’ll be carefree and optimistic and full of joy again. His playful nature will resurface when he can put the weight of this event down. Gabriel’s healing will be slow but eventually he will be back to the sarcastic funny kid we know. And, out walking the disc golf course “meditating” as he calls it.

Lightning does strike twice in the same place. I have no immunity because my daughter was killed. Any confidence I had that my two boys would be safe because we’ve already faced this is completely gone. There are no rules in child loss. We must not take any part of being a parent for granted. I don’t think life came after me because I was too smug or cocky. Well, most of me doesn’t. But it’s going to take a very long time until I feel “safe” concerning my children again.

Gabriel will be coming to stay with me for a while soon. I will be able to mother him and help him heal. I can hold his hand and tell him how much I love him. We can talk about what he’s feeling. He can tell me about his sister being at the crash, and watching over him, more completely.

Please, for me, if you are able . . . go hug your children.

You never know when a storm might be brewing.