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.

 

When Time Wobbles

After work today, I met up with my friend, to have a quick lunch. I asked her if she wanted to go to a popular breakfast spot, because we’ve never been, and I thought it would be fun to go somewhere new. She said no because she’d only been there once, with her daughter, before she was killed. I completely understood. I thought to myself, it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that way about going somewhere. I thought I’d crossed all those bridges over the past ten years. How wrong I was.

Have you ever been in a situation where time seems to slip, back and forth, over itself? So completely believable . . . you forget which day you are really in?

When my boys were little, they loved the pictures that you could tilt one way to see an image, then move it slightly the other way, for a completely different image. To them, it seemed like magic!! The picture changed, so quickly, from one to the other. This afternoon, time wobbled and I was in two different days at once.

As I pulled up to the light, getting ready to take a left into the parking lot, I realized I’d been here before. The snow, which had been falling steadily all day, melted away. In its place, there was a blanket of brightly colored leaves, spread over the concrete. The air around me grew warmer as the time of year clicked back to autumn . . . twenty five years ago.

I pulled my van into a parking space, but when I got out, I was looking at the silver Mazda I used to drive. I shook my head in an attempt to gather my senses. I was doing well . . . until the automatic doors swooshed open and the store was almost exactly as it had been the last time I was there. With a ten year old Becca. That moment tore the breath from my lungs. I should turn around and leave, I thought. But, I didn’t.

It was too much. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t leave, though. There is something about being in a place where your deceased child has been. Like part of them is still there . . . waiting for you to find it. I couldn’t leave because around every corner I could hear my little girl’s laugh. I could hear her sweet voice, float over the aisles, towards me. Chasing it, I found myself standing in front of the cereals, watching the shimmering memory of my daughter reach for her favorite one. Swinging herself around, her hair fanning out behind her, big eyes begged me to let her get it. I’m so glad I did.

I’m not sure how long I stood there, today. I was trying very hard not to cry. Someone walking past me, looked at me oddly, and I realized I was breathing as if I was in labor. Those short, open mouthed exhalations, that help to work through the pain of giving birth. I didn’t care how I looked. I was standing there, watching my daughter, alive again. It was beautiful heartache.

I walked up and down the aisles, searching for what I needed, and what I needed was my daughter. Just as in life . . . she was one step ahead of me. I caught a glimpse of her sun gold hair just past the pile of apples. I quickly made my way around the islands of fruit but she was already gone. Always moving, just out of my grasp.

I begged her: please wait please wait please wait . . .

I never caught her. I did see my ten year old daughter one more time, in the store, though. She was standing in front of the flowers and smiling at me. With her little hand, she waved, and was gone. Oh sweet girl . . . my heart aches for you, tonight.

I stood in the spot she had just been. I could still feel her. I thought, the last time I was here, I didn’t know the next time, my daughter would be dead. Who knew a simple trip to the grocery store, a quarter of a century ago, would hold such precious memories? We don’t know until much later.

I picked out a bouquet I knew she would love. Colorful, just like her.

I won’t go back to that store again. As I loaded my items onto the conveyor belt, to pay for them, I realized I’d picked up much more than material goods. Sweet memories, that I’d forgotten, were the most important things I could have found. I was reminded of her musical giggle. The scent of sunshine clung to her hair. Her beautiful eyes, looked up at me, full of perfect love.  A gap toothed smile told me she was happy.

She was amazing.

For a few precious minutes . . . my little girl was with me again. And I was complete.

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.

 

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.

This Is Not Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom, mom . . . what happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can feel her head shake slightly in my hands.

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

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

Hellish Waters

“Is she getting any help? Does she go to counseling?”

“No, she isn’t.” was the reply.

“Well then,” said the woman, “ . . . I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s choosing to stay sad.”

I’ve heard this conversation more than once, if you can believe that, in the years since losing my daughter. Both about myself, as well as other bereaved mothers. I’m always left feeling angry and saddened. I simply don’t understand how someone could say “I don’t feel sorry for her”.

Honestly? You can’t muster up ANY sympathy or empathy for a mother with a dead child? There is no feeling of compassion toward a woman who had to make “final arrangements” for her daughter or son?You can sit in judgment, of a place you’ve never been, and make the callous comment, “she’s choosing to stay sad”?

I would tell you to “go to hell” but hell is a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since Becca, my daughter, was killed. Do you want to know what hell is for a grieving mother? I’ll share just a small picture of it . . . then maybe you won’t be so quick to draw conclusions about a broken soul.

Carrying a child for months, preparing for the life he or she will have, then having that life taken from you. From them. Take a moment and sort through the dreams you have for your child. Would it be so easy for you to watch them fade away, then disappear, completely? Which one of your child’s dreams could you erase from the future? How about all of them?

Stop reading for a moment. Go to your child right now, wherever they are, and touch them. Feel the warmth of their skin, take in their scent, listen to their voice. Do you know what I do when I want to touch my daughter again? I lay my hand on a cold marble urn. I’ve wondered how long her ashes stayed warm, inside, after her cremation. Have you any idea how one’s mind can spin out when you think about what your child’s body went through after it was placed in the oven and the door shut? The body you spent days, months, years (if you’re lucky) caring for and watching grow.

I’ve watched more than one mother lean over her child’s grave and wipe bits of newly cut grass off of name plates. Placing hands on thin grass (because it takes a while for grass to grow over a grave) above where she believes their child’s hands to be. Thick grass, right up to the edge of where the grave starts, picturing over and over the last time she saw your child’s face before the coffin was closed? Her last glimpse of the coffin as it’s lowered into the ground. The panic she feels because “what if she isn’t really dead . . . what if he’s scared . . . “.

Ten years have passed since I lost my daughter. A decade. But there are some mornings when I wake up, somewhere between fully aware and dreamland, and I forget she’s dead. For that split second, all is right in my world. Then the ugly truth worms it’s way into the center of my mind and the contentment I feel is shattered. That moment though, oh that beautiful perfect peaceful moment, she’s not gone from me physically. Can you imagine the intense anguish I feel when I realize it will be another day without my child? That, for the rest of my life, every day will be without Becca. As long as I live, I have to choose to be here, knowing I’ll never hear her laughter again? That is hell, my friend.

Those first years after child loss we can be unreachable. We live in a continual hurricane, finding the peaceful eye of the storm once in a while, sometimes by accident. But, there is little calm. Fuzzy clarity, at best. The world, as we knew it, is gone. We have been rocked to the very core of our souls. Our hearts have been both blown apart and imploded in a single second. What we’ve gone through is unexplainable. Something you can barely imagine. And when you try to, your mind does a 180 because you’ve seen a glimpse of the hellish horror. Imagine living there.

No, grieving mothers don’t want to be sad. We are not choosing to stay there. Believe me . . . we would all choose to be with our child, instead. Surviving this is so much more complicated than going to the doctor, to get bypass surgery, after a heart attack. Our hearts are shredded . . . there may not be much to stitch together for a very long time.

The same of a counselor. A therapist might be able to help us, but unless we are in a place to hear what’s being said, it’s doing no good. And we can’t just “put” ourselves into that place, either. And as I’ve explained, neither can you put yourself in ours. Getting counseling from someone who’s never lost a child, to most of us, seems ridiculous. And, at times, it really is. We walk around, each day, carrying the brutal knowledge from experience. Not what we’ve read in a book.

So, I beg you, don’t speak about what you don’t know. If you have any compassion, at all, don’t judge a bereaved mother for not doing what you think you’d do in her situation. You can’t know unless you are there. And I hope you never will be. If you can not say anything kind . . . don’t say anything at all. Simple. She doesn’t need the shame you’ll make her feel by stating your very inexperienced opinion.

Every grieving mother I know is fighting to stay above the waves. Don’t stand back and say “if she’d only . . .” reach out a hand to keep her atop the water. Don’t give her more weight to carry. She’s got enough.

And finally, no grieving mother deserves the heartbreak and pain she is feeling. Not now . . . not ever.

On a side note: I went to counseling. I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Though the one therapist I had that did help me, didn’t lose a child, he taught me some very useful coping strategies. However, it has to be a personal choice and the person has to be in the place to participate fully.