Creating A Wall

For the first time, I’ve been asked to write about one particular aspect of child loss. How we seem to push others away. I hope I can answer the question, fully, posed to me. This is written using my own experience and those others have shared with me.  I always hope those struggling with child loss will find a trained professional who is equipped with the knowledge and tools  to help them.

There are so many things that bereaved parents share on this path. Yet, each of our experiences is completely different. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Even two people, who have lost the same person, will have their own unique journey. Yet, there are enough similarities that we can recognize where another person is. The subject I’ve been asked to write about is very important because if we don’t recognize it . . . it can destroy us.

All bereaved parents seem to have, at some point, the propensity to push others away from us. The reasons we do this are varied and complex. It’s done both knowingly and without insight. There are times when we can see that we are engaging in this behavior. When we do, we can work through our isolating tendencies with help, so we don’t add more pain to an already anguished situation. Other times, sadly, we don’t see what our actions are doing to those around us, and more importantly, to ourselves.

Over the years, since losing my child, I’ve realized that I had to identify who I was after her death. After the “dust had settled” and life around me went back to everyone else’s normal, mine didn’t. The person I was before no longer existed. Not only did I have to find myself – I had to figure out how I fit into a world that was new to me. I was not a mother to a living daughter anymore. I was the mother of a deceased daughter. An identity I didn’t want and had no idea how to wear. I railed against this change in my who I was.

Please understand: It is going to take us an extremely long time to accept and become comfortable in our new life. We DO NOT want this life we were forced into when our child died. The time it takes for a bereaved parent to come to terms with the death and find peace surrounding it will be different for everyone. Sometimes, it never happens for the person. But, it will be on our personal timetable, no one else’s, and we have to do the work. The tricky part is knowing what work we need to do. There is no “one size fits all” guide.

The simple answer to why we push people away is: vulnerability.

We don’t, as a society, know how to be vulnerable and not feel weak. Instead, we feel as if we are failing when we show emotion, somehow. Especially, men. Vulnerability leaves us open and raw. There is always the chance we will be hurt more. So, we build that wall . . . we push away our family . . . before they have the chance to cause more pain. We are putting a boundary between us and the outside world.

I did this to my twin sons. One of the first blinding insights I had the day Becca was killed was that if something happened to them, I would never survive it. At that moment, I didn’t even know if I was going to survive losing her. So, I told myself I couldn’t love them as much as I did. I had to pull back and create a safe space. I felt relieved when they went to their dad’s because to look at their horrified and tear streaked faces caused my heart to break even more. And, loving them might kill them. Forcing distance between us could keep them safe, and would certainly help me, my fractured mind rationalized. Without the insight of a calm mind I thought we needed a physical separation. Therefore, I allowed it to happen. It was an attempt to protect myself.

Pushing people away, however, happens in non physical ways, too.

Most often, I think, anger sprouts from pain. If we trace the root system backward, and underneath, we usually find it to be true. It is hard to see pain, for what it is, when you are immersed in it. Like trying to gauge the immensity of the ocean when we are at the lowest point between two waves.

When children are little, and don’t have the words to adequately express what they are feeling, they act out. I’m not sure it isn’t the same for adults who don’t have a way to communicate the mass of feelings they are carrying after their child dies.

Responsibility, which can will lead to shame and guilt, when you look behind it. If you don’t take anything away from this blog but the next sentence, then it will still be worth reading. It does not matter if we were with our child at the time of their death, or not, we do feel responsible.

The one job we have as a parent is to protect our child. Our deceased child’s age does not matter, nor does how far away from us they were in the world: wherever, whatever, however, we should have been able to see it and stop it. I was not in the car Becca was killed in. I was not the driver. I didn’t serve the driver alcohol that night. I was home. Asleep. Powerless.

Yet. If my daughter hadn’t seen me go out dancing on the weekends, maybe she wouldn’t have thought it alright to do. If she’d never seen me drink . . . maybe she wouldn’t have ended up at the bar that night. Ridiculous, right? See how easily we can twist facts until we are solely responsible for their death.

Then, sometimes we may actually hold some responsibility. How do we even start to work through that? I am close to someone who believes she owns a portion of the responsibility for her child’s death. Whether she does, or does not, her perception is what matters most. It is the heaviest of weights to believe we caused our child to die. Somehow, we have to figure out how to put it down or it will drive us into the dirt.

To feel we could have saved them, but didn’t, makes us feel powerless, now. All of this emotion has to go somewhere. Either we destroy ourselves or those around us. Usually . . . a bit of both.

The guilt that is coupled with holding responsibility can be debilitating. With the guilt comes the shame. We feel shame in failing. In being part of the circumstances that led to our child dying. We may feel shame at some of our behaviors in the months that follow a child’s death.

These three things: responsibility, guilt, and shame are braided together so tightly – they are sometimes impossible to break because of the strength in which they give to each other. I think this might be one of the hardest aspects of grief to unwind and figure out.

The next part of parental grief I want to talk about is the “others”. The outsiders. The people around us who don’t know what to say, what to do, and often don’t realize they’ve said something which lands like a punch. When this happens to us enough times . . . we don’t allow ourselves to get into situations in which pain is added to us. People say stupid things not knowing any better. Sometimes they do know better yest say it anyway. We lose some friendships. Some relationships because the chasm between us and them is just great to cross.

Seeing intact, happy families, can be unbearable for a bereaved parent’s broken heart. I would time going to the store, late at night, so there was less chance of running into any families. Anger would swell up quickly when I saw mothers and daughters together. Rage. Jealousy. I wanted my child and I would never have her again. I hated the mothers who still had their daughters. Hated. I felt rage toward everyone and everything. I didn’t know where to put the hostility. So, I just stopped being around people.

After our child’s death, after the funeral, we will run into people that we are seeing for the first time since the passing. Of course, they will pay condolences and we have to re answer questions surrounding the whole thing. It’s exhausting. Immediately, we are shoved back into the first days and we relive, and reignite, the deep burning pain. We don’t have to survive these encounters if we just hibernate and see no one.

Other people’s expectations of what grief is often wrong. It’s not neat. It doesn’t run along a straight path. Dealing with A does not lead to B, and so on. The “stages of grief” that people know and expect us to follow is unrealistic. I had a woman call me just months after Becca was killed and asked: are you done crying yet? I blew up at her. After the passing of some time and with a lot of self evaluation I have come to understand what a question like this truly does.

It made me feel like I was failing in how I was grieving. I wasn’t “getting over it” quickly enough. Was I wallowing in self pity?” What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I grieve right?? Truthfully, to this day, I feel as if I’m not far enough along. When we feel judged, whether we can verbalize it or not, we pull away. It’s easier to just be alone.

Being alone can be easier. We don’t have to fake anything for anyone. We aren’t able to understand the maelstrom of emotions that have taken over our minds, yet, we react to them anyway. Sometimes, we even create situations that will force others to leave us. In an attempt to to protect ourselves. Or, to punish ourselves when we feel responsible for our child’s life ending.

The only thing we can do, to help ourselves and others, is to identify why we are isolating and pushing others away. Identify and find the help we need to do the work in order to start truly healing. If we don’t . . . we risk the chance of never finding happiness again. Of losing relationships with those we love. Of never healing.

And, our child wouldn’t want that for us.

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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.

 

Excavating Muskegon

I found another piece of my Becca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Becca.

Mending The Broken

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, she doesn’t, really.

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

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

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

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

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Family Tree – A Sapling

The moment you realize you aren’t forced to maintain contact with those who hurt you is both liberating and terrifying. How will life be when you let the toxic people go? I mean, you are used to the chaos. Reversely, when you figure out family isn’t just about DNA, but about bonds between people, you can find happiness and peace. People treat you how you let them. Acceptance of hurtful behavior is silently telling the other that it’s ok. It’s never ok. Family doesn’t get to stay merely because there is a physical connection.

Without going into great detail, I had to do the former with my family, nearly ten years ago. I had reached a moment when the decision had to be made. I knew I couldn’t possibly work through the loss of my child and dwell in the chaos they, without fail, brought to my life. To begin to heal from Becca’s violent death I had to say goodbye to the negative I could let go of. So, for the past decade, I have not talked to them, or seen them, once.

I’ve hesitated to write about this part of my life because I don’t want to open that can of worms. As a disclaimer, when I write about this subject, I am sharing what my perception of the past is. I am quite certain they would have a much different story to tell. I am not going to mention names and will try to speak in generalities where I can. I am half expecting a nasty phone call or a letter from an attorney telling me to stop talking about them. What happens remains to be seen. I’ve chosen to forge ahead because cleaning out the bullshit is important to finding a balance . . . even if the bullshit is a blood relative.

Right around the first passing date of Becca’s death I removed my family from my life. For the first eight years, A.D. (after her death) I didn’t let anyone. I had a boyfriend, a term I use very loosely, and my boys. Now I know I only kept the loose boyfriend around because saying goodbye to another person seemed overwhelming at the time. I’d lost Becca, my family was gone, and the boys weren’t very happy with how I was existing. I isolated myself from any real connections outside of the house.

One day, I started to let people get closer to me. Just a little at a time and I still remained guarded. If I kept one foot out of the relationship door I could quickly put distance between myself the offender. You can’t be in a toxic relationship if you leave, right? Sort of. You are in a toxic relationship with yourself if you keep any form of connection at arms length. People need connections with others to remain healthy.

I’d always had trouble bonding with other women. I felt as if I was in a contest with them somehow. Especially when I was with my loose boyfriend. I never felt good enough because he continually cheated. When we were out together his eyes constantly scanned our surroundings for other women. He’d even make comments to me about how hot they were or how good they’d be in bed. This behaviour added cracks to my already broken soul. Eventually, I got to a place where he was gone, too.

Then a funny thing happened. Without having to worry about whether loose boyfriend was going to slip another random woman his number I didn’t have to judge myself against them. I found out that women can be friends. Allies. Support. They help me stay afloat when the waves are relentless.

So, I started to let them in! It was scary. In truth, it took awhile to completely trust each of them. But I am so glad I could. And did. Slowly, without realizing it, I was rebuilding my family. Creating a group of people in which I felt bonded. Safe. Belonging to something larger than just me. In doing so . . . I have allowed the sunshine into some dark corners in my life.

A few of them have trusted me enough to let me into their life. To allow me to know their children. When I look at them, all so beautiful, I can almost feel what being a grandmother is. The only thing missing is the DNA tie. Sigh, that is something I just have to accept. I am so very grateful to be anything at all in these children’s lives. Having them in my life eases some pains and brings me great joy. A joy I wouldn’t have if not for the kind moms I have met.

I used the term borrowed grandchildren. One of the moms I know said she didn’t care for that term. She said I wasn’t borrowing them, instead, I was building a loving relationship with them. She is a strong and courageous woman. She is my family, now.

I have learned that the journey through life is easier with family. My troubles are lighter when I have others who help me carry them. Moments are happier when a little one wants to share their most precious toy with me. Or, slides their blankie onto my lap so I feel comforted.

So, I am building my family. I still have people I am related to in my life. But the majority are those I have no physical connection with. I feel safe in this group of chosen members. The village has helped me heal! I am sorry I waited so long to let others in. If you find yourself in the place I was . . . you can change things. Purge the negative and allow in more positive. We need family.

And, it’s never too late to build one for yourself.

 

Say Her Name Please

I had a moment today, the kind that brings you to your knees, while I was at work. I am pretty sure I hid it well as no one asked me if I was ok. In truth, I physically stumbled as images tumbled through my mind. One connected to the next . . . going in and out of focus so quickly it made me feel nauseous. A sweet memory of a three year old Becca followed too quickly by the truth that she is dead. Nearly every thought a grieving mother has is punctuated by the truth of their child’s death.

When my daughter was three I rushed her to the doctor with a horrible rash around her mouth. I was frantic to find out what had caused it and if she was in serious danger! Had she eaten something poisonous? Burned herself somehow? Nothing made sense but I knew the circular red rash around her lips had to be examined. I remember crying in the waiting room as my toddler looked up at me with concern. Sweet girl . . . she was worried about me when she was the one who was sick! This made me cry even harder.

As the doctor examined her face he asked me questions. Were all the cabinets child proofed at home? Had she been left alone for any amount of time? Did we have a pet she might be allergic to? Was there a fall recently? None of those things were a factor in her condition. Then I remembered something. Relaxing a bit I shared it with the doctor.

“That explains it then,” he said, “your daughter has given herself a hickey around her mouth!”

The night before, Becca had been in the tub playing. Toys floated around her, and so did the cup I used to rinse her hair after I’d washed it. I’d often read, sitting next to the bathtub, while she played. At one point, I’d looked at her and she had the rinse cup suctioned onto her face, over her chin. I laughed at her and told her she was being silly! I also told her not to drink any of the bath water but I’m pretty sure she did.

Relief flooded me when I realized what had happened. After her nightly bath, I’d tuck her into bed under her Care Bear blanket, and say good night. The hickey must have darkened somehow, or I didn’t notice it in the dim light, either way . . . it wasn’t apparent until the next day. And then, of course, I panicked.

The image of my beautiful little girl with the creamy skin and red raspberry mouth and chin flashed into my mind today, out of nowhere. I don’t know what caused this memory to shake loose and float to the surface this afternoon. The happiness that was attached to the image, and the reminder of the relief I felt years ago hearing she was going to be alright, swerved into devastation when I remembered that not every situation turns out this way. I can no longer trust that “everything is going to be ok” because that last time . . . it wasn’t.

The days when I could see my children tucked snugly into bed, under my care, safe from the world are gone. No more can I kiss their boo-boos and make them all better. Kisses can’t fix some things. Moms should be able to make everything better, always. We know we can’t. And sadly, bereaved mothers have the proof.

Today’s experience of having the memory and following it to the end was a quick process. Bam, bam, and boom. She was three, beautiful, and full of giggling life. In seconds, she went from a toddler to my deceased daughter. I felt like a tennis ball, lofted into the air to be slammed back to the ground almost immediately. Soaring for a few exquisite seconds. What incredible seconds they were.

It’s like that though, as I said earlier, every memory is ended with the period of their passing. Thoughts all end the same. With identical punctuation. In grammar, a period is defined as being “placed at the end of a declarative sentence indicating a full stop”. My daughter wasn’t done writing the sentence the toddler in her had started.

And I wasn’t done reading her story.

When you think about Becca tonight, and I hope you do, please think of the giggling precocious little girl who smelled of sunshine and maple syrup. The small child who kept us all laughing. My daughter, the one who first taught me what true love really is.

Say her name for me . . . and smile.

 

Megan Leah

I often write about how different each mother grieves on the journey after the loss of a child. A few months ago I had been sitting with one of my oldest friends and we were discussing the loss of our daughters. Amanda, Mandy to me, lost her child when she was less than a year old in a freak auto accident. This was years ago, in linear time, but just like yesterday for her. While we were talking about different aspects of child loss visiting our child’s final resting place came up. She shared her truth with me and she has courageously agreed to share it with you, today.

I hope you, the reader, can take in her words without any judgement. Being open and willing to share some of the deeper aspects of our grief is very difficult and leaves us vulnerable. I am not anticipating any negative remarks from anyone I know . . . but if I read any, I will deal with it immediately.

I am sharing her writing today because it is Memorial Day. A day set aside for remembering those who died in active military duty, it’s become one in which we remember all of our loved ones who have passed. This is evident by the flowers, flags, and visitors who can be seen in nearly every cemetery. What follows is Amanda’s story about visiting her daughter’s, Megan Leah, grave.

This journey is tough. It’s not for sissies. The truths we have to confront along our way often brings us to our knees. I know, from experience, outsiders can not understand this. I was an outsider when my friend lost her precious baby daughter. I didn’t say the right things. I wondered if she was ever going to get “back to normal”. I have apologized.

I am eleven years into living without my daughter and I am exhausted. Amanda is over thirty years in and still finds a reason to laugh, to love, and has the strength to share a tiny part of a journey that spans decades.

Thank you, Mandy. For your wisdom, bravery, and laughter.

The following is a piece of Amanda’s writing about visiting her child, Megan Leah:

Ok, here we go. With the Memorial Day holiday around the corner I find myself thinking about how many people go to the cemetery to pay respect to they’re loved ones and lay flowers down. I won’t be one of those people.

When my six month baby girl Megan Leah was killed in a car accident back in 1985 I found myself thinking about the one thing that us grieving mommy’s won’t say out loud let alone say it to someone else. My child is 6 feet underground decomposing.

The physiological changes our precious children will go through. It’s not something I want to think about but, if you’re completely honest with yourself you do think about it. How can you not?

For a few years I did go to the cemetery to lay flowers at her grave and sat down to talk to her. Then after awhile my thought “went there”. I refused to go NO MORE! My sweet, chubby baby girl was down there withering away bit by bit and I couldn’t deal.

In my faith I know Megan isn’t really there at the cemetery. She is in my heart and soul. I will always have her all around me. Some people along the way have asked when was the last time you were at the cemetery? I tell them years. They look at me like I’ve lost my mind. They’re right I have lost my mind! My baby was viciously taken away from me and I don’t want to go to the cemetery and have that vision of her decomposing in the ground that I’m looking down at.

So, whether or not you go to the cemetery to honor your child is your choice and I won’t judge you for it. But, I’ve already made mine.