When She Laughed

As I was getting ready to sit down and write a blog my eyes swept across a picture I keep on a table in my bedroom. It’s a photograph of Becca and I laughing hysterically, while sitting next to each other, at a friend’s going away dinner. The moment is embedded so deep within my memories that I can feel her sitting to my right and telling me a wildly inappropriate joke. That daughter of mine was hilarious! She never failed to make us laugh!! And, we laughed a lot. I miss her laugh.

Being a single mom I couldn’t always afford everything we needed. So, once in a while, I had to let a bill slide. Generally it was the cable bill because it wasn’t a necessity. I remember one of those tv-less nights when we were all tired of board games and were just sitting around. Becca jumped up and started to act out scenes from her favorite movie, “Clueless”. The boys and I were entertained for at least an hour while she acted and re enacted the scene where one of the girls gets hit in the head with a shoe. Every time Becca fell to the floor the boys would squeal with laughter! Which just made her fall more theatrical the next time. After that we would often turn off the TV and shout out scenes for her to act for us. I would give anything to go back to those times. The four of us safe in the house and in love with each other and life.

I have a few questions for grieving moms. Do you remember the day the laughter stopped? Did it die with your child? Were you, too, sure that you would never laugh again? And, when you did, were you disgusted with yourself? Was there shame?? Is there still shame and guilt if you’ve found laughter again?

Laughter. Such a normal, and necessary, part of human existence. It comes from sensations of joy. Joy: delight, pleasure, happiness, glee. I am willing to bet that joy disappeared immediately from your emotional condition when your child died. As did laughter. For me it did. I never imagined myself laughing again. And . . . I didn’t for a very long time. Which was, among other things, very unfair to my surviving children. It was also unfair to me and her memory.

Everyone who knew Becca still remarks, to me, about her laugh. It came from her belly and was loud and she was unapologetic for the noise. Her laugh made me laugh. It’s true, it’s contagious. And a wonderfully beautiful thing!! We don’t laugh enough, us grieving moms, for various reasons.

How can I laugh when my child is dead?
There must be something wrong with me to be able to feel joy.
Do I love my child as much as I think I do because if I do I should be beyond repair and unable to find happiness without them.

The reasons we don’t laugh are as varied as each of us. Though there is some commonality in the experience, each of us must find a reason to laugh again.

The dictionary defines joy as follows: the emotion evoked by well being, success or good fortune or the prospect of getting what one desires. NONE of those pertain to our situation after child loss. Yet, we must come to a place where we can feel some of what is listed above. But why?

Our grandmothers had it right when they told us that laughter is the best medicine. There are so many physical benefits to a good chuckle. For one, our immune systems take a dive when we are thrust into bereavement. In that first year after my daughter was killed I had diarrhea continually. Constant headaches. Little sleep. My body was physically going through grief, too. A good laugh can help strengthen our immune system, release tension and anxiety, make us feel more positive and hopeful. Laughter can help diminish pain and protect us from the damage that stress from losing a child puts on our systems.

Laughter relaxes the body.
Laughter lightens the heaviness of anger. (and boy do we feel anger)
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins.
Laughter protects the heart. (our broken hearts need all the help we can find)
Laughter strengthens resilience.
Laughter shifts perspective.
Laughter bonds people to each other.

Stacey and I laugh. A lot. Probably more than we ever thought we would be laughing again. I think we are learning that though we find a reason to giggle . . . the sadness never goes away. It’s takes a while, but you can and hopefully will, find your way to laughter again. It is a necessary part of life and a large component to healing from the loss we’ve experienced.

If none of the reasons in the list above are enough for you to find your way to laughter again, how about this one:

Your child would want you to laugh.

Don’t you think so?

I know when it’s my time to join my daughter . . . my sons are going to be heartbroken. They will mourn my passing and grieve the loss of their mother. But I hope, with all of my heart, that they can remember how much we laughed and find a reason to laugh again. I want them to.

My daughter would say to me: laugh mom. Laugh because I laughed. Because I existed. For the boys. But mostly, for you. I want you to be happy.

I remember a story I heard about Jesus in the garden with the children in Heaven. He invites them all to join him in a walk. Gleefully, they all get up to follow him except for one little boy. Jesus asks the little boy why he isn’t coming along. The boy responds that his mother is crying and he is worried so he has to stay and look out for her.

Hearing that story made me think of how horrible it would be to have my daughter, with the entirety of heaven and space at her fingertips, won’t enjoy it because I am keeping her anchored to me. Anchored to me because of my sadness.

Don’t let your child’s legacy be one of continued and complete sorrow. What a horrible thing it would be for your life to end when your child’s did. It takes so incredibly long, and a lot of inner emotional work, to come to the place where you celebrate your child’s life with laughter. But, I know you can do it.

Find a reason to laugh today. I know our children rejoice when we do.

Standing At The Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe, I’ll see Becca!

Pieces Of Her

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Sea Glass and Scars

Losing a child never gets easier, it gets different. And no amount of time passed will erase the pain completely. It becomes part of us. Many of us, in all honestly, wouldn’t want it to go away.

Today is the eleventh time, the moment I last touched my child will exist on the clock. That minute will come and go in silence. Those around me not having been affected by her passing. Especially today. Very few in my every day life knew my daughter as a living person. For them, she exists in the stories I’ve shared and pictures I’ve posted.

The past few years, people have commented that I am handling my emotions better. I don’t fly off the handle at the smallest irritation. Crying is no longer always present . . . just below the surface. This isn’t because the pain has lessened, but instead, because my scar tissue has grown thicker. Each year, that passes, adds a layer of protection around my broken pieces.

Not only do I have added protection . . . I’ve learned to carry the pain differently than in the beginning. It’s weight is spread out more evenly across my soul. Making it easier to manage as I maneuver through the days. Upon waking each morning, I can tell which aspect has become heavier, and I adjust my stance accordingly. Sometimes, this works. Other times, not so much.

There are times when someone will say to me, “You are doing so much better!!”, and I cringe inside. Better? How can I do be better from losing my child? No one should ever be doing better from this event. Does that mean that I am accepting of her death? That I’ve come to terms with it? Or maybe, I don’t love her as much as I used to? Am I forgetting my child??? My brain can tell me these things aren’t true . . . but a part of me still wonders.

I started writing this blog earlier today. I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a friend, so I decided to write through my feelings. When he arrived, I shut the computer and put this writing aside. I just got home . . . and felt the need to finish this, tonight.

I was at work when I passed through the moment. Quietly, I sat with my eyes closed, and concentrated on my Becca. Her solidness as I wrapped my arms around her. The weight of her’s on my shoulders. The smell of her hair when I held her close. Her voice, in my ear, when she said “I love you, mom.” The lighthearted feeling, in the air, when I waved good bye to my girl. Oh, I’d give anything to feel all of that again.

It’s not that I am doing better, or that it’s getting easier, because neither is true. More so, the edges of my pain have become smooth from my tears. Like sea glass. Easier to handle. I no longer slice myself when I adjust it. I know I can pick the pieces up and when I lay them back down, they won’t be covered in my blood. I have taught myself how to handle the pain, more gracefully.

The scar tissue, too, serves a purpose. It’s very existence shows me I am healing. Proof of my progress.

Five hours ago, I stood with others around me, and silently passed through “the moment”. When I opened my eyes, I whispered to my daughter, thank you for being mine. Thank you for choosing me. I miss you, Becs. I love you.

A little while later, a coworker paid for some items she was purchasing. She handed me change, and for some reason, I flipped the quarter over and looked at the year. 1983. The year Becca was born. My girl, telling me, “Mom, I’m with you. I hear the words you whisper to me. I’m always near. Please don’t hurt.” A gift from heaven. A reminder from my girl.
Tonight, I’m hurting . . . deeply. My heart is anguished and my arms feel emptier than usual. But my mind keeps circling back to this truth: I had her. She existed. She is mine. I will feel the pain a hundredfold if that means I can remember what it was like to hold her in my arms.

For this alone . . . I am eternally grateful.

Note: I am not usually one to say “hug your children because you don’t know when it will be the last time” but I feel the insistent urge to say this, tonight. Hug your children. Tell them you love them. Don’t let this moment pass without showing your love. Because, truthfully, we don’t know when the last time will be. Love is what matters.

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.

Knotted Regrets

Eleven years ago, today, was the last time my daughter came over for dinner. Of all the things we discussed that afternoon . . . who knew, I would need to know she wanted to be cremated, just a week later. I didn’t. There are times, when I wonder, if maybe deep in her soul . . . she did.

Becca came bounding through the front door, as she usually did, with a loud hello and a tight hug. She joked around about a show I was watching on the History Channel. She loved to make us laugh. But then, the conversation turned toward the serious. She shared with me how she had made up with a friend, recently, with whom she had a falling out. Then, she started to talk about her childhood.

It wasn’t until she said the words, “I really loved my childhood . . . I wouldn’t change a thing,” did I realize there had been a time when she wanted to have a different one. My daughter had felt, and rightly so, that there had been too much responsibility laid on her shoulders at a young age. I know her friends lives were much different than hers, I guess I just didn’t realize how much it bothered her. Writing this now, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed because my daughter felt “less than”.

Becca had the responsibility of watching her brothers when I had to work. I’d never knew how much that prevented her from doing. I know she said she wouldn’t change a thing . . . but I would. And, herein lies one of the biggest issues, mothers who have lost children, grapple with: the regrets.

Regrets over things we did, as well as those we didn’t do. Continuously playing conversations, we had with our child, over and over in our minds. Wishing we’d said something different or that we would have taken the time to say more of the good things. Hundreds of “I wish” or “I should have” statements gallop through our thoughts every day. Pounding the lost moments and the broken promises and the harsh words into our souls. Each one, like a pinprick, into our hearts. We are punishing ourselves for not keeping our child safe from the world.

The truth is we don’t need to beat ourselves up . . . others do that for us. Depending on how your child lost their life, there will be some, who ultimately blame the parent. But, that is a topic for a different blog. For now, we’ll focus on the regrets.

To say to you, don’t let the regrets steal your thoughts, is wasted. You will. I did, and still do. Regrets we carry while our child is alive, turn into anchors around our neck, after their death. If you think that I am going to say something cliche like: take the opportunity now to tell those you love how you feel, I’m not. I mean, yes of course, do that. But, I also realize how unrealistic it is to think we can live like “everyday may be your last”.

It’s unrealistic because it’s exhausting to live on guard all day, every day. Most bereaved mothers, however, do live this way for quite a long time after their child is gone. Each time my sons left the house, for a long time after losing Becca, I was certain they were going to be killed, too. My behavior, erratic from grief, was exacerbated when they were out of my sight. I’d have cyclical thoughts about them dying and wondering if they know I love them. Them dying . . . and being unsure I did enough to keep them safe. It felt as if I was sending them to their death every time I allowed them to leave the house. A person, simply cannot live, with that level of anxiety and fear. It takes a very deep toll, on both our physical health, as well as our mental well being. I truly believe that losing a child ages us immediately, and, shortens our life span, drastically.

My thoughts caused me to gather even more regrets in those first years. Watching my boys walk down the street, I’d have the obsessive urge, to yell to them that I loved them. What if something happened and I didn’t take that chance? Immediately, the regrets set in. It’s truly a hard thought process to interrupt. But, we need to do just that.

As bereaved mothers, we also need to find a way to put the regrets we do have, down. They are so heavy and cumbersome. They serve no purpose in our lives. We must find a way to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. I believe, where my daughter is now, she has already forgiven me my wrongs. I also believe, she wouldn’t want me to burden myself with them when I set off on this new path. I think this is where the true problem lies: forgiving ourselves.
Child loss grief is such a tangle of truths. Sadness, pain, shame, blame, guilt, regrets, responsibility . . . are all connected and wrapped around each other, tightly. This knot, in our lives, can take years to ease apart. But it’s part of healing. It’s a delicate process.

I made mistakes. I still make mistakes. I’m human. I will continue to make them, of that I am sure. Most of the time, I did the best I could . . . sometimes, I just flat out failed. It’s taken years for me to understand that I can let all of those regrets, hundreds of them, go. I carry enough, with me, on my journey . . . I don’t have room for the negative. When they surface again . . . I’ll let them go, again. And, I won’t beat myself up because I should have been perfect. I’ll never be perfect . . . but I will be authentic.

Examine your regrets. You need to in order to release them. Probably, more than once. But understand they do not define you . . . or your relationship with your child. I know, Becca’s feelings about her childhood, don’t define our relationship.

I wish for you, grieving momma, peace in the thoughts that come to your mind. Peace in your aching heart. Forgiveness for yourself. Love from those around you.

I wish for you, healing.

Daffodils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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