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.

 

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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.

As We Sleep

A few months have passed since my daughter has come to visit me in my dreams. I find myself going to sleep earlier in the hopes she’ll finally appear as I slumber. When she doesn’t, I don’t awake with the immediate realization my dreams were empty of her presence. I just feel the normal ache that one feels when their hands haven’t touched their child’s skin in years. The profound need to hold our child close again never really leaves us . . . but at moments like this, it’s amplified a thousand times over.

I’ve often talked about the first time Becca came to me in a dream. She stood at my front door and begged to be let in. I stood a room away, watching through the door, as my daughter’s voice broke with sadness. They didn’t want me to see her, the way she looked, after the crash. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to hold my daughter again. I needed to help her and she needed me to hold her. We needed each other after the tragedy that had happened.

There should be a place, an in between space, where Heaven and Earth overlap. Always lit with the slanted late afternoon sun that casts a golden glow over everything. The smell of new growth in the dirt is heavy, it mixes with the scent of silvery strands, and somehow we know we’ve been here before. Here we can sit next to our deceased loved one. Laugh and cry, and say good bye, until it’s our turn. Maybe we can only reach this place as we sleep.

This first dream I had of my girl was this. But not quite as comforting. As she walked around the table toward me, I could tell her neck was broken, so I reached out my arms to draw her close. One of her hands steadied her head because she wasn’t able to hold it up anymore. I gently laid it against my chest and I felt her both arms circle my waist. She wanted my help. She asked me to fix it. Sorry. She kept saying I’m sorry, mom, I’m so sorry.

I had to tell her I was sorry, too, because I couldn’t fix this. Everyone around us looked at her as if she was something unnatural. As if I should be horrified at the sight of her. I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why the others were. We stood together, holding each other, swaying back and forth, crying. At this moment, I can’t remember exactly how this dream ended. Maybe it’s written somewhere in one of the many journals I’ve kept. Or maybe the ending doesn’t matter at all. She was there. I held her. We cried because we both knew the life we’d had together was over.

This dream was the absolute hardest one I’ve ever had. About her, about anything. I’ve called it a dream through the first part of this piece of writing because that is what most people would believe them to be. I believe, this was a visit from my dead child. That was the first time she’d been able to get to me. Some time had passed before she had. I’ve wondered why. Because her death was so violently traumatic and instant and unexpected? Was her soul confused at what had happened? Did it take her a while to learn how to move through her new world to find me? I imagine it was something like this. I am so glad she did. And still does.

As I said initially, it’s been a while since Becca’s come to visit me. Some nights my last thoughts are: please visit me baby . . . momma misses you so much . . . please please please.

I miss my girl more than any words can express. The ache is wider and deeper and more full than a few sentences can hold. It’s scream that continually pounds in my chest. A loss that no words can adequately convey. There is nothing I can say to a mother who has not lost a child that will make them feel, even for the smallest slice of a second, the pain that has taken permanent residence in my soul.

When I am sitting across from another bereaved mother, and the haunted part of me sees the same in her eyes, I ask Becca to lead her lost child back to her. Show them how, my sweet girl. Help them sink into their mother’s dreams and let their souls touch for a while. Lead the way, my Becca.

But when you’re done . . . please come back to me. I know there is so much to see where you are, I understand. Tonight though, tonight . . . please come to momma. I miss you.

I need you.