Know The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Son

Saturday, I drove halfway across the state of Michigan, to pick up my son. Two weeks ago he was nearly killed in a car crash. I needed to have him with me so I could reach over and touch him to prove to myself that he was still alive. The momma soul in my yearned to care for him during this healing period. Burning in my heart is the need to nurture my child.

The weekend of the crash I rushed across the state after receiving the news in a phone call. When I reached the hospital, I parked my car crookedly, and sprinted toward the doors. My other son, his twin brother, met me in the lobby to walk me up to his brother’s room. Surprisingly, their father trailed right behind him. My son wanted to prepare me for what I was going to see when I got to the room. I immediately started to cry.

My twins father and I are no longer together. We don’t get along. Years of crap have built a wall that is high. And, it is much stronger than I thought, because I was hoping the near death of our child would break it down. It didn’t. He was icilly cordial to me the entire time. The last day I was at the hospital I asked him if his cell number was the same, he replied yes. Good, I thought, I can get updates and be contacted if something goes wrong.

The next day, I started to message him, asking when our son would be released from the hospital. No answer. Throughout the day I both called and messaged him at least a dozen times. With every inquiry that went unanswered the scenarios of what must be happening grew darker in my thoughts. Nearly eight hours had passed from the initial text to my first communication with someone in that household. Eight hours of wondering if my son had relapsed. Had the brain bleed started to grow larger? Did the MRI not catch a fracture in his neck and he moved into paralysis? By the time I talked to my other son I was frantic. I was sure that his brother was dying and that I wouldn’t make it over to say goodbye. My children die. A slow spiral had started, gaining speed downward, with each hour that ticked past. I found myself in a full blown PTSD episode.

With my son’s phone call I finally got some answers about his brother. I was anxious and highly stressed and not handling anything very well. I explained to my son that I’d been trying to contact his father all day long and didn’t get one response. He informed me that his brother was home and resting comfortably and all was as well as it could be. I asked if I could come to visit my hurt son and I was told that my visit with my child could be from 10 to 2 the next day.

Fueled by PTSD adrenaline I became mad and asked why I was being ‘granted’ four hours. He’s my child, too. No, I said, that isn’t good enough. I needed to see my son and I would spend as much time with him as I wanted. Here, I should state that my boys are staying with their father. The next phone call, just a few minutes later, my son told me that my hours had been shortened from noon to 2. To which, naturally, I blew up. As you might expect things disintegrated from there. The third phone call informed me that I had “lost my privileges” because I was being difficult and that I could Skype or Facetime with my injured son.

“Are you fucking kidding me!?” I screamed to my son.
Everyone, but me, was able to spend time with him. His father, brother, stepmom, and aunt were all at the house. But somehow keeping his mom away seemed a fair idea. Bullshit. I was told I was being unreasonable. Playing the victim when I wasn’t the one that had gotten hurt. I needed to respect their father’s rules for his house. (This is where it really hit me that the wall between us is never coming down). I was told that I “did it to myself” and I had to accept the consequences. A lot of words flew out of my uncensored mouth. Words crafted in fear, terror. Some of them were unkind and accusatory. My son told me that their father had blocked my number years ago so he got none of my inquiries. Seriously, I thought, who the hell does that? Who can be so cruel?

But, I had to accept not seeing my son. What choice did I have? I was told coming to the house was going to cause a domestic problem with police and did I really want to add that to what was already going on? My mind was on fire with anger and the pain from not being listened to.”I caused this??” I yelled at my son. “This is fair?? Do you understand what I am going through over here? And how it’s exacerbated by hours of no contact with anyone there?” That “the momma, who’s already lost a child, needs to see him to calm her fears.”

Didn’t matter. None of it mattered. A few days later I was able to more calmly convey to my son, the intermediary between his parents, why I was reacting the way I was. Still didn’t change my being able to visit but my son and I took the time to understand each other. Then, this past Saturday, my injured son said he wanted to come stay with me for a bit. We tried to arrange a time.

Last summer my boys went to Europe. The trip had no definite end date. So, the boys agreed to spend the night with me to have dinner and visit. While we were eating dinner I was told that they wouldn’t be able to spend the night after all as their father had planned a birthday party for their stepmother. He wanted them to be there. I tried not to be mad. Notice I said tried. After a quick dinner I kissed them both goodbye and went to bed and cried. This almost happened again on Saturday. In trying to coordinate a time to pick my son up he asked me “could it be a little later . . . today is McKenna’s birthday”. McKenna is their little sister. For fuck’s sake.

Not only have I had the terror of nearly losing another child to deal with, but, I’ve been given the feeling of not mattering. Of being a second thought. Of being a nuisance. Bothersome. Unimportant. Part of me feels as if my sons have turned away from me. I feel cheated out of helping to care for my injured boy. That I am viewed as unhinged and untrustworthy.

Invisible and easy to forget.

No longer needed.

That is a lot for a bereaved mother to shoulder. Having one child killed, another who seems to view me as their father does and nearly losing another, the weight of emotions was enough to send me far down into the black hole. The descent was quick because the spiral is greased with everyday fears, feelings of guilt, loneliness. Oiled with the absence of my daughter. It’s a lightning fast ride to the bottom. I spent almost fourteen days at the bottom this time. And, I was left there alone. Saturday I crawled up out of the abyss, got into my van, and drove east to get my child.

Eleven years have passed since I lost my Becca. This crash, that almost took my son’s life, brought me right back to that day over a decade ago. The treatment I received after anchored me in the dark. Picking up my son was like the sun rising after a very long night.

PTSD is difficult to deal with. You never know what is going to trigger you. Or how long it will manifest. Surround yourself with others who understand and want to work with you, not against you. Find people who hand you a pair of wings when they see you in trouble . . . not attach a ball and chain around your ankle.

Most of all: believe you will rise again.

Because you will.

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.

 

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.