This New Path

My life has had some profound shifts the past few weeks. For the better. Changes I set into motion . . . and not something that happened to me. I think that is an important distinction to acknowledge because not many life upheaving events have been by my doing. Instead, they’ve been in reaction to an event thrust upon me. The major changes in life can be easier to handle when we’ve made the choice to make the change.

Recently, I’ve written of communication with the man who killed my child eleven years ago. I have had just over a decade of time to react to my child’s untimely death. To wear down the edges of it so I’m not continually sliced open with its existence. To accept, a bit more each day, that it really happened and this is what my life is now. To accept that someone else’s choice forced a life altering reality into my own. I have had to react to Becca’s death, in a thousand different ways, over the course of the past eleven years.

But now, I have the chance to alter my life again by choosing what path I will take. Each day is full of healing possibilities for me. For every bereaved mom, I think. Sometimes we see them and can hold them close and learn from them. Other times, the air around us is heavy and the light is dim and we can’t see what possibilities lie at our feet.

Then there are the times when we see a path veering sideways off of the one we are walking on. I am sure the path has exposed itself to me before but I just wasn’t ready to see it. It’s always been there, I think, but my eyes couldn’t accept it as being a possibility. I think, when I did finally notice it, I might have tentatively set a foot onto it . . . leaving the safety of the uneven ground I knew so well . . . to peer into its shadowy depth. There were times that I didn’t think this new path was for me. No thank you. I’ll continue to travel the hazardous road of child loss instead of venturing into somewhere I don’t know. I know, by now, the monsters I will face on my journey. I don’t know what hides in the dark curves of the unknown terrain.

This new path exposed itself to me a few years ago. It didn’t seem so daunting, for once. It wasn’t as dark as before. But, I still wasn’t ready to leave the security of what I have known for a decade plus. I stopped, looked at the spot where one path met the other and decided to stay where I was for now. I knew it would present itself again, eventually. And that, one of these times, I would be ready to confidently set foot upon new earth and move forward into it.

This new path didn’t so much present itself to me as I was actively looking for it. I had been seeing it more frequently in the past few years so I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to find. I just had to gather a few things before I set forth upon it. An address. My boys blessing, or maybe just their acceptance. A willingness to face whatever was on the other side in the heart of the other person. The person who killed my Becca. Finally, one day, I had all of those things. I took the step.

I chose to move toward forgiveness and deeper healing rather than not explore what it could be for me. For him. For all of those who were impacted by my child’s death. I didn’t know exactly what I would face as I turned the corner that hid my former journey from me. I had bravely decided to see where this change in my journey would take me. I wasn’t sure. Would it open old wounds? Is there unknown anger lurking just under the surface of my conscious mind? I don’t think so. I am done being angry. The chance that something wonderful could come from forgiveness is worth the risk of changing course.

When I think of where I have been and where I am going I really visualize a path. A physical place with rocks and water and bushes that scratch me when I pass too close to them. Quicksand catching hold of my foot and anchoring me in place while I slowly sink. Sections that are ink black because the sun is blotted out and I can’t see any light. Anywhere. Others that are sweet with tall grass and clean air where I remember my child alive. Places where the horizon looks like a duplicate of what I just passed through and fought so hard to overcome.

Is this new path, I have chosen, a shortcut to the end? The end being complete healing? I don’t think there is complete healing. So probably not. But, it’s a chance for my healing to be wider as I veer from what I know. Will it lead me back to familiar ground? Probably. When I get back to the original path I will be more equipped to fight through the battles that are waiting for me.

I’ve chosen forgiveness and I believe it’s made me stronger.

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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.

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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Again?

Three days ago I posted a blog entry about happiness. I must have been having a good day. With this piece, you will see the path of grief for what it is . . . a non linear journey. As we travel along it’s path, we traipse back and forth over ground we’ve covered dozens of times. It can’t be helped. Nothing is ever healed completely.

Another blogger read my last piece, “When She Laughed”, and left me a comment on my site. She stated that she liked the fact that I was optimistic in what I’d written about happiness. In a reply, I was careful to state that I didn’t want her, or anyone else to think I started my grieving feeling this way. Instead, I started it mad and sad and angry and jealous and bitter. Very little happiness or optimism was involved. I am always fearful that someone who is struggling may think somehow I am doing it right and they are doing it wrong. I don’t ever want to add more weight to an already heavy existence.

Especially, the feeling of failure.

But when I wrote that reply, yesterday, I was still having a good day. It was upbeat and light. I still felt happy. So many things are looking positive in my day to day life. Both of my boys are happy and doing well. There is a move in my future. My art, my writing. I’ve made big decisions that I feel confident in. A handful of people have told me that they are thrilled to see my eyes sparkle again. “You’re so happy!” they’ve commented to me.

Then today dawned cold and rainy and grey. And, magical because of a wedding happening an ocean away. I am not a royal watcher. I didn’t wake up extra early, bake scones, brew tea, don a whimsical hat, and settle in to be a part of the history making nuptials. I honestly don’t care enough to go out of my way to watch an American become part of the British royal family.

Yet, when the highlights played across the screen this evening I watched a few short minutes of the affair. What stuck with me was not the dress or guests. It wasn’t the fact that an actress from the USA became a duchess in England with the words “I do”. Or that so much of what transpired was breaking from tradition. None of that. What caught me off guard was the look on the groom’s face as he watched the woman he loved draw closer to the altar. His face softened when he caught sight of her. He appeared to be utterly mesmerized and completely in love with his bride.

All I could think about is the fact that my daughter will never have the chance to be looked at in that manner. And it is fucking heartbreaking to me that this (and so many other experiences) were stolen from her by someone who was irresponsible. By someone who decided drinking and driving was his right. By a young man who thought a boozy Saturday night took precedence over the safety of anyone else.

As easy as that . . . the happiness evaporated. I felt as if a balloon had deflated because of the piercing truth of my daughter’s death. Because of the enormity of the years, and experiences, she’s lost.

I’m moving nearer the lake. Who the hell cares?? My art seems to be taking off, in some regards, but what’s the use in pursuing it? What I write . . . does it help me or anyone else? Who knows. Nothing major changed in my life today, yet, everything changed in my life today. Nothing else really matters because my child is dead.

The hopefulness skittered away as quickly, and completely, as a cloud passing over the sun and plunging the world into darkness. There and gone.

I guess I am trying to illustrate two points here:

Even after eleven years, and some very deep healing, I still experience the emotions I felt initially following Becca’s death. I am treading over ground I have covered many times before. No one is immune from these circular situations that spiral us back from where we’ve been. Expect it. It happens to all of us . . . no matter where we are in our grief journey.

We heal in little pieces. A stitch at a time. But, not all soul sutures are strong enough to withstand a violent blow. I am not going to chastise myself because I did a u-turn and headed back into a place that I’ve been so many times before. I have a right to be sad for my daughter’s losses. And, for my loss.

So, yes, I will have good days but I’ll also have shitty days. That’s my lot in life now. I imagine I will always vacillate between emotions and this will irritate some people. They want us to be better. To hurt less. And, as quickly as possible. That’s just not going to happen.

Feel happy when you can . . . and embrace the sadness when you can’t. These emotions are critical to healing. Sadness is necessary.

The featured image above is from this past Tuesday when Stacey and I were in Muskegon. A bunch of dandelions growing between a sidewalk and a wall. Joyfully yellow with their heads turned toward the sun. They are beautiful because they exist in a place that isn’t very hospitable to greenery. We exist in a condition that isn’t amenable to complete happiness.

But we can give it our best shot each day to find some happiness among the tears.

 

The Old Moon Asked

When I woke up this morning . . . my heart was full of joy! There was no sadness present.

The smell of my daughter was still in the air when I hopped out of bed. Scents from her childhood hung heavy around me. Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Applesauce. And, maple syrup. She loved pancakes. I truly expected her to be asleep in the other room.

Hadn’t I just put her to bed? Tucked safely under her Care Bear blanket? Her blond hair spread across the small Sesame Street pillow I’d bought her? I knew when I went into her room a wisp of her hair would be stuck to her cheek because we’d missed the syrup from last night’s dinner. I couldn’t wait to bury my face in the crook of her neck and just lay there until she woke from her dreams.

My eyes, still blurry from my own deep sleep, could see her bedroom door just across the room. For a moment I felt bad that her room was really a walk in closet because I couldn’t afford a bigger apartment. She’s so small, I thought, and we won’t be here forever. She’s safe. She’s with you. That’s all that matters.

Then the door to her room turned into a framed Matisse print on the wall. I wasn’t in the small apartment in Boston from 1986. It was 2018 and my daughter had been dead for eleven years.

We have dreams of our deceased child. Then there are times when we visit with our child. What I experienced last night was something completely different all together. I travelled in time . . . back to a moment when everything was alright.

In both the dreams of Becca, as well as the visits with her, I am acutely aware of the fact that she is dead. It’s a truth from which there is no escape. Until last night. There is no other answer that I can come up with other than I was able to access the past. I wasn’t burdened with the knowledge of her absence. I was light with the joy of her existence.

When I held her chubby little hand in mine I wasn’t preoccupied in trying to push her death away. I was a twenty one year old momma holding her three year old daughter’s sticky hand. Becca squealed with laughter as I put her palm on my mouth and made noises! She closed her eyes and whipped her head back and I listened to the music of her giggles. Pure delight for us both.

“Again!!” she said . . . over and over. So I did it . . . again and again.

When she got tired, I showered her face with kisses and my baby girl rested her head in the peaceful place on my shoulder. The day was quietly ending. As her breathing deepened and I felt her relax into my body I started to recite the poem she loved to hear every night before bed:

“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night . . . sailed off in a wooden shoe . . . sailed on a river of crystal light and into a sea of dew . . . where are you going and what do you wish the old moon asked the three . . . we have come to fish the herring fish that live in this beautiful sea . . . nets of silver and gold have we . . . said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.”

This is the first time I have been able to get through that bit of verse without stopping after the first sentence because it was just too painful to finish. I’m crying.

And, I realize I am rocking back and forth. I need to rock my baby again.

Again.

And again.

 

Note: The verse I’ve included above was written by Eugene Field and was published on March 9, 1889. It’s original title was “Dutch Lullaby”. I read the poem to my daughter in it’s entirety hundreds of times. It’s quite lovely and I hope you take the time to read it.

 

Be Still

No day will ever be perfect with my child gone. But, the painful truth is . . . some come close. Sunday was one of those days. Yet, I felt guilt in feeling content. I know I shouldn’t but I felt like I was betraying my daughter. I had to give myself permission to be happy.

Lake Michigan has always had a pull to me. Not because of the usual beach activities, though. It’s one of the few places I’ve been that I can feel spirit. Not spirits. But the creator spirit. I can feel the connection between everything. I believe it’s the closest I come to going to church.

Sunday afternoon, as Stacey walked way ahead of me along the water’s edge, I realized how quiet it was. So quiet, in fact, that it stunned me. Then I realized the quietness wasn’t because there was no noise. There was no man made noise. Because, when I stood still enough I could hear the world!

First, just one noise crept in: the ice cracking as the water rose and fell with gentle waves. Then, to my right . . . not only could I see the tops of the trees swaying, I could hear the creaking of the branches! The wind carried the cries of far off seagulls, ones I couldn’t see, to my ears. I kept thinking: this is what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when the Native Americans lived on this land. Very peaceful. I felt completely content. It was amazing.

One thought jolted me back to my reality: you are a horrible mom!! How can you feel content? Your daughter is DEAD. Shit. The voice was right. I am horrible. I have no right to feel content. Is Becca up there, somewhere, broken hearted because I am happy without her??

Then, I felt a presence beside me. Within me. My own soul. I felt her embrace. Her warmth. The understanding that flowed over and through me was electrifying. My soul, my shattered and tattered soul, was knitting itself back together. She wanted me to understand a simple truth. She didn’t tell me to toss the guilt aside. She knew it was part of child loss. She encouraged me to embrace it. The epiphany: the bad comes with the good and all are needed to make my journey complete.

I bought a sign a few years ago. It read “it is well with my soul”. When I saw it, I was having a halfway decent day and my mood was relatively good. I felt pride in being able to accept joy even if only for a moment. I thought, enough time has passed for me to be able to feel healing within myself. The sign resonated with me so I brought it home. Every day it was a reminder to find and feel the happy that still existed everywhere.

But, I was only getting part of the message.

The happy times can not be the only ones that make our soul full. Though important, they can’t be what we base our soul’s health upon. Our soul must accept the bad, too. To fight against it, to deny it, just creates chaos within.

Acceptance is difficult, believe me, I know. For a long time acceptance, to me, was the same as saying what happened is alright. My uncle molesting me will never be alright, but I’ve accepted it’s what happened. I’ve accepted that my childhood was stolen and I can not go back and change it. The same for the premature death of my daughter. Her life was taken by another. This will NEVER be ok with me, but I have to accept it in order to find some peace. I think, somehow, by accepting these horrible truths, by making the battle with them smaller, we make room for happiness to flow in.

I am grateful that the sounds of the beach were natural and pure enough to let me my soul speak. Or maybe it was divinity that I heard. Maybe it was both as we are all pieces of the divine, aren’t we?

As I waited for Stacey to come back to where I was, I lowered myself onto a large piece of driftwood, and turned my face toward the late winter sun. The waves had picked up and the wind had stiffened. Faraway honks, of Canadian geese heading north, floated down through the thin air. I stretched my legs out in front of me and dug my fingers into the cold sand. A sigh of contentment escaped my lips.

We need these moments. We deserve them. Our child wants us to have them. Divinity does, too.  Knowing all of this, I can say:

It is well with my soul.

 

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