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.

 

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Shifting

The morning I woke up after having the dream was the closest to feeling completely happy I’ve felt in a long time. My daughter didn’t feel eleven years, or another world, away. Her essence clung to everything around me. The warmth of her body hung heavy in the air. It’s as if she had just walked out of the room! I had been in her presence.

Details of the dream were difficult to hold onto at any length. Flashes of images, throughout the day, helped bring them into clearer focus. Over a few hours, I stitched the pieces together into a complete picture. Even remembering I’d been incredulous, during the dream, at being with my daughter again!

A six year old piggy tailed Becca came rushing into the room to see me! A pink and purple puffy jacket squished in my arms as I picked her up into a hug. I held her tight as I kissed her flush face and she giggled! Her sticky little hands held my face and she kissed me!! Somewhere in the dream I asked myself how this could be happening. I pushed it aside and concentrated on the joy of having my child in my arms!

My mother started to pack up Becca’s clothing which signaled to me that my parents trusted me to take care of her again. I don’t know why my child was staying with them but I was elated that I was able to take her home with me. The little voice, that seemed only interested in relaying bad news, told me that this wasn’t real. Not to be too happy because it would all be over soon. As I watched my daughter rushing around gathering her toys I told it to go away. Seeing my daughter so happy, so alive, was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

But, as dreams always do, it ended.

As I am apt to do, I spent the day ruminating over and picking apart everything that happened in my dream. Why had my parents been caring for my daughter? Why wasn’t she living with me? Becca had been so happy to see me, as if she’d not seen me in a while, how long had we been apart? I’d completely forgotten about her pink and purple jacket . . . why had she been wearing that particular coat? How had I forgotten about it? Why did I remember it now? Had Becca chosen to appear to me as a six year old, and if so, what was her reason? Honestly, I drive myself crazy some days trying to figure things out! I can’t help myself.

My mind whirling with dozens of question I told myself to stop. Out loud I said: “Just stop.”

None of that matters. What matters is that you spent joyous time with your child! You had a beautiful visit with your daughter. A visit that is all too rare. Don’t lose sight of what is important here. So I stopped dissecting dream moments to find hidden meaning and instead put my attention towards the incredible joy in the experience.

To me, though this realization may seem small, it is truly monumental when applied to the entire journey through the aftermath of child loss. The change in perspective from one vantage point to another means a world of difference to the viewer. It’s like looking at the day to appreciate what we can see instead of trying to find what we know is missing.

When our child dies we are plunged into deep mourning. There is not one piece of our world that has not been touched by our loss. To know this truth is to understand why we spend a very long time focusing on the child’s death and not necessarily their life. I don’t believe it is a conscious choice we make to do so. It’s all part of the coming to terms with and eventually accepting that our child has died.

Very simply: we need to celebrate their life instead of only mourning their death. Easier said than done . . . believe me. But, as the years pass, how she died isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Notice in the first sentence of this paragraph I wrote the world “only” before mourning. We will always mourn. The tragic fact that our child died before us will forever bring a great sense of loss and sadness. However, the beauty in the fact they lived and the memories we carry will begin to present themselves more often. That’s when the shift in perception changes our lives.

This shift can be difficult. It was for me. Being happy felt like a betrayal to my daughter. Still does. Not thinking about the unfairness of her death made me feel as if I was saying her death was ok. I’m not. Her death isn’t ok. How she died, because of someone else’s decision, makes me rage. All the things she missed out on are unacceptable. Some days I won’t be able to think about anything else but how my daughter was cheated. Her twenty three years (and six weeks) held so much more than the split second in which she was killed, though.

For myself, I have to concentrate on how my girl lived, not how she died. Just as in my dream, I need to tell the voice to go away and let me concentrate on the years filled with our life. Often, I repeat it to myself many times a day. It’s easy to slip back into mourning. Expect to slip . . . a lot. I still do and I am in the twelfth year A.D. (After Death) and I expect it to continue. Just don’t get mired there. Our children don’t want our lives to be completely about their deaths.

The life our child lived, and lost, is both an anchor and a balloon for us. On the hardest days the weight of their absence will drag us to the bottom of the ocean. On the best ones, the memories we carry will be balloons that lift us toward the sky.

Let the shift in perception happen. Allow yourself to be lifted more often. Your child will smile with you. And, together you will fly!!

An added note: The photo above was taken by a very dear friend, Kristina, who makes it a priority to put my Becca’s name wherever she visits. This started with people writing Becca’s name in the sand for me and has blossomed into a tradition very near to my heart. I’m blessed to have many different photos of her name around the world. She’s been seen in places she’s never even been!!

 

 

When Time Wobbles

After work today, I met up with my friend, to have a quick lunch. I asked her if she wanted to go to a popular breakfast spot, because we’ve never been, and I thought it would be fun to go somewhere new. She said no because she’d only been there once, with her daughter, before she was killed. I completely understood. I thought to myself, it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that way about going somewhere. I thought I’d crossed all those bridges over the past ten years. How wrong I was.

Have you ever been in a situation where time seems to slip, back and forth, over itself? So completely believable . . . you forget which day you are really in?

When my boys were little, they loved the pictures that you could tilt one way to see an image, then move it slightly the other way, for a completely different image. To them, it seemed like magic!! The picture changed, so quickly, from one to the other. This afternoon, time wobbled and I was in two different days at once.

As I pulled up to the light, getting ready to take a left into the parking lot, I realized I’d been here before. The snow, which had been falling steadily all day, melted away. In its place, there was a blanket of brightly colored leaves, spread over the concrete. The air around me grew warmer as the time of year clicked back to autumn . . . twenty five years ago.

I pulled my van into a parking space, but when I got out, I was looking at the silver Mazda I used to drive. I shook my head in an attempt to gather my senses. I was doing well . . . until the automatic doors swooshed open and the store was almost exactly as it had been the last time I was there. With a ten year old Becca. That moment tore the breath from my lungs. I should turn around and leave, I thought. But, I didn’t.

It was too much. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t leave, though. There is something about being in a place where your deceased child has been. Like part of them is still there . . . waiting for you to find it. I couldn’t leave because around every corner I could hear my little girl’s laugh. I could hear her sweet voice, float over the aisles, towards me. Chasing it, I found myself standing in front of the cereals, watching the shimmering memory of my daughter reach for her favorite one. Swinging herself around, her hair fanning out behind her, big eyes begged me to let her get it. I’m so glad I did.

I’m not sure how long I stood there, today. I was trying very hard not to cry. Someone walking past me, looked at me oddly, and I realized I was breathing as if I was in labor. Those short, open mouthed exhalations, that help to work through the pain of giving birth. I didn’t care how I looked. I was standing there, watching my daughter, alive again. It was beautiful heartache.

I walked up and down the aisles, searching for what I needed, and what I needed was my daughter. Just as in life . . . she was one step ahead of me. I caught a glimpse of her sun gold hair just past the pile of apples. I quickly made my way around the islands of fruit but she was already gone. Always moving, just out of my grasp.

I begged her: please wait please wait please wait . . .

I never caught her. I did see my ten year old daughter one more time, in the store, though. She was standing in front of the flowers and smiling at me. With her little hand, she waved, and was gone. Oh sweet girl . . . my heart aches for you, tonight.

I stood in the spot she had just been. I could still feel her. I thought, the last time I was here, I didn’t know the next time, my daughter would be dead. Who knew a simple trip to the grocery store, a quarter of a century ago, would hold such precious memories? We don’t know until much later.

I picked out a bouquet I knew she would love. Colorful, just like her.

I won’t go back to that store again. As I loaded my items onto the conveyor belt, to pay for them, I realized I’d picked up much more than material goods. Sweet memories, that I’d forgotten, were the most important things I could have found. I was reminded of her musical giggle. The scent of sunshine clung to her hair. Her beautiful eyes, looked up at me, full of perfect love.  A gap toothed smile told me she was happy.

She was amazing.

For a few precious minutes . . . my little girl was with me again. And I was complete.

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.

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.

(W)hole

When I found the foot high statue in the image above . . . I was struck by what it said to me. A perfect depiction of the hole left in a mother’s chest when her child dies. The gaping wound every bereaved mother suffers when her baby is taken from her. You may not be able to see it, but every single one of us has it. And we all protect it, for the rest of our days.

Over the past few years, finally being strong enough to venture out of my safe little world, I’ve met other mothers who have lost children in as many different ways as you can imagine. But don’t imagine them . . . they will break your heart.

One of the often discussed truths is whether it is easier to lose a child when you’ve had the chance to say goodbye before they go, or when their death is sudden, with no preparation or last words. I lost my daughter in an instant. In the time it took for a car to flip and break her neck. She was here, then gone. I didn’t watch her suffer bravely through a long illness. Holding her hand and telling her I love her as she slipped away wasn’t an option for us. On a Thursday I hugged her, not knowing it would be the last time I would touch her while she was alive. The following Sunday, she was dead. I am thankful for the conversation we had Saturday afternoon when we both said we loved each other. At least, I have that.

I know mothers who did spend their child’s last moments with holding their hands. Telling them it was ok to go. Stroking their hair and kissing their foreheads and easing them into what comes next. At times, I envy this seemingly peaceful farewell. Most times, though, I can not imagine having to watch my child circling toward their death. I don’t think I would be strong enough. Would I have been able to tell Becca it was ok to go? I’ll never know.

Then there are those of us who have someone to blame for our child’s death. A person(s) took the life of our precious child by their actions. There is deep rage when our child’s death is the outcome of someone else’s choices. I’ve shared in prior writings the fact that the drunk driver that killed Becca had been arrested just six weeks prior for a second drunk driving offense. His choice to drink enough to show an alcohol level of .28, then drive, took my daughter from me. From the life she was building.

When I wanted to see her, touch her, I was told she was “evidence” of a crime, so I could not. Later, I was informed that the driver would not be charged with vehicular manslaughter because killing someone while driving intoxicated is an intention-less crime. Intention or not, my daughter isn’t any less dead. A law that benefits the guilty. You better believe there is a deep anger inside of me.

Then there is the horrible truth of murder. The person had intent to kill another human being. Someone decided that your child didn’t deserve to live. That they had the right to decide to cause them death. I don’t know how to even begin to wrap my mind around this truth. There is another level of complicated grief when there is an actual person to place blame on for our child no longer being here with us.

What about the soldier killed in war? Who do you place the anger on then? Where do you direct your rage? Toward an entire people? Ideology? I don’t know. I’m not sure there are any adequate answers for these questions.

The one thing all grieving mothers have in common is the hole blown through our chest . . . the space where our heart used to be, whole. Every one of us lives with this state of being. The individual facts that surround each death make our grief journey our own. The smallest truths we have to grapple with, over and over in the still dark of the night, are what we must find a way to heal intimately.

The answers we need to find are most often within ourselves. You can’t give them to us. We need you to help us remain strong enough to keep walking this path. To know that, even as we sit quietly, our minds are racing over the facts that surround our child’s death. Very rarely do we have a waking moment that is not influenced, in some way, by our child being gone.

We all have an empty space and we are trying to repair it as best we can.

Raging

Last night . . . the rage came back. It’s not visited me in a while. Maybe it feels as if it hasn’t spent enough time with me lately. After a decade together, we’ve managed to maintain a fragile relationship, and I thought it was gone from my life. I was wrong. Following the tears I cried last night, the rage slipped in and flamed brightly. Sleep eluded me as I lay there struggling with the feelings that engulfed me. I was angry that I was angry. I was so god damn mad that I had a reason to have this much rage in my soul. I have no where to put these feelings but on paper. Today, that just isn’t enough. I need to break something.

No longer do I have the corner of my garage set up for “smash therapy”. If you haven’t tried this, and you have anger welling up inside of you, I highly recommend it. You will need a cement wall, safety glasses, thick gloves, and a supply of old dishes from a thrift store. Oh, and an understanding family. There is something quite satisfying about hurling a plate at the wall and letting out a scream as you do it. I wish I had that corner right now.

Instead, I guess I’ll throw my anger at this page.

I’m angry that the driver who killed my daughter is out of jail and living his life. Has he forgotten her? Does he live a life that honors the one he took? I want to know. But what if I talk to him and he isn’t? What if he has shoved her out of his thoughts? I am not sure I could contain my reaction. I’ve forgiven him, for me, for Becca. I hope he changed his life after his time in jail. Maybe I shouldn’t look him up, after all.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down last night. The blog I wrote was about the things Becca will never get to do. Especially, become a mother. Then, I wondered, is he a parent? Does he realize he took that from my child? His mother. Is she a grandmother? Does he even think about the fact he took that from me? His siblings. Are they aunts or uncles? My boys will never be uncles to Becca’s children. That’s not fair. He drove drunk. HE should be the one who loses all of these chances. NOT my child.

He had two prior drunk driving convictions. The second one happened six weeks prior to the one that killed my daughter. His license was revoked. His car impounded. Why did his parents decide it was ok to buy him another car? Let him drive without a license? They should be punished with no grandchildren from him. I shouldn’t be sitting here wondering what my granddaughter might look like. Would she have her mother’s feisty personality? Or if my grandson would resemble my boys. None of this is ok. AND I AM MAD.

My day, today, was ruined by the difficult night I had. I was quieter than usual. Nearly breaking into tears a few times. A few people asked me what was wrong. How can I answer that? The answer is too complex. Multi-layered. And . . . I’m not sure I could voice it without falling apart. So, I don’t. I say “nothing is wrong . . . I’m just tired”. Because it’s easier to do this then explain how this loss is like a cork being split into pieces as the corkscrew keeps turning into it’s center.

I’m mad because there are others who deserved to die long before my beautiful child did. When I start to think about this fact, I wonder why people even try to do the right things in life. It doesn’t matter, does it? My daughter dies . . . but my uncle, the pedophile, lives. What is the reason for this??

To stumble into this maze on our journey is common. Just as I am walking confidently upon the path I was placed on, looking toward the bright horizon, my foot finds the hole that leads to dark and angry thoughts. I trip and tumble into it’s depths. I wonder if I will ever be done falling.

It’s time to climb out of this hole, wipe the darkness away, and start to move forward again. So I reach for a tree root and pull myself toward the light. There is a time to lean into and embrace the anger . . . then it’s time to set it down. I won’t survive for long if all I do is succumb to the rage. I want to survive.

I have a Terra Cotta planter outside. It’s already cracked from the move. I think I’ll smash it against the foundation of the house. Then, I’ll climb into a hot shower, let the healing water cleanse the dirt from under my nails, and concentrate on the peace I feel as the darkness washes off and circles the drain.

I hope I sleep well tonight. I hope all the grieving mothers, I know, find peace this night. We deserve it.