Warriors

Mother’s who have lost children are some of the strongest people I have ever met.

Tonight, I saw a bereaved mother visit her daughter’s grave, as she does daily, then we drove past the jail that held her child’s murderer. We were on our way to pick up a young girl who’s been staying with us. Can you imagine the strength it takes to be her?

She knelt upon the six feet of dirt that lies above her child’s coffin, picturing how her daughter looked the last time she saw her, and places her hands where her daughter’s would be. She quietly talks to her child. Sharing her day. Telling her how much she misses her. Whispering her love into the blades of grass that have started to grow on the rectangle of recently turned earth.

As she does every time, she cleans off the piece of marble where her daughter’s name is etched. Straightens up flowers, waters the blooms that are real, situates the little angel statues that have been placed for her beautiful child. Her daughter no longer has a bedroom for her mother to clean . . . so she does what all grieving mothers do, we care for the place where our child’s body rests. For her, it’s a peaceful cemetery that is bathed in the colors of sunset every night.

She climbs back into my car after visiting with her child. Sometimes, I walk to the grave site with her. Most times, I wait in the car because I don’t want to intrude on such an intimate moment. I don’t want my friend to feel uncomfortable in her grief. Grief is an incredibly intimate affair. I pull around the corner and stop for a minute, always with the window rolled down, so my friend can call to her daughter once more, before we leave, and tell her she is loved. I always say good bye, too.

Tonight, we had to go pick up the young lady who is staying with us, a refugee student from the Congo, after she was finished with her job. The quickest route to take to her job was one of the busy highways in our city. We were upon the jail before I realized it was the one he is being held in until the trial. Immediately, I was worried about her. This could have been a trigger. Especially right now. Last week there was movement in the court proceedings. Movement that caused the pain to wash over the family again. A decision that sent the family reeling with it being placed right in the middle of this grief path they walk,

She didn’t utter a word. Maybe she just couldn’t utter anything about his existence such a short distance from the highway. Possibly, for a moment, she was able to deny his existence, anywhere. I don’t know which one it was. Or maybe neither. The strength and grace she shows every single day is inspirational.

Within a few moments, the brick building with tiny slits of windows, was lost behind the now full trees. We continued north on the highway until we reached the exit for our student’s job site. A few minutes later, the girl sat in the back seat and my friend asked her (with joy in her voice) how her day had been.

Yes, there is strength in the visiting of our child’s grave site. Not falling to our knees and clawing at the hard earth with our hands is sometimes difficult to not do. Or even laying upon the new grass that covers our child’s final resting place, and refusing to leave, because they might need us . . . and we sure the hell need them.

There is also tremendous bravery in being able to be so close to the person who ended your child’s life and not go completely insane. No screaming, in the hope he can hear you. Just grace.

But I think the greatest act of courage must be to allow another young woman into your life and to care for them, be concerned about their well being. When you would give anything to have this be your daughter instead. That, my non bereaved friends, is an act of strength and hope of the highest magnitude.

We become warriors, when our child dies, in order to survive. Eventually, we are warriors for each other, and the children who need us.

YOU are strong. I am strong. Imagine how strong we are together?

Ability to Bend

The Willow has been my favorite tree for as far back as I can reach through my thoughts. When I was young, I remember tying the long branches together and making a swing for myself. Back and forth I’d float . . . watching the sun sparkle and sprinkle down through the leaves. Drops of light fell warmly on my skin and I felt safe.

For me, Willows have always been female. Their energy soothing and loving. Soft and maternal. They seem to dance as they sway in the breeze, beckoning me to rest my back against their parchment white trunk. I don’t spend enough time in the company of Willows.

The Willow Tree is also known for it’s flexibility. The tree can bend itself into unbelievable contortions without snapping. In reading reference material for this blog, I’ve also learned the tree is a symbol for recovery and healing. Teaching us to surrender to the process instead of fighting the elements around us. To not only survive, but find a way to thrive. Find your way to thrive in unbelievably difficult conditions.

Every grieving mother needs to find her way to survive. I can tell you what has worked for me, and maybe it will help you, too. Though, we usually stumble upon the thing that saves us by chance. When you find it . . . hold on to it. Make it part of your every single day. No exceptions.

The past few weeks have been chaotic in our household. We’ve taken on the care of an individual who is very needing, and deserving, of this care. But it’s drained me. Completely. The reason isn’t that what needs to be done is too huge to accomplish. Instead, it’s because it hasn’t allowed me the time to do what I need in order to maintain my very fragile grasp on the peace I try to cultivate. The already frail hold has weakened, considerably. It’s not that far a fall to land in the place that will crack me open again. I’ve bent and bent and bent in the recent weeks. Even the Willow will eventually splinter, then break, and land with a thud. I don’t want to break.

So, I have no choice but to make the time I need in order to engage my coping mechanisms. Paint. I need to paint. I feel agitated when I haven’t painted in a while. I will carve out time to sit in front of a canvas and create over the coming weekend.

Writing. Writing has been nearly impossible to even consider because my body and mind are never quiet enough, lately, to string two sentences together. Tonight, I had no choice. I was bending to the point I might not recover. It was write . . . or break. So I am writing.

There is no shame at being at the point when it’s all too much. Grieving mothers carry too much every single day just because we exist in a world without our child. A world that demands we participate when many days we’d really rather not, thank you. We owe no one an explanation as to why it’s too much. Though sharing your feelings could result in someone stepping forward and supporting you. As I’ve often said . . . the journey can be easier when shared with another. In any case, you need to take the time out to be in the space of what heals you. You owe this to yourself. To honor the life of the child who is gone. Don’t think it selfish. It isn’t. It’s self caring. Self preservation.

Your first priority must be yourself. Your physical well being, as well as your mental state. Grief attacks us on every single level. It takes any avenue it can find to get to our center. Winding itself around our thoughts and squeezing our heart until it feels as if it might burst. Insistently piercing each and every cell in our body. We can fight it and battle against it’s existence. Which will deplete the little energies we have remaining. Or, we can bend, contort ourselves into seemingly impossible shapes, and work within grief’s demands. We must become like the Willow in order to survive the grief.

Know you are strong, after all, you’ve come this far. Know you are capable. Know you embody the resilience needed to survive the death of your child. Find your way to move gracefully in grief’s currents and let it move you along.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll find a Willow Tree, lean my back against it’s trunk, and let my mind settle itself as the warm light washes over my skin. And heal a little more.

Healing Places

I’ve always been an artist. Not necessarily a good one, but drawing did something for me that nothing else could do. I was centered and no where else when I had a pencil in my hand and a sketchpad in my lap. After my daughter was killed, I spent hours silently on the couch. Doing drawing after drawing of rocks. My mind was soothed by the sound of the lead on paper. My body, wracked with pain, would turn it’s attention to the fine motor skills needed to draw, and I’d have a period of lessened physical torture. When I draw, or paint, I am nowhere but right there, in that moment. It’s the closest I come to meditating.

When we lose a child, our life is permanently divided into two distinct time frames. Before and After. The letters used to denote periods of time, BC and AD have a new meaning to me. Before Crash and After Death. It’s how our lives are segmented now. We exist in the after but long for the before. Living in this limbo is exhausting. We know we must participate in the life around us but we can’t help letting our minds wander to days long ago. Or maybe not so long ago. Days so close we can almost touch them.

The only place I’ve found, that gives me a reprieve, is in my studio.

Let me say this: writing helps me heal, as well. But, writing is where I purposely access the emotions and examine them. I have to allow them to wash over me and take over my mind so I can write, as truthfully as possible, about my experience. It’s a painful and exhausting activity. Often, I feel completely worn out need to just finish the day by going to bed immediately after I’m finished. I write because I HAVE to. There is a story in me that I need to share, to lighten it’s weight on my soul, and to hopefully help others not feel alone in this. But painting soothes my emotions instead of bringing them to the surface.

As I said above, we live in an world that has been dissected by the death of our child. We are continually assaulted with “used to be” and “should have been”. I know I often feel as if I am talking myself from the edge of a ledge that leads to all engulfing pain. My heart can only take so much, in one day, before all my closely held emotions spill free. The closest I’ve come to that ledge, lately, is when a pregnant girl and her mother stood at the deli counter where I work. They discussed the cravings they had in common during their pregnancies. A special bonding conversation for mother and daughter that nearly caused me to come unhinged. I’ve learned to hide these moments from others. Most don’t understand.

When I get home, after a day like this, I sit down at my easel and can feel a sense of calm enfold me. I’ve read that meditation helps us detach. It reduces stress and alleviates anxiety,but not for me. I have tried numerous times, over the years, to use meditation as a means to mental well being. Not once has it worked for me. My mind races and starts circling unpleasant thoughts. I begin to worry that I can’t do anything right, even meditation, like other people. I end up feeling worse than when I started. Let me add, I do know meditation works for people and I don’t want to sound as if I think it’s a waste of time. It isn’t. Fortunately, I’ve found my meditative activity.

In the past year, I’ve started doing something I never thought I would have, or could have. I lead painting events for groups of people. Some have been for profit, but the ones that mean the most to me are the ones that I donate my time to help raise funds. Because of being a grieving mom, I’ve met other bereaved moms who have foundations to help others, in the memory of their child. Generally, the painting we do is simple, only taking a few hours, but for those hours I am helping others learn about the healing quality to creating.

Creating, for me, isn’t about the end product (unless I am doing a commission for someone else.). It’s about the process. The journey, not the destination. I’m not looking at the two pieces of my life, the before and after, I am existing in the now. My daughter is with me, I haven’t forgotten her,she is happy because I have found a moment of peace.

The smell of the paint, feel of the brush in my hand, and the colors on the palette are all very soothing to me. My two dogs at my feet, the warmth of the cat on my lap, all work together to create harmony in my soul. Though these moments are brief, they can save a very difficult day from complete ruin.

I’m currently working on a series titled “Healing Places”, which for me, are always in nature. The image above is the canvas I am working on currently. Bringing the two types of healing together for me, being in them and painting them, is having a very uplifting effect on my soul. A peace I so very badly want to help other grieving mothers find. Whether it be painting, writing, running, gardening or meditating. Whatever it is. Our souls NEED this in order to heal. To remain strong. You deserve this time for yourself and your soul.

In that spirit, my studio is always open to anyone who feels the need to paint.