Don’t Forget Her – Please

Yesterday, I was getting another piece of Becca’s poetry tattooed on my arm. The artist, doing the tattooing, is the same one I used last year. We were talking about my daughter, and how hard this time of year is, and he said something that made me think: “You’ve taken something so horrible and made it into a positive.”.

I thanked him . . . but felt ashamed. I am a fraud. Or, at the very least, misrepresenting myself.

Recently, I was going through a housing upheaval in my life. I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea what I was going to do. The best I could come up with was to live, in my van, with my pets. Sharing my worries, with a friend at work, I unloaded through tears. After I was finished . . . he responded to me with this: “I see you as a character, you’ve gone through so much stuff, and I know you will overcome this, too. I’m just watching to see how you do it.”

He has much more belief in me than, I think, I deserve.

Others’ kind words: You are so strong. I don’t know how you do it. You haven’t let the world make you bitter. You are kind in spite of your tragedies. Accolades that come with a dark truth.

I may seem to be at this point, today in my journey, but it wasn’t always so. You haven’t been with me through the darkest of my times. Times I was mean. Hateful. Angry. Vengeful. Weak. Full of self pity. Negative. Immobile. Defense mechanisms that were completely destructive. Self medicating. Behavior that hurt those around me. Those I love the most. Compounded by feelings of failure, guilt.

I’m writing about this . . . not because I want the reader to heap more compliments on me, but because I need you to know that I didn’t head into my grief journey with it all together. I STILL don’t have it all together, to be completely honest! If you were under the impression that I somehow, magically, landed where I am today, I am sorry.

I apologize if I have ever come off as “getting it right”. This is an extremely important aspect of grieving to understand: THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO GRIEVE. Period. No buts, or maybes, or any addition to the above sentence. This being said, there are also very real phases of behavior that seem counterproductive to healing. We MUST go through these phases as well!!

It’s hard for me to revisit the early years of my grief journey. For instance: the years, when I was not the mother to my boys, that I was to my daughter, are very shameful to me. Notice I did not say I wasn’t a “good mother”, but instead, I was a different mother. I used to say I wasn’t good, but I’ve learned to forgive myself for the things I felt were failures on my part.

A quick example: In the first week after losing my daughter, I went to a group for parents who have lost children. As you might expect, my grief was raw, my pain at the surface. I heard two mothers talking about photo albums, of their dead children, they were putting together. I couldn’t believe they were laughing! My anger erupted and I yelled to them, “How can you talk about your dead children and laugh??!” They dismissed me with: “She’s not far enough along, she doesn’t understand.” That was the first time I felt like I was failing at grieving. I wasn’t doing it quite right. In fact, I was doing it completely wrong.

But I wasn’t, was I? I was going through what my soul demanded me to experience. If I had pushed down my anger . . . ignored it, or shamed it into the shadows, I would never have worked through it. This is my fear for anyone who thinks I am doing it right, comparing themselves to me, and coming up with answer that they are doing it wrong.

Please, know I went through so much to get where I am. I have the advantage of eleven years since her death. Just over a decade to unravel the mess our lives are left in after our child dies. Thousands of missteps litter the path behind me. I still stumble. A lot. But it’s ok . . . it’s a process. A long process.

In writing this blog piece, I’ve come to realize I need to do more writings about the dark side to this journey. The things I listed a few paragraphs above. Some that don’t paint me in the best light . . . but you need to know happened. Stuff others forgave me for long before I could forgive myself. These words have opened up an entire segment of grief that might be difficult to talk about . . . which makes it even more important that we do so.

There is no shame in being “broken”. Nor, is there shame in remaining broken, for some time. Don’t feel ashamed if you feel as if you need to give up. Sit down, take a break, and regroup. Reach out to those travelers, who are farther along, they know the way through. Their support and understanding can lead you up and out. If you are always angry, for instance, be true to that emotion. But, find a way to figure out where it’s roots lie. Jealous? Understandable, however, work toward releasing that emotion in small steps. You can not heal what you don’t face. But, please, don’t feel shame!! And, don’t compare where you are to where others appear to be. No one’s ground is that solid . . . trust me.

“Don’t forget her – please” are the words I had tattooed onto my arm yesterday. They are from a longer poem, my daughter wrote, about remembering the little girl inside of each of us as we grow older. To me, when I chose them, they told me not to forget about her. As if I could. Tonight, I realized they have another meaning to me: don’t forget who I was “then”, in the infancy of my grief, because that woman worked damn hard to get this far.

Please, don’t look at me in comparison. Don’t believe I wasn’t, once, where you are. I was, parts of me still are, and other parts may always be. Don’t add pain and guilt, because of comparisons, to an already difficult existence. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t judge others. Just help where you can . . . and take help when you can.

We are all walking in the same direction. Let’s do it, together.

 

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Whispered Messages

I am from a family of strong women. These strong women are creatively gifted. One of these women, in particular, seems to be another piece of me. A piece I didn’t know I was missing . . . but now, can’t imagine living without. This bit of writing exists because of a blog she recently wrote that made me consider, and write, a reply. Thank you, Linda, for knowing what I need when I don’t.

Growing up, my life was filled with rich imagination. Part of it, I think, was a way for me to escape the more difficult times in my childhood. There was another part, however, that knew (without any doubt) there were “others” in existence. Call them what you will: spirits, energies, beings, angels. Deep in my soul, I knew, we were not alone. Throughout my life, I’ve had instances when my inner voice has offered guidance . . . and I’ve listened. Other times, I turned away and learned well needed lessons. We all have this voice.

My cousin, Linda, asked in her blog if anyone else had heard these voices . . . and what they meant to them. Oddly, or appropriately, I’d been considering the return of my inner whisperings quite a bit lately. So, her question was a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with myself that past few months!

I started my reply with a resounding “Yes!!” Then I went on to explain, my voice left me after my child was killed. It was no longer there. And I didn’t miss it. As it’s slowly returned, I’ve wondered why it went away in the first place.

One day, last year, I was walking through a store and I saw a sign that read simply “it is well with my soul”. I read it over a few times. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the words. And, I thought, it IS well with my soul. Then . . . I had the internal chastising all grieving mothers do: how can it be well with your soul when your child is dead? What kind of mother are you??

With a start, I realized, my soul is mending. Somewhere, deep inside, the broken pieces are starting to fit together. Hmmm, broken pieces. Is that why I couldn’t hear my voice for so long? My pain, rattling around my soul, like a muslin bag filled with shattered china teacups? Was the noise just too loud for anything else to rise above its volume? Maybe.

I also have to consider the fact, I turned my back on my inner guidance out of rage. Deep seated anger because it only whispered a small part of a bigger truth. Only half of the information I needed to know.

Around ten o’clock, on the night my daughter was killed, I had an ominous feeling settle on my shoulders. I knew something big was going to happen . . . but I didn’t know what. Feeling so strongly that my life was going to change drastically, I told my manager I wouldn’t be back to work. Four hours later, my child was killed on a cold dark stretch of highway. Why wasn’t I given THAT little piece of information? Why the bigger picture, but not the small part that would have saved her life? What kind of inner voice is that half assed??

How many bereaved mothers KNEW their child had died before they were told?

I am thankful to say that the inner whisperings of my soul, my heart, my guide, my ancestors, my kindreds . . . are with me again. I am also very grateful to have found, a piece of my family, that can help me on journey.

Grieving mommas, find other strong women, to help support you. This is a solitary journey, the loss of our child, but it’s one that can not be taken alone.

In The Darkness

There are days, when I wake up and think, “It’s going to be a good day. I’m going to do the best I can.” Then I go about doing just that. My best may not be very much . . . but it’s what I have to give.

Then there are the days that I wake up and think, “Why the hell even bother”. On those days, I may still try . . . but the attempts are hollow. Today is one of those days. Why effing try.

Bereaved mothers seem to have a greater need to help others. To feel as if they have a “mission” to fulfill before they leave to join their child. Or children. There has to be a meaning to our being alive and our child, not. Doesn’t there?

So, many of us fill our time with projects, foundations, and non profits to keep ourselves busy. Often naming them after our deceased child in the attempt to keep their names alive. In order to keep their dreams alive . . . we usually choose to pursue something our child was passionate about. Whether it be soccer or theatre. Or a small shop that gives away free clothing, in a non humiliating store front, in memory of a little boy. We know our child would have made a difference in this world, had they survived, so we pick up their mantle and carry it as far as we can.

Doing this, working toward a better world to honor our child, helps on some of our hardest days. The darkest days, though, those most bleak and black times even this doesn’t seem enough to carry us along. I’ve had times when I feel enraged that I am working so hard to make a too often times ugly world, better. To what end? For what purpose?

No matter how many times I donate my artistic abilities to help someone raise money for their organization . . . my daughter isn’t coming back. I can help single moms with easy stuff, formula or diapers, but this won’t bring Becca home to me. My “good deeds” are not being tallied somewhere so that when I earn enough, I can cash them in for my child’s return. Again, why bother?

There are days when the reason to continue is obvious. Hugging my sons. Hearing a thank you for some small kindness. Knowing my presence helped make a part of someone’s journey easier. Or less lonely. We are all in this life together. This is the biggest reason I can find: we are meant to lift each other when we see struggles. Some days, this isn’t enough.

Today is a dark day. I don’t feel needed, or particularly wanted, so what’s the point? I know this is the small voice that is weak and scared. And angry. I’m aware we all have this voice. Somehow, in grieving moms, it cuts more deeply in our souls. We tend to listen more closely to it than other moms, I think.

I wish I had some inspirational words to share here. Something about finding the “silver coffin lining” in our child’s death. Today, I can’t find the words. I’m angry. I’m lonely. I’m unsure of what life holds. I’m afraid of the next loss I’ll have to face. Yesterday, I felt a security. This evening, I don’t. It’s what our life is now.

I can say this: as the dark days cast their shadow across our lives and we feel hopeless, just as surely as we know they will appear, we can count on the good days being sprinkled into the mix. Just hold on during the inky black moments . . . and wait for the pin prick of light which will reveal itself within the darkest times.

Then walk toward that.

Dark Truths

There are things about grieving the loss of a child that are very ugly. Thoughts we have may seem cruel to outsiders. Honestly, they seem cruel to us, too. You don’t see the world through the shattered glass which covers our view now. The spidery cracks change the image we see. Like a kaleidoscope, when we move just a bit, everything looks different. Before, we knew how things appeared. In the after, we see sides and pieces we hadn’t realized existed.

Yesterday, I was taking a box of pictures out of my car to finally put in the house after my recent move. As moms usually do when photographs are near . . . I started to leaf through a few bunches of them. I came across a photo from the late eighties that started my mind down a very dark road. I’m not happy my thought process took the path it did, in fact, I’m a little ashamed. But pushing the shame aside, and examining the thoughts I had, is more important than any attempt to remain kind in appearance.

One of the biggest questions we have when we lose a child is why. Why? Why my child? Why in this way? Why did this happen? Why am I left living without my baby? Even if we were to be given the answer . . . would it be acceptable enough for us to completely understand and agree with the reason? To be alright with their absence? Never.

Yet we still ask.

The picture I found both instantly made me angry and guilty at the same time. I remember the day it was taken. If I close my eyes, I can hear the delicate laughter of two little girls. Second cousins who had basically grown up together. Both daughters of young single moms. Five year old girls who were more like sisters than anything else. When I read my daughter’s journal, after her death, she had a poem written about her cousin mixed in with those about life. Their relationship shaped them both, almost.

You see, one of the girls took Path A while the other, Path B. The girl who took “A” went to college, worked two jobs, and was building a future for herself. Path “B” led the other girl into a life of young motherhood, drug use, and criminal activity.

In the past, I’ve written about my inability to understand why my daughter died and my uncle who molested a large, unknown, number of young girls, still lives. When I verbalize this thought most people understand. Yes, they say. It’s unthinkable that a young innocent woman should be killed but a pedophile, recently released from prison (who has undoubtedly molested since) remains alive. It’s completely understandable that I think this man should have died long before my child, isn’t it? But what of my dark thoughts that Becca’s cousin should have died before her? Is that as easy for you to understand? Or does it make me a monster in your eyes?

As I held the photograph in my trembling hands, my mind ran a mental checklist and ticked off the accomplishments of both girls. I know both girls. I have loved both of them. Each was a small baby, held in my arms, that I kissed as she slept. So why does my mind keep saying it wishes the other had died in the place of my child?

The night Becca was killed, I sat a mile from the crash scene in my parents red pickup truck, waiting for my friend to come back after seeing my dead daughter. Waiting to hear if the woman that had been killed was really my child. I kept praying, pleading, begging that it not be Becca.

“But there is a dead girl up there. It’s someone’s daughter if it isn’t yours,” a voice in my head told me.

“I don’t want it to be Becca!!” I screamed.

The voice replied, “Then it’s another mother’s child down there.”

“I don’t want it to be anyone’s child,” I wept.

“It’s your child, or it’s the child of someone else. Which would you prefer?” it said to me.

Neither I kept saying to myself. I couldn’t imagine another mother finding out their child was dead. Yet, I can look at the picture of a child I loved, cared for . . . and can say, I wish it had been her, instead. You have no idea how difficult it is to have this thought and to have to admit to it. But there it is. My truth.

I don’t think I am a monster. I certainly don’t wish this young lady dead now. I haven’t talked to her in years. I don’t have much communication with my family so I am unsure as to what her life is like now. I hope she is doing well, I really do, because having a life is an incredible gift to waste. She’s friend requested me a few times on a popular social site but I’ve declined each time. It’s painful to see Becca’s friends attain life goals she’ll never get to . . . somehow, seeing this young woman do so would be utter anguish. Again, I’m not proud of this. It’s just my truth.

My daughter’s poem surfaces as I look at the photograph of two beautiful light haired little girls. Especially this part:

“She was my sister,
not by birth but in my heart.
Our days together consisted of
Play-Doh, swing sets, and Barbies.
And it was like the time would never end.”

Oh my Becca, I miss you so much my beautiful girl.

(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.