Forgiveness Tour

“If this is an intervention baptism you need to let me know,” I told Joseph.

Two weeks ago, when we had coffee, he told me about a young man he’d met after listening to him speak at a conference concerning suicide prevention and mental health. I am unsure as to the exact order the different meetings took place between the three men and Joseph. Ultimately, he set up a meeting that included me.

The reason for the gathering was to discuss the possibility of us being involved in program in which we share our stories of forgiveness. Mine and Joseph’s story being important because of the fact that it surrounds the death of one beautiful woman.

He’d told me that the group was “pretty Christian” because he wanted me to be aware before I agreed to attend. Most of you who know me, or read my blog, are aware that I am skeptical when it comes to organized religion – of any kind. Both, because I have not had any good experiences and I’ve watched as churches have supported immoral leaders and become rich beyond any necessity.

I went in with an open mind. As open as I could allow it to be. People screw up religion. People, I am assuming, can also make it good. I figured: what have I got to lose.

We shared pleasantries. Then started talking about forgiveness. One of the gentleman, the one who’s house we were at, asked what forgiveness meant to me. I fumbled with my words a bit too much seeing that I am a writer. It means that I harbor no ill will toward the person I have forgiven. That I truly want good for them in their lives (the absence of revenge). That I am not angry at them (I have faced what happened and though I still hold them responsible I carry no rage). It’s an interesting question . . . isn’t it? Forgiveness will mean something different for each person.

Then, the man who is a pastor, asked Joseph how his relationship with the lord was. I silently waited until I was asked the same question because I knew then I’d have to “spill the beans”. I felt like a fraud. Not because I am ashamed of who I am but because I did not want to mislead anyone into believing my views align with theirs. I respect what they want to do and I do not want to affect it negatively.

The conversation veered away from each of our relationship with deity into less intense subjects. Then, the man who asked what forgiveness meant to me said “This has to be Christ centered/based or it isn’t worth doing”.

That prompted me to ask the question: What about Muslims? Budhists? Jews? My intent in asking the question was this: if forgiveness can only be attained through Jesus . . . what about the millions of people who don’t believe in Jesus? Are they doomed to carry the weight of non forgiveness until they DO believe in Jesus? Does that mean that Native Americans, for example, didn’t have forgiveness in their world? Either my question was not understood or I did not understand the answer because I still have the question.

A lot was being said.

Again, I am unsure as to the order of events or topics arising, so I am doing the best I can to share the events of last night. I am sorry if it all seems a bit disjointed. My mind is still reeling.

I was asked how it would be if the “forgiveness tour” was shared at Grandville High School (a local school that is connected to a person in the above mentioned group) where religion could not be a part. All of the anxiety of being involved in a “world” that I did not believe in melted away. I could see that my story, my part in our story, could be impactful to others.

But. Then there is the whole evangelical aspect to it.

One of the comments that threw me was when the pastor said he was surprised (?) that I managed to find forgiveness without a partner next to me. I am still pondering this statement.

While they were discussing the money aspect of this whole thing . . . a thought came into my head. What if they didn’t want me included because of my differing beliefs? I would be angry that my story wouldn’t be heard because I don’t necessarily believe Jesus is who they say he is. If I say no to being a part of this program because I don’t believe the same as they do about Jesus . . . wouldn’t that be just as wrong? Simply, yes.

I am accepting of everyone having their own path. I can NOT be unaccepting of those who have chosen Christianity as their faith path. That would make me a hypocrite. And, I really dislike hypocrisy.

February is when we will reconvene to discuss how we all processed this whole project. I go back and forth, but in the end, I want to talk about my daughter. I want to share how forgiveness has changed my life. Maybe after the rest of the group reads this I will be quietly uninvited to take part in the entire thing. Which, I will respect. As I said . . . I want this to be successful for the people who will find healing in the message of forgiveness.

Since yesterday, I have talked to two women, who I know well and trust implicitly. One of them is a non denominational reverend (and my cousin) while the other is a school teacher who I consider to be a true Christian. Both have listened to me and given me good advice.

“Don’t feel rushed, pushed into something that isn’t real or genuine. It’s taken you time to process, feel and forgive. If someone else pushes you too hard, too intensely, too quickly, it’s not genuine. And then it’s not your story of forgiveness but someone else’s. Then,when you do finally share it will be really impactful because it’s yours.”

This is my story. This is Becca’s story. And, Gabriel and Matt’s story. Joseph’s story runs parallel to ours . . . but it’s his. All I can say is that I am glad I have a few months to mull over the varied emotions and aspects of the entire venture.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any advice! I know I have a lot to learn!!

 

LIKE BONES

A few mornings ago I was drinking a cup of tea while I was scrolling through Facebook. My feed is filled with positive and uplifting posts that make me smile, most of the time. Once in a while, a post will hit me the wrong way and send me reeling. This particular post wasn’t negative or offensive in any way. Quite the opposite. A lovely photo of a woman, I know, and her grandchild. My friend’s words were simple, sweet, and hit me like a gut punch.

Before I started to write this particular blog, I asked her if it was alright to use her words to share my reaction. And, the why for my reaction. She graciously said yes. So, here it is. My ugly truth.

I don’t remember her words, verbatim, but they were something along the lines of God always knowing what she needs and providing her with what she needs when she needs it. Again, I haven’t gone back to look at the post because it hurt to read those words. I hope I am somewhat accurate. But, I guess, what I interpreted is more important than what she wrote if I am to convey my reaction.

Most often, when I write the word god, I don’t capitalize it. To me, the capitalization of the name gives it a Christian feel and I am not “down with” what I see Christianity standing for in many cases. A capital G is a sign of respect for those who believe in the Christian Faith, which I both understand and respect, but it’s not what I feel. In the paragraph above, I did use the uppercase letter because I care for and respect my friend and her deep beliefs. I felt this was important to explain.

Upon seeing the beautiful child’s face in my friend’s post, and reading the words, I thought: bullshit. Horrible reaction, right? Believe me, I know. I think it’s pretty bad, too. But, let me explain . . . I imagine though, to other grieving moms, no explanation is needed.

God doesn’t always give us what we need. Period. No “but He . . . “ or “He will . . .” just NO. The saying: If He brings you to it . . . He’ll bring you through it is ridiculous to a mother who’s fallen to her knees in despair so often she has permanent bruises.

I do want to say I know a few grieving moms who are devout and have a completely different outlook about this subject than I do. And, in truth, I am happy they have their religious beliefs to get them through. But, I don’t and this is my blog and I have to write what is in my heart, head, and soul.

No. god doesn’t always know what you need and give it to you. I needed my daughter to survive the crash that killed her. I need someone somewhere to figure out what a horrific mistake it was that she was taken and give her back to me. I need Stacey to have her daughter Mckenna, her only child, back with her. Patty needs her son, David, to come home from overseas. Mandy needs Megan to be in her thirties now . . . not forever 6 months old. Brookelynn needs to be running around playing soccer with Tonya cheering for her from the sidelines. My friend Amanda needs her son, Caleb, back so he can be a big brother to her Gabe.

We need our children. The children who should not have died. Our hearts need to be mended and the only thing that will ever heal them completely is to hold our child in our arms again.

I read my friend’s words and considered them for a few hours. As I struggled with why I was upset at such a beautiful display of love and faith . . . these words formed in my thoughts:

“I will listen to your godly words – I will roll them around in examination before I swallow them – then, as a snake would, I will expel the ones that don’t connect to my soul – like bones.”

There are parts of Christianity I do believe in, aspects I find beautiful, but there are others that I struggle with deeply. So much so, I don’t call myself a Christian. I think to do so would be disrespectful to those who truly are. So, I am not sure where I fit in.

I feel as if it is easier for those who have not suffered the loss of a child to believe more completely. Yet, I know there are others who have lost much more than I who have a deep belief as well. I mean, what do I say to the grieving mom who believes god had a plan for her child? You don’t understand? How can I say that to her . . . when she does, when she has buried one of hers, too?

There are numerous aspects of child loss that we have to work through, that we struggle with. Religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs are a huge aspect of the entire process, I think, for most of us. I have to believe that even the most devout have had their doubts, too.

I’m a work in progress. Much of what I was before my daughter was killed has been demolished. Broken beyond repair. But, I am rebuilding myself a little each day. Struggling with faith is a part of the process. And, sometimes, something we see will cause us to dive headfirst into the abyss.

I guess it’s how we learn. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow.

Now, back to examining the bones.

This Is Not Goodbye

“Now I’m the one going ahead . . . I’m not afraid . . . I can be brave, too . . . “ – Beth, Little Women

For a years, I’ve gone over nearly every aspect of losing my child. I imagine there are ones I’ve not thought of yet . . . but I have the rest of my life for them to find me. I’ve healed in some ways, not completely (never completely) and there are others which I’ve not inspected too closely. Simply, I’m not sure I will survive them. Yet, they stay visible in my peripheral vision . . . waiting their turn. This one, the one I’m attempting to write about, has been heavy on my heart since the moment I knew my daughter was dead.

Each detail of that night is like an autumn leaf that I keep pressed between the pages of the book of our lives. Most are worn from being held, in my hands, multiple times. If I turn to one page, in particular, one I’ve skipped past dozens of times . . . the leaf is in perfect shape. Vivid colors, the veins still strong. The smell brings me right back to the moment my boyfriend stepped out of the back of the police chaplain’s car.

I could tell by the look on his face that the young woman’s body was that of my daughter, Becca. As he held me, he told me they had allowed him to kiss her still warm forehead. I kept screaming, “I need to help her . . . I need to help her!” Later, he told me her spirit had ridden back with him in the car. I believe him. I asked him what she looked like. He answered, confused . . . lost.

When I think about this, anguish rises in soul and I can’t help but think I failed her at the most important time of her life. The end.

Mothers teach their children about life. I wasn’t given the chance to help her through her death.

When I took Becca to school, the first day of kindergarten, she and I both cried. She didn’t want me to leave and I didn’t want to go. But, I knew at the end of the day, she’d be home again. I could talk to her about all the new things. She would know I would be there to pick her up and she could trust that I wouldn’t leave her. Our time apart was more acceptable because we would hold each other again. This made the separations much easier on both of us.

Her death, I couldn’t hold her after and tell her everything was going to be alright. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what that conversation would have been like.

“Mom, mom . . . what happened?”

“Come here,” I’d say, taking her in my arms, “you were killed in a car crash, honey.”

“But why? Why? How?” she would ask, confused, as I held her close to my chest.

“A drunk driver killed you . . . oh baby, I’m so sorry!”

“What do I do???? Where do I go? Do I have to leave you?? I can’t leave you, momma, the boys, I can’t go. I’m afraid. I don’t know what’s there!”

“I know honey, and I’m so sorry I can’t go with you. I don’t want you to either, but we don’t have a choice, my Becca.”

“But what do I do??? How do I go??? How do I leave you??”

“You have to be brave, sweetie. You have to be a brave girl. I know you can do that. I know you are strong enough to do this. It’s scary, I know, but just like when you went to school . . . I’ll see you again after, I promise.”

“Mommy . . . momma . . . I don’t want to go!!”

“You have to turn around and walk away, honey . . . “ even with these words, neither of us loosens our grip.

I take her face in my hands and look into her beautiful green blue eyes, “You have to go before all of us. I didn’t want it this way . . . but it’s what we have to do right now. I will always be your momma and you will always be my Becca. My only daughter. The one who made me a mother. I know you are scared, I’m scared to be without you . . . but our love will never fade. You are beautiful and smart and strong and brave. I promise I will be there with you one day. We will all be there. The boys will come. We will all be together again, I promise.”

I can feel her head shake slightly in my hands.

“Go now, my Becca, go and wait for us. Be strong. Soar through the heavens. Glide past stars. Dance in the winds that blow around the entire world. Play. Laugh. Visit us when you are lonely. And know, you are always loved. It’s been such a privilege to be your mother . . . you were my first true love, my girl.”

I would gently kiss her forehead and let my hands drop to my side, as my daughter turned away and bravely walked into her heaven.

Forever Searching

As I’ve shared in my writings before . . . I have a very complicated relationship with divinity. The easiest way to explain it is like this: I feel that “god” is a person I am angry with but can’t seem to remove completely from my life. Yet, I have no intention of ever getting close to him again. I have relatives like this, too. They’ve hurt me deeply. I know they exist but I don’t have them in my life. There is a silent truce between us and I am fine with this.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone to church more than I have in the past ten years. The first time, I told myself, was to support my friend. Like many mothers who have lost a child . . . our faith is damaged and we seek answers. That is what I said to the Bishop when he asked me what questions of faith I was struggling over. But, I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I said above, I initially believed I was going to be of support to someone else. Sitting in a pew in a catholic church, then a folding chair in an old mall, and today, in the lobby of Martin Luther King Elementary School, I’ve realized I’m searching, too. I consider myself Agnostic because this term comes closest to what I seem to be. I know there is “something” but I don’t know what, exactly. There are times when I wish I had unflinching faith, but it’s not to be I guess. Not for me, anyway.

I felt that today, as I sat in a group of six people, listening to the Bishop speak. My friend and I were invited to this service personally by the Bishop. He knows our stories of child loss. And I truly think he thought he could answer our questions, assuage our fears. I am thankful he cared enough to want to do so.

Listening to his words, I believe he was trying to tell us that god takes, but god gives, too. That god took something from our lives to make room for something else. A seed has to die for a plant to be born. God has to squeeze us hard to get the best juice. I understand what he was attempting to explain to us. But, I have trouble with it.

God could have squeezed me in a different way. God could have taken something else from my life. If a seed has to die, let me be the seed. The flower that should be growing is my daughter. I am sure my friend feels the same way. I think nearly all grieving mothers would gladly change places with their deceased child. Happily, and without a second thought.

If we could, we would give them life, twice.

Near the end of the service, the Bishop asked me to share what my questions were. I’ve not had this chance before. A one on one discussion, with a man of the cloth, where I could honestly voice my thoughts. So, I did.

I told him I don’t understand a god that would take my child yet let my pedophile uncle live. I have trouble believing “god is good” when Syria is happening. That there even is a god who would let the horror in the world continue without doing something about it. None of it makes sense to me. And his answer was the same one I’ve been told over and over again: you just have to have faith.

That answer isn’t good enough for me. It wasn’t good enough before my beautiful daughter was killed, and it sure the hell isn’t good enough now. I am not angry with the Bishop, I am thankful he cared enough about me, my friend, about my struggle to take the time to build a sermon around it all.

Later this afternoon, Stacey and I were walking around a thrift store. There were two Willow Tree angels sitting on the shelf. One of them was titled “thank you for the gift” the other was “angel of learning”. I don’t think those angels were there by chance. Our children are our gifts. The brightest blessings we could ever receive. And learning. Oh the things we’ve learned since losing our daughters. The biggest? How to live without them here.

I read once that our relationship with the deceased keeps developing as we learn more and we come to terms with their absence. I think I will forever search for answers. Answers about her death. Answers about all “the bigger questions” and that’s alright.

The searching keeps me moving forward.

Sanctuary

This morning, at the last minute, I decided to go to church. I’ve not gone to church for a very long time. There are some pretty long standing beefs between myself and organized religion. Both the institutions themselves, and the deity said to be in charge of it all. Thus far, I’ve not written about religion in my blog. I guess today is the day to explain my beliefs. Only because I feel full disclosure helps my readers understand from where I write.

As humans, we like labels. Labeling a thing as either this or that helps us understand. It defines . . . but also confines. The closest definition of a word that explains religious beliefs, that I can find to describe myself is “agnostic”. However, even within the definitions, there are varying explanations, so it can get muddy. So, here’s my choice in what the meaning behind agnostic means to  me: I believe in the existence of a greater power, such as a god, but it can not be either proven or disproved. I know we can not know everything in the form we inhabit, here and now.

I don’t believe god is either male or female, rather both energies. I believe in the existence of another plane where our souls travel to upon our death, though it’s definitely not the Heaven of fluffy clouds and golden streets and the sound of harp music. I am not making fun of those who do believe in this place, who do believe god is an elderly white haired man sitting on a throne. I strongly adhere to the sentiment . . . to each their own. Please, know that I am not belittling your beliefs.

With my beliefs being shared, in a brief manner, I’ll now talk about my experience at church this morning.

I’d gone to catholic church as a child, with my nana, many times. The name on the wooden sign out front of the massive brick building was “Most Precious Blood” and it terrified me. Inside was no better. Cavernous and dark, it’s interior was old looking and felt eerily haunted to me. Though I can not remember any of the words that were said by the priest, I do remember the general feeling of being told I was not good enough to even be alive.  That there was little hope of escaping purgatory, even as a small child, no matter how hard I tried.

Today’s experience was much different. Though I did hear something to the effect we (the congregation) didn’t deserve “his” love . . . the message was much more positive than I had expected.The priest said that upon being baptized, in the catholic church, followers are given a mission. To spread the word of the church. There was a line in a song that said ” Lord, let me be a sanctuary”. As an agnostic, this is a sentiment I can get behind.

I want to be a sanctuary for other grieving mothers. Having traveled this journey myself . . . I know the terrain, the dark spots, where we can find light. No, I don’t have all the answers but I DO have experience from which to draw. When I say to another bereaved mother that I can understand . . . I really do.

My mission is to help other mothers who have lost a child. I won’t, however, say god had a plan for me to do this after my child died. I don’t believe that statement. It’s a choice I am making to turn my darkest time into something that shines light in our world.

I had a friend tell me, a few weeks ago, that my mess is my message. This saying is easier for me to say with full belief in it’s words. As I grow stronger, I am more able to use the horrible truth of losing my child as a message to reach others who are in a similar situation as my own.

Driving home after mass, another bereaved mom and I discussed what we heard and how we interpreted the words. She said that she has a firm belief in what her mission is after the loss of her daughter. To bring the truth of grieving, and all it’s parts, to our society. So others can understand what a parent goes through upon the death of their child. She said exactly what I believe: society needs to be taught the truth of grief. Before I lost my daughter, I didn’t understand. Neither did my friend. Now, we do and we have to do something with this painful knowledge.

The issues I have with organized religion did not disappear today. I’m not sure they ever will. In future blogs I will talk about them because I think it’s important to share my story fully.

Tonight, though, I’ll go to bed with the renewed belief that I have to do something with my knowledge and experience. I am not going out to try to bring people back to the church. But I do hope that, with my writing, I may be able to help people move back toward themselves.