Again?

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

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

Especially, the feeling of failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess I am trying to illustrate two points here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Her Wings

Earlier this week I started to build the wings of a very large painting I am doing of my daughter. When I started to cut the chicken wire to shape the wings, I wasn’t sure if I was doing it the right way, but I forged ahead regardless. You see, I didn’t go to art school so I have no formal training in anything I do. I just do it. Sometimes it works . . . other times it doesn’t. This time, it did.

Let me give you a little back story about the painting to which I am referring.

Last year, I started to paint angels. Partly, because my mind is grappling with the fact that my daughter is one. Initially, I painted angels which were non descript. No characteristics which belonged to my daughter. In a sense, I was circling around the truth of her being in heaven, without getting to the center immediately. It’s a hard concept to accept even if you have seen your child’s dead body. I think painting angels has brought me closer to accepting the truth. In little steps.

Mid January of this year, I decided I was going to confront myself, and my hesitancy to see Becca in the form she is now. To do this, I started a project that has blossomed into something so much bigger than just me accepting my daughter’s latest incarnation. I’ve found it is also a way for others to join me in my grief journey. I think this is going to be something big.

The painting consists of three separate 4’x5’ panels, hung vertically on the wall, giving it the appearance of one big canvas. Each day, upon waking, it seems I have an addition to what I plan to do! Building the wings to project out of the panel was something I knew I wanted to add. Chicken wire was the best way to form strong wings, which would fold slightly at the top, and look like I picture my Becca’s.

So, I grabbed the staple gun and went to work. Now, I often feel Becca near me, but that day I knew she was there without question. I was listening to U2 and the song that was playing at that moment was “Walk On”. “I know it aches . . . and your heart it breaks . . . you can only take so much . . .” and I just lost it. The words felt as if they were coming directly from her. I sank down onto my knees, dropped the staple gun, and cried into my hands. That’s when I felt her presence envelop me. I could feel her wings wrap around me and I felt her warmth. My daughter was holding me because she knew I was working through something enormous. She’s the wise one now.

I didn’t get very far with the wings that afternoon. Crying hard really takes it out of me. I stopped, shut off the lights, and went upstairs. Thinking I’d cried all the tears I had in me. I was wrong. There are always more tears.

Laying in bed, I decided to send a few of the photos to my friend Teresa. She is running my angel project for me. She also knew my daughter. While we were discussing the pictures. and expressing excitement about watching it come to fruition, I started to cry again. I told Teresa and she did her best to comfort me. But, as I lay there I wondered why this was hitting me so hard. Then I remembered the other time I had made wings for my daughter. When she was five.
Becca desperately wanted to be Tinkerbell for Halloween. I couldn’t afford an expensive costume so I decided to make it myself. I bought green felt material and cut out a dress with the little points at the hem. The top of the dress resembled Tink’s attire, but instead of letting Becca go strapless,I sewed it to a white turtleneck. White tights with little green socks were on her feet. I pulled her hair up into a tight bun and gave her a wand. Her wings, though, her wings were the best part of the costume! I used two wire hangers and attached the curve that you hang them from to each other. On the longest part of the sides I pulled the metal out slightly to give them a more natural appearance. I stretched a white gauzy remnant material over them and voila! She had her wings.

Becca loved the costume. She loved the wings the most. At the Halloween party we threw she kept running around, tapping people with her wand, and asking them if they liked her wings, too! Even though I told her it would be uncomfortable she insisted upon sleeping in them that night. I remember peeking into her room after she was asleep. Her hands clutched the wand. The tight bun was coming undone. Her face was smeared with chocolate. But she lay flat on her back because that was the only position the wings would allow. My heart filled with joy just looking at her.

I’d forgotten about that day, until the wings I am building now, shook it loose. At one point during the party, I had seen her standing across the room from me, not moving. She looked at me intently, holding my gaze for nearly a minute, then flashed me with a huge Becca smile.In her eyes, I could see happiness and a thank you, and it was as if no one else existed. Time stood still. Just me and my girl. She was perfect.

I am building her wings for the wrong reason this time. She shouldn’t be dead. It wasn’t her time to become an angel. I desperately want to be back in the chaos of that day. Staring at my child while our souls connected without words. And, that’s why I was crying so hard. I needed to birth a memory. Birth is always painful.

Tomorrow, I am going to spend time working on her wings, again. They need to be huge so she can travel far. They need to be strong because I know she is doing a lot of flying where she is.

Fly high my baby girl. I know you are smiling because our souls are still connected.

I love you.

 

Because We Must

A handful of years back, I had a friend tell me that I always bring up my daughter’s death in conversations. His next statement caused much inner turmoil: It seems you see yourself as a grieving mother before anything else. Did I? Was that wrong to do? Am I wallowing? An attention seeker? Do I want pity? Am I being offensive? Off-putting? Am I completely messing up this grieving thing??

I thought about what he’d said to me. I DID bring it up in a lot of conversations. About that he was right. But, was it inappropriate to do so? I can not tell you how many hours I chased the reasons, and answers, to this question.

Initially, I was hurt by the words. The anger came later.

Was he telling me I needed to stop talking about my daughter’s death? How could he expect me to do that? Did everyone want me to stop talking about Becca? When is the right time to mention my dead child? Does someone need to ask me, “Is one of your children deceased?”, before I bring her up? Is there a handbook of grief protocol I didn’t receive? Not only was I reeling from her absence in my life . . . I now had to remain quiet about it. Maybe he was right, maybe I shouldn’t bring it up in polite social interactions. Screw that.

Then the righteous anger came. Yeah, so what, I DO bring her death up a lot. F*ck him, he doesn’t know. Who the Hell is he to tell me I talk about her too often! Both of his children are alive . . . so he can take his observation and shove it. What I do, what I say, is none of his business. He can f*ck off for all I care!

As the anger dissipated, I started to try to figure out the emotions connected to this situation. First, why did it bother him so much that I did this? Obviously, he felt uncomfortable. He could see the awkward looks on other’s faces as I spoke. Second, why did I feel the compulsion to do this. What he said was true, and after taking the tone of judgement out of it . . . I wanted to know the reason.

Was he uncomfortable because child loss is a terrifying possibility and he didn’t want to think about it? Maybe. The truer answer, probably is, we (read society) don’t handle grief well. It’s foreign because it’s been removed, for the most part, from our life. Years ago, generations ago, death was a part of everyday life. Most families had many children because it was understood some might not make it to adulthood. Child loss was more real, to society as a whole, a hundred years ago. Not so in today’s world.

Does the feeling of awkwardness, in others, stem from our grief being too intimate for them to see? Have we forgotten how to behave when someone else is emotionally hurting? Is our raw pain just too much for outsiders to handle? Yes, yes, and again, yes.

When someone bares themselves to another person, there is vulnerability from both sides. Being vulnerable can be very uncomfortable for many. In our world today, there are so many ways to interact with someone else, that isn’t face to face. We are forgetting how to just “be” with another person. And, as far as the rawness of child loss pain, it can be very overwhelming for those who don’t understand it. Scary, even.

For a while, after my friend made this observation, I tried not to bring up my deceased daughter. I didn’t want others to look at me as if I might be a bit off. But, as I rolled this truth around in my head, I came to realize, there are very real reasons I do this. I needed others to connect with me on this level. I was in a lonely and desolate place. I had to share the pain, share her story, otherwise it remained a silent nightmare. In a world that no longer held her . . . I needed her name to be heard.

The biggest reason, though, was because her death was a monumental life event for me. Think about the huge events that happen to a large number of people: 9/11, the Challenger explosion, any mass shooting. We all gather, in groups, and say, “did you hear?” or “can you believe it?” We share the pain we are all feeling. We need to know we are not in it alone. It’s the same for us. We need a connection. We need validation. We need understanding. We need care.

Becca made me a momma. Her birth completely transformed who I was. It would be foolish for me, or anyone else, to think her death didn’t do the very same thing. Losing Becca changed me at the deepest levels of my being. Of course I am going to talk about it. About her. About my experience on this path. I have no other choice. And, that’s ok.

Let us talk. We need to share. Please . . . listen. Laying ourselves bare, in front of you, is not easy for us, either. Those first months, when we are desperately trying to fit the truth into our hearts, we need to be connected to others. It helps us to accept our new reality. It’s where we start to heal.

We need you.

 

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.

Past, Present, Future

Four months after losing my daughter . . . a woman, who I considered a good friend, called me. The first words that came out of her mouth ended our friendship.

“Are you done crying yet?”

“Are you (a newly bereaved mother) done crying yet (as if four months was enough to mourn my child’s death).”

The word “yet” was a judgement. She made me feel as if I was taking too long and people were getting impatient with me. She was getting impatient with me. She wanted to know if I was finished. I hung up the phone, but the guilt I felt for not being “farther along” stayed with me for a quite some time. I spent so many wasted moments wondering if I was “doing it right”. In truth, I still have those moments, a decade later.

I’ve come to find . . . many bereaved mothers eventually feel as if they are letting others down with their need to grieve. Not only their need . . . but how they grieve, as well.

In the first days, we have no choice but to grieve openly. Our soul’s screams demand to be heard. The intense pain is all encompassing and there is nothing we can do but be in it. There isn’t a way to keep it contained, even if we try, there just isn’t. That kind of anguish can not be controlled. So don’t expect us to do it. If our grief is too much for you then walk away. We don’t need the added weight upon our overburdened shoulders.

As the months pass, and enough people have shown us (or told us outright) that our grief is getting to be “a bit too much”, we learn to hide it. Cover it with a fake smile or a mumbled “I’m alright” when asked how we are doing. We are becoming masters of illusion as to not upset your world. Or, we stop going out as often, not wanting to see the disappointment from others. It’s easier to be alone with the grief. In solitude, we can be who we are. Grieving mothers. Broken and crying.

I wish I could truly convey how I am doing, some days, so you would understand. I know most bereaved mothers, myself included (usually), wouldn’t wish this pain on any one else. But, oh, there are times when I want a callous person to feel what I am feeling.

Do you remember the movie from the mid 90’s, about a young man who is sensitive and other worldly? There is a scene in which the lead character, Powder, uses his supernatural abilities to try to change a man. Powder grabs the arm of a seasoned hunter and shares with him (telepathically) the agony the deer, he’d just shot, was feeling as it died. There are times when I would give nearly anything to have this ability. A way to immediately put someone where I am every day. Just for a moment.

For a long time (months, maybe years) we put on the face society wants to see, and navigate the world in disguise. We go to work, faking it. We participate in holidays, feeling no joy. We laugh, when we really want to cry. We behave in a way that won’t upset those around us. Because, we’ve learned our grief has an expiration date to outsiders. For others, there is a time limit. And for some ungodly reason, many people don’t have a problem telling us so. As my former friend did after just four months of living without my daughter.

The more time that passes . . . the less likely outsiders are to understand why we are still grieving so deeply. Do they think it’s getting easier? I can assure you . . . it isn’t. Does the passage of years somehow soften the pain from losing my child? No, it doesn’t. If anything, it makes it harder. Every dawn brings me farther from the last time I held my daughter.

There is a heaviness added to my spirit with the passing of each day since Becca was killed. A mother with a living child gathers memories along the way . . . as her child lives life. I carry the moments my child never got a chance to live because someone took her life away. How does one ever stop grieving the loss of a child as life unfolds all around us and we are continually, achingly, aware that our child is missing?

A few weeks ago, I had another friend ask me how I was doing. I was honest. I said, “Shitty. Labor day was the last time my entire family was together, so this holiday makes me very sad.” Their reply: “Hasn’t it been ten years? It should be getting easier.”

I can assure you, it isn’t.

If we are lucky . . . we find our voice and can say, with strength, I’ll forever grieve. I generally try to end my writing with something positive to say to the “outsiders”. But, I just don’t have anything tonight. Instead, I’ll end this bit of writing with words for the grieving mothers.

Grieve. Loudly. Or quietly. With your entire being. Don’t worry about what others think. This is your journey, not theirs. Their child didn’t die, yours did. Be pissed at them for not understanding, it’s natural to be angry. Tell them they are wrong. Or tell them nothing. If you can, explain why they are incorrect. If you can’t, don’t worry about it, it’s not your concern. Cry when you must. Scream at the sky. State your truth, whatever it may be, loudly and with courage. Society needs to learn about what child loss grief is and what it isn’t.

To outsiders, we may look crazed and disheveled. Wild and unkempt. But we don’t care, do we? We are beautiful and pure in our grief. Our pain makes us glow with an inner fire and strength. We have been remade from the inside. Our soul was ripped open and we’ve found the truest parts of ourselves. Make no mistake, though we may seem weak in others eyes, we are stronger than they will ever know. We are warriors and we will lead the way.

When you get to the point in your healing, when you can be authentically who you are at that moment, and you make yourself known to the world . . . you make the path, for the grieving mother behind you, easier to traverse. You change the world.

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.

Shores

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend a night on Mackinac Island. For those of you not familiar with this location, it’s an island off the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, with Lake Huron lapping it’s shores. We arrived in a small town at the edge of the Mackinac Bridge. Parking our car, we left our luggage with the porters and waited to board the ferry. The waters were a cold steel gray topped with fast moving whitecaps. I was scared. I’ve never been to the island, ridden the ferry, or been on one of the great lakes when the waves were so large.

Traveling with another bereaved mother, who’d been to the island many times, we boarded the boat. This trip was a sort of pilgrimage for her. Anxious about going somewhere she’d last been with her deceased child, she settled into her seat and looked out the foggy window. I ran my sleeve across the glass . . . trying to clear it enough to see outside. The ferry started to move and the swell of the waves grew larger as we pulled into open water.

My friend told me where the life vests and exits were “just in case”. Then, thinking it was funny, started to sing lyrics from “The Edmund Fitzgerald”. I looked at her with horror and she said “it’s a nurse’s sense of humor, dark”. Not long after that we hit a huge wave that lifted the boat about five feet into the air. Now, you have to know this boat seats nearly a hundred people and has two decks. Being tossed that high means the water was rough! For a moment, we hovered in the air as the boat fell. Then we slammed down into our seats. And I thought, if I die, I’ll see Becca. I think we lose our fear of death when we have a child that’s gone before us.

Either the captain slowed down or the waves calmed down as we approached shallower water, I don’t know which. I was then able to concentrate on the hazy shapes in the distance. I asked if the shape I saw was Mackinac Island. My friend said no, it was another island, but we were almost there.

My mind starting thinking about how grief is often times described as waves. How we are fighting the currents and just trying to stay afloat. I agree with this description. Then, a thought flashed into my head. She’d been here before. She knew what the islands looked like when the weather was sunny and the waters a clear blue calm. She’d never been here when the weather was as it was that day. But she knew that the mist covered shape in the distance was solid ground. Even though, at the moment, she couldn’t see it. The trip across this stretch of the lake wouldn’t last forever. She KNEW there was land.

Our ground was solid when our children were alive. When our child died, a tsunami swept across our land and wiped much of what we know away. On our good days, we stand on that ground, looking at the drastically changed landscape surrounding us. On the bad, the waters rise and sweep us to sea.

During these moments, the ones when we think of how easy it might be to slip below the surface and give in, we have to look across the water and find a familiar shape. We know there is land. Reaching it might be difficult . . . but it’s there! The waves rise and fall. When they carry you to their crest, find the land and swim towards it. Keep doing this, over and over. Until you make it to shore.

I think my friend was calmer than me on the ferry because she knew what lay ahead. I didn’t, therefore I was more anxious. We can help ourselves, and each other, by remembering what we stood on before our child died. Reminding each other that the maelstrom won’t last forever.

As we drew closer to the island, the soft shapes started to come into sharp focus. My friend pointed out a white church very close to the shore. She told me that her daughter, Mckenna, wanted to get married there some day. Now, she wouldn’t have the chance. Her mom was going to leave a rock, with her daughter’s name on it, outside of the church. Her pilgrimage.

The ferry slowed, we floated on the waves, and I took a picture of the church through a foggy window. A picture taken for a grieving mom, a daughter who’s future was stolen by someone else’s hand, and for me. Someone who didn’t know this shore existed, but felt blessed to visit it.

I don’t always know where my journey will take me. I do know that the journey can be better if you don’t always do it alone.

Mother’s Days After

18578515_10209592102466738_978814193_nI haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I’d have to check to see just how many days it’s been. The exact number isn’t important, but the reason I haven’t written is. To me. Mother’s Day just hits me like a punch in the stomach. The days leading up to it are full of anxiety, the day of is difficult, and the days following are full of sadness.

This past Sunday marked the tenth time the day of celebration for mothers passed without my daughter. As I’ve done since the first one, I pulled out a few things I have from past holidays, that she gave me. I ran my fingers over the paper of homemade cards as if they were made of precious materials. To me, they are. These things are irreplaceable. Let me take a moment to give you some advice: save it. Save it all. One day you might be happy you did.

Though this holiday is difficult for me . . . I know it’s harder, in a different way, for newly bereaved mothers. The first one is full of moments of denial. This can’t be real, you tell yourself. Images of last Mother’s Day flash into your mind as you line up the time, to a year before, and think about what you were doing with your child. Every piece of your soul aches to travel back to that day. Any day before your child died, really. Then the weight of the new reality crushes those memories with it’s truth.

On Sunday, I sat at a small Mother’s Day celebration that my friend’s family had. As we chatted, sitting in a circle in the shady backyard, I couldn’t help but notice the four kids sitting across the expanse of grass. Cousins, laughing with each other. Except, one of them was missing. You see, there used to be five. Until one was killed. Her mother, my friend, sat next to me, quiet. Curled into herself.

A few times, I asked her if she was alright. She said yes. We always say yes. The rest of the family, though aware of the huge hole that was left by murder, had all of their children around them. I know they carry immense and indescribable sadness but they can’t experience the pain that my fried carries for the loss of her daughter. I know they understand that holidays will be difficult . . . but I am not sure others can truly understand the depth of our pain on such days. Seeing my friend steeped in her pain, pain that was so real it flowed off of her in waves, broke my heart. I wish I could make it better for her. That I could make it better for all the bereaved moms I know. But I can’t. I can barely make it better for myself.

The Saturday night before Mother’s Day, my friend and I accompanied another mom to the site where her child died last year. She’d spread out a blanket under a huge pine tree, a tree that must have been over a hundred years old, and talked about her son’s last day. We listened to her as she shared her son’s death story. We all need to share the death story of our child. The creek slipped quietly by below us as tears fell upon our cheeks. There is sacredness in these moments. A connection to each other and to life. And death. It’s an honor when mothers share these stories with us . . . let us into their very small and intimate circle of pain.

Being a mother is a sacred act. Raising a child, caring for them, loving them, protecting them, teaching them . . . it’s the most important thing we can do with our lives. Both joy filled and heartbreaking.

The days that led up to Mother’s Day were filled with apprehension for me. I know it’s going to be hard . . . I just don’t know how hard. So I worry I might not make it through. The day of, though it’s been a decade, still brings memories from previous celebrations into my mind. I wonder if she knew how much I love her. If she knows the cards her little hands made were among the most precious gifts I ever could have received. Does she see me get them out every year and cry as I read them over and over. I hesitate as I look at the gifts from my sons, wondering if I should save them “just in case” and then think I am courting death if I do.
The days after are hollow and painful. There is a type of re-realization that Becca is gone for good. She’s not coming back. Even if I cry to the heavens that it’s been too long since I’ve seen her so she should be sent back. It’s a kind of bottoming out . . . again.

I’ve traveled far upon the path in my grief journey. I learn new things every day. But Mother’s Day will forever be one of things I circle back to again and again. One of the many times each year that I need to enter a space I’ve been in before, and work through it again.

Then I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to help the moms who are new to the grief of child loss. Next year, if you know someone who is a bereaved mother, please reach out to her. You will add some happiness to a sometimes very dark day by letting her know she is still a mom. And is remembered as one.