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.


Beloved Sons

When I got pregnant with my twin boys, my daughter was not just angry, she wanted to move to Nana’s house. At ten, she was used to having me all to herself for an entire decade. Becca was pouty and misbehaved more frequently than she had ever before. My little girl, with the generally sweet disposition, was being impossible.

I was nearly five months along, in my pregnancy, when I found out there were two babies! And, that they were both boys. I was stunned. I think most people would be knocked off balance with the news of twins! When I entered my parents apartment, to tell them the news, I just handed them the ultrasound picture. I might not have to tell you . . . but, hearing the news, Becca decided to stay with my parents for a few days.

My boys arrived earlier than we had expected. We barely had time to get used to the idea of twin sons. Or, have a baby shower. But we did our best. The shower was attended by family and close friends . . . all who had agreed to bring a “big sister” gift for Becca. The pictures from this event are comical because they show a very sullen little girl who is having no part of the festivities!! But after that night . . . Becca changed. The boys were no longer “the babies” but instead, she started to refer to them as “my brothers”.

Sitting next to me on the couch, she would place both hands on my belly, so she could “touch both of them” she explained. Every night, I would sit with my mouth hanging open so she could talk to the boys. Sometimes, she would even sing. Always, she told them how much she loved them. And, she did. From the moment she held each in her arms. They were hers and she was theirs.

She was Sissy to them. And they adored her.

My boys, though they are twins, can be as different as night and day. Just as siblings do . . . they fought hard, but they loved harder. As boys can, they aggravated her, and each other. I am certain, of the fact, that my boys would not be as wonderful men as they are . . . if she hadn’t been their sister. I am so proud of my sons and all they have overcome in their short years here on earth.

A friend of mine, very innocently, stated she was glad that I had mentioned my sons at the close of my last blog piece. I thought about her question . . . and asked if she thought I didn’t talk about them enough. She said yes. Which I completely understand . . . from her viewpoint. I’m glad she asked, I’m torn, though. My life, being a journey, has many layers upon my path. Is she right? Am I ignoring the boys? More importantly, do THEY feel as if I am ignoring them? I haven’t lost my sons (thankfully) and this blog is about child loss. Even child loss has many facets.

My grief as her mother. The enormity of closing down my child’s life. Becoming a mother changed me as a person. Becoming a bereaved mother had an even bigger effect on my life. Giving birth expands our soul. Losing a child rips it from our bodies. My relationship with my surviving children was deeply affected. How I viewed the world changed in seconds. Every single thing about me was altered.

Including my ability to love my twin boys. I was afraid to love them. To love my children is to lose my children, I thought. Many years had to pass for me to realize my boys wouldn’t be cursed by my love. Overwhelming guilt still floods my chest when I think of the mother I was after losing Becca.

As many times as I have tearfully apologized to them, both Gabriel and Matthew, have told me I don’t need to say I’m sorry. Though I KNOW I failed them, in both big and small ways, they have shown me grace with their words and actions. Forgiveness I still am not sure I deserve. Even though I was completely broken, and severely lacking, my teenage sons stayed with me instead of going to live with their father. They both have a depth of character that I just stand in awe seeing.

Despite the loss of their beloved Sissy, and their broken mother, they have not only survived, but thrived. I say I am proud . . . but who they are has more to do with them, than me. Both of them, love life. They still trust life. They are adventurous and kind and giving and compassionate and generous.

Gabriel is my fighter. He’s more like me than any of my children. He carries an angst and deepness that is well beyond his years. Words flow from his pen as smooth as a stream over water worn stones. Though he struggles with worldly issues, as people do, he remains hopeful and positive. He has an intelligence that seems to come from knowing there is more in this world than what we see and he carries the knowledge from our ancestors. He’s artistic and creative and talented with whatever medium he chooses to use. He’s my poet. I know, he carries his Sissy deep in his heart and she comes out in his poetry.

Matthew is my world changer. He is deeply moved by others difficulties. The pain, I believe, from losing his Sissy propels him forward in his chosen field. Helping others. He has a way of speaking, that not only highlights his intelligence, but soothes people. He is genuine and earnest and still looks at the world in awe. All of the possibilities that are out there . . . he knows he can chase them and catch them. He’s a good man, and just to look into his eyes, you can see he is. Matthew carries his Sissy in his actions to help those around him. She comes out in the love he gives the world.

Yesterday, Gabriel told me they have an opportunity to go to Budapest and film an event for the media company they started with their friend. My boys, having endured so much by the time they reached adulthood, could be afraid of the danger that exists in the world. So afraid, that they might not be able to take advantage of this trip. But they aren’t. They are thrilled to be going back to Europe in April.

As I said . . . they still trust life.

Me, I’m worried for them. A mother always worries . . . especially after losing a child. But, more than I am worried, my soul is joyful that they are happy and hopeful in all they do. I could not be prouder of my little boys who turned into amazing men. I am excited for what the future will bring for them. For us.

In them, my hope resides.

Hellish Waters

“Is she getting any help? Does she go to counseling?”

“No, she isn’t.” was the reply.

“Well then,” said the woman, “ . . . I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s choosing to stay sad.”

I’ve heard this conversation more than once, if you can believe that, in the years since losing my daughter. Both about myself, as well as other bereaved mothers. I’m always left feeling angry and saddened. I simply don’t understand how someone could say “I don’t feel sorry for her”.

Honestly? You can’t muster up ANY sympathy or empathy for a mother with a dead child? There is no feeling of compassion toward a woman who had to make “final arrangements” for her daughter or son?You can sit in judgment, of a place you’ve never been, and make the callous comment, “she’s choosing to stay sad”?

I would tell you to “go to hell” but hell is a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since Becca, my daughter, was killed. Do you want to know what hell is for a grieving mother? I’ll share just a small picture of it . . . then maybe you won’t be so quick to draw conclusions about a broken soul.

Carrying a child for months, preparing for the life he or she will have, then having that life taken from you. From them. Take a moment and sort through the dreams you have for your child. Would it be so easy for you to watch them fade away, then disappear, completely? Which one of your child’s dreams could you erase from the future? How about all of them?

Stop reading for a moment. Go to your child right now, wherever they are, and touch them. Feel the warmth of their skin, take in their scent, listen to their voice. Do you know what I do when I want to touch my daughter again? I lay my hand on a cold marble urn. I’ve wondered how long her ashes stayed warm, inside, after her cremation. Have you any idea how one’s mind can spin out when you think about what your child’s body went through after it was placed in the oven and the door shut? The body you spent days, months, years (if you’re lucky) caring for and watching grow.

I’ve watched more than one mother lean over her child’s grave and wipe bits of newly cut grass off of name plates. Placing hands on thin grass (because it takes a while for grass to grow over a grave) above where she believes their child’s hands to be. Thick grass, right up to the edge of where the grave starts, picturing over and over the last time she saw your child’s face before the coffin was closed? Her last glimpse of the coffin as it’s lowered into the ground. The panic she feels because “what if she isn’t really dead . . . what if he’s scared . . . “.

Ten years have passed since I lost my daughter. A decade. But there are some mornings when I wake up, somewhere between fully aware and dreamland, and I forget she’s dead. For that split second, all is right in my world. Then the ugly truth worms it’s way into the center of my mind and the contentment I feel is shattered. That moment though, oh that beautiful perfect peaceful moment, she’s not gone from me physically. Can you imagine the intense anguish I feel when I realize it will be another day without my child? That, for the rest of my life, every day will be without Becca. As long as I live, I have to choose to be here, knowing I’ll never hear her laughter again? That is hell, my friend.

Those first years after child loss we can be unreachable. We live in a continual hurricane, finding the peaceful eye of the storm once in a while, sometimes by accident. But, there is little calm. Fuzzy clarity, at best. The world, as we knew it, is gone. We have been rocked to the very core of our souls. Our hearts have been both blown apart and imploded in a single second. What we’ve gone through is unexplainable. Something you can barely imagine. And when you try to, your mind does a 180 because you’ve seen a glimpse of the hellish horror. Imagine living there.

No, grieving mothers don’t want to be sad. We are not choosing to stay there. Believe me . . . we would all choose to be with our child, instead. Surviving this is so much more complicated than going to the doctor, to get bypass surgery, after a heart attack. Our hearts are shredded . . . there may not be much to stitch together for a very long time.

The same of a counselor. A therapist might be able to help us, but unless we are in a place to hear what’s being said, it’s doing no good. And we can’t just “put” ourselves into that place, either. And as I’ve explained, neither can you put yourself in ours. Getting counseling from someone who’s never lost a child, to most of us, seems ridiculous. And, at times, it really is. We walk around, each day, carrying the brutal knowledge from experience. Not what we’ve read in a book.

So, I beg you, don’t speak about what you don’t know. If you have any compassion, at all, don’t judge a bereaved mother for not doing what you think you’d do in her situation. You can’t know unless you are there. And I hope you never will be. If you can not say anything kind . . . don’t say anything at all. Simple. She doesn’t need the shame you’ll make her feel by stating your very inexperienced opinion.

Every grieving mother I know is fighting to stay above the waves. Don’t stand back and say “if she’d only . . .” reach out a hand to keep her atop the water. Don’t give her more weight to carry. She’s got enough.

And finally, no grieving mother deserves the heartbreak and pain she is feeling. Not now . . . not ever.

On a side note: I went to counseling. I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Though the one therapist I had that did help me, didn’t lose a child, he taught me some very useful coping strategies. However, it has to be a personal choice and the person has to be in the place to participate fully.