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.

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.