Lost And Found: Joy

Words have eluded me for months. I’ve been incredibly stuck in my own thoughts. I decided to “shake it up” a bit and give myself a real challenge. Something far out of my comfort zone. I chose to write a short play. I was shooting for ten minutes but I’m not sure how close I came to that mark. In truth, I am just happy that I was able to write as much as I did. And . . . dialog. Yikes! I forced myself to shut off the inner critic and just write.

My intention was to share this piece without asking anyone what they thought. Just write it and share it. Opening myself up to vulnerability – as Brene Brown says – and authenticity. I caved. I shared it with two people. One a writer, and the other not. I listened to what they had to say but didn’t change a thing I’d written. Edited pieces may be smoother and more palatable but I think first drafts tend to be the most honest.

Let me state this: I am not a playwright. I’ve thought of writing a play (what writer hasn’t) but never seriously sat down and attempted to do so. My format is one of my own making and does not follow any rules, I am sure. I hope those of you who are trained can find a way to forgive me for bastardizing the format.

So, here it is. I am happy with it. I am thrilled I’ve started writing again. I can, again, work through the loss of my child with the written word.

I love you Beccabug.

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Scene opens with two women on an empty stage. The stage is dark except for a single light directly over each of the characters. The first (W1) is disheveled and dressed in dark colors. She’s clearly agitated. W1 is far stage right. The second, far stage left (W2) is humming and wearing light colorful clothing. Their backs are to each other. W1 is getting noticeably more irritated while glancing over her shoulder at W2.

W1 (turning toward the audience but looking at W2): Aren’t you going to say anything to me? You know I’m here.

W2 (without turning around) I do. I was waiting for you to be ready to talk to me. (continues humming)

W1 (turning toward W2 and walking halfway to center stage): I don’t want to talk to you . . . but you’re irritating me with your humming and you’re ignoring me. I don’t care what you have to say, really. You just bother me, that’s all.

W2 ( turning fully toward W1 – causing her to flinch and take a step back) I’m sorry. I’m not ignoring you. I just don’t want to add to your pain or make you angrier . . . but it seems I have, anyway. You have enough to deal with.

W1 (crossing her arms defensively across her chest) that’s not true! You haven’t said one thing to me! You just keep humming like an idiot! (imitating W2’s humming in an exaggerated manner while flailing her arms around – suddenly stopping and rushing toward center stage) And, anyway . . . I have a good reason to be angry. ( looking at W2 accusingly) You should be angry, too (her voice breaking) you lost her just like I did.

W2 (flinches slightly) You are right. I did lose her. (placing her hands over her heart) there is a part of me, deep down, that will always carry the anger in the unfairness of it all. I understand why you are full of rage. (reaching her hands toward W1) are you ready to talk?

W1 (putting her hands up toward W2 in an attempt to ward her off) Don’t! Don’t you come near me!!You don’t love her as much as I do! If you did . . . you wouldn’t be able to smile. Or, laugh, or fucking hum!

W2 (letting her hands drop to her sides) I . . .

W1 (clenching her fists) Don’t. You don’t get to say anything. If you cared, at all, you wouldn’t be so god damn happy.

W2 (flinches again becoming slightly defensive) that’s not fair! You don’t know how hard it’s been to get here!

W1 (loudly and slowly punctuating each word) I . . . don’t . . . give . . . a . . . damn. (she turns and walks toward far stage right turning away from W2)

W2 (attempting a calming tone) That’s not true. Why are you being hurtful toward me?

W1 (with a sarcastic laugh) really? Why? Because you’ve forgotten her and I am not going to let that happen, that’s why.

W2 (shaking her head) I have not forgotten her! I remember everything!

W1 (turning toward center stage and with each question she takes a step toward W2) What was her favorite doll? What was her name in the foster home when she was going to be adopted? What birthday cake was her favorite? (coming right up to the center of the stage, without crossing, but leaning into it) what does her voice sound like? You haven’t heard it since the day she was killed.

W2 (crumbles to her knees and sobs into her hands)

W1 (crosses her arms in a satisfied manner) Good. Now you remember her. (listening to W2 cry) Now you REALLY remember how much it hurts. Bet you won’t be humming anymore.

W2 (remaining on the floor, wiping her eyes, looks up at W1) I remember every little thing about her. Her doll? Baby Laurie. I sleep with her every night. Cuddling her close, holding her little plastic hands, with the fingers chewed off, in mine. Smelling her matted hair. Kissing the well worn cheeks like she used to do. Caroline was the name given to her in the foster home. It still hurts me that someone else named her, even for a short time, before I did. And it nearly kills me to know that she might still be alive if I’d released her for adoption. And, the cake? I made her favorite. Chocolate. I decorated it with deep purple frosting which stained all of our mouths for a few days. Remember?

W1 (with a little smile nods her head)

W2 (continues) I worked so hard on that cake! It was one of the best I’ve ever made! She deserved all the beauty I could give her. I made a frosting basket on the top of it and filled it with a dozen colorful flowers cascading over the sides. She absolutely loved it!

(they both fell silent while remembering the little girl who squealed with delight at seeing her cake) (the sound of Becca squealing and clapping her hands can be heard from backstage “oh mom, it’s perfect!)

W2 (continuing with a catch in her throat) her voice? Her voice is the music in my thoughts every day. I hear her constantly. Her laughter mingles with my own when I find a reason to laugh. My voice is her voice.

W1 (falls to her knees then lays down and sobs her whole body heaving)

W2 (scooting as close to W1 as possible without crossing center stage) Her laugh! Remember how she loved to make us all laugh? Especially her brothers. She felt happy when she could make another person feel joy. After she died, after her funeral, I read the cards and notes people had written about her. Nearly all of them said “her smile lit up a room”. And, it did, didn’t it? (W1’s sobs start to lessen and her body becomes calmer) Like I said before, I am angry, too. There is a rage that resides inside of me. You (reaching out and touching W1’s head) you are the rage that lives deep within my soul.

W1 (stops crying at W2’s touch)

W2 (taking W1’s hand) I know you have to be angry. I know it’s our honest feeling. I just can’t live in the middle of it every day. So, I’ve left you to exist in the most painful part of my soul. Sometimes, I think I’ve sacrificed you so I could find some happiness again. I feel guilt because I have found a way to “go on” but have not been able to take you with me. That’s why I come back. To try to make up for leaving you behind. So that you know you are not truly alone.

W1 (pulling her hand away and sitting up . . . now the two are knee to knee on the floor) I have to stay here. Our anger will never be gone completely. And . . . I don’t ever want it to be. We will always be mad that she is gone. Her life was cut short. She didn’t deserve that end.

W2 (taking W1’s face into her hands and putting their foreheads together) No she didn’t. I understand that. But, she also deserves to be remembered with joy. She was . . . is . . . our joy. That light was the biggest part of her. We can not let her legacy be one of anger. It must be one of happiness. She deserves that.

W1 (bends forward and puts her head on W2’s shoulder – W2 wraps her arms around W1) I can’t leave here though. I have to stay.

W2 (holding W1 and rocking her back and forth) I know. And, I will always come back to check on you. You know (she chuckles) it didn’t take you quite as long to talk to me this time. I think we are making progress!

W1 (pulls away and smiles) You’re right.

( Both women get to their feet, still on either side of center stage)

W2 (reaches for W1’s hand) do you want to come over here for a while?

W1 (accepting her hand) ok . . . (she steps over center stage and W2 starts to walk to backstage far left) I . . . I can’t go that far though (she hesitates and pulls back)

W2 (changing course so she is walking slightly off center stage toward the back) ok, not too far. (they slowly walk toward the back curtain) Did you recognize the song I was humming?

W1 no

W2 (putting her arm around W1’s shoulder) it was “you are my sunshine” we used to sing it to her every day.

W1 oh yeah . . . I DO remember that!

W2 I guess we have a lot to teach each other (she starts humming the song again)

(they walk off center stage through curtains and the lights go dark

 

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Know The Truth

“I love watching all the amazing things that you and Stacey do. You’re both really living life and I’m proud of you.”

Another bereaved mom, that I know, sent this message to me recently. I thanked her for the kind words but inside I felt like a fraud. A few days later, I read them to Stacey, and remarked that people see us as an inspiration. Her reply: maybe you, but not me. I felt incredulous that she felt this way. But that’s the truth . . . we feel as if we are not the good that people say they see in us.

These feelings are more complex than simply feeling worthy of such praise. I feel as if the image I create is a smokescreen of half truths. That I share enough of the “good” to trick others into seeing me for more than what I am.

The past month has been a whirlwind of activity centering around the local art competition known as Artprize. Both Stacey and I had pieces that were accepted and shown to the public. Each of our entries has to do with the death of our child and where we are at this point in our healing journey. Much time was spent by each of us, standing beside our project, explaining its meaning to those who were kind enough to listen to our stories of loss. Truthfully, Stacey spent more time than I did and even when I was there I let her do some of the talking for me. It was just so hard to do . . . repeatedly.

Please, for every positive thing I do, know there is negative not far behind.

Being a part of Artprize allowed me the platform from which to speak about my Becca. There were so many people willing to listen that I put myself into a dark place and danced at the edge of depression, again. I’m happy it’s almost over.

We had the chance to open our home to other artists who needed a place to stay during the competition. Many of them traveled from far away just to be a part of this. The expenses of creating art, shipping art, traveling here . . . are high. When you add the cost of staying here, it’s often times undoable. We are lucky enough to be relatively close and have a very large house. Offering to host artists was really a no brainer. But, it came with a price. An emotional price.

Home is my sanctuary. Where I retreat when the outside world becomes too much for me to process. It’s a (mostly) controlled environment shutting out the uncontrollable. I am by no means a perfectionist. If I was I wouldn’t be living with five dogs and two cats. My things don’t need to be in order or in precise condition. Nothing needs to match. I just need my personal surroundings to be as stress free as possible and generally quiet. Calm. Or, not calm if I need to fall apart. It’s my soft safe place where I give the most vulnerable parts of myself, freedom.

The freedom to be ugly and undignified. Petty and jealous. Furious and damaging. Because . . . all of these emotions are part of this journey I am forced to take. When I blow up at something that shouldn’t elicit such a reaction, Stacey understands. And, that goes for her, too. It’s hard to control these feelings when someone else is in your space. When I’m the host, it’s up to me to make sure my guest has everything needed to insure a pleasant time. There were days, while we had our artist guests, that I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I’d spend time talking about my dead child, sharing her story over and over, only to have to pick up one of the artists from their venue and drive them home. Upon reaching home, I had to cook them dinner and spend the evening chatting about the day. Or, chat happily as one of them cooked dinner for us. Lovely to have a French man cooking our meal but there were many times I just wanted to climb into bed and cry myself to sleep. When my space isn’t my own, I tailor my behavior to those around me and this can be damaging to my well being. I was relieved when they left and the house was empty . . . except for us.

It was fun to tell people we were cool enough – interesting enough- bohemian enough to house artists but it was exhausting. I would love to say that the entire experience was wonderful from start to finish but, as I’ve explained, it wasn’t. Not because of them, mind you, but because of me. So, all the “how awesome!!” we got from people envious that we were living such a colorful life make me feel fraudulent. I often feel like a lie. A misconception to others. A hollow inspiration.

I’m not always living. It might seem that way but most days, in all honesty, I am just surviving.
Surviving in a world that doesn’t include my child is difficult on the best days. Imagine the days it’s harder. The days when I don’t give a fuck what’s happening outside of my bedroom door. What kind of role model am I then? I desperately need people to know that I am not always doing great things. I am not always hopeful and positive. I’m not squeezing every moment of joy out of this life.

I have my down days. Many bad days. Days when I am a bitch because I am jealous that you still have your child with you. Ones in which my anger rages because I have to talk about Becca in a past tense. A lump in my throat because I have to swallow what I really want to say. Hopelessness because I know I just can’t do one more day without my daughter by my side. Those days are as real as the good ones I share on social media. Please, please, know this.

I don’t want to mislead anyone in any way. It wouldn’t be fair to them or to me.

So, I’ll just keep bumbling along this uneven path my feet are on for as long as I am here. If I have given you the impression that “I’ve got this” . . . understand, I don’t.

I do my best. Accept my worst. And, keep moving through.

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.

 

When Time Wobbles

After work today, I met up with my friend, to have a quick lunch. I asked her if she wanted to go to a popular breakfast spot, because we’ve never been, and I thought it would be fun to go somewhere new. She said no because she’d only been there once, with her daughter, before she was killed. I completely understood. I thought to myself, it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that way about going somewhere. I thought I’d crossed all those bridges over the past ten years. How wrong I was.

Have you ever been in a situation where time seems to slip, back and forth, over itself? So completely believable . . . you forget which day you are really in?

When my boys were little, they loved the pictures that you could tilt one way to see an image, then move it slightly the other way, for a completely different image. To them, it seemed like magic!! The picture changed, so quickly, from one to the other. This afternoon, time wobbled and I was in two different days at once.

As I pulled up to the light, getting ready to take a left into the parking lot, I realized I’d been here before. The snow, which had been falling steadily all day, melted away. In its place, there was a blanket of brightly colored leaves, spread over the concrete. The air around me grew warmer as the time of year clicked back to autumn . . . twenty five years ago.

I pulled my van into a parking space, but when I got out, I was looking at the silver Mazda I used to drive. I shook my head in an attempt to gather my senses. I was doing well . . . until the automatic doors swooshed open and the store was almost exactly as it had been the last time I was there. With a ten year old Becca. That moment tore the breath from my lungs. I should turn around and leave, I thought. But, I didn’t.

It was too much. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t leave, though. There is something about being in a place where your deceased child has been. Like part of them is still there . . . waiting for you to find it. I couldn’t leave because around every corner I could hear my little girl’s laugh. I could hear her sweet voice, float over the aisles, towards me. Chasing it, I found myself standing in front of the cereals, watching the shimmering memory of my daughter reach for her favorite one. Swinging herself around, her hair fanning out behind her, big eyes begged me to let her get it. I’m so glad I did.

I’m not sure how long I stood there, today. I was trying very hard not to cry. Someone walking past me, looked at me oddly, and I realized I was breathing as if I was in labor. Those short, open mouthed exhalations, that help to work through the pain of giving birth. I didn’t care how I looked. I was standing there, watching my daughter, alive again. It was beautiful heartache.

I walked up and down the aisles, searching for what I needed, and what I needed was my daughter. Just as in life . . . she was one step ahead of me. I caught a glimpse of her sun gold hair just past the pile of apples. I quickly made my way around the islands of fruit but she was already gone. Always moving, just out of my grasp.

I begged her: please wait please wait please wait . . .

I never caught her. I did see my ten year old daughter one more time, in the store, though. She was standing in front of the flowers and smiling at me. With her little hand, she waved, and was gone. Oh sweet girl . . . my heart aches for you, tonight.

I stood in the spot she had just been. I could still feel her. I thought, the last time I was here, I didn’t know the next time, my daughter would be dead. Who knew a simple trip to the grocery store, a quarter of a century ago, would hold such precious memories? We don’t know until much later.

I picked out a bouquet I knew she would love. Colorful, just like her.

I won’t go back to that store again. As I loaded my items onto the conveyor belt, to pay for them, I realized I’d picked up much more than material goods. Sweet memories, that I’d forgotten, were the most important things I could have found. I was reminded of her musical giggle. The scent of sunshine clung to her hair. Her beautiful eyes, looked up at me, full of perfect love.  A gap toothed smile told me she was happy.

She was amazing.

For a few precious minutes . . . my little girl was with me again. And I was complete.