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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Both

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons. Though some years, it seems, that we are hurried through one of them by Mother Nature’s insistence to hurry on to the next. Winter has always been my favorite season of the four. For two very different reasons.

First, I absolutely loved snow days when the kids were home from school. The outside world, and all its problems, didn’t matter for a while. There was nothing to worry about except what was right in front of us. The pure whiteness of the fresh snow begged the children to go outdoors. I’d spend about half an hour bundling them all up from head to toe then send them out the front door. Becca always seemed to come in before her brothers were ready. Little kids seem to endure cold temperatures much better than those who are older. When they did finally give in to the elements they’d come inside with sopping wet clothes and wind chapped cheeks. Becca would help them get out of their snow stuff as I made hot cocoa for all of us. Somehow, they would be sweaty under their clothing, their hair curly from the moisture and their hats, and they’d wrap their small hands around warm mugs. Sometimes, they even had whipped cream with peppermint sticks to stir their drink!

When they were very young . . . a nap usually followed an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones can endure the cold but when they get back into the warmth of indoors they tend to become drowsy. They’d fall into a deep sleep, bellies full of chocolate and faces sticky from the peppermint candy. Becca might take a nap, too. Or if I was really lucky she’d nestle up next to me on the couch and we’d watch a movie cuddled together under a blanket.

As they boys grew older, naps tended to fall away from favor, and I’d often be able to cajole them into a game or two. Our family has only two games we play together. Yahtzee, which I absolutely love . . . and Sorry! which generally ends in a fight because Gabriel hates how Matthew counts the squares by tapping his finger. And, I think Matthew might aggravate his brother on purpose. We STILL talk about it to this day!

Snow days, when we were all home together, were perfect every single time.

The second reason I prefer winter over any other season is because the outer world matches my inner self. Not icy, though I’ve been accused of that a few times in the past. But rather, I am not all sunny and happy and full of fun. Even before Becca’s death I wasn’t. Winter just matches me. It makes sense. Isolation isn’t seen as something bad when everyone is stuck inside of their homes. The beach isn’t full of throngs of people – every one of them having the best day of their lives. Michigan is beautiful in each season though summer here is the one that is talked about the most. It seems almost taboo to not be full of life during this time of the year. In winter, no one is insisting that you “come to the beach” or “come out on the boat” or “we’re having a campfire”. Fun things, yes, but hard for a bereaved mother to enjoy when all she can think of is her own child missing out.

Summer isn’t me. Winter is my time. The quiet solitude of the lake, beach, and forests. The coldness in the air is sharp. Images, in front of my eyes, seem clearer and more focused. I feel more alive. More at peace. Calm. This is the space for introspective and contemplative thinking. The darkness that comes as night falls earlier across the land lulls me into a dream like state. My thoughts have endless hours to chase each other and form themselves into something with weight. There is time to poke and prod and investigate what my soul is trying to tell me. The world, covered with a blanket of snow, is quiet enough for me to hear them. Still enough for me to listen. I find myself to be most creative during these coldest months of the year.

But, with the turn of the seasonal wheel, winter brings my most difficult days. The holidays are hard, for sure, but I have my own personal important dates mixed in with them, too. I’ve often said this time of year is like being in a boxing ring for me. Though I try to prepare, one hit after the other lands on me with stunning accuracy. Halloween marks the beginning of the match and Feb. 1 is the ringing of the final bell. Roughly every two and a half weeks during that period I am gut punched and I fall to my knees. Barely on my feet . . . another punch sends me to the mat.

Interestingly, my favorite season is also my most painful. I guess, in an odd way, this makes perfect sense. The deepest love I have in this life, that which I hold for my children, also causes me the most intense pain. With great light comes great darkness.

I guess that is the truth of the world. Without warmth would we know what cold actually felt like? Sorrow isn’t as deep when we don’t have the joy to measure it against. Life isn’t as precious unless we know the void left by losing it. We grieve as deeply as we love. It’s the price of being human.

So, here’s to winter. It blew in last night appearing to have every intention of staying for a while. I am joyful to know the world matches my soul again and will rejoice in the beauty it brings. The love I have for my deceased child will be matched with intense anguish that is brought to the surface during these icy days.

Beautifully painful. Or painfully beautiful.

I imagine . . . it’s both.

 

This New Path

My life has had some profound shifts the past few weeks. For the better. Changes I set into motion . . . and not something that happened to me. I think that is an important distinction to acknowledge because not many life upheaving events have been by my doing. Instead, they’ve been in reaction to an event thrust upon me. The major changes in life can be easier to handle when we’ve made the choice to make the change.

Recently, I’ve written of communication with the man who killed my child eleven years ago. I have had just over a decade of time to react to my child’s untimely death. To wear down the edges of it so I’m not continually sliced open with its existence. To accept, a bit more each day, that it really happened and this is what my life is now. To accept that someone else’s choice forced a life altering reality into my own. I have had to react to Becca’s death, in a thousand different ways, over the course of the past eleven years.

But now, I have the chance to alter my life again by choosing what path I will take. Each day is full of healing possibilities for me. For every bereaved mom, I think. Sometimes we see them and can hold them close and learn from them. Other times, the air around us is heavy and the light is dim and we can’t see what possibilities lie at our feet.

Then there are the times when we see a path veering sideways off of the one we are walking on. I am sure the path has exposed itself to me before but I just wasn’t ready to see it. It’s always been there, I think, but my eyes couldn’t accept it as being a possibility. I think, when I did finally notice it, I might have tentatively set a foot onto it . . . leaving the safety of the uneven ground I knew so well . . . to peer into its shadowy depth. There were times that I didn’t think this new path was for me. No thank you. I’ll continue to travel the hazardous road of child loss instead of venturing into somewhere I don’t know. I know, by now, the monsters I will face on my journey. I don’t know what hides in the dark curves of the unknown terrain.

This new path exposed itself to me a few years ago. It didn’t seem so daunting, for once. It wasn’t as dark as before. But, I still wasn’t ready to leave the security of what I have known for a decade plus. I stopped, looked at the spot where one path met the other and decided to stay where I was for now. I knew it would present itself again, eventually. And that, one of these times, I would be ready to confidently set foot upon new earth and move forward into it.

This new path didn’t so much present itself to me as I was actively looking for it. I had been seeing it more frequently in the past few years so I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to find. I just had to gather a few things before I set forth upon it. An address. My boys blessing, or maybe just their acceptance. A willingness to face whatever was on the other side in the heart of the other person. The person who killed my Becca. Finally, one day, I had all of those things. I took the step.

I chose to move toward forgiveness and deeper healing rather than not explore what it could be for me. For him. For all of those who were impacted by my child’s death. I didn’t know exactly what I would face as I turned the corner that hid my former journey from me. I had bravely decided to see where this change in my journey would take me. I wasn’t sure. Would it open old wounds? Is there unknown anger lurking just under the surface of my conscious mind? I don’t think so. I am done being angry. The chance that something wonderful could come from forgiveness is worth the risk of changing course.

When I think of where I have been and where I am going I really visualize a path. A physical place with rocks and water and bushes that scratch me when I pass too close to them. Quicksand catching hold of my foot and anchoring me in place while I slowly sink. Sections that are ink black because the sun is blotted out and I can’t see any light. Anywhere. Others that are sweet with tall grass and clean air where I remember my child alive. Places where the horizon looks like a duplicate of what I just passed through and fought so hard to overcome.

Is this new path, I have chosen, a shortcut to the end? The end being complete healing? I don’t think there is complete healing. So probably not. But, it’s a chance for my healing to be wider as I veer from what I know. Will it lead me back to familiar ground? Probably. When I get back to the original path I will be more equipped to fight through the battles that are waiting for me.

I’ve chosen forgiveness and I believe it’s made me stronger.

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.

 

The Path

Often, I describe the journey of child loss in a physical manner. In my mind I see the path, we walk, as a dark and sometimes treacherous trek. We have no choice but to keep moving forward into the unknown terrain.

The first time the sun rose, after Becca was killed, the land around me wasn’t the same as before. A haze hung in the air and muddied my view. Hills rose where once the land was flat. Deep fissures had opened across what I could see. Landmarks, which previously stood proudly, were reduced to rubble. And, worst of all, there was no clear way for me to set off on my journey. Scattered everywhere were pieces of her life, our lives. There was nothing to help me get my bearings because it had all changed in an instant.

I wanted to stay balanced in the moment between what life used to be and what it was now. We can’t, though. The moment comes, when every bereaved mother, has to decide where to place her first step on this alien land. And we do so . . . woefully unprepared.

My path is long buried, heaved to the surface through trauma, rich dirt. The size varies: sometimes wide, other times barely there narrow. There are times when it stretches out in front of me and I can see for miles. My difficult times are when there is a sharp turn into thick woods and I have to walk by faith alone. Storms come, and drench the earth, making it difficult to keep my footing. I’ll slip and reach to grab at something, I know was there, only to find out it isn’t. And, down I go . . . covered in mud and hopelessly overwhelmed.

Continuously, obstacles loom ahead of me. Often times, they are ones I thought I had overcome previously. A handful of years had to pass for me to realize . . . these obstacles will keep appearing until I have dealt with them fully. They are too large to overcome in one interaction. When we realize this, that we will have to work through certain things multiple times, we start to feel a bit more in control as we travel the length of our grief path. We have no other choice but to attend to our obstacles or they will keep reappearing – larger than the last time.

I’d like to take a moment here and give you some hope. It’s ok that some things keep appearing in front of us. The enormity of what we must come to terms with, and accept, can not be done in one interaction. You have not failed because an issue has reappeared for the tenth time. This is a life long process . . . integrating what we’ve been through into our every day. We didn’t say good bye to our child, completely, at the funeral, we do so in little moments each day. So goes the process of acceptance.

Though everything on this path seems to be fixing the shattered . . . there are moments when we see beauty and can just “be”! I’ve come around a dark corner to have the sunshine splashed across the path in front of me. I’ve made it to the top of hill, after much hard work, and been rewarded with a panoramic view of a green valley spread below me. I’ve come upon others, who walk their own grief path, and for a bit . . . we sit and share our stories. Giving each other hope, strength, and understanding.

Though being with others in “down time” is healing . . . we must also turn away and continue on our own. As I have often said: this is a solitary journey that can not be taken alone. So, on we go. One foot in front of the other, not knowing what is going to appear ahead of us, just trying to survive. We do the best we can . . . which changes from moment to moment.

This trek is arduous. It makes me feel bone weary most of the time. My hands are raw from dragging myself over the rubble. Wounds from Becca’s death reopen when I catch their edges on a branch I didn’t see. I muddy my own way as my tears fall upon the earth. So many times, I sit on a boulder, convinced I can not move a muscle because there just isn’t any strength left in me.

Turning my head, I let my gaze fall upon the stretch of path ahead of me. A slice of sunshine illuminates a small section. Inside the beam of light, I see my Becca, standing and waving at me. Her smile widens as she sees me push myself off the boulder. With her hand, she beckons me toward her, and renewed . . . I continue on my journey.