Grief and Sickness

Christian’s 4 year angelversary is quickly approaching which means my emotions are running higher than usual. I have been inhabiting this state since June actually. In June he would have moved up from elementary school. Then came the summer, along with all the reminders of his final time here with us. And now it’s the dreaded August.

Our summer has been filled with lots of travel, which has been amazing. We have had more family time together than usual which is always healing. We have made many new memories. My husband and I even had a chance to get away. It’s been great. We have one more trip coming up this week to send the summer out with a bang.

All this travel means my schedule is way off. My self care schedule has not been very consistent. In combination with high emotions my immunity is way down. I know this because I am recovering from one of the worst bouts of sickness I have ever experienced.

Temporary sickness is something I can deal with. The more disturbing thing is that I now have high blood pressure. I am not even forty years old yet! Granted, I am not the picture of perfect health but I do work out on a regular basis. I eat healthy – much of the time. I work hard at managing my stress. Believe me, I am not saying this to give myself a pat on the back. It’s more of a realization that I just cannot outrun or out health grief. The extreme stress that has taken over my life has had serious health effects.

This realization about my health means I will only have to work harder at surviving and living. Quite unimaginable since living without my child seems like I am working just about as hard as possible. I’m certain that this is meant to be teaching me a lesson in some way. Right now, however, I do not want to learn! As a grieving parent I feel I should be able to do whatever I want! This is not reality, I know. It’s more of a sidebar rant. When you live every day without your child by your side you have very little extra to give to the rest of your life. Right now I am out of extra! Love to heaven…

Becoming Stronger From Your Past

Grieving a child changes each parent who experiences it. It takes hold of the parent, shakes him until he can no longer tell which way is up then sets him down in completely unfamiliar territory. It’s obvious from the start that nothing will ever be the same. There is no way back to that familiar place where you once dwelled with your child. Over time it becomes more and more apparent that this new life you inhabit has forever changed the essence of your core.

As time goes on your expectations of yourself must be adjusted. The things that once worked so well for you in your former life no longer have any effect in this new life. What you once seemed to breeze by emotionally, physically and mentally now trap you. It is a challenge to find ways to escape the traps. The freedom from these traps only arises when you come to terms with the fact that you cannot do the same things you once did to get by them. You no longer have the same outlook, tolerance, patience and priorities.

Coming to terms with these changes often means coming to terms with the realization that your child is no longer living. Each time a bereaved parent is faced with a change, faced with a challenge, faced with a milestone his child would have been reaching, there is a process. As one would expect, it includes a time of sadness. It also includes yet another time that the parent must admit to himself that his child is no longer with him on Earth. It would seem as though each day would be a reminder of this, and it is, but it truly becomes real when these emotional times arise.

It’s difficult to be aware of and admit that you are a different person. It is necessary for healing, however. The change in who the bereaved parent has morphed into encompasses positive and negative changes. It’s easy to lose sight of that. Focusing on the positive changes promotes healing and helps us to grow. The difficult times in our lives are learning experiences. Not one grieving parent has asked for this learning experience but there is nothing we can do to change it. Recognize the change in yourself and use it to make you stronger. Love to heaven…

Relish In The Journey

Each year the first day of August finds me more melancholy than usual. Today August arrived without my knowing and it took me a little while to figure out why my heart felt so heavy. Then I remembered that it is August 1st. This is the month of Christian’s angelversary. My heart knew it even before my mind.

This is the time of year when my depression kicks in a little stronger. Each task feels as though it requires every ounce of energy I possess. Sometimes after the task is completed my energy level increases. Other times I am completely depleted and it takes hours to refill the energy tank. It’s during these days I find the need to be even more gentle in expectations of myself. This is easier said than done.

My inner critic doesn’t like to feel as though I’m not succeeding or moving forward. As soon as every day, routine tasks become more difficult for me the negative voice starts whispering. In the beginning I can quiet it by reminding myself that this is an extremely difficult time of the year, understandably. Unfortunately that keeps the voice at bay for a very short time. Slowly it gets louder and more frequent. Then it starts infiltrating areas where I previously had a positive outlook. It usually comes to a head and I completely melt down. In these moments I believe all the things my negative voice is telling me. I am not enough, in any way. I don’t exercise enough, eat healthy enough. I should look differently, be more intelligent and achieve more. My kids should be playing more, reading more and be kinder to each other. I should be feeding them healthier, getting them to bed earlier and be stricter about their chores. I’m not being the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc. The list goes on and on. What’s worse is that I believe all of it.

Oftentimes I need to reach the depths of a dark hole before I can see that there is light at the top. It takes trusted family, friends, professionals, confidants and lots of tears to help dig me out enough to see the light. It takes the perspective of those who have known me on a day to day basis to remind me of how far I have come. It is only then that the negative voice fades the slightest bit. While talking to a close friend today her introspective point of view was eye opening. She pointed out that while I have not reached my end goals just yet, those goals are what have helped me to achieve so many other, unexpected goals along the way. This paints a much more positive picture of my journey than the one my negative voice coaxes me to see.

My journey is just that, a journey. In a quest to lessen the pain of grief as much as possible many other pieces of my life have been altered. I have experienced more emotional pain than I ever thought possible. I have also accomplished goals that I never thought were possible. August will always be a reminder of all of those things. It will also be a reminder of the many unforeseeable changes that make up my journey of life. Just as the end goal of being reunited with my first born is a way off (hopefully) it is the journey along the way that will keep me going. Love to heaven…

Looking Back Is Important

We all go through difficult times. During those dark days we feel as though light will never grace us with its beauty again. Child loss is perhaps one of the worst things to experience because it defies the natural order of life. On the flip side, it is an event that often brings out a great deal of compassion in people. No one has yet to say anything to me that came from a place other than concern. One of the best pieces of wisdom I received was to periodically look back during my journey. When I heed this advice, I am always amazed to see how far I have come.

While enduring difficult seasons of our lives it seems impossible to believe things will ever get better. We have to walk through the pain to get to the other side. There is no going around it. The beauty of walking through pain is looking back to where you started. Nothing remains the same. Some things are worse and some are better. Either way you have weathered the storm and gained strength.

It is easy to abandon the fight when you are presented with difficulties and challenges. You must stay the course and keep moving through. Here are some things that have helped me over the past three and a half years.

  • Find your tribe – Whether you know it or not, there are people out there who would help you in a second. This may include your family, friends you already have, acquaintances or perfect strangers. I work best when I can see people and communicate with them readily. Admittedly I am not great on the phone, email or text. My family and friends can attest to that! So, I talk to the people who I physically surround myself with. If you are not comfortable with that, join an online support group. We have so many resources today that help is never far away. You just have to reach for it. It is easy to isolate during difficult times. Connection is a must.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Once you have found your tribe, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We make sure to teach our children the importance of asking for help when they need it. We also guide them to help others in need. Yet once we reach adulthood, we find the need to prove we can do everything on our own. Needing help is not synonymous with being weak. In fact it takes self attunement, courage and strength. You will find that when you start asking others for help, they will feel more comfortable to ask during their time of need.
  • Create a routine – This will not look the same for everyone. It will also change over time. When times are at their worst it looks like surviving. You eat, hydrate, sleep and put one foot in front of the other. As you move through your pain it will evolve with you. Maybe the next step is to add journaling to your routine. Then you can add something else. This will give you a sense of accomplishment. It will also help you to instill healthy habits. When something is part of you routine, you no longer have to think. You just do.
  • Take time for yourself – This is a must when you are going through a rough time. It will keep you from losing your mind. Again this will look different for everyone. Maybe this means taking a walk, meditating, reading a book, listening to music. We are all different. A good guideline is to take at least 15 minutes of the day, at a time when you can actually enjoy the time you take for yourself. For me, this means nighttime is out. I am simply too tired. My 15 minutes happens in the morning. Find a time that is good for you.
  •  Be patient with yourself – Difficult times call for non-judgmental measures! Be easy on yourself. Don’t measure your healing progress or ability to get through hard times from one snapshot of your life. Look at all the shots and let them tell the whole story. Some days will be better than others. Remember healing and hard times cannot be rushed; no matter how much we want them to be. After all, patience is a virtue.
  • Listen to your heart – This is one of my gifts of grief. This tragic, horrible experience that I went through taught me to listen to my heart. It taught me that so much of what I need to know lies within me. I just need to listen and trust in myself. Difficult times often make us doubt everything about ourselves and our lives. The practice of listening to my heart includes closing my eyes, conjuring my personal image of what my soul represents and listening carefully to its message. Often times this helps me to clarify something that I have been struggling with.
  • Remember that no feeling lasts forever – Often times I chant this phrase to myself as a reminder that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is no feeling, good or bad, that lasts forever. Even during my darkest times tiny fractions of light momentarily show themselves. Many times it is the form of my children’s smile, a stranger’s act of kindness or a funny memory. It’s so hard to remember this when we are feeling low but it is so necessary. Take it one day, sometimes one hour, sometimes one minute at a time.

Each day the sun rises again. Look back to see how far you’ve come. Love to heaven…

Why The 4th Reminds Me To Stay Present

Four years ago this very day I woke up dazed, exhausted and extremely grateful. Our house had been struck by lightening the night before. As I ran out of the house with my three boys I remember looking back at the flames shooting out of our roof. It was traumatic and upsetting. Hours after the fire was extinguished, my husband and I walked through our home which was filled with water and uninhabitable. It was an upsetting sight. The next morning when we saw our home in the daylight we couldn’t believe our eyes. Many of our possessions upstairs were damaged. Every room in the house was damaged. The most important things, or rather people, were all safe. This was not lost on my family.

The day after the fire, the 4th of July, we took the kids into town and watched the joy in their eyes as they danced around to the parade music. Feelings of gratitude washed over me. One of my most vivid memories was when a friend was lamenting about how tough it would be to rebuild our house. My answer was, “It can all be replaced. If we had lost any of these three children, we wouldn’t be here today”. It was the truth and I knew it.

Throughout the summer, we reinforced how blessed we were to all have gotten out of our home safely. We reiterated that material things can be replaced, people can’t. When we were living out of a hotel, and then a rental home, we talked about how home was wherever we all were together. Sure, there were moments where incidental things caused high emotions. Making decisions about our home that needed to be gutted and rebuilt was stressful. Even while we were aware that the situation had potential to be much worse, life marched on with all of its ups and downs.

The summer carried on, and we settled into the rental home we were set to live in while our home was being rebuilt. There were many happy memories made throughout that summer. Time was spent with family and friends and after a back to school party, Christian was ready to enter first grade.

Just days before, he was called to heaven and EVERYTHING changed. The trauma from this event far exceeded the trauma of the fire. The very thing we were grateful for all summer had turned into our worst nightmare. It was as if my words on the 4th of July foreshadowed the end of the summer. In my mind, the lightening strike at the start of the summer set into motion the events that concluded the summer. Many times I have questioned, pondered and wondered why it has happened like this. The lightening strike was around 7pm on a Thursday night, and eight weeks later on a Thursday night around 6:30 pm, the worst event of my life occurred.

It is my belief that I will see my beautiful son one day again. I don’t know if I will ever know the reason why he was taken from us. I’m not sure if at this point it would make a difference. The fact is that he is gone. We cannot change that. He taught many people and changed many lives in his six short years. He continues to do that through me. His love transcends time and space. His energy is felt by many. I miss him so much. It makes me angry that he is not here anymore. It makes me angry that despite showing gratitude for what is truly important in life, it wasn’t enough to save him.

Summer is always a reminder of the final summer we spent as a whole family, together. It’s the time of the year when we abandon our hectic schedules and spend lazy days in the pool, late nights catching fireflies and connect with others we haven’t seen in a while. Each summer I think about what it would be like if Christian was still here. I wonder what his interests would be, which friends would come over to swim and always what he would be like with his siblings. It is a reminder to me about why it is so necessary to stay in the moment. We just never know when it is the final days with the ones we love. Love to heaven…

Brutally Beautiful

Death, expressly a sibling’s death, is never an easy concept to grasp. It is especially traumatizing for young children. One day someone who has been an integral part of their life from birth disappears, never to be seen again. Their entire understanding of life as they knew it changed by this event. Fortunately I never dealt with this when I was a child. Unfortunately, I have to watch my two sons live it.

My childhood was a charmed one. I had one younger sister and we played dolls, house, store and many other common childhood games. My children also do this, with one major difference. Their play commonly includes an aspect of heaven or death. Being that their brother lives in heaven, this is extremely relevant to them. It’s all they know. When playing with other children, however, it is obvious that many of them do not normally bring heaven and death into their play.

My boys’ realm of knowledge of heaven and death does not hold the same emotional weight as an adult’s. Teachers and others who have since interacted with my children are quick to comment on how matter of fact they are about heaven and death. From the beginning of my grieving process I have been brutally aware of what my other two children are missing out on. They are not because this is all they have ever known. It is their reality.

In one sense their reality is brutal but in another it is beautiful. Their spirituality is a beautiful thing. They are aware that love transcends all. They are aware that their brother is always with them. They are aware that he is always sending signs. It has definitely changed the lens through which they see the world. It has changed the lens through which we all see the world. Sometimes I wonder what our family would look like if we never had to endure this pain. I think we would be beautiful. It’s something I mourn every day. Beautiful is not our reality so we will be brutally beautiful. Love to heaven…

A Single Red Balloon

Your classmates moved up to middle school yesterday. They reached a major milestone in their lives. It is one they will remember forever. You weren’t there in the flesh. Yet floating right next to the row of seats was a single red balloon. A powerful reminder that you were there in spirit. Your friends’ faces lit up with smiles as their names were called to receive certificates and awards. Under those smiles some of them saw the balloon and it touched their wound. You will forever be remembered as the boy who died right before first grade started. Over the past few weeks of seeing your friends it has become clear that this event has touched all of their lives. Those who were closer to you struggling with the idea that one day they can be on a playdate with their six year old buddy, saying they will see him on the first day of school, and the next day he can be gone. The uncertainty and fragility of life plaguing their six year old selves.

Your own brothers are obviously not immune from this either. While we openly discuss you and our emotions surrounding losing you, I often question how they truly are feeling. Sometimes they are transparent in their feelings and other times it is a mystery. Leading up to yesterday’s moving up ceremony many emotions coursed through me. As the mother of the family, I believe this means that many emotions coursed through the entire family. Unfortunately when children are younger their emotions often manifest behaviorally. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that children under 5 may, “cling to a parent, return to behaviors common to being younger and show signs of fear”, among other symptoms. These are behaviors that I have seen present themselves in my youngest son. The NIH states that children 6-11 may, “have nightmares or problems sleeping, have outbursts of anger and start fights”, among other symptoms. Again, I have seen these in my 7 year old. These behaviors are also common in children who have not seen and experienced what they did. The uncertainty and fragility of this situation plagues me as a mother.

Child loss sets a ripple in motion that affects many people, some for a lifetime. Your brothers are forever at risk to falling prey to their emotions. The fear this ignites in me is raging. What if one day they turn to drugs or alcohol to escape the pain they experienced when they were younger? We will always give them unconditional love and support but what if that’s not enough? This is where my trauma manifests itself. In knowing that nothing can be controlled, my fears arise. Uncertainty, fragility.

There is no telling where time will take any of us. We have learned that nothing is guaranteed. Life is precious and each moment truly counts. We can’t control anything. We simply are not that powerful. All we can do is use the past to guide us in the present. We can let the visual of that single red balloon remind us to do our best to stay present and appreciate life. We can carry on your spirit by spreading kindness and love. We can recognize that the uncertainty and fragility of life is truth, but not let it take over. Love to heaven…