Grieving, With Love

In the early days of my grief journey I was certain that there was no possibility of living the rest of my life without my child. I was only 35 years old when he died. Assuming, which of course no one knows, that I would live until at least 75 I had no less than 40 years of my life to live with the pain.

Unknowingly I was doing one of the worst things possible. My vision stretched 40 years out. Quite ironic considering it was difficult to get through one hour at a time in my journey. Sometimes I had to break my day into 5 minute intervals. I would think to myself, “Okay, I made it through those 5 minutes, I can make it through the next 5 minutes”. My therapist would always say, “Just concentrate on doing the next right thing”. It sounded simple but there were moments when I didn’t even know what that was!

If you are a newly bereaved person this means; breathe, get a glass of water, eat something, take a shower, take a nap. We are thinking basic here. You are in survival mode. It is all you can expect of yourself to be hydrated, fed, rested and clean. If you accomplish all of those in one day, good for you! To expect anything more is too much after your life has just been shattered.

This brings me to my next point of self expectations and judgment. It is so easy to be hard on oneself and judge “progress”. It is also extremely detrimental to any sort of positive mindset. I am going to take the pressure off right now. There is almost nothing you can do within the first six months of child loss that will make any difference in your mood for an extended period of time. This, at least, was what I experienced. In no way does this mean you should just give up and accept depression and hopelessness. When you have moments of relief, be grateful. Talk to your angel and tell them how much those moments mean to you or merely do your best to recognize them for yourself.

As a society we are always thinking back to “what worked”. Well grief, and emotions in general, don’t know that they are supposed to follow a script. They aren’t aware of the “do this and get that result” phenomenon. Accept that early on, and just keep trying different things that offer any sort of relief. I tried anything and everything because I was so desperate for a few minutes away from the harsh reality of my life.

Journal about what brings comfort or a sense of escape, and even what doesn’t. This will help you create what I call a Toolbox of Hope. The purpose of collecting all these ideas in one place is not to judge or assess your experiences, but to remember. Grief brain is a real thing.

As a grieving mom I was anxious to have moments of relief, but also scared. If I allowed myself relief did I love and miss Christian any less? Quickly it became evident that nothing would change the amount I love and miss Christian. Yet, it took time for that fear to fade and for me to assimilate to this new life. Like a baby learning to walk, I knew walking meant falling down and sometimes pain, but not trying to walk would mean I could never get to any other place. Slowly a balance was learned. It was much slower than a baby learns to walk!

Time is a large factor in grieving. It won’t wipe out the pain of losing your child, but it will change your relationship to it. While attending a virtual Compassionate Friends seminar last night, one of the speakers said something that resounded with me. He said,

“You can grieve in time with more love than pain” – David Kessler

This is a perfect vision of what my grief has transformed into. I am six years living on this Earth without my firstborn child and I will never stop grieving him. Even after 36, 46, however many years longer I live, I will always grieve him. These days though I am able to feel more love than pain. It is a balancing scale of sorts. Most days my scale tips toward grieving with love, but some days it switches to pain. This is a vast difference from my early grieving days, when it seemed like it was permanently tipped towards pain.

This sounds completely impossible if you are new to grief. I know that. You don’t have to accept it or even believe it right now, but try to keep it in the back of your head as a possibility. Let it shine as a ray of hope.

Wherever you are in your grief journey, know you are not alone. It is okay to feel sad. We are, in fact, on a sad journey. Just know that one day joy will begin to appear again. Sadness and joy will coexist. You will be able to move toward grieving more with love than pain. Love to Heaven…

Journaling For Reflection

It’s the end of January and the new year is almost one month underway. The uncertainty of the world is definitely affecting my mindset.

I am no stranger to uncertainty. I experienced grave periods of deep, dark uncertainty after losing Christian. Grief teaches us that nothing is forever. That includes the good and bad.

When uncertainty strikes in my external world, it helps me to turn inwards and examine what changes I want to make. Since March 2020 I have been wearing more hats than usual, like most of us. In 2021 I aim to streamline my life as much as possible. To begin, I am organizing every area in my daily space.

Yesterday I began clearing off my desk. As I did, my vision board came into full view. It’s always somewhere on my desk but not always in full view. Not exactly how a vision board should be displayed, I know. Anyhow, I looked at it, examined it. I was curious to take in what all of those words and images meant to me a year ago. As I studied the large display, the words and images no longer spoke to me. This was a surprise.

My aspirations haven’t changed. They continue to revolve around the central idea of becoming a more spiritual person and helping others. The means in which I aim to go about it have shifted. With my focus pinned on the same outcome, it was interesting to see how my path, or my desired path, had changed.

In my urgency to get to where I am going I rarely look back at the journey I travelled. This is not necessarily the best practice. I am one of those people that looks at the “finished product” without always recognizing the blood, sweat and tears that go into it.

At the start of my grief journey, I remember a friend passing on some advice from a family member who lost a child. She said I should journal often, and not forget to reflect. Her reasoning was because it helps to see how the journey unfolds. There is so much wisdom in this advice. Oftentimes when we are stuck in the doldrums of grief we cannot recognize how much our outlook, emotions and thoughts have changed.

Change is scary in the grieving process. If we move toward healing, are we moving away from our loved one? Are we failing to remember or honor or properly grieve him or her? Such a scary thought! Through journaling we can see how our thoughts and emotions change and shift, but never at the expense of love. Healing doesn’t mean we forget or we move on. It means we learn how to live with our loved one in our life a different way.

One of the most amazing discoveries I have made since Christian ran ahead to Heaven is that we still have a relationship! It is not a figment of my imagination or generated simply from my hoping. It is a true relationship. Through my journaling and even quick note taking in this book I am able to see the development of my relationship with Christian. It illustrates his love for me and our everlasting connection. The continuing connection and relationship offers me hope. On days when our connection is not as strong, I am able to look back and see that he is always with me.

Whether you document your change, growth and healing in writing, art or any other way you feel drawn to, you will reap the benefits. It is hard to feel like we are making progress sometimes. That, alone, can contribute to feeling devoid of hope. When we look back and see how we have changed, a breath of fresh air fills us with the hope we have been missing.

Grief Personifiied

My name is grief and I am here to stay in your life. For better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health I will be with you. You have become my bride in this arranged marriage. I won’t be the best husband. I admit that right now, but I will always stick by you.

At times I will reveal my fierce, raging side, selfishly pulling you under and taking you to the darkest places. You will feel overwhelmed and overtaken by me. The negativity that will infiltrate you will be thick and black as poisonous sludge. It will fill every cell of your being. Worst of all it will overtake your mind, allowing me access to your thoughts. When these thoughts are audible in your heart, the pain will be unbearable. You will wish, hope, pray and beg to go back to the time when my round face and angry eyebrows were not known to you. Just when you cannot take another moment of it, and think you’re life will surely end as a result from the eternal despair, I will drain away from you.

Please don’t hate me because there is another side to me. I’m also soft and tender. I’m a thin veil of memories, a slip of string that connects me to your beautiful angel son. There are times I quietly descend upon you in a cloud of love. I slip across your shoulders as soft and smooth as a silk scarf. You can feel my presence and joy at the same time. I whisper a memory in your ear and a smile lights up your face. You hear Christian saying, “mommy”. You see him at the pumpkin patch in his blue and white striped overalls. You feel his thick hair running though your fingers.

You will never leave me and I will never leave you. You didn’t choose me as your lifetime companion but forever I will be.

New Normal For Grief and Virus

So here we are, however many days into this quarantine and I’m exhausted, cranky and feeling completely out of sorts. Comparatively, my situation is not nearly as tough as others, especially First Responders and the medical personnel. That said, I was listening to Brené Brown’s podcast from March 27th and she specifically addresses the dangers of comparative suffering. We feel what we feel and are entitled to it. We can be aware that others have it worse than us and still feel lousy about where we are. That sounds a bit arrogant. I don’t mean it that way at all. Rather, we can’t design how our feelings will surface. I strongly suggest you listen to the podcast. The episode sheds light on the emotional ramifications of the current situation we are all facing.

At the start of the aforementioned episode Brown makes the point that adrenaline has carried us to where we are now, but it is starting to fade. Immediately my head began to shake in agreement with her. As I listened to her calm voice reach me through my earbuds I passed the sleepy homes in my neighborhood. At the start of this quarantine people emerged discussing COVID-19 in shocked tones, yet there was a glint in their eye. It was all so unprecedented. We were living through history. A month later the novelty has worn off.

Adrenaline and shock are amazing tools that help get us through initial periods of trauma. I can attest to that as a bereaved mother. There comes a time, however when the strength of these aids wear off and the truth sets in. Brown said, “We are standing at the gaping mouth of normal and we are feeling swallowed”. I swam in the belly of the beast of abnormalcy. Striving to find some way to survive in an unfamiliar atmosphere is not easy. You can try to climb the walls of the belly to exit the same way you entered, but quickly you will learn that the means of escape is just too slippery. There is no way to go out the same way you came in. Everything has changed.

We are here as a collective group right now. We are floating in the belly of the beast looking to get back to where we once were. Slowly, it is becoming apparent that we will forever be changed. We will never go back to exactly where we were. It is also apparent that we must endure the jostling, sinking and floating that we are subjected to while we are in the belly. We must feel the emotions that arise and go along for the ride. We can only control personal coping tools in dealing with the situation.

Our society is now faced with the task of creating a “new normal, while we grieve the loss of normal at the same time”. Yesterday, my family set out to investigate a new hiking trail together. On our drive to the trailhead, the smooth road led us to an adventure that we had never embarked upon before. I couldn’t help but think of how the conversation would be different in the backseat if Christian was still here. For certain, Nicky would have been relegated to the center seat since he was the youngest. My guess is that sibling disagreements would also play out differently. In real time it is one against one. If things were as we had imagined them to be, disagreements would likely be two against one sometimes. The subject matter of their arguments would also be somewhat different as an older sibling changes the dynamics in many ways. Creating new normal and grieving normalcy is a common aspect of my family’s life.

Every day since August 28, 2014 we have continued to live a new normal. Sure, we have been living a version of it for over five years, but in some respects it will always be new. It will never be as we imagined. COVID-19 may have a similar effect on society. No one could have imagined having to shelter in place. The pandemic that we are facing is so extreme that the likes of it date back to the beginning flu outbreak. One day this will be a distant memory, a right of passage for some. Here is where it differs from child loss. The farther we get from the losing Christian, the farther we get from the last time we saw him. He becomes a more and more distant memory. Bereaved parents continue to grieve normal long after we develop the new normal.

When the quarantine is lifted, it is likely that society as a whole will be changed. It is difficult to imagine after all this time, and the restrictions that were imposed, to not emerge more grateful for daily activity. As these days of quarantine fade into distant memory try to hold on to the lessons they are teaching us. Each and every day our loved ones are healthy and safe is a blessing. Each and every day we are able to engage in “normal” daily activities is a blessing. It is easy to lose sight of these things when life is running smoothly. Not every day will be perfect but my hopes are that we will be able to keep these blessings in the forefront of our minds and hearts. Love to Heaven…

Support Is Crucial

Sometimes it takes seeing someone as we were to realize how much we have changed. Let me explain.

I recently met a mother who lost her child two months ago. Let’s call her Nancy. She found me through a mutual friend who knew of my story.

Nancy is raw. Only two months have passed and she is in a place where hope is no where to be found. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to think. It hurts to live.

Shock has infiltrated every cell of her being but nothing is worse than the pain. It invades like an army claiming its territory. The physicality of it is debilitating.

I take the liberty of speaking on Nancy’s behalf because she has shared these emotions with me. Furthermore, these emotions mirror who I was as a newly bereaved mom. She is who I was.

Many of her emotions and experiences are who newly bereaved moms are in general. As she shared with our grief group what her daily life looks like, we all uttered phrases like, “Remember that?” and “The same thing happened to me”.

None of our stories are exactly the same but there are common threads in all of our experiences. Just as there are commonalities in mothering children, there are commonalities in grieving children.

Each of us finds different aspects of grief harder to deal with than others. No one was able to understand the physical severance Nancy felt when her daughter left her. It was so strong that it caused her to faint. After she spoke to other grieving moms she was validated that grief, is in fact, extremely physical.

Over time, physical symptoms do not completely disappear but they appear less frequently. Time stretches farther between each debilitating episode. I never believed that it would be that way for me. The heartbreak was so eviscerating that I was blinded to how my heart, lungs and body would ever function again.

Eventually our grief leads us back to active mothering and connection. We build and experience a new relationship with our child. Our means of communication change. Our expressions of love change. Our connections change, but the love never does. It continues to be given and received by both mother and angel. When we reach this part of our journey, the pain eases a bit more. We are assured that our angels are still present. It truly helps in finding ways to carry the pain. The “new normal” sharpens into focus.

My journey has taken me to places that are a distance away from where Nancy is today, but I walked in her shoes. My feet covered the ground she is walking. No one can walk that ground for us but they can walk it with us. Joining together, holding space for each other’s pain and speaking about the commonalities we all share can help us, no matter what we are goin through. Love to Heaven….

Photo Credit: Ron Chapple

Pitched Grief

I opened my eyes this morning, greeted by the bittersweet emotion that accompanies an angel dream. Recently I have been having more dreams with Christian in them. He is not the focus but a presence.

In this dream he was both. He was peering through a chain link fence at a baseball field. As he watched a boy hit balls lofted to him from a pitching machine, he had a look of sadness on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he said nothing was wrong but he wanted to have a turn to hit the ball from the machine. My heart cracked, as it does each time I am reminded of things he will never get to do. He never did hit a ball that way.

At some point during all of this interaction a voice said, “He is unhappy on Earth because he is not fulfilling his purpose”. Well, maybe not those exact words but something to that effect. The inference was that his higher purpose and strongest, most meaningful affect is achieved as an angel.

It got me thinking. Is this really true? Or is this just something those who are grieving tell themselves to feel better?

You may have noticed that my writing has become sporadic. Where I was once in a spiritual growth period, I am now feeling stunted. My path is unsure. My purpose for this life is not clear.

Perhaps it is because I am dipping a toe into the acceptance pond. Five years have passed and that little boy who I imagined I would watch grow is truly gone from Earth.

The world keeps turning. Time marches on. It is a blessing to know that he is not forgotten. So many amazing people reach out to me and tell me the ways in which he affected and continue to affect their lives. Time marches on.

This is a cruel reality. Two boys growing up without their oldest brother. A mother and father left to watch as others morph into the type of person their son might have been. A life full of questions about who Christian would be if he were still alive.

The acceptance of this reality pulses through me in a different way than it once did. When we first lost him breathing was painful. With time that eased and I found a way to breathe but it was not as easy a as it once was.

Waves of grief would wash over me and my breath once again stolen. This still happens but not as frequently.

The dull ache that pulses through me now is constant. It allows me to live my life, function and make new memories with my family. It allows me to feel Christian’s presence.

Acceptance is a necessary stage of grief and reality, but it is also sobering in a way that none of the other stages have been.

And so, here we are peering through the chain link fence wishing, as a family, we could hit that ball from the machine. We will never get that chance. Just as Christian missed out on the opportunity to do so many things, so did we. We are merely spectators as other families experience things wholly and whack those balls out of the park. Love to Heaven…

Six Years A Boy, Five Years An Angel

It has been months since I last sat at my computer and wrote. There is not one simple explanation as to why that is. Today marks five years since Christian ran ahead to Heaven. These last few months feel as though I am wading through murky waters.

Although I know in my heart that Christian is always present, and I continue to receive signs from him, the comfort that this used to provide me seems to have become clouded. Where my life’s purpose of helping others post child loss was confirmed almost daily, it now seems to have completely become invalidated. The waves of grief have been crashing over me stronger and stronger. Their strength has robbed me of mine.

Recently while my boys were looking through old videos they found one of Christian from his fifth birthday. The backdrop was our cozy living room. Christian bounced up and down excitedly as he proudly declared that he was five years old. Behind him stood a vibrant Christmas tree, decorated with glistening lights, well loved ornaments and primary colored balloons. In the middle of the tree was a “Happy Birthday” banner.

His fifth birthday was momentous for so many reasons. Five years is a significant passage of time. Christian’s birth set a series of changes into motion for our family. He made us parents, he became an older brother, then an oldest brother. Over those five years we had evolved into a family of five. My destiny as a mother of three boys had been fulfilled. While I would have loved to mother a girl, I couldn’t love my three boys any more.

Christian was our firstborn and this meant he pioneered the parenting road for us. His first smile, laugh and word made our hearts balloon so big we thought they would explode. Our love for him grew each day. He also taught us the necessity of discipline. His mischievous personality produced tears, sleepness nights and uncontrollable worries, not to be outweighed by the love though.

The day he turned five we gave him a huge birthday card, which he opened half naked while standing on the dining room table. If that isn’t an image I don’t know what is! That was him though. He did everything full of love, life and passion. He had an amazing sense of humor and loved to be silly. When he was happy, it was 100% and when he was mad it was 100%. He continues this trend as an angel. His love comes through 100% and them some. His presence is so strong that people who didn’t even know him have felt him.

I will never know why we were chosen to be Christian’s parents. It is a gift that we were able to enjoy for far too short of a time. There is never a day that goes by when I don’t think of him. Never a day goes by when I don’t miss him and never a day goes by when I don’t say his name. This pain and heartbreak is a part of me. This grief has taught me just how happiness and deep, dark pain can exist alongside each other.

He is missed beyond measure. I am still not sure how I will go on living the rest of my life, each day without Christian. He is a special light. Tomorrow will be 5 years and 1 day and the pain will still be there. I will continue on, all the while knowing that the hole in my heart will never heal. I will also know as my son Anthony said, “You still have us, mom”. I will thank God that I have Anthony and Nicky. That is what I can do, Thank God for my living angels and remember, love and honor Christian. Love to Heaven…

Scrapbooking Through Grief

Five years ago last night God brought me to the brink of urgency and fear. He then showered me with his mercy. As I watched my home go up in flames, my emotions flickered between disbelief, fear and sadness. My family had moved into our home a mere eight months prior to the fire that was ignited by a strike of lightening. We were still putting our own personal touches on it.

It was not just a home. It symbolized a life that we looked forward to continue cultivating with our three boys. Many of the key reasons we moved to this home revolved around our children. We imagined all of the beautiful holidays and get togethers to be hosted. We pictured our boys splashing in the pool and playing baseball and kickball games in our large yard. We had space to entertain indoors and ou. We loved our home and all the opportunities it afforded us to spend time with family and friends.

As I watched the fire licking the roof many emotions surfaced. The fire trucks screamed down our street, a small neighborhood of only eight houses. The lights were blinding. The image of the firefighters battling the flames is forever ingrained in my mind. Nonetheless we were extremely cognizant that it was just a home. We were all safe and had the summer to look forward to.

On the morning of July 4th 2014. I woke up dazed and shocked in my parents home. Immediately I said a quick prayer to God, thanking him for my family’s safety. We went about the day in a bit of a fog but managed to enjoy many patriotic activities. We watched the fireworks that night and the explosion of colors reflected on my boys’ faces. My heart swelled with love for them and my husband.

Five years have passed since our home was struck by lightening. It is the turning point in our lives that set everything into motion. Christian’s final summer with us was filled with many smiles, hugs and laughs. I regret that I did not capture more of them.

Two years ago I decided I would create a summer scrapbook. It was such a cathartic activity for me. Summer is when I get to spend the most intensive time with my boys. The project spurred me to capture all of the fun we have together, as a family and with friends. It offered me a daily activity to focus on. During the day I was on constant watch for photo worthy moments. At night I creatively designed the pages for the scrapbook. We often look at it and relive the memories.

(From Summer 2017 scrapbook)

I’m not sure why, but last summer I did not make a scrapbook. It seemed like more work than pleasure. This summer, however, I knew I wanted to take up this project again. Summer was the last season we spent with Christian. It is extremely bittersweet. The scrapbook allows me to enjoy making new memories. There are also many photos of the signs he sends us. So, while photos of his face do not appear, photos of his love do. Love to Heaven…

The Truth About Inevitable Days of Grief

There are some days that you know will inevitably arrive. We all know that the day will come when someone we love will leave this Earth physically. When that person is a child, you may become obsessed with other days you know are in your future. The path of dreams you set out on when your child was born becomes decimated, and you are now forced onto a different path.

There are the major days we know will be hard – birthdays, graduations, marriages and births. These are days that bereaved parents dread. The thought of them evokes a stifling pain that takes one’s breath away.

Then there are less significant days as a whole, but more impactful in some ways. Most recently the shock of physical transformation has been thrust upon me. My angel, Christian, will forever be six years old. Not nearly old enough to say he lived a full life. Many coming of age experiences and milestones fell away in an instant when he was called to Heaven. Each one dropped into the sand, forever buried. So many major mountains never climbed.

hills
Photo by Trace Hudson on Pexels.com

This thought often plagues me. He was my oldest child of three so it is only in the past two years that his brothers have begun reaching milestones that he never did. His classmates, however, have been reaching them, changing and growing since the day he died.

As his classmates and friends age it has been difficult to hear of them celebrating birthdays that he may have been included in. It was difficult to watch them grow into the oldest class in the elementary school, have their special musical concerts, special field day events and finally move on to a whole new era in their life; middle school.

Yet, they still resembled their little Kindergarten selves. Recently, though, their faces have changed. The baby fat that once puffed out their cheeks has been chiseled. The hair, that mom was once responsible for keeping clean and neat, now sports gel and hip styles. Clothing choices have shifted and lets not get into the height changes! More than once upon seeing one of Christian’s friends I’ve gasped, shocked at their appearance. It stays with me and burrows into my heart.

This is the year. The year he would have made those stark transformations. Friends and relatives who don’t see him all that often would have been the ones to gasp. As his mother I would have had the privilege not to notice. It wouldn’t have taken me by surprise because the drastic nature of the change would be less visible to the eyes that saw him every day.

1e76e8d179f6230b64822bcac5fa9245

It’s the question that haunts all grieving parents. Who would you be now? I want to know 11 year old Christian!! I want to see him, hug him, know his interests. I even want to be able to argue with him. How would his mischief be impacting my life now?

Facing such vast physical changes in his classmates makes it harder to see the commonalities between them and Christian. It tricks my mind into believing he never was a part of that group. They have left him behind physically. Never in their hearts, but they have surpassed him in age, education and now physical appearance. Each change breaks my heart a little more.

This is a day that I knew would inevitably arrive. It’s just so painful. The reminder of how definitive death is and all that it takes with it is biting. My heart cries out again that this can’t be true. I am supposed to be the mother of a middle schooler! I am supposed to be juggling the schedules of elementary and middle schools. I am supposed to be attending another child’s sporting events, musical performances and anything else he is interested in. But I’m not. I’m mourning him.

Yes, there is so much beauty in the pain. It’s been found unexpectedly, but it doesn’t numb the other side. The depth of the pain where no beauty can ever be found. Love to Heaven…

Letter To My Friend Grieving Her Brother

To my dear friend,

I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that you have to see your mom suffer through losing her grown son. I’m sorry that you have to watch as his wife struggles to carry on each day without her best friend. I’m sorry that you are witnessing your nieces and nephew grieving their father. I’m sorry that your brother is forever gone physically from your family.

I know that your heart is broken to think that the man who could light up a room with a smile will never have that chance again. You miss his larger than life personality and booming laugh. His story telling skills that seemed effortless but always brought the story to life, forever silenced. You miss all this, yet you feel you must be strong for your mom, sister-in-law and nieces and nephew. His beautiful family suffers each day. As time goes on they learn how to live without him but sadness is at the surface.

You go on, learning how to live without him but sadness is interwoven into your very being. You see his spirit live on not only in his children but your children. You speak about their uncle and they speak about him too. Memories are as vibrant as if he were still here, which he is. It is unbelievable to you that just a year ago your brother’s radiant smile and large personality were present at family gatherings.

Supporting family members after a major loss is exhausting and draining. You are reeling from the loss and yet you want to offer strength and comfort to those around you. I don’t envy your position.

Most people are aware of the strain a loss puts on a mother, wife and children. When it comes to siblings, especially grown siblings, they are not as in touch with the deep devastation that remains after the loss.

I see you and I see how devastated you are too. Every happy occasion is tinged with the grief. You are open to expressing your emotions but don’t want to overwhelm others around you as you know they, too, have intense feelings.

I am here for you, my friend. I will listen to you tell stories, happy and sad. I will dry your tears. I will echo your smiles. I will be your support when you have none left to give to anyone else. I am here to help lift you up. I will always send love to you and to Heaven.