Grieving Is Like An Ocean

How many times have we admired a body of water ranging in shades of turquoise from light to dark? The most desirable beach locations feature coveted ocean views where the white sand reflects the light of the sun. In areas where the depth of the water increases or where coral formations are found beneath the surface, the water color darkens. As I sit here admiring this exact view it occurs to me that these waters mirror my life.

During the bright spots in my life everything is clear. It is easy to see where I am going. My feelings are soft, like the sand. They sit below the surface with smooth waves washing over. As the sun graces me with its warmth it is met with a reflection of joy, happiness and contentment.

In the darker, deeper times my feelings are below the surface. They are complicated. The sun still shines on them but my positivity does not radiate back. The coral represents difficult situations and feelings. If I get pulled down too far or caught in the coral, difficulty arises. My breath runs out and I am unable to maneuver my way to the surface.

Life cannot be lived solely in the clear waters. At some point the undertow pulls us into deeper, darker waters. We all face this. Attempts to swim against the undertow, or ignoring the pull, will only lengthen our time away from clear waters. The strength comes in our ability and willingness to swim parallel to the shore. We must feel our feelings. We must stay with those feelings until they are felt and processed. Then we are able to return to clear, calm waters. We may get drawn back in to the deeper areas again, but the more we practice swimming parallel to shore, the more familiar this becomes to us.

We must always remember that the ocean as a whole is beautiful. The calmer, clearer waters are great for relaxing and reflecting on our lives. It is in the deeper, darker waters where we see the stunning underwater life. It cannot be seen above the water but under the surface there is living beauty.

Four years have passed since I lost my son, Christian. Many times I have been pulled into the deeper, darker waters. In the early days of my grief journey I fought the pull. I floundered under the crashing waves, unable to see the surface, let alone rise up for air. My mind could not comprehend a life without him. It took a long while to see any of the living beauty in those dark waters. When I finally did begin to see the beauty I slowly stopped floundering and rose to the surface. I remained there for a while. Occasionally I would take a few strokes parallel to the shore. Those few strokes left me completely depleted of energy.

It took time to build my stamina. Time, patience, practice and faith. Finding a good trauma therapist was key for me. He truly helped me to process my feelings in a safe space. He also pointed out to me that each time I had a setback and disappeared under the water, I always rose back up. When you are grieving that water is not just dark, it’s black and oppressive. You are not quite sure which way is up. There is a great fear that you will never make it to the surface again, but you do. You keep repeating this pattern as more and more time passes in between being pulled under. Slowly, finally, you gain faith that you will always rise back up. You learn ways to ensure that you will rise back up to the surface. You put those ways or routines into practice and follow through with them even if you don’t feel like it. They are insurance. Insurance that you will survive and thrive. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. Love to heaven…

Hold The Tears, Mom

My boys are off to school. Even Nicky, my Kindergartner, went off willingly. Not before telling me, “Mom, don’t cry. If you cry, you will make me cry”. His perception and true understanding of the situation was more progressive than I knew. Nothing but a smile was plastered to my face all morning. I held my tears. I did. I gave him a giant hug and kiss. Then he got on the bus, holding his big brother’s hand. He hesitated just the slightest bit, only enough for a mother to notice. Off the bus went and my tears started flowing.

I decided a few weeks ago that I would send Nicky on the bus with Anthony, his older brother. I contemplated meeting the bus at school but decided against it. Mother’s intuition told me that this would make for the best transition. Well, emotion took over and I hopped in the car to spy on him. Knowing that the Kindergarten classes line up outside before going into the building, allowed me to steal a glimpse of him. Luckily he didn’t see me. It was hard to tell the exact emotion on his face but I could see that he wasn’t crying. That was all I needed to know.

My anxiety has eased slightly but I will feel much better once he is home. My tears have stopped but his words resound in my head. You see, Christian said those same words to me just a few days before he was taken. The scene has remained one of my sharpest memories of his last days. It was a steamy August night and I was completely overwhelmed. While unsuccessfully attempting to get my three young children to go to bed, my middle son had an accident and my youngest son was crying and carrying on about something else. My emotions got the best of me and I burst into tears. Christian responded by speaking the same words Nicky spoke. In hindsight it feels as though he was foreshadowing the future. Hearing Nicky tell me not to cry today snapped me right back to the moment when Christian said those words. There have been many times I’ve heard Christian’s voice in my head when crying over missing him.

Obviously today’s situation differs from the one with Christian, but the heartfelt words spoken by both of my boys have been carved into my soul. Today my youngest child is spreading his wings. My middle child continues to successfully fly. My oldest child continues to spread his light. All three of my boys make me proud each day. I am no longer a mother to babies, toddlers or preschoolers but I am a mother to three children who are out in the world, leaving legacies. How can I cry about that? Love to heaven…

It Takes A Village – A Love Letter

Dear Family, Friends, Teachers and Community Members,

If you know my family at all, my story at all, this letter is meant for you to be reading. Many, many times my husband and I have attempted to put our gratitude into words. It never seems to reflect the full magnitude of just how grateful we are for all you do. I don’t expect this to do it either but I will try once again!

Thank you – two simple words, yet such strong meaning. YOU have been a part of what has saved us over these four years. Beginning with the amazing outpouring of support when we first lost our dear Christian continuing right through today. Your presence, hugs, love, listening ears, meals, cards, walks, play dates, tears along side us, monetary donations, every effort to show he will never be forgotten, all of it. YOU are helping to raise our children every day. Just knowing that you are there, ready to do anything to make our life more manageable is the biggest blessing.

I have struggled with my faith since this all happened. I continue to figure it out. One thing I know for sure is something my sister told me early on. “All of these people are God.” It’s true. You are all the epitome of kindness, love and true, divine light. We couldn’t go on without you. YOU have all been true teachers in our children’s lives. You have shown them through your example just how important it is to help those who are suffering or in need. The fact that your level of support and love has not wavered is the most beautiful thing. YOU are all heroes to us.

I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically pay homage to our amazing parents and my sister and her family. Through all of their suffering they are always conscious of our feelings. They are always sensitive to our needs. They deal with grief twofold. Not only do they feel the pain of missing their grandson, nephew and cousin but they feel the pain of watching their daughter, son, sister and children navigate this life. They are always here for us. Without a doubt their presence in our lives has helped our family to carry on.

We cannot thank you enough for everything. You have helped us to find beauty in pain. You have inspired us to pay it forward and create an organization that does just what you have done. We will help families who lose children suddenly. YOU have shown us what to do. So many of you ask us what to do for a grieving family. You have done it. Be there. Honor their angel. If the family knows they can count on you for love and support, you are doing just what they need. Thank you – two simple words, yet such strong meaning.

With love from us and heaven,

The Martinisi Family

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…

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…