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…

Coronavirus Through The Lens of Trauma

With the fear of the Coronavirus growing, my anxiety is swelling. I have become the person who furiously scrolls through social media searching for updates. My phone is constantly in close proximity so I can check on any new developments provided from my boys’ school. The uncertainty is percolating through my physical self and is causing headaches.

Without a doubt we can all name someone, or more than one person, who fits this description. The difference is that I’m usually doing the naming, not the one being named. In fact until yesterday I was still of the opinion that everything was being blown out of proportion. This state of pure apprehension is not usually a dominant part of me.

During my meditation this morning, it became clear to me why this virus has captivated my mental state. My body is identifying these thoughts, emotions and fears with the trauma of Christian’s death. Pervasive uncertainty is a defining characteristic of my immediate post child loss life. All certainty was robbed from me. In a matter of moments August 28th 2014 became the day that would forever mark the divide of the before and after in my life.

The morning of August 28th 2014 started off just as so many did, and still do. We had eggs for breakfast accompanied by laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. Less than 12 hours later all of that would become completely irrelevant. Our lives transformed into the shocking unknown.

On a much smaller scale this past Wednesday paralleled that terrifying day for me. The morning started much in the same way. There was breakfast, laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. I was aware of the Coronoavirus and the general threats of it but we were pretty much business as usual in my home. In the afternoon I headed to school to prepare for the upcoming book fair in a few weeks. Although the district had already alerted parents that school was preemptively closed the week after Spring Break, I still believed that the students would be in school until the scheduled break at the beginning of April.

By the time I left the building that afternoon a Coronvirus case had been confirmed in the nearby town. The college in the next town over announced closure, SUNY classes went completely online and a few neighboring school districts announced closures beginning the following day. The toilet paper crisis had begun but I still wasn’t concerned about that.

After school talk on the playground was centered around the Coronavirus but mainly in a mocking tone. Overall the general consensus of the moms was that everyone was making too much of it. Hours later my husband and I sat on the couch and as President Trump addressed the nation my panic began to rise. There was change in the air. While the change was not as sudden as the trauma of losing Christian, it still felt jarring.

The next morning I found myself at the grocery store with numerous other people who were reacting to the fear. As I wandered around as aimlessly as a blowing leaf, the uncertainty was palpable. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found. I already knew that it was sold out on Amazon because that was one of the first things I looked for during Trump’s speech!

Half of the people in the grocery store listlessly pushed around their carts with a dazed look, as I did. The other half had what appeared to be detailed lists of what would help them to survive a possible quarantine. Checkout lines grew longer and longer and snaked through the aisles. Two hundred dollars and two hours later I returned home, still feeling unsure of my level of preparedness.

The hysteria was like a fire in my belly. The grocery store merely stoked that fire. My parents cancelled their flight to see my sister in Florida, the middle school play was postponed and the weekly Friday Morning Opening at our elementary school was first closed to parents, then was postponed until further notice. The state of my world, changing by the moment, nothing certain.

It all brought me back to that horrific day, that horrific time. As I watched my son lying on the garage floor, helplessness and fear washed over my body. No parent ever imagines themselves in that position. I also never imagined we would be in a place where schools would be closing and the possibility of quarantining was a reality.

When Christian passed away there was nothing certain left in my world. I had just witnessed the absolute most devastating and horrific sight and event. Where I had once built a future for this beautiful boy, it was all gone. The words I imagined my adult self speaking to my growing son, the experiences I dreamt of sharing with him were all gone. It was tragedy’s cruelest magic trick. Here one moment, gone the next. One moment he was walking up the driveway and the next moment he was on the floor of a garage. He was gone in every way but his body.

The hysteria, the fear, the uncertainty – I’ve been here before. This is all too familiar. My central nervous system is having a hard time distinguishing the urgency and uncertainty of the two situations right now. It is definitely wreaking some havoc on me. Fortunately, I’ve had some experience working through traumatic, uncertain times. So, I am going to utilize the tools and coping mechanisms I have learned to minimize the effects. You can find me breathing, meditating, writing and reading. Oh there will also be some mindless TV in there too, I am sure. This is stressful but we will get through it. I know because I have gotten through stressful times before. 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…