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…

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

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…

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…