Unraveling Grief

Recently I stumbled upon a quote that burrowed into my heart the moment I laid eyes upon it. Unexpectedly it greeted me on my computer screen as if it were my own personal description of how child loss affected my family.

“It is as if each family were a huge ball of yarn; each member a different colored strand woven and wound together. When one member dies, the entire ball must be unwound, the strand removed, and the ball then needs to be put back together and rewound. However, the ball can never be recreated as it was before.”

Jean Galica, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is the brilliant author of the quote.

This analogy is so beautiful. It immediately conjures up visions of how my boys enjoy playing with yarn. It usually involves one of them holding a ball of yarn as he frantically runs and jumps around the room, unraveling the yarn ball, causing chaos and mess. Then the other child takes a different color and repeats. At the end we are left with criss crossed colors of yarn, spread across a large space, some of it tangled and knotted. To make use of the yarn we must untangle and roll as much as we can back into a ball. More often than not there are pieces that need to be cut out because they are so badly knotted.

As the shock of child loss sets in and family members enter into survival mode, they often spread apart. Although they are still connected, and their lives are tangled together, each person needs to process loss on his or her own. Even as a mother of two living children, after losing Christian, there was some distance between myself and my living children. The tight interwoven nature of our former relationship had slackened. I was no longer able to love them without the imminent fear of losing them looming over me.

My husband also suffered from the anxiety and fear of losing them. He and I dealt with it very differently. While I found comfort in talking openly about every aspect of child loss, he had a much different experience. He and I remained connected and leaned on one other as we were both attempted to process our own grief. The individual balls of yarn that made up our lives were completely unraveled, tangled, knotted and lacking color.

It wasn’t just our immediate family that was deeply affected. Our family unit is tight knit and my children are blessed to have close relationships with their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. In those early days a few conflicts arose from the tensions of knots. Everyone was sleep deprived, saddened, confused, angry and mainly using all their energy to process the tragedy that struck our lives.

Over time as each person began to process in their own way, the yarn smoothed out. We were able to work through the knots. Slowly each color of yarn became more vibrant again. Each strand became straighter. The connection was never lost. It was just a mystery for some time as to how we would be wound together again in our ball of love.

Slowly, slowly as time went on we wound around the children. They brought vibrancy and joy back to our lives. Our extended family ball of yarn is interwoven differently but still as tight as ever.

Today the ball of yarn that is my immediate family is so very different than the one that started out as the five of us. The ball that contained five individual colors, wound together, was only in existence for less than two years. Nothing will ever heal that part of my wound. Less than two years to have your family together on Earth is devastating.

The devastation we have experienced plays a large part in how our ball was rewound. Galica says a strand of yarn is removed after you lose a child. This is true. It does not disappear however, the fibers of that one strand are merely divided to become part of all of the other strands. No longer an individual but an energy, a spirit, an Angel. Our familial ball of yarn, immediate and extended, will never be put together again in the same way. The beauty lies in all we have learned from tragedy, adding dimension to each single strand of color. Christian will forever be a part of each of us in ways he could never be before. Love to heaven…

See You In My Dreams

I dreamt about my beautiful Christian last night. He was so happy, bouncing around the room like a ping pong with his brothers. The specifics of the dream are blurry but I can recall the most important part, at the end. He came over to me, upon my request, and gave me a hug. His skinny arms reached up, wrapped around my neck and squeezed. It only lasted a second, but it was a second of pure bliss.

Dreaming of Christian is not new. It happens less frequently than I would like but at least it happens. My husband rarely dreams of him. Anthony dreams of him sometimes and Nicky said he never does.

There are so many unfair things about losing someone you love. Does it have to be permanent? Why can’t you get a certain number of dreams a week when you can interact with them? Going from daily interaction to nothing seems cruel. Of course we get signs, and they are beautiful, but I am left wanting more!

I like to think of my dream last night as an early Valentine’s Day gift for me. Hugs and kisses are the best gifts! Young children are so generous with hugs and kisses. They become stingier as they get older. Even with my living children I am always saying, “Come over here and give me a hug and kiss!” Sometimes they do it begrudgingly. Other times they just pretend it is begrudgingly.

My favorite hugs are the ones my boys give to each other spontaneously. If they were a little more savvy they would know that they could ask me for anything they wanted in that moment and get it!

In my last post I wrote about some people that I met at a LiveOnNY workshop over the weekend. As I watched three sisters who lost their only brother my heart truly ached for them. It evoked emotions in me that I knew were there but buried for survival purposes.

  • My familial dream of three boys growing up together began the day I found out Nicky was a boy. Brotherly bonds are not to be underrated. Immediately images of three boys laughing, loving, playing and fighting together emerged. Then my thoughts expanded to graduations and weddings. I lamented the fact that I would never be mother of the bride. At the same time I fell in love with the idea that I would be the most important female in their lives until marriage. So many hopes and dreams sketched out. My favorite ones were always based on their brotherly bond. Thank goodness Anthony and Nicky still have this but it pains me to know that the brother who was going to “guide” them – okay be their leader in mischief – is no longer here to do that.
  • Today, the snow is falling in New York again. We are a few days shy of Valentine’s Day – the holiday of love. I found this beautiful project on Pinterest that I am going to use as a way for my boys to record memories of Christian.

    Using my emotional barometer I will judge whether we can make it all about Christian or if we should include all three boys. If they seem to feel any bit over shadowed by Christian’s memory then I will include memories for all three boys. Either way it is a beautiful dedication to brotherly love.

    My life has not turned out the way I had hoped. There will forever be the question, “what would it be like if you were here?” We will never know. We must relish in the memory of the times with all three of our boys and continue to create new memories with our two living boys. Love to heaven…

    Freedom In Sharing Faults

    We all have faults. Some of us are better than others at accepting our faults or shortcomings. Some of us have a more difficult time. I fall into the latter category. It is easier for me to accept other’s faults than my own. I am kinder to others than myself when the topic of personal faults comes up. I’m not alone.

    No one is perfect. How many times have we heard that old adage? We hear it repeatedly because it’s true. Yet so many of us strive for perfection or close to it in ourselves. When our shortcomings present themselves we feel disappointed and angry. Many times for me this turns into shame and then the mean voices begin. I wish I could tell you how to make those stop. That is still a work in progress for me. What I can tell you is that sharing and connecting with others helps in quieting those voices.

    Healing is in our own heart’s message. Once we hear it we can surround ourselves with people who reflect that message. Share your pain. Healing is in connection.             – Cara Martinisi

    It’s no secret that I wear my heart on my sleeve. My writing is proof of that. I don’t believe this kind of sharing or level of sharing is for everyone. I do believe that opening up to another human being who you feel a deep level of connection and comfortability with will change your life. I don’t mean opening up about the difficulties you have on the surface. That’s great too, and we all need that, but when we go deeper in our relationships, friendships and connections that is when your faults and shortcomings lose the momentum to instill shame.

    Shedding the shame of our faults and learning to make peace with them can only make us better people. Connecting, beautiful soul connections, only enrich our lives. Many times when I ask Christian what message he wants me to share with everyone it revolves around kindness and connection. There is something there. The more connected we are to each other, the more kindness spreads.

    Connection to others lets us know that we are all important. Children are more visibly receptive to this than adults, but that is only because they are more open. Engage a child and see how their face changes. When we take interest in each other’s lives we are interwoven emotionally. This is valuable on all levels. It is important to connect casually, deeper and so deep that your soul shines through. Connection promotes kindness. Kindness helps us to be nicer to ourselves and those around us. If you want to quiet your mean voices, if  you want to take away the shame associated with your shortcomings, connecting will help. Love to heaven…

    Resurrection

    Okay, so I know I mentioned this before but, with Easter upon us the concept of resurrection is floating around in my mind again. When Christian passed away, I actually prayed to God repeatedly that he would be resurrected. It was so incredibly unbelievable to me that I lost a child. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. It wasn’t the life I had thought about or planned! If something so terrible could happen, then something unexpectedly positive could happen. In the twisted logic of a grieving mother, this meant that resurrection was possible. If child loss had become a part of my journey, then so could resurrection.

    I was desperate. Anything to bring my boy back. You see, after losing him there was no way I could go on. Unfortunately, I knew people who had lost children prior to me. As everyone does, I thought, “I don’t know how they do it. I could never go on”. That belief was even stronger than the one that said, “This could never happen to me”. Surviving child loss was not something I would be capable of. I was sure of that. Those early days were, and still are, a complete blur. The years have passed and there are still days that remain a blur. Some days I don’t know how I am going on, living, and he isn’t. Yet, here I am, three and a half years later, still alive, a survivor of chid loss.

    In the early days after the accident all I know is I ate, drank, tried to sleep and existed. Thankfully, there were plenty of people around to help take care of my children, my husband and myself. Our family, also stricken with shock and grief, found ways to help and take care of us. Friends were constantly calling, texting and stopping by. Community members who we knew and didn’t know, donated money and made meals for us through the New Year. The level of support was amazing. As a Catholic, my faith wavered greatly, other than my belief that my son may be resurrected! I can vividly remember my sister saying, “I believe these people are God. God is in the faces and hearts of these people right here”. Looking back, I see truth in that. At the time, there was no God to me because my son had been taken from me. Everything I once believed in was shaken. I was forced to find a reason to go on, something to live for.

    My other two boys are my reason. They are my motivation and reason to continue. They need me and don’t deserve to lose their mother too. Their brother was not resurrected from the dead, but in a sense their mother was. After surviving a death of who I was, a new me was resurrected as a different mother. My resurrection was out of necessity. In order to go on, my beliefs had to change. In order to go on everything had to change. The glasses through which I saw my life and the world needed to be completely different. For me, this means daily work on my mind, body and soul. This was not part of who I was in the past. It is integral to who I am today. Surviving child loss also means reminding myself every day of my reason to go on. To all those survivors out there, survivors of anything, keep remembering your reason to survive. Love to heaven…