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…

Season of Change, Season of Grief

Summer is officially over and school begins tomorrow. I am grateful that August is over. Each year August is a difficult month as it is the month when my oldest son, Christian, became an angel. This year is a particularly difficult one. My heart is grieving the loss of him, intensified by grieving my life as a mom to preschoolers, toddlers and babies. My children no longer fall into these categories. The loss of so much has left me completely bereft.

For the past ten and a half years part of my identification, okay lets be honest, most of my identification has been mom to preschoolers, toddlers and babies. With my oldest son never to surpass Kindergarten and my youngest son, Nicky, just starting Kindergarten, this angelversary has me feeling more lost than ever.

The start of Kindergarten is a milestone in both the child and mother’s life, especially a stay at home mom. It’s a time when each gains new freedom. For the child it’s a sort of freedom he has not had before. My son Nicky has never spent consistent full days apart from me since his birth. This will be a first for him. I have not had consistent full days of child free time in the past ten and a half years. Just as he will grow and blossom, I will too. The woman who became a mom almost eleven years ago is no longer the same person. This is a beautiful and sad thing all at once.

Many moms experience a sense of sadness when their youngest child goes off to Kindergarten. My grief further complicates these emotions. The largest thing I am mourning is that I am leaving behind the mom I was when Christian was alive. When he was still here I was a mom to a Kindergartner, preschooler and toddler. Now both my boys will be in elementary school. By the end of this school year, they will surpass the amount of years Christian spent enthused by learning. This is downright terrifying for a few reasons. He was my guide on how to mother. Sure Anthony, my middle child, is almost eight years old but his personality is way different than Christian’s. You can see the gleam of mischief in Nicky’s eyes a mile away, just like his brother. I was supposed to learn how to handle that while raising Christian. Not only that, but in five short years they will both be out of elementary school. They will be forging ahead into a school their brother never had the chance to attend. Tears prickle my eyes thinking about it. I will no longer be able to make parallels between Christian’s life and theirs.

All of this makes me mourn the door that is about to close. Every time life changes it is a reminder of just how much it has changed, just how different it is than expected, just how much we miss my Christian. During big life changes it hurts even more than usual.

I am leaving behind an identity of who I was, as my first child knew me. I am leaving behind an era and in essence a piece of me. I am NOT leaving behind my son. My head knows this, my heart knows this but it still hurts to leave the piece of me behind that was defined by his birth and growth. He was the first to make me a mother to a baby, toddler, preschooler and elementary schooler. Anthony will be the first to make me a mother to a middle schooler.

Moving into uncharted territories is always exhilarating and scary at the same time. Gone is a life that I will never return to. My day no longer dictated by nap time. No more mommy and me classes. No more afternoon visits to the playground or the library “before your brother gets home from school”. Gone is the life as my first born knew me. I guess it already is though. Growth and change are never easy but always necessary. So I will carry on and carry him with me. I will spread his love, light and messages. All the time feeling a mix of proud, devastated, honored to have been his mother and angry to have him taken away from me. Love to heaven…

Carrying On Is Different Than Moving On

One of my fellow members of the most undesirable club to be in, posted something quite interesting today. She made the distinction between carrying on and moving on as  grieving mothers. This really resonated with me. Her point was that we never move on from grieving our children. We carry on. We carry on raising our living children. We carry on as wives. We carry on as daughters, sisters, friends. Most of all we carry on, while carrying our children in our hearts. We carry on because our deceased children live on through us. Their legacies, messages and light live on through us. That can only happen if we carry on with our life.

I have said before that I still actively mother three children. It is not in the way I once expected it would be. My responsibilities to my living children include making lunches, showering them, driving them to camp and preparing them to start a new school year. These mothering tasks are responsibilities that all mothers can relate to. Mothering an angel is different. It’s not as demanding as mothering a living child and yet it is more demanding. If we don’t keep our child’s spirit and memory alive, he is really gone. Mothering an angel requires less responsibility, yet more. No longer do I need to worry about what time he will be home from school, but I need to make the time to honor him. No longer do I need to worry about if he is making the right choices, but I need to make sure my choices in honoring his life make him proud. Just like a mother never stops loving her child, she never stops mothering her child.

Grieving mothers carry on. We are warriors. Oxford Dictionaries defines warrior as “A brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” That’s us. There are so many other ways we would have liked to earn our warrior status. We will never move on. We will never move past our child, his life, our experiences together. It will never be an event that merely occurred in the past. Instead we become experienced at carrying on. We become experienced at being a fighter. Every day that is lived without my child is a fight. It will never be easy. This is not to say that happiness and joy does not exist. Both coincide in my world. Sometimes the intensity of grief, and the feeling of fighting is stronger. Sometimes the intensity of happiness and joy is stronger. One never wins out, one never trumps the other. They exist together. That is how I carry on. Love to heaven…

Why The 4th Reminds Me To Stay Present

Four years ago this very day I woke up dazed, exhausted and extremely grateful. Our house had been struck by lightening the night before. As I ran out of the house with my three boys I remember looking back at the flames shooting out of our roof. It was traumatic and upsetting. Hours after the fire was extinguished, my husband and I walked through our home which was filled with water and uninhabitable. It was an upsetting sight. The next morning when we saw our home in the daylight we couldn’t believe our eyes. Many of our possessions upstairs were damaged. Every room in the house was damaged. The most important things, or rather people, were all safe. This was not lost on my family.

The day after the fire, the 4th of July, we took the kids into town and watched the joy in their eyes as they danced around to the parade music. Feelings of gratitude washed over me. One of my most vivid memories was when a friend was lamenting about how tough it would be to rebuild our house. My answer was, “It can all be replaced. If we had lost any of these three children, we wouldn’t be here today”. It was the truth and I knew it.

Throughout the summer, we reinforced how blessed we were to all have gotten out of our home safely. We reiterated that material things can be replaced, people can’t. When we were living out of a hotel, and then a rental home, we talked about how home was wherever we all were together. Sure, there were moments where incidental things caused high emotions. Making decisions about our home that needed to be gutted and rebuilt was stressful. Even while we were aware that the situation had potential to be much worse, life marched on with all of its ups and downs.

The summer carried on, and we settled into the rental home we were set to live in while our home was being rebuilt. There were many happy memories made throughout that summer. Time was spent with family and friends and after a back to school party, Christian was ready to enter first grade.

Just days before, he was called to heaven and EVERYTHING changed. The trauma from this event far exceeded the trauma of the fire. The very thing we were grateful for all summer had turned into our worst nightmare. It was as if my words on the 4th of July foreshadowed the end of the summer. In my mind, the lightening strike at the start of the summer set into motion the events that concluded the summer. Many times I have questioned, pondered and wondered why it has happened like this. The lightening strike was around 7pm on a Thursday night, and eight weeks later on a Thursday night around 6:30 pm, the worst event of my life occurred.

It is my belief that I will see my beautiful son one day again. I don’t know if I will ever know the reason why he was taken from us. I’m not sure if at this point it would make a difference. The fact is that he is gone. We cannot change that. He taught many people and changed many lives in his six short years. He continues to do that through me. His love transcends time and space. His energy is felt by many. I miss him so much. It makes me angry that he is not here anymore. It makes me angry that despite showing gratitude for what is truly important in life, it wasn’t enough to save him.

Summer is always a reminder of the final summer we spent as a whole family, together. It’s the time of the year when we abandon our hectic schedules and spend lazy days in the pool, late nights catching fireflies and connect with others we haven’t seen in a while. Each summer I think about what it would be like if Christian was still here. I wonder what his interests would be, which friends would come over to swim and always what he would be like with his siblings. It is a reminder to me about why it is so necessary to stay in the moment. We just never know when it is the final days with the ones we love. Love to heaven…

What “Grieving Mom Brain” Has Taught Me

We have all heard about “Mom Brain”, the condition that occurs when a woman is pregnant and continues while she is raising her children. I, myself, had Mom Brain pretty bad during pregnancy. One day my best friend arrived at my house to find me sitting calmly on the couch, while my car door was wide open in my driveway. Just one of my many examples.

Grieving Mom Brain” is just as bad! When I first lost my son, it set in and remained for some time. As I began practicing daily stress relieving routines, I found the condition improved. Just like millions of other moms, grieving or not, I don’t always sleep well. It is on the day after a poor night’s sleep that Grieving Mom Brain returns. Thinking and concentrating is extremely difficult. If I have something I am particularly worried or stressed about, Grieving Mom Brain sets in.

So, if you ever see me staring at you with a blank look on my face, it is likely I am lost inside my own brain. We all make jokes and laugh about this, but it can sometimes be frightening to feel your brain shutting down. It is only further proves to me how damaging stress can be! For this reason and many others, I practice self care on a daily basis. As Mother’s Day approaches, I urge all moms to examine their own self care routines. If you don’t have one in place, start small. Maybe take 15 minutes a day to do something that feeds your soul; take a walk, read, call a friend, journal, etc. You won’t regret it! Love to heaven…

Get It Done!

I am really good at procrastinating about some things. When I have a list of emotionally difficult tasks to complete, I tend to let them pile up and knock them out all at once. Today I feel like I am standing on a mountain, waving a victory flag! My list of emotionally charged tasks is complete, for now. My mountain imagery is a bit dramatic, but some of these tasks have been lingering for over three years. They have caused me sleepless nights, wracked me with guilt and led to negative thoughts. Today I feel accomplished. The tasks are not fully complete yet, but the ball is no longer in my court!

Why have I procrastinated for so long? Well some of these tasks being completed makes losing Christian even more real. Sure, it’s been more than three years if reality, but certain things confirm the finality of loss. Some other tasks required photos to be reviewed and words written about my angel. Again, causing me to confront a time in my life when all of my children lived with me on Earth is extremely difficult.

The amount of relief I feel after completing these tasks is actually surprising. It was weighing me down even more than I realized. The outcome is still the same. Christian is gone forever. Now, however, I am relieved of a small amount of parental guilt. We all feel better when we are relieved of any guilt!

So, my PSA today is to stop procrastinating! Maybe you need to schedule in your hard tasks, maybe you need to get a friend to nudge you or maybe you need to get a new to-do pad. I forgot I did that this weekend. Who knows if that is what inspired me? Whatever it is, get to it and stop stressing it, says the woman who procrastinated completing a task for three years! Another lesson learned. Love to heaven…

Surrounding Support

Yesterday I started to write this post. I published it by mistake before I finished it. I did eat a healthy breakfast and… it ended there. I was exhausted and feeling sad. I couldn’t, in good conscience, claim I followed through on my healthy habits.

This morning. I wrestled with myself. I woke up exhausted again but I followed through with my workout and have more energy than I did when I woke up! Now I feel validated to publish this post!

I hope everyone had a happy and blessed Easter. Our day was filled with egg hunts, excited children, family, love and blessings. I fell into bed last night! Unfortunately, my sleep has not been great lately. Last night was another night of twists and turns and nightmares. Honestly, after the night I had, I felt like today would just be a survival day not a “living” day. Until, I looked down at my phone.

There was an inspirational message from my trainer and good friend. She declared that, “Easter is about rebirth and new beginnings so what better time to recommit yourself… start with evaluating your why”.

In that moment, I knew I had to show up for myself today. Part of that meant starting the day with a healthy, well intentioned, breakfast. I could have come down and just eaten what I felt like. There are plenty of sweets left over from yesterday, despite most of them being given away. Instead, I relied on my normal routine breakfast so I didn’t have to think. In eating a breakfast I knew was healthy, I immediately began the day in a positive manner.

Support and routine habits are two of the most important tools for making changes. In my case, I am striving to continue on my healing path. These tools are not only helpful in my situation, however. These tools apply to all situations in which change is the desired outcome.

As a bereaved mother, support has looked different for me throughout my journey. In the beginning support was basic. I needed people to help me survive, help me take care of my boys, to let me know they were there to help me with anything. Shortly into the journey, support looked like coffee dates, lunches with friends and walks. It has evolved into many things. In addition to my friends who have been there since the beginning, my support now means having a trainer, who has become a dear friend and amazing support. It means having a workout partner, who is also a dear friend. It means attending therapy sessions each week. These people and actions keep me accountable. They keep me on track. They remind of why I am working hard on this journey. When I get too into my head, they call me out on it.

They also keep me in my routine. Some days I need their help more than others. When I am following my routine, it makes things that much easier. It takes thinking out of the equation. It’s Tuesday, so I go to workout class at 9. I’ve been doing this for over a year. I know if I go, I will feel better. I also know if I don’t go, my trainer will call me to see what happened. There are checks and balances in place for me. In the past, needing this much help would have felt weak. Now, I know what I need to be successful and I fully accept and embrace it. That doesn’t mean I don’t fall down. I do. It just means I get back up quicker. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you need. No one exists alone in this world. Love to heaven…