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

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…

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…

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…

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…