Student and Teacher of Grief

Every day there are two little humans who are watching, observing and learning from me. When I look at it day to day that thought can be quite scary, but when I look at the big picture it becomes less overwhelming. There is a span of many days from which they learn. The way I see it is as long they see me get back up after I fall, after I make mistakes, we are okay.

Our family has experienced a devastating tragedy. As I am learning how to carry my own pain and continue living, I am both a student and teacher. Along the way of my own journey I am learning about life, myself and my strength. I am also responsible for teaching my children. With my own thoughts, expectations, beliefs and emotions shaken to the core, it puts me on a shaky ground as a teacher.

Perhaps the teaching of thoughts, expectations, beliefs and emotions is not the important part though. Perhaps it is more important to model the process of discovering what one believes. One thing my children do see is how to persevere and find the good wherever we can. I am unsure if I am teaching them correctly in so many areas but I do know that my husband and I teach them to see the best in everything. I also know we have fostered an eternal connection with their brother. There is no doubt in my mind that there are areas that I am not shining in but all I can do is my best.

Although I use the word “heal” a lot in my writing and speaking, I am very conscious that the definitions provided in dictionaries are not akin to my process. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines healing as, “to make sound or whole”. Nope. “to make well again: to restore to health”. If we are comparing to the first days after loss, yes. Other than that – no. “to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome”. Nope. For me healing is a journey, not a condition. I am carrying on in my life and continuing to live.

Last weekend I learned a new phrase, “post traumatic growth”. This phrase is very apropos to my journey. Everyone goes through difficult periods in their lives. We all have our own versions of trauma. When we are under duress, we are forced to change. Change does not mean that things turn out the way we want them to. It simply means that things change because we cannot stay the same and endure the stress or pain we are living with.

The reason behind change is often the traumatic part. The journey is often the growth part. August will mark five years since we lost Christian. Over those five years I have met many people who have lost children. None of us will ever be the same or whole again. All of us have learned valuable lessons. In life we are continuous learners. It has been challenging to learn while teaching but I suppose this is a facet of parenting no matter the circumstances. 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…

    Expectations and Truth

    Yesterday was one of those days. You know what I am talking about. A day where just about all you can handle is sitting on the couch and watching movies. My boys went into school at 10:30 and were home by 1:30, due to the weather. Thank God they made it home safely. While I had hoped for a longer amount of childless time, I am so grateful that the school district made a smart decision.

    It definitely interrupted my movie watching though. Between being asked for snacks, arguing over every little thing and then being told that they really didn’t want the dinner I had cooked I was ready to explode. Then when I said, “I need a break!” It was met with my six year old’s answer, “That’s because you hate us.” Aaah, yes, pile on the mom guilt.

    Being a mom is hard. Being a parent is hard. Being an adult is hard. Anyone who is reading this can probably agree with at least one or all of those statements! How can it be that some days you feel on top of the world like you have it all under control and the next day you are drowning? Some of this is certainly due to my circumstances but I do not believe that only bereaved parents feel this way. I know that is not true.

    Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about how a few nights ago the bedtime routine went splendidly. So much so that Anthony, my eight year old, thanked Nicky for the hug he gave him in school that day. Then Nicky thanked Anthony for being included in a game with his friends. It ended with them both saying, “I love you” to each other. Not sure who those kids were but before becoming a parent I actually thought that there would be way more days like that.

    When we examine what our beliefs or expectations are compared to reality, accepting reality can sometimes be so hard. In the case of raising children, you learn pretty quickly that there is a huge divide between what you expected and the truth. I will never forget a time when Christian threw a screaming fit in an outdoor mall and I had to carry him out. It was humbling. That’s for sure. At the time I felt like the biggest failure as a parent. I was still stuck in the pre-child mindset that my child would never do that. I can actually hear some of you laughing out loud because you know what I mean!

    The me of today knows that the exact opposite was true. I was doing a great job as a parent that day. Christian was doing a great job of being a kid. We were both doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing. (Don’t even get me started on the supposed to’s.) Nonetheless, it took time, experience and multiple children to learn this.

    Expectations are the measure by which we define where we want to be. If we set them too low, we are not accomplishing what we are capable of. If they are too high we experience failure. There are some areas of my life where I am in tune with where my expectations need to be. Other areas I am still learning. The saying, “Patience is a virtue” is a mantra that I repeat quite often. It takes patience, time and experience to first learn where to set your expectations, then how to reach them, then to actually reach them. It is certainly not a linear process. We must experience some days on top of the world and others when we are drowning.

    Today I am right in between. I’m not exactly on top and I’m not exactly drowning. After all that madness yesterday I couldn’t bear to even deal with the bedtime routine. I collapsed into bed and asked my husband to put both boys to sleep. Even though he had a long day dealing with the snow, important meetings at work and coming home to a crazy wife who was still the pajamas he left her in, he did. Thank God. Right before Nicky went to bed he came to me and gave me a huge hug and kissed me tenderly on the top of my head. Just like that I melted. It was a kind of nourishment for the next day, a kind of payment for parenting being so difficult. Never in my imagination could I have known just how hard it would be to parent children. I also could have never imagined just how much I would love these children. Love to heaven…

    The Blank Canvas

    With the New Year upon us and a fresh blank canvas laid out before us, many adults commit to different ways they are going to change their lives. They iterate goals they would like to reach and set out in pursuit of them. Not unlike others I have goals but I tend to reevaluate them on a regular basis, so I did not make any hard and fast resolutions this year. It occurred to me this morning that it was time to have the talk about 2019 goals and resolutions with my boys, especially my eight year old.

    Each month at school the Principal’s Award is given to one student in each class. As I launched into my lecture about how he may be able to receive it if he worked hard and went above and beyond, he responded with an answer that reflected his personality. “I am going to let other people get them. I am not out only for myself”. This led me to have a talk with him about how that is a beautiful attitude in some areas but that we all need to have something we are working towards, striving for. He looked at me and said, “I am not working towards the Principal’s Award. I want to reach a goal that is closer”. It was only then that I realized that my anxiety had informed this lecture. Didn’t all children wish to be recognized by the Principal while the whole school looked on? Or is that my hope for him? Each time I open my Facebook feed on the first Friday of the month, I am reminded that my son has not received the Principal’s Award since Kindergarten. In turn that leads me to berate myself about how I am not doing enough as a mother. He needs to read more, practice his math facts more and watch less TV. Changes may need to be made, but nothing positive comes out of me criticizing myself. What really needs to happen is that I need to take a step back and separate my insecurities about mothering from him as a student. Furthermore, the Principal’s Award is not the measure of him as a student or me as a mother. (As I sit and write these words I feel quite neurotic but I know that if I am feeling this way so are others!)

    While I quickly reigned in my anxiety, the urgency in my voice quelled and I asked him what his goals were. He explained to me what he wanted to achieve. Now the fire returned to my voice, but not in an anxious way, in a motivational way. “Well, let’s reach this goal! What do we have to do in order to crush it? Let’s get started right away!” For a second there I felt like I was on a big stage giving a motivational speech. It worked though. I saw the fire ignite in him. The drive that I was so afraid he was lacking, kicked in. It was there all along. I just wasn’t tapping into it.

    It is easy to relate to my middle child as his personality mirrors mine in many ways. Fear of failure sometimes affects how I set and achieve goals. Part of the reason I reevaluate  my goals frequently is because I need to make sure they are a stretch but still attainable. My trainer, Jessika Ramie of FYTE.co, often says, “We may have to adjust our expectations.” Through this mindset, and with her help, I have been able to structure my goals and plans to reach them in a way that fosters success. In turn, my confidence is boosted and I am willing to strive for more and more. My aim is to scaffold this same experience for my son. The more confident he feels, the more he will try. If we have no goals and nothing to strive for, we make much smaller leaps and bounds in life.

    Striving to be our best is a lesson that is important for my boys to learn. They must know that their best means their best. In a world where competition runs rampant it is easy to get caught up in it. For some people this means they may become obsessed with it. For others, like my middle child and myself, it means we shy away from it due to fear of failure. I am so grateful for my husband who is always quick to remind my boys to believe in themselves. If he hears self doubt in their words, he is quick to correct them by replacing their negative words with positive ones and making them repeat after him.

    There are kids who instinctively have less fear of failure and more drive. Whether it is a competitive nature that feeds it or a need to be the best. My middle guy is more sensitive in that way. He is aware of not wanting to take away from others. As I explained to him, there is a time and place for that. Individual goals mean that you don’t have to take away from anyone else. As I write this, it is so clear that individual goals would have been the way to motivate him from the start. It is in his nature to achieve on a individual level where he doesn’t feel the pressure of competing with anyone else.

    This simple, ten minute talk with my eight year old taught me so much, in more ways than one. It taught me about him, myself and my parenting. It reminded me why it is so important to be in tune with my boys. It also reminded me of the joys and beauty of being a parent. My husband and I will support our boys in the best way we know how. We will make mistakes and so will they, but as long as we keep the lines of communication open and the love flowing, we will design these blank canvases together. Love to heaven…

    Ramblings and Gifts

    It’s that time of year again when the air is filled with the magic of the holidays… and the sadness for some. I’m not alone in my struggles and I do not wish to put a damper on anyone who is not feeling sadness. However, I know that there are millions of other people out there struggling as well. Some for the same reason, some not. I don’t have any words of wisdom today. More a rambling of thoughts.

    This was an exceptionally tough week. My cousin, Tonia, would have turned 50. It had me reflecting on her and a trip all of the females in my family took when she turned 40. The first thing that comes to mind are the laughs we all shared. We had a great time. It was a beautiful tribute to what the holidays represent to me – enjoying time with those you love. Tonia bought each of us an ornament to commemorate the trip. It will be bittersweet, as it is every Christmas, to place that ornament on my tree.

    Last week was also an emotional week. My youngest son turned six. All of the “firsts” he is experiencing as a six year old were Christian’s “lasts”. To use a very intellectual term blah. Each time I think about that the tears spring to my eyes. He seems so little and yet Christian seemed so big when he was six. I found the list he wrote to Santa that year. Immediately my memory sparked. My bright, brown eyed boy wishing for the magic of Christmas to be bestowed upon him. His heart so young and pure. The excitement of the season buzzing all around. This year as his brothers write their Christmas lists, search for the elf and decorate the tree, Christian watches from above.

    Grief is a spiral and sometimes it spirals back to an intensity level that can only be sustained for a short amount of time. When this happens I retreat back to survival mode. One of the most important things I did early on, in survival mode, was find one positive thing in each day. Yesterday while preparing lunches for my boys and running around, completing daily morning tasks, they were playing a game. It was a beautiful sight. They were playing and laughing. No one was whining or crying. Whoever was losing was not lamenting over it. They were enjoying their time together. It was a gift. It could have easily been missed by me in my frenzy. I’m sure sometimes I do overlook these moments. Yesterday I didn’t and it made my day. Wishing you all these beautiful gifts of the season and all year through. Love to heaven…

    Unconditional Love

    Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time for reflection. We remember special days of the past. We look forward to future days to come. My memories are peppered with holidays from my youth, filled with magic. I strive to create the same feeling for my children.

    I want them to feel excitement, warmth and the abundance of love shared with family and friends. At the same time I want them to learn how to give warmth and love. It’s important for them to know how to express these emotions.

    It’s also important for them to know how to give to those who are not as fortunate to experience an abundance of warmth and love. They have the compassion and strength to help create this for some people. My boys need to know that this is part of their calling. I believe we all have this compassion and strength within us. For my children, given the sadness they know, it’s even more important. They must know that there are people who experience tragedies even worse than what they have gone through. They also must know that there are people who are more fortunate.

    Christian continues to teach and guide us through our lives, as individuals and family. He wants and needs us to spread love, compassion and kindness. My boys know that I love them always and forever. It is unconditional acceptance and love. If I can teach them to spread this type of love, I believe they will make a marked difference in this world. Love to heaven…