Grief and Self Trust

Grief teaches us so much more than how to live without someone we love.

One of the most valuable lessons it has taught me is how to trust myself more. This lesson is helpful in so many ways, but perhaps the most rewarding is when I am able to trust my parenting choices.

Like most moms, before I earned the status of mom I had many visions of what it would like in my head. My children would always be well behaved, polite children. They would follow the routine that I so carefully constructed for them. All we need is love, right? I knew how to love furiously.

I was in for a rude awakening. When my firstborn, Christian, entered my life I knew I was immediately blessed. What I didn’t know was that I was a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the most important job I was about undertake – parenting.

As a reader, I had read all the books. I assumed the knowledge gained would be applied and all would fall into place. My dad liked to tell me, “You may have read the baby books, but he didn’t”. Point taken.

On that cold, Christmas morning my husband and I brought home our brand new baby. We even stopped by our church to have the priest bless him. A baby blessed on Christmas Day. The irony of thinking that immediately we had afforded him some sort of special protection. We know now that does not exist.

We fawned over him. He was beautiful. He was perfect. As night approached it became obvious that he was not one for sleeping. My mom was with me, though, so I had added insurance that what I was doing was correct.

Time went on and his dislike of sleep became stronger. He never wanted to miss anything. Again, ironic seeing as his life was cut short. I re-read all the books, tried all the methods and felt like a big failure because no matter what I did, he wouldn’t nap as long as the books recommended or sleep as long as they said he should.

The problem wasn’t in what I was or wasn’t doing. It was in my lack of self trust, lack of self confidence. I have always had this underlying issue. Christian certainly did not make it appear. However, I had always assumed that I would be a successful mother. I always wanted kids, I babysat a lot, my mom was great. What could go wrong? This left me feeling like even more of a failure.

Looking back on this time with Christian now breaks my heart. I do wish I had enjoyed it more. If only I knew then what I know now… or rather if only I trusted myself then like I trust myself now.

There is nothing in the world that makes losing Christian okay or positive. Nothing. Given that I cannot change the situation, however, one positive that has come out of life since his death is learning self trust.

It is happening very slowly and it is a continual process. In my quest to have a continuous relationship with Christian as an angel, I have had to learn about myself and attune to myself in much different ways. This has fostered a more trusting self relationship.

In parenting, this has helped immensely. Questioning every decision I made with Christian was completely exhausting and damaging to my self confidence. These days, I am able to make decisions without questioning most of them. It is a freedom I never thought possible.

When faced with questions I didn’t have the answer to after Christian’s death, I was forced to rely on my own thoughts. Of course, I consulted therapists, other grieving mothers and trusty old books. The thing was no one had all the answers. No one could tell me what was right for my family, but me. It was then that I began to see and act on that.

As my boys grow and our relationship to death changes, we are learning a lot together. I have learned that they need an adult to be honest with them. How will I gain their trust if they don’t believe me? So it has been my practice to practice honesty, age appropriately. I have seen this be a positive in my boy’s lives.

I also encourage them to speak about their feelings and not shy away from them. We speak openly when someone is upset. If they are not in a place where they want to talk about things, I read their cues and let them know that they are not alone. I am always here. Then my trick is to try to get them moving, or get them in the car! Both help to get them talking.

When we were first thrown into the whirlwind of grief, I was terrified that they would forget Christian. They were so little. There were times when I had to really attune to them because I might be sharing a memory and their body language or attention made it obvious that they didn’t want to be a part of it right then. I had to put my own fears, worries, and anxieties aside to see that me forcing Christian memories on them wouldn’t make it any better.

When my boys began to be aware of graveyards and headstones. They naturally asked about Christian and where he was buried. They wanted to know how he could “always be around us” if he was buried somewhere. This led to our conversation about body, souls and energy. It also forged the way for me to see if they were ready to visit Christian’s headstone. They had never been before. There was no pressure, but rather me trusting that they would let me know when they were ready.

With so many decisions about raising a family after a devastating loss like child loss, being individualistic, we forged our own path. I was forced, in a positive way, to trust my instincts. As emotions rose, I knew I had other people to turn to talk things out, and I did. I also had faith that Christian would guide me, and he does.

As my boys get older, their understanding of death and how to continue on, continues to evolve. Each of them holds on to Christian in their own way. They each have a special relationship with him.

Just as I was thrown into the world of children not knowing what I was doing, I was thrown into child loss not knowing what I was doing. Love certainly helped with both. Self trust also made a big difference. If I could go back I would parent Christian quite differently, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to know that then. I don’t know everything about parenting after loss, but I am learning more and more as I go along. More importantly I am learning to trust myself and my instincts. It has been extremely freeing. I must thank Christian for that. Love to Heaven…

Grieving Children and Emotional Dialogue

At the start of my grief journey tears would leak out of my eyes, sometimes without me being aware. Many days I would be driving with my two living sons, then 4 and 2, and a song would play on the radio, or a beautiful sight would greet my eyes or a memory would float across in my mind. It was impossible to hold in the emotion. The question, “Mommy, why are you crying?” transformed into an early teaching opportunity on emotions.

It was not one that I had ever planned to teach my boys. Sure, they had seen me express emotions, but these were intense emotions. Children can sense and feel the intensity. It was obvious to me that I needed to address my tears, and the intensity of my emotions, with these two precious beings who were thrust on this unwanted journey with me. Since they were so young, we were together almost always, meaning that they felt my intense emotions almost always.

A photo of my two boys loving on each other. Thank God they have each other.

There was a certain anecdote that I read shortly after losing Christian. If I were ever able to remember where I read it, I would find the author and thank her a million times over, because it shaped how I handled grieving around my children.

The author was a grieving mother and she detailed the lengths to which she went to hide her intense emotions whenever her living child was around. She felt that shielding her would save her from seeing her mother in pain. One day when the child wanted to do something and the mother denied her because she was afraid that it would put her in a harmful situation, the child looked up at her mother, with large eyes and said something to the effect of,

You never cry about my sister who died, so I didn’t think it would upset you if something happened to me.

All this time the mother had assumed that she was sheltering her, but instead her daughter had interpreted her hidden emotions as apathy. Not only did this affect the way she viewed her mother, as a mother, but it also must have affected her own grieving process. She received the message that it was not safe to express her own emotions. She learned that when something bad happens, we just stuff it down and shut down.

That story has given me the permission and encouraged me to be open about ALL my emotions with my children. When they asked in the car why I was crying, I was honest and said because I miss Christian. When I gather them in a hug, now and then, I tell them how grateful I am to be their mom. Upon the arrival of milestones in each of their lives, it is not uncommon for them to see me shed a tear or many, as well as congratulate, celebrate and express my happiness for them. They are no stranger to seeing their mom experience a variety of emotions over a short period of time.

Isn’t this life though? So often a child is crying and we attempt to distract them from the thing that made them cry. It makes it easier on us as parents, at that time. What if I told you that it made it harder on the child as he grew up? Why are we taught at a young age to distract our feelings away?

It has made us into a society that is uncomfortable with messy feelings. The earlier our children learn that we must acknowledge and feel all feelings, the more equipped they will be to handle life. The more resilient they will be.

A great way to do that is to model it. Let them see that you have “blue” days and frustrating moments. Let them hear that you achieved a goal that you were working toward and you feel proud. Show them that there are a gamut of emotions and we all feel them at some point. The strength lies in feeling them.

The more we normalize and are open about our own emotions, the more encouraged they will be to share theirs. No one escapes this life pain free. Let’s help our children learn how to move through that pain and not disassociate from it. Let them know you see them and you are attuned to their emotions. Let them know you are a safe place and you will help them work through their emotions.

This has helped my living, grieving boys work through some really big feelings. It has helped them to learn that they can feel horrible in the morning, but things can turn around in the afternoon. Even more importantly if an event is traumatic and shakes them to their core, they can learn to work through it and rebuild. This is where strength lies. Love to Heaven…

Anger Rooted In Grief

A vine of sadness climbs up from the pit of my stomach. Rooted in the soil of grief, the offshoots extend through my limbs, each with numerous thorns protruding from them. Gripping sadness pierces my insides.

My memories of you are so difficult to feel. I can see them. When I allow myself to watch videos, I can hear them. I can’t feel them.

Sockless heels grazing my mid shins. I can feel that. It’s the only memory I can feel. It’s from your last day on Earth. You sat on my lap at my parent’s kitchen table just hours before your physical presence would be forever gone.

No longer can I feel your arms around my neck. I can’t feel your small body crashing into me or jumping on me. No more of your hair tickling my face. All of your physicality is gone from my life and my memories.

It’s been six years and I can only feel those bare heels on my shins. It’s not enough. I am angry, furious. Why doesn’t my body remember more of your physical presence? Why can’t I recall those nights when you would sidle up next to me in bed after a nightmare?

You are connected to so many beautiful days and memories in my mind but I want to FEEL them. All I have now is this vine of sadness, growing in me. I will make space for it and acknowledge it because the work I have done has taught me that it’s essential. I must feel to heal.

My work has also taught me that this is a wave. This is part of the grief cycle and I will come back around to the positive part of the cycle, but right now I am angry. Angry that my firstborn has been gone for six years. Angry that I only got to feel him with me, physically, for six years. Angry that that time in my life is over. Angry about these gnarly vines that are thick and twisted. Angry about the thorns that are piercing and painful. Angry that this vine will always exist inside of me. Angry that you no longer live outside of me.

Our spiritual connection will never fade, but I am angry that the feeling of our memories have.

Coronavirus Through The Lens of Trauma

With the fear of the Coronavirus growing, my anxiety is swelling. I have become the person who furiously scrolls through social media searching for updates. My phone is constantly in close proximity so I can check on any new developments provided from my boys’ school. The uncertainty is percolating through my physical self and is causing headaches.

Without a doubt we can all name someone, or more than one person, who fits this description. The difference is that I’m usually doing the naming, not the one being named. In fact until yesterday I was still of the opinion that everything was being blown out of proportion. This state of pure apprehension is not usually a dominant part of me.

During my meditation this morning, it became clear to me why this virus has captivated my mental state. My body is identifying these thoughts, emotions and fears with the trauma of Christian’s death. Pervasive uncertainty is a defining characteristic of my immediate post child loss life. All certainty was robbed from me. In a matter of moments August 28th 2014 became the day that would forever mark the divide of the before and after in my life.

The morning of August 28th 2014 started off just as so many did, and still do. We had eggs for breakfast accompanied by laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. Less than 12 hours later all of that would become completely irrelevant. Our lives transformed into the shocking unknown.

On a much smaller scale this past Wednesday paralleled that terrifying day for me. The morning started much in the same way. There was breakfast, laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. I was aware of the Coronoavirus and the general threats of it but we were pretty much business as usual in my home. In the afternoon I headed to school to prepare for the upcoming book fair in a few weeks. Although the district had already alerted parents that school was preemptively closed the week after Spring Break, I still believed that the students would be in school until the scheduled break at the beginning of April.

By the time I left the building that afternoon a Coronvirus case had been confirmed in the nearby town. The college in the next town over announced closure, SUNY classes went completely online and a few neighboring school districts announced closures beginning the following day. The toilet paper crisis had begun but I still wasn’t concerned about that.

After school talk on the playground was centered around the Coronavirus but mainly in a mocking tone. Overall the general consensus of the moms was that everyone was making too much of it. Hours later my husband and I sat on the couch and as President Trump addressed the nation my panic began to rise. There was change in the air. While the change was not as sudden as the trauma of losing Christian, it still felt jarring.

The next morning I found myself at the grocery store with numerous other people who were reacting to the fear. As I wandered around as aimlessly as a blowing leaf, the uncertainty was palpable. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found. I already knew that it was sold out on Amazon because that was one of the first things I looked for during Trump’s speech!

Half of the people in the grocery store listlessly pushed around their carts with a dazed look, as I did. The other half had what appeared to be detailed lists of what would help them to survive a possible quarantine. Checkout lines grew longer and longer and snaked through the aisles. Two hundred dollars and two hours later I returned home, still feeling unsure of my level of preparedness.

The hysteria was like a fire in my belly. The grocery store merely stoked that fire. My parents cancelled their flight to see my sister in Florida, the middle school play was postponed and the weekly Friday Morning Opening at our elementary school was first closed to parents, then was postponed until further notice. The state of my world, changing by the moment, nothing certain.

It all brought me back to that horrific day, that horrific time. As I watched my son lying on the garage floor, helplessness and fear washed over my body. No parent ever imagines themselves in that position. I also never imagined we would be in a place where schools would be closing and the possibility of quarantining was a reality.

When Christian passed away there was nothing certain left in my world. I had just witnessed the absolute most devastating and horrific sight and event. Where I had once built a future for this beautiful boy, it was all gone. The words I imagined my adult self speaking to my growing son, the experiences I dreamt of sharing with him were all gone. It was tragedy’s cruelest magic trick. Here one moment, gone the next. One moment he was walking up the driveway and the next moment he was on the floor of a garage. He was gone in every way but his body.

The hysteria, the fear, the uncertainty – I’ve been here before. This is all too familiar. My central nervous system is having a hard time distinguishing the urgency and uncertainty of the two situations right now. It is definitely wreaking some havoc on me. Fortunately, I’ve had some experience working through traumatic, uncertain times. So, I am going to utilize the tools and coping mechanisms I have learned to minimize the effects. You can find me breathing, meditating, writing and reading. Oh there will also be some mindless TV in there too, I am sure. This is stressful but we will get through it. I know because I have gotten through stressful times before. Love to Heaven…