Hope Is Found In Other Grievers

Featured

If you are new to the grief of child loss and are asking yourself how you will ever be able to live another day in this new reality, you are not alone. Every single parent who has been in your position before you has had the same exact thought. As the the grief strangles us and the pain takes over our physical, emotional and mental health, the disbelief that you will survive this horrendous ordeal is all encompassing.

Many times people ask me about the best advice I received after losing Christian. It wasn’t anything people said. Instead it was meeting and connecting with people who had lost a child, but were able to continue living. They were shining beacons of hope for me. If they were able to do it, then so could I.

The pain was still unbearable, but their collective stories of survival showed me that the unthinkable was possible. Each person I met who had survived their child lifted me up. It was their resilience that sparked a light of hope in me.

There is no end in grief. There is no filling the hole that is in the exact shape of your child. It will always be there, but the edges of it will not always be as pointy and sharp.

It is so hard to reach into your heart when you first lose your child. Each excursion leaves you cut and raw. As time passes and you learn that your child is still with you, the jaggedness softens, allowing you to be blanketed more with love than cut by the edges.

Today I am 2,432 days post child loss. It will be 7 years in August and I am still here, living after the most heart wrenching experience of my life.

My living children inspire me every day to not only survive, but thrive. In the beginning my surviving was an act of love for them. Knowing the trauma they had already experienced, I knew I had to step up and be as present as possible for them. Some days that meant taking them to school and some days that meant crying alongside them as we played with cars. When my emotions were unable to be contained, they always inquired as to why I was crying. My honest answer remained the same. “I miss your brother”.

Mothering two toddlers while grieving my firstborn was beyond difficult, and I had a ton of support and help. Given all that help, I was the only person who was their mother. Being present for them meant being gentle with myself on those days that I just couldn’t handle school runs or playing cars or getting out of bed until the afternoon.

In the months following Christian’s death, my present not only included the day to day activities that my living children were involved in, but also attending to my grief. I had to learn to parent it, nurture it. We do this not to help it grow, but to help our heart grow around it, to help soften those jagged edges. The more we give it attention, nurture it, treat ourselves gently with it and honor it, the more we are able to hold it and carry it. Our grief and emotions need our attention too. If we just stuff them down, they become stagnant and manifest in other ways.

As a mother to all three of my boys, and a wife to my high school sweetheart, I made the commitment to work on myself. Mothers often apply a special version of glue that holds a family together. If I was going to be able to do that I knew I had to be the healthiest version of myself. First, that meant I had to handle my mental and emotional health. Working through the trauma and grief required me to seek professional help.

Weekly appointments with my therapist were a must (and still are). It was absolutely necessary that I have my own safe space to process my emotions, without worrying about hurting anyone else.

While this processing was amazing, my therapist had not lost a child. The connection with other individuals who had walked my actual path became essential. My husband and I found a few groups, but we really didn’t “gel” with them. It was more that we were just going through the motions because we thought it would help.

I was fortunate that I had connected with some other moms who had lost their children. I met with them on an individual basis and that helped more than the groups we were attending. For a while this was enough.

After a few years it became clear that my own healing was progressing well. The urge to help others began to build. I wanted to be the mentor for others, show them that survival is possible.

All the while one of the biggest things that plagued me was how I would be able to keep Christian’s spirit alive. As long as I was living, he would be remembered. It had to be in a big way, though. That was one of his defining qualities – big in every way!

My husband and I knew we wanted to pay it forward because we had received so much love, generosity and help from others. To match this, we formed Love From Heaven – Christian Martinisi Memorial Fund. It’s a non-profit that supports families grieving a child. Our outreach is local and extends across the nation. Once I felt secure that I had formed something that would live up to Christian’s ability to spread light, I was able to turn to my individual goals.

My journey led me to begin a grief group of my own. Then it led me to become a Certified Grief Coach. This met my desire to form a new purpose around my new identity. Helping others heal, sharing my story and being real about my life is my purpose.

As I continue to work on myself, I am learning and growing immensely. It’s the gift of grief. One that I would have never accepted if given the choice. Yet, it’s what I received. My grief is a lesson in the fact that we are all connected. In those connections is where healing lies. I am sure of it. There is not magic healing. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Over time, when we see ourselves in someone else, and we realize that we have the resilience too, is when we begin to heal. 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…