Life, In All Its Glory

Nobody gets out of this life unscathed.

We have ups and downs. We have hopes and fears.

We have dreams that come true, and others that are dashed.

We find ourselves on top of the world, and we find ourselves with the rug ripped out from under us.

That’s life, friends. In my life, there have been moments that were great. Peak highs. Blessings. Laughter. Joy. The good stuff. And there have been moments I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Heart-breaking. Torturous. Devastating. They all had one thing in common: I had a choice about what I’d let them mean in my life. Some were much easier than others – oh, the decision was easy, but arriving at the destination it led me to wasn’t. But bottom line, I’ve never been alone. I believe in God. And I know He’s been with me every step of the way.

I’m too stubborn to quit. I’m too determined to not be happy. I may fall 100 times, but I’ll get back up 101. That’s what this blog site is all about. Life, it’s ups and downs, the choices in each moment, the journey to the other side of those choices, and the rainbow waiting when you get there. I believe in that rainbow. And I always will.

Getting Through The Holidays

As I begin this blog, I suppose I should state my traditional disclaimer. I have no clinical training. This is not meant to be a professional guide to holiday grief. This is a blog written by a mother who lost her child, in hopes of helping others to benefit from my experiences by reading about them, and finding ways to adapt them to their own needs, or by being inspired to find your own ways to nurture your own heart through a difficult time. Grief is a very personal thing. How you choose to handle it is up to you – just be sure that handle it, you must.
I read an article today, and it’s one of many about grieving at the holidays. As we all know, grief comes in many forms. Loss tops the list – death of a parent, spouse, grandparent, sibling, friend, or child. Death of a friend. Divorce. Each form of grief is its own animal, and each person handles it differently. As I have read articles over the years about grief at the holidays, they each have had their own “recipe” for how to make it through. The article I found today was, for me, the one that most closely mirrored what I needed in the early years of this journey, and still find myself needing at times still when the holidays roll around. The edge is off of the pain, most definitely. But there are moments when it creeps in just a little. Right now for some of you, it’s still a wide open, raw wound with no comfort in sight. So how do you get through this season when everything is about joy, festivity, and celebration? I would offer you some of what I did, in hopes that some of it might help you, or inspire you:

If You’d Let Me, I’d Smile

Originally written May, 2010

You’d think by now I’d know… seven years, countless other mothers I’ve walked through the process – literally hundreds of them. And yet, in spite of thinking earlier today “maybe it’ll be ok this year, I feel fine…” it crept in tonight.  Can’t even tell you how. I went to bed, my thoughts tumbled from one onto another, and somehow I ended up thinking about Ian.

Ian as a seven year old boy.

I pictured the early start of gangly long legs with some peach fuzz hair, warm fingers that interlaced with mine when I held his hand, soft warm skin, freckles on his nose, dusty brown hair, and the early traces of the annoyed “moooooo-mmmmmmm” that so many mothers hear for so many years.

I think that’s when the tears started. Realizing yet again that it’s all once more a vision … a “what if” … that would never be realized. I’ll never know if he’d have freckles, long legs, or that tone to his voice. Next week he’d be seven. And like every year that’s come before this one, I have no way to anticipate what he’d be like today. I’ll never know the moments that I missed. Which is why it’s so vitally important to me to celebrate every second that I had.

People avoid talking about a child who has died. Every mom I know who’s lived this loss has noted it. We all want to remember, society can’t bear the thought, or thinks they’ll do us harm by remembering. That’s so off base. It’s far from what we need. In fact, it’s the polar opposite.

What moms and dads like us need isn’t for them to give us their answer of what we “should” need… it’s to finally begin to approach this time of year with what we “do” need… to remember. To celebrate. To smile instead of cry. I am not asking ANYONE to remind me that he died – nobody ever needs to remind me of that. What I am asking, on June 3 of every year I am alive, isn’t to mourn his death, it’s to help me celebrate that he lived.

There’s a big difference.

I want to remember the little one who’s feet used to tap dance on my bladder.
I want to remember the little face that I fell in love with.
I want to remember every vision I had of his look, his voice, his life.
I want to celebrate how he changed me – I learned more about love from him than I ever knew.
I want to celebrate the faith that he taught me – I know Christ today because of him.
I want to celebrate how he touched so many lives – lives of women I’ve never met, but love dearly and will always do anything I can to help.
I want to celebrate the survivor he made me.
I want to celebrate the freckles, the laughing eyes, the easy smile that I know he’d have today.
I want to celebrate the belly laughs I know are waiting for us in heaven.
I want to celebrate that today, my dad and my son just might be playing catch, watching the Sox, talking about girls, or just paling around in heaven.
I want to celebrate that he gets to spend every second in a world where he’s always safe, always perfect, always healthy, away from violence or disease, and will always be blissfully happy.
I want to celebrate the beautiful boy that God gave me through the miracle of life.
I want to celebrate being a mom – I earned that right.
I want to celebrate the one creature on this planet who can make me smile, no matter how bad the day.

I want to celebrate the coolest little man that I know. And I earned that right. I wish you’d celebrate with me and not shy away, not avoid the phone, not shift awkwardly in your seat, not change the subject, pick your eyes up off the floor, not pretend you didn’t hear me.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m living this. It’s up to me to tell you what I need, not the other way around. And what I need isn’t to mourn his death … it’s to celebrate his life. It was tiny, it was all too brief, but it touched mine forever in ways that leave me too blessed to even describe.

I am Ian’s mom, and nobody is ever going to tell me that I shouldn’t celebrate that.

My son is my hero, and I am honored to be his mom.

I wish this time of year wasn’t so hard. But I’ll be honest with you — the most uplifting thing when the hard days come, the thing that lifts my soul and makes me smile from earth to heaven is when people let me be the mom that I am, and help me celebrate the most precious gift God ever gave me… my son. One day a year… just that one day.

Happy birthday, my son.

Hug him for me dad … and tell him when the day comes, I will do it myself. And he better not think he’s too grown up for a hug from his mom.

I love you, little man!

October 15: National "Wave of Light"

Originally written October, 2009

For almost three years now, I’ve been working with bereaved parents. Parents who, for a variety of reasons, have lost an infant. Some to miscarriage, some to stillbirth, some to SIDS, some to other illnesses, tragic accidents, or other causes. No matter what, the loss of a child is the unthinkable.

But there’s a bigger loss – the one society imposes on parents. The one that says “you can’t talk about your child” or, “you can, but we won’t do it with you.” What people don’t realize is every time the bereaved parent is robbed of a chance to remember and celebrate their child’s life, they live a little piece of the death all over again. Not only did the child die, but now so is their right to remember, and their sense of parenthood dying a bit also.

I’ve had people say many things to me in the past 6.5 years since I lost my son. And my reactions have varied. I went through two very rough years of grief, and eventually healing into a new normal. But some facets of my son’s life will always impact mine. You don’t go from being a mother back to not being one – it isn’t possible. If you’ve ever felt in your heart the love you have for your own child, you know what I mean. It changes you. Down to your soul. And that is not something that can be undone. The thing is, unless we’re allowed to celebrate our child, that love has nowhere to go. And that just might be an even bigger loss.

In time, as the grief process evolves, you learn to find yourself again. We find a smile, our joy, and we realize it’s ok to go forward again. There’s nothing to feel guilty about. You tuck your child safely in your heart, and you keep going with life. I smile as I write that … my life is good now. And I know where Ian is. And I’m happy. Nobody can tell me I haven’t moved on … I have..

I had someone tell me once they avoided the issue because they weren’t going to be the ones to “remind me my child died”. But the thing is, they missed the point. I feel the ache inside me, and I know what helps and what hurts. I’m not asking you to remind me of his death …. I’m telling you to help me remember his life.

What I mean is this: In this loss, parents like me have a choice.. Forgetting isn’t an option. Remembering in a way that is healthy and positive – in a way that celebrates – is.

To a parent who is so used to society averting their eyes, avoiding the subject, treating you as if you’re stuck in the past, isolating you even further than you already feel, the gift of celebration is precious. We only ask that those of you who love us help us in the ways we need help. If you don’t believe me, try it one time. And watch my face. Take note of the light in my eyes when you say “sending love to you and Ian today”… or “wishing Ian a happy birthday!!” … or “happy Mother’s Day!”… watch my smile… my astonishment… my joy. And you know what happens inside me? A “soaring” feeling in my heart – that overwhelming happiness, and the thought “my little man ROCKS!!” I’ve felt that feeling every single time. And it’s a rare moment of great joy in celebrating my son… so indulge me.

Bringing it up doesn’t cause pain. Others avoiding it does. We are not remembering a death… we are celebrating – with unprecedented joy – our child’s life. And oh what it would mean if you’d do the same. Be sure of one thing – I don’t speak just for myself. Since 2006, I have interacted with over 700 mothers just like me, and a handful of fathers. And in every single conversation I’ve had with them, the thing they wished for most from others was that they would remember, acknowledge, and celebrate.

Today is October 15… National “Wave of Light” day… tonight, at precisely 7 p.m. Tonight, the goal is that everyone light a candle for babies who have died and their loved ones. And with varying time zones, as each person lights their candles at seven sharp, the light will literally be a ‘wave’ around the world in remembrance.

People don’t know how to handle parents like me. Six years later, having healed, and found great joy in my ‘new normal’, I feel equipped to tell you how to handle us:

Remember. My child died. My child meant EVERYTHING to me. And when he died, I was stripped of endless opportunities to be his mother. Hearing his first words, seeing him walk, watching him board his first school bus, seeing him graduate, seeing who he’d marry, or what career he’d choose, or giving me grandchildren. His life ended, and those things went with it. But in their place, in his absence, I’ve learned what I was supposed to learn – how to keep living. And how to be happy.

I am still his mother. Don’t take the only piece of motherhood from me that I have left. Let me know you remember that he lived. Let me know that his life still matters to others besides me. Let me know it wasn’t all for nothing – that someone so very precious to me is still remembered by you. Afraid to? Try me one time and watch my joy. You’ll see.

If you’re so moved, please read, and repost, share with others who know the loss, anything to help another parent in these shoes. If you have questions, please ask. If you are a bereaved parent and you agree, or disagree, please say so. I’ve dealt with hundreds of parents in recent years, and everything I say above is my sentiment, but one I’ve heard from so many others.

The Holiday Rollercoaster

Originally Written December 14, 2009

It’s been six years since my son died… almost seven. It’s been seven months since my father died… almost eight. Here I sit, a veteran of infant loss and the holidays, a newbie to losing a parent. In the years since Ian, my son, died, I’ve learned that the holidays can be a roller coaster – some years have been brutal, others have sort of quietly lumbered by in muted sadness. Bittersweet but tolerable. Right now, for reasons I can only speculate on, the grief feels like a roaring train flying down the track this year…. loud, beyond my control, overwhelming, and a little over powering. A lot of stimulus drive the train … and I’m not sure which one has it’s foot heaviest on the gas pedal.

I think in missing Ian, this year would have normally been more on the muted sadness side. There, a dull ache, but one that didn’t overshadow my happiness. But last week, a member of my family was hospitalized with some pregnancy complications. Thus far, everything seems to be turning out okay, but she was in the same room where Ian was born. Stillborn that is. And since then, the floodgates have opened on the memories from that time. Some so traumatic, some mere ghosts of grief stricken conversations that took place. Some an overflow of forgotten regret now spilling back over the surface.

Since my dad died in April, I’ve done, I think, pretty well. He made me promise to focus on good things -where he was going, who he’d be with, that he’d always ‘be with me’. I am, I try. And often I do well. But I have been so nonstop busy since he died, constantly in motion. And when I’m not, I find myself hiding from the grief in ways that are not going to help me in the long run. I have worried from the beginning that ‘another shoe’ would drop and the grief would really hit me. I don’t know if that’s an unnecessary fear or a gut instinct. But since he died, I’ve also been busy as hell being the ‘doting daughter’, trying to take care of mom, keep her busy, keep her laughing, giving her things to look forward to … and not taking any time for me. I have to. She needs me. And I can’t let that slide. It isn’t an option. And I think with the support of my family, we’ve all done pretty well at keeping her going. And we share the load, it isn’t all me. But when it’s my down time, I don’t let myself think very often. Is it I don’t let myself? Or is it that it just doesn’t come? I’m not sure. But now, with the holidays here, I watch mom struggle a little more and there’s nothing I can do to protect her. I look around at my family and realize that dad truly is gone … that this really is our ‘new normal’. And I find myself missing him so much… his face, his voice, his smile, his touch. I miss my daddy… and I long to go back into the past 40 years of my life and be his little girl a thousand more times. Part of my comfort these recent months comes from Faith in where he is now, that he is with God, that he is whole and perfect, faith that he is with my son too. And for his joy, I give thanks. For his absence, I hurt more deeply than I have words to describe. I will never let go of the joy for him, but I can’t help but feel the sorrow of his absence – It’s like our family was a circle, and it’s now broken. In time, we will figure out how to close the circle together and keep him at the core of it through his legacy, but for now, it’s an open hole, and through that opening, the heartache of missing him comes flooding in.

It all swirls around, mixing together, making it hard for me to know where to start in the sorting out of it all. In spite of medication to manage my anxiety, sadness hums inside my chest, waiting for the button to push the tears into motion. I have that feeling I used to get — afraid if I start to cry I will never stop. My throat is constricted with a tension I haven’t felt in some time. My sleep is disrupted by racing thoughts of both profound loss and everyday life, so loud they wake me just as true rest begins.

I need to sit down in a quiet house… no TV, no phone, just silence, and my memories of my dad, and let the tears come. I can feel now that they need to come out. They are eating at me, and tearing at my heart, and I know I need to let them come in order to heal. Grief is beginning to turn to anger, and I’d prefer to let the pressure off the valve before I have myself a knotted up mess … I’ve been there and i know how hard it is to untie them again. I know how they consume, and devour, and I have too many ways I need to win that battle — too many reasons I can’t afford to lose. People are depending on me. My life is depending on me. I am depending on me. But I think it’s time I let God wrap his arms around me …. lean on his shoulder and cry. I so often forget to do that … I so often am in the habit of fighting through life’s hard times alone. I don’t mean to, I just forget to reach out.

Knock It On its Ass

“You take a look at the explosion, and it knocks you down, and you wake up every morning, and you’re scared and you’re depressed and sad. And you’ve kind of got to let that knock you down and knock you down, and then pretty soon you’ve got to start knocking IT down. And then, when that happens, you start looking at the pieces left of your life.” – David Letterman

That quote comes from a Regis & Kelly interview with Letterman. Let me be clear, I’m not advocating anything, nor judging it. It’s not my place. Judgment is between he and God. But the quote really struck me as hitting the proverbial nail on the head in any of life’s defining moments. I’ve lived exactly what he’s talking about – again and again. From break ups, to the death of our parents, losses of job, death of a child, financial crashes, foreclosures…. whatever the crisis, life throws things at you that are going to kick your ass, and knock you down. And you know what? It’s ok to be down for awhile. The storm has to rage before it can wear itself out, and it isn’t your job to manipulate it into ending before it’s time. Ride it out, feel the feelings, cry, yell, scream, hide, wallow. Get angry, get sick, lose sleep if you must. But make no mistake, whatever you’re going through isn’t a free lifetime pass into sadville. At some point, who’s on the ground and who’s on their feet winning the fight becomes a choice.

Take a deep breath and get up. Do it in a way that’s best for you, find your strength and rise with dignity and courage. Fight. Knock the problem it on it’s ass and walk away. If it’s something worth treasuring, tuck the good in your heart and bury the bad. The bad will always be a reality, but winning this fight is about what you choose to emphasize. Grab the good and leave the rest behind. Get up and fight. Do it in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else (I won’t advocate climbing back up by pushing another down, even if they deserve it), but get on your feet and knock that sucker onto the canvas for the final count. This is your battle to win, not to lose.

Are you sitting there saying “I can’t…” or “….yes, but …” or “easy for you to say…”? My replies:

Yes, you can. YES, you can.
But nothing. BUT NOTHING.
And no, it isn’t easy for me to say.

My life has had it’s share of defining moments. And in each and every one of them, I went through my time of being knocked down, my time of grief, my time of depression and anger. Sometimes all of these at once. But each of my defining moments (including the death of my son) had its turning point when I made a choice. A choice to let go of the dark and embrace the light; a choice to be happy instead of angry or sad; a choice to look at things for what they are, not what I wish they were (hence my favorite expression, “it is what it is”) and live it accordingly. The turning point comes when it comes, and there may be some moments of setback, but when its time, you’ll know. And in that moment, it’s your job to get up, stand up, and knock “it” on its ass.

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