Grief Closet

I was thinking the other day how unconditional a mother’s love is. I’ve had the great blessing of knowing it from both sides. I had the most amazing mother who worked more jobs than I could ever imagine to make sure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. We were poor but we had love. As my mother passed away from breast cancer, my daughter was growing inside of me. I began to love in a way I had not done before. To myself I thought this must be how it felt for my mom to love me. When Brittany was born, I was in the midst of grieving the recent loss of my mom and all that meant to a new mother. I grieved that she did not live long enough to see Brittany in person. The most she ever saw was the ultrasound photos and rubbing my belly when I was able to get home from Dallas to see her. I grieved for all the times I would need her to ask questions about things I wasn’t sure of. I grieved over and over every time I needed a hug from my mom. Even today I miss that unconditional love expressed in so many ways. As Brittany became sick, I truly needed my mom because I did not know what to do. Everything I did or every decision I made about her healthcare was made from a nurse perspective and as time grew it evolved to a mother’s perspective. I grieved over who I knew my daughter could not become – a mother. I truly never believed that one day she would die from her illness because not many do; however I knew she would be unable to have children given the medications she had to take every day to keep her illness under control. I wanted so much for my daughter to understand what it meant to be a mother and to experience that unconditional love from a daughter’s perspective and a mother’s perspective.

Closet Door

A grief closet…. My daughter died just shy of her 18th birthday from a fatal grand mal seizure. In 12 hours her life was over and so was mine. At least the life I knew for the past 18 years was over. While I have come to understand that the unconditional love my mom had for me and that I had for Brittany is not gone from my heart – it is gone from my life. The hugs only a mom or child can give are what makes me cry quietly in my grief closet while I’m alone. In this place of my life I am so alone. And where I quietly fight my battle of grief. I believe this will always be my quiet battle to fight for my remaining days. Since her death I have worked hard to rebuild my life, while different, it is a rebuilding process. I have found love again. I am loved by so many friends and family. I am blessed to have some close friends who have helped heal that place in my heart that for so long bled sorrow. And yes, sometimes it still does bleed; but I am comforted by the strength of my faith and the love of my family and friends. My new “framily” has given me the strength to keep pursing love and joy. Each day, with just the smallest of things like text messages or hand written cards – a breath of life is given to me. But make no mistake I am still quietly over here in the corner of my grief closet missing my girl and my mom more than I could ever put words to. I say to my mom and Brittany – “with each passing year, I feel the distance between you and me grow more and more”. And that creates a whole different type of grief I have to learn about and manage. With all the love that surrounds me, I am confident I can continue to mold that into something that can help others.

Until next time, M

Holiday Message

Grief and the holidays

Over the years I’ve written about the holidays and how my grief journey has played out especially during these very difficult days.

The holidays have always been and I imagine always will, the most difficult for me.

Unfortunately, my mother’s angel anniversary starts off the season in September followed by my daughter’s angel anniversary in October and capped off by her birthday in late November. By Christmas I am spent grieving OR avoiding grieving.

I have come to dread the holidays. Even though I have learned to live in the reality of loss and grief, I have tried to find some joy during the holiday season. AlI I can say that it just seems like a different life. My old life ended October 13, 2006 and after the fog lifted, my new life began somewhere down the road. As I look around the room this morning there are few signs of the life I had with my daughter. I keep my daughter’s memory close by up on the shelf in my office and in my heart.

It’s easy to look away or stay busy to keep the swell of grief that sits in my throat on any given day. For the most part that has been my way of avoiding the gravity of her absence. No one realizes just how hard it is to walk through the holidays without her.

Visiting family celebrations knowing she won’t be there or that she isn’t even a fleeting thought. But that was my old life and I am very aware that I can’t stay there nor can I afford to ignore what is in front of me. Love is all around me and I am forever thankful for that because it has given me a breath of life.

I have found balance in both worlds and it works – but it’s hard, don’t be mistaken, it’s extremely hard. I stay busy, I work hard and I play hard – why, because it is better than the misery I’m sure would exist if I did not. Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not miserable, I am happy – love and joy has brought me to this point. I am forever grateful for that. I am also grateful for the life before because my time with Brittany, yes, her name is music to my ears. She taught me so much about life and love. I am a better person because of her time here on this earth.

As you navigate this holiday season as a griever, it is my hope that you take pause to say their name, to smile at a memory, to write it down and then to take in a deep breath and let it out. Step into the present and love on all of those around you who need you to be present. It is the greatest gift we can give those who are walking along side us.

Until next time

M

The Grieving Stone

I find myself today, October 13th, the date my daughter left this earth at the age of 17, pondering the journey I’ve been on since her passing. The evolution of who I am. Who I used to be. They are not the same.

In the early years, I would stay in bed all day and cry myself to sleep. Eventually I began to do “other” things on this day to distract myself from the what I like to call “grief swirl” that whirled around me the entire day; hell, even months. As the years pass and my life has changed, I grieve differently. The “grief swirl” still comes but I’ve grown weary from grief. I’m tired of feeling the sorrow that sticks in my throat as this day approaches. This is the burden we grievers must carry until our last breath but we don’t have to like it.

As I think back at the process of grief, I feel its starts out like a rock with hard edges covered in dirt. The feelings and emotions are hard and so difficult to see your way clear of the fog that has fallen over your life. Then as you begin to learn about grief and how to manage through the learnings from experienced grievers; books written by experts in the field of grief; the rock becomes less dirty and a little softer around the edges. The hard work is smoothing out the rock into a smooth, beautiful stone. Perhaps this is why, I’m fascinated by smooth black stones when I happen to come across them at the beach. It represents the hard work I’ve put in over the years.

Yes, while I may be tired of this grief, I understand it will always be with me for the rest of my days. It’s been harder than I ever imagined, still is; but the person I was needed that polishing. Preparation for something else, another role, a different life – to be a light for others. I’m not sure why God entrusted me for that and I’ll be sure to ask when I meet Him one day. 

To my darling daughter Brittany, I spend every day looking forward to seeing you again. Until then rest peacefully with the angels.

Until next time,

M

The Cost of Grieving

I haven’t written in a while as I’ve been dealing with the need to have three surgeries in five months; and life has kept me from finding time to write. I hope you are all doing well and the new year brought you through the holidays with cherished memories of your loved ones.

I had to clean my office today and I know what comes with that responsibility which is why I avoid it often. I think my wife thinks I’m just messy or my office is disorganized; but in all reality organizing and going through the office to clean creates anxiety in me that I don’t really want to talk about. When I admit it; the memories flood bad and the pain in my chest increases and I exhaust myself in grief.

My late daughter Brittany’s photos, mementos and ashes sit on a bookcase in my home office. I have probably 10+ Willow statues that were hers or those I received after her passing in 2006 as well.

Dusting each of them is a process and it almost always leads to crying. I’m not sure now after all these years that act of cleaning would bring such a wave of grief over me. I spoke to Brittany as I dusted each one of the Willow statues and asked her why she hadn’t visited me in a while. That is a whole other post to write.

As I picked each one up, I looked at them as I cleaned was reminded of that time. The time that broke my heart into millions of pieces. Never whole again. For those (like myself) that need a visual, healed but not whole as if I have a bandaid cross over my heart.

The cost of grieving is that there will always be moments when you have to do the hard thing and it will break you. I cried uncontrollably for what seemed like five straight minutes. I felt heartbroken as if I was placed back in on that early morning, October 13th 2006.

There are other things that bring me to my knees and those too I try avoid when I can. The pain is just too profound. And for those who don’t understand – well I imagine you couldn’t if you had not lost a child. Don’t get me wrong many of the 365 days of year I am laughing and living life. But there will always be a hole left by her death that will never be filled; despite my trying.

I miss her beyond words and some days I can’t speak her name or I’ll breakdown (like during this very moment as I write this post). There are times when it’s just not appropriate to do that given I work from home. I’ve considered moving all of the reminders out of my office; but that feels wrong so I won’t. I’ll keep doing what I do to find moments to remember and just sit in the quiet space that only I can enter which is where my brokenness and grief resides.

Grab your loved ones and love on them because tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us.

Until next time,

M

Dedication

This week I learned of the passing of someone who had a strong influence on me. Ken, a music director (at the time I knew him) created music that spoke to my faith. I have always leaned towards more gospel type of christian music as it spoke to me in a different way. I gained so much encouragement and reinforcement on my faith journey.

When my daughter Brittany died in 2006, I found myself swirling, my head filled with so many thoughts as to why. I knew the only way I could reconcile anything was to be at church. A week later, I was at church. Not at my usual front row seat. I just couldn’t return to that because I wasn’t who I was before. I sat in the back row and cried most of the service. I could barely sing. Songs that spoke to my heart in the past only made me cry. But being there was the only place I wanted to be. Where I felt closest to God.

Ken had a gift for music and music that would encourage, make you think, and often times challenge you to be better. If only I could sing, I would have been in his choir. I had a friend in the choir and I know she will forever be grateful for the time she spent working along side him at church.

One particular Sunday after service we were invited to stay while the choir recorded a live album. It was exciting to be a part of the process. I know I got a lot of out of it because the music included in the CD were some of my all-time favorites.

Ken, while he may have been unaware of it, helped me heal after the loss of my daughter. His music soothed my broken heart and reminded me that our God is an awesome God indeed.

Ken – I know God greeted you with open arms and said welcome home son. Well done.

Until next time,

M

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/album/great-things/642875548

Dad

My dad passed a few days ago. My dad and I had a relationship that most would call estranged; but I would call it normal. He really wasn’t part of my every day life; however we did talk occasionally. My dad left my mom when I was 6 years old. Never really knew his side of the family nor was he around much afterwards. He moved on. Created a new family. That is an entirely different post (book).

Regardless I loved my dad and appreciated that he was responsible for why I’m here on this earth. I began grieving my relationship with my dad many, many years ago. It was far from the relationship many of us long for. In fact, it was fairly non-existent. As I grew into adulthood, I took the initiative to go visit; but each time regretting it. We’d usually fight or he would have something negative to say that would piss me off. I’d become accustomed to that. It was the relationship, the only relationship we’d ever have.

Grieving takes on many different facets. Loss doesn’t always mean death. It means loss of a relationship, a job or a life you once knew. Each time grief presents itself from a new episode; the downfall is the same. The emotion is raw. Old grief resurfaces and it all has to be hashed out again. Over and over until it is banished again back in a small place where it resides waiting to be released again.

When someone dies; I feel the loss of my mom, grandmother and daughter all over again. I am reminded of the chronic absence they left behind. I wrestle a little with my faith and in the end I always come back to things happen for a reason and I don’t always know, understand or comprehend why. I find my faith helps me reconcile it. But let me be very clear; it does not go away. Grief will always reside in my heart and my life. It is part of the fabric of who I was and who I have become.

My dad loved me in his own way. It was not enough for me; but in the end I did not have a choice but to accept it was his way and not mine.

RIP Dad

Until next time,

M

The Empty Holiday

Mother’s Day is a haunting holiday for many grieving mothers. Personally, I’d like to just blink and the day would be in the past. It is a day to celebrate mothers everywhere including those that are in our lives; however it stings too much. It exposes our broken hearts and forces vulnerability.

I was a mother once. I was a daughter once. I was a granddaughter once. While some may argue I still am and should still be able to identify with those roles, but when those who you identified with in those roles die; your vision for those roles diminishes. Today in my world, I am not a mother. It is not part of the life I live now.

Walking past the Mother’s Day card section has to be one of the most painful things I’ve had to endure for nearly 15 years. It was bad enough when my mom died almost 33 years ago; but after my daughter died, my only child; Mother’s Day just doesn’t seem fair.

Now many of you who follow this blog and know that over the years I’ve truly grown in my grief. I try and find the diamond in the rough every day on this journey. But Mother’s Day has become one of the hardest days of the year.

If you know of a grieving mother, one who has lost a child or only child – the pain is unspeakable. Please know the gravity and heaviness that weighs us down is deep and touches a painful sore we try and cover up most days to keep moving one foot in front of the other.

A card or a celebration is a reminder that we were a mom and that makes us smile. But it also reminds us of what we are not any longer. It’s a double-edged sword. That’s grief.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my fellow mourning mothers. My heart is with you all this Sunday.

Until Next Time,

M

Owning Our Story

Many of you who have been following me for a while now may remember that I’m a big Brené Brown fan. Her writing and podcasts are so thought provoking that I often find I have to read her book or listen to her podcast multiple times. Each time I reread or listen, I hear something said a little differently or just wanted to highlight something profound so that I could come back to it later. Regardless, her writing has helped me open the box to owning the next chapter.

A quote from her resonated with me about owning our story. She said “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.” I thought to myself after reading that several times, this concept is the very thing we grievers do unconsciously – we run, we hide and we withdraw from the story of loss and grief. Perhaps in hopes of outrunning it.

Thing is we will never be able to out run, out wit or out do our grief. Our story is our story and we must own it. We must learn from it. We must take the hurt, pain and anguish and mold it into the next phase of our journey. Our life wasn’t meant to live in anguish or grief for the remainder of our lives. But only for a season. Every now and again, grief revisits but we should not let it stay long enough to unpack and move in. Otherwise we will spend our lives running from it. Avoiding it.

I’m just as guilty as many of you may be at avoiding our grief when it comes a knocking at the door of your heart. I had this preconceived notion that if I could just ignore the feeling it would go away, unwanted. But that is not how this work. It will keep knocking at the door, the noise in the background will get louder and louder until you have no other choice but to face it.

Facing it can be scary and it takes extraordinary vulnerability to stand up and answer the door when grief knocks. The work can be very different for all of us. For me it was a mix of self-care; *therapy; grief groups; and most of all journaling. My faith has always been the foundation of the self-care and therapy on this journey of post acute loss. Don’t get me wrong, my faith was tested over and over again during these episodes of loss. But each time I arose stronger knowing there was a purpose in it. Owning our purpose, our story is where true healing begins.

While this blog has been the healing salve for my broken heart; it is the next step I take that will define my journey. That loss is part of my story, but not the whole story. This blog will become the foundation for the publication of my book. It will also be the subject of my podcast that is now in the works.

The journey can be hard, but it can also bring joy if we can just stop running and own our story.

Until next time,

M

*Therapy is available for those who need it. It can be the very step you take to change the course of how you own your story and move from pain to purpose.

Resources

http://www.griefshare.org

http://www.compassionatefriends.org

Choose Gratitude

I don’t know about you but I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about what they learned from 2020. And what they are walking into 2021 with. I know I don’t have to tell you 2020 has kicked us all to the curb. For so many reasons we have all cried, laughed, shook our heads and prayed.

That got me thinking about gratitude and how important it is to practice. Especially those of us who struggle with finding gratitude after we have suffered such great loss. I do know as the years go on, gratitude becomes more obvious to me than it did in the earlier days. In the early days, if you’d asked me to find gratitude, I might have seriously clocked someone. but now, 14 years later after the loss of my daughter and 30+ years after the loss of my mom – those are just the two I’ll mention here – I’m dedicated to growing my gratitude. Here’s why….

Gratitude opens the door for happiness, joy, growth, health… you get where I’m going right? When you sit down and write what you are grateful for, even the simplest of things like food, shelter, job, you begin to see out farther ahead as to what you could be grateful for. The possibilities are endless. You have to just sit down with pen and paper with a focus on the goodness that is in your life.

I recently read “live for today but hold your hands open to tomorrow.” by Barbara Johnson. That struck me as something that we don’t practice more of. We tend to think about the past, or the future, but not today. What we stand in today, is our truth. We stand in our gratitude. We stand in what was and what is. By doing so we can stand with open hands for tomorrow.

Real gratitude starts now with open hands and be ready to say “thank you”.

Until next time,

M