Margin of Space

This past week I heard a message about living though your days are numbered. As I listened to the message I realized that might be harder for some to come to terms with. That is, if you haven’t experienced grief or loss on some level the concept of seeing your days as numbered might be a stretch. In looking back over my life, I don’t recall ever thinking my days were numbered or that God had the exact day of my departure from this world. I don’t think I ever really gave mortality a second thought. That was until Brittany was born.

After having a child you come to understand that life is bigger than you. The decisions you make and the paths you take can directly affect your children’s future. It changes the way you think about life. You begin to wonder what life would be like in the future. You begin to dream of what will become. We plan for our children’s school years, we save for their college, we help plan their weddings and see them have their own children. Then we plan for our retirement. Worry about if there will be enough money to support the golden years. So are you getting the picture. There is a lot of planning going on during this time, and I would guess to say not much living in the moment going on.

When you have experienced loss, especially the loss of a child, all that planning, all that worrying, late nights up wrestling with what if, becomes unimportant. A waste of time. Now I’m not saying one shouldn’t plan for life; but the amount of time is what matters. It’s that margin of space in life that is very small in comparison to the universe. We have such a small amount of time here on earth. Yet we spend it planning, worrying, fretting, filling our calendars with various to-do items. Then one day you wake up and it has all been wiped away by loss; and you are left with an empty calendar, no plans, life lost and no idea what to do with yourself.

I found after my daughter’s passing that life matters more than we give it credit for. We spend so much time planning and scheduling that we forget to live in the moment. That margin of space called now. Don’t get caught up in the draft of a fast-moving lifestyle. Don’t forget to look at those you love and remind yourself that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is just a whisper of a moment in time. Stop and listen to what it has to say. Reduce the noise of your life for just a moment – the message you get may be life changing.

until next time,
m

Advertisements

What You Don’t Know

I woke up this morning compelled to write about something you may not know. If you have lost a loved one, particularly an only child, then you might have an idea of what I am going to say here. If you haven’t, then you might find it helpful if you know of someone who is in the grieving process. Let me quickly define that for you: it’s a lifetime of grieving. You might think that might be a bit extreme. Well life gets extreme some days and there is this little caveat about grief. Life happens and in the midst of life at any given moment we (the grievers) are back at the moment of our loss. This is how it works.

As time passes, the loss becomes part of you and you learn to live with the consequences of it. For the most part you can go about your day-to-day life and have some happy times, some laughter and even some joy. But there are dark times and there are moments when all of a sudden you are back revisiting the empty place in your heart where your loved one once lived. And I mean lived. Not saying that they are not there today, but it’s different.

Conversations take place in life and reminders are sent, unconsciously by others, and it’s as if you can no longer hear anything else that they are saying. All that you hear is deafening sound of grief hitting you like a tsunami and once again you are at your knees asking why. And again, you get no answers, you get back up and you dust yourself off and get back into the conversation. I welcome the times when there are periods of time between these moments. They are exhausting to me. They knock the wind out of me. They make me feel incredibly lonely.

I miss my daughter so very much. It’s a pain that I cannot describe, but I try and perhaps one day when I get it right, I will no longer feel the need to write. I don’t think that day will ever come. So I write for me and I write for all of the grieving mothers and fathers out there who may not have a voice. Who don’t know the that the power of writing can be healing.

Today the band-aid has been ripped off again. When that happens, the pain is just as powerful as the day she died. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often, otherwise I’d not be able to stand it. Tears sting my face as I write this today. October is coming and the freight train of grief is on it’s way. I’m getting my armour on and will be ready. It’s coming and it’s loud and I can feel it in my bones.

Until next time

m

 

To Live and Mourn Simultaneously

“To Live and Mourn Simultaneously” for the title of this post because I truly believe it adequately describes how life goes on after a loss.

“Sudden and tragic loss leads to terrible darkness. It is an inescapable as nightmares during a high fever. The darkness comes, no matter how hard we try to hold it off. However threatening, we must face it, and we must face it alone.” – Jerry Sitser

The darkness is a topic I’ve written about before and it’s primarily because it’s a place I resided for a long time after Brittany’s death. In fact, it’s a place I’ve resided for a very long time. Throughout my life of what I’ve coined as “unfortunate events” I have found myself to become a familiar resident in the darkness.

When I say darkness, I don’t mean black, I mean like murky water – sometimes unable to see my way through to the light. To find any good in what has happened to me. However, darkness is unavoidable and it is  necessary to face one’s grief. There is no avoiding it – you really have to face it. You cannot put it off nor can you dismiss it away to face another day – it will haunt you and it will keep haunting you until you face it squarely and walk through it. This is what I know to be true.

My walk through the darkness has had some good days and some not so good days. In the early weeks and months after my daughter’s death darkness was a scary place. I wanted to run away from it. I wanted it to go away because I didn’t like what I saw or couldn’t see but only felt. The pain was so gut-wrenching that I felt I couldn’t bear it another moment more. But I did. And I still do today. It’s just different.

When it comes to making a choice on how we grieve, and we do have a choice, we have to look at the big picture. How we look at our journey and how we can exist in the darkness and still see the light. The power remains within us to take the walk in the right direction. To face the pain and the sorrow right where you are in that moment can bring you to a place where light begins to crack through and the life you see before you can and will be joyful. Just different.

I have to say that facing grief in the darkness can be exhausting. I continue to fight this exhaustion to this very day. Why? Because the battle isn’t over. My struggle, anyone’s struggle with loss lasts a lifetime. It’s not over in a year, a couple of years or a decade – it’s never over. The loss changes you. It re-molds who you are right down to your very core. Life looks different, it feels different and some days it just doesn’t feel right. But you keep moving forward because it’s the only way to let the light shine through.

While loss doesn’t define who you are it is your response to it that defines who you will  become. I have written about this numerous times and I stand by it – we have a choice. The choice we make during these moments in life, whether it is personal tragedy or horrific loss – will define our future. It will mold you into who you are to become. Because, as I’ve said before, you are never the same after a loss. No matter how hard your friends and family wish that you are that same person, you are not. You can not.

“I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” – Jerry Sitser

That quote from Sitter really spoke to me as I have lived that and breathed that for the past few years since my daughter’s death. As I sit here today remembering my mom, whom I miss dearly. She has been gone so long now (September 16, 1988), the memories are so old and few, but I cherish them more. My grandmother died 5 years later and then I became bitter because the two great women in my life who had the most influence on the woman I had become were gone. Gone during a time in my life of great change, becoming a mother and career changes. Those losses took the wind out of me for a while. I felt deflated. I felt like so much had been taken from me and I couldn’t understand why. It was hard to watch my friends go through their lives – births of children, etc. and have their moms at their sides. Yes I was so bitter.

But yes, I have grown from my loss(s). I have grown into this new person, one that sees life from a different perspective. While I won’t deny that I have moments of anger about my losses, times when I want to chuck something across the room when I see a scene on TV about a  mom and daughter; overall I have accepted these losses, but not without a price. I live everyday with a sense of loss that no one else will ever understand. So I fill my days finding purpose in what I do. It helps to fill the void.

Of late I have found that I have been distracted from my journey – result has been that I have lost my step. I liken it to walking down a path and falling off the curb. What do you do? You get up, dust yourself off and keep moving. Get back on track. That is what I have to do now. Writing is one of those things. Mentoring other grieving parents. Speaking out about grief and the journey. Being a great nurse. Providing the best care I can in the role I am in now. That is my purpose. And I will fulfill it with every fiber of my being. But there is a price.

In 2006, the worst loss of all happened, but the world didn’t stop revolving when I lost Brittany, although many times I have wanted it to. Life kept moving on and I had to move with it or remain stuck in it. It was a choice I made then and I continue to make now. To live and to mourn simultaneously.

until next time,

m

Where do we go from here?

After reading Chapter 14 for the umpteenth time on the power of support, I still haven’t figured out what my future holds. What I mean is what do I do with what I’ve learned these past five years since Brittany died. Or the 20+ years since my grand mother and mother died. The loss of marriage, the loss of my childhood. I have a lot to say and this blog, while has been a great conduit for me to connect with others – it is time for something different.

I started the process of turning this blog into a book, but I have hit a wall and haven’t been able to move forward with it. I thought about support groups, but not sure that  is right for me. Previous experience about support groups have left me feeling more sad and helpless. So where do I go from here?

I do feel a strong desire to connect with other mothers who have lost their children, especially children my daughters age and most importantly single mothers who have lost their only child. Through this blog I have connected with a few moms, but it has been through church and friends where I have connected with moms who have lost their children. It is then when I feel I have some purpose.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned, especially since Brittany died, is that I cannot let her death defeat what God has planned for me. I have to find out where I go from here. I too, like others before me, have become stuck in my grief process. Even now I go through all the stages over and over again. Why – because that is what we grievers do. It’s our reality. It’s what we do with it that can make all the difference.

I do believe that support groups can be invaluable to anyone who hasn’t been able to get over a certain stage or has become stuck in one stage for too long. It certainly is easier when you have someone you can relate to as you go through your journey. There is some unspoken code between those who’ve lost a child – there is a blessing in knowing without speaking a word how one may be feeling. You will never know exactly as everyone’s experience is different. What’s key is having the ability to express your grief freely without feeling guilty for speaking of your loved one. Getting encouragement for your continued progress is by far the best thing a support person can give.

The passage below from 2 Corinthians 1:4 is one of the most powerful scriptures I have found that keeps me motivated to continue to write and connect with the hearts of grieving mothers.

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times,

and before you know it, he brings us

alongside someone else

who is going through hard times

so that we can be there for that person just as

God was there for us.

 until next time,

m

Becoming Real

Chapter 11 – Becoming Real from Grieving Forward – Embracing Life Beyond Loss by Susan Duke

As I reread and pondered over this chapter again for the umpteenth time I am reminded that it this chapter that made me rethink my journey and I came to terms with some things that were hurting my heart. Duke provides a map, if you will, to how becoming real with her grief and where it was taking her. She allowed us, as readers, to see it possible that it’s ok to feel what you feel, to think what you think, and sometimes you have to make big changes in order to move forward.

I found some of the scriptures she outlined in this chapter to be some of the most validating for me of my feelings and the hurt that permeated my heart. In the scripture below from Job, it was if the words were written by me as it was how I felt for so long after Brittany’s death. I know it was also how I felt when my mother died while I was seven months pregnant with Brittany.

“I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way that I take.”
– Job 23:8 NKJV

I too felt so often in the early days of my grief that God was nowhere to be found. No matter how I often I cried out to Him, it didn’t feel as though He was present. But in my heart I knew He was listening. He showed up in ways that I inspired me. It was in those ways that I was also forced to re-evaluate my life and those present in it. The people God chose to put into my life after Brittany’s death was one of the first pictures of who God became for me. But it was also looking at where I was going in my life and the content for which lived each day – I had to get real. I had to examine what truly mattered and what didn’t. And in doing so, what didn’t matter needed to go.

Some people made it easy because what happened to  me scared them away. It still does today. How do I know? The silence speaks for itself. I will say no more about that. I also took a look at what was inside of my heart. How I felt on the inside was not always what you would see on the outside. I kept it quiet. Because I didn’t want to “bother” anyone with my pain. Sometimes it was because I could see from their body language or the look on their faces that they were uncomfortable with the topic. Little did I know that pushing all that pain down and away – delayed my journey. I got stuck.

I slowly began to say what was true. I stopped saying “I am ok” or “I’m fine” and began to say “today’s a rough day” or “it’s so hard today” and after that change the picture began to unfold in front me who in my life who stay and who would go. Duke experienced it. Job experienced. I’m sure anyone of you who read this blog have experienced it. It brings a lot of clarity to your life. One thing I learned is that you can’t please everyone. You cannot explain every day that you have a bad day and everyone will understand. They won’t. Grief belongs to those who are experiencing it. While I may have lost a daughter, I cannot understand another mother’s grief after losing her daughter, but I can know to  be present for them. To not be afraid of connecting with her. It is what we all need. To  be connected and not alone.

“Some who grieve chance internalizing their grief deep within rather than facing the disappointing truth that most of their friends and acquaintances don’t really want to be bothered with their sorrow. In these kinds of relationships, a hush keeps grief tucked away so no one will be uncomfortable. What’s the problem with a relationship like that, you might ask? – It’s not real.” (2006 Duke)

Once I read the paragraph above I came to realize I too had experienced this and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Like Duke I felt people wanted the “ole me” back and I understood that to be impossible. I was forever changed the moment I said “stop CPR” and said goodbye to the only thing that mattered to me. I was never going to be who I was. I was becoming real with what had happened. For me, like Duke, grief has changed every aspect of my relationships and every part of my life.

In closing I would challenge you all to become real and transparent. As you do, you will come to understand what is most important in life. All the fluff will fall away and what remains is at the core of who you are. Treasure that and move forward embracing life and all the while honoring your loved one. That is what I know my daughter would want for me and would expect from me. That is a lesson she taught me and Duke solidified in her book.

until next time,

m
 

 

 

Gethsemane’s Garden

Chapter 10 from Grieving Forward –  Embracing Life Beyond Loss by Susan Duke

One of my most favorite stories in the bible is the story of the Garden of Gethsemane. You might think that it is odd that one would like this story, but it has an uncanny parallel to how I felt and at times still do. My journey over the past five years since Brittany died has been the most tragic, sorrowful, painful but on the other hand, its been joyful, filled with gratitude and thankfulness.

The story of Jesus and his experience with his disciples during the last hours of his life resonated with me as it played on through the words of Matthew. The Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus felt such sorrow and grief. Where he spent time with God reconciling his life and understanding the outcome that was before him. He also found out what loneliness is and how it comes with grief like a dark cloak that covers your body. It would seem as though you become invisible to those around you. That the grief you carry is only seen or felt by  you alone. 

Time after time, in the garden Jesus anguished to his Father and to his disciples. His disciples all but ignored him. Falling asleep even though Jesus had asked them to pray for him. When I wrote about the garden before it was from a different perspective. I saw the disciples and their disconnect from Jesus as a similarity to something I was experiencing early on after Brittany died. I felt as if I was grieving and my heart breaking and I felt so alone. I talked to God constantly and asked repeatedly why – why me – why her – why now. The silence was deafening.

But now as I have matured in my grief and I have come to understand it better and I have learned to give it the respect it demands. Duke speaks of the power of acceptance. Takes a long time to get there in my opinion. But I do believe with a strong faith and a great support network it is possible. My loss has so many different facets to it. The grief started when Brittany was first diagnosed with Epilepsy and Crohn’s Disease. You grieve the loss of having a child that is normal. You come to accept life will  be different. But when you lose a child suddenly with little warning – its unspeakable the damage it leaves behind. I can only compare it to the worst train wreck, or earthquake and the devastation it leaves behind. Nothing makes sense, life seems unreal and you can’t figure out what to do next.

It is and always will be my faith that carries me through this journey. And I say through, because you don’t ever, ever get over this. You just get through it. God gives me just enough to move forward every day and it is possible to see joy and love life again. It’s just missing a small piece – just enough to make it a little uncomfortable. That is where I am today. Feels uncomfortable and at some level broken; but through those tiny cracks is the ray of hope, faith and grace that God bestows on me each and every day. For that I am grateful.

Until next time

m

I’ll Never Be The Same

Continuing my blogging series through Susan Duke’s “Grieving Forward – Embracing Life After Loss”

Chapter Two – I’ll Never Be The Same

Well I would imagine that title speaks volumes to those of us who have lost a child or loved one. You would think that it would be a common thought but I can tell you that many people think you can be your “old” self after such a tragedy and it was mind blowing to me to think that anyone would think it possible.

After reading this chapter over and over these past years I can say without a shadow of a doubt I am a changed person. The moment I walked out of that hospital I became someone else. Everything I looked at took on a different meaning. Food didn’t taste the same. Joy had left my heart. I truly didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to be left alone. Hoping to quietly disappear into a cloud of dust and forgotten. The pain was that raw and that profound.

Getting up each day was difficult. Really I would think to myself “why – what’s the point”. In looking back it was a dreadful time and not sure, other than by the grace of God, did I survive it. In the book, the author talks about not knowing what to say or how to pray. I know I had that feeling too. Because the very prayer I made at the bedside was one I wish I could have taken back. I wrestled over that prayer for many months because I had such guilt over my words. I questioned my choice of words. “God, if you cannot bring her back healthy, then take her so she will not suffer any longer.” – that was my prayer and God granted it.

The selfish mother in me wanted to take that back so many times. But in all honesty I would have rather her go to Heaven then suffer here on earth. But even with that realization, I still wondered why I didn’t pray for a miracle. Oh the blame I have placed on myself for that. But I also know things happen for a reason. Many of which we do not have the answers for. That will always be one I’ll have a conversation with God about when my time comes. It has taken many years to get over that guilt.

One of the prayers that the author spoke of is from the 23rd Psalm. I remembered using it myself and reciting it over when nothing else came to me. There is a comfort in reciting a prayer or a thought – “mantra” if you will for those of you who think along those lines. I think it can bring a little clarity to your thoughts. For me my thoughts were running wildly and weren’t making much sense. Reading the bible, certain passages I found that gave me strength and got me through some tough times.

Some of the toughest times were those when I would begin to think about the future and what it would hold for me. I was no stranger to change in my life. But this was more than just change for me, it was living a life I wasn’t familiar with. For the first time in many  years I had no one. No one to care for, no one to get up in the morning to get ready for school. No one to cook for. No one to love. It was a profoundly difficult time. Grief does that. It changes you.

The author speaks about “The Valley of Change” and going through the stages of grief. She uses some various quotes along the way from different authors. I highlighted those in my book because I found them to be helpful in understanding why I felt the way I did and it also became a source of validation that I wasn’t imagining my feelings or thoughts. They were very real and they were very relevant. This is an important step in the grieving process.

The author agrees, like I do, that you have to go through this journey with a clear head. Medication or medicating your pain will only delay the inevitable. You have to come to terms with your grief. Or it will haunt you for the rest of your days. I’m not saying medication isn’t part of the journey, but it has to be in conjunction with therapy and it must be monitored. My medication was my writing. It was cathartic and continues to be so today – almost five years later.

The Valley of Disbelief….

I think it took me a couple of weeks to finally get Brittany wasn’t coming home. She died on Friday, the day she was to go to her dad’s for the week. Then the following Friday – she didn’t come home. I cried that whole weekend. Reality began to set in. Like the author, I too experienced situations, or things that would set me off. I couldn’t even sleep in my own room, because I would always pass by Brit’s room and say good night then enter my own bedroom. It took three months before I could walk past her room at night and go into mine to sleep. Progress.

Something the author mentioned I feel needs repeating. It’s one of the most important things anyone can do for someone who is in the early phases of grief. Be present. Be there. Be of comfort.

The loving support of friends and family is essential in the first days of grief. There is simply no substitute for the human touch of sympathy (Duke, 2006).”

The Valley of Unknowns….

It goes without saying that the sense of the unknown continues to prevail for a long time after the passing of a child. You live in unchartered waters. Especially if it is an only child that has passed. Life as you know it will never be the same. Not only has the present changed, but your future has changed as well. All the plans dreamed, prepared for have now been swiped clean from your future and now you are left to rewrite it. This is the hard part of grief. Rewriting your story.

The one thing that I know has helped me through some tough spots is knowing there have been others who have gone before me and survived such a loss. The author speaks of a friend who came to be with her who had lost her son just three years prior. There is something of like a kinship to be with people who have experienced loss. Words don’t even have to be spoken. I think the hearts speak to one another. It’s hard to explain it.

The Valley of Anger….

I spent a long time in this space. I don’t visit it much anymore. In fact, I try to stay away from it all these days. But in the early days, weeks and months I was very angry. I was angry with God, myself, Brit’s doctors. I wanted answers and they did not come. It’s important to release  your anger but in a controlled way. Otherwise it can set you back and block you from moving on in your journey. Acknowledging your anger is key. Understanding that it will come and go is important. That it is ok to be angry – ask Job. Read his story – you’ll understand what I mean.

The Valley of Reality…..

“The kind of pain that comes from the sudden death of a child is beyond description. Experts agree that on a scale of one to ten, the death of a child ranks a ten. When the death is unexpected or sudden, the devastation breaks the scale (Duke, 2006).”

The moment I read that quote from her book, I felt a sigh of relief because what I was feeling was exactly that. My pain was off the charts. I was left with an emptiness that no great memory could cure. Every time I looked at her picture my heart-broken again and again. To this day, I avoid looking for very long at her pictures. I haven’t seen her video in over a year and I’m not sure I can. It’s just too painful to go back for anything length of time. It’s hard to breathe some days because I miss her so, but God has continued to bless me with good friends and a great family. That has made all the difference.

until next time,

m