October Skies

Cloudy or Sunny

So often I dread October because it’s the month my daughter passed away. I dread what I once loved – the season change bringing in a beautiful landscape of color across the land. Picking out a Halloween costume to wear while handing out candy to trick or treaters. Transitioning into the holidays with Brittany’s birthday and newly fallen snow.

In the early years after my daughter’s death, I saw things very differently. I began to dread October. It became the start of the dark season in my life and I found myself longing for a type of “hibernation” much like a bear does to avoid the long cold winter. I know some of you might resonate with that last statement. I didn’t spend too long there and while October still brings sad memories for me, but I now live in a warm climate and many of the triggers are no longer present. What I see now are palm trees and beaches. Moving to Florida has been good for me. My writing has been more inspired by the beauty of the gulf. The serenity that the waves bring. I find a sense of peace at the beach more than any other place. That has been good for my healing.

Let me explain. I have found that removing myself from some of the memories has been the best decision thus far. Not to say that it would work for others, but for me, understanding how I grieve and how I survive – it works. I have created a special place to honor my girl. It’s all about her and it is fluid like the clear running water of a spring stream. It’s there when I need it to be and while I don’t look at it daily, I know it is there, ever present when I need it to be. It moves with me when I move and stays just outside of my vision. Only when I feel the need to look over, do I see it and feel she is there. This doesn’t work for everyone. Some need that final resting place to go to. Some I know visit the graves of their lost children daily. Her father and I chose to cremate our daughter understanding how much we move about that keeping her with us was the right choice – for us.

During the first couple of years I spend a great deal of time creating a memory scrapbook with pictures of her. I also have created a memory book of the most precious of pictures over her life. I also created a book of poems and art work she created. My family heirloom hope chest protects some of the most treasured items I have left of Britt’s. That is always available when I need to grieve.

When I feel it swell up in my throat to the point that I cannot swallow. I know it’s coming. The symptoms are subtle but they creep up and at some point, I have to acknowledge it. Grief has seasoned me that way. I have learned to respect it. Not saying there is anything about it that is ok. It’s not. But I have learned to move with it, lean into it and at times, all out immerse myself in it.

Grief is and always will be part of my life. It has been the great teacher and mentor of how I live my life now. I live life differently now and it’s because I understand how fragile it is. How often we take it for granted. I respect grief. I allow it to enter my soul and have its way. Then I say enough and I take back my heart and dust off my pain and go to the water where I know my soul speaks. I accept what has happened. Not without questions. I still ask them today. But I, like my daughter, live life to the fullest because that is life. Much like spring. I’ll write about that next time.

Until next time

M

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Triggers and Regrets

I was watching a commercial about Wicked the play and it just about brought tears to my eyes. My daughter Brittany loved the soundtrack to Wicked. She and her best friend Caro could be seen on many occasions with microphone in hand singing at the top of their lungs. I have some rough cut video of them singing over the soundtrack with what I believe would have been about six months before she died.

I finally brought myself to see the play in a few years ago. I had always wanted to take her to see the play, but never got that chance. One of the things I regret most that we did not get a chance to do. You see back then I wasn’t a fan of that play. I thought it was not good for her to be so caught up in it. I was so wrong. I feel today I robbed her from that and for that I am profoundly sorry.

Once I saw the play I knew right away the gravity of my mistake. She would have loved it. She knew every word to every song. What the hell was I thinking. Not sure, but lesson learned, stop holding back. Live fully. Choose life – every damn time. Life is too short to do otherwise.

I think of how I’ve wasted so much time questioning decisions whether to go or not go. To do or not to do. To experience or not to experience. All I know is I’m at a point in my life that I need to take it all in – all of it. Stop worrying whether I should or shouldn’t. Death of a child changes you. For a while I did not care about anything. I just wanted to get through each day and sleep. Hoping to wake up and it would all be over.

Today, I am mindful that with each passing year life is returning. Not always how I’d envisioned, but I can say I’m happy. I miss my kid so much I can’t breathe some days. But I have love in my life and that is something special and I treasure it.

Don’t let loss define who you are. Our kids would have never wanted that for us. I know my Brittany would be kicking my butt constantly and honestly I know that she is every day. Especially on the days when I just want to throw in the towel and say to hell with it all. I thank God everyday that she was a part of my life and made me into the woman I am today.

Go live life! Make our kids proud.

Until next time,

M

Memories are a Gift

One of the things I think we all fear when a child dies, or for that matter any one that is close to us, is the loss of the memories of them. As time passes year after year it feels as if there is this unspoken distance where I feel that it takes more effort to go back to a place in time and think of some of the great memories I have of her and our life together. Especially the last two years of her life. This has been my greatest fear of all.

As on that fateful day October 13th, 2006, the day she disappeared from my life, I feel that the memories are now fading away just as she did in a physical sense. While I do have videos, photos, a few items I’ve put together of hers that meant the most to her; it is know that she lives on in the memories of those who loved her most. Her friends have stayed connected with me over the years and I’ve been so grateful for that.

At Brittany’s funeral I spoke of them, yes I was actually able to speak which was a miracle in itself. They befriended my daughter, loved my daughter and became a very important part of her life, while many distanced themselves, bullied her, excluded her, all because she was a little different. But not her closest friends. And of course, the love of her life. I have such great memories of how they would hang out at our house on Eastlawn and we would have so much fun. As a mom, I cherished those times because I knew they meant the most to my girl.

At her funeral they got up and spoke about her and what being friends with her meant to them. I had no plans to speak at her funeral but after hearing their stories and seeing the dog tags they made in her honor, I felt compelled to speak. As many of her classmates stood in the back, as there was standing room only that day, I shared my gratitude to her friends for taking the time and investing in my daughter. They were given the greatest gift back and that was her devoted love of friendship, a terrific sense of humor and many hours of laughing. I felt so strongly that many did not know this side of Brittany. On that day I think a few realized just what they missed out on.

The memories I have of my daughter are firmly fixed upon my heart and soul and while the business of life distract me from sitting and just remembering her, I don’t ever think they will ever disappear. Today, the sweetest gift came to me in a text from one of her closest friends. She shared a memory that means a lot to her and little did she know that it would mean more to me. It gave me the greatest gift, better than anything material. And it’s this simple, but profound message…..

Brittany is still alive in her heart and she still feels connected to her through those memories. I wept when I read it, and I laughed when I read it. But most of all it touched my heart in a way I am sure she cannot imagine. For that I am and will be forever grateful.

It’s so very important to those of us who have lost our children, that we know they have not just disappeared from this earth, but that their memory, the impact they had on others, that the love shared has not disappeared, but perhaps even moved them into a space now that has made a difference to them. The lessons we learn from those departed can be the best lessons of all.

So if you live in GR, go sit on her bench and spend a few minutes remembering her and laughing out loud because you know she is…..

until next time
m

The Box

I have felt the urge to open the box. You know, that box I put neatly together nearly six years ago that would forever hold safely the memories of my daughter. I typically reserve this ritual for her angel date 10-13; however when the spirit moves you – you move. I got myself a cup of coffee, not sure why, as I have found it difficult to go through this exercise without large volumes of tears, tissues and drinking anything seems nauseating. As I sat down to open the chest that contains the remains of my daughter’s life I felt that this time something would be different. And I was right.

I first took out the photos I have of her and family, with her friends and the few picture of us together. They still make me smile. There have been some incredibly beautiful photos of her taken over the years. In two instances by my dear friend Cyndi at Inspirations Photography in Grand Rapids Michigan. Those I cherish so much because Cyndi was able to capture the beauty of my daughter in ways we had not seen. We knew of the beauty in her heart, as did some of her closest friends – but to capture it on film – priceless to a grieving mother.

As I moved through the chest I remove things and look at them like prize possessions. Then I arrive at the “box”. This box contains some of my most private memories of Brittany. They contain stories, emotional significance and most of all my connection with her.

As I remove the lid and see the first picture of her – the one we put up at her celebration of life – I am left with a feeling of wonder because she was truly a beautiful spirit and taken way too soon – in my opinion. As I lifted up the photos to uncover the next memory – her blanket. The one that used to cover her bed and at the hospital covered her body while she fought for her life. I grabbed it and buried my face in it hoping to smell her – but it was no longer there. That scent I had become used to when I opened the box in previous years – I cried tears of sadness into that blanket and then moved to the next item. Her stuffed bear that she received from her boyfriend Andy while she was at Cleveland Clinic weeks before her death. I hugged that bear and cried some more.

Then I saw a couple of the t-shirts I had saved because she loved them and wore them often. I brought them to mu face and again, her scent has faded and they no longer smelled like her. Things have changed. Something is different this time. I was hesitant to move forward in fear of finding that the last remaining connection I had with her would be gone.

Next I moved to her glasses. I have written about this glasses before. They had a powerful connection in the early years. You see Brittany had her glasses on while working at her desk. Sensing something was up, she removed them and placed them safely on the desk, and then she must have begun her seizure. So the last thing she saw was through those glasses. The first time I picked them up – there was such energy with them. Now, it is gone and they are just simply a pair of glasses. This made me so sad and I cried a river. There was too much change going on here and I almost closed the box again as I couldn’t take it anymore. But I pulled myself together as something else caught my eye.

After Brittany passed, the Child Life team came and took pictures of her and they took a casting of her hands. Her father and I have one of her hand prints that is cast in this plaster casting. I painted it a long time ago in a color that would represent a life-like skin color and put it away. I reached for it and set it out. I looked at it, like I’d never looked at it before. Then I placed my left hand on top of her print and there it was – the connection – knowing it was an extension of her. Each finger was just like hers at the time of her death. I sobbed.

After reading a few cards, the newspaper stories about her passing I realized that again – she was such a gift from God. That for a short time she was the best thing that ever happened to me. She made my life complete. And now that she is gone – it no longer feels complete. It’s empty in a way that I cannot begin to explain. I know that only mothers who have lost their children understand it. There is no filling it back up. That is not possible. The one thing I do understand is that love has been taken from me so many times; my heart has been broken by loss more than once. While I am able to keep moving forward and building my new normal; there is a price.

Love doesn’t come easy for me any more. I don’t trust it. Each time it as visited me it has left me broken in pieces and my faith in love is once more reduced to the thought that it is not what I am supposed to be doing with my life. It would seem that the normal life would contain love, joy and happiness. I’m not saying it’s not going to be mixed with time of sorrow. But for me – maybe I was never intended to have a normal life. I haven’t had it so far and maybe I need to quit trying to find it. Because it’s not there. It’s not what I am to be.

Today, I am in a succesful job which I love. I have done great things with my career. I have continued this blog in hopes of helping other grieving moms – but love – I find that to feel odd, not normal and just plain painful. Love to me equates to loss. It has been repeated over and over in my history. It is what has made me a strong person. Why I am so successful in my business life. But my personal life…. I’m in a place I don’t know how to move forward. That means I’m stuck somewhere. I will need to continue to process that.

until next time

m

The Memories of You

The Memories of You

The memories of you
have become harder to view.
If it were not for the pictures
that rest upon my desk.

The memories of you
haunt me day and night;
some I love to see and
some I wish were out of my sight.

The memories of you
in your pjs watching TV on
a brisk Saturday morning
all snuggled up in your chair;
are the memories I cherish most.

The memories of you
laughing and dancing as if
life was free and easy; all the
while it was not.

The memories of you
begin to fade in and out;
thankful for the pictures and
videos to remind me of a girl
who once lived in my life.

The memories of you
are harder to bare; as
times goes on and life
continues without you;
I am lost in a place I have
no way to get out.

The memories of you
are all that I have to
remind me that you were the
best of me and the best of
what I have to give.

The memories of you
will be forever etched on
my heart and soul.

love 

mom


Memories

Continuing my blog series through the book “Grieving Forward – Embracing Life Beyond Loss” by Susan Duke.

Chapter 8 – Memories

Initially when I first read this chapter I wasn’t sure just how to break it down into a process I could agree with. For me in the early weeks and months after my daughter’s death – it was the memories that made me cry, wail and just plain fall to the floor in agony – my heart filled with such gut-wrenching grief.

It has been a process over the past four years to come to a place where memories are a source of comfort most of the time. I can now watch video of Brittany and not look away and sob uncontrollably. Interestingly enough in the early days I could watch the videos feeling somewhat numb – tears didn’t fall – laughter didn’t happen – it was just a numbness that washed over me. Then the tears fell and the pain so profound, I had to stop looking at her memory book, stop looking at her videos. I found that when my eyes found her picture that sits in my living room, I’d briefly stop and then my eyes would divert – just too painful to go there.

I have come to now appreciate the many videos and pictures I have collected over the years. I believe God gives us these memories to bath our wounded hearts but you have to be ready and open to receive the grace that God gives you to be able to see that. And that doesn’t come easily nor does it come quickly. It’s a process that takes it’s own unique time to happen. Our part is to  be open and receive it.

In the book I highlighted a few sentences that became the words I held onto when I didn’t want to remember because it was too painful. “Memories are a vital part of our healing” (2006 Duke). But as Duke eludes to memories you cannot hug. I remember reading that for the first time and I think I may have cried for hours. Where I was at that moment was angry that I could no longer experience hugging my daughter. It was devastating to me. Some of my most difficult times have been surrounded by a memory that floods into my mind. I’ve learned how to manage those times over the years, but there are times when it still is difficult to linger for very long.

I would never trade any of my memories or times that I shared with Brittany. They are now a place I can go and have a proud feeling in my heart that I had such a great gift given to me by God to  be a mother, Brittany’s mother for nearly 18 years. I was truly blessed. That is how I have to see it going forward in order to keep from losing it every time I speak of her or think of her. I want those memories to bring me some joy not sorrow. I’m so very weary of the sorrow.

I will close with a scripture passage Susan Duke ends her chapter with as it is so very appropriate.

“Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things….Think about all  you can praise God for and be glad about.” – Philippians 4:8 TLB

So for me I remember my lovely Brittany and dwell on the good things and I praise God that I was able to experience that time and happy to have had her in my life even for such a short time. She made me a better person. She had a huge impact on the people she loved and her love lives on in them today.

until next time,

m

Coping with special occasions

Chapter 7 from Grieving Forward – Embracing Life Beyond Loss by Susan Duke

I’m actually passing some of the material in this chapter as I’ve visited the topic of gifts many times before. Decided I’d review something I believe is so very important for a grieving parent. A topic Duke talks about mid way through this chapter – dealing with special occasions. I think it continues to be a very source of anxiety for me even after nearly five years since Brittany’s death. The longing for things to be as they were and knowing they cannot be is often so painful that there have been times I just wanted to sleep through them.

I’m about to enter what I call the dark days again…..they just keep returning each each around September and stay until New Years. It’s a time of great memories and great heartache. Some days the memories are so profound and magical that I find myself so thankful I can recall them. Then there are days when the memories are so hard to handle. Duke relates so well to this issue that she states “Even years after our loss, despite how much healing has occurred in our lives, certain events often make us wish we could cancel these dates from the rest of our lives.” I too feel that way – still today.

There are things we can do to help ourselves and others during these times and I would encourage you all to be mindful that the holidays are the worst time for those who have lost loved ones. It can be a lonely time. And it can remain that way for a very long time.

While attending Grace Community Church in Indianapolis, I enjoyed the Remembrance Service the church put on each fall to help remember those loved ones that had gone on to Heaven before us. It was a bonding experience with those, like me, who had to deal with the on-going pain of the upcoming holiday season. I will  miss that this year. Now I find myself having to find another way to release that memory, that pain for it overshadows everything I do during the holidays.

Making new memories has been hard for me, moving back to Indy helped me reconnect with family that I had lost touch with over the many years of being away. Now I find myself in a new city, facing this holiday with an uncertain plan. I must however have a plan. It’s so important for me to ensure my ability to make new memories, while respecting my past life with Brittany. It’s a delicate balance and one that I can’t afford to be without.

It is so important to bring a season of celebration and love from the one who has been lost because it marks the blessing that enriched your life for a different season in your life. Creating a sense of celebration and new traditions allows you to incorporate the blessings of the old life with the blessings of the new life.

Some of the traditions I have today are from the great woman who raised me. I choose to light a candle for Brittany on her birthday. I eat macaroni and cheese because it was her favorite food. I wear the dog tags that were made by her friends for her Celebration of Life for the month of October and her “Brittany” bracelet for the month of November, her birth month. For Christmas I hang a special ornament or two just in memory of Brittany.

It’s all bittersweet sometimes and I have to allow the tears to fall. But I would never, ever trade one day of those memories of my life with her. It’s the days without her that are at some times unbearable, but it’s those moments with her wonderful smile or her funny wit that I am reminded of a beautiful spirit that surrounds me everyday and that spirit is my daughter.

until next time

m