06 Dec 2016
When my fiancé died, I thought I knew grief. His death was devastating and agonizing. Every part of me yearned for him and every part of my being throbbed with the painful knowledge that he would never again hold me or make me laugh or smile at me from across the room.
He was my best friend, my love, my one to grow old with and then he was gone.
I grieved and I grieved hard. But I didn’t yet know what it was to be utterly broken.
That came the day our beautiful daughter died. She was my hope, my light, my gift – the part of him that still lived and grew within me.
His death left me bruised and battered and scarred. Her death, mere months after his, broke me to pieces.
Much of my memory of those days, weeks, and months after her death are hazy. It all sort of blurs together in a fog of grief and pain and numb shock. I know that I lived, that I functioned and worked and studied and interacted with life, but the specifics escape me.
I do remember the morning after her death. I woke up and every cell and atom in my body and being ached. Tears were streaming down my face and, for a moment, I didn’t understand why.
My body remembered before my mind caught up again. They were gone. Both of them – my loves, my heart, my family.
I remember watching my chest rise and fall and thinking, “How am I still breathing?”
I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I felt confused, “How could my heart still beat without them?”
How could I be so broken, yet my heart still beat?
For years, I woke up and listened to my heart beat, puzzled by its ability to continue to beat while broken and battered and bruised. I simply couldn’t fathom how it could still function when I felt so broken and numb.
But beat it did and continues to do.
Our hearts can beat while broken, our lungs continue to breathe even when it feels like all the air in our world has been sucked out, and we wake up to face another day because that is the human spirit.
We are resilient beings.
I believe we are resilient because we love. Not the hearts and flowers, commercialized Valentine’s like of love – real, enduring love that weaves through life itself and can never be destroyed or broken. This love is what enables us to have human love – to experience and express love as significant others, as parents, as children, as siblings, and as friends.
When we love fully and fiercely, even when the ones we love the most die, that love never ceases. It is what enables our broken, battered hearts to continue to beat in the midst the devastating grief and unbearable loss.
We are resilient beings.
No matter what life circumstances befall us, we always rise again. The human spirit is about hope. Not the false, get-everything-you-want, never-feel-pain kind of hope, but real true hope that brings light into the darkness when we are lost. The hope that love cannot be destroyed and we will rise again.
Life can send us into pits of darkness and choke us with overwhelming grief and pain. It can level the world as we know it, leaving us broken and barren and desolated. But as long as our hearts continue to beat and our lungs still breathe and we wake up to face another day, there is hope.
Hope of finding beauty in the broken pieces.
Hope of remembering that we are loved.
Hope of knowing that we have endless love to give and share.
Hope of light igniting in the darkness.
Hope of crawling out of the pit of grief to watch the sun rise again.
When we love and lose, when those we love the most die and leave us behind to live without them, life is never the same. We are never the same. Perhaps we are broken. Bruised. Battered. Worn down. Desolated.
Grief and loss isn’t pretty. Healing truly is a fight for life.
But there is always hope to be found in the beating of our hearts.
As long as our hearts still beat, our lungs breathe, and we wake to face the day, we can pick up the broken pieces and create a life that is different, yet still beautiful.
We may still have times where we fall into the pits of darkness and grief, but we always rise. We always find the light and the love again.
Because we are human and we are powerfully resilient – even when we are broken.
I woke up this morning feeling lost and broken in the darkness of grief. Then I listened to my heart beat and I watched my chest rise and fall with every breath and I remembered.
There is always love.
There is always hope.
I am human.
I am resilient.
I am broken yet still beating.
29 Nov 2016
My friends, I am tired.
I’ve been wrestling lately with my writing. I struggle with sharing the brutal honesty of what it’s like to live with this grief after the loss of a partner and children.
Generally speaking, people don’t like the brutal honesty of it. They much prefer a sugar-coated journey from grief to sparkly joy again.
It’s not that there isn’t joy and gratitude and beauty in my life. There is buckets of it. Mountains of it.
Yet grief still remains. There is a tinge of sadness to even the most joyful moments of my life – because they are not here with me.
And I am tired.
Tired of pretending that it doesn’t hurt every single day. Tired of pretending I don’t still miss them, ache for them, and long for them every single day. Tired of pretending that getting up in the morning doesn’t take pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and gather the strength to face another day longing for them.
Some days are easier than others. Some days, I can live in the joys of all that my life currently is – the work I do, the people I love, the accomplishments I’ve made, the person I’ve become. There is richness and beauty and gratitude.
But even on those days I ache for them. I miss them unbearably.
Other days, carrying the weight of my longing for them and missing of them wears me down. Some days, it breaks me. The holiday season, in particular, and Mother’s Day require extra time in the morning to gather the courage to face the day.
People don’t like when I talk about this.
These people tell me to remember that our loved ones never really leave, their spirit stays with us.
This may be true, but I don’t want to just feel their spirit. I want to hold them. I want to touch them. I want to hear them laugh and cry and play. I want to wake up next to my partner and feel his warmth. I want to hold my children in my arms and wipe their tears and hear their laughter.
Yes, I feel their spirit all around me. And I physically ache for the absence of them in my arms.
My spirit is tired. Tired of missing them and aching for them. Tired of being without them here in this lifetime in physical form.
They tell me that – one day – the pain of the holidays or Mother’s Day or whatever else will eventually pass and I’ll be able to focus on the joy of what I have.
Pretty much everyone who tells me this has someone still – a partner or other children left to hold. Their experience is different than mine.
Hear me, different, not less. I have no doubt that their pain and grief is great – and in some ways it’s probably even more difficult to grieve when you have to be present with family still here needing you.
But their experience is not my experience. I hope that one day my experience of the holidays and Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day and other ordinary days is different than it is now. I hope that I can experience these days without crippling grief and sorrow again – to feel the joy and lightness of them.
But for now I wake up on those days alone. I wake up to an empty bed and an empty house with no one to tend to but myself. I have no one here to hold. Those days set aside for celebration and cheer are raw and painful reminders of the partner and children I don’t get to hold, that I will never get to hold again in this lifetime.
My friends, I am tired.
Tired of aching.
Tired of longing.
Tired of grieving.
This thing called grief and loss is hard. This thing called life after loss is hard.
Life is beautiful and messy and complex and full of layers of gray. I love it. I love it deeply and wholeheartedly and completely.
I take that deep breath every day and gather my strength to get up and embrace life as it is because I love life. Because I am strong and devoted and courageous in this life after loss. Because I am committed, fiercely committed, to finding beauty in the ruins, light in the darkness, joy in the sorrow.
But my friends, I am also tired.
Because I miss them.
I ache for them.
I long for them.
Today and every day.
This book is for you. It is written by fathers of loss for fathers of loss. It has been my honor to collect these letters from fathers from around the world. These fathers came together to contribute to this book and offer their words, their support, and their understanding to other fathers like you – fathers grieving and missing their precious children.
It has been apparent to me the lack of resources and support specifically for fathers of loss. Too often it seems that all the focus, attention, and care is directed toward mothers of loss and that fathers can be forgotten and disregarded.
You are not forgotten. A father’s love is an irreplaceable gift and your children have been blessed with this gift. You deserve all the support, care, and love in the world as you learn to live with this loss.
My hope is that this book can offer some of that support and care and love – even if only in a small way. I hope that it can help bring fathers together to lean on each other and to support each other in a way that feels nurturing and beneficial and comforting.
Most of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. If you feel forgotten, if you feel lost, if you feel alone – I hope that this book will bring you a sense of acknowledgement, recognition, and not-alone-ness.
You are an amazing father. Your children are so very lucky to have you as their dad.
*Bulk orders of 5 or more copies can be purchased for 40% off by emailing Emily at email@example.com
02 Nov 2016
*heads up to my invisible mamas: there is talk of a living child in this video.
You can find more info on Amelia’s story and work on the links to FB pages above and more info on the upcoming workshops here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/on-coming-alive-bereaved-paren…
For Emily’s books, you can find them here:
You Are Not Alone: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0996555625/
Invisible Mothers: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0996555609/
31 Oct 2016
Someone I work with commented recently that she thought I was brave for choosing to work at the agency where we work together.
I don’t know about brave, but there is truth in the fact that the environment where we work is pretty much always painful for me to be in. See, I’m a mama without any living children. While my primary work is in supporting other grieving mamas and families, I also work at an agency that supports pregnant and parenting mamas finding their way through substance use and mental health challenges.
So, I spend many of my days surrounded by pregnant mothers or mothers and their living children. It’s not an ideal environment for a mother of dead babies.
It’s an environment full of constant reminders of the children I will never get to birth alive, never hear them cry or laugh, never watch them grow, and never know who they would have been. There are times when the sorrow of being in that environment feels unbearably heavy and raw.
This woman that I work with has asked me more than once why I have chosen to work in this place filled with painful reminders.
I haven’t really had a concrete answer for her. It would, probably, be easier to avoid being in environments like this – to avoid being around mothers and living children, to avoid painful reminders, and create a world in which I might be shielded from the constant exposure to a life I will never have with my children.
She thinks it’s brave that I choose not to avoid those things.
Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. One could probably just as easily say I’m a stubborn idiot to keep exposing myself to that pain. 🙂
Regardless, her question about why I choose to do the work I do has stuck with me. And I think I finally figured out my answer – an answer to why I do all the work I do with both grieving mothers and mothers with living children.
See, when my fiancé and my oldest daughter died, I did the avoidance thing. I ran from that grief and that pain so hard I nearly killed myself rather than face it. I lived for a lot of years trying so hard to avoid the pain of the losses I’d experienced that I existed in dark abyss of grief and depression.
Then when my second daughter died, I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to leave and be with the family that was already gone or I could choose to live.
I chose to live.
I chose to live and since, by nature, I am not someone who does things halfway, choosing to live meant choosing to embrace all of life – the pain, the grief, the joys, the sorrows. All of it.
Of course, I had no idea what the hell that meant. Or how to do it.
I fucked up a lot in those early years. I got lost in the darkness. I ran away from the pain. I struggled to find any light or joy or reason worth staying. A lot of days I gave up. Most days, the only thing that kept me trying was the promise I’d made to myself and my family to live. For them, I stubbornly kept fighting.
I remember the first time I felt joy after their deaths, real true joy.
It was my 30th birthday party – a silly, outrageous night of laughter and fun thrown for me by friends. It was that night that I realized those friends had become family.
That moment was the first moment I realized that I could hold both incredible joy and terrible sorrow at the same time. I would never have the family that I lost and they would always be missing from me, that was sorrow. However, I had created a family for myself full of love and support and celebration, that was joy.
Learning to hold both simultaneously is why I do the work that I do – the work with grieving mothers and the work with mothers of living children. Because I have discovered that life isn’t about joy or sorrow. Life has to be about both. Life is about embracing both.
I used to think that healing meant getting over the pain, having the grief end someday, or having that terrible ache of longing disappear.
It doesn’t. I will never stop longing for them.
Healing, and life, isn’t about getting rid of the pain. It’s about opening up enough to hold both life’s joys and life’s sorrows at the same time. Choosing to live and to embrace all of life means that I can go to work in a place where I am constantly reminded of the magnitude of what I have lost AND allow myself be there and feel the joy of holding a tiny, squishy newborn baby or watching a mother and child learn to navigate life together.
Because just as life is about holding both the joy and the sorrows together, so is motherhood. Mothering, of children living or dead, is about learning to embrace both the light and the dark, the challenges and the sweetness, the joys and the sorrows of loving your child.
I am a mother. I can’t mother my children here on earth, but I can be a mother of life.
That is the heart of the work all the work I do.
For my daughters. For me. For all the mothers living with the joys and the sorrows.
For life. For motherhood.