luke-ellis-craven-222982This past year has been tough. Amazing in a lot of ways, but also challenging.

A little over a year ago, I uprooted my life, left my beautiful and supportive community of friends and moved across the country. It was absolutely the right decision for me and much of it has been wonderful, but it’s also been hard.

It has been lonely. Exhausting. Full of grief. I have felt unsettled and ungrounded. I still feel a bit lost and uncertain about where my life is going.

I know that all of this is simply part of the process of change and creating a life in a new place. I know that as time continues and I keep showing up, I’ll create another community, make new friends, sort out my personal and professional life and things will feel better. I have no doubts that this time of feeling lost and lonely will be worth it as life continues to unfold.

But sometimes the process really sucks.

The hardest part has been being without my support system. I mean, I still have them via the phone or Skype – but it’s not quite the same as sitting down with them in person, being in their presence, and talking. Plus, I really really miss the hugs!

Some days, when things are particularly hard, I doubt my decision to move and wonder what the ever-loving hell I was thinking.

But there is one person that I have met here that helps me stay centered. She helps me ride these waves of loneliness and uncertainty and doubt until I can remember to trust the process and stay on track.

I don’t really know her all that well personally. She’s my supervisor at work.

She knows more of my story, because, well, I’m the mother of two dead children who works at a facility full of pregnant and parenting young mothers. That causes quite a bit of my personal shit to come up.

I keep trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about her or what she does that feel so supportive and helpful.

The best I can come up with is that she sits with me.

She doesn’t try to fix it. She doesn’t pretend to have magic answers. She doesn’t try to change what I’m feeling. She doesn’t really do anything in particular.

She simply listens and sits with me.

That allows me to sit with myself and whatever I happen to be feeling in that moment. It helps me to take a deep breath and remember to trust the process.

And in those moments when she sits with me, the weight of all the grief and change and uncertainty doesn’t feel quite so heavy. I don’t feel as alone or lost. I feel heard and seen and supported. She lets me be me and be wherever I am.

Sometimes, what we need isn’t a quick fix. We don’t necessarily need anything fancy or elaborate.

Sometimes we just need someone who will sit with us.

She sits with me.

It makes a world of difference.

natalie-fox-120572The thing I dislike most about grief?

I can be having the best day, and then out of the blue, something will strike me in just the right way and I’m a sobbing mess. A random thought that drifts across my mind and everything stops.

She should be 14.

It blows my mind that in a few weeks, my tiny sweet baby Grace should be turning 14. The unpredictable teenage years. Mood swings and independence and glimpses of both the little girl she was and the woman she’s becoming.

That’s what’s supposed to be happening in my world right now.

But she will never be 14 and I will never know who she might have been.

These last few years, when she would have been 12 and 13 and 14, have hit me the hardest. I like babies and kids – and I also like to hand them back to their parents. Teenagers? I’ll take all of those home with me. I would have worked my ass off to be a good mom to my girls when they were babies and kids, but I would have hit my stride as a mom when they were teenagers.

There is a hole in my life left by my Grace and Lily that, try as I might, I cannot fill with work and books and busyness. I live and I laugh and I love this life, but I will always carry that empty space where they should have grown.

Grace should be 14 and I should be her mom. I should be her mom who makes her do her homework and pick up her clothes and drives her all over creation. I should know who my daughter is instead of wondering who she might have become. I should be watching her become.

Grief never fails to sucker punch me and knock me to my knees. I have learned that, tomorrow or in an hour or two, I will get back up. I will stop crying. I will get back to living and breathing and embracing this life.

But sometimes, even though I hate it still, I can’t stand under the weight of grief for the child I lose every day. Sometimes grief levels me.

Like when I realize she should be 14 and I should know her now.

But she’s not and I don’t.

I wish she was 14. I wish I knew her now.

brigitte-tohm-210081Courageous Mama who has lost so much –

I see your pain.

Though you may present the world with a smiling face and statements of “I’m fine,” I still see the broken and battered heart you carry. The heart broken by the devastating loss of your precious child.

I see how you cry.

I see the hours you spend in the shower, where your tears mix with falling water. I see you under the blankets, curled in the fetal position as sobs shudder through your body. I see you stagger out of the office or the grocery store or your family’s home, barely closing the car door behind you before the tears course down your face.

I see how much you ache.

That unbearable ache of your empty arms that long to hold your beautiful child. The hollow bitterness of seeing so many other women getting pregnant and having babies. The blinding pain of seeing family after family, innocent and intact while yours is forever missing it’s most precious members.

I see the envy and the jealously that lingers.

I see the waves of jealously and bitter anger that flood through you with every new pregnancy announcement and every perfect new “rainbow” baby presented. I see the guilt you feel for not feeling happy for family members or other loss families who get what you may never have – a beautiful living child to raise and nurture.

I see your doubts and fears and inconsolable sorrow.

The uncertainty of knowing if you will ever have another child, one who lives and gets to stay here with you on this Earth. The inconsolable grief of knowing there will never be a living child for you to hold and teach and parent. The fears of feeling empty and broken and incomplete forever. The doubt that you can find hope or healing without a child to raise.

I see your everyday longings.

The longing to hear your baby cry at night. How silent tears stream down your face when you realize there is no baby crying, it was only a dream and your baby is forever silent. The utter quiet of your home without the laughter and noisy play of your child. The first day of school pictures you don’t get to take and the birthday candles you don’t get to see your little one blow out.

I see all of this. I know all of this.

But I also want you to know that I see how you love.

You, beautiful courageous mama, are the fiercest of mothers. You love beyond time and space, beyond death, and beyond the weight of your grief and tears.

You, Mama, love and remember and honor even when the world tells you to be silent, to move on, and to forget. You refuse to listen to the world. You might stagger and stumble at times under the burden of loss and grief, but you always stand up. Your love always outlives your grief.

Keep on, courageous mama. You have something the world and death can never take away.

You are a mother. You love with a mother’s unbreakable love.

And I see you.

17039006_10101349515387599_8091115275794128101_oNext month should be my daughter’s 14th birthday.

Fourteen years without her. 14 years without her father. Nearly 8 years without her sister. It seems unreal that it has been so long, too often it still feels like yesterday.

I created a pretty damn good life since the loss of them.

I love being a therapist and working with grieving mothers. I love writing my books and helping give a voice to people who simply want to be heard. I have enjoyed my slightly nomadic life, moving around to different towns and different states. I have meet so many amazing people over the years and they have made my life so much brighter.

Still, lately, it seems I’ve stumbled into another layer of grief in this life after loss that I am living. This past year has been difficult – the missing of my daughters and my fiancé, all gone far before I was ready to say good-bye, has become closer to the surface than it was in recent years. I am once again crying nearly every day for the burning ache of missing them. I’m back in therapy myself for some added support as I find my way through this new layer of grief.

In all honestly, part of me always thinks that someday, finally, this grief and this aching will fade away. I know better, my love for them will always tangle with grief over the absence of them, yet part of me always hopes that this someday of faded grief will come.

I guess I can’t say what the future will hold, but 14 years later I still grieve for and think about them every day.

Every single day.

They are the first thing I think about upon waking up in the morning. They are the last thing I think of when I lay down to sleep. Thoughts of them arise a hundred times throughout the day – sometimes a fleeting awareness and other times I have a difficult time focusing because I’m distracted by thoughts or memories of them.

Lately I miss them so fiercely it hurts to breathe.

I struggle with knowing how to talk about this grief – the grief that is 14 years old yet feels bitterly fresh and new again. I don’t know how to describe it to friends and family. I don’t have an explanation for why it’s rearing its head so strongly after all this time.

And I admit, I’m afraid of hearing the things I’ve heard too often before.

Haven’t you moved past this yet?
It’s been how many years now?
Shouldn’t you be in a better place by now?
You’re focusing too much on the sad stuff, you should focus on the positive.

Truthfully, I don’t know really if I should or shouldn’t be where I’m at with grief right now. I don’t think it really matters. This is where I am.

Grief, like love, has no basis in time.

So, I don’t necessarily have any words of wisdom to offer. I don’t have any answers for you if you are grieving too.

What I can say is this:

If you are grieving, whether it’s been hours or decades, wherever you are in that process is ok.

You are not alone.

I may not have answers, but I do know that together we can walk each other through the dark.

If you miss your “them” and you are hurting and grieving – me too. You don’t have to face it alone.

Every day.

Love.
Grief.
Remembering.

the evolution of griefToday I found myself shoveling an entire carton of chocolate peanut butter ice cream into my mouth. I followed that up with pizza.

Now, I’m not at all opposed to enjoying some good ice cream. Or pizza. The problem was I wasn’t enjoying it.

It was comfort food.

Or rather, to be more honest, avoidance food. Suppression food. “I don’t want to feel” food.

I’ve been eating more of that than I’d like to admit lately.

See, I started seeing a new therapist again recently after about 10 years without one. A year ago, I moved away from my amazingly supportive community and started a new job in a new state. I love my new state and I love my new job. I am slowly building a new community here. My new job, however, isn’t the easiest environment for me to be in. I work with pregnant and parenting mothers struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges.

As a mother who has had all of her children die, this new work place tends to be an environment full of triggers and painful reminders. At least, once a week I ask myself what the hell I’m doing there. But, as hard as it is, I love it and I love working with these women.

It has also made me acutely aware of all the stuff I’ve been avoiding relating to the deaths of my fiancé and my two babies.

I’d forgot just how good I can be at avoiding my crap. I’m really good at shoving it away under the guise of “being professional” and being there for others. Until therapy started bringing it all up to the surface again and I am finding myself shoveling in spoonfuls of ice cream and slices of pizza.

Let me just say this: Grief fucking sucks no matter how many years have passed.

My therapist asked me today when I was going to be willing to mother myself as much as I mother the women I work with, my children, and the other people I care about. (I was less than pleased with her astute observations. Good therapists are great but they’re also rather annoying when they’re right.)

I don’t really hesitate to face the hard stuff if it means I’m supporting these women or people that I love. I’ll sacrifice my own peace of mind in a heartbeat to ensure that others feel supported through hard or painful situations. I really can’t say for sure if that’s a virtue or a character flaw or some combination of both.

I got to thinking about the women I work with and about how crucial it is for long-term recovery and sobriety to eventually choose to be sober for yourself. Most of the women I work with initially come into treatment for their children. They’re doing this work so that they can be mothers to their children and provide the care and support their kids need. Their children are their reasons for being sober and getting treatment. At some point, however, they’ll have to also choose to do it for themselves too.

I realized that grief “recovery” isn’t all that different. For the first 6-7 years after the deaths of my fiancé and our daughter, I was in basic survival mode. It wasn’t about living fully or embracing life, I was simply doing what I could to survive the grief. For the past 7-8 years, it’s been about living for my dead children, ensuring that they aren’t forgotten, and creating a legacy for them. These reasons are not unlike the initial reasons many of the mothers I work with have for entering into treatment.

Now, after more than 14 years of grief, I’m realizing I have to choose to live for me. It’s time to do more than survive or to live in the honor of my deceased family. I have to do life for me.

That is terrifying.

My life has long been about protecting those I love and putting up a strong front (or hiding behind my professional mask of counselor) to make sure everyone else is taken care of. If I can keep myself busy enough mothering everyone else, I don’t have to think about how much I still hurt or about what I need or want for myself in life.

I’m not sure I know really how to mother myself or how to love myself the way that I love my fiancé and my children. It means risking being vulnerable to and for myself, not just for others. It means letting people in and not always being the strong one.

It means embracing this new level of grief – allowing it to rise to the surface and to be open to the uncertainty of who I may become at the end of this part of my journey. It means accepting that many of my relationships will change and some people that I love may not be part of my life for whatever comes next – because like it or not, grief changes relationships. It means that I may have to open myself up to letting more people in and risk the chance of losing them too.

It may even mean opening up to the idea of having a family again someday – whatever that family may look like. Nothing scares me more than that.

The irony is that I apparently had a bit of foreshadowing of this new aspect of my journey last fall when I finished writing my upcoming book – a book that includes these two sentences on the cover:

Love yourself as much as you love your baby.
Fight for yourself as hard as you fought for your baby.

So, as scared and uncertain as I feel, I am choosing me this time. I’m doing this work of grieving and healing for me.

I will learn to love myself as much as I love my family.
I will learn to fight for myself as much as I fought for my family.

Yes, I will continue to do it for them, but it’s time to do it for me too.


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