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.

How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving Their Child PIcWhen someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, it’s hard on everyone. They are engulfed in a sea of unbearable pain and grief and sorrow while you may be struggling to stand beside them, wondering what to say, what to do, and what they need. You love them dearly, but you don’t really know what they are going through and you don’t know what to do.

Maybe you’re grieving too.
Maybe you’re suffering as you witness their suffering.
Maybe you feel helpless.
Maybe you find yourself saying all the wrong things because you don’t know what else to say.

Maybe you want to love them through this, but no one taught you how to do that.

It’s ok.

Most of us don’t really know how to navigate this thing called grief. They don’t teach Grief 101 in high school (although, perhaps they should!).

In an ideal world, your heartbroken loved one would be able to say, “Here, this is what I need. This is how you can help me.” Unfortunately, that’s generally not how it works. They have been crushed by a devastating loss and, chances are, they’re giving everything they have to simply get out of bed in the morning. Trying to articulate what they need and what kind of support they want probably feels next to impossible.

Fortunately, loving a grieving friend or family member isn’t as complicated as it can seem. Generally, it’s simply about being a compassionate and kind human.

Show Up

First and foremost, show up. Be here.

Show up at their door. Run errands for them. Do their laundry. Make them meals and sit with them to ensure they eat (many times in early grief people lose their appetite and don’t eat regularly). Lay on the bed and hold them while they cry.

Continue to show up for months or years – this is a lifetime loss and they will need you for a lifetime. Text them. Call them. Send cards. Remember birthdays and anniversaries of their child’s life. Help them plan birthday parties and holiday remembrances and show up for death anniversaries. Mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget – because they won’t. And they won’t forget those who show up for them.

You will likely say or do the wrong thing at some point. It happens. But if you are willing to keep showing up and work through the discomfort, that’s what will matter. That’s how you’ll help.

Be Patient

Grief is not short lived. Nor is it linear or simple or logical.

Grieving a child takes a lifetime. We love our children for a lifetime and we will grieve them for a lifetime. Society likes to tell us that after a certain period of time, grief should be completed and we should be ready to find “closure” and “move on.”

To be quite honest, if you buy into that way of thinking, you will struggle to be able to support your loved one as long as they will need you to.

Your friend or family member will grieve far longer than you will want to hear about it or be around for it. This is where they will need you to be patient and understanding.

Those who grieve their child(ren) will eventually find a way to live with that grief and that aching hole in their life, but they will never stop missing their child or longing to hold them. Birthdays and holidays and anniversary dates may be painful and challenging for the rest of their life.

When you find yourself tiring of their grief or wanting them to “get over it already,” remember – they are far, far more exhausted and sick of grieving than you can even imagine. This is when they need you most to keep showing up.

Listen

While you might be struggling to know what to say, it’s likely your loved one really just wants someone who will listen.

Really, truly listen.

To their fears. To their grief. To their doubts and guilt and regrets and questioning. To the part of them that feels like they’ve failed their children. To their anger and their rage at the injustice of their children’s lives being cut short. To the urges of grief that make them feel crazy and abnormal.

Let those you love simply talk with you and be heard without judgment or false optimism. Don’t try to fix it or to help them feel something different – just listen.

Listen and when you want to object to something they are saying, or inject your own thoughts, stay silent and listen even more.

Listen and then simply tell them that you love them and you are here.

Forgive

Here’s the honest truth: For a while, your friend or family member isn’t going to be a terribly great friend or family member.

They probably won’t always show up for holiday celebrations or birthdays or fun outings. They’ll probably forget your birthday and anniversary and other special occasions. They may not feel up to attending baby showers and children’s birthdays or being around babies and kids at all (this particular thing might last for years).

In that first year after their child died especially, they will probably forget things you told them or make plans and either forget about them or cancel at the last minute because they just couldn’t get out of bed that day.

When you complain about every day matters like being tired or your child acting up or the annoying co-worker you can’t stand, they may not engage in the conversation the way they used to or may tell you that you’re overreacting. It’s not that they don’t care about your difficulties, it’s simply that what they’ve experienced is so overwhelmingly huge everything else feels small and meaningless in comparison.

So, when they can’t be the friend or family member you remember or want them to be, forgive them. They’re still learning how to navigate life after the entire landscape has changed – not unlike being dropped in a foreign land with no map and no way to communicate.

Get to Know Them

However long you may have known your loved one or how well you might have known them, be prepared to get to know them all over again.

The loss of a child changes us in irrevocable ways.

Your friend or family member isn’t the person they once were and they will never fully be that person again. Grief has forged them into someone new.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t respond to things the way they once would have or if they suddenly aren’t interested in things they used to love or if the beliefs about the world they used to hold so dear are ones they cannot abide by anymore.

No, they won’t be the person you remember and loved so very much. Grief will change and morph them into someone new – and even that will change and morph again over time.

But don’t give up on them too quickly. They may not be the person you knew, but you might really love the person they have and are becoming.

Take time to get to know the new post-loss them.

Remember

Finally, if you do nothing else, remember with them.

Help them remember their child through the years and comfort them with the knowledge that their child has not and will not be forgotten.

Share memories with them. Say their child’s name. Remember their child’s birthday. Honor them on the holidays and for Mother’s and Father’s day. Donate in their child’s name. Read articles like this one and discuss it with your friend or family member.

Give your loved one the gift of remembering their child. It’s the greatest gift you can give.

And above all else, love them. Love them so deeply and openly and clearly they can’t help but feel it radiating from you.

They need you and they need that love.

Love them fiercely.

I Love You picTo my beautiful daughter,

I was thinking of you today.

But the truth is, there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of you. Although this world cannot see you, and I cannot touch or hold you in it, you are here. The beauty that is you walks beside me through life, loved with every beat of my heart.

I wish I could see you now – the beautiful, amazing, brilliant young woman you would be if you had lived. The heart of my heart who should be living and breathing beside me, but instead lives and breathes in my heart.

I wonder who you would be now.

How would you see the world?
What would light you with passion and joy?
What kind of person would you be?
What would you dream of?

Endless questions that will never have answers.

This I do know, my precious child.

You will always be mine. I will always be yours.

Your life was beautiful.

You changed my life. You made me more. For you, I will always strive to be more than I am now. I life more fully and more deeply because you lived.

Your life made a difference in this world. The world is better and brighter because you were.

And my beautiful, precious child, although I will always know grief for the loss of you, your true legacy is one of love. Brilliant, unrelenting love.

You are loved. Then, now, always.

I am so proud to be your mother.

Love,
Mama

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.


Beauty+Life+You

Twice monthly inspiration to find the beauty in life, in yourself, and in every situation.

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