10 Oct 2017
It has been 14 years since my daughter, Grace was born still and 9 years since her sister, Lily joined her.
Life has ever been the same.
I am not the same.
I think it’s safe to say that this kind of loss changes all of us in irrevocable ways. Life is different after loss. How I see life is forever altered. Sometimes, those thirteen years of grieving my daughter(s) feel like an eternity. Other days, it feels like just yesterday I was saying good-bye.
In my thirteen years post-loss, the grief and the joys, the love and the heartache, the messiness and the healing have all taught me a few things about life after loss:
Don’t Risk Waiting for “Someday When…”
If loss has taught me anything it is to not to wait in life, because the “someday when…” we too often wait for might never come. Something those of us who have lost so much already know.
We never know where life will lead or what will happen at any given moment.
We can choose to live, really live – fully, wholeheartedly, and completely. This life as we know it can end at any moment, without warning or preparation.
So, live. Say I love you. Be honest. Dive into your dreams. Go all the places you want to go. Do the things you dream of doing. Give your whole heart. Go on adventures. Learn whatever you can. Give all you are to relationships. Leave behind what doesn’t serve you or the things that hurt you. Be bold.
“Someday when…” might never come. The life you plan might end in the sudden stilling of a heartbeat. Don’t risk waiting for a “someday when…” that might never be.
We’re All Doing the Best We Can
Sometimes this thing called life is hard.
And sometimes we screw up, all of us do. Sometimes we aren’t there for people when we could be. Sometimes we aren’t as compassionate as we could be. Sometimes we lash out in our grief or our fear or our anger when we don’t really mean to.
Sometimes we fall apart. Sometimes we judge (ourselves and others). Sometimes we do things in the moment that we later regret.
Sometimes we hurt others.
Sometimes we hurt ourselves.
Sometimes we hurt each other.
We are human and we make mistakes. It’s okay.
I truly believe that most of us are simply doing the best we can in any moment with the information and/or the skills that we have. There is always more going on underneath the surface of life than any of us know.
People get upset or angry for things we do or don’t do when they have no idea weight of the grief we are simply trying to function under. Some goes for them, often they act or don’t act due to circumstances or situations we know nothing about. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, whether anyone else can see that or not.
So, maybe we could all give ourselves and each other a bit of grace and acknowledge our mutual humanity. We’re all in this together, one moment at a time. One mistake at a time. Then perhaps, next time, our best will become better.
There Truly Are No Rules or Timelines
When it comes to loss and grief, there are many similarities. That’s why these amazing loss communities are so powerful and soul-healing – we can connect in the similarities of our experiences and find others who get it on a deep level, in ways that non-loss parents can’t.
Yet, there are also differences. No two journeys are the same – not even if the exact circumstances of the loss were identical.
Some are able to find light in the darkness within months and fight their way back to living in those early years after loss. Others find themselves continuing to stumble and crash in the darkness of grief for many years after loss. Many find themselves cycling in and out of painful grief over the years, sometimes buried under the weight of it and other times feeling the light on their faces.
Some of us bury our grief only to have it seeping out into our lives decades after the actual death of our babies. Others throw themselves into the messy, heart-breaking wilds of grief right from the start and find that years later the pain has faded to a quiet bittersweetness.
Any and all of these are equally valid and right. No journey of life after loss is wrong – they are all uniquely individual. My loss is not your loss, yours is not mine.
Grief, joy, sadness, laughter, tears, gratitude, and love – all of this is life. All of this is life after loss. No matter where anyone is in their experience after loss, they are living.
No Community Loves Harder Than This One
There is no community I desperately wish I wasn’t a part of more than this one – this community of parents living without their children, partners without their love, people living without those they love the most. Yet, at the same time, there is no better community to be part of.
I went a decade after my losses before I found this community of people living after loss – and in particular, parents grieving their children.
Finding others who understood the terrible ache and grief of losing their child was like breathing new life into my soul.
It’s family. It’s comfort. It’s love. It’s support.
Like any family, there are disagreements and grumpiness and arguing at times. Yet, I have never been a part of a community so willing to show up, to support, to give, and to nurture than this one.
Not everyone in this community agrees all the time – because again, we are all on our own journey of life after loss – yet there is love and support here unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
If you let us, we will wrap you in love for a lifetime. That is this community.
Life on Planet Earth is Temporary, Love is Not
At some point each of us will leave this thing called life on Earth. Some far, far too soon. Some after many decades of life and living.
I have often heard it said that the only thing we can really count on is that we live and we die.
But I disagree.
We can count on love. Love does not die.
When we lose those that we love, our love lives on. Our love keeps them alive long past their physical bodies are laid down. When we leave this planet called Earth and lay our own bodies down, the love that others have for us will keep us alive. Life is an infinite circle of love. Love is life.
Love isn’t exactly something that we can touch or hold or identify on a tangible level, but as parents and as human, we know love. It lives in our souls.
Love is the greatest aspect of our humanity and it will live forever. And those we’ve loved and lost will live forever as love.
*Original version published on Still Standing Mag.
25 Sep 2017
I miss her most in the autumn.
My sweet Grace.
It’s not the day she was born still or her due date. It’s not when I discovered I was pregnant. It’s not any of those anniversary dates that can sneak up and drown my heart in sorrow.
I have never found a logical reason for why I miss her so in the autumn. It doesn’t really make any sense.
Yet when the air starts to cool and the leaves start hinting of red and orange and gold that space in my heart where she resides aches a little bit more than usual. The leaves and frost that crunch under my feet seem to whisper her name and I can almost see her playing in the falling leaves that dance through the air.
When I think of Grace, I think of autumn.
Bold and vibrant colors remind me of the brilliant light she was.
Little kids jumping into piles of leaves symbolize the joy and innocence that her life will forever be.
Sweaters and blankets give me that same warm and sweet sense of comfort that she did after her daddy died.
Quiet mornings in a world coated in glittering frost remind me of her gentle, peaceful energy.
Autumn is a brief season. Like Grace’s too short life, autumn flares brightly, drenched in color and vibrancy before quietly fading into the stark and bare winter season. Autumn is the radiant flash between the heavy heat of summer and the gray chill of winter.
Grace’s life was like autumn, a brilliance and beauty that too quickly faded into the harsh chill of grief and sorrow.
The absence of her is acute and aching in the autumn. Her would-be adolescent form is missing from the groups of kids on their way to and from school. The piles of leaves remain neat and tidy, unmarred by her playful leaps and jumps. The closet will never be filled with sweaters and socks, jeans and scarves to warm her growing body. Steaming cups of hot cocoa will never welcome her home out of the chill after school or play or activities.
Her life will always be beautiful and brilliant but all to brief. She will never grow to bloom into spring.
My life will continue to turn, passing through the seasons, ever evolving and turning through time. I always survive the gray chill of winter to once again feel the warmth of the blooming spring and heat of summer.
Then autumn will come again and I will remember, always, the brilliance of her life.
I miss her most in the autumn.
*Originally published on Still Standing Mag.
11 Sep 2017
I wish I could be there with you now, in person, to hug you and hold you through these darkest of days after the loss of your precious child. I wish that I could sit with you, pour you a cup of comforting hot cocoa or tea, tuck a warm blanket around you and simply be with you while you learn to breath and be in this new world called life after loss.
In a way, that’s what this book is, a way for myself and many other mothers who are living through what you are experiencing now to sit and be with you. We are here holding you close in our hearts as we can’t do with our arms.
It is true that no words and no actions could ever fix what has happened – we cannot bring your precious child(ren) back for you, just as we could not prevent the loss of our own children. Even our fierce and absolute mama love could not save them and that is the unbearable sorrow that we all now live with every day.
I do believe, however, that the words that we share and the ways in which we who grieve reach out and touch each other help. No words or actions can fix our losses, but we can help pull each other through these dark hours of grief and pain. That is what I and every mother in this book are doing – reaching out to help all of us through our darkest hours.
This grief is not a burden that anyone should have to bear alone.
My hope is that this book is something that you can hold onto, in those dark, lonely and desperate moments of grief and pain and loss. This is a book you can open to any page and read the love-filled words of another mama like you who knows the pain of not being able to hold or see or hear the one you love most in the world. A reminder in the midst of grief and tears that you are not alone and you are loved. Because, Mama, you are so very loved.
These words and letters are written from our hearts to yours, from one mother to another. With open arms and big hearts, we welcome you (though we desperately wish we didn’t have to) into our tribe of sisters – the community of mothers who know this unspeakable loss and grief. More importantly than the loss, however, we know the same beautiful, fierce mother love that lives in your heart – deep and abiding love for the child you cannot hold or see or hear yet who lives in your heart each and every moment.
It is my hope that within these pages you will find love and moments of comfort. It is my hope that you will feel, deep down into your bones, that you are not alone and that you are so very loved. It is my hope that you will know without a doubt that your baby and your motherhood matter. It is my hope that you will know that your baby’s life, however brief, has touched this world in irrevocable and valuable ways. It is my hope that this love and these words will help carry you through the darkest moments of your grief and show you glimmers of light in that darkness.
Not every letter will resonate with you. Not every experience shared here will speak to you. But there are many letters here and many different experiences – find the ones that speak to your heart and simply leave the ones that don’t. All are offered with love and compassion and a desire to reach out to another mother who hurts so very much.
I cannot fix this loss and I cannot take away your pain, but will all my hopes and all my love, I offer you this book full of love and letters from our hearts to yours. And if you get nothing else from it, please know this:
You are not alone.
You love and you are loved.
And love never dies.
*excerpt from “From Mother to Mother”
28 May 2017
I have been thinking about the word “lost” quite a bit lately. “When We Are Lost” is the title of the new book I’m working on and it is something I have felt more than a few times in my life.
When we lose someone we love – our children, our partner, our friends or family – we often feel lost in grief.
When we make major life changes – move across the country, start a new job, change careers, go back to school, etc. – we can feel lost and uncertain.
Sometimes feeling lost finds us – life is moving along as usual and slowly we begin to feel dissatisfied, restless, hollow, unsure if what we have is really what we want.
Lost has been a companion of mine again for a while now. In March of 2016, I picked up my life, my business, and myself to replant myself in a new area of the country. I left an amazing community of friends and a counseling practice to create something new in a new place. I did so because I was starting to feel as if I was losing myself – in old patterns, in old grief, in complacency and fear, in subtle dissatisfaction.
Most of the time, we think of being lost as a bad thing.
I’m not really sure it is.
When my children died, I had to get lost in the grief so that I could find the beauty of living again and remember that love never dies. I had to lose myself in grief for the motherhood I wanted in order to find peace with the motherhood I was given.
There was a point in time when I left my chosen profession of counseling. It was a painful and confusing time. But it took getting lost in order to find my way back to the career I love – supporting those experiencing grief and loss.
When I started to lose myself in my old home a couple of years ago, I had to get lost in a new place in order to find myself again. I can’t say I’m fully there yet and I will admit that I still feel lost much of the time these days. Yet, as hard as it has been and continues to be, I feel more alive than I have in years and I feel truer to me than I have ever felt.
Grief is a time of lostness.
Change can feel like getting lost.
Maybe there’s not specific reason yet we feel like we’re stumbling in the darkness.
And, sometimes, being lost is exactly where we need to be.
Just maybe somewhere in that lostness is exactly where we find ourselves again.
25 May 2017
My family died.
My fiancé was killed in a car accident and mere months later our daughter was born still. Here, then gone. Both circumstances completely beyond my control. I had a sweet little growing family and then they were gone and I was left behind to survive alone.
It took me 6 years to ever speak my daughter’s name aloud to anyone, to tell anyone of the existence of her. I carried her memory, her name, and her life hidden inside of me because the pain of acknowledging the loss of her was unbearable.
It took me more than a decade to speak aloud the phrase, “My family died.” I always spoke of them separately – my fiancé died and then my daughter died. Never naming them has my family, never speaking what felt unspeakable – that my family died and I was left alone here without them.
I have always loved words. The way they feel in my mouth. The way they look written across paper. How they create images and rhythms and a sort of music when you string them together. The endless ways in which they can be arranged and rearranged to say the same thing in a dozen different ways. The way in which they can evoke emotions and help us see the world in a new way.
It wasn’t until I spoke what felt unspeakable to me – about the life and death of my beautiful Grace and the loss of my family – that I started to understand the power that words hold.
When I held the words of my grief, my loss, my deepest sorrows inside of me, my life felt blurry. Dulled. Half-alive. I kept trying to revive it, to take the broken pieces and build a new life out of the ruins, but it kept crumbling around me into depression and grayness and a longing to simply not be alive at all anymore.
It wasn’t until I was finally able to voice what felt unspeakable that life snapped back into focus.
“I have a daughter. Her name is Grace. She died.”
“My family died. They died and left me alone and I still don’t know how to do this thing called life without them.”
Words have power. Speaking these words brought me back to life. Was it a miraculous, life is wonderful again in an instant event?
But it opened the door. And life came rushing back in through that door. All of it – the joys, the sorrows, bitter grief, numbing pain, beauty, color, sweetness and so very much light. The soothing waves, the sharp edges, the warm sunshine, and the bitter winds.
I spent six plus years in numbing grayness. Functioning, surviving, moving through life, and existing but not really living. Not experiencing all that this rich and vibrant life has to offer.
I won’t lie, there are occasions when I wish I could return to that numbing gray – when things are painful, when I hurt, when I am tired of saying good-bye or bone weary of longing for those I love and cannot see or hold.
Then life will do something beautiful again – something I wouldn’t have been able to see in the grayness of that silence and unspoken grief – and I breathe again. I speak again of whatever hurt or wound feels too unbearable to mention.
There is power and freedom in giving voice to what feels unspeakable. Those words hold life in their angles and curves and letters strung together. Not simply the existence of life, but the fullness of life – beauty and messiness, joy and sorrow, grief and light, and every shade and hue of color.
I often ask myself what I am afraid to speak. And then I ask how much life am I missing out on when I’m burying words that need to be voiced inside of me?
The answer is always too much. Too much life. Too much beauty. Too much joy. Too much color and vibrancy. Yes, there is pain and grief and messiness too. Life is all of it. The sharpness of life is always better than the dullness of existence.
If I could, I’d sit with every person on earth and ask them, “What are your unspeakables? What are you most afraid to say?” And I would listen. And I would see life, in all its fullness and richness and vibrancy. The griefs, the sorrows, the wounds and the joys, the beauty, the color.
While I can’t sit with every person on earth, I can ask you –
“What are your unspeakables?”
“What are you most afraid to say?”
I am listening.