20 Feb 2017
Today 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.
09 Feb 2017
To 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.
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.