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.
22 Apr 2016
I spent a couple hours the other night rocking someone else’s crying baby to sleep. It’s something I do fairly regularly now as part of a new job. Sweet baby smell, aching arms, and that heavy sleeping baby weight in my arms.
On the same day I also looked at pictures of a friend who had taken her teenage son to visit colleges over spring break. She talked about how proud she is of him and how she is preparing herself to let him go off into the world on his own.
Both situations made me want to lay my head down and weep.
Most of the time these days, I handle being around kids or watching other women mother pretty well. There’s always a slight pinch in my heart, but generally speaking it doesn’t rip and tear the way it once did. I’m so used to that pinch now, I barely register it. For the most part, I’ve embraced the fact that I don’t have my children here to nurture and know in this physical world. I have made my peace with being a mother without living children.
Except Mother’s Day is approaching again. Mother’s Day and Christmas are the two holidays when my heart bleeds fresh. I can’t help but feel bombarded with images and reminders of what I didn’t have, don’t have, and will never have – a baby to love and nurture, a child to raise, a teenager to see grow into independence.
Already, I’m seeing ads and commercials, cards filling up the aisles in stores, displays for Mother’s Day gifts popping up everywhere. For most of the last 13 years, my dearest wish this time of year was to be somehow get lost on some deserted island away from all technology, people, and heartbreaking reminders that I will never be a “real” mother in the eyes of the world.
I wanted to disappear and be invisible in the same way that my motherhood has been invisible and disregarded all these years.
However, this year, despite the fresh bruises on my heart from reminder of what I don’t have, I decided I wanted to reclaim Mother’s Day. The world may never see my motherhood or find it as valid and valuable as those mothers with living children, but I wanted to acknowledge it and the motherhood of others like me without their children to hold.
And so Share Your Mother Heart was born.
A 10-day journey created specifically for mothers without any living children to honor, acknowledge, and share their experience of motherhood. To bring us together to talk about our experiences of motherhood, pregnancy, and more – to share the experiences that too often others don’t wish to hear about because our babies have died.
This Mother’s Day let us come together and acknowledge each other. Let’s share our stories and honor each other as the mothers that we are. As invisible as our motherhood might seem to the world around us, we are still mothers. Let’s see each other.
Also, treat yourself for Mother’s Day (or gift another mother like you) with the Invisible Mothers: When Loves Doesn’t Die book! Order here to snag $5 off!
07 Jan 2016
The 14th year.
How could it possibly be that I’m in the midst of living in year number 14 without you? How can it be that I have lived and breathed and cried and walked and laughed without my love and my sweet baby girl for more than 13 years now?
I meet so many who are brand new to their grief and to this thing called life after loss. They are just now learning to live without their partners, their babies, their most loved ones. They are on day 3 and 20 and 90 and 275 and 489. Days and weeks and months.
How is it that I’ve now lived for so many days and weeks and months and years without seeing your faces, touching your hands, hearing your voices, and holding you next to me?
Some days it feels as if I held you and touched you just yesterday. Other times it feels so long ago that I half-wonder if I imagined knowing you.
But no, you were real and beautiful and bright. You were my love. You were my baby. You both were my family.
Even in my 14th year without you, I still miss you both. Every day.
I wish I could say to some of those I meet that the longing and missing of their loved ones will ease over time and years. I wish I could say that as the weeks and months and years pass, that the absence of the ones they love gets less. That the space that their loved ones left will be filled in by time and life.
I can’t. Even now, in year 14 without you, I still miss you fiercely. I still long to touch you, talk with you, kiss you, and laugh with you. The absence of you in my life has never filled.
The pain is less. The grief isn’t as overwhelming and intense as it was on day 30 or month 26 or year 5. Life has bloomed and filled and moved along without you. The days aren’t the same black or gray or filled with sobbing and weeping that they once were.
Life has become beautiful again. There is color and sunshine and sweetness to fill my days and my years, even without you. The life that fell to ruins after you both died has been rebuilt into a beautiful mosaic of colors and art.
Year 14 is very different from day 14 or week 14 or month 14.
Yet my love for you has not changed. Missing you has not eased.
I imagine I will love and miss you just as much in year 34 or 54 or 74 as I do now in year 14. Even as life moves forward and new love might blossom and grow, I will love you and miss you both.
14 minutes or 14 years, my love and my heart, I love you.
Fully. Fiercely. Always.
15 Dec 2015
I consider myself a very spiritual person although I don’t really subscribe to any traditional religious faith systems. I believe in the interconnectedness of life, in love and kindness, and in the beauty of life. I believe that life is eternal, that after death we simply leave our physical bodies behind and reemerge with the light that is all of life.
Over the years since my fiancé and my daughter (and later my second daughter) died, I have explored and moved through several different religious and spiritual philosophies – Lutheranism, Presbyterian, and Pantheism until I finally found the more open Oneness based philosophy I have settled into now.
I have struggled to reconcile my grief with each of these.
Some of the most commonly spoken platitudes one hears after the death of a loved one typically come from religious or spiritual arenas. Platitudes such as:
“He/She is in a better place now.”
“God needed a new angel.”
“Life is eternal, they are still with you in spirit.”
“They are in heaven now.”
“There is a reason for everything.”
“God has a plan for you.”
“There is a gift in everything, you just have to look for it.”
These are basic beliefs of many religious and spiritual belief systems. I personally don’t believe all of them, but I do believe that life is eternal, that we can find meaning in any experience, and that we find a gift in nearly any experience (usually with time and distance).
However, not once in my 13 years of living with grief have any of these statements helped me to heal or to live without the one I loved.
The truth or non-truth of these statements isn’t the point. They simply aren’t useful. In fact, saying these things to someone who is grieving is more likely to hurt them than help them.
They may bring a relief of discomfort to the one saying them, but to the person grieving their child, partner, sibling, friend, family member they generally aren’t the least bit comforting.
And that’s been my struggle. Reconciling the spiritual beliefs I have with the intensity of the grief that I feel.
I have doubted myself and judged myself and wrestled with this the seeming contradictory relationship between my beliefs and my intense grief.
If I truly believed in the eternal nature of life, shouldn’t this belief comfort me following the death of my fiancé, my children, and other loved ones?
If I truly believed that I have made meaning out of these experiences of loss and found a way to use them to support others, why does the absence of my family continue to ache so deeply?
If one truly believes that God has a plan, that their loved one is in heaven and in a better place, why doesn’t this comfort or relieve that terrible grief over their loss?
After all, that’s the purpose and intent behind these common platitudes – to bring comfort or reassurance to those left behind to grieve.
Unfortunately, it’s also the cause of many judgments and criticism that the grieving often receive for not moving on or letting go fast enough, for not reaching the acceptance soon enough . . . if one truly had enough faith or believed strongly enough or was spiritually evolved enough then they wouldn’t grieve so deeply or for so long.
And that judgment, criticism and lack of understanding, from themselves and others, is the cause of so very much additional and unnecessary pain for those who grieve.
I have wrestled with this seeming contradiction between spirituality and grief for many years. I have been told by myself and others that I am not spiritually evolved enough because I still grieve my family. I’ve been criticized for continuing to struggle with the holidays and with Mother’s Day after so many years. I’ve been shamed for not having enough faith (because if I did I wouldn’t still be grieving).
What I have finally come to realized over the past year is that spirituality – whether that is Christian, Islam, Pagan, New Age, Science, or whatever other specific philosophy one follows – is more than big enough to encompass grief AND faith.
I can believe in the eternality of life AND still profoundly grieve the physical presence of those I love so deeply.
I can believe that their lives and their deaths have given me great gifts AND long with all my might for them to still be here with me.
I can find meaning in the loss of them AND still grieve their absence and miss having them in my life.
One can believe that their loved ones are in heaven with God as part of God’s plan AND still grieve for and miss them deeply.
One can believe that their baby miscarried because of a chromosomal defect AND still grieve the loss of that child.
Spirituality is not either/or. Spirituality is both/and. Spirituality has the capacity to hold both the larger Truth (such as eternal life) and the human truth (such as grief). We, as spiritual beings, have the capacity to hold and experience both truths.
To believe that in order to be spiritual, one cannot experience the humanness of life is to buy into a very limited view of spirituality. As both spiritual beings and as human beings we are capable of holding and experiencing much more than we give ourselves credit for.
We don’t have to choose between being spiritual and grieving those we love.
We can do both.