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

Grace Hayden.

My Grace.

Sometimes I say her name in my head over and over again and it brings me comfort. I’ve been missing her more than words can express lately, my sweet baby who would be turning 14 next week.

Grief has ebbed and flowed over these past 14 years – sometimes a quiet ache that lingers in my bones and others a gushing flow of tears and fierce longing that batters my heart. The last few weeks have been more gushing than quiet aching. This new layer of grief has taken me by surprise.

I have spent far more time in my bed, my car, the bathroom at work, choking on tears and weeping as if it was just yesterday that she silently and suddenly died in my womb. It has gotten more difficult in recent years to imagine what she might look like now. I’m struggling to picture how her sweet baby features might have aged into the young woman she would be at 14.

I can’t see her anymore and the loss of that ability to imagine her face has made her seem so very far away from me.

When she seems impossibly out of reach, I say her name. Over and over. Grace. My Grace. And then I try to remember and live what she taught me:

To always seek to find the beauty in the ruins.

When I am lonely, she taught me to look for those who make my smile.
When I feel broken, she taught me to see those who can sit with me in my brokenness and see my wholeness.
When I feel lost, she taught me to look for those people or places that brighten the darkness.
When things appear hopeless, she taught me to look for possibility – not guarantees.
When grief takes my feet out from under me, she taught me to see love in the messiness of tears.

She taught me that no matter how dark and uncertain circumstances can feel, life and hope will always sprout up in the ruins and flowers will bloom again.

She gives me hope, even when she feels so far away.

No matter how powerful the grief, hope always blooms.

My gift from Grace. Hope.

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.

blowing-leavesMy 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.

cimg0260Someone 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.


Beauty+Life+You

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

Recent Posts

%d bloggers like this: