28 Aug 2014
I used to whisper her name to myself over and over again. “Grace. Grace. My Grace. Grace.” Her name was a lifeline that I desperately clung to through the waves of grief and pain and rage and sorrow that swamped me.
Her name was my manta. Grace. Her name carried me through months and years of silence and grief.
See, Grace was my daughter. Her father, my fiancé, died in a car accident before he even knew that I was pregnant and having her grow inside me was the light and hope that I held onto during those first heartbroken, grief-stricken months after his death.
Then Grace died too. Drifted away for no explainable reason to be born still and silent.
I was not unfamiliar with grief or death or even the death of babies. Despite my youth (I was still in college), I’d experienced the deaths of loved ones and friends and family. I knew that one of my aunts had had a daughter who was stillborn, though no one ever talked about that baby.
Nothing, nothing prepared me for the unfathomable pain of losing my partner and our child just months apart. It was like falling into an abyss so dark and black and deep I couldn’t imagine ever finding my way out. I lost myself in it.
I silenced myself as my daughter was silenced by death. To the world around me, I appeared as your average college student, though perhaps somewhat depressed and aloof. Inside, there was just her name repeated over and over and over to carry me through the dark caverns of grief.
Grace. Grace. Grace.
It took me more than 6 years to speak her name out loud to another person. Six years to share her life with another and to break my own silence. After her father died, I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone I was pregnant when I couldn’t tell the one person I wanted to – the man who was supposed to raise her and love her with me. I hid my pregnancy, and then I hid her death and my grief.
Saying Grace’s name to myself, helped me survive through years of grief and depression and pain. Saying her name out loud to someone else and breaking my silence, well, that helped me come alive again.
The truth is I wallowed in my grief and my silence for far too long. I clung to it, because I told myself it was the only way to hold onto my daughter. It was all I had left of her. I believed that if I let her go, let myself crawl out of that dark abyss, it would mean she would disappear and it would be like she never existed.
When I broke my silence and loosened my grip on my grief, I discovered that I could never truly lose Grace. Her body died and she never drew a breath in this world. I will never know the sound of her cry or her laughter or her voice. I will never see her grow and play and learn. I will always wonder who she might have been in this world.
But she, the beautiful bright light that lived in me, will never die.
Bodies, even those of babies, die. Love, though, love never dies. I still say her name at least once a day – sometimes just to myself and sometimes to others. It’s a sound of love now, a sound that brings me peace and joy and so much love.
So Grace lives, and I finally, truly live again too, because love never dies.
It seems I’m going to continue to break the rules of the counseling profession that say I shouldn’t share “too much” personal information. But I don’t believe that staying “objective” and “distant” as a counselor serves anyone. As humans we aren’t wired for objective and distant – we seek connection and genuineness.
I’m very good at what I do as a counselor (despite my rule-breaking tendencies…or perhaps because of them!). Part of the reason I’m good at it is because I know the dark and lonely and sometimes scary places loss and pain and grief can take a person. I’ve been there. More than I wish. And while I now live a beautiful and blessed and happy life, I still experience that loneliness and pain and grief more than I want to admit.
Recently what has been coming up for me is the sense of being invisible.
This feeling has come up at different times in my life – with doctors and hospitals, teachers and friends. It’s come up the most being the mother of two children who died before they were born.
This holiday season has been challenging for me. Grief has come in waves, unexpectedly and much stronger than usual, washing through me seemingly out of nowhere. I miss my grandpa and his humor and brightness. And I find myself profoundly missing my girls this year in a way that feel somehow sharper and deeper than in years past.
Yet, much of the time, I feel invisible in this.
More often than not, I don’t talk about it. I feel I can’t or I shouldn’t. I hesitate to share with friends, some because I feel like they’re tired of hearing about my grief and others because they’ve expressed frustration that I’m “not over that” yet. I’m reluctant to talk with family because I feel guilty for upsetting them and don’t want them to feel more pain.
And so when the grief rises up, I pull within and hide. Then hiding makes me feel invisible. Feeling invisible makes me want to hide.
It’s a never-ending cycle.
It’s also all bullshit.
I’m not invisible. No one can make me invisible – or feel invisible – except for me.
It’s true, no one can see my children. I am a mother without living children and sometimes I can feel like an “invisible mother.” No one speaks my children’s names to me or remembers their birthdays. Very rarely does anyone ask me about them or what it’s like to be their mother.
Except that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to do those things. It’s mine – and mine alone.
If I feel like an invisible mother, perhaps it’s because sometimes I still don’t acknowledge myself as a “real” mother. If no one speaks my children’s names or asks about them or remembers them, perhaps it’s only because I hesitate to talk about them or to share them with others. If I feel alone or overwhelmed by unexpected grief this year, perhaps it’s because I haven’t allowed anyone to support me – because I haven’t let them know that I need it.
If I’m feeling invisible, it’s not because others aren’t seeing me. It’s because I’m not seeing me.
If I’ve jumped over into the business of managing the feelings of my friends and family – their “tired of hearing-ness” or “frustration” or “upset” or “pain” – who’s taking care of my feelings?
No one. Especially not me.
Their feelings are their responsibility.
My feelings are my responsibility. If I’m worried about theirs, I’m not seeing or acknowledging my own.
Then I become invisible to myself.
I become visible by seeing myself. The whole of me – the joy and the pain, the laughter and the grief, the mother and the solitary one, the caregiver and the cared for.
When I see me, others see me.
When I see me, it doesn’t matter if others see me.
23 Jul 2013
There are a lot of philosophies of thought around grief.
We resolve our grief. We find closure. We do grief work. Grief is a lifelong process. Grief is temporary. We move through grief. Grief is to be avoided. Grief is to be embraced.
The more I work with people who grieve and the more I explore my own experiences with loss the more and more I believe that it’s not about any of that. It’s not really even about the grief.
It’s all about the love.
When we lose someone or something that we love, our relationship with that person or thing changes. We still love them, we still love the idea of what was or what we had or the activity we used to do. The love doesn’t change. Our relationship changes and in that, the HOW of the way we love them changes.
Recently, as the anniversary of my daughter’s birthday is approaching this Saturday, I’ve been looking at my relationship with her and my beliefs about grief. And I’m realizing that it’s not about finding closure or resolving grief or working my way through it. It’s not about the grief at all.
Yes, there is sadness. There is a profound sense of missing her. There is even still the occasional moment of anger. But what matters to me is the love. I still get to love her. I still get to be her mother. I just also get to learn a different ways to love and mother her without her being physically present in my world.
Grief will ebb and flow, come and go. But Love, Love lives. It changes. It morphs. It expands and transforms. But it always lives.
And so there is love…
Today I heard your laughter on the wind
And the running of your feet in the rain
For a moment, the ghost of a scent –
Sweet scent of little girl bottled just for me
Close my eyes and there you are
Just the way I pictured you would be –
Beautiful and bright in every way.
I took a walk on the river side
Along the path, I swear, I felt your hand hold mine
And your whisper,
Look, Mommy, see how the sun sparkles
Like diamonds shining just for us
I whispered back of rainbows and daisies
And of love –
Love that never dies or fades away
I felt you spin and twirl beside me
Youthful girl I can only imagine you would be
Gentle brush of a kiss
And a giggle fading on the breeze
Happy Birthday, beautiful.
You are everything I dreamed you’d be.
4 of those other females are pregnant. They are all roughly 20 – 24 weeks along at this point.
97% of the time I am absolutely happy and thrilled for them. I love hearing about how they’re doing, whether it’s a boy or girl, what names they are thinking of, watching the baby bumps growing and all that fun stuff.
The other 3%? Well, there is where I get sad and angry and a little jealous.
See, about 9 years ago, my daughter, Grace was born still at 21 weeks. And right about now, these beautiful women’s babies are passing 21 weeks healthy and growing and vibrant.
I didn’t put the connection together right away, between my random extreme moodiness in the office, these pregnancies, and Grace. I had a day last week where I was just feeling all out of sorts and, to be frank, was in a pisser of a mood.
I kept wavering between
a) Wanting everyone to leave me the hell alone (not an ideal feeling when you’re a therapist and also work within a team) and
b) Throwing a sort of mental temper tantrum (complete with metaphorical stomping of feet) wanting someone to magically notice something was up
Well, since by the end of the day neither one of these things had happened, I pulled myself out of my sulking long enough to ask myself,
“What is it that I want someone to give to me or do for me by noticing my out-of-sorts-ness?
My answer was simple.
I wanted to feel loved and cared for and nurtured.
At that point, I still didn’t recognize what was driving the out-of-sorts moodiness, sadness, and spurts of anger. I just knew I felt crappy and wanted to be loved.
I could have reached out to any number of friends and did I considered calling several of them. However, I also recognized that, sometimes, as important as it is to have people in our lives who support us and love us, it’s equally or even more important to be able to support and love ourselves.
So, I went home. I put on my comfy clothes, lit my favorite vanilla scented candles, started a fire in the woodstove, and made myself a good meal. I put in a DVD of one of my favorite funny shows and pulled out my journal.
Even though I had a dozen (or more) things I felt I should be doing for various work activities and responsibilities, I chose to take care of me. Even before I made the connection and realized what was coming up was a little unexpected grief, I made the choice to love myself.
And through loving myself, I was able to move through the sadness and anger and jealousy, and back into the 97% of happiness and excitement for my colleagues. I’m able to stay connected to that happiness for them even when moments of sadness have come up for me since that day.
It fascinates me how the process of grief shifts, changes, and evolves over time – through awareness, with various losses, and through our own growth. It shows up in a million different ways, in a million different degrees and levels.
Yet, the answer is always the same.
Love each other. Love ourselves. Love our way through it all.