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I Grieve on Wednesdays (And Any Day That Ends In “Y”)

At first, after Maddi was stolen away, I was surrounded in loving, compassionate support. People’s eyes would swim with tears only just being in my presences so they understood why mine always were. It didn’t matter if it was a holiday or birthday. It didn’t matter if the sun was shining bright up in the sky or if the sky was dark with angry rain clouds. It was expected, understood, and regarded as highly normal- all things considered- that I would have tear streaks down my cheeks and eyes that were puffy and bloodshot from the relentless crying. Every time…anytime…all of the time…no matter where I ran into someone or what we were doing. They got it as much as one could. I didn’t have to utter a single explanation. Everyone just knew. 

As time has passed, four years…1 month…and 16 days… that understanding has slowly and steadily morphed into something else entirely.

It’s not that people are intentionally unkind (although this has been the case more times than I wish to recount)…it’s just…now…they look for a reason for my tears. It’s difficult for someone on the outside looking in to comprehend that there doesn’t have to be any ulterior explanation for my sadness…for puffy eyes…for tear streaked cheeks…for a hanging head…there is nothing more than she is missing. 

They say things like, “It must be hard with Christmas coming up” or “I’m sure it must be so hard on her birthday.” These words are well-intentioned attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible. If you don’t know (and my God I wish I didn’t) then you may think that the pain you feel when you lose your child eventually stops hurting so terribly. That one day you will wake up and your mind will not immediately feel the loss again…that you will, one day, wake up without her absence willing you back to bed. You may think that there may come a day, where you “forget” for even a few moments- maybe longer…forget that you are living with only half of your heart. You may think that ultimately only “special” days will hurt…that on any plain, old, boring day the pain will somehow subside and be tucked into a safe, snug little box only to be opened when Christmas approaches or when your precious child’s birthday comes and goes without them here to blow out the candles on their cake or when the Easter bunny doesn’t come around anymore.

But here is the truth. As far as I can see…there will never come a day when the pain I feel subsides. There will never come a morning that I will awake without the acute knowledge that Maddi is no longer sleeping peacefully beneath the pink, princess comforter that now covers her bed that no one has slept in for four years. There will never come a morning that I awake that my heart doesn’t beg me to go back to sleep in the hopes that I will see Maddi in my dreams. There will never come a day where I forget about that terrible night…forget about what was…what should have been…and what will never, ever be.  And the reason why this is so…is that for as long as I live I will love my little girl. As long as I live I will miss my little girl. And for as long as I live I will grieve my little girl.

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The truth is….the plain, old, boring days hurt more and more as time passes by. The holidays, the birthdays, the “anniversary” of the accident…they merely magnify the suffering. But with those special days comes an abundance of support and love.  People reach out on those days because they recognize the profound absence of our children when there is an empty space under the Christmas tree. But the pain of the normal days…the mundane Monday or the slow moving Wednesday…as time passes by… becomes a concept that is almost impossible for anyone not “in the trenches” to fully comprehend.

So if you are a broken hearted Mama or a broken hearted Daddy…. know this. It’s okay to not be okay at Christmastime but it’s also okay…more than okay… if you are a crying, unable to leave the house mess on Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or any day ending in “y”.  And if you are a friend or family member of someone who has lost their child…your support means so very much to us on Christmas or on our baby’s birthday…but sometimes, go ahead and reach out to us…on Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or any day ending in “y”.

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Why We Talk About It. All Of It.

I have always considered myself an honest, upfront person. Even with my children. I wanted my daughters to know they could always come to me with their truths….with their questions….with their poor choices…as well as all their good things. I hoped these honest conversations would mold into strong, open and honest relationships between us as the years went by. That I could be their safe place to fall apart. Being someone your child can come to when things are happy and joyful is a wonderful thing but being their soft landing when they fall hard….that’s what I wanted to be for them both.

On February 19, 2014 my entire world was shattered. I had watched my beautiful daughter….die. The life I once knew…the Mother I was…the plans I had carefully made… now lay at my feet…only dust and ash were left. But I still knew… I knew that my little one needed a safe to place to fall… as this would most likely (God I hope so) be the hardest fall of her life and she would need some place safer than any other to unload her burdens….her truths… her pain. I knew it had to be me.

These hard conversations began the very next day. I will not ever forget that moment… when her Daddy and I walked her up the stairs into the hallway at her Aunt’s house… when we sat her down and uttered words I had never thought I would ever speak… I don’t remember exactly what we said… I hadn’t slept…I had just experienced the most horrific things…I had seen images that will be burned into my mind until I take my final breath…my memories of the first year are quite blurred, actually… but I do remember the sound that poured out of my tiny little daughter’s soul when we said Maddi would not ever be coming home.  She didn’t say anything….she just screamed. A blood curdling, heart piercing scream. The tears poured from her tiny brown eyes…and she just….screamed. I hear that scream in my mind…all the time. People said she was too little to understand. But she knew. Right away. We included Carly in all of our plans for Maddi. Her thoughts and ideas and feelings were incorporated into every single move we made. She came to Maddi’s memorial…her funeral…and her burial. I would not deny her the right to grieve.

Early on she was very angry with me. I had been driving the car. I had left with Maddi and had come home…alone. I didn’t keep Maddi safe. She would yell at me. Ask me why I would drive if it was snowing. Why didn’t I stay home? Certainly words I had uttered out loud many times…. Her Daddy would be upset with her. Tell her not to say those things. And I hushed him. Told him …and her… that it was okay that she felt this way. Told them both that if she felt things she shouldn’t have to hold them in to spare our feelings…I can’t tell you that it didn’t kill me to hear her say those things….but eventually she worked her feelings towards me out and when we talk about what happened that night now… she says things like “I know it’s not your fault Mama” ….”I know you would do anything for us.” She got to say and feel what she needed to and worked through it.

Over the years… the long four years, 1 month and 14 days…. there have been many other hard conversations. We had to move from our home that we shared with Maddi….. Maddi’s garden and grave have both been vandalized… her Daddy became a heroin addict and had to leave to a rehab facility for a month… her Grampa passed away very unexpectedly in November of 2017. But each time these painful and awful things have happened…. I allow to her fall to pieces…I allow her to crumble and be a mess… and I answer her questions….I let her say all that is on her heart… I don’t ever tell her to not feel what she feels because it makes me sad or angry or uncomfortable. Because I know what it is to be told your feelings don’t matter… your feelings are insignificant… your feelings are crazy… you shouldn’t feel that way… your feelings make me uneasy. And I do not ever want her to feel that way….the world will certainly tell her all of those things at one point or another….but I do not want her to ever feel she must bottle it up for ME.

This has been challenged as of late. My poor little girl is experiencing intense, distracting anxiety about dying. Her death, mine, her Daddy’s. These visions…feelings… the panic…became worse after her Grampa died suddenly. I think that she thought she was “safe”… that she had already suffered such a tremendous loss when she lost Maddi that death couldn’t possibly rob her of yet another person she loved. Then it did.  There are days she doesn’t mention her thoughts of death…and other days she mentions it ten times or more. Sometimes it is only a “Mama I am thinking about it again” and sometimes she is wailing…shaking. She has visions of car accidents and bad guys with guns… and she has completely irrational visions of her stuffed animals, driven mad with rage that Carly hasn’t played with them in a long time, will come alive and murder us all.

I have approached this situation by telling her how sorry I am she has these thoughts and feelings but I also tell her that in this most abnormal of lives that we have ..these feelings are incredibly normal. I remind her of her favorite books and movies….Harry Potter. In the third book and movie, “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban” there are these creatures called dementors. J.K. Rowling has described them as representing anxiety, depression, panic for those of us who are non-magical (or muggles) because those who are magical can see them and we cannot. Their presence is often said to make them feel as though they would never be happy again. For most of the characters in the story, the dementors just make them feel awful…but for Harry Potter he hears and sees flashes of his parents death and he faints. He tells his professor that he feels weak because of this. His professor quickly corrects him and tells him “No, you are not weak. You have seen and been through things that most cannot understand this only makes you more vulnerable to the dementors.” I remind her of this and we think of the thoughts of death as her “dementors.” I hug her and hold her when she is feeling overwhelmed. I let her talk through it but I don’t try to pull anything out of her she doesn’t wish to divulge at the time…I don’t ask “Have you thought about death today?” I let these conversations happen organically. We have been trying journaling… a worry box… loads of things.

When I shared what was going on with my grief group a Father there told me that if it were him he would tell his daughter to stop it. He would tell her it’s a waste of her time and to stop bringing it up and that eventually, he is sure, she would stop thinking about it all together. I don’t agree with this. And I think this mentality is the cause of many broken people. If we don’t talk about it, then it mustn’t be real. If we don’t talk about, it won’t hurt.

Very long blog post short…. I refuse to stopper her sadness or her rage or anxiety. Just because those feelings make me upset…make me worried… doesn’t mean they aren’t valid to her…that they aren’t words that need to be heard. Today, on her own, she cleaned out her stuffed animals…her toys….packed up the ones she doesn’t play with anymore because she said, “It will make me feel safer, Mama.” To me…this was confirmation. Confirmation that in this most abnormal of circumstances we are doing the best we can. It is not easy. It is painful work. But I will always be Carly’s safe place to fall. And I hope that as she gets older she always knows that. That’s why we talk about it. All of it.

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The Day After

The scene… what used to a big, beautiful home. It’s hard to tell under the rubble but you can see remnants of a house…. blown out windows… most of the roof is gone… smashed out holes in the building itself. The fence is in white picket pieces all over the burnt out grounds. You cannot tell if it was a fire since the gardens even look demolished…or if it was maybe a hurricane….There are large hunks of Earth pulled up and turned out…. Smoke is still lingering above and inside the home. A cataclysmic disaster has happened….that is obvious. A woman can be seen…sifting through rubble…her hair is full of soot and dirt… her skin is blackened with ashes or maybe Earth… it’s hard to tell… her tears streak through the mess of her face…She is weeping and she finds shattered picture frames…. partially melted photographs of a happier time…. she is weeping when she finds tattered but salvageable memories….

The destruction happened the day before this scene. And this….this is the day after. You know the day all the movies skip over…. they always fast forward several years…skip over the day after… because who in their right mind wants to see that?

This….is what it feels like to wake up the day after your child is stolen away. Everything you knew….everything you know….is burnt away or blown away or washed away…or otherwise gone….. irrecoverable. You are standing inside this home….this place…that once was… but it’s not anymore.  You are living inside this body that no longer feels like your own….your mind certainly is yours no longer… it echoes inside this place…there are thoughts that you have never thought before…there are images that won’t ever be erased…images that won’t stop playing over and over and over and over and over again. Shadows loom over the once sunny memories and dreams and hopes. Those things are there but they don’t look the same anymore…. there is a riff…a tear… something…someone…is missing from them all… suddenly the happy times hurt as much as the bad times…and the bad times threaten to rob you of any joy you have ever had…A veil has been thrust upon your head….between you now…and you…just moments before… You age a thousand lifetimes in the intervals between the seconds…Although it was mere minutes before….that you is a distant memory… that you is gone…burnt out…blown away… like a Christmas tree… yesterday it was beautiful, full of lights…full of sparkling decorations…a bearer of sweet and precious memories… today… a fire starter…a burnt pile of pine needles…irrecoverable. 8:52 pm….I am me…she is she…we are we… 8:53 pm… no more…no more…no more… February 18, 2014….we are planning a birthday party…a vacation…. February 20, 2014…we are planning a memorial…a funeral…an estate.

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Four years later. “Time heals all wounds” ….”It will get easier with time”…. Nope. No. Absolutely not. You are forever, irreparably changed…. You don’t heal… You scab over… And the day after “the day”…. is a reliving of that day….yes…four years later…. I am back there again. I am suffocated by the smell of all the hundreds of flowers that bathe my kitchen and living room with a beauty I no longer comprehend. I am overwhelmed with questions…conversations…tears… appointments…the drive to the funeral home… I am there again…in the back seat of a friend’s car… or maybe it was our rental vehicle…I don’t remember things like that…just how it all felt…how sick I felt… how completely and utterly emptied of any fragment of my former self. I am all at once grateful and repulsed by everyone’s generosity…. thank you but…if you could just give me my daughter back, that’d be great… I don’t want casseroles…and jewelry…and pictures… and hugs…and money… I just want Maddi. I am drowning in anxiety and strangled by guilt. How could I? Why did I? Why didn’t I? Oh Maddi…Oh Carly….oh my babies…I am so sorry….why….why….why….why…. The why’s always replay in my head… but today…the day after…. they are louder than normal…. they scream into my face…. HOW COULD YOU??? WHY MADDI???? It’s hard to have casual conversations…so often…I have found myself nodding mindlessly at people…having literally no idea as to what we were talking about only seconds before. Sorry. I was just seeing my dying child in front of me on the snowbank…. okay…back to the present…. sorry.

Four years later. Oh how I hate saying that…writing that. How can my child be gone for so long? Wasn’t it only yesterday I was watching her climb down the steps of the big yellow bus with the purple circle on it’s side? Wasn’t it only yesterday I felt her hair slip between my fingers as I hastily put her dirty blonde locks into a bun? No. It wasn’t. It was four fucking years ago. But four years later I am swallowed up whole by anxiety. I couldn’t leave my house today. I couldn’t force a smile. I couldn’t face the outside world….an outside world that has moved on. For me…the world cracked open and devoured my life… For me… in a loud, crashing, screeching, screaming moment… all my hopes and dreams and plans….all of Maddi’s future moments…all of her successes ahead…all of her heartbreaks…all of her I love yous and hugs and smiles…. went up in smoke. For the rest of the world…not so much. And that is a hard fucking pill to swallow, you know? How can someone be so much to me…. how can someone that I love more than I love myself…someone I know without a doubt that I would die for…How can that someone’s absence not squash the life out of everyone around me? How dare they keep on living? So today… the day after…. I feel lost and alone and sad and broken and I feel like I am back there ….the 20th of February, 2014. Except this time….I am alone. There are no throngs of loving supporters….there are no large bouquets being delivered at an almost ad nauseam pace…. there are no phone calls…..  I know that their hearts and thoughts are with me. But I am alone…physically and mentally. It is four years later…but I still feel just as I did the day after…. I still feel like that broken, shell of a human being…sitting wrapped in my husband’s arms at our kitchen table…the one we used to have family dinners at every night…the one that now is used to collect things on because we haven’t faced family dinner at that table yet… not once in four years…. but I am still sitting there trying to figure out how the fuck does a parent write an obituary for their child? How do you sum up a person you would lie your life on the line for and who is now gone into place you cannot follow? I am still…four years later… that Mom who cannot open my eyes in the funeral home and see what the caskets for a child look like…

 

Four years later. I am still looking for her…. I am still listening for her…. Please be patient with grieving parents. Half our hearts have gone ahead of us. It’s a hard thing living with half your heart.

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They Are The Same Age

A child’s birthday. This is generally a simple thing in a person’s life. Every year your children grow and get older and you celebrate their birthday. But nothing is simple in this complicated, abnormal, tear stained life of ours.

In two days, on January 17, my youngest daughter will be having a birthday. We are excitedly planning her party which will happen this coming weekend. We love birthdays. We love them even more than any other holiday because it’s the day we met each other. It is the first day we ever laid eyes on one another. They are special. Every child has an original, all their own… birth story. So we celebrate! From the outside looking in, I….we….look just as normal as can be. I am a crafty…okay…kinda crafty…Mom….so I have been hard at work making all sorts of goodies and decorations for my youngest daughter’s birthday party….Carly is having a Harry Potter party. Oh how she LOVES Harry Potter! (Don’t tell her I told you but she kisses her Harry Potter pillow case good night every night!!) We have been filling out invitations…planning the menu…and of course, shopping! She wanted to invite so many people we had to limit her to just the girls….and we are still expecting 20 or so five and six year old children! (What is wrong with me?)

And, just like it has been since February 19, 2014…. there is a sadness woven into this most joyous of occasions. There is an absence we cannot ignore. A voice missing from the chorus of voices singing Happy Birthday….a voice that would gleefully drown out all the others because Maddi loved her sister’s birthday almost as much as she loved her own. There will be a card with Maddi’s name on it….and a gift….Maddi’s name will not be inscribed in her hand writing….but mine. The gift will be picked out….hoping it’s something Maddi would have picked. We feel that last birthday of Carly’s with Maddi…her third birthday….we feel it’s presence heavily as we never really got to celebrate Carly that year….Maddi and I had been planning her party…but we were struggling with money…as always…and had to wait until we got our tax return in…so we happily planned…Maddi loved planning just like Carly and I do…and the party was supposed to be February 22nd. But it never happened. We were, instead, planning our oldest daughter’s funeral that day…writing a fucking obituary….instead of holding a 3 year old’s birthday party. The supplies sit in a tote downstairs…they are too painful to touch…to look at. A tote of what should have been.

But unlike every birthday since that year….there is something different hanging in the air. Each time I discuss Carly’s birthday with anyone…. the words dangle in front of us…. words too difficult to be spoken. Words so difficult to comprehend that the mere speaking of them draws the very air we breath from around us…..the mere speaking of them turns our stomachs….causes tears to swim in our eyes. THIS birthday is the one in particular I have been dreading. How can that be? How can I dread my little girl’s birthday? Let me be clear…before moving on… I do so look forward to Carly’s birthday….I do feel excitement and pride and joy…. I do revel in these moments with her…watching her grow up….Do not mistake my suffering for an absence of love for my little one. Just as it is so often for grieving parents….there is not an absence of joy but an inexplicable mingling of the two emotions….joy and despair.

What is different this year….what magnifies my sadness….my longing ….her absence….is this fact….

In two days, on January 17, my youngest daughter will be as old as my oldest daughter. This seems non-logical. And it is. I was there. They were not born on the same day. Or even in the same year. Maddi was born on June 23, 2006 and Carly was born 4 1/2 years later on January 17, 2011. But yet…here we are. Carly will be seven in two day’s time. And Maddi is also seven. And that hurts in a way that I cannot even understand myself. Maddi should be our 11 1/2 year old daughter….but instead….she is seven. And so is Carly. It’s like a cruel joke in which the punchline is our life. The last rendition of “Happy Birthday” I ever sung to my Maddi was for her seventh birthday. The last number shaped candle that I ever placed on a cake for my Maddi was shaped like the number seven. I have bought her number eight, nine, ten and eleven….but they are placed at a fucking gravestone instead of on a cake. So it’s not really the same.

Now Carly will have spent more time on this Earth without her sister then she was ever afforded with her. Now…on September 15th or so…Carly will grow older than Maddi ever did. And I am so happy to watch her grow….but I am also so fucking sad. This is not how it is supposed to go.

F@#$ The New Year

IMG_3039So many posts on social media these days say the same thing in different ways….”I can’t wait for the new year” or “New year, new start” or “I hope I can forget this year and have a great new year” and so on and so forth.  And I hate every single one of them. When I think about celebrating the end of yet another year without Maddi I want to scream…I want to grab the pages of the calendar and force them backwards….I want to reverse the hands of time. I cannot celebrate my unwilling thrust into a new year. I cannot celebrate the end of a year that never included my child….everyone around me is so damn happy. So excited to go out and have dinner…and drinks…go dancing…and party joyously as one year ends and another begins. I feel like curling up into a ball and covering myself with blankets and crying myself to sleep.

I look forward to all this year will bring with my youngest daughter….I do. So many times I speak about how I hate the passing of time and a frustrating amount of people will “remind” me that I still have another daughter, a beautiful child that I should feel blessed to be with and should be excited to watch grow up. And that’s the problem….people think that these two feelings are mutually exclusive. They are not. I can sit here….holding my breath…full of joyful anticipation for this new year with my little one. She has an incredible year ahead with exciting developments in her dancing….beginning gymnastics… joining her school’s Destination Imagination team (just like Maddi did)… surely losing more teeth…and so very much more. I am overwhelmingly proud of her and who she is. This does not mitigate the pain I feel as yet another year comes to a close without Maddi beside me.

This is the crux of living as a grieving parent. Somehow unbearable pain…absence…longing…emptiness…bitterness….an unending sadness that settles into your bones and sinks into every cell in your body….can live in the same space as love and joy and excitement and pride and graciousness. When I tell you that I fucking hate the new year….that I wish it wasn’t…please don’t tell me how lucky I am to have my little one…I do know. But it all lives in the same space…it all lives within my broken heart…The quilt of my life has seven years and seven months and twenty seven days of unfettered patches of joy woven with laughter and excitement….and the rest of the patches are woven with Maddi’s absence…with sadness stitched between the smiles and giggles. It’s how my life will always be now. Because there won’t be a time…as long as I live….that Maddi isn’t supposed to be here….there won’t be a moment….as long as I live….that I wouldn’t love her so there won’t be a moment…as long as I live…that I will not miss her and grieve her….because that is grief. It is love…with no place to go. It is love…continued.

Please understand…it’s not that I do not wish for you to have a happy new year….it’s not that I wish that you feel my suffering…because even a person with the deepest of empathy cannot comprehend the truth of losing a child. It’s not that at all. It’s just I, and others like me, need patience and love and understanding….we need to know it’s okay if we aren’t bubbling over with joy for a “new start”….we need to know it’s okay and you will still continue to be our friend if we choose not to go out tonight…or any other night…if we choose to curl up and cry rather then join in the countdown to another year without our babies in it. I am approaching FOUR fucking years without Maddi. In fact…this WILL be my fourth New Years without her….and I fucking hate it. It hurts in a way nothing else ever could….to think of every day in this new year being without Maddi in it…oh she will be there…in the pink skies…in the ladybugs that somehow find their way to us…to the family of four deer stopped just down the road…she will be there…but not in the way a child is supposed to be. And these facts make it hard to breathe…hard to think…hard to focus…hard to smile.

Please know when you say “Happy New Year” and I only smile politely…or maybe I just nod…it’s not you…it’s just this whole “new” year doesn’t apply to me…and all I want to do is scream “FUCK THE NEW YEAR.”

 

 

Parenting While Grieving: Part 3

Yesterday, was Christmas. Since 2014 we have gone….the three of us…to spend some time with Maddi. We bring her gifts….a stocking…. and we sit and cry. We normally are bundled up and wearing snow shoes… it is NOT what we want ….but it is ALL we get now. But yesterday we didn’t go. It was fucking snowing. A blizzard really. Five Christmases ago….waking up to a snow storm on Christmas morning would have just made the day perfect. The sereneness of the heavy snow coming down through the window behind our tree as the girls sat together….opening gifts and squealing with delight. But now it’s like adding insult to injury. It’s shoving salt into our open wounds.

So, today….my daughter and I gathered Maddi’s things….our snow shoes…our gear and headed out to visit Maddi. I talked to Carly about how all of the things we set up for her just a few weeks ago were likely not going to be visible….and would be deeply buried under not only snow but ice. And that I wouldn’t be really trying to unbury them because past endeavors to do so broke several things. She sat in the back seat….listening to her beloved Harry Potter book on cd…with a look on her face of overwhelming sadness. Visits have grown harder and harder for her….and the Winter visits were downright dreadful. She hated them but she was coming along today.

We pulled up. The parking area was barely plowed wide enough for one vehicle. She started panicking saying that we would get stuck. I assured her we were fine and turned the vehicle off…silencing Harry Potter. Her head dropped. I asked if she wanted to talk. She said “No thank you.” She made no move to get out. I told her if she needed or wanted to say something she should. Tears swam in her eyes…. “Mama I don’t want to. I don’t want to go in there. I hate it here. But I don’t want to make you sad if we don’t go in.”

The words she spoke hung in the air for a minute. I wasn’t sure what to say. I wanted to go in desperately. It’s the closest I can come to my daughter’s little body….her dirty blonde hair…her pink fingernails…her moustache dress…. I wanted to lay forlorn in the snow….on the ground under which she is buried. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I didn’t want to force her. My eyes filled with tears. I didn’t want her squelching her own feeling to spare mine.

“It’s okay. If you don’t want to go in…I ….I …can find time to go on my own at some point this week. I’m not upset. I understand. What do you want to do? Do you want to go?” My heart pounded in my chest …we were so close to Maddi I just wanted to go….in.

“Mama…can we leave?”

“Yes. We can”. I opened my door and stood up. I turned toward the cemetery. “I love you Maddi” I shouted against the wind “I love you so much. I am sorry that you are here and not at home with us. I am sorry it’s so cold. I am sorry I can’t warm you up anymore. I will be back soon. I promise.” I held the I love you sign up into the air and shouted I love you again. Clinging to some hope she can hear me….then I got back into the car and drove away….as tears streamed down my face.

It’s so hard. Parenting is so hard …anyways….but parenting a grieving child as you are grieving is next to impossible. It hurts so fucking much. I cannot save Maddi and I cannot stop Carly’s suffering. It feels like the definition of parenting failure. I must suppress my needs sometimes…a lot of the times… so that I can help Carly as best I can. I must listen to her…read her subtle signs…and figure out what is best for us both as I navigate this bullshit life of ours  blindly….they don’t make books about this….there is no “What to Expect When You and Your Child Are Grieving” book….not even a chapter. So you do what you think is right and hope that you are not screwing your child up even more than the loss of their sister already has. I have made MANY mistakes….said and done the wrong things…but I hope …in the end…when she is grown…Carly knows how hard I tried…how much I gave…and how deeply I love BOTH of my little girls.maddi-and-carly2

The Years Get Harder

Recently I met with a friend….a fellow Mother in grief….there’s something about these meetings. No matter how brief….they bring a sense of comfort and support that exists only in the conversations of two broken people. This conversation was about the impending holidays. We concurred that as the years pass the pain does not ease….it does not ever relent. We also agreed that the holidays and the years get more difficult, more painful than the first … despite the popular idea that the first year is the worst and that somehow, magically, the subsequent years are far easier to face.

After this conversation I felt compelled to discuss this. Where does this idea come from? The idea that somehow as your life moves forward against your will…as the moments in time that you had with your child (or really any loved one) slip further away from your present day…that somehow the pain of their absence becomes more bearable….less crushing… is one… I think …. that derives from our culture’s idea that all problems could and should come to a neat and clean conclusion. That if we just cling to hope that everything will “work out in the end.” Our society, in general, prefers a happy ending. It makes us feel like when things aren’t going our way that it will eventually work it’s way out and everything will be all sunshine and rainbows again. This idea does not apply to grief and I truly feel like this is an enormous injustice for the grievers of this world.

I am here to say….that the second, third and now, my fourth years do not “get easier.” In fact, as my friend and I agreed, I believe they are harder than the first in many ways.

With the first year, there are so many unknowns…..how will it feel? How will we include our missing loved one….in my case….my precious child? Do we buy them gifts and if so, gifts to place by their stone or actual gifts like toys or nail polish? That first year you are in, what so many people have described as, a fog. Nothing makes sense. There are many times you sit in conversation with people….even engaging in deep conversation…. and within minutes or even seconds you haven’t the faintest idea as to what you discussed. You hear and see and smell and touch everything through grief. You are constantly dismayed by how life has just gone on….how the world can spin…how the sun can rise…when your baby has gone on before you. In your head screams thoughts of “How can you just smile at me when my child is gone?” You do things in that first year that in subsequent years you are purely incapable of doing. The first June after we lost Maddi we organized a memorial ride in her memory….while we were moving out of her home…just weeks before what should have been her 8th birthday. I look back and cannot fathom how we managed to do all of this and not just collapse under the weight of it all.  Although the ride continued for two more years following….the planning and organizing…the energy that goes into something so big…such a massive undertaking…became too much. I couldn’t understand why, at first, but looking back I know….that first year I can hardly remember a thing. I was acting purely as a robot…..I was the walking dead…. and as the fog lifted the tasks in front of me became wholly impossible. This is why I think facing the holidays as each year passes….facing each day as each year passes….actually becomes harder.

Without that fog….it’s been said…there would be no grieving parents. We wouldn’t survive that first year….the funeral….the burial….the birthdays ….the pain…the irreparable destruction of all we knew to be our life….if we weren’t in a complete fog. Even though we know it not to be true, a huge piece of our minds and hearts believe that this cannot be reality. No. It’s just a nightmare that we cannot wake from. No. We will see our children come bouncing through that front door again. We will wake up in tears from our horrible dream and go into our children’s rooms and there they will lie and we will kiss their cheeks and say, “Oh thank goodness” and breath a sigh of relief. Reflecting on how we couldn’t imagine how awful that would be.

And as the hours turn to days….the days to weeks…the weeks to months and the months to years…. our painful, irreversible, incomprehensible reality sets in. THIS IS REAL. Our children are not coming home. They will never hug us again. They will never sit under our Christmas tree again. We will NEVER wake from this Hell. THIS IS OUR LIFE. And this is why it’s even harder. We begin to be unable to live in a fantasy that somehow this isn’t real. And it drains you. You realize all you have are memories…and photographs. And you will not get anymore. And it eats you up. You realize that you will never again be whole.

And as all this time passes….your expectations for yourself begin to nag at you. The unrealistic idea that society places upon grievers that you must begin to function again…you must integrate back into polite society and stuff down your sad. Tuck your grief into a neat little box with a bow and save it for only the times society deems acceptable to mourn…the holidays…birthdays…the anniversaries. Other than that we must be like Elsa in Maddi’s favorite movie “Frozen”…we must conceal…not feel. So when we can’t…when the pain pours out like water from a faucet….when we are asked how we are and we feel compelled to answer honestly rather than providing the innocent asker with a more comfortable lie… we begin to feel crazy…weak…like a burden.

And as all this time passes….the world around us desperately wants us to move on. They want to hear we are okay. That it’s easier now. That it’s only really the “big” days that bother us now. They tell us to get on with it. They called us the first year….sent messages of love and support all the time….but the second year…there is less acknowledgement…then the third even less…good friends don’t even send you a quick text to say they are thinking of you on the anniversary…they don’t acknowledge our child’s birthday… I mean “how long will we have to keep remembering this?” ….the first year you get a pass from friends and family. If you don’t want to come…If you don’t want to stay…If you cry the whole time…everyone “understands.” But the years following that first year….the love and patience and support and empathy begins to wane dramatically. They don’t say it but we can see it in their eyes…”Is it going to be like this every year?”….”I don’t really feel like feeling sad today”….

So let me say this loud and clear…for every broken, sad, aching person….for every griever who feels the pressure to get up and go on. For every griever who knows the truth that the first year is not always the worst….and that in many ways the following years are harder. YOU ARE STILL ALLOWED TO GRIEVE. You are allowed to turn down party invitations…you are allowed to forgo the Christmas tree if that is what you want even if it’s been many, many years. You are allowed to have eyes that swim with tears and a face that is stained with them too. If you love someone who is grieving….even if that grief is years long…understand as much as you can. EACH year there are unknowns….NOT just the first year. Understand that we are turning down our invitation because we are taking care of ourselves….we are giving ourselves permission to not be okay…we are giving ourselves permission to feel. If you acknowledged our loss the first year please continue to do so….your support is a gift that you cannot wrap up with pretty paper and ribbon but it has more value than any such gift. Tell us your favorite memory even if you told us a hundred times. We don’t get new memories….so we cling to the old ones.

We must stop telling people it will get easier. It’s just not that simple. You DO learn to carry your loss. You DO learn to live in two worlds….to feel every emotion that a human can experience all at once….you DO learn to allow grief and sorrow to share space with joy and happiness. But NONE of this is easy and some days it is downright impossible…even YEARS later.

And even though I may be “out of the fog” and even though reality has sunk in like cold sinks into the bones on a bitter Winters day…. I still look for her. I still wake up and for a second I don’t know….I still listen for the pitter patter of her feet on our floor. That will never change…I think it’s the only reason we can, as parents of children who have gone before us, continue to move forward. I will end my long winded post with a favorite quote….It’s how I feel about grief…how I feel about still looking for Maddi…how I feel about loving someone in Heaven.

“After all this time?” “Always.” img_2666