Follow by Email

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

10/10

We use a pain scale in the healthcare world. Most are familiar with it. It's a scale going from 0-10. It's a way to gauge a person's pain level in order to determine whether or not your interventions are effective. People aren't always great at understanding the scale, but it can be helpful in determining efficacy of medicaton from time to time. Sometimes patients and nurses don't exactly agree on the pain rating. So, when the nurse is the patient, they tend to avoid the top of the pain scale.  I've never rated my pain a 10/10 when asked. Even when I was yelling and literally punching the back of an ER gurney because of kidney stone pain, I still couldn't do it. When asked what I rated my pain, I said "8" through clenched teeth and tears.

While there have been times that I have been in pretty intense physical pain, I could have never imagined the power of emotional pain. Even writing the words, "emotional pain" just seems too empty to describe the immense, searing agony  of child loss. It's ongoing, and forever and there is no medication, no cure. And there is certainly no scale that does it justice.

I keep learning new things about grief, and that's part of the reason the pain lingers. I reach new levels of understanding of this process with each passing year. I recently came to a realization about a certain statement that's never made much sense to me. You know how you'll always see a meme or quote related to grief that essentially says, "no one can tell you when to get over it", or "so many people just tell me to get over it"? Well, I don't think I've ever actually heard THOSE specific words. Don't get me wrong, I FEEL that sentiment, but I don't think I've ever heard it. But I think now I know what actually happens that makes grieving people feel that way. It isn't necessarily that someone SAYS we need to move on, it's the unspoken expectation that we just do so.

For example, grieving people are expected to keep their actual feelings quiet, at least at certain times in their lives when others are allowed to voice theirs. If we say what we actually think in certain situations, we will not be received well. I'll try to explain what I mean....

The hospital I work in has a rule set up, during this particularly bad flu season, that says that no children under the age of 16 are allowed in the hospital. It's for the protection of our patients and their babies. Of course this is difficult for some new families who want their newborn to be introduced to their other children as soon as possible. While I can understand this sentiment, my patience with those who try to find a way around the policy, only lasts so long. My response to is your typical, "I know this is a tough policy and I'm sorry your other children will have to wait to meet their sibling". At this point, I'm still ok. I can make it through that...once. But lately the conversation has continued to include, "I just CAN'T be away from my children for 3 whole days. I've never been away from them"...followed by tears. YES, I know pregnant women are hormonal. YES, I understand that this is a completely normal sentiment. But that doesn't mean that my own heart doesn't scream, "yes you CAN! Believe me. I haven't held my child in 5 years. I'm still here." Obviously that response doesn't work. This is the problem. People who don't understand this way of thinking are allowed to express their feelings, even if they hurt me. But I cannot express mine. And I discussed this  with my friend and she asked me why I can't just say it? The answer is simple. I have to live in THIS world.  I don't get to live in my grieving world all the time. I mean, I suppose I could, but I wouldn't function here in reality.

I'm not saying any of this to entice any sort of sympathy. I'm truly not. I'm not looking for someone to say, "of course you can say what you feel", mostly because it isn't true. But the feelings are real. They're present whether they're voiced or not. And I think this discrepancy between the living world and the grieving world bears mentioning.

I also don't pretend to be innocent of invoking these feelings in my fellow grievers. I lost my child. I have not lost my spouse. I do not have a life threatening illness myself. Both of my parents are still alive. And for those in my life who don't share my fortune, I welcome you to express exactly what you're feeling when you're talking to me. Make your conversations with me the ones in which you can say exactly what is in your brain in that moment. If I complain about my husband, tell me that I'm lucky to have him. If I whine about a bad hair day, show me your bald head and tell me to get the hell over it. I say this because I want the grieving to know that I don't need for you to "get over it". I don't need for you to feel any way other than the way you feel. I don't need for you to sugar coat things. I don't need for you to spare my feelings because I don't understand where you're coming from. Tell me where you stand. Tell me what your heart hears when I say something insensitive. Tell me exactly what stirs in you when you feel  I've missed your perspective.  It's ok. It's OK to hurt. It's OK to be angry. It's OK to tell me you feel forgotten and alone. It's ok...to tell me it's a 10...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Too Depressed For Therapy"

I don't remember exactly what day it happened, what moment it was that wiped away my ability for pretense. It wasn't the moment he left. That was certainly filled with more than the deafening silence I heard screeching through my brain...but the loss of pretense wasn't there. In fact, just hours after he was gone, we went to dinner. To DINNER. I remember thinking about how incredibly ridiculous that was. Do people whose children are dead go to dinner?? Probably not, I'd thought, and yet there I was with a menu in my hand, just like it was any other Saturday.

And don't get me wrong, I've never really been one to mince words, but still I could when needed. However, that part of me is gone in many situations where it used to just be as natural as breathing. What do I mean? Well, recently I was talking about my grandmother and I said, "oh. Well, she's dead." I think the way I said it seemed harsh or something.  It must have because I recognized a change in expression among the people I was talking to. But for me, dead is dead. It isn't  just "passing away" or "passing on" or "crossing over". It's dead. And I think I NEED for it to be that. Because it's real. There is nothing more real than "dead" for me. And believe me, it is the most real thing I've ever experienced. It's continuous. It's part of me. And now IT is what is as natural as breathing. Dead. My son is dead.

I was there when it happened, so I know. The air stopped moving through his lungs and his heart stopped beating. He no longer turned his head toward my cheat as I held him. His arm slipped from its place on his chest. And if you think this is difficult to read, I can't begin to describe what it means to watch that, to bear witness to your child's last breath. Dead.

I see a therapist pretty regularly (most people reading this are likely thinking, "well thank god!....:)). But sometimes I just can't go. Sometimes the thought of moving even one arm is too much, so getting up and making myself take time to "work through my crap" is not gonna happen. So, I don't go. I literally cancelled therapy because I was too depressed to go. That's hilarious to me. And maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. Because it's REAL. That's exactly what grief does. It kicks my ass. And it NEVER goes away. And sometimes it makes me awesome, and sometimes it makes me vomit. And sometimes it make me tired. And sometimes it makes me a crappy friend. But one thing it never does is leave. It doesn't allow me to ignore it. Not in its entirety, not enough to allow for pretense...

I don't even know why this is important enough to me to write down. Maybe someone else out there feels the same way? Maybe this is a common byproduct of grief? What I do know is that what I experienced was real, what I currently feel is real, and that the irony is that what woke me up to this very real "life" I lead....was death.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Where Are You Christmas?

Where are you, Christmas? I'm so grateful that I don't recognize you this year. Not one thing is the same, and that takes a bit of the sting out of this damn holiday.

Nothing is more effective at highlighting loneliness and pain than the holiday season. Every year since my son has been gone, this time of year has slayed me. It's like pouring alcohol on an open wound. I despise tradition. I LOATHE "whole family togetherness".

This year feels different. We're in a new home. Nothing looks the same here. And I'm so grateful. My oldest son refuses to help pick out our Christmas tree now, and I love him for it. It's so much easier for me to be "present" when Easton is not the only one missing. The fact that it's just my husband and the girls picking it out makes it possible for me to breathe.

I don't like being "all together but not really". It's only been this year that I can stand the 5 of us being in the same room at the same time, and still I notice the vacancy. That may sound horrible, but it isn't something you can judge. It's not a feeling I would have asked for, or even known it would be possible. So, you can imagine that when I buy presents for 4 children and only 3 open them up on Christmas morning that I'm probably not going to love that day.

This year I decided to kind of do my own form of immersion therapy. I bought Christmas decorations for our new house and put them up EARLY. I have TWO decorated trees. I was done buying and wrapping gifts long before today, and I even REQUESTED a cookie making day. I blasted Christmas music every chance I got. I did it in part because I believe this may be my youngest daughter's last "magic" year. And it kills me to have "missed" the previous ones. But I also did it to desensitize myself to the inevitable knives that the holidays bring.

I don't know that I'll ever enjoy Christmas as I once did. I think that maybe the loss of a child steals that part of you. Or maybe it takes time. Or maybe it's like the rest of the grief process, where each minute is a crapshoot.

What I have certainly learned about grief and holidays specifically, is that no one is in a place to judge another person for any decisions they make. I would have never guessed in a million years that I would be this person. I loved Christmas and every tradition we had. Now those very things I loved, cut me deeper than I can ever do justice with words.

This year is also different because my dad isn't here. And that sounds particularly terrible, but I don't mean that I'm glad he isn't here. I'm just glad that Easton isn't the ONLY one missing. I miss my dad like crazy, and I can't wait to see him. But that's just it. I have the option of seeing him again. That's not true of my E. And sure, "someday you'll see him in heaven." Ok, I doubt that would be sufficient for anyone, so it isn't helpful.

I'm grateful for my experiences this year. I love our new house and the comfort it provides. I was able to spend some time in Haiti with Jeff and shared my love of it with him. But there are still 4 stockings, and only three children reaching for them. That's not something that can be repaired with tinsel and carols. So I'm especially grateful that the holiday is so unrecognizable this year. Every second of my life without my son has been unrecognizable to me. Christmas finally matches...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Haiti Part 2

Ah, Haiti...how I had missed you! This trip was incredible, as was the last. But this time I was able to share it with my husband. I got to watch someone I love, fall in love with something already so near and dear to my heart. He felt the tug early. I could tell by the way he took everything in, that he was hooked right away. At first, he was interested in seeing the country from a teacher perspective. He wanted to share his multi-cultural experience with his classes and tried to log everything in order to do so. But then that curiosity and that interest changed. It grew into something deeper, something stronger, something with more staying power. His heart began to take on the beauty mixed with pain, and I'm grateful to have witnessed that.

I don't like the word missionary. I never have. To me, that word implies that I'm giving something or doing something selfless. I don't feel that way in regards to Haiti. I go there to restore my faith in humanity, to restore my own soul. There is something about this country and its people that speaks to the deepest parts of my being. I feel completely and utterly selfish in my desire to return. We painted some classrooms, provided some gifts and some food, but ultimately what did that do? I held children for brief moments in time. For one week, I was the hand on their backs, the voice in their ear. But how can that last a lifetime?

I was very aware of touch while in Haiti this time. Every trip to the orphanage made me more conscientious about the importance of human contact. Every child I saw got my hand on their back while we spoke. I wondered how often they go days without the loving touch of an adult who cares for them? And that's not to say that the nannies and caregivers at the orphanage didn't love them. Those people were truly amazing. They bathed and fed 65 children every single day. The kids are clean, and well cared for. But what of human contact? Is it possible to physically touch each one of them in a loving way every single day? I'm not so sure that it is.

In America, children between the ages of 18 months- 3 years want to be put down. They're developing independence and they don't want adults to hinder their desire for adventure.  In Haiti, children of this same age reach up their hands and beg and plead for you to hold them. They've learned to say, "Mama! Papa!" as you walk by and they nearly break their little backs trying to reach for you. Even when you do pick them up, something normally distracting to an American child, like toys or candy are within walking distance, they will not let go. You try to put them down to play and they cling to you as tightly as their little bodies will allow them. Who knows when they'll be held again?

At one point my husband made a comment about how awful it was to see that kind of desperation. I agree with him, but I also know that even though it is awful to witness, and it would be easier for me to have never seen that kind of pain, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It's there. It was there before we got there. It was there for the full week that I cradled as many babies as I could at one time, and it will be there long after I am gone. And although we are on our own adoption journey, and I do truly believe that my children are there, I am equally as passionate about orphan prevention in Haiti.  How wonderful would it be to nearly eradicate the need for the over 700 orphanages in that country? What if we could help empower families, and help them find sustainable income in order to keep families together? I believe that's the ultimate goal. And I want to always be aware of that. Long after my children arrive safely at home, and we become the family I know we're supposed to be, I will continue to hope for and to support in whatever ways we can, the efforts at orphan prevention in Haiti.

While on this trip, Jeff and I were able to meet other potential adoptive families from our agency. That was a gift in and of itself. It was so refreshing to be able to speak about the process and the difficulties related to Haitian adoption with others who truly understand. I'm grateful for those contacts and for those three special people we now consider friends.

We also met our agency liason, and we'd previously only corresponded through email, phone calls, and texts. She's a truly incredible young woman and her heart for Haiti is beautiful. We are so privileged to be working with her, and I'm even more excited for the hundreds of children's lives that are touched by this beautiful soul.

We are often asked how the adoption is going and if we know how soon it will happen, if we've met our kids, etc. The answer is that it's going exactly the way it's supposed to. My children are there and they'll be home with me when both they and my current family are ready. Have I met them? I have no idea. But this trip helped me to see that no matter what happens, the people who are supposed to live in my home, will be here someday. And we'll fit perfectly.  I can be patient. I have a lifetime to wait to see my son again, so the next few weeks, months or years of waiting for my Haitian children will be something I can handle.

I will go back to Haiti. I know this to be true as much as I know anything. My heart is there. And each time I even think of returning, I am filled with excitement, gratitude to those who help fund and supply my trips, and a peace I can't put into words.

Mesi, Haiti.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It Hurts

It just hurts. It's a grinding, soul-crushing pain. And there is no way around it. Losing a child carves a hole that cannot be filled, and it causes a deafening silence that cannot be ignored.

I have no specific reason for this post today.  No reason, that is, that is different from how I felt yesterday or how I will feel tomorrow. I don't need one. It's a forever kind of deal. In the beginning I was screaming nearly constantly. I was clawing at my clothes and hearing a guttural cry escape from my lips without even recognizing that it was me. Now, I mostly function. But that haunted, screaming woman is still in there. And I identify more with her on most days than I do the "seemingly functioning" one. I want him back. I don't want to wait. I don't want to "be grateful for what I have". I don't want to "look forward to the day I'll see him again." No. That isn't enough. I want him here. I want him now. I want that fire in my chest to go away. I want to stop feeling guilty and alone for my reactions to "normal" life. I want to know why the hell this is my reality.

No, today is not a special day. Not a day that should hurt more than any other. Today is just one of the million I have experienced where the dizzying idea of FOREVER has the ability to knock me to my knees.

I have no pretty way to wrap this. No ribbons or bows or cute quips to close it out. All I have is raw, unforgiving pain. And the desperate need to hold a special little boy again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Do You Say When...

I'm often asked how to speak to someone who is grieving. And although I appreciate the question and the motivation behind it, I can only answer from one perspective....mine. I can't tell someone what is necessarily "right" or "wrong" in any given situation when it comes to another person's grief. So, I thought I'd speak to what I know, and talk about what has and hasn't worked for me. 

For me, there isn't one right or wrong thing to say when it comes to grief. Honestly, what one person says in one moment may be perfectly fine and someone else could say it in exactly the same way and it would go over like a lead balloon. Is that fair? Nope. And I know that, but fair doesn't really count for me anymore. 

There have also been countless times when someone has said, "I wanted to tell you that when I said that thing before, I didn't think about how it would make you feel, and I'm sorry." Here's the thing with that, I probably didn't notice. You may have said something to me that you considered thoughtless at the time, but I most likely never think about it.  And if i did notice, and I do think about it, then I've probably already made my peace with it.   Honestly, most of my days are spent letting difficult conversations roll off my back. I'm constantly reminding myself that not everyone has had my experiences and that things that they say aren't meant to be hurtful. Of COURSE I know you don't mean to hurt me, or to say something callous in regards to the death of my son. In the cases in which I am affected by something someone has said, I do appreciate the acknowledgement (no matter how much later you recognize it) because it validates my feelings as a grieving mother. But I don't fault you for being a normal human being. I don't wish for you to truly know my perspective. 

I think, for me, the most important thing I can tell someone who is worried about what they say around me is to remember that it isn't about them. Of course my friends and family are going to talk about their children, complain about their antics, share their joyful moments. I know that! I'm a mother too. And I'll share all of those things about my children as well. All four of them. And I'm not going to stop. But some things that you say to me are going to hurt. That's just how this is going to be for me in this lifetime. It isn't your fault, and it isn't mine. As much as you can't help hurting me with the things you may sometimes say, I can't help the fact that sometimes your words hurt me. And I'm OK with that. The key is for you to be OK with that too. Don't make it the grieving person's job to make you feel better about what you say. And I don't mean that in a harsh, "I don't care about your feelings", way. I just mean that in that moment, that person is probably just trying to hold herself together. She doesn't have the capacity to make it OK for you too. 

I certainly don't hold those moments against anyone. I don't know how to do grief either! I'm learning every day. And I only know how I feel. I can say that if your grieving person is anything at all like me, she'll need free reign on her emotions. Let her be positive when she wants to be positive. Let her scream and heave and sob in anger when she can't. Tell her that there is beauty in the strength to allow herself to fall apart. Let her pray to God, if she has hope in miracles. Let her denounce religion and higher power if that's where her mood takes her. I was once told I didn't have a free pass just because I "lost my child." I'm saying give her one. Love her. Let her know that all of her emotions are welcome. Not just the ones that make you feel more comfortable. 

And for those of you on your own grief journey, no matter what that might mean, I wish you enough love to carry you through. It's your only guarantee. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

International Bereaved Mother's Day

"How many kids do you have?" This is a common question. In my particular line of work, it's asked of me several times a day. I never ask this question. I used to. Just like I used to do a lot of things. But I don't ask this one because its answer is difficult for some, and I know that now.

I always answer truthfully. Four. I have 4 children. I answer that way, because for me there is no other way to answer. But that's not true for all bereaved mothers. This is a commonly asked question on grief forums. "When someone asks how many children you have, what do you say?" For me, there really is only one answer, but to many, the potential follow up questions make this answer more difficult. Inevitably, this question is followed by one asking ages or if you have boys or girls. I have a standard answer for that too. My oldest son is 13, I have 12 and 9 year old daughters, and my youngest son would be 7 this year, but he passed away at 2 1/2. Too much information? Maybe. For some, certainly. But for me, this works. This is my truth. And if I'm not honest about this, I'm not being true to myself. If I want to go into more detail,  I do. And those days that I can't,  I don't.  But I ALWAYS have four children. 

Four. I parent them all. My teenager gives me his best attention on car rides when it's just the two of us. He flips his hair to the side incessantly, and his stomach is currently a bottomless pit. He's discovering what it means to learn what kind of person he wants to be. We have countless discussions about the importance of being a good person, and what traits will serve him well later in life. 

My 12 year old daughter is a ball of sarcasm and wit. She also has a beautiful, giving heart. She's anxious as she grows and changes and asks questions about life and what her body is going through at almost a constant rate. She's inquisitive, and thoughtful. She makes me pull my hair out, and she has me watching in awe most days as she discovers yet another activity in which she's interested. 

My 9 year old....she's broken. Her best friend died and changed her middle child status.  She's often confused and lonely. She has beautiful blue eyes and a smile that's incredibly contagious. She's loveable and reads constantly. She's my baking buddy, and my cuddler. I try to be a safe place for her to land when the pain becomes more than her little 9 year old heart can bear.

And there's my baby. I parent him, too. And let me tell you, there is nothing on this earth harder than parenting a child you had to give back. I wonder daily what he's up to. Is he taller? Does he still have my curls? Did he take up baseball like his brother or is he an actor like his sister? Who are his friends? Did he learn to ride a bike? I want to know what size shoe he wears, and if he knows how to tie them yet. 

See, when you lose a child, you don't just lose them in that moment. You don't just miss out on that time in his life. You lose him every single day, over and over again. You lose his milestones and your dreams for him. You lose his giggles, and his scraped knees. You lose his finger paintings, and his dandelion bouquets.  You lose little pieces of yourself, slowly. Each day more is chipped away as you try to find ways to function. People can see the functioning part, but they can't always see the pieces that fall away. But it's happening. Every day is something new, and it's a sentence that lasts a lifetime. 

Tomorrow is International Bereaved Mother's Day. If you know a mother who parents a child she can no longer hold, let her know you're thinking of her. Give her that day. She'll be chipping away the pieces she loses that day, just like any other, and a kind word from you could go a long way. Acknowledgement of our children and our continued quest to parent them means more than anything. 

Four. I have four...