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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Give Her Life

I know I've said this a thousand times, but one of the most unexpected parts of this entire process is the feeling of isolation.  I didn't realize how lonely it would be to live in "your child died" land.  And it's lonely mainly because you can't unlearn what you now know.  Sometimes that's excruciating, but sometimes it truly is the gift that everyone claims it is.

I recently read the article "101 Things To Tell My Daughters", as it was making its way through the facebook newsfeed. It's a great compilation of all of the truly important things in life that should be passed to our daughters.  I agree that many times the lessons we learn are passed down a generation, but sometimes they are linear and other times they can even be passed from daughter to mother.  I gave birth to two beautiful daughters, and I'm grateful for that every day (even when I'm threatening to disown them).  But, I've realized in the past year or so that, although I gave them BIRTH 6 and 8 years ago, it is only now that I'm learning to give them LIFE. 

 As mothers, we worry constantly about whether or not we're doing the right thing.  We do our best to protect our daughters from our own difficult experiences, and we kill ourselves trying to make sure that no matter what injury may befall our little legacies, we will have exactly the right band-aid, in exactly the right size.  But, when something comes along and strips you of your right to worry and protect, you see things a little differently.  I no longer keep band-aids.  This is where perspective becomes a blessing and a curse.  It's difficult to permanently abandon the worry, to give up that inborn motherly angst of trying to protect/save another human being, especially when those around you don't have the same experience.  However, it's also the most freeing moment of your life when you are able to do so.  And it isn't just to your benefit.  In fact, it's exactly what will give your daughter all the things you've been trying to give her all along. 

I'm certainly in no position to be dolling out advice.  None of us are, if you ask me.  But shared experiences are some of the best ways to connect with others in a loving and understanding way, so here's what I know.  I know that my girls are going to skin their knees when they fall off their bikes.  I know they're going to look to me to fix it.  But, what if instead of rushing over with a band-aid, I love them from a distance as they get back up on their own?  This seems simple and cliche, but when exactly is the right time to show them that you have confidence in their ability to get back up?  Is it when they fail their first test?  Lose their first job opportunity?  My youngest daughter fell in a swimming pool this past summer and it happened to be in the deep end.  She was flailing and struggling, and two years ago I would have jumped in fully clothed and immediately pulled her to the side.  But something inside me told me to stop.  Instead of pulling her back out, I calmly told her to swim.  She refused and sunk a little deeper, but still I stayed on the side of the pool.  I told her to use her legs and her arms and to feel her way to the side.  When she made it to the edge, I lifted her out, wrapped a big towel around her and hugged her until she stopped crying.  I was so proud of her in that moment, and I told her so.  As I was driving home that day, I realized that the lesson wasn't for her.  It was for me.  I was a new kind of mother now, one that knew that no matter how many band-aids I kept on hand, and no matter how many safety warnings I gave, at some point, my girl was going to be drowning without me.  But you know what?  My girl can swim. 

Does this make me a genius?  Does it make me mother of the year?  Of course not.  This means that I'm broken.  It means that the me I used to be doesn't work anymore.  Instead, someone else is learning to walk in new mom shoes.  She's learning to LET IT GO (for all of us who can't stop hearing the song in our heads).  And, actually...this part isn't so bad.  I've watched what I hope will be the biggest fall of my daughters' lives, and I've seen them get back up and start pedaling again.  But the greatest gift of freedom I've received is in knowing that even if this wasn't their darkest hour, my only job is to love them through the process.  It was chance that I was able to give them birth, but I'm most grateful for the ability to CHOOSE to give them life. 



Sunday, March 9, 2014

The House That Grief Built

Today it's his turn.  Tomorrow it might be mine, or hers, or all of us combined.  Sometimes it's anger, sometimes it's tears.  It doesn't really matter which method we choose.  They all suck.  And we're stuck here in this new existence.  Each of us navigating a new world and trying to make the pieces of each individual fit into a family.  It doesn't work well.  Not without that most precious 6th piece.  He's still here of course, but not in the way we want him to be.  Not in the way that makes our puzzle fit together.

You know what the biggest problem is?  Our physical life, our day to day, has become too damn easy.  Seriously, I just read about a parent who is struggling through life with a sick child and she describes the medications, the therapies, the phone calls, the constant worry.  And I know all about that life.  That's the life that left me completely drained, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It's the one that made me cry myself to "sleep", but only for minutes at a time before the worry would creep back in and take over.  Yes, I remember that life well, and I remember begging for it to stop.  For at least the physical part to get better.  Guess what?  It did.  And it's horrible.

Without that piece of constant movement, that never ending need to "save" a member of our family, we have time to think.  And that is dangerous.  The first part of the grief process was such a tunnel.  We were all just feeling our way around in the dark.  Separately.  Now it seems we've found pieces of each other again, and although that would seem to be a positive thing, it just brings up more pain and confusion.  If I squint hard enough, I can catch a glimpse of my little girl, but it doesn't last long.  She may laugh for a moment, but soon she'll be swallowed up by the darkness again.  It happens to all of us.  My husband is over there in the corner.  I know he is because sometimes I see him, but then I remember that it's not all of him.  And if I find the courage to look into his eyes, I'm reminded with blinding clarity that I'm no longer all of me.  How are we supposed to make that work?  This is a rhetorical question, of course.  No one has this answer.  The people in this HOUSE don't have the answer, and if they don't, no one does.

Every family experiences the emotions of each of its members.  Usually you deal with it and move on, right?  Sisters fight and they are punished for being unkind to one another, and you move to the next issue.  That doesn't happen here.  Sure the sisters are fighting, but why?  Can you always blame the grief?  Maybe it's just a normal part of growing up with siblings.  That's possible.  But what if you're wrong about that?  What if they can't stop pushing each other away because they feel the need to protect themselves from loss again?  Maybe they want to control what they can and can't have.  That's what their Mom does.  So why shouldn't they be allowed the same liberties?  Could we be blaming the pain too much?  Sure.  But it's always there.  Even if it isn't the reason for the fighting, it will become the raging voice of punishment.  All of the sudden a normal moment of parental frustration becomes a shouted list of the reasons that life is unfair.

This exercise in emotional torture is a life sentence for this family.  Everything we do or don't do is colored by what we've lost.  We grieve so differently, and the outlets we choose to release that pain couldn't be further apart.  How do you make that fit?  You don't.  You sit back and watch, or you stand up and scream, depending on your role that day.  But what you don't do is fix it.  What you don't do, is make it better.  You let it happen, and you pretend for a moment that you have a choice in the matter, that you're choosing your role.  But the truth is, this isn't your house anymore.  This is grief's house, and you're just living in it.