Monday, March 6, 2017

Darker Clouds Gathering

Today my heart aches; my soul aches. Grief is like that, you know.

One minute, you are moving along seemingly doing well in this new normal that is life and then it hits. Sometimes you may see it coming like the dark clouds of a storm rolling in across the field. You think to yourself, I’ll have time to go in and take shelter, but all too soon, the storm is upon you. Lighting illuminates your mind with a terrifying jolt of loss while the thunder shakes the ground in a loud tumultuous roar much like the cry of goodbye spoken far too soon.  Tears soak you to the bone, and you find yourself alone in that field underneath the tallest tree, dripping with regret and dreading the next moment -- the moment the memories start to beat down, relentless, striking a chord in your heart you unassumingly thought was beginning to heal. In an instant, life is ripped away again, and you are left devastated. Then some loving soul who has weathered the same storm finds you, broken and beaten, picks you up and gives your heart a place to rest. They know the storm. It finds them too as it does you. You know it, too. You know its pattern. You know the days the storm is most likely to come. Yet this time, this time, you think it will pass you by. This time will be different because you’ve prepared. Years without your child have made you invincible, yet still, when it arrives, it finds you exposed, alone in that field, pleading with God for mercy and strength. How foolish you were to think you were safe. How foolish to think years of preparation could exempt you from the loss all over again.

Those of us entrenched in this storm of grief realize there is no pattern. There is no safe place. When the storm comes, it comes.  Sometimes it doesn’t uproot you; sometimes it does. 

The further into this journey I go, the more I realize there is only one certainty in grief. It always, always returns.

And much like an actual storm, so does grief blow in trapping you in a whirlwind for a brief time, only to leave a path of destruction you must rebuild. One can only hope next time, the damage will be less severe and the rebuilding time shorter than before.

One can only hope. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Tsunami of Grief

Pregnant with Cain (2011)
When we least expect it, grief hits, just as it has many times before, although in the moment, the blow feels unlike all the others we have experienced.  That's the thing about grief. It's completely and utterly unpredictable.

The most recent wave hit last week when a co-worker announced in a meeting that he and his wife were expecting their first child in December.  The entire room exploded with applause and well wishes filled the air, of which I was a willing participant.

But then came their expected due date. December 5th. I heard only those words and nothing after.

In that moment, with those words, time froze. That was my date, my due with Cain; the day I built my happiness around; the day I marked on my calendar with hearts and stars; the day I dreamed about since I first realized I was pregnant. The day he would never see because he was taken from me, from us, far too soon.

In that instant with no time to prepare for its latest blow, grief flooded me with a wave I never saw coming.  In those next moments, I felt as though I was literally drowning. Everything in me wanted to run from that room, and yet my body was frozen with panic. In my mind, my arms were waving frantically for someone, anyone to see that I was sinking under, but how could they? They didn't know.  No one there knew. And how could they possibly save someone from something, from a moment, they weren't aware was happening? 

The next wave hit a few days ago when Facebook reminded me on that date five years ago, we found out our baby, our son, might have a genetic disorder. We went into that appointment excited, so full of hope for our future, and walked out devastated, in shock, and completely unprepared for what the future might hold. Suddenly I was thrust back to that moment. I heard the doctor's words ringing in my ears like they did the day she said them. "You can terminate. We can do an amniocentesis or CVS, but with results this high, the numbers are usually not wrong." Again, time froze and I felt myself sinking back under.

And today, with yet another reminder from Facebook, the day five years ago we did our Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) to try to determine what the road ahead might look like for us, for our child. A day that was full of uncertainties, but one that still held so much hope.  Hope that the doctors were wrong; hope that our child would be healthy; hope that it was all in vain because our baby would be okay.  Looking back now, my heart breaks even more knowing that despite our positive news from the test, our son would be gone before he ever had a chance to meet his big brother. Again, all the sorrow and pain of five years without my son threatened to consume me, engulfing me in yet another swell of grief.

Even after five years - that's how long it will be in September - that's how it is.  The grief, the pain, the anguish still find me,  and when they do, though not as seldom as before, the intensity is just as great as it was in those first moments after Cain died. I'm immediately catapulted to the exact moment the doctor's words sank in, that there would be no saving my son, the moment I realized he would not be going home with us. A moment that changed the course of my life forever, that changed me forever.

This is the life of a bereaved parent. This is life after loss, never knowing from one moment to the next how your day will turn, what the next trigger will be, and how you'll make it back to the surface once that wave hits. Maybe this will be the time you actually drown from the grief of it all. Maybe you won't.  Will you give in to the memories? Do you even have a choice?  For me, those memories are all I have of Cain, and while they are painful, they are also necessary. I won’t lie though. Sometimes they do feel like too much, like this time might be the time I don’t make it back from them, like the grief my finally and fully consume me. When those moments hit, I look to my living children, my boys who are my beacons in my darkest times. They are my lighthouse, reminding me if I keep treading water through this latest rip current, I'll find myself safe on the shore. And while I am usually weary and worn from keeping my head above water, when I find I can once again place my feet in shallower waters, it is their love that pulls me completely ashore. 

They truly have no idea how often they save me.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wrestling with Guilt

It was late in the afternoon on Christmas day and over 200 miles away from my son's grave when I realized I had forgotten to go on Christmas day. Guilt, a sudden flooding rush of it, consumed me. What kind of mother does that?  What kind of mother forgets her child? Apparently, this one.

I awoke early Christmas morning, before my husband and my two boys, and sat quietly in the living room, sipping my coffee and staring into the warm glow of lights from our tree. I thought about Cain then, about how much I missed him, how much I wished he could be there to open presents with us. More than anything, I wondered what he would look like now and how his arms would feel around me as he thanked me for the best Christmas yet.  I was lost in my thoughts, daydreaming with my heart and missing my child.

When the boys awoke from their slumber, the presents were opened, and we were packed and soon on our way to my parents' house for the remainder of our Christmas day. I suppose in the scurrying of the morning is when I forgot to go to his grave.  I was so caught up in the events of the day that it didn't even cross my mind, that is, until I was too far away to go. That’s the moment the guilt hit me, I mean really hit me. I felt as though guilt had literally reached up or down or from wherever it was lurking and punched me squarely in the stomach, making it hard for me to breathe.
I suppose I’ve been wrestling with that latest wave of guilt since Christmas. That is until a few nights ago when I had myself one of those big, ugly cries. You know, the one where your mascara looks like something out of a horror movie, and you cry so much that you feel you can’t even gasp for air. Truth is, most days, on some level, life without my son is like a horror movie, except it’s not a movie, and the horror is far too real. And just like in those movies, there are times I wonder if I’ll get out alive. But here I am, making it, surviving, until that next wave of guilt hits at some unknown place at a time when I’ll least expect it. While I won't know when and where it will happen, I can almost bet, its next visit will be just as debilitating as the last.

The longer I am on this journey, though, the more I understand. It’s just part of missing my child. Most days are good for me. Others are bad, and sometimes, they are really, really bad. But through each of those days, I look up and know my son is up there, in heaven. He's up there somewhere. I don’t know what he’s doing or if he sees me here, missing him, but I have to believe in the deepest part of my heart that he knows how much I love him, how I would give my life if it would mean he could have his back . . . even if I didn’t make it to his grave on Christmas Day.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Resting in Heavenly Peace

Do you see him there in this picture, sandwiched between us all, directly between our two living boys? No?

Of course you don’t. But I do.

I see him there always, but even more so this time of year. While other people are busy having visions of sugar plums dancing, I have visions of what our life would be like with a third, rambunctious boy thrust in the mix. One more little boy, a would be 4 year old this year, sitting on Santa’s lap with his brothers, voices raised trying to be the first to tell Jolly Old Saint Nick his wants and dreams. If only it were that simple for adults, for me. Wouldn’t it be grand to simply tell Santa I want my son back with me, with our family, and then Christmas morning find him there?

If only things worked that way. If only the magic of our childhood could bring us our deepest desires. 

If only.

Christmas is about so many things. It’s about magic and wonderment and joy and hope. With Santa comes the mystery and magic, the element of surprise and the joy of giving to others. For Christians, like myself, Christmas is a promise. With the birth of our Savior, came the hope of redemption, of life everlasting. And that is what I cling to this holiday season, this Christmas season. For as much as I love the idea and the magic of Santa, he can’t bring my son back to me no matter how far he digs into his big red bag. No matter how much I want it and believe it, it isn’t within his capability. He is, after all, only a figment of Christmas. But Christ, He can. No, not now, but one day because of Him, I can be reunited with my son. Because of Him, there is Hope. Because of His promises, I can still enjoy the magic of the season through the eyes of my living children  - because of that hope, because of His promise.  

I suppose I am writing this all as a reminder to myself.  During this season, it's so easy to allow the sadness to seep in and slowly take over. After all, everywhere are reminders of Cain's absence. Even if those around me don't see them, I know they are there. It's when the void of his presence feels too much to bear that I reach for the hope that is everlasting, the hope that has carried me through the last four years and the holidays that came with them. Remember that this Christmas season.

Remember the grave is not the end for our children. Remember, despite our sadness, they are having the most wonderful Christmas in heaven. Remember what Santa can't give us, Christ can. Our children may not be alive with us, but they do live in God's eternal  joy, a joy that we will one day share with them. Our children now rest in the heavenly peace we only sing about.

Cling to that this Christmas season. Cling to the hope, cling to the Spirit. And may the peace that passes all understanding be yours this Christmas.

Philippians 4:7

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Squirmy Worm

I always write something for you on or around your birthday, but this year, I find myself struggling, grappling for the words.   What do I say that I haven’t already said?  Words all seem to fall flat on the paper, inadequate and awkward and by no means conveying the true depth of what I am feeling now in this moment. I am reminded again, as in years prior, there are no new words to describe the pain of missing you, especially today. 

As year four finds me today on your birthday, it will find me no different than the previous ones. I still miss you. I still love you. I still wish more than anything in this world that you were here with me, with us. And the hole in my heart still hurts as much as it did when we said our hurried goodbyes.  I can still close my eyes and relive every second of those moments with you.  They are all I have now, and that still isn’t okay nor will it ever be. What choice do I have though? It’s where this road has taken us.  It’s bumpy and rocky and hard to travel, but it’s the only one that leads me to you. And with a simple close of eyes, my journey down it begins, finding you as I left you four years ago today, wanting more than anything in the world to save you and watching helplessly as I could not.

And so little one, I’ll hold on to the memories, few that they are, to get me through today. I’ll rely on the love of your brothers and your dad to help ease the sorrow engulfing my heart. And as we release balloons today, I’ll be wishing like them I too could sail up to the heavens, if only for a moment, to see you, to hold you, to kiss you and tell you, “Happy Birthday, my squirmy worm. I love you. Always and forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When Grief Becomes You

Has it really been almost four years?   Today it feels like yesterday; tomorrow it may feel as though eternity has passed. The only constant in this sea of grief is my son, Cain, is not here. He’s dead. 

He’s dead. He’s dead. No matter how many times I type that phrase or speak it, it never gets easier.  With his death, grief made its unwelcome entrance into my life. I’ve walked with it so long, I don’t remember how it feels not to have the weight of it pushing me down, making it impossible to stand like the person I was before I knew its heaviness. 

It is cumbersome and complicated. 
There is no taking it off, laying it aside for a moment, waiting until a time when I am ready, prepared to carry it. There is no ready time for this burden of grief. There is no preparation, no strength or endurance training. One day it just happened, and it was there, insisting I carry it everywhere, to see and feel everything new and old with the knowledge of its presence, my constant unwanted companion. 

It’s hard to step out of the darkness of grief into the light of day. Within that day are routines and simplicity, and the new reality is, life for me isn’t any of those things anymore.  This “new normal” everyone speaks of is only now an illusion, and most times, seemingly, beyond my grasp. Besides, I don’t want a new normal. I only want my child, my baby, the one that was taken from me.

After Cain died, I would lie awake at night terrified to close my eyes.  Sleep, comforting for most, evoked fear in me.  What would the dreams be like?  Would my son be alive in them, or would I be forced once again to relive him dying in my arms.   But it wasn’t just the fear of dreams.  The moments lying there with only silence and stillness around me was almost unbearable.  In the moments before drifting off to sleep with my husband already asleep beside me, the grief would rise up to suffocate me. “Why didn’t you save him? Why didn’t you do more? You. You are the reason he’s dead. You are the reason he’ll never met his brother. You, you, you.  You did this.”  Those are hard thoughts to live with, and without fail, every night, they would come.  It was as if the darkness outside summoned them to me, as if the universe was plotting against me to make me suffer more.  Grief is like that. Unbearable, ugly and intense but more than anything, suffocating.

I’ve always hated the dark. Even as a small child, I always needed a nightlight to scare away the monsters I was sure were lurking somewhere in the recesses of my room.  And now, at 33 years old, the monsters were back, except this time, they were real.  The monster was death, and there was no scaring him away. He was here to stay. And he’s here still. In every question about the number of children I have, he’s there reminding me, “One more.”  Every time I allow my children to spread their wings of exploration, to try something new, he is there reminding me how a single moment could possibly take them away from me forever. My monster is now my companion. My worst fears realized abide with me always. Beneath every happy day and wide-eyed grin of my children, the monster is there reminding me of what he has taken from me. 

When there is joy, it whispers in my ear what can and will never be.  When there is sadness, it drags me closer to ground, and I find myself crawling down roads through memories like quicksand.  In those moments, I reach up, waiting for a hand to pick me up, lift me out of the mire.  At times it seems there is no one here in this wasteland but me.
I call for my child in my dreams. I wait and wait and wait, but he never comes. His face, though vivid in pictures, fades from me, from my grasp.  I awaken to find no comfort. He isn’t here, and he hasn’t been.

I search for him in the expressions of my living children. I see only glimpses of what I think are him.  But is it really? I only saw him once, briefly. Can I be sure it is really him I see? 
So do me a favor, okay? Don’t tell me I am dwelling. I don’t want to hear it. I HATE those words. I loathe them. Unless you have watched helplessly as your child took their last breaths, unless you have allowed some stranger to take your child’s body from your arms, unless you have stood over a grave on every holiday and birthday imagining how different things could be, then don’t tell me how to process my grief. Grief isn’t reflective of the amount of time our children lived. Much the opposite, our grief is indicative of a lifetime of what will never be. 

Yes, I have my days. Days I want to hide from the world. Days when sad is all I feel, an emptiness, a sense that I can, nor will I ever be, whole again.  And yes, I feel happiness. My two living children and my wonderful husband see to that. They fill my heart so there are moments I almost forget that grief is lurking in our midst. Almost. Almost, until a voice somewhere deep inside whispers, “One more.  There’s one more.”   There’s a pull at my heart, as if Cain has reached inside and tugged ever so gently, saying, “Don’t forget me, mommy.”  Never, my squirmy worm.  Never ever, ever.  And in an instant, joy and immeasurable pain coincide.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Well, it’s upon me again, September, that is. Every year since my son died, I try to prepare myself to face this month.  Most people around me are excited because with September comes the promise of fall, of hopefully cooler weather, crisper nights and colorful leaves.  For most it conjures images of jack-o-lanterns and Starbucks Pumpkin Lattes. But for me, this time of the year is different, a love-hate relationship that forces me to remember, and most days relive, the hardest moments of my life. I love it for in this month I met the person who would change my life the most. And I hate it for as soon as we met, I had to say goodbye. Death in all of its finality gave me no other choice.

Those lines from Eliot’s Wasteland play in my head. “April is the cruellest month.”   In my mind and in nature, September is the beginning of the end of life. A month that at its origin holds so much promise, but with its end, lets go of the life and the beauty nurtured through the spring and summer.   That life within me, conceived in spring and flourished in summer, found in September only an end.  No, Mr. Eliot.  April isn’t the cruellest month.  September is.

I don’t vocalize often, except through my writing, how deep my wounds still are from the loss of my son.  That’s probably because even typing this now, words all seem inadequate. For pain this deep, there are no words, so trying to explain it to those around me just seems pointless. This type of hurt holds no words, a chasm too deep. I suppose a part of me keeps it all inside for selfish reasons.  Because I carried my son those 7 months he was with us, because I was the one who felt every move, every turn, every flip, every hiccup (and he had them a lot), I know that I knew him more intimately, better, than others did. I remember how full of life he was while I carried him. I suppose that is just part of being a mom, of being chosen to carry our children. We are privy to those things.  And as a loss mom to a newborn, that’s really all we have.

Cain’s birthday is tomorrow, and I find myself yet again back in that place of what if and what could have been. Oh really, who I am kidding? Those moments find me every day, but this time of the year, they are far worse and relentless in their frequency.  At three years old, I wonder so many things. What color would his hair be? Would he and his brothers be the best of friends or fight non-stop over the newest Lego set? What would his personality be? So many questions that have no answers, nor will they ever, and that has to be okay because it will forever remain unknown. But it isn’t okay. And nothing has been okay since I said goodbye to him.

With each passing year, I hope it will be better this year, but the raw truth is, it never gets better. Living without one of your children, no matter the age of the loss, never gets better. It never gets easier.  The parties I miss planning, the milestones I miss seeing, the hugs and I love you's that I never feel and hear, or that I never can give—that never gets easier.  Instead, I speak those words into the heavens hoping he hears me. I hug a blanket he used in the hospital because it’s the only thing I have that ever physically touched him. All else, I buried with him, including a piece of myself.  And then, carefully, I place it back in its box in the closet with the rest of his things, so few and never, ever enough.  

Until I said goodbye to Cain, I never knew how much your heart can physically heart, but let me tell you people, it does. It aches unlike any hurt I have ever known. Nothing can satiate it. I call upon the memories, few that they are, to help ease that hunger to have one more day with him, knowing no matter how many days pass, there would always, always be a need for more.

And so as tomorrow finds me and leaves me, I’ll be hoping just to get through it without being a visible basket case, but on the inside, that’s how I’ll feel. Appearances are deceiving, and we as loss parents are masters of deception when it comes to being okay. I’ll struggle again, like I do every day, to deal with the anger that he’s not here.  I’ll cry – a lot. I’ll get mad and sad and hopefully, at its end, I can find peace yet again that God afforded me the privilege of knowing him, of holding him as he left this world. I’ll stop at his grave because that’s all I can do.  And most importantly, I’ll hug my two living boys tighter than normal, smoother them with unwanted kisses and hugs, and tell them I love them, knowing how blessed I am to have them with me. And my heart, unlike my son's, will go on beating with what remains of it, holding on to the promise that I will see him again.