Here it comes again – The anniversary of the death of my three children. For four years now, it’s come at me like a wave on a stormy sea, regular yet unpredictable in its magnitude. Slowly, I’ve turned my ship into the wind, and now I feel as if I have the challenge properly in front of me. The waves still come, but with the right orientation, I can ride through them safely.
I’m writing this message in the hope that friends will join me in making tomorrow, this anniversary, a day of action. You see, that is the key to my survival. My children died on March 4th. As I grappled with the question of whether I could continue living in a world without my babies, the date struck me as a command.
That was the key. I had been hoping to live out my life as a proud father, standing witness as my children changed the world. All that was gone, and if the world were to be improved, then I would have to do it in their stead.
And with that, I understood that they were not truly gone. As I took action erecting monuments, planting trees, creating reading challenges and sportsmanship awards for their young peers, and generally reorienting my life to once again face the future, I could feel them with me, acting through me, being present in this world, even after death.
On their monument in the graveyard, there is a quote by A.A. Milne that touched me deeply:
If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:A._A._Milne
When I first read it and selected it, I heard my voice speaking to my children. But over time, as I visited the monument to meditate and remember, it became clear that it is them speaking to me, reassuring me that I can do it, and that they are still with me and will be, always.
I’m sure if you’re reading this, you have either suffered the loss of someone you love, or you know someone who is suffering grief and are struggling to find a way to comfort them. After the danger of being alone, the biggest problem I faced was doubt and uncertainty, which led to paralysis. However, what I discovered was that all my positive actions to honor Ben, Maddy and Sam, helped heal my spirit and break the paralysis, and the effect was especially strong when the action had an air of permanence about it: A carving in stone, planting of a tree, or affecting the life of a young person.
So, my friends, I propose that March 4th be a collective day of action. Let the date be a reminder to march forth – do something on that day that is forward looking, that will make the world a better place for the next generation. Do it with your lost loved one in mind, or if you are supporting a grieving friend, do it with their child, spouse, parent or friend in mind and let them know that what you did is just one example of their loved one manifesting in the here and now.
When I think of marching forth, I think of this saying:
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.– Unkown
Some see this as a call to selfless action, but I see it as revealing a truth that is hard to grasp – that we endure beyond the life of our physical bodies, and our care for the next generation is, in fact, care for ourselves.
Having children is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and losing your children is like having your actual heart torn from your chest, only to be left to go on living without it, somehow. This injury can be fatal, but it doesn’t have to be. It will certainly leave the injured with a tremendous scar, weakened and having to learn to adapt to their new body in the absence of the part they cherished most. It is that adaptation, that healing that the grieving need, that we all wish could be accomplished with a simple pill or magic incantation.
But the truth, we all know, is that rehabilitation and healing from a serious injury takes a tremendous amount of work.
The great thing about this, for those of you supporting someone in grief, is that your actions matter. You don’t have to be paralyzed, and you don’t have to ask helplessly, “What can I do to help?”
The grieving don’t know the answer. They are swallowed up and consumed by their loss, and there’s nothing anyone can do to take that away. Serving their physical needs is important while they are so damaged as to be unable to care for themselves, and the road to recovery is an endless one. Recovery doesn’t mean you regain the person you were before your loss – it means learning to live without the person who was really just an extension of you, like living without your sight, or hearing, or your legs.
So do something, and do it as a surrogate for those who gone but not forgotten, who are no longer physically able to affect this world directly but can still affect it through you.
Benjamin, Madeline & Samuel: I love you, I miss you; I’m so proud of you.
If the kids were still alive, my daughter would not exist. And I feel so goddamn guilty about it.
The daily reconciliation I have within my head and heart is dichotomous.
Every day, I am abundantly overjoyed by the presence of her, fall in love more than I ever thought possible, and hold hope for her and her future, and all the amazing things she will do now that she is here.
And, every day, I unfurl a tender fold in my heart and unlock a treasure box in my head. Inside, they hold what should have been: Ben should be driving and in high school, dating and too busy with friends to spend time with us. Football scouts would be circling like vultures. Madeline should be making my life as difficult as possible and I would love her all the more for it, and Sam should be here making us all fear for his life with his rambunctious spirit…and probably get me back in to roller derby.
Every day, I find myself wishing desperately for what was and should have been. Sometimes, it’s small and tight in my chest and other times I have to force myself to return to reality as I become paralyzed by the weight of loss.
We worked very hard to conceive our daughter. We wanted her more than she will ever know and I love every damn second of my life now that she is in it. I have no clue what the hell I was doing with myself before her and it doesn’t matter. She is here. She dances like a maniac, runs funny like an old man and challenges me in so many exciting ways, every exciting day. This spark of joy and happiness inside me blooms into a firework of love throughout my body with every smile, every giggle, every kiss.
The thing is, though, I feel awful. Secretly, I feel awful about feeling so good and feel shitty about how overjoyed I am with my good fortune. I feel bad about being so happy in love and lucky to have her. So bad that I keep my excitement wound, like a ball of yarn, inside me. I feel awful that I get to relish in her love and light, knowing it wouldn’t be here for me to bask in, had Ben, Maddy and Sam survived the fire.
I struggle with guilt because one life is not more valuable than another and truthfully, logically, I KNOW I shouldn’t feel bad. And yet…
Do you ever feel guilty about having it good? Have you ever felt guilt because you kept going when others couldn’t? You ever look over your shoulder at it, that guilt, just lurking, following you in the shadows?
I can let my guilt get the best of me every day if I’m not careful, so I try to put it in check when it wants to take the wheel. Things happened the way they did, and I can’t change any of it. This is our life. Our average, mundane, everyday life, in all it’s horror and beauty. I can’t be beholden to the guilt I carry because life continued for us and not them so I must find a way to be kinder to myself when it makes an appearance.
Grief and loss change you forever, folks. No matter how lightly or tightly it binds, the gauze of grief will always be there. It’s up to me to decide how tightly I wind it.
I took this photo in 2015. My mom is in red; We were clam digging and oyster shucking at Frye Cove Park. If you told the lady in this photo, and the person taking it, they’d be intentionally unemployed in 2017, they would have laughed in your face.
My mom and I have been business partners since 2006 when we decided to move from Seattle, to Olympia, to start up our own home care agency. Our agency supports aging loved ones so they can maintain independence as they age. Many of our clients have Alzheimer’s or related dementias; we help navigate the behavioral symptoms of the disease. Many have been or are on hospice and actively dying; we help them and their family members by providing respite care and comforting support until their last day.
Many navigate loss on various levels and their family members rely on us to provide support to them 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365-days a year.
Owning this type of business requires an exceptional amount of time, energy and compassion. Truly, to be a successful agency, the owner must make others’ needs a top priority. Over the last 11 years, I have navigated daily family crises, caregiver breakdowns, family losses and emergencies most people couldn’t imagine. Just last week, I had a behavioral outburst (as a result of dementia), occur in my office. We experience frequent 2AM phone calls and sudden family emergencies we are required to respond to, support and navigate with others, on some level. I might even go so far as to say that leaders in these types of settings, are often called upon for social service work, without title or specific degree.
Given the events that took hold of our life in March of 2016, I am no longer able to support my clients or caregivers in the way they deserve; neither is my mother. So, we sold our business. Our last day is May 15th. To those of who can’t understand why we made such a decision, I hope you never have to.
I never imagined leaving work I love so much. I never imagined being unemployed at 38 (my mom, at 65). I never imagined living the life I have. It’s not what I had planned.
The road hasn’t been easy, but it’s been full of reward and experience beyond measure.
While our business grew and we expanded our office, I watched friends get married, have babies, more babies, get divorced, get married, and settle down. I just figured that life wasn’t in the cards for me. It’s not what I had planned.
After all, I was married to my work; an aggressive, pragmatic, career oriented woman looking to change the face of aging. That was the life I had planned.
Turns out, life has other plans; and now it’s waiting for me.
I am terribly sad to say goodbye to this career. It’s not easy, but it’s full of intrinsic emotional reward. Grief, and supporting those navigating grief, takes an incredible amount of energy. The right thing isn’t always easy…and we made the right decision to pass the baton. While I am sad to say goodbye, I am hopeful and optimistic. As Joseph Campbell says,
“We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
So, with that…I thank you, friends and family, for believing in us. Thank you to Olympia and our senior care providers, for being such an amazing group of people to whom I’ve had the pleasure of serving. A note to a few I’ve met through this journey:
Thank you Julie, for texting me every morning to let me know how beautiful life is and letting me make fun of your crazy purse.
Thank you Lynessa, for the ability to lean on each other during hard times and good times, and letting me love you while your heart broke as well.
Thank you Jaime, for being that eager employee turned forever friend who is always ready for a challenge. You were a part of something great. We wouldn’t have been able to get here if it weren’t for your greatness.
Thank you Jill, for being the go-to friend for all things crazy and seemingly impossible. You never bat an eye to help a friend in need.
Thank you Stacy, for reaching out when things were tough and being ever patient as I hiccuped along with my training for your community.
Thank you Laura, for coming to my office to support my staff and my family. Your compassion, comfort and warmth makes you shine. I’m so proud of you and everything you’ve done.
Thank you Dean, for allowing me to be myself with you as you navigated your own loss. You changed my life forever that day we arm wrestled. You are an incredible man.
Thank you Bonnie, for being one of the most easy to love formidable employees ever. You forced me to grow in ways you never realized. I am so proud of who you have become.
Thank you caregivers, for keeping me going. On some of the worst days of my life to date, you filled my cup with your kind words, with your inspiring stories and your love and care for others. You’re going to be well taken care of, crew. I will miss many of you, so, so much.
Thank you, Mom.
Our journey together was not always easy, but definitely worth it and DEFINITELY full of amazing memories. I know you so differently now and am thankful I had the opportunity to do so. This business was more to us than people will ever understand and saying farewell is the most difficult of all. We believed in each other, even when we stopped believing in ourselves. What a fantastic ride it has been, and you know what?
I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I know you feel the same. I love you, mamma.
No, I don’t have another job lined up (neither does mom) and I have no clue what I’m going to do next; and I’m wildly excited about it.
I’ve been told I live bravely. I don’t know about that…I just think it’s important to not let fear paint your path in life.
Some of the best decision I’ve made were made smiling, directly into the face of fear.
Here’s to the next chapter.
You know it.
I know it.
Mark Zuckerberg knows it.
I feel pressure to write something profound; something epic and commemorative for the anniversary of the night we lost the kids, but I am unable.
So many were impacted by the fire: The first responders who smashed through windows risking their own lives to save the children, the firefighters who fought the fire, the coroners office employees and field staff who had to retrieve Ben, Sam and Maddy from the destruction on Ham Hill Road, my friend Jill who watched over the kids at the funeral home, the detectives, the neighbors, families, friends, reporters, teachers, and strangers.
That night was an event filled with grief. Losing all three children, especially the way they left us…will forever be a lifetime of grief Brad and our family.
So many of you have been sending us messages this week.
I can only imagine just how hard it must be to reach out to Brad or me, I’m sure. It’s equally hard to know just how to respond as well. Common courtesy in our culture dictates a certain fashion and order to our condolences, to our grief. To our loss. You want to say something because saying nothing is worse, right?
When you ask, “how are you?” we know you mean something like, “Good God, my heart is destroyed for you. I can’t look at you and not breakdown myself. I hurt for your crushing and paralyzing life…I couldn’t do it…how do you?”
When we respond with, “Fine. We’re…hanging in there,” we really mean, “Every damn day is a psychological roller coaster. Traumatic grief, child loss and trying to move forward with daily life; all of it makes it hard to simply care…and yet, here we are somehow making it happen; who the knows how…and here we are.”
We’ve learned some impressive self preservation skills this last week. We both compartmentalized so much, we’ve created spaces in the day like little boxes, filled with to-dos and checklists. We open up each box and climb in, head down, staring at our lists, listening to the clock tick forward.
The sobs, the tears, the panic and anxiety…well, it’s all just waiting for us on the calendar each year now; thankfully this year it’s a Saturday.
We aren’t holding public memorial or ceremony. We’re spending March Fourth together in private. Yes, I capitalized March Fourth because it is a new holiday for us and it deserves the respect we should never have to give it. Fuck you March Fourth. Fuck you very much.
I have planned a comforting day for Brad and I and we know so many of you will be holding the kids (and Brad) in your thoughts this Saturday. I am very thankful for this because I know it helps him.
I know many of you have asked us where the kids are and that you, or your children would like to go visit them. We’ve been working with the company who is making the monument and it should be arriving sometime toward the end of March. Unfortunately, the monument is not yet complete and as such, it’s hard to locate them. Once it arrives and is placed, we’ll be sharing that information. I leave it to Brad if he wishes to publicly offer the grave site location for this weekend.
I have 3 pinwheels I will be posting there on Saturday when we go to visit.
Many of you have also asked how Brad is doing. I will tell you he is loved and surrounded by love from his friends and family and I am forever thankful for all that love you give to him. He has his struggles in his own way, just as I do and we support each other the best we can.
And still, we live in afterloss. What, you ask, is afterloss?
A year has gone by and you got to spend time with your kids. They had birthdays, entered first grade, graduated high school, learned how to ride bikes, went from middle school to high school, got boyfriends and girlfriends, and won basketball games and lost soccer games…you got to laugh with them, cry with them, hold them, argue with them, smell the tops of their heads and love them…in the here and now.
How have we spent time with the kids? We did it by helping with a book drive, coaching football, organizing a bike-a-thon, feeling love when football players celebrated their Ben Tower award, supporting other families experiencing child loss, playing with our dog and telling him about the kids and taking him to visit them at their final resting place every chance we could.
That, my friends, is afterloss.
I’ll close this by sharing a few non-sequitor items:
We got this sweetheart. You and me. We got this.
The telemarketer calling you tonight was just diagnosed with breast cancer.
The slow driver in front of you just got a call that her son died in Iraq.
The man at the checkout line in front of you making conversation with the checker just lost his spouse of 50 years and just needs a friend.
The girl at the drive-thru window just found out she’s pregnant and has no idea what to do; she’s only 16.
The dad making excessively cheerful conversation with you at the gas station just had his house foreclosed and he can’t find a job.
The administrator on the phone attempting to be a sounding board and provide explanation, and failing miserably at it, is navigating a life she never imagined.
There is no need to be purposefully rude or nasty to others.
Be ESPECIALLY kind when you want to be rude, impatient or snide, or mean.
…especially then…please, be kind.
It was some time just after Madeline’s birthday when we started weathering the storm. It reminded me of living in the Gulf of Mexico and we’d get the heeded warning about a bad one headed our way: Batten down the hatches, throw up your storm doors, hunker down, keep a flashlight, it’s going to get dark, cold, and scary.
I don’t have much energy to write with poignancy just yet. The holidays, including our getaway during Christmas, are still rocking me sideways. I’ll have more strength in a few more weeks, and will be able to sort things out (for all of you…and me) on another post then. Until then, I need to get a few thoughts out of my brain so here they are for your viewing pleasure.
But the real hitch to all this, the real pisser of it all, at the end of the day, I almost always end up asking myself the same damn question, knowing full well so many people out there ask themselves the same question about me:
Why are you so down? I mean really, who are YOU to these kids? You’re nobody. It’s not like you knew them or anything; they weren’t YOURS.
Welp, I gave it some thought.
I am the one Maddy was reluctant to meet and Sam was excited about. I am the one whose dog was dying and Maddy wanted to make sure I knew she was sorry for me. I am the one who helped fold their laundry and cleaned their dishes when they weren’t at their dads. I am the one who organized their shoes and helped to put away toys. I am the one who made sure their homework stayed safe if it was forgotten. I am the one who got photos upon photos of them for days and months when they were all together. I am the one who watched Sam play catch with his dad at the gym but never said hello; I didn’t want to interrupt. I am the one who helped get the tickets to Marvel Universe. I am the one who eagerly wanted to learn about Ben and all his amazing love and kindness. I am the one their dad wanted them to meet that coming weekend, for the first time, so he was preparing us…all of us…for that super nerve-wracking day.
I am the one who fell in love with this amazing crew of people and
they didn’t even know it.
I am the one who was nervous and excited for the challenges that faced us as our path led us toward me becoming a new addition.
I am the person Sam and Maddy knew about that made their dad happy.
I am the one who woke up to the call with Brad.
I am the one who got the car ready.
I am the one who found out the kids died before he did.
I am one who smelled the fire and had foam and charred structural remains soaking through my feet as I walked up the hill.
I am the one who sat with Brad and took notes, asked questions and listened while we were debriefed by the fire marshall and detectives.
I am the one who picked up the kids in their urns and drove them to their final resting place.
After all, who am I?
I am someone navigating loss.
Attachment is the Root of All Suffering
I attended my second support group meeting this week. It was the third for Kelly – she found The Compassionate Friends after we read a book on grieving that was based on interviews with people who were a part of the organization.
It’s been over 9 months since the fire, and Christmas is just a few days away. The silence in the house is horrible. But silence has been painful ever since that day. It used to be something to savor, an opportunity to reflect, analyze, plan, create. Now it is a vacuum into which memories flood, and with them the inevitable feeling of helplessness and lack of purpose. Who am I now? Why am I here? What comes next?
When I was in college, I took a class in Buddhism. I was looking for a set of rules for personal action that equated to “God’s Will” but derived from logic. After many years in Catholic school, I had found that a set of rules like the Ten Commandments seemed necessary and logical, but as rules applied to behavior they could be torn apart by an endless series of “What If” questions. I wanted something that didn’t require exceptions. What I learned from the class was valuable, but not in the way that I expected.
We have all heard variations of the teaching that attachment is the root of all suffering. Money can’t buy happiness, for example. It is the want of something that creates the potential for the pain of deprivation or separation. If you want for nothing, then you cannot be deprived of anything. If you do not need food, then you can never suffer hunger. If you’ll pardon my extreme simplification, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to eliminate all attachments, freeing one from this plane of consciousness so that you may achieve Nirvana (a one-ness with all things).
I had always viewed this teaching in terms of material things, and in a small way I adopted the philosophy successfully. I recognized loss as a pain that I created for myself, based on my attachment to the item or goal. I could dwell on the loss of an item that I coveted, or I could let go of my attachment, and with the attachment went the suffering. I tried to teach a simple version of this to my children. “Only you get to decide if you are happy or sad. No one controls you except you. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can always control your response.” Those words are haunting me now.
The strongest attachments that we create are to other people, and the greatest of these is to our children. My children were my limbs, they were a part of my body. So strong was my attachment that I can describe them as not being separate and distinct, but as a part of me.
Whenever a parent tells a child, “One day, when you have children of your own, you’ll know,” we hint at a truth. There is a difference between understanding and knowing. I can understand something without experiencing it, but I cannot know it. If you’re reading this as a parent, you know the attachment, the bond that I am describing. If you do not have children, you may be able to understand through analogies, but you can’t know. I mean no disrespect in saying this. There are simply veils through which we can see only shadows, but until we have passed through, we cannot perceive the truth on the other side. The bond a parent has that would truly allow them to sacrifice their life for the sake of their child is a truth that lies on the other side of the veil of parenthood. And the horrific pain of the loss of a child is a truth that is beyond yet another veil.
So when I say that losing my three children was as though my limbs had been ripped from my body, I am trying to provide some understanding to people who have not even passed through the first veil, who have not experienced a bond with a child of their own. For those who have children, I still cannot grant you knowledge of this place that I find myself, but I would use different words to help you understand. The only people who know where I am are those who have also passed through the veil by losing a child of their own. We are survivors of a calamity that has ripped us limb from limb. There are those still bleeding, and those whose injury has turned into a painful scar. We are all seeking a survivor who regained their ability to function fully, to give us hope that we can someday do the same, but we look in vain. I see those who have learned accommodation, like brushing your teeth with your left hand after your right has been lost. I see some with prosthetics. But no one regenerates after a loss of this type. You can only accommodate.
I am writing this because I wish to help those who, like me, have been torn apart by the loss of a child. I also want to help those of you who wish to understand, possibly because someone you love has passed through that veil and you are frustrated in your attempts to know what they are experiencing and therefore, to provide them comfort. I have been fortunate to have so many reach out to me, clearly wishing to ease my pain. But without understanding the nature of my injury, some have worsened the pain unintentionally. I love them despite this, but the pain is still real.
It is true that without attachment, there could be no suffering. But would you wish to be born without legs if you knew that sometime in the future you would be deprived of them? The strategy of letting go, as I did with material things, is beyond me in this case. And knowing the love I had with my three beautiful children, I would not want to stay ignorant, never passing through the veil of parenthood for fear that I would eventually be deprived of that love. How then, can I cope?
To continue under these circumstances, one needs to understand and feel their purpose. My purpose was my children, and without them I am forced to recognize a new purpose, or to cease living. Those who believe in God and can find a sense of purpose in their faith do not need my guidance. Their mantra of, “God never gives us more than we can handle,” is evidence of their sense of purpose. But I would submit that if this were true, suicide would not be the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Perhaps the state of mind necessary to attempt suicide is similar to the state of mind after the loss of a child in that it is beyond a veil, and the best we can do is understand without knowing. I believe the thought of suicide occurs to everyone who has lost a child, as it did to me. But I never passed through the veil to the point of believing that I should end my life, and so therefore I cannot know what lies beyond that veil. Still, I can see the shadows through the veil, and perhaps I can understand. And I can describe the signposts and the handholds that allowed me to stay safely on this side.
So I say to you, “You have a purpose.” That purpose is not dependent on the will of an unknown deity. I believe that it is possible to have an entire system of thought that is functional, even elegant, but pointed at the wrong target. Buddhism, Christianity, and other systems of thought have great merit, but my purpose is not to deprive myself of attachment so that I will cease to exist in this plane, nor is it to suffer through this existence in order to receive relief upon my death. I am here to affect this world, doing what I can, where I am, with what I have. I am destined to write this message, and you are destined to read it. My purpose is to share what I know, and to facilitate growth in myself and in you.
My stomach fluttered as I rolled over from an exhausted night of sleep. It seems curious, to have a tiring night of sleep, but sleep does not come easily to us now. My reasons are different than my husbands; his evening battle I wish upon no one, mine I wish to give only to my worst enemy, I suppose.
That weekend morning, before the web of the night cleared from my brain, I inched over to him, held him close and said, “I love you and we need to go to the support group.”
I rattled on senselessly for another minute explaining, in circles, the why and how come and why. I kept talking because I was scared of his response. After I quieted, he just took a breath and nodded, said okay.
That was it.
It was 3 1/2 weeks away. It seemed a millennia until that Wednesday at 6:30. They days went slow and the nights came too fast. Eventually it arrived and we headed north.
Neither one of us said much, but you could feel nervous anticipation between us. I spent the hour driving up north telling myself we didn’t need this, that it wasn’t a big deal and it really wasn’t necessary. I’ll bet you a dollar Brad was steeling himself, ensuring he could provide support and love and service to “the people who need it.” I don’t share this like it’s a bad thing either. His hesitation and how he navigates this fragile side, has strength too: to protect himself he wants to help others…
I parked the car. Jitters became shakes and I started to choke on the knotted yoke inside my throat. My mind was reeling me backwards.
What are we doing?
Why are we even doing this?!
This is the stupidest fucking idea you’ve ever had!
But my legs took me forward through the hospital doorway, into the elevator, down to the basement.
We met in a basement.
At a hospital.
Of course we did.
No windows, harsh lighting. About as cliched as an AA group in church I’m sure.
We were greeted with strange faces in a large room…so many of them just, staring blankly. Not with hate or curiosity though. We were greeted (warmly) by a facilitator. My ears started to fill with that rushing sound when blood runs to your head. Brad asked me something and I nodded fiercely at whatever it was and took the clipboard and a pen and gasped for air as I sat down. The energy in that basement was…overpowering. There was so much devastation and love and I was swimming in it. I held my breath and looked down at the form.
Name of Child:
Date they blah:
How blah blah blah:
Blah blah blah blah:
I couldn’t write. Pen hovering over the form, I looked to my right and a sweet lady, about 80 or 90 was next to me. “hello, I’m blah blah” she said, “mhmh,” I grunted. “my first three children blah blah blah,” she continued…
I got dizzy, shifted in my seat and pleaded with my eyes at Brad. The room started to spin and I panted, trying to catch my breath. The tears spilled everywhere and snot flung out of my face.
All we did was walk in and sit down on a goddamn chair and I’m already a mess.
I can’t do this. I can’t do two hours of this.
I can’t. I won’t. I can’t.
I shifted again and raised from my seat(gettingthehellouttahere)…then they started.
It was the best two hours I’ve experienced in quite some time.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that expectation is often different that reality. I wound myself up so tightly that I had gotten myself into a tizzy unnecessarily.
They ended up breaking us up into smaller groups. I was very appreciative of that.
I have never, in my life, been in any one room where there was so much compassion, heartache and love just moving in and out and around us all. Tears came, anger too…so did laughter though. And understanding. Our facilitator was incredible.
So much of what I do for work revolves around the need to be understood my others (which is different than needing to be right or needing others to agree with oneself). To have that connection of understanding, to hold someones hands and hear them say, “I understand,” is something we both were starved of and needed desperately.
To look over at Brad and see him embraced by another father clasping his hands around his neck, leaned in and said, “I’m so glad you came tonight, I know your pain. I understand how you feel,” and to see Brad nod, and say, “I know, me too,” well, that was worth it all.
We came back together as a larger group as the evening closed, in that large fluorescent hospital basement. It wasn’t as frightening and cliched in the end. The faces weren’t blank but instead pink and flushed with a new kind of exhaustion, damp and nodding and smiling occasionally.
We all shared a bit of love to send out into the universe and slowly but surely we all went home. They reminded us that we did deep work that night and they weren’t kidding. I felt kind of, hung over the next day. I also made sure to set up the group meeting on our recurring family calendar.
Listen, if you’re reading this because you’ve lost a child or you’re a sibling, a grandparent, a step-parent, or are in a weird category like me, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by going to a meeting.
You know that isolation that happened/is happening after your child died? That feeling like, NOBODY gets it? They can only sympathize? Sometimes that sympathy leaves you feeling more isolated than ever. It’s not meant to…it just does.
With TCF groups, they empathize. They know. They don’t want to know…but they do…and they want you to know they understand…they extend their hands and love to you.
I don’t forecast these faces leaving my memory banks anytime soon and I do anticipate friendships will develop. These are kindred hearts and minds colliding if not for anything than to take grief (our new word for love) and manifest its beauty and push it out into the world.
***On December 11, 2016 TCF is hosting their worldwide candle lighting. This is an important night for bereaved parents. Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the 20th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting, a gift to the bereavement community from The Compassionate Friends, creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. TCF’s WWCL started in the United States in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world of the remembrance. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died, but will never be forgotten. To learn more about the annual worldwide candle lighting event, click HERE.
Jaime, a good friend of mine, came over a while ago before it started to rain everyday and the gray set in. You know, the kind of rain that permeates everything you’re wearing and drips down deep, to your bones.
It was nice to get out with a friend and just be. Inevitably, the topic came up. It always does…it forces us to recognize its presence. It refuses to be ignored, like a gargoyle just perched on my shoulder, cold, hard and frozen; beckoning to be acknowledged. It’s not enough just to be seen.
“So…how is he? How are you?” That’s all that needs to be said, of course. It requires no explanation.
We talked. I shared, she listened. She talked, I listened. She gave me love. She asked questions.
She asked me a great question: What sort of things are you two doing that would help you two find some happiness?
The answer came quickly, but I took time to think about it, to make sure I wasn’t being hasty.
My answer was, nothing.
I wanted to have a better answer…to at least say we’ve tried and failed or that maybe we actually had found something for him, for me, but it’s all been temporary. Nothing truly satiates it…it’s similar to the ulcer I had once. I kept thinking I was hungry but everything I tried to quell the pain just didn’t work…or made it worse.
Her question has been tumbling around my mind since she asked.
Neither one of us is able to find something that would find that missing ray of sunshine. It’s because nothing can fill or replace this void and type of loss. It’s not that we aren’t finding ways to see the good things in life, it’s that this gaping hole just wont ever be filled.
How do you replace the love and light of your children when they die? Think of your kids and ask yourself how and what you’d replace them with…and have it equal the same amount of joy they bring you now.
It’s not that we haven’t tried. It’s not that we haven’t laughed or celebrated either. It’s that the world is frozen in time, muted by loss blanketing around our feet like snow…and we’re left holding bits and pieces of a life once lived, ashes in hand, staring at each other.
Everything takes an insurmountable amount of energy and leaves us restless, tired, heavy and our fuse for activities are limited. But the pisser of it all is our fuse for doing nothing is just as limited. It’s like purgatory.
At least right now.
You know that feeling you get when you look at your husband/wife/spouse/person and you see they’re hurting? You can feel their sorrow and, and you wanna “fix” it? And, the best part is that sometimes…YOU CAN!!?? What a great feeling, right? You can cheer them up with love, light, laughter…and before you know it…it’s a new day.
I envy that ability. I miss that feeling. I want to be able to do that for my husband.
Instead, I do what I can. I can walk along side him. I can be here for the journey so he knows he’s not alone. I can stare at Sams empty room with him and let the pain wash over. I can organize all Maddy’s things in the pantry and decorate the house with memories of her. I can be with him in the excruciating silence and stillness of the evening and hold his hand when Ben’s friends come over to say hello.
I can’t make the rain go away. I wish I could stop the downpour.
Instead, I’ll just bring my umbrella.