Thursday, September 3, 2009
I get a lot of emails from family, friends, but mostly from people I have never met. They find the blog and read backwards. Some have lost a child, some a parent and some are attracted to the story like a car accident.
It is always a positive experience for me. I am comforted by the caring emails, it feels good to write a little bit about my girl when people ask, and I like to think that I am helping someone else who has just stepped off the train where they sat next to their child and out onto the platform where the train leaves taking your child, your heart and all your hope.
There is a destination, and someday that train will be back for you but until then you are here, in this new place. It all looks familiar but everything has changed. As mothers who have lost children we stand out to each other. It is like we wear a secret tattoo. It is a club no one wants to belong to but it is a very big club none the less.
If you have just stepped off the train here is a survival guide.
1. Cry. Cry loud, cry hard, and cry as much as you need to. Cry in front of your children, your friends, your family and complete strangers. Stop your car, pull over and cry. Break down at dinner, walk out of a movie, cry in a park, in your shower, cry until your body just can't do it anymore.
People will get nervous, feel uncomfortable, and well meaning people will tell you to pull it together and be strong for your children. Ignore them. You have lost your child and you are broken, crying is a natural response to pain and there is no reason to suppress that or feel guilty. Your children will see you cry and it will not hurt them, how could you not cry, you are so sad because this families child is so loved. You are letting them know it is OK to mourn and express your grief. As you begin to heal, they begin to heal.
2. Do not look at the clock. Time is different here and minutes last a lot longer than they use to. There is a part of you that wants the hands to stop, wants the whole world to stop and be here in this unreal space of time with you. Then there is the part of you that wants the years to go by as fast as they can so you don't have to live in all those hours.
You will hear "Time heals" it's bullshit. Time only offers distance, healing happens when it does, how it does, and it is never finished. Healing is a process of the soul, not of the body. There are no rules, you will not be better in a month a year or a decade. You learn to live with this loss, it never goes away, your heart won't let it. A vacation, a new baby, a new house, a better job, nothing fills the void. What you learn to do is live in spite of it, because of it, and yes you are stonger than you were before it.
No one gets to tell you when and how. No one can guide you, help you, fix you. This is your journey and it is deep, intimate, and sacred. There are no clocks here only heartbeats.
3. Look for signs. It doesn't matter what church you go to, what you were raised to believe, or if you believe in nothing. All of it disappears. This is a dark and quiet night of the soul. You are alone. Here in this alone place magic happens. Every cell in your body is waiting and watching and things happen. Songs will play and have meaning they never had before. You will find small ordinary things that are suddenly extraordinary. You will wake up in the middle of the night and feel kissed, flowers will bloom in odd places, you smell something that reminds you of something you can not name. I promise you these things will happen.
I don't know why these things happen or what they mean but they do. Get a journal and write them down. Don't try to make them mean something, don't share them with people who would not understand. These are private things meant for you.
4. Stay away from people who don't know better. It sounds cliche but the people who will be most helpful to you from this moment on may be the people you least expect, they may even be people you did not know before.
Here is the deal: When the funeral is over people need to go on with their lives. It isn't bad, it isn't uncaring. This is how it goes and you have accept that. The traffic will still be jammed in the morning, the banks will open on time, people will be rude in line at the grocery store. Your whole world has changed but you are the only one who noticed (well, you and the thousands of us who belong to this club). You are going to get mad and you will feel a little betrayed but don't stay there, move past it as fast as you can. This isn't personal it is just nature.
You will find that people will try to say all the right things and fail terribly.
You will find the people you thought would sit silently by your side and sooth you during this time will seem farther away than they have ever been.
You will find some people will actually get frustrated with your sadness, they want the old you back and try tough love you back to your old self.
None of these people are wrong, they just are.
They don't understand and you would not want them to understand. You have to let these people go. This does not mean cut them out of your life it just means that you have to understand that these are not your support people. You can still love them and let them love you but from an emotional distance.
Here is the beautiful thing, you will find people who for some reason you can't explain will arrive in your life and know just how to be with you, just what to say and are strong enough for your tears and your stories. I promise.
[Note: if money is involved in anyway these are not your people, run]
5. Allow yourself to feel good. In real life we are always trying to stay balanced, as women we find it easy to sacrifice what feel good for what feels right. As mothers we put ourselves last not because we are martyrs but because our instinct shows us how to distribute resources.
It is time to be selfish. Pull your kids out of school and drive to the Grand Canyon without any plan other than enough money, a full tank of gas and the desire to see something beautiful. Stay up all night looking at the stars and talking to the moon. Bake a big chocolate cake and eat the whole thing by yourself, dance naked in the rain, spend the day in the woods collecting pine cones, write a book, climb a mountain.
Avoid the real world, indulge in things that are good for you, break old rules, be spontaneous, live.
There is one thing you have learned and that is that this life does not last forever and there are no rules about when you go.
Lay in bed all day and watch TV, turn the stereo all the way up and sing and cry, fill the house with flowers and candles, plant fruit tree's, paint the house orange if it makes you feel better.
There are some people who worry that this anarchy will lead to insanity, to chaos, and your ultimate demise. I think it's the opposite, I know it's life affirming. If there is one time in your life when indulgence is not only a good idea but life saving then this is when it should happen.
[This advice does not include drugs, alcohol, or any other harmful behavior that would hurt you or hurt someone else.]
6. Don't give up. I know that the one thing you want most is to be with your child. You are praying to a God you are mad at or a God you never believe existed and you are saying "I want my child back" I know that you have considered leaving this life to be with them or to at least be in a place that does not hurt anymore even if it means being no where at all.
You are not crazy. You are sad.
Trust me, leaving is not a good idea and not really an option. My daughter use to say "Don't waste it" and it would be a crime against your soul to leave when you are meant to stay.
Your child is now free from the body that hurt, the body that could no longer survive here. The timing sucks for you but it makes sense someplace else. If it were a perfect world they would be here or you would understand why they are not.
To leave is to give up and we are not designed to give up. We are here for a reason. You have work to do. It bites, if anyone knows I do. There will be a time when you are ready to go, when your work is done but it isn't now. You have to be invited back home, grief is not an invitation to die it is a dare to live.
Choose life, it is a way to honor your child.
This dark night passes, your heart will never be the same but the sun comes up and you learn to live with half a heart.
7. Expect Change. Everything has changed, food tastes different, there is a color missing from the spectrum, and you feel like you are walking around in a dream you can't wake up from.
Something bigger has changed and you are stronger, less afraid, and the silly small stuff is white noise in your life. You feel disconnected from everything that use to matter and suddenly connected to something bigger you can not name.
Losing a child is like having a baby backwards. There is a rhythm to it, it has waves, contractions. The acute moment is closest to the first and the last breath.
Time will offer distance from those waves that crash so close together. You will stop crying as much, you will begin doing things you use to like paying the bills and getting the laundry done. You may even go back to work.
Don't be surprised if the things that felt important before don't feel important now. It is easier to let things go because you have a feeling there is something else waiting.
Most of us on the platform have changed jobs, left hurtful relationships, written books, started foundations, learned to play a musical instrument, go back to school, find a new hobby, adopt a child, move to a new city, try yoga, become support people, find new things to love just a little.
You are not the same person. You sent a part of you off with your child and like starfish we grow new parts.
7. Children. Most women who lose a child in their childbearing years become pregnant within a year. Mother nature knows what she is doing. If you are in a healthy relationship and you are moved to do this I think it is beautiful.
If you are past the fertile years and you want to adopt, how lucky for a child waiting all this time for a mother.
If you have children...
Those well meaning people who love you but say all the wrong things will say (and I guarantee this) "Your other children need you now and/or at least you have your other children" I think the worst is, "Your still young you can have other children"
It is easy to see how that might seem comforting but really it is insulting. Let the words dissolve, don't even let them enter your mind where they will turn into ugly thoughts.
Do fall in love with your living children. Give yourself time, and give them time.
Don't be afraid to have a baby. This does not replace the child you lost but helps you believe in love again, teaches you to hope.
Don't feel like you need to apologize for not wanting another child, only you and your heart know what is good for you.
This could go on forever and maybe I will add to it as a journey farther. I have a little boy that needs a lunch made and a kiss before school, a lab that is waiting for me to arrive at so they can check my hormones and see if a baby is possible, and a job that requires me to be there.
Life is not perfect and I am far from the person I hope to become. Today I have hope and that is a big deal. To have hope is to believe that it can and will get better.
It will. Keep Traveling.