Thanksgiving Lost

In many homes tonight the fridge is full of leftovers stored with Tetris level genius. Bellies are swollen from a weekend of gluttony; and hearts are quenched with love of family and friends. The glow of thankfulness hasn’t set with the sun.

Though in some homes their grateful heart has felt tethered and weighted. The anticipation for a time to give thanks was abruptly halted as they were swallowed into the familiar spiral of loss.

They comprehend that not only has every Thanksgiving celebration been cast in the darkest of shadows; now Christmas, birthdays, and summer holidays have been profoundly altered for other families. All the memories made, and yet to be, will now be tainted with an un-fillable chasm.

Their nights are restless as they think of each parent and family member who relives an unfathomable loss every time they awaken. Knowing that sleep brings such peace, and yet the thought of having to wake up to reality sometimes makes slumber impossible. That denial or numbing are sometimes the only things that you can do to endure.

Knowing intimately that each new day witnessing the world carry on is heartbreaking . That your world ended, and yet the sun still rises and the days continue to pass. Those around you move forward, but you are stuck, unmovable from that fragmenting moment.

They are reminded of how fresh grief steals your breath away. That in an instant the ache and pain can swallow you, and in the next you are floating outside of yourself as if it’s all a dream. Nothing is predictable anymore.

They are filled with sorrow as they know that other mothers and fathers have joined in to the most lamentable club. The one that new members are not wanted and invitations never sought.

Our arms are open, you are welcome none the less. We require nothing from you; not even an acknowledgment that we exist. We serve to share your loss, and let you sit in your darkness. There is no rush. No need to see the bigger picture. We will listen as you share about the wonder of your child, and hold your hand when you cannot speak. We will acknowledge that there is no road map for grief; but we do know that it will be with you forever.

Our wish is that we can bring you hope; but you are not obliged to be thankful. Not even today.

Little Girl

I see you.

Masking with that wide smile and laugh.

Using gratitude to stay invisible.

Discounting the fear rising inside your belly.

I see you.

Making yourself as small as can be.

Tucking your sorrow deep into your pocket.

Lending mercy to everyone but yourself.

I see you.

Seeking refuge for your fanciful dreams.

Longing for validation of the mysterious unknowns.

Using pain as a weapon and indifference as a shield.

Come little one and crawl into my lap. I will stand guard for a while. Rest in being adrift but safe.

I will meet your tears. Shush any apologies. Offer no advice.

Let compassion flood the silence and create space for you.

First and Last

Two very contradictory and visceral memories have been hovering close this past month. They are so fused onto my soul that I’m not just reliving them; I feel transported back.

The first recollection begins right after Madeline was born.
Her birth was a cesarean booked following a routine checkup. This involved a last minute scramble to get our kids taken care of and Colin arriving at the hospital only moments before the operation. Both of my boys had been rushed off to the NICU after their births; but this time when the surgeon finished with me, I was wheeled into recovery, and my daughter was brought to lay on my chest. I gave an audible sigh as I soaked in this moment I had been yearning for. And as my lungs released that long kept breath simultaneously the part of the heart that expands every time you birth a child was replete. As though this internal cavity had been created and filled at the exact same moment. Not a crevice available. Its full capacity realized. This juxtaposition of uncontainable joy yet sufficient peace. Parts pure love, waves of fierce protection, and a plenitude I wonder if only a mother can know.
From his vantage point above, Colin had snapped a photo that seemed to capture the voyeuristic feelings that moment brought.

The second flashback comes less then a year later.
I am again laying in a hospital bed; but this time I can hear my youngest son somewhere down the hallway screaming, my eldest has been charged to strangers his whereabouts unknown to me, and my husband is absent from my bedside. A man walks into the room holding a phone and asks everyone else to leave. The doctor on the other end, almost two hours away, informs me that my daughter is not going to make it. Before I can utter a sound the crowded part of my heart from only months before collapses. Not soundless or swift as it had filled, but rather agonizingly reluctant. The contents clawing desperately to stop the exit leaving behind deep grooves both raw and exposed.
There was no one to capture the moment on film yet I can recall it from above. Every sense in my body numbed except for this awareness of emptiness. Curled up on my side, my body convulsing as my heart poured out, weak sobs escaping as I tried to hide.

Two individual moments on my life’s timeline that are now inseparable. And as much as I would wish to erase that last memory I know I could not if the cost was to also lose the first.

Didn’t Make It

There are no new pictures of you to post today. No current stories to share through laughter. No man across the breakfast table to celebrate. No father present to dote on.

There is this ache in my heart today that is different. As if I am finally able to cry the tears I could not on that day almost five years ago. That moment I asked why no one was helping my husband and a stranger answered me with, “He didn’t make it honey.” The further time separates me from that statement it is as though it’s echo is on an infinite loop; and, instead of becoming more faint, it grows in volume and urgency.

My boys are still a ways from filling their fathers shoes. Yet not far from bringing him into new photos or making him a part of current stories told with laughter. Almost like that heartbreaking echo is paralleled in them. Just as loud and compelling.

“He is here Mom! Dad did make it because we are alive.”

I Lost My Baby Too

The loss of my soul mate and partner altered life’s trajectory. That his death was sudden, that it was too soon, that it was newsworthy and public added to my confusion. And because it was paired with the death of our child it brought a complexity to my grief that is hard to comprehend. So as the tributes and accolades poured in, it was heartwarming to know how much he was loved. It was validating that those around him recognized all the qualities that brought me pride in standing beside him. That many with me would be mourning that he is not here anymore. An army grieving in solidarity with me.

Yet there was a wounded part deep inside that wanted to cry out, “I lost my baby too!”

She may have been hidden in her father’s large shadow and never impacted the lives he touched, but she is my flesh and blood. This little person grew inside me and entered into my life with no shortage of pain and suffering. She shared my laugh and scrunchy face and her daddy’s gentle spirit and long legs. She had not yet been given the time to journey far or stun the world with her captivating smile and compassionate heart. This child had not had the opportunity to explore the fullness of who she was, let alone learn of the potential inside. This human being stole a part of my heart the moment she was created and has taken it with her to the grave. Because as much as I decided to love my husband, over and over, with her it was never a choice. And the celebrated greatness of the man I chose to marry does not detract from the under appreciated worth of my child.

I ache for everyone to know that even though she did not enjoy the ‘celebrity’ of her father her loss is no less devastating. In fact, the opposite is true. There is not a single life which I value more than hers, including my own. Though the impact of her death to the masses will be negligible it still demands acknowledgment. All grief leaves different scars, but the layers of child loss is deep and unfathomable.

I hear you mama. Your plea rings clear above the chaos. My heart breaks with you as you experience unfathomable overwhelm. I am so sorry that you lost your husband and there are no words to express the pain of losing your daughter. But Know you are heard. I mourn with you even if the world doesn’t stop and listen. I will say it for you and with you. I lost my baby too.

Reset

You are regretting the choice in your Friday night movie as you get ready for bed. Every creak and groan of your old house puts you on edge. Each shadow sparks your imagination to picture the hideous creature casting the image. Securely wrapped in your bedspread you suspiciously eye the closet door and worry what will happen to any appendage that might accidentally escape the safety of the blankets.

In a couple of days you will be able to laugh with your spouse about hitting them as they came up behind you to put a hand on your shoulder; or joke with your friends about how you screamed as the cat rubbed against your ankles. Looking back you shake your head at the absurdity of your responses in a harmless environment. But this is a valuable example of the mind’s power.

The brain and the body are intertwined; connected in ways that we never acknowledge. We input data with every experience and activity that we are exposed to and it is processed, stored, and applied to ensure life’s continuance and prosperity. We were designed with the innate ability to prioritize in times of danger. The combination of nurture and nature sets us up to respond with lightning speed and though it may appear that our bodies bypass our brain in reality it is the entrenched neurological pathways of our minds that save us. When time is of the essence we function at a level every AI developer dreams of reproducing.

Then trauma comes and it changes everything.

We are exposed to something beyond our abilities to process or comprehend. Survival is still at the forefront and the body and brain prioritize what is emergent and what is lethal. This strategy is aimed at giving us more time and extending life. Though it also alters those neuro connections that have been the framework of our decisions. All this in the name of claiming one more breath, one more day, one more milestone. Yet when the danger fades and we move further away from the catalyst our physical and emotional behaviours do not always follow suit. They can become cemented. As if the shock of the traumatic event carved deeper and stronger pathways in the brain. Ones that potentially abrogate every other foundational conclusion that existed. The overreaction that saved us now renders us immobile. Functioning on high alert and reacting as though danger is always present.

The only option is to reset.

So when the body tells us there is a crisis or discomfort we have to override our natural response and build new connections. Using all the tools we have to suppress the panic and engage our brains in something different. Un-master the fight or flight responses. The only other time we learned at this level we were expected to nap throughout the day. Things we have always enjoyed will require maximum effort. Conversation and crowds can cause even more exhaustion then before. The ability to store and process new knowledge is diminished and even involuntary tasks now demand the engagement of the brain. Some activities will require that we remind ourselves to just inhale and exhale. Senses are heightened and the cerebrum will be bombarded with information. Everything that is automatic must now be dissected; each response challenged. It is relentless and solitary, but necessary.

There is no reset button.

Falling

At a young age she had learned the power that music held. It could touch those parts of her that hadn’t yet found their own words; and it could move her emotions in a way that made expressing them unstoppable. Somehow the right song could connect all the fragments inside. It could still the busyness of her mind. Pierce through the toughest armour surrounding her heart. Reach the feelings buried deep within.

As far back as she could remember, every season and moment of her life had a ‘theme’ song. Every significant event could be connected to a piece of music. Even hearing a melody could transport her right back to a memory, a relationship, even a specific feeling. Many times when she could feel the tides of change within her she would search for the song that could express what she couldn’t. Often wishing she had been given the gift of composing herself.

The tune could have words or it could not. There was no genre of music that she wouldn’t consider and was often surprised by what she stumbled across. It would sometimes connect instantaneously. Causing a release of emotions, clarity of thought, and permission to process. It was not really a solution or an answer, though it had the ability to calm the tempest inside.

And so when she heard, “I’ve been beaten and broken and tread upon.”, the opening line of the song “Fall” by James Arthur, she stopped what she was doing and closed her eyes. The lazy guitar strumming was soothing and the melancholy tone in his voice resonated with her heart. When the chorus came around a second time, her voice joined in slipping easily into the harmony. As if to confirm in that moment her soul had found its song.

Sometimes I feel nothing at all

Sometimes I want someone to hold

Sometimes I carry on

Just to stumble down once more

Sometimes I wanna fall

Just Heal

In terms of recovery after trauma, child loss, or PTSD I think the word “healing”can be misleading. It brings images of scabs and stitches; fading bruises and non-tannable blemishes. The mysterious inner workings of our circulatory system and the magic of time. The body is designed to protect and restore itself. So it can be confusing when we see someone who has experienced extreme circumstances or loss and wonder what is holding them back from fixing themselves and moving forward.

Healing is natural.

Give it time.

Learn to move on.

It would be unfair to assess if progress is happening from a limited list of qualifications. Almost assuredly it is, even if the ‘what’ and ‘how’ are unmeasurable. Injuries of this nature and magnitude include physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual ramifications. And just as the body clots to prevent bleeding out, it also tries to protect the mind and soul from being overwhelmed. Though,unlike lab results that indicate deficiencies and show abnormalities, trauma does not have a report card.

Causes and triggers are unknown.

Wounds are layered deep within.

Many stay dormant until it is safer.

Rebuilding after loss is not natural. Unless waking up inside an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a war zone and being told by a complete stranger that there is no one qualified to help, but to look around and there should be some stuff to help get by and to make sure to remove the shrapnel as soon as possible is considered normal. All this on top of paying the bills, feeding the kids, attending concerts, volunteering on weekends, and staying hydrated. The task seems impossible, but this is not a job that anybody else can do.

So it’s survival.

As long as it takes.

And then one day the patient IS the surgeon.

Without 8 years of med school or residency.

The operation is messy. It starts and it stops over and over again. The doctor is untrained and doesn’t even know what to look for. New wounds are uncovered. Small victories are won. Progress, setbacks, intensity, and rest. There are no stand-ins. It will be the most intimate procedure ever preformed and only one is qualified. Digging into the depths of brokenness to make sense of the pain. Nothing can be left untouched.

Recognizing what is felt.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Until there is no more distress.

This is no bandaid repair. This task requires strength and bravery. Fear cannot rule the heart, but rather determination and persistence. And the ‘leaning in’ to those you are loved by.

Just to heal.

What Would You Say

I wonder if you would forgive me.

For every misstep I’ve made along the way. When I chose to pull the covers over my head instead of getting out of bed. In the times I allowed the boys to see some of the worst of me leaving grace in the dust. For being selfish and feeling like I didn’t have the capacity to consider others in my choices. In each moment that I just wanted to stop trying and settle for mediocre. And for every time I was jealous that you are free from all this pain.

I wonder if I’ve made you proud.

For how I’ve considered my role as a mother and a father in raising our children. When I have chosen love and forgiveness instead of anger and hate. In allowing my heart’s capacity for compassion and empathy to change and grow. By using the gift of so many serving me as an opportunity to serve others. Desperately living each day to prove I could have been a worthy role model for our daughter.

I wonder if you would recognize me.

I am not the girl you married. I am not even the same woman that you left on the hi-way four years ago. I’m scarred and broken. Though I am not an empty shell. I am not stuck or swallowed by chaos. I am not without purpose and hope.

I wish you were here.

To say I forgive you.

To say I am proud of you.

To say I see you.

To say I love you.

Give Madeline a hug from me.

Give her ten thousand.

Oh My Heart

Oh little heart that’s trying to mend

That wants to feel whole again

Don’t grow cold

Don’t turn dark

Or let pain suffocate the spark

When you feel there is nothing left

And you cannot see beyond regret

Don’t succumb

Don’t lie down

Try to see how much you’ve grown

If your smile won’t reach your eyes

And you have no strength for more good byes

Don’t have doubt

Don’t give in

Allow yourself to stay soft within

Though weariness slows your heart

And you feel like you’ve been torn apart

Don’t despair

Don’t ever quit

Oh little heart this is not it