Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thank You on Our 18th Wedding Anniversay

To My Beloved,
Happy Anniversary. Here we are celebrating 18 years of marriage and 20 years in a partnership of commitment and love. On this momentous day I am reminded that I have had you in my life more years then I was without you. It is a pivotal point and it encourages a shift in perspective. When I reflect on the past 20 years, the overwhelming feeling that emerges for me is gratefulness and I wanted to take the opportunity to express it. So here it goes:

Thank you for creating space in our marriage for me to explore, evolve and grow; from the girl you met to the woman I am today.

Thank you for wanting the same from me so that you could aspire to the goals and dreams that you had for yourself.

Thank you for  walking beside me, not behind and not in front.

Thank you for turning in when there was anger, hurt and frustration and when it would have been much easier to turn out.

Thank you for being the container and the stability when I could be nothing more then chaos and confusion.

Thank you for trusting me with your vulnerability, your wounds and the scars.

Thank you for challenging me when you knew what I was capable of and saw me holding back. Thank you for being my cheerleader.

Thank you for letting me be wrong so that I could learn how to make it right. Thank you for letting me be right when you knew that I was wrong.

Thank you for being an amazing parent to our children and an example of loyalty, compassion and love where they will build their foundations and launch from.

Thank you for fostering a partnership free of judgement, competition and jealousy.

Thank you for loving me day in and day out for the past 20 years.

Happy Anniversary.
With Love and Gratitude,

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wish You Were Here

As a bereaved parent who has lived without my child for over a decade, coping with grief or navigating bereavement is not a daily experience.  Most of the time my days are as "normal" as a non-bereaved parent - changing diapers and breastfeeding, negotiating with a seven year-old and mediating tween and teenage angst. At times all of this parenting is done with the recognition that I am doing it in the absence of one of my children but it is a brief moment that flashes through that particular moment in motherhood and I continue on.

What I discovered this past April however is that my brevity in daily grief is not the same while on family vacation.  After years of promising it, we finally took the children on a family adventure to Florida and to Walt Disney World. While we watched our boys (the baby still way to young) enjoy the rides, shows and daily dips in the pool; I was reminded moment to moment who we were missing. 

I think vacations have always been a little more difficult for us. This time the intensity of it was palpable and I wondered what was different?  Was it the first time flying as a family that added to some inner anxiety and touched on the grief bringing it to the surface?  Did leaving the country play on some unconscious belief that we were leaving his presence and all representations of him at home? With the birth of our daughter our family was complete, did this new dynamic shift our bereavement and our inability to parent the family that was born to us? I truly do not know what factors contributed to me missing Flynn while we were in the happiest place in the world, but I know that for me all I could think while we were away was "wish you were here."

While grief is mostly cast in the light of sadness, depression or despair there are also moments of light, comfort and joy.  Just as my daily musings were turning to thoughts of sadness at missing Flynn and feeling his absence, there was a moment at the end of the day at Disney that reminded me that if I wanted Flynn's essence to be with us I need only to wish it. My friend took this picture of the baby over my shoulder (the shoulder that has the tattoo of Flynn's butterfly) and when I saw it with the light shining on us, I knew we were not really without him and silently I said "thank you for being here."

Just three days after this picture was taken we sat in our home on what was the thirteenth anniversary of his birth and death and remembered Flynn and the family we have today.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Letting Go of Guilt - Easier said than Done

Mother's Guilt.  It seems that I have been reading articles pertaining to this topic a great deal lately; mostly because they keep crossing my Facebook page having been posted by my girlfriends or a magazine I subscribe to.  While the social worker in me is inclined to call it Parent's Guilt, I am not sure how true that is. Landy often tells me that he does not feel the guilt about his parenting that I seem to flog myself with.  He also tells me that he does not hold himself up to unrealistic expectations about being a father or compare himself to other dads.  So maybe it is a mother's guilt then and this post is my most recent experience with it and the grief that would be it's accomplice.

I have often wondered how grief has impacted mother's guilt, feeling that perhaps there is an added layer of expectation or standards that we as bereaved mothers hold.  After all, we should feel that much more blessed to have what we have and be that much more patient, calm, and understanding with our living children.  If we have an imperfect moment (as defined by us and usually an average moment for most) then we are not truly appreciating what we have and don't have and therefore invalidating the life of the baby or child that has died.  Yep that is pretty much what the guilty cycle of a bereaved mother's brain can look like, especially when vulnerable (emotional, tired, triggered, etc.).

Here is my account of how this amplified guilt played out on my emotional well being this past week ~ the week we anticipated the birth of our daughter.

As part of my pregnancy and on the advice of my Obstetrician, I was going to be induced after I reached 38 weeks gestation.  My doctor made the recommendation, it was not my request and he told me that his concern was for both baby and myself therefore an induction was warranted.  I knew there were a number of reasons for this recommendation, some of which included maternal anxiety, stress on baby and the previous death of Flynn however it was something that I had to reconcile as I idealized my ability to have a "normal" pregnancy.  This would be the first place that my mother's guilt manifested. What is a normal pregnancy and why did I feel the need to push myself (physically and emotionally) to experience that?  I recognize now that I wanted to prove that I could physically carry a baby without any medical concerns and emotionally handle that experience - almost a re-birthing of my pregnancy experience with our Oldest.  That is why I told my doctor early on that I would go to 40 weeks gestation and I would not be induced.  That is after all what "normal" pregnant women do.  He kindly nodded at that time and said "as you wish" but I am sure he knew that the conversation itself was premature.

When I reached 32 weeks gestation my emotional well being began to deteriorate. I had been working three jobs, volunteering, coping with an illness in the family in addition to my usual roles of being a mom and partner. Moreover, I was not eliciting as much self care as was warranted for all that I was taking on or working with.  Yet another place that the guilt could be found; all the things that I should be able to do regardless of being in a subsequent pregnancy.  The difficulty with managing the guilt was that it was not only emotionally driven but financially (and there is not much room to say that out loud). It may have made more sense to cut back on work but we had bills to pay and the financial strain of not working may have caused more guilt then pushing through, it is hard to say for sure.  At any rate at 32 weeks into my pregnancy my doctor asked "how are you doing?" ~such a simple question~ and it opened the flood gates. I realized in the moments following that question that I had not even allowed myself to be anything other than "ok."  I was walking around in a holding pattern of professionalism and stoicism even in my everyday life while deep down my emotional self was suffering with the weight of anxiety, fear and guilt that this subsequent pregnancy had brought.  I turned to my doctor and for the first time said out loud "I am not okay" to which he responded "I know and that is okay."

The next six weeks would be a roller coaster of appreciating how I was feeling and working at letting go of the guilt as it arose.  It was a constant process. I would let go of the fact that I was not okay and it would lead me to feelings about medical intervention in pregnancy and trusting my body.  The guilt would then manifest in the reality that as a subsequent pregnancy I did not trust my body, it had let me down in a very profound way in the past.  I held the impact that knowledge had on trying to just be in the present moment and not catastrophize or project into the future some unknown reality.  I would have to let go of the fear and anxiety on a daily basis that this pregnancy could end in tragedy, taking it moment by moment some days.  I quietly apologized to my unborn child for not having more faith in myself and in her.  I struggled with thoughts of my own self worth in relation to having and holding a healthy baby at the end of this pregnancy.  Really, what did my self worth have to do with my ability to carry and deliver a healthy baby?  Nothing and yet it was there. Let go, Let go, Let go.

Then came the week I had been counting down to. The 38th week.  The baby was considered full term and deliverable.  We had done all the early testing to ensure that the dates were correct. We had done ultrasounds and non stress tests to ensure the baby was "ready."  Here it was, time had finally gotten us here and I was struck with enormous guilt ~ so big that it seemed to fill my chest cavity making it hard to breath and constricting every beat of my heart.  This was worsened when my doctor told me at my last appointment that my cervix was not dilated or effaced and we would have to do an additional procedure to help that along. GUILT!  I sat between the suffering of every day believing that this baby would die or that my body would fail her to knowing that I was intervening with my body's natural state to have her here alive.  This could be worsened by well meaning people, people who loved me asking "why are you inducing?" or "why can't you go to term?"  or nursing staff in labour and delivery asking "why are you having a non stress test again?"and "why did your doctor order this test?"  And even if all these questions were free of judgement and based out of simple curiousity all I heard was "Why can't you cope with this?" "What is wrong with you?"

I cried a great deal over the next 24 hours leading up to the beginning of the induction.  I wondered if I should just try to "suck it up" for one more week in the hopes that my body would figure it all out.  I treated my body and mind as though they were separate entities and not part of a whole and it created such a depth to the guilt that it was all that I could feel. "What if......" started every thought I had and tragedy ended all of them.  All of the thoughts were based around my decisions as this babe's mother and all of the societal, cultural and even medical expectations that I believed I had to live up to.  Of course these expectations were based in healthy, normal pregnancies and not applied to the experience of a subsequent pregnancy ~ but as stated I was not holding myself to reality but rather to an idealization of normal. I realized that I needed help and so I reached out to my support network. I talked about my guilt and my fears and my anxiety.  I opened myself up to those that I knew could support me and help me to focus and find the thoughts and realities that were helpful not hindering. I acknowledged the guilt but also found the counterbalance, the successes and the coping mechanisms that existed within me.  Let Go!

On the day of the induction I told myself just two things: "You are worthy of love" and "Only you know what is best for you."  I just repeated this in my head and sometimes out loud. I repeated it through the tears, the fear and the anxiety.  I repeated it when the nurse asked "why are you being induced?" in a tone that even Landy noticed.  Every once and awhile I added "I want my daughter to live with these mantras as a way of being rather then the exceptional thought she has to tell herself," I wanted to be her example and that was motivating. I just kept letting go of the guilt. Labour and delivery was not perfect it was what it needed to be and I am amazed at how freeing that thought has been. It is not riddled with guilt and in fact it does not even exist in the experience.  If at some point the guilt arises, I will have to let go. After all, the guilt is weaved into my existence and has been there from the beginning, however in the past I had let it define me and this time I allowed myself to step out from under it and Let Go.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Interview with a Bereaved Dad - Part Two

As promised here is the second and concluding half of my interview with my partner, Landy on being a bereaved dad. As stated on the last blog, this is just one bereaved dad's account of his grief and is not in anyway meant to represent every bereaved dad's experience.

Me: You mentioned the other deaths you have experienced and so my next question is: how did the experience of your dad dying, when you were 11 (15 years before Flynn died) impact your grief and how you grieved our son?

Landy: I had experience with grief because it was not only my father who had died, there were also my two grandfathers before that who I had really close relationships with. My father was the first of the trifecta of parents dying in my life and I was young. It was a very traumatic experience on many levels both with how it happened and when it happened and where it happened coupled with my age, being only 11 years old. I was aware of what it meant to have a father and what it meant to have someone permanently gone from your life but I now know that I also didn’t fully grasp the impact of not having my father in my life any longer.   I can say now that the grief felt similar if I put the two moments together of my dad dying and my son dying. In those early moments anyway, they felt very similar to me. It was uncharted territory, very raw and I did not know what I was going to do next. I knew everything was going to change I just did not know how.  When my father died that was obviously the first major trauma that I can recall in my life, the second major trauma would be Flynn.  Prior to my son dying there were my two grandfathers who died and their deaths were like (and this will sound callous) but grief refreshers.  I loved both of my grandfathers; their deaths were not as much of a trauma as a disappointment – at the time I wished that I could have them around longer.  When they died I understood the inevitability of life, death and that their lives were going to end. I think I felt that it should not have happened as quickly or as early in their lives as it did but they were not young, they were grandparents, I mean they were at an age where we begin to expect that people may die.  Their deaths reminded me again that we lose people in our lives and we are capable of remembering them, what they added to our lives and what they contributed to other people’s lives.  We carry them on in our own lives, reflecting on them and who we are.  I guess as a result of experiencing those three deaths prior to Flynn, I felt less shocked by what life was going to hold for me and was only shocked by the fact that now I had lost my son, who I did not know and who I would not see grow up and become someone more. It was like a cushion in my grief.

Me: Flynn died 12 years ago, from then until now are there still differences in how you and I grieve? How have you seen me change in terms of my grief and how would you say you have changed?

Landy: I have never really reflected on how I have changed in my grief. I am comfortable with my grief because I don’t feel like I have been “infected” by grief. That is to say, I don’t feel like grief is trying to tear me apart or pull me down. It is something that I have and live with and sometimes it is a little thicker than other days but typically it is quite tolerable and it is just sort of always there but not part of my consciousness. As far as you are concerned, if I had to guess or lay my observation on it, it is much thicker in you, it is always part of who you are and your day to day actions. There probably aren’t too many days that go by where you don’t react or act in a way that isn’t in some way impacted by your grief from Flynn – like directly related to Flynn. The career path you have chosen was definitely the influence of our son’s death.  Almost your every way of life has been affected by grief in some form or another, mostly positive ways but very much a part of your being.

Me: How does Flynn’s anniversary affect you?

Landy: It usually affects me because it affects you.  I have occasionally experienced Flynn’s anniversary as an absence of “something.” The absence of what should have been. A lot of times I experience it as an embarrassment because I did not think about it until I realized it was upon us or it had passed. There are times that you are acting or reacting in a way that is very deeply affected, maybe depressed, very saddened by the day and I am going “oh that is right, that is what today is” or “oh ya, that is what tomorrow is” or even worse “oh right that was what yesterday was.” The impact of that experience is embarrassment or shame and I question why I don’t remember or why isn’t this more of a significant remembrance for me?  When that happens I find myself falling back on my other grief experiences and I think “well I don’t really have ear-markers to my grief days they are just always there.” I think about my father, my grandfathers and my son frequently and infrequently – I mean, whenever but not at specific points in the year.  I try to remind myself that it is okay to not worry about those milestones because I allow their memory and my grief to come into my life when I need it to.

Me: Do you have ways that you remember Flynn or things that remind you of him?

Landy: Our children, they are probably the main way that I remember Flynn.  I see the potential of who he could have been in them. I frequently reflect on what he would have looked like while looking at our three boys. That is pretty much it. Sometimes, like I said before, I see a boy that would be Flynn’s age and I think about that.

Me: In your opinion how has the death of our son impacted our marriage? Good, bad, ugly.

Landy: I think we have experienced all three at different points in time. Good in the ways that it has made us emotionally reflect on each other. We have dredged up things that maybe we didn’t want to or maybe we wouldn’t have and have worked through them. We have had to fight through some really difficult times and stuck together. I think it has made us realize the depths of what it means to be partners through horrible, horrible things.  That is also the bad, because we did have to navigate a bunch of crappy things and we were forced to face them in our marriage and in ourselves and that was not pleasant. I think as a result of our grief we did a lot of things to each other and against each other that maybe other couples would not experience in their marriages. Yet here we are on the other side of it. That is really the good, the bad and the ugly.

Me: How has the death of your son impacted who you have become?

Landy: I know you might laugh at this but it has made me a more compassionate individual coupled with who you have become as a counsellor and as an experienced griever and the friends and people we now surround ourselves with. It has made me more aware of compassion and how to enact it with others.

Me: Last question. We are expecting again and I am wondering, what (if any) is the impact of a subsequent pregnancy on a bereaved dad?

Landy: At this point, not much.  I very rarely think about grief when I think about this next baby but we are also two pregnancies since Flynn’s death.  I do recall when we were pregnant with our Middlest being very afraid and very protective of the thought that everything is going to be okay.  I remember distinctly reminding myself that it had to be okay and I got to the point of denying any thought that something could go wrong.  I remember you being worried just the way the whole thing spun out of control in the end (of the pregnancy). I was just trying to not allow that thought, that he could die, to even enter my consciousness. With our Littlest, a lot of stuff had happened in our lives – so there was less denial then there was in the other pregnancy.  Still I was very conscious of not wanting to think negative thoughts.  I guess I am still there, I don’t want to think about what could go wrong or that things could be bad or that we could experience that again.  I just know that is not who I want to be.  I do have moments where I feel stress or am acting odd and maybe it is how I am coping with this.  I think you are always affected by the death of your child in subsequent pregnancies, it manifests in different ways.

Me: Is there anything that I did not ask you or that you think you would want someone to know about what it has meant for you to be a bereaved dad?

Landy: Not that I am one for advice as I am definitely not a role model but I would say just allow yourself to grieve any which way that you see fit.  To be as open and honest with your partner as you can when it comes to your grief – from the perspective that it is difficult to understand how you are acting when you are grieving and it can be a way to reflect on it.  It may help you to get ahead of emotions before they are impacting someone else. Ultimately we are all grieving; we are all reacting spontaneously to what is happening in our lives and as a partner to someone who is grieving just realize there may be a lot of “figurative” punches thrown and they do not necessarily represent the core of that individual. It may also indicate that there is a need for outside support (like counseling) and that is okay too. What I have come to realize is the hurt may be something trying to work its way out and in doing that it is beginning the healing. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Interview with a Bereaved Dad - Part One

I feel so honoured and lucky to have had the opportunity to sit down and interview my partner on his experience with grief and the death of our son.  This blog has been about my journey and at times has included my family but I felt it was time for me to hear his perspective as I realized I had never really asked him.  The interview lasted over 30 minutes and it was filled with honesty, love and respect.  I have decided to break it up into two blogs so it is more digestible. Obviously this in not every bereaved dad's experience with grief and death, it is simply his individual and unique understanding.

Me: So recently you and I were talking and you made a statement that you didn’t think that you did grief like me. What do you think that you meant when you made that comment?

Landy: I would say that when it comes to grief you are more emotional than I am. I tend to be more… introverted I guess would be the word. I grieve by preoccupying myself or my emotions come out differently.  I have noticed that I don’t grieve [pause] or when I come to the realization that I have been in a mood, the actual realization of that mood is not grief, its frustration or anger or what’s a better word for it? Like distance or the lack of emotion. Yet that mood is really the product of grief. I think I have always been this way; from when the grief was fresh to now.
I think when the grief was fresh I tended to be more, and I am sure you could probably be witness to this too, but I tended to use sort of like an avoidance tactic. I would not hit grief head-on and I would try to avoid it by working more or toiling more or whatever it happened to be. I used some other way of keeping occupied rather than letting the grief sink in. When I do realize [and maybe I am answering another question] that I am grieving I find that I think that I can handle it. If I realize that I am actually depressed or sad about something that I miss, I feel like I am actually able to deal with that emotion and resolve it better – not that there is necessarily a resolution to it but I am able to correct the behaviours attributed to the feelings. It does take me a while to realize that is what is creating those behaviours.

Me: What behaviour would manifest in terms of grief, what do you think it looks like to someone on the outside or to me?

Landy: Usually, and I am still struggling with the right word for it, but distraction. You would find that I get very busy with multiple different tasks at any particular point in time, none of them having any real meaning but just keeping me busy.  I am trying to avoid any sort of settling of emotion whatsoever. That or straight up numbness, like void of emotion all together, coupled with the fact that I am busy or trying to keep myself busy with remedial or even meaningful tasks but keeping myself busy in general.

Me: What do you remember of Flynn’s birth and death? And do you think we remember or treasure it differently?

Landy: What I remember about that pregnancy and delivery was a very long drawn out sort of traumatic wind up. His death felt anti-climactic because we knew what the result was going to be, I am speaking for myself - I knew what the result was going to be.

Me: Okay

Landy: I knew it was not going to be good. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if we were going to hold our son for an hour, a day, two days or a week. Part of me even remembers wondering what it would have been like to have him for the rest of our lives maybe with a reduced quality of life – that was rolling around in my head. I do remember – well- okay, there was the confusion of the hospital and the confusion of all the choices that were being asked of us at that particular time.  Choices that I did not feel prepared for in any way at all, but felt that I needed to be. I needed to make the choices, not necessarily that I was ready to make them. I remember it happening very quickly, I don’t have a slow recall of that whole event – to me it seemed like it was a one day incident. Even that one day felt like it was packed into a 20 minute moment; it just went from 0-60 really quick.  When Flynn was born, I remember holding onto him while you were whisked out of the room and I remember him dying in my arms or at least I am pretty sure that is what I recall, but I think that you recall having him die in your arms?

Me: No, I wasn’t there when he died.

Landy: Ya, so that was probably correct. Anyway, he died with little breaths, very, very small – I remember that. I remember how tiny he was and I think our parents were there, well I know they were there but I can’t remember if they were in the room or not, so that memory is skewed.  It was a very blurry time; I don’t think I was very observant of anything else that was going on at that moment.  It seemed like there was a clock ticking very, very quickly – I do remember that sensation, this feeling of wanting to make it last longer but being very aware that there wasn’t going to be time. After Flynn had died and you were back from the surgery, the memory that I have is of us both feeling the weight of the reality that we now had a dead child.  I don’t know if I have ever really allowed that reality to come to any sort of fruition. Like where I have had other people die in my life, I have had the life to weigh against their death. With Flynn, I had about 45 minutes to weigh against his death. I have had a continued internal struggle with myself, trying to remember him being alive and breathing in my hands to him not breathing in our hands – which one was real?  I also struggle with the reality of what I am grieving over; am I grieving the loss of his life or am I grieving the loss of his future?
I don’t often sit and think about who Flynn would be or could have been or should have been. Whenever I stumble across those moments in life where I picture the little brother to our Oldest, that missing boy who fits in between the Oldest and Middlest, usually it is when I see somebody else’s child who would be his age or two siblings of some other family.  It is those moments that I go “ya it would be pretty neat if he was here.” That’s when I realize we are missing something; which spills into more grief because I get angry with myself for not having those thoughts all the time especially when coupled by you, who seems to have them almost consistently. So I feel inferior in grief a lot of times, I feel like I should grieve more which frustrates me. It doesn’t necessarily anger me but it frustrates me because I wonder if I am shallow or even hollow. Again I believe that is how I experience grief.  I don’t know if I do it through necessity or because I try not to wallow in grief or if I am just incapable of whole-hearted absorption into grief.  I know I have moments that I do grieve but I am not a consistent griever.

Me: Do you think that there were different societal or familial expectations of grief in our roles – mom vs. dad?

Landy: Yes I think there were definite societal roles or expectations on our grief as identified by male or female, husband and wife, mother or father. I think we lived out those roles too, other then maybe in the beginning where you didn’t express your grief very much.  It was three or four months before you really started to fall apart with grief.  Directly after Flynn died you embodied more of a male role (by societal standards).  Where our families were falling apart or upset, you tried to be stiff and strong. I think the societal message to us as men is that we are not supposed to fall apart, we are supposed to keep it together, and we are supposed to keep the family moving forward and stay strong. Honestly for the most part that is probably what I am better at doing.  It doesn’t mean I need to do it all the time or that I feel the necessity to do it, I often feel hindered by it.  If I for some reason want to break down or be upset or even see another male in my life who happens to be upset and trying to hide it, that is when I usually feel frustrated by our societal views or judgements that say we shouldn’t or that it is weakness. It is a pity that we have these societal roles.

Me: So what don’t I know about your grief journey following the death of our son?

Landy: I don’t think there is anything hidden with my grief journey, really what it comes down to is I am masking it from myself. Like I said before, I tend to not realize that I am acting out in grief until I actually come to that realization that “oh, ya that is why I am upset.”  Something triggers the thought process, cluing me into what the source of the feeling is.  Then I start putting together all the pieces, “oh ya that is why I was such a grouch; that is why I was a jerk this day; that is why I have been avoiding that task or that thing.”

Me: I regularly identify myself as a bereaved parent, which is also something that you alluded to in previous responses here. We have had discussions around this, where you have said that you do not necessarily identify yourself as a bereaved parent, do you want to elaborate on that?

Landy: It is not that I don’t see myself as a bereaved parent but I don’t see myself as a flagship bereaved parent. That is not how I identify myself. I think my scars are what make me as an individual but I don’t introduce myself as, and obviously bereaved parents don’t necessarily introduce themselves as such, but I think for some people that is what they are and everything else is secondary to that.  I am who I am and secondary to that would be the grief that I have endured in life.  Not just our son but all the other deaths along the way.

To be continued.....