Friday, November 26, 2010

You Can Always Learn

I decided to write an academic paper on the death of a child, more specifically on the death of a baby.  I wanted to have a better understanding of how people in a supportive role may view the experience of parental grief based on the academic theory that is out there.  While some journal articles and texts were excellent in accurately describing what I knew to be my experience, other papers described grief in terms of coming to an end or unhealthy if not drawn to a conclusive close.  While interpretation is subjective and even the topic of grief is an individual experience, it was concerning to think that a support system might put expectations on grievers that were neither empathetic or helpful in their approach.
Another interesting theme in the literature was the differential between death of a baby and death of a child. It was because of the distinction that I had to pick a focus for my paper that I originally intended to be generally on the death of a child.  I was not surprised by the separation of death experiences, I have witnessed that need for distinction in my work offering support to bereaved parents and it both fascinates and concerns me that a differential is made.  The importance of the age of the child at the time of death plays into the societal ambivalence surrounding perinatal death, stillbirth, and infant death as well as impacting bereaved parents of older adult children.  The more specific the death "credentials" to the legitimacy of the experience the more difficult it may be for parents to find support through common losses.  For instance a support worker may feel challenged to find peer support for a bereaved parent who wants to meet with a parent who has experienced the death of a 16 year old to a car accident where there was no illegal activity involved in the death.  This may seem like a specific and unlikely scenario but I have seen the affects of differentiating and how it can lead to more and more distinctions, which ultimately have the ability to isolate and alienate the parents who seek the inclusiveness and the parents who are excluded.
I have even read in a text for clinicians on how to support a bereaved parent, that parents who have experienced the death of a baby "have a briefer period of grief than parents of an older child."  I would counter this literature and say that parents of a child of any age have their own unique experience with grief.  The death of a child, no matter the circumstances of the death or the age of the deceased presents parents with the unimaginable task of continuing their life with the knowledge that your child will never meet the milestones, have the experiences, create the memories that the parent themselves have experienced.  To challenge how long it takes for a parent to learn to cope with grief based on the amount of time that the parent interacted with the child (how long the child was alive) assumes that a parent's love and value for the child begins at a time distinguished by society. What about the parent who dreamed of having children since they were young, in the delivery room with a list of names they started in their early teens, shocked by the stillbirth of their baby?  Is the death of that new life less valid because the parents did not hear them cry?
Here is what I know.  I loved my son from the time I was a young girl playing with dolls, imagining my future family.  I sat with doctors and nurses as they explained that he would have a fraction of a chance at a life that was sustainable and that we, as his parents, would need to make decisions to use extraordinary measures to keep him alive or to discontinue care so that he would die.  I held his tiny, warm body, just seconds after going through the physical experience of his delivery, seeing how perfect his fingers and toes were, how his face looked just like that of his older brother and watched as nurses put a stethoscope to his chest to confirm a heartbeat.  I heard the paediatrician tell me that there was nothing more that they could do for him and that we could hold him as he painlessly succumbed to his tiny body, lungs that could not breathe, his brain deprived of oxygen would stop sending messages for his heart to continue.
I sat with a funeral director and discussed burial versus cremation, picked out flowers, wrote a service, created a headstone and picked out a spot in a cemetery.  I watched the tiny white casket carried from the funeral car by my husband, sit above the small rectangular hole dug into the ground while we described his short life to friends and family who never had the opportunity to see or hold him.
I know what day I found out I was pregnant, the day that I found out things would forever change, the day he was due and the day he was born.  I knew the year that he should have started kindergarten and I will know when it is the year that he should be graduating.
I am not stuck in my grief, but his little life rides side care to mine.  I am constantly reminded where he is not.  He was my child, dreamt years before his conception, grown in my womb, born into my arms and taken from my heart.  His age only matters to the theorists and studies that believe that impact is measurable through technology and science, to me a future without him start at his birth and will last my lifetime.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Missing Flynn

The thing about grief is, even if you think that you are coping and your grief is a part of the past, so much so that at times it seems unrelatable to the present, it can and will still knock you on your ass.
Not to say that these waves of grief are not predictable.  As you become more familiar with your vulnerabilities and triggers, you become more aware of when a grief burst will hit. But even if you can see it coming, it is unavoidable, you are going to face it and it is going to hurt.
When I am tired, not eating and sleeping properly, maybe starting on a cold and creating more stress in an already stressful situation, that is when I am most susceptible to feeling a grief burst.
Right now, full time at school, new situation, new roles and responsibilities, I am definitely run down and under more pressure than usual.  Add to that the fact that Kinley is turning three, there does not appear to be room for another child in our family right now, and lets face it I am not getting any younger and  you have created my perfect storm of emotion.
I feel similar to how I did right after Flynn died too, noticing every pregnant woman at school, in the grocery store, on Facebook!  I obsessively look through pictures of newborns and dream about what it would be like to hold a baby again.
Then I realize how different I would feel if Flynn were alive.  How I might feel more complete if he were here right now.  Eight years old, filling up our all boy clan, contributing to my parenting woes, that although I complain about them I secretly love being needed and loved by my boys.  What if he were here, how would I be different, how would our family be and feel?
All this thinking about what could be has made me sad, realizing how much I missed getting the opportunity to know our second son.  To see what sports he would be into, to meet his friends, to help him with his school work, to break up fights with his brothers and to hear about his wishes and dreams.
Today I cannot think about the fact that if he were here my path would look different too. I most likely would not be in school pursuing a degree in social work and specializing in the study of grief and bereavement.  Today I just need to miss him and I do.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


What can I say about anticipation?
Well first of all it depends what you are anticipating.  Anticipation of a dreaded event or anxiously awaiting a special day may have similar physical and psychological symptoms. There may be the nervousness, the sleepless nights, appetite issues (both eating and not), and the unfocused energy, but ultimately dreaded anticipation and eager anticipation could not be more different.  Afterall the outcome is either rewarding or difficult.

This post is about the dreaded anticipation.  Knowing that a date is looming, one that you hoped would never come or one that marks an anniversary of a date you wish you could forget.  This type of anticipation produces its own neurosis and this summer has been filled with that type of anticipation for me.

I recently decided to leave my job (which I thoroughly enjoy) to complete my degree and pursue my Masters.  Something that my readers may think would or should be exciting, new and an anxiously awaited event.  Well reader, to my surprise it was anything but.  Announcing my decision to leave work and pursue my education was the first dreaded anticipation.  That one admittedly was short, the decision and the announcement were only a week apart but once the announcement was made fear set it, almost immediately.  Each day at work became a realization that I was even closer to my last day and that I would need to embrace a new endeavour, I was leaving something I understood and did well, this was a completely new lifestyle and my family was counting on me to be a success.
IN fact my family was putting their complete faith in me to succeed. This was not their idea, for me to return to school, I had to ask them to buy into this pursuit too.

Anticipation of my last day of work led to sleepless nights, nausea, heart burn, headaches, every physical symptom that can leave you feeling battered, bruised and doubting the initial decision to leave.  Every day I wanted to throw in the towel, continue on the road I had been travelling.  Stick with the job I was comfortable at, continue the role that I had started, knowing full well that this job would limit my future opportunities in my field.  Anticipation was overshadowing rational thinking.  Somedays it even took over for the rational side of my brain all together, leaving me bartering with myself to try to juggle a full time job, full time school, motherhood and a marriage, really who was I kidding?
As the last week of work approached I started with panic attacks, forseeing an unrealistic amount of expectations and workload looming on my desk.  Whether real or fictional I began to believe that the anxiety I was feeling could be alleviated if I just decided to stay.  I began to question my ability as a student, as a future social worker, even convincing myself that any education or ability that I had already obtained was all for not, because I could not do it.
And then the last day came.
I showed up to work at regular time, did my regular work, had regular conversations, maybe a couple of conversations were out of the ordinary because they were discussing my departure.  Ultimately though, my day was regular.  Nothing horrible happened.  I went home that night and everything about that day felt the same as the day before.
Actually that is not completely true, the day did have a couple of abnormal moments.  I felt some residual grief.  I think I said Flynn's name in reference to one of my other boys about four times. Maybe that was because this job had so much of Flynn's life invested in it and maybe I felt like a part of me was being left behind.  I did find it hard to concentrate on one thing for too long, my mind needed a break.  I could also feel my emotions closer to the surface ready to spring forth if given an opportunity.  It was all manageable though, I recognized that I needed to be patient with myself and allow for whatever my spirit needed that day and I got through it.

So the last dreaded anticipation surrounded the first day of school.  The big unknown, the thing that I have given up so much to pursue and complete.  That day was today.  It started with my dog having an accident in my bedroom at 6am in the morning and I could have taken that as a sign of a bad day to come but I got up and decided that it was a good time to start my daily workout.  I got that done before my boys were even out of bed.  I got them off to school and before I knew it I was late leaving the house and had to change my plans to get a coffee on the way to school.  Again considering that this was a dreaded day, it could have really put me in a foul mood, but I knew that I could do without until class was over and that I would feel much more confident if I was in class early.
I made it to class, with ten minutes to spare and when I looked around the classroom I realized that I did not look any different than my classmates, we were all nervously checking over our books, rearranging our pencils.  That is when I appreciated this minor journey in my bigger path.  I could do this, I could overcome the anxiety in anticipation and when I recognized that I began to appreciate that I had arrived.  I was a student and what a powerful and motivating feeling that left me with for the remainder of today.

Anticipation is a journey that is met so many times in grief.  Anticipation of a death, or of a milestone, like a birthday, due date, etc.  Anticipation is overwhelming around anniversaries, especially the first after the death.  I have always said that anticipation is often worse than the day and usually that is true but respecting the anticipation and honouring the emotions that follow can help in making the dreaded day what it needs to be for that person at that time.
Now I am anxiously awaiting my second day of school as a student.... for now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Disclaimer:  I truly believe that substance abuse is a serious and important societal and social issue.  I do not advocate or condone the use of drugs or alcohol as a mode of coping but I recognize it is a commonly used method.  It was a part of my journey and in order to remain authentic to my experience it is a part of this blog.

In grief we discover coping mechanism that help us to manage the day to day, relationships, the memories and the pain that follow the death of someone we love.  Some coping mechanisms are healthy and help us to work on our grief while others can create complications, even compound the grief and send us backward in the journey.  The mechanisms themselves are not static, they are fluid and they change and adapt as our journey progresses.  They are the foundation of our resiliency.

My coping mechanisms have changed with my grief experience.  They have provided me with an outlet, relief and at times, additional stress.
Flynn died in May and because of legislation in Ontario surrounding maternity leave I was entitled to 17 weeks from work.  This provided me with a reprieve from the chaos of my workplace but also a large amount of time to be home and think.  This type of time created an anxiety in me about leaving the house and I found it incredibly debilitating to venture out of the comfort of my space.  I was trapped in my little house and confined to our gated backyard.  What began as anxiety ended with me in a lawn chair and a cold beer in one hand most of the time.
  • side note here-I do not even like beer, never have.
It may have been the convenience of beer, the fact that it was Landy's drink of choice, it may have even been the notion that it was different from my norm, but for whatever reason I became comfortable drinking.  The conflict for me at the time was that I did not enjoy the chemical change in my brain but I needed the numbing relief from the torment of my thoughts.  Beer (alcohol) made the reality of Flynn's death a figment of a dream and the longer my reality was altered the easier it was to convince myself that I was okay.
By midsummer it was becoming difficult to continue the substance alternative to coping.  Hangovers were not helpful with a preschooler in the morning and the guilt of responsibility weighed heavy on me.  It was becoming expensive to support the amount I consumed in a week and it took more and more beer to keep the pain of the grief at bay.  I stopped drinking.

That is when the flood hit, like a tsunami wave that had been building off shore I was hit with all of the emotion, reality and depth of sadness that I had been keeping at a distance.  It came in and destroyed all the weak coping mechanisms that I had created and swept them back out to sea.  I needed to start again and build myself better this time.
That is when I started writing.  Journalling about missing Flynn, about how I was feeling and about what I needed to get through that day.  I began to write poetry to let go of the intense sensations that would wash over me.  I wrote the story of Flynn's birth just as I had done when Rhys was born and I created a baby book for Flynn as a memorial to his life.  Soon writing was not enough, I needed to share the pain of my experience, I began to wonder if I was going crazy or if it was normal to dream of a life I had known so briefly.
I began looking for people to talk to, first in virtual chat rooms and eventually through local bereavement organizations.  I told the story of how difficult Flynn had been to conceive, the doctors, the infertility, the drugs.  I told people about the five weeks in and out of the hospital, sifting through blood, praying for a heartbeat.  I would experience the trauma of his birth, people yelling, doctors talking, an ambulance gernie, my mother crying, my senses numb, his mute cries as I wrapped him in a blanket, the weight of him in my arms, he gripped my finger, and waking up in recovery to the news of his death.
I told his story over and over and my heart, which had fiercely beat against the chest wall when I told Flynn's story for the first time, began to reside deeper in my body again, thudding to a beat less aggressive every time until finally his story became my story and I found comfort in it.
Eventually coping turns into managing and the grief needs less attention.  That is when my path intersected with providing support to people experiencing grief.  I could be that person that people needed to tell their story to, to validate the love and the life that they had experienced, to remember the death.  Flynn's life and death took on a new importance, one beyond being my son, his life created a human connection in the world of grief, a growth and maturity in my journey of life.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Pit

The day that Flynn died a cavity opened in my body, a painful dark hole in the centre of my being.  I called it the pit.  It was such a physical feeling that at times I felt that I could reach into my torso and grab it, hold it but never release it from myself.  At the time of Flynn's death I was undernourished, sleep deprived and ravished with grief,  I thought I was going crazy, possibly developing a tumor possibly a figment of my challenged mind.  I was terrified to tell people, support people, about the physicality of the pit, the emptiness that was not a feeling but a presence.
The location of the pit was exactly in my centre, two inches below my sternum and two inches above my belly button.  It was not an organ either, it was too low to be my heart (although that ached) and too high to be my stomach (because that grumbled).  It started out the size of an orange, although on any given day it could vary in size from a grapefruit to an apricot and I could feel it in my torso when I moved, breathed or ate.  IN fact it was so solid that most days it filled me and I could not eat, it contaminated my insides and made it impossible to want anything more inside.  It was the physical feeling of grief that I did not expect or hear about.  It created a sense of distress in me that only fed the hollowness of the pit.
With days, weeks and then months of processing the pit ebbed and with a narrative of my story being shared with others who were bereaved the pit began to heal.  The hollowness went from the size of an orange pressing on my heart, lungs and stomach to a walnut sized reminder of where I had been and what I had survived.  Again the physicality of that pit became the scar tissue that I could touch and feel when I encountered a grief burst or was struck by a trigger.  It would ache or pulse just enough to say "I am here."
As I began my work to support other people who experience grief, I began to hear stories of other people's pits.  Those physical holes that present themselves in our bodies as a reminder, a painful reality check, a touchstone.  It became therapeutic for me and the people who shared their pits to know that this was not a sign of dementia but one more affect of grief on the body and spirit.
My pit shows itself still, eight years later, normally as a growing pain in my journey, a touchstone in reality.  But at times, when I am feeling vulnerable, overtired, undernourished, it can feel like scar tissue stretched and exposed to remind me that it is there and I need to take care of me and it.
I used to feel abnormal and terrified of the pit and with time I have come to know it as my gauge of self awareness and self care.  The reminder to look after me on this journey.  Thank you pit.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Poor Us

In one of my first posts I introduced you to our dog Copper. In it I referred to him as Poor Copper because inevitably that is what his name turned into after years of witnessing his, at times, impoverished attitude and his ranking in a house full of boys.

This week it has become Poor Us as we made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Copper after a brief but aggressive encounter with cancer.

As difficult as it was to make that decision, telling our boys added to our grief and weighed on our ability to be rational with regard to Copper's quality of life.We told the boys about Copper's illness and our decision the night before we were taking Copper to the vet. We started the conversation by reading the book "The Forever Dog" and it really helped to start the conversation.
Rhys figured it out half way through the story that we were talking about Copper.
He began to cry and then Ash began to cry. Kinley sensed something because he just clung to me.
Copper feeling overwhelmed by all the boys crying over him, got up and left the room.
Damn dogs ARE as stoic as they say.
After the book we told the boys that Copper had cancer and that it was the type of cancer that the vet could not fix and that Copper would not get better. We told them that we had done blood tests and xrays before we realized that our only choice was to let Copper die. We explained what euthanize meant and told them how Copper would be sedated and then the Vet would give him a drug that made his heart stop, then his lungs would stop and his body would stop working and Copper would die. We told them that once this
happened Copper would not be able to hear, see, sniff, feel and everything that made up Copper would be gone, only his body would be left. Then we told the boys that we were going in the morning as a family but that they could participate as much as they felt comfortable.

Rhys wanted to go to school instead of coming with us to the vet. I gently told Rhys that if he got to school and changed his mind there would be no way to reach us. I did not want to force him but I wanted to make sure that he had the opportunity to change his mind. I told him that he did not have to come into the vet or do anything he was not comfortable with and if after Copper had died he still wanted to go to school we would take him. He did come to the vet and he came in to look at the xrays, where the vet showed all the boys the
cancer and explained that this was the best choice for Copper. Rhys was inconsolable.
Ash thought that he wanted to go in with Copper when they euthanized him but I distracted him with a walk and that is when we had a good talk about death and cremation and he cried on his own without the influence of big brother, I think he needed that (I kept saying "Copper's body" with reference to his death and Ash asked where Copper's head and legs would be.... ).
He also asked me about God and Jesus and why if God made Jesus come alive, why he wouldn't do that for Copper....I think I handled it okay for an agnostic, I told him that the belief is that God created all living things to live and to die.
After Copper was dead I asked the boys if they wanted to see him one more time and they said yes. That was so hard, but I pointed out that Copper was not breathing, he would not open his eyes, he could not feel or hear.
It was overwhelming for both boys, so we only stayed a minute and Ash touched him, but Rhys could not.
Kinley was just toddling around and we thought that he was unaware of what was going on but when we left the vet he started to wail unconsolably "My buddy, My Copper" for about 10 minutes, it was heartbreaking.

As a family we went to Build-A-Bear so that the boys could pick out a teddy or dog that would remind them/or be used to remember Copper. Ash and Rhys picked out their stuffed animal and they both named them Copper and we told them that they could talk to the bear and hug the bear whenever they wanted to. That it could hold the memories of Copper and to help them remember him.
Since Kinley is so little we wanted to get him a dog so it would be easier for him to identify it as a non-verbal object to remember Copper by but he gravitated to a bright blue bear with peace symbols in rainbow colours all over it, what can you do! :)

At this point Ash is telling everyone that his dog died, Rhys would like him to shut up and Kinley says "dog died" out of the blue every couple of hours.
Kinley loves "The Forever Dog" book and takes it everywhere and when he does he will say "Copper died" or "doggy."
Ash is also telling everyone that Copper has a new home and right before I corrected him the first time he said it, he piped up and said "it is in my heart." It seems they are all where they should be.

Landy and I are struggling too. This all feels familiar but different. I am in that memory fog, several times yesterday I looked for Copper and I am sure that I will several more times. I even thought I lost my bracelet and had everyone searching and I was panicked, only to realize today that I took it off a week ago and it was in the case. Oh Grief what a wicked game you play!

The boys have already talked about ways they want to memorialize and we have told them that we will give it some time.

I want to share a nice thing that happened later on the day that we euthanized Copper.
After our trip to Build-A-Bear we went out to our trailer to open it and clean it up. When we drove up Copper's tie up was in the ground beside the big pine with the lead attached, so Landy went to take it out of the ground.
The boys and I went over and right there beside the tie up was a Forget-Me-Not, just one.
I don't know how much you know about this flower but they are wild and they spread like crazy, you usually see a field of them, so to see just one is rare. I told the boys about the flower and they said that Copper must have left it and Rhys would like to plant more there. For the rest of the day it seemed that we saw Forget-Me-Nots everywhere we went... it really helped the boys to look for connections and brought them comfort that as much as they would not forget Copper, he would not forget them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Grandma Day

Three years ago today my grandma died.
As grandma's go mine was pretty special. She loved me so much, (along with my brother and cousins, her children and family) I knew she was always in my corner, she encouraged me to be more and do more and she had confidence in who I was and who I could be. She was a tough lady and sometimes her way of showing her love was hard to appreciate but having overcome so many personal obstacles, if she thought you needed a push, you were getting a push.
In fact the last thing time we spoke, she gave me a push. This time it was to leave her bedside and take the family trip we were leaving on. The day she was put into the hospital was the day we were set to leave for Florida. I was working for the morning and we were leaving at noon and when my dad called to tell me that she was admitted and it did not look good, I did not want to leave. I went up to the hospital to see her, with only a few hours until we were supposed to start our drive. I could not keep from crying, she looked so tiny and so frail and I had to leave the room. My grandpa followed me out and told me that we had to go to Florida, she would not want me to stay. I composed myself and went back into the room, I totally intended on telling my grandma that I was not leaving, she looked at me and said "You need to go on this trip, I have survived this long, I don't know why you are crying, I will be here when you get back." There was no more discussion, no use in fighting, she had said her peace and that was that. I kissed her on the head and told her I loved her and took my boys to Florida.
On Saturday March 17th as we were driving to the Georgia border in the very early hours of the morning, my grandma died surrounded by my parents, my grandpa and my aunt. I was so sad that I was not there with her, I had always thought that would be a moment that she would need me but she needed me to be anywhere but there. I cried when my dad told me she was gone. The tears were a combination of sadness and relief that her tireless fight had come to an end. I also cried in gratitude because I knew that her years of battling illness was for me and all of our family, so that she could remain a fierce presence in our lives.

I had a dream in December of 2006, four months before she died, in it she was dying and we both knew it and she asked to talk to me. When I sat down beside her, she took my hand and told me that she had seen Flynn and that she knew she would hold him soon.
Three years ago my grandma died and since that moment I have appreciated how much she lived.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Grief Pusher

You may have met a grief pusher before, you may even be one.  It may have happened when you experienced the death of a mutual family member, a friend among a group of friends, or maybe you are the “glue” of the family, where everyone looks to you and you likewise support or advise.  When you are surrounded by people who are experiencing the same death and also grieving, it seems a natural reaction to pull them along to where we are with our own grief, or push them past where we have been.
When Flynn died, I became the grief pusher in my relationship with Landy.  I was keen, eager to educate myself on our death experience, on government support plans, on grief and available support.  I joined several chat rooms, called counseling agencies and contacted local bereavement support groups.  I told my story over and over again, found comfort in websites with mothers who had common experiences to mine, talked to counselors about the depth of the sadness, my parenting skills (which felt non-existent) and the strain on my marriage.  I did everything that I knew to do to try to beat this grief thing before it could get the best of me in fact everything that I have listed above occurred in the first four months after Flynn died.  I did say I was keen.
A week after Flynn died, Landy went back to work.  He was in a physically demanding job that kept him away from home long hours and sometimes weekends as well. I could not believe he was ready to go back to work already, when I could hardly get out of bed.  I decided he was suppressing his grief that was the only way.
 When he got home from work, I welcomed the end of a very isolating day, someone to help with parenting 3 year old Rhys, someone to talk to about all the thoughts and feelings that had tormented my thinking and kept me from leaving the house.  When Landy got home from work, he wanted to take off his work clothes, shower and “turn off” his mind.  He wanted to play with Rhys, maybe watch TV or go for a walk, he wanted to talk with me and share our days but not if that talk was about Flynn.
I wanted so desperately to talk to Landy about how I was feeling, to share what conclusions I had made about Flynn’s death, about our future, about how to parent a grieving preschooler.  We were in this together, we had this common experience, a son whom we both loved and whom we both buried.  To me it only made sense that we should be grieving together, talking and crying together and when Landy wanted no part of my grief, I really started suspecting that he was not grieving properly or at all.  That is when the grief pushing started.
Instead of crying alone, at home during the day, I began calling Landy when I cried, while he was at work or on the road to share the emotions I was struggling with.  I started printing out the conversations from the websites with other moms, with the thought that they validated my tears and grief.  I would wake Landy in the middle of the night when my insomnia hit, letting him know how hard it was to sleep and how lonely the night time was for me.  I begged him to share with me, to tell me how he was struggling to let me know when he felt the worst or when he cried.  If he had an answer to any of these questions, I was elated, feeling like we were doing this grief thing together, but if he hadn’t struggled that week, if he didn’t want to share, I wondered if we were doomed or if his suppression would lead to “issues” down the road.
Wanting to share and grieve together turned into pressure to be the same.  My crying turned into pleading and my phone calls turned into accusations that Landy was void of feelings.  Instead of wanting Landy to share, I wanted him to hurt in a way that made my hurt feel like it was normal.  I began to equate my amount of grief to his lack of grief and surmise that his love for our son or me was not comparable to my love for both of them.  I began to push grief on him, force him to grieve or admit to not feeling, there seemed to be no other option.  He would never get over the grief if he didn’t even face it in the first place.
It was in our support group through Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO) that I finally heard the words, everyone’s grief is unique.  In fact they told me that no two people, no matter the relationship to the deceased, will grieve the same way.  A mother and father may experience the death of the same child, but they will grieve a unique relationship to that child that will be impacted by who they are as individuals.  What looks like grief on one person will not look the same on someone else.  It opened my eyes to what I had been trying, with best intentions, to do to Landy.  To make him grieve the way that was familiar to me, to make him grieve like I would grieve.
After hearing about grief at BFO I decided that I owed Landy an apology for months of pushing grief.  On a car ride to nowhere I told him how wrong I had been to force his grief to look like mine. I told him that I realized that whether he wanted to talk or cry, to work or to stay home that I had no right to tell him how to grieve his son.  After my apology we had the first real conversation in months, it was on that car ride that he told me the hardest time of the day for him was when he was driving.  The road into work and home he was alone with his thoughts of Flynn, of what could have been and of the family that was grieving the emptiness left by our baby boy.  In the car, with songs on the radio and no-one to talk to or talking to him, Landy’s mind wondered to the grief and sadness over our loss and at times, he told me he would just cry for the half hour it took to make the drive.  It was nice to know that we both felt the loss, even if it did not look the same.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A sense of Pride

While other countries report that the Vancouver Olympics have been filled with controversy, tragedy and technical difficulties, my family and our nation knows that they have been a source of inspiration, a daily touchstone and a healthy and modest dose of pride.  For me the Olympics have been a welcome surprise that has transcended barriers in age, opinion and interest for our family.  In fact the Olympics has provided the first time that our family has shared a sense of excited awe day in and day out for almost two weeks!  I do not remember an instance in the past ten years, when, as a family, we have engaged, discussed and watched something where we were all equally invested.
 It is difficult if not virtually impossible to find something that a 2, 5 and 10 year old child would find commonly interesting and yet an Olympic sport has had them all sitting attentively invested in a national outcome.  In fact the 5 and 10 year old have taken it upon themselves to teach the 2 year old the Canadian cheer.  At any given time around our house you can hear choruses of AAHHHH, OHHHH Canada Go in voices ranging from broken toddler to giddy kindergartener to maturing kid and even sometimes the odd adult.  As a parent it is the type of comradery that you can only wish for but rarely see come to fruition and yet here in my living room I watch three boys hush as the puck drops or a snowboarder jumps and cheer for their country to bring home the gold.
It is not just our children’s eagerness for metal counts and Olympic greatness that keeps the family attuned to the events and news of the Canadian teams.  As adults, my husband and I are also invested in the national pride, the dreams of the Olympians, stories of success and the overcoming of obstacles.  We are acutely aware that this Olympics has brought us together as a family with a sense that we are watching history being made.  As a family our own moments are being created simultaneously as we root for team Canada.  We are all there to cheer, to hope and to dream of the possibilities that lie ahead for our Olympians and for Canada. 
The winter Olympics has given us many teaching moments with our children about challenges, success and even tragedy and installed in us a sense of pride, a national spirit that is invaluable in the building of identity.  In our family room, together in a common goal, we are able to discuss and encourage our children to dream, to strive for greatness and then show them that it can be achieved on a world platform.  The winter Olympics has provided a bond between siblings and as parents a bridge of communication and common interest to our children.  A place where our quest for gold is shared with a nation, creating memories on the west coast of Canada and on a couch in our family room where it will be remembered for many years to come.
This blog was inspired by encouragement from a fantastic friend, Nicola, check out her blog at

Monday, February 22, 2010

Today and Grief

I have felt a little stuck lately on what to write about. This blog is definitely about grief and the day to day, but I don't want to be giving advice, I wanted to talk about walking the walk, how the journey continues and at times I have found that a particularly hard thing to do (write about it, and walk it).
There are all different types of coping methods to make the grief manageable and at times you need to change them, reinvest in them because the grief changes as does the journey.
Flynn died 8 years ago in May, but right now, where I am in my journey, this all feels surreal. Not like the shock of the news in 2002 but more like an old movie that I have not watched in a long time, where at times I forget a good deal of the plot and only snippets can be pulled from the recesses of my brain. I am not forgetting Flynn and I am not afraid of that, after all I would not have veered off my life path, to who I am today, if it were not for his birth, but I am somewhere where I do not need to touch the pain of him as often. I am at peace with his notable absence from my everyday and as with all movements in the grief journey it is not static, what I am comfortable with on year 8 may look very different on year 10.
I encounter my grief everyday because it became a part of my life a long time ago, but right now it tends to be like the one breath in a day that I hold for a second before letting it out. A thought of my grandmother's hands or a flicker of Montreal with my friend or the weight of a heavy arm, warm and tangible under Flynn's weight. Just a second and then it is gone and in the past it would be followed by hours of sorrow or pulling at memories, right now it is followed by a small smile as I move through the rest of my day. I am comfortable with my grief, if I need it, it is there to remind me, to ground me, but here in year 8, in my journey it is in the peripheral and not in the road straight ahead.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I am Sorry

“I am sorry”

Whether at the hospital, a visitation, the funeral, or following a conversation surrounding death, this phrase is one that grieving people often encounter. For some, “I am sorry” is meaningful and received with the good will that is intended, but for others this statement feels like an incomplete or insincere sentiment. Of course it is not for lack of sincerity on the part of the person expressing their sympathy, the griever’s reaction or feeling toward “I am sorry” is usually due to numerous people using this phrase to express sympathy and the ambiguous nature of “I am sorry”.

The word sorry if defined by a dictionary can mean “to be grieved or sad” but it can also be an expression of regret. When sorry is used in conjunction with “I am” we do not typically think of the sentiment meaning “I am sad” we think of it meaning “I am regretful” or “I am apologizing”. This can be very confusing to a bereaved person as statements are often taken very literally and are not interpreted but taken as they are conventionally used. So “I am sorry for your loss” can be literally interpreted to mean “I regret your loss” or “I apologize for your loss” which places ownership for death that is not possibly your responsibility.

I have heard people counter to the well intentioned sentiment “What are you sorry for?” leaving the message giver feeling misinterpreted, defensive and often hurt and the receiver of the message often feeling the same.

So why do we continue to say “I am sorry” to comfort someone who has experienced a death or trauma? Possibly because as a community this phrase has been used for generations to express sympathy, we have heard our families use “I am sorry” when they run up against grief? We could feel uncomfortable with death and grief and use the common expression to deter from our own feelings surrounding death or it could be that we just do not know what else to say?

There are other options to “I am sorry.” Using words that sincerely communicate your feelings like “I am sad for you,” “I cannot imagine what you are feeling right now,” or “I hope you are gentle with yourself and take the time that you need.”

People that are experiencing grief really need to feel supported and sincere emotion and sentiment are important to them. It is okay to say “I do not know what to say,” if that is truly how you feel. And if “I am sorry” is your statement of comfort, that is okay too, just some food for thought next time you encounter grief or death.