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.