Monday, November 21, 2011

Some Days You Just Need to Cry

There are times when I suddenly realize that I have been holding myself together.  Going through life stoically as though I am impervious to what is happening around me.  I believe that I am fooling the people who care about me into thinking that I am coping.  It is that pinnacle moment when I recognize how much I am holding in, that I need to let it go.
I know friends who journal, some others go to the gym or do yoga, several friends have mastered the skill of meditation.  For me, I need to cry.  The other things are helpful and definitely a part of a healthy lifestyle but when I know that my body is made up more of tension than calm I need to let go.  A full out sob is required.
Over time I have realized that these "emotional breakdowns" work better if they are scheduled (or at least predictable).  Sobbing in the line at the grocery store (done it) or on the phone with your alarm system company (done that too) or at a parent/teacher conference (oh yes that too) does not alleviate frustration, it can cause embarassment.

*Although if I had my soap box I would be ranting about the importance of honouring your emotions and not "hiding" you feelings.  But the reality is, the general public does not do well with tears ~ there is still a stigma that tears are a sign of weakness or attributed to what Freud termed "hysteria" ~ the plight of the female and her emotional outbursts.*

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes, scheduling "a good cry."
I find time when I know that I can be vulnerable, in a space where I am free of judgement and safe to express my emotions.  Sometimes I include my partner if I think it would help for us to better understand how I am currently feeling, but mostly it is something that I choose to do alone.
My favourite place to cry is in the bath.  My body is ready to relax from the warmth, there is no concern about getting wet and the accoustics of a good wail reverberated off the walls of a bathroom, priceless.   The instant release of tension from every muscle in my body, in addition to the complete and utter exhaustion that comes over me once I have cried is the perfect remedy for my stoicism.
Caution!  Once you have allowed for the release it is possible that whatever you have "bottled," "stuffed," or "held onto" will also come out along with the tears.
I probably do not cry as often as I "should" and I probably could learn to identify how I am feeling rather than wait until I can cry.  But until that happens I will work with the solutions I have!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day to Never Forget

As someone who writes about grief, there has been one enormous grief that I have intentionally stayed away from, that of September 11th, 2001.  Today marks the 10th anniversary of that tragic day.  It is a day that has become a part of our global history.  The television, radio and Internet sites are reminding us that today is a day to remember.  Today we will honour those people who lost there lives and be thankful for the bravery of those who perished in their attempts to minimize the casualties.
My hope is that today is not simply represented by images meant to engage us in reliving the devastation of that day. Rather, it should remind us that today altered the course of people's lives.  It changed individuals and families, so that they were no longer who they used to be.   It took away their notion of "normal" and forced them to establish a new identity without their loved one.
I have had the honour and privilege of talking with people who experienced the death of a family member on September 11th.  They shared the complexity of a national grief that surrounded them while they struggled to cope with their daily personal griefs that could not possibly be shared. I came to the realization that while my fears were realized for a day, their fears would be recognized day in and day out.  While we take the time to remember on every anniversary of September 11th, there are the loved ones of the dead who have never forgotten for one moment of any day.  In fact, as a global community represented by the media, we are telling these grievers how significant it is to be at the 10 year anniversary, I am sure if we listened, we could hear them say "oh, I know."
Today I am lost in thinking how my life went on after the media coverage died down 10 years ago.  I, like everyone else, watched the television as it replayed the implosion of a nation's sanctity and robbed the world of our communal naivité.
Like the world, I was impacted by the increased airport security and the nervous tension as a war between nation's began.  I am acutely aware today, that unlike so many, I hugged my family that day, I called my friends on the phone and I slept that night because for me and many others around the world, it was only a part of my lived experience.
Instead of saying that I remember today, I will make a promise to those in my life that I will do more not to forget.  I will honour those lives by embracing my family and reminding them that they are loved and I will remind myself how very lucky I am to have that privilege.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Finding the Words

I started off today wanting to write about how this feels. I came up with phrases like "the uncomfortable, gnawing gap in my internal rhythm." Then I thought, what does that really mean?  When I tried to equate it to other experiences that possibly anyone could relate to, it paled in comparison to what it was, his death.  How might I explain what it felt like to succumb to my son's death?  To see his name written on a death certificate?  To pick his final "resting" place? To have his name carved into granite as a reminder of the years passed without him? I could not find a common pain that compared, no experience that felt as raw, hollow or consuming.  I think that is the reality of grief, we cannot equate it to a common experience, we cannot help people to peer into our pain and the very intimacy of our pain makes it difficult to share.  I have decided not to talk about the pain today.
Flynn's birthday is today, just as much as it was the day that he died.  I want to do something different this year, I want to share his joy, the joy we knew and felt surrounding his life.  He was not conceived in sadness and pain and it hurts to think that his legacy is now equivalent only to sorrow.
Rhys was 18 months when we realized we wanted to continue our family.  We loved being his parents and we were intoxicated by our love for him.  When we had tried to conceive for six months, we talked to our doctor, when it was ten months we saw a specialist and at a year we went onto fertility drugs.  I realize now that I was inpatient, but I had a deep desire to be a mother again, to meet a new little person and watch them grow.
On Boxing Day we got two surprises, a positive pregnancy test and a two and a half year old with chicken pox.  After making sure that chicken pox and pregnancy would be okay (I was immune), our family of three spent a week on the pull out couch in our living room watching TV, dozing and revelling in our family.
During my pregnancy I could not hide my symptoms.  Coffee sent me flying into the washroom, food before 11am was not tolerated and by the time that we were 10 weeks along most people knew we were pregnant.  At the time, someone told me that you should wait to share a pregnancy with people, in case something went wrong.  Now I appreciate that we need to do what feels right for us, I had so many people anticipating this new life, supporting my pregnancy, I do not regret that now.
At 14 weeks I started to feel the baby kick.  It was early, I know, but it is not my memory playing tricks or my dates being wrong, that was when it started, I journalled it during the pregnancy.  It was a true blessing.  From the first kick I began to develop a bond with this baby, talking to him, confiding in him, having a private moment in time with him.
He kicked so frequently that I would often picture a long, lean little child (I didn't know the sex yet) in there hanging of the umbilical cord wanting to let me know that they were hungry, tired and stretching or just plain bored.  Funny visualization, but that is what I saw when I thought of the baby.  I appreciated the continuous reminders that he was in there and okay.  It came in handy when a nurse told me she could not find his heartbeat, meanwhile he was tenderizing my liver!  That would be the only time that I would be confident about my baby's life and his existence.
At this point in Flynn's story things get dark and it is hard to remember if there was any joy.  One moment that was not tainted by heartbreak was the first ultrasound at 18 weeks, when the ultrasound technician asked us if we wanted to know what we were having.  Rhys was with us and we both said YES!  Another boy, said the technician and Rhys was overjoyed to know that he would have a brother.  That was a great moment and one that even Flynn's death would not change, Rhys would have a brother and it would change his identity significantly.
I have written a lot about the doctor's, the diagnosis and the despair surrounding Flynn's birth.
There were some things that went right.  He was born in our home hospital, just seconds before they were ready to put me into an ambulance bound for the nearest NICU.  That meant we got to hold him, our parents were able to hold him and see him and touch him.  There were no tubes and wires or Plexiglas keeping us from his life (there is a need for this care, but in his grim reality, not for him).
He was born alive.  **side note** My heart aches for the families that did not hold their babies in life and I can only be honest for my wishes on that day, his life would not have been any different in significance had he died before he was born.  When I was labouring the day of Flynn's birth all I asked for was to hold him alive (in hopes of a miracle really).  My family saw him kick and move his arms.  His mouth opened and closed while his chest rose and fell.  The intimate relationship that I shared with him for almost six months could now be experienced by my family as they held him, cried over him and whispered their love and wishes for him.

He made me a better person. It took awhile.  I needed to grieve.  For me, that meant being angry at myself, at my partner and even my children (living and deceased).  I had to cry, be sad, be depressed and honour what that meant for me.  I needed to rebuild all of the relationships that were changed by Flynn's life and death and at times accept that some of those relationships would not be rebuilt, they would also cease to exist.  As I began to cope with my new reality, I began to appreciate what was important to me and what wasn't.  I redefined who I wanted to be and let go of who I couldn't be.  I may have done all of these things at some point in my life, but not at twenty-six and not with the clarity and maturity that came out of our experience.
I think there is probably so much more that I could say, but finding the joy on a day that is different from nine years ago and yet remains difficult to reconcile has exhausted the words that I have left.
Today is Flynn's birthday.  Today I will remember the joy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Body Remembers

The same time, every year, I get into a funk.
It starts with feeling run down, unmotivated and fatigued.  Those feelings are often followed by me becoming grumpy, depressed, and very sad.
I experience this same cycle every year in mid April and every year it takes me to the end of April to realize that this cyclical pattern within my body is all the beginning of my unconscious acknowledgement that Flynn's anniversary is approaching.
No matter how distracted, focused or oblivious I am to the calendar, my body remembers that 365 days have passed since his last anniversary, even now, nine years after his death.  Its funny that my mind has still not picked up the alert system that my body has integrated into it's biology.
Every year I handle the signals differently. Some years I have embraced the sadness, wanting to wrap myself up in the memories and linger there.  Other years it has felt more comfortable to just get through it, do what I need to do and then move forward. I have done that a number of ways such as ignoring the day altogether or keeping it to myself.  I have never been able to predict what kind of year it is going to be, it has been different with every anniversary.
The first one was difficult; it was a reminder that time had continued for everyone even after my world had stopped.  The second anniversary felt more like a signal that I could not stay where I was with my grief; it was time to cope and learn to manage my life again.  Some anniversaries I was able to ignore the significance of the day completely, possibly as a form of self preservation.  Ignoring it, while needed at the time, always led to a feeling of guilt.  Guilt because I had not taken time to acknowledge my son's death which also meant that I had not acknowledged his life.
That leads me to this year, 2011. This year Flynn would have been nine, I cannot begin to explain the denial I want to experience when I think of how much time has passed.  I think of how different May 3rd would be if he were alive.  We would be celebrating his approach to double digits, his almost being a decade old.  Instead I am coming to the realization that it has almost been ten years since I held him, smelled him and felt his warm little body in my arms.

It is hard because alternatively 2011 has been filled with so many fabulous experiences.  While I am enjoying the shift in my life, I have needed to shed more tears, allow for the memories, embrace the reality of who I am, more this year.  It has been surprising and therapeutic.  I believe that Flynn has been missing from my life for a couple of years, so that I could do what was needed for Bereaved Families and in my role as a support for bereaved people.  It is hard to admit that I had to close myself off to his memory and it has been equally difficult to figure out how to open myself back up to it.  As his mother I am hard on myself and feel, at times, like I have abandoned him in order to cope.  The emotion that I have encountered while remembering him, is humbling.  To remember his purpose, the significance of his little life and the importance of not forgetting, it is a part of my journey that I am glad to have found again.
This year, 2011, has been based in the pursuit of my dreams to finish school and get my Masters in Social Work. I have said so many times (in this blog) that my path and my course was set the day that Flynn was born.  There have been several other reasons that my life was destined to be in a helping and supportive profession, but he was my inspiration, my purpose for knowing that I was on the right path.
His life, so short and yet so meaningful is remembered first by my body that carried him, then by my mind that remembers his tiny toes, fingers and his perfect little face and finally by my heart that is forever scarred by his death and swollen with love by his life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Gift from Grandma

I think about my grandma all the time.  She died four years ago on March 17th.  Some days it feels like we have been without her forever.  Other days it was just yesterday that I sat in a room talking to her.
I have experienced grief where the pain of memories seers the muscles of your heart and strums the nerves in your mind.
Remembering my grandma has never felt this way.  She spent my life preparing me for the day that I would not be with her.  It was not done despairingly or dark and gloomy.  She was just very honest about her struggle with chronic illness and the prognosis for her life.  She talked to me honestly, shared stories of her challenges, her accomplishments and her failures.  Unlike any other adult in my life, she allowed me to see her vulnerable and she gave me permission to be fallible while encouraging me to be better in light of mistakes or missteps.  Possibly I am painting a picture of a soft spoken, gentle woman.  That brings a huge smile to my face.  My grandma was outspoken, opinionated, hard headed and relentless. I was witness to many instances where the recipient of her sharp tongue was fighting a losing battle.  As difficult as my grandma could be she was always in my corner, supporting my spirit and who I was or who I could be.
My grandma's death was sudden and anticipated.  Someone who has watched a loved one struggle with a lifelong chronic illness will understand this sentiment.  I think when my family is honest, we knew that her time with us was increasingly limited, but one day she was okay and within a week she was gone.  I remember feeling like there was a tear in the fabric of my existence the day that she died.  I was not sure how I would navigate life without my cheerleader.
I would like to reiterate my love for my grandma.  Her presence in my life was a blessing and her death filled me with sadness.  I have learned that as we learn to cope and heal following the death of loved ones sometimes we begin to see the gifts that they have left for us.  The reminders that while life is different without them their influence continues to the end of our days.  My grandma's death left me two very special gifts and I am so grateful.
The first gift is the relationship that I developed with my grandpa.  My grandma was such a force in our family.  As in many relationships, I think that it was easy for my grandpa to be eclipsed by the enormity of my grandma's personality.  My grandpa is a quiet, thoughtful, humorous soul but my grandma was regularly the one that relayed information from our family to theirs and vice versa.  Following her death, we had to refashion the connectedness that we chose to have with one another.  I began to see my grandpa differently. I heard his voice, I could visualize his world and learned about who he was as an individual.
I have always loved my grandpa, but now we are part of a relationship.  It is nice to communicate with him and I have learned so much about who he is.  It is a gift and I cherish him more every day.
The second gift is a little more complex.
Following my grandma's death, I felt an emptiness.  I missed the love and support that she gave me and I believed that was an adjustment that I would have to make.
Audrey entered my life by bringing happiness to my grandpa's life.  Audrey has a gentle, considerate nature.  She has embraced our family with empathy and compassion, recognizing that we would need time to reconcile our loss.  It did not take long to see that she is thoughtful and witty (like my grandfather).  Her charisma and energy is infectious and welcoming.  Audrey did not join our family trying to fill a hole.  She has shown our family so much respect and yet as I recognize my grandma will never be replaceable I also acknowledge that there is a place for Audrey in our lives and in our family.  People become family on much less merit than the love, patience and respect Audrey has shown for my family.  I do not believe anyone can have too much love.  I feel blessed and like my grandma has given me one more gift in Audrey. 
My grandma defined her role in my life by being my cheerleader, by loving and respecting me.  In life I felt very loved by her and in death she ensured that I would continue to feel loved.  How lucky am I?  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Refuge in Music

I am stealing the idea for this blog from my wonderful friend across the pond, Nicola who has the ability to inspire through her writing.  This time she has made me think about how music or more precisely songs, have chronicled the grief in my life.   At the time of significant loss, I would lose myself in my thoughts, hide away in my room, house or car and just listen to songs that reminded me of the hurt or the hope.  
For those of you who hang on to the notion of music and culture (you know who you are)I will profess that my choice of songs may have been pop sensations or one hit wonders.  At the time of their importance, the songs were not about the charts or the artistic form but rather for the words or the melody  and how it suited my life at that point in time.
I thought I would include a brief summary before the song, an insight into the loss and how the song came to be the theme for that time in my life.

I remember visiting my girlfriend's dad in the hospital after he was diagnosed with cancer.  I can still recall how a significant man in stature and composure could look so weak and vulnerable, it broke my heart.  His death changed my reality, I was no longer immortal.  The day that I drove to his funeral, this song was playing on the radio.  When the phone rang at my home later that day to tell me that my other friend's sister had just died, it seemed that much more fitting.

Everybody Hurts - REM

This song has become epic for funerals and as a theme to prevent suicide, but the day I heard it was the first day it was released on the radio.

Ten months later, a handful of friends waited with baited breath to hear news that our friend, Sheri, would overcome her current struggle with Cystic Fibrosis.  We prayed that this time like others, was just a blip in her life story and she would continue to beat the odds of a life-limiting illness.  On a Friday evening I returned home from work to my parent's sympathetic looks.  I remember the instant flash of hatred that they would or could tell me such a lie, that my beloved friend could not possibly have died, this was not the way our paths would end.  All I could do was run from my house and get in the car and drive.  I know that there seems to be a theme, but on that drive this song came on the radio, not only one of my favourite performers but words that held meaning to my relationship with my friend.

I'll Remember - Madonna

I never thought that I would know a more profound death than that of my friend Sheri.  Hers was a kinship that I will never be able to properly put into words.

A celebrated pregnancy, an anticipated child, a belief in the exception to the rule; these were all the ways I would describe my naivete prior to Flynn's birth.  Even five weeks of bed rest, doctor's appointments and ultrasounds did not deter my hope for the end result of a healthy child. I never stopped talking to him, establishing a bond between mother and child, rocking my body to soothe him to sleep or answering his kicks with the rub of my belly.  His birth and death would devastate my normal, turn my world upside down.  Every song hurt, every melody, every poetic verse cut through me, it took months to find solace.  This song gave expression to how I thought and felt about Flynn, how I was coping, how much I missed him and needed to redefine our relationship so I could continue.

Iris - Goo Goo Dolls

There have been times in my life that I have felt like the singer, singing to Flynn and then other times when I felt like he was the singer and the song was his message to me.

When Landy and I separated, it was a devastating and confusing time in both of our lives.  Nothing that we said to each other provided comfort.  In fact, words meant to soothe were construed as words meant to wound.  Many conversations broke down and escalated our situation further into anger and sadness.  It was at that time that I could not find words to convey the hurt that this song came on the radio.  Not only did it illustrate how I saw the two of us NOT communicating, it said the things that I could not.

How to Save a Life - The Fray

My Grandma had an exhaustive influence on my life and in how I came to be me. Her defiance of the odds, her stamina in the face of chronic illness and her liberated view of my world gave me the confidence that I could be anyone and anything.  What a powerful message to give to a young girl in today's society.  Her imperfections, her biases, her mistakes allowed me to be flawed and to be human.  The day that she died (as we headed home from vacation), I realized that my world would be changed once more.  I heard this song on our long drive home from Florida and I knew that there was nothing more to fix, but it was something that as a child I had wanted more than life, to be able to fix her.
Fix You - Coldplay

I think that in light of the length of this blog, I will simply leave you with a quote by one of my favourite poets:
"Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."  ~Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name