Monday, December 17, 2012

What I do not know

I cannot write about the tragedy in Connecticut.
Writing a blog about grief and as a bereaved parent, it might seem like a natural place to find such a blog, but it won't happen here.  
I haven't watched the news or followed the story that has unfolded in Connecticut.  I know the basics of what happened and that is difficult enough to reconcile.  I cannot browse through the images of the parents or the children or the teachers that were so tragically affected.  I do not know how to hold the pain of this story and it is not MY story.

I have no idea how these families feel.
I do not know their pain.
I do not understand their losses.

The only thing I do know is that their grief will be endured for a lifetime. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life with the Bereaved

Recently my partner and I had a very candid discussion about grief and death as it is experienced from parents of the same child. The conversation took place over text - a "safe" medium to have one of those "tough conversations."  I asked his permission to post the conversation because I believe it is a representation of how differenly we have coped with and managed parenthood after our son's death.  We recently acknowledged the 10th anniversary of Flynn's death and in this discussion we are preparing to attend a holiday memorial service that we go to every year.
My partner had expressed ambivalence about attending the event prior to this conversation starting.

Himself:
What time are we going to the Tree of Bright Stars today?  Are we helping with the set up?

Me:
You don't have to come tonight.

Himself:
That is not why I was asking.  I was curious as to when we were going?
Himself:
For kid feeding purposes.

Me:
At 6 and you can stay home, you have made it clear lately that you don't want to go.

Himself:
At some point we are going to need to start the mending process again.  And I'm realizing that it is not going to be easy.
Himself:
I am not a fan of the gathering that is the Tree of Bright Stars. But I'm not opposed to the meaning of it.  I want to be there for you more than anything, even if it is not required for my own growth/healing with regard to Flynn.  I know I have missed  the underlying message before but I'm trying to correct that.  So even if my presence is  needed for your support  then I want to come.  Does that make sense?

Me:
Yes and I am not broken or less healed just because I acknowledge Flynn's life and death in a community that understands the enormity of this loss.  To be honest I am and was very angry with you and our therapist when you suggested that I was anything less than coping with my grief because as a bereaved parent I am overprotective. It is ignorance about coping and loss that makes it difficult for people to be bereaved and grow. As for personnal growth, the continued and very minute amount of memorializing that I do for me and at times this family is a testament to the resilience as a result of our son's life and death.

Himself:
Well said.

Me:
Don't come to support me, that statement tells me that you don't see yourself as a bereaved parent. I am not just a dead child's mother.

Himself:
Ok. Its apparent that I am very wrong. And obvious that you intend on continually painting me with the "he's in denial" brush.
Himself:
I am sorry that you view me this way.  I don't understand it.

Me:
I do not think you are in denial.  I have no idea how you feel, but your son died too. I am not sure why you see your role in memorializing events during the holidays as supporting me?

Himself:
Good point. But misunderstood. Maybe by me as well.  I guess I don't really know why I don't like attending the Tree festival. Or others like it.  I suppose if I really look at it...I have a distaste for grief.  Not sure really why, its not that I don't think people should be grieving.  Maybe as you have already suggested, I don't like facing it.  Mainly because it sucks.

Me:
Yes it does. What I know is that it does not suck any less if you do not face it.  Eventually you will reconcile the grief and not usually when it is convenient or even supported by those around you.

Himself:
Another good point.
Himself:
I will come tonight.  For the cookies.

Me:
I love you. Regardless if you come tonight or not.

Himself:
Thanks.  I really did need to hear that. I love you too.  Very much.

It must be hard to live with a bereaved parent, let alone two. It is the conversations and all the moments inbetween that make it possible to walk this journey together and differently.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Asking For Help (Part Two)

This blog was originally posted on Pilgrimage to Diagnosis earlier this year.  The blog was a raw, genuine exploration into how easy or difficult it can be to recognize your need for help.  This blog remains relevant today and especially after recognizing in my last post that I am having difficulty processing all of my thoughts and feelings.  If you read this when it was originally posted then this is a similar but different foray into vulnerability.  If this is the first time reading it then please enjoy!


When I began writing blogs it was out of a desire to normalize my experience of death and grief by reaching out and receiving support from a virtual community of grievers.  It would be accurate to say that blogging was a form of therapy for me. It is also a fair assessment that this blog has been a way to convey messages to people I love and care for, from a distance rather then engaging in a discussion face to face.
In blogging about my life of  learning to cope with and manage my grief, I truly believed I embodied transparency.  At times I was capable of revealing some intimate details about my grief journey following the death of Flynn.  Other times I was simply pondering a thought or expressing an opinion to an elusive virtual community. 
Moreover, I was keeping my world at arms length.

Remaining anonymous to my own life.

There is an ease to conveying your feelings from an empty dining room table.
When you do not have to vocalize your emotions to another face that may react to what you have to say; you can say anything.
My ability to be open about my grief has been conditional on doing it from behind a computer screen.  In reality open only meant sharing the tip of the iceberg; the remaining 90% of my experience of grief and loss has been buried far beneath the surface, untouchable.
Regardless of how much I have researched grief and bereavement or learned how to strengthen my therapeutic abilities, I have not found the "solution" to living a life free of loss. There is no way to "fix it."  Consider that for a second.  I cannot fix something that feels broken - there is helplessness or powerlessness.  I may have been able to tell clients that living with grief is a journey that remains with you for a lifetime but I am not sure whether I heard that message myself.  

For the past several weeks I have been participating in a "Use of Self" class where we were asked to examine how we (as clinicians) impact the therapeutic process.  This exploration of self has not happened in a vaccuum, life has continued to happen too and sometimes all this reflectiveness has "taken its toll."  Peeling back the layers of loss and examining the health of my coping strategies has created a roller coaster of emotion. I have tried to laugh.  Mostly I have cried, cried and cried some more. I have had to talk about how I have been feeling, because it has been impossible to ignore that I have been feeling. 
Admittedly, stoicism is an inherited trait.  Even in my virtual openness I am unwilling to examine the depth of my grief.  I have been stuck in perpetual discomfort at the challenge of being vulnerable (a position that I usually always  usually run from - and  h  e   r   e   -  I  -  g   o  - a  g  a  i  n). 

I have always encouraged people to recognize their limits and honour their emotions.  I have challenged family, friends and clients to see a request for help as a sign of strength.  My entire life, I have been gauging my strength on my ability to push through, buck up and carry on.  What a contradiction!  There is a need for the "push through it" mentality, but there is also a cost.  

In revealing myself  I would caution individuals from jumping to the conclusion that I am stuck in my grief or that I am not coping in a "healthy" way.  This post is serving as my vehicle for a deeper level of honesty, a revealing portrayl of a bereaved mother. 

I may need to get comfortable with asking for help.  For now, one day at a time.

"...love - any love - reveals us in our nakedness, our misery, our vulnerability, our nothingness." ~ Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not One More Thing

"When the dam breaks"
I have sat across from many individuals who exemplify someone who "stuffs their grief."  When faced with the difficulties and challenges in life a grief stuffer might head in the opposite direction of the pain, avoid any reminders and push down feelings associated with the loss.  When I sat with someone who stuffed their grief they would usually describe a series of illnesses, difficult relationships, employment problems and tell me they were coping "fine" with their grief. 
If I asked for examples of coping strategies I would likely meet defence mechanisms such as humour or deflection. If I asked about the rituals or ways of memorializing that had taken place following the death of their loved one, I might hear about ceremonies planned for the public and see very few representations of personal moments.
Stuffing grief is a coping mechanism and I felt comfortable sitting with someone who stuffed their grief and discussing strategies of self-care and supports that would help if stuffing no longer worked.  Moreover, through these conversations of self-compassion the grief would start to surface and we might begin to unpack the loss and its impact on the person's life.

I am illustrating my experience of the grief stuffer because I have not known one who looks like this:

Yep, that is me. I look oblivious to my own compacting patterns and defence mechanisms that have been slowly accumulating the grief under my surface and getting ready to erupt. Stuffing grief felt like the antithesis to my life, after all I write about living with grief. Up until very recently, I believed that I was among the first in my social network to acknowledge that loss exists and to face it.  In reality, I acknowledged that death is a part of life and something that we will all face.  Death will represent loss in our lives and we will grieve loved ones whom we miss.  However, I was not facing the multitude of losses that I have experienced in the past year or the impact that they were having.  Each individual experience may not have represented much and possibly I recognized some form of hurt but then I moved forward. In my mind I envision a path of bread crumbs and I am picking them up one at a time eating them, not thinking about how much I have eaten as I continue forward (and since I am gluten free you can see how this vision would lead to pain for me).

So here I am writing this blog about the person who stuffs their grief.  I didn't think it was me but this year has been filled with little BIG things.  They were not all deaths but they were all significant losses for me or people I loved.  There was an impact on me and I did little to face that.
Here are a few examples of how I have been affected:
  • My education has been filled with losses - my expectations have not been met or I have not gotten the level of learning I was hoping for.
  • Financial independence - I did not realize that my core beliefs would be challenged by not working and having my "own earnings."
  • Health - the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome changed my physical and mental health (most likely forever).
  • Relationships - I just cannot give what I want to, to the people I care about.
  • Friendships - some survive the complexity of graduate school commitments/stress and some don't. That translates into a level of isolation and loneliness that I was not prepared for
  • Family - Diagnosis has changed our worldview and while it isn't my health, it is still my heart that hurts knowing that we are left to our faith in medicine combined with a helpless positivity.
Each one in isolation is manageable and that is how I have been coping, picking up each piece as I encounter it, never looking at the entirety of it all together, stuffing it you might say!  Last week I was forced to step back and take in the whole picture of this year's losses.  I could not hold onto one more thing and as a future therapist, I was responsible to more than just myself.  Furthermore, I believe in the role of modelling behaviours that you wish to see in others, with the help of another student I could finally let go.

The first thing I did - sob.  Not for everyone, I recognize.  Let's face it - the gut wrenching, back heaving crying that contorts your face and hurls primitive sounds from your guts is few people's first choice at coping, but it was a start and that was more than I had given myself in a year.  I am only beginning to figure out how to cope and allow for these losses.  Stay tuned as I continue on this journey into self-awareness.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lunges and Lunch: Guest Post

My lovely friend Stephanie over at Lunges and Lunch has featured me on her blog.  Check out my guest spot about Feeding Grief here: Lunges and Lunch:Guest Post. Have a look around while you are there, I am sure you will love her as much as I do!

xo
Lis

A Lesson in Being Honest

Just over a week ago our friends experienced the death of their precious son.  Our family was so deeply saddened.
This blog is about the conversation that took place between my husband and I when we discussed attending the funeral of this cherished boy and the realizations that came from our own journey with grief:

I checked the website of the funeral home daily looking for information about the funeral service after learning that N had died. When the information was posted I called Landy to let him know.  He said we could talk about it when he got home and I knew it would be hard for him to attend.

Looking back now I realize how anxious I had become by the time we discussed the funeral but at the time I didn't recognize it.

"Are you coming to the funeral with me tomorrow?"

"No I don't think so."

"What! Why not? I cannot believe you. It is important that we show our support to R and K.  Why aren't you coming?"

"I am sorry, I just can't."

"Great, so you are so busy at work that you cannot take time out to show our friends you care? I don't know what to say."

"I am sorry."

Our evening ended with us both feeling hurt and disappointed.

On the day of the funeral, I stared blankly into my closet.  I had no idea what to wear. The only thing I could think of was the outfit that I wore at Flynn's funeral; an outfit I borrowed from R.  I thought about our friends and could not imagine the pain this day would bring them.

Driving to the funeral home I realized that I had to walk in alone, I would not know anyone.  I have gone to visitations and funerals alone before, I wasn't sure why this felt different.  I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes and tried to mentally prepare for this service.  How do you prepare for the funeral of an eleven year old?

The chapel was full, more than full and I sat watching the video slide show of a short beloved life.  I could not take my eyes off of it for fear of seeing the room full of tears, feeling my own heart congested with sadness for this family.  The three pews for the family sat empty for ten minutes maybe more after the service had begun and I thought it must be so tough to come into this room.  I began to realize that my anxiety was rising, I was feeling suffocated and strangely nauseous.  I wasn't sure if it was the crowded room or the emotionality of this congregation of grievers.  Then it hit me, I have not been to a child's funeral since my son died and I am here alone ~ I don't know how to do this alone.

I left right after the service. I turned the radio off in the car and drove in silence to the reception. What was going on inside of me?  I was feeling abandoned and angry.  Why was I reacting so strongly?  Landy had his reasons for not coming; it is not my place to force him, right? I am not a Grief Pusher. Anyway, I had tried to force him through guilt and it had not worked (I am not perfect).  But I had told him to come for our friends and that was not what I needed.  There it was, the truth.  I needed him to be there with me because this was hard and I did not want to do it alone.  Instead I told him that he had let down our friends.

When Landy got home he asked about R and K, I know he felt heartbroken for them too.

I told him how I felt at the funeral and on my way to the reception.  I shared with him my insight and the realization that I had not told him what I needed.

"I would have been there if I would have known you needed me to be.  I feel foolish that I didn't realize that.  It was really hard for me to be there too and maybe that is why I couldn't go."

"I know.  I wish I could have been more honest with myself.  "

Forever in so many hearts. Never to be forgotten ~ for N

Thursday, May 3, 2012

10 Years ~ A Photo Diary

Today was the ten year anniversary of Flynn's birth and death.  Even typing it seems unreal.  Although I kept a familiar routine to mark this day, I decided to approach the blog differently.  I wanted to do a photo diary so that I could document the day both literally and visually.

May 3rd, 2012

We have a box.
We keep it in the farthest corner of our closet and it is filled with memorabilia, such as: pictures, a pregnancy journal, a baby book, Flynn's quilt, etc.

It also has all the notes and cards that we received following his death.  Today I took them all out and read every one.  They are reminders of how far the pain of his death reached. Some of the note writers are no longer alive.  I hope Carlos, my Aunt and my Grandma are with Flynn now.
After reading the cards, I reached into the box and pulled out the gown and cap that Flynn wore that day.  I took out the quilt that he was wrapped in.  I touched them and smelled them and remembered how it felt to just hold him.

I looked through all the pictures that were taken the day that he was born. The family photo with me holding our tiny baby, while Flynn clung tightly to Landy's index finger.  There were photos that caught the look of despair on my parent's faces and some that captured the tears that wove a sombre path over the round of our cheeks.  I remember the words that I whispered just before they took me away for surgery.

"Remember, Mommy loves you always."


After putting away the box, I continued with my day by driving to a florist where I could pick up a bouquet of blue orchids. I buy them every year after they were abundantly splayed in a breathtaking arrangement on the top of Flynn's white sateen casket at his funeral.

The florist wanted to make them into a complicated bouquet.  I told her that it was not necessary; I was going to the cemetery with them.  She insisted that she must do something, so I let her put some baby's breath in with the orchids and tie it with a deep blue ribbon.  She told me it must be sad going to the cemetery.  I thought about it for a second and then replied,
"Not after 10 years, now it is a relief, I am actually looking forward to it, I am happy even." 

She starred at me.  "Even after all these years it can be hard. You mean that it is sad, right?"

I nodded obligingly.  It wasn't the day to argue.

I took the country roads out to the cemetery.  I love the drive; it is picturesque, with open fields and trees lining the winding road.  The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by an old chapel that is full of character and epitomizes the century old cemetery.
I followed the winding lane until I found our familiar spot, tucked away on a little hill where his place is marked in stone.
I spent time cleaning the area up, cringing with guilt that it had become so overgrown and neglected. Then I just sat there and was.  I don't remember thinking about anything in particular, I just felt content to be there in that space with him.
I was not ready to leave him entirely, so I took a scenic walk to clear my head and meditate on the day.



 


















The warm weather made my stroll even more enjoyable.  The spring blooms were spectacular and the vibrant colours were awe inspiring.
I ended my stroll at a vegetarian restaurant where I enjoyed vegan sushi, a new personal favourite.
I had one more thing that I wanted to do to mark ten years of life without Flynn.  I have wanted to do it for a long time and it seemed fitting to make it happen today.

There was a serendipitous moment when the tattoo artist told me that his own infant daughter had died 3 years ago.  I told the artist the meaning behind the word and the reason that today was the day for me to get it.  He showed me the two tiny feet tattooed on the back of his hand and I was thankful I had sat in his chair today.



My day ended with me tucking my three boys into bed for the night before sitting down to write this anniversary blog.  I uploaded all the pictures from the day and chose my favourite ones.
As I examined the pictures of my orchid bouquet I noticed that amongst all the vibrant purple and turquoise blooms there was a single bloom that was larger than all the rest with colours that were just a little brighter than the surrounding flowers.

It filled me with joy; 10 years' worth.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just What a Heavy Heart Needed

A night at the symphony.
When I first received the invitation I hesitated.  I had been blue all week, was it really a good idea to expose myself to the raw, consuming power of orchestra music? I decided I had better decline and so I countered the offer with "music can trigger my emotions and right now I am sad, I am not sure an orchestra will help."
My wise friend was already aware of my fragility and she simply responded with "I am the same way, so we can be sad together."



She also suggested that we dress up and treat ourselves to an evening of feeling special.  It was the perfect remedy. 

When we sat in our seats in the little country theatre and the conductor announced that the performance was dedicated to uplifting, positive music, I knew that coming to the symphony was the right choice.  We listened to music from Mozart, Bernstein and Dvor├ík.  My personal favourite of the night was "Overture to Le Nozze Di Figaro" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; it is such a whimsical piece of music and one that reminds me of creating music back when I was in the high school orchestra.

When the concert was finished we decided that an evening at the symphony was not complete without wings and fries at a local pub.

I didn't know how much I needed the symphony, pub food and a good friend until I was lucky enough to have all three.
Thanks Steph for providing comfort to a heavy heart.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

13-10-7-4

Yesterday I went to a home product party, the kind of party that is hosted by family or friends and showcases merchandise like jewellery, kitchen gadgets or makeup.  The party is somewhat inconsequential to this blog however it does set the scene, a room full of women (moms mostly) some I know, most I do not.  After the product demonstration guests begin to mingle, introducing themselves, and asking the customary niceties. If you cannot conceptualize the questions that are customary for a room full of moms, let me help, they are: So how many children do you have? What are their ages? Do you have boys, girls or both?

There was a time when I would not even participate in these conversations; not knowing how to answer and failing my identity regardless of what truth I told. For instance, if I was the mother of three I was filled with guilt about not acknowledging Flynn, but if I was the mother of four I dreaded the explanation that would usually transpire. However, over time my attitude toward these conversations has softened and I find myself capable of participating in the social exchange. What is my strategy, you ask (even if you didn't)?  Be the one asking the questions and when the other person finishes answering, provide my corresponding answer to my original question. 
Example: "You have children? [person answers], I do too, all boys."  Can you see how it may be easier when you know the question being asked (again, humour me)?

Back to the current product party, my time there went fairly well, until I was struck not by a question but by an answer.  In talking with another mother, who identified that she had four children, the question of their ages arose.

"They are 13-10-7-4"

BAM!

13-10-7-4

I could see the mothers smile change to a look of confusion as I regained my composure from what felt like a twenty minute daze (I am sure[hope]it was only seconds).  Regardless of the length of my stare, the mother then asked me the same question.  I was still recovering from my realization.
I should have four boys 13-10-7-4.
I was beginning to bubble with anticipatory guilt, this is the type of scenario where I tell only my present reality and not my lived one.  I do not know this woman, I do not want to share that piece of me but I don't want to feel the guilt of my half-truth. I take a deep breath and steady my response.

"13-10-7-4, that is what I would have, my second son passed away shortly after he was born."

The mother smiled back sympathetically, "I am sorry."

It is the first time in a very long time that I walked away from a conversation thinking, there should be four.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Tired Idea

This may be a horrible idea but I was inspired by a fellow blogger and decided to share a poem that I wrote shortly after Flynn died.  Although I do not claim to feel this poem with the same intensity as when it was written, I have experienced other times in my life when this poem could be applicable. So without further adieu:

Just Fine

Staring blankly and still you ask me how I am?
I am ripped into this moment to engage with you. I am aware that you await my response.

Your sweet smile is registered in my reluctant brain as insincerity.

"How are you?"

What if I were to tell you that I am being tortured by the thoughts of my child?  My arms ache in the absolute emptiness they carry.
Would you understand if I explained that my swollen, bloodshot eyes are the result of my weeping in the middle of the night?

I feel an insatiable urge to stop you from smiling.

What if I responded by telling you that I feel betrayed by my body at it's unwillingness to carry my son? That I only see ugliness in it's barren landscape.
Did you know that some days I wish this could all just end? And yet there is a profoundly absent how?

It is just a wish not a plan.

The sadness is so full and dark that it engulfs me, it holds me hostage to my memories, too raw in their vividness.
Is this question "how are you" a morbid curiousity into how sad I can be? You would not like my answer.

Every morning is a challenge to exist and every evening is filled with dread of another morning without my baby.

I look at you, only a second has passed, I smile politely and tell you I am fine...

© Melissa Lambert, 2002

There you have it, a look into my mind through poetry. Tell me what you think? Is poetry an appropriate outlet? Is it too uncomfortable or exposed?  I am interested to hear your thoughts on this form of expression.

Oh hello Grief, there you are.

For those of us who identify as bereaved, you may relate to the idea that grief is not a time limited event, coming to an end after the completion of certain stages or phases.  Rather, grief is a continual journey of coping, adapting and learning to live with the death of our loved one.  While grief's intensity changes considerably from the time immediately following the death, to the days, months and years that follow, it remains unpredictable and riddled with inconsistent triggers.  The effects of grief may not inhibit the experienced bereaved from participating in the day to day, but a trigger can significantly affect those coping skills we use to maintain our "normal."
Like always, this is new blog is not coming out of nowhere.  Since the first day of this New Year I have been cognizant that 2012 signifies a decade since Flynn died.  Typically I feel a heightened awareness of his being with the approach of his actual anniversary, but this year there is a lingering ache at the realization that it has been ten years since my arms embraced him.  Consequently some days I have felt particularly fragmented, today being one of them.  Alan Wolfelt may refer to these experiences as a "grief burst" but whatever you would like to call it; I am feeling my grief wash over me like it was just yesterday.
You may be wondering how this grief is manifesting itself (I would be wondering)? Respectfully, it has been ten years since Flynn's death and so it is likely that I wear my grief differently than I did then.  In fact, outwardly the grief does present differently.  For example, I am capable of participating in my daily tasks and remaining composed is not a continuous chore.  In saying that, my internalized reactions to this grief burst are familiar. Among these emotional responses is a heightened awareness of my own mortality and that of my family (I like to call it "the illusion of control that we comfortably live with" until it is shattered of course) followed by the emergence of helpless anxiety.
Today's grief burst was triggered by a dream that I had last night.  While the dream was a fictional storyline created by my unconscious mind, the feelings that ensued as a result of the dream were very real. In my dream I was attempting to resuscitate a little girl whom I identified as my sister (of note: I do not have a sister) after finding her in a pool.  I woke up feeling as traumatized as I was ten years ago. I came out of the dream with my heart racing, the pit in my middle ached and all I could think was "oh no, not again."  While Flynn's death was the result of complications at birth, this dream conjured up similar feelings of responsibility for this young life and the knowledge of my own helplessness.  It is not surprising that I would suffer from a grief burst for the remainder of the day.
The unpredictable nature of grief bursts can be frustrating and inconvenient. To put it in context, today I have been distracted, finding meaning in every song on the radio and emotionally vulnerable (translation: close to tears).  But I did say that this grief was not presenting problems in my daily functioning and that is mainly due to my ability to ground myself in the here and now.  By recognizing that the dream was not reality and allow that Flynn's death was real but not my immediate trauma I have been able to function normally.  I do need to practice constant self-awareness (social work lingo) though to ensure that I am not impacting or affecting my work due to this grief burst.  Other than working out my feelings through this blog, I think that I have handled today to the best of my ability.  This is just life with grief in the side car!