Friday, November 15, 2013

The Psychic Connection

*I am going to talk about my experience with a psychic in this blog.  Readers may feel very strongly about what a psychic represents to their beliefs, their spirituality or their worldview.  This blog is not promoting or dissuading someone from using the services of a psychic and it is not an arena to discuss views on their validity. It is simply a blog about my own experience with a psychic and how it is related to my journey with grief.

I have seen a psychic for approximately thirteen years.  It started out as an alternative to therapy; although at the time I did not recognize that.  Originally I went on the advice of a friend who had watched me struggle with a spiritual and psychological issue and felt it might be helpful. Over the years it has become more of a check in or tune up for my own psyche.  The last time I went was six years ago and in that session I was given what I needed, even though I did not know I needed it, and I have not gone back since.

In the spring of 2007 I felt unsettled.  It was this restless, uncomfortable, nestled deep in my body and constantly tapping at my psyche kind of feeling ~ unsettled. I attributed it to my recent 3 month separation and subsequent reconciliation with my partner and all of the messy, unpleasant losses that came with undoing and reassembling family and loved ones. It came with the grief after experiencing the deaths of three people in my life over a short period of time; one of whom was my beloved grandmother. Moreover, it was the feelings that came with the discovery of a pregnancy that was unintentional, terrifying and yet cautiously welcomed. All of it, in addition to leading a life with two youngsters and a double income partnership contributed to unsettled.

I took this feeling and made my way to the psychic. I don't know that I even knew what I wanted but previous experiences had been positive and left me with things to think about, so I went.

She started the session asking me to concentrate on a question that I wanted answered. I remember panicking that I did not have a specific thought that I wanted to focus on and then she began.  I was so worried that my "monkey brain" was going to lead to an unhelpful session and experience. She said that there was a man, who had died but was connected to me, who wanted to speak with me. 
I need to stop here for a second and explain that I had seen this woman maybe 4 times before this, sometimes years in between. I did not believe that she remembered me from one visit to the next.  In those previous four sessions the experience was one of discussion and there had never been a connection with someone in this life or the next.

She said that the man had a message for me and she wondered if I would be willing to hear it.  I was very resistant; I did not know a man who had died or rather not one that would want to communicate with me. I remember feeling confused, unsure what to think, I was speechless. Again the psychic told me that the man had a message and so I said with reservations that I would be open to it.
The psychic told me that the man was telling her that he actually had a message for my husband as this man was his father (my husband's father died when he was 13). The message that followed was deeply personal to my husband and his family (therefore I cannot share it here) however it was filled with details and feelings that were only shared in intimate moments in my relationship.  The conversation paused and I believed that it was concluding when the psychic said the man did actually have a message for me as well.

She said the man was showing her a picture of two figures. The illustration appeared to be of a man holding the hand of a child and there was a sun behind them. My emotions erupted into a flurry of tears; the picture described was the illustration I had created for my son's gravestone. The psychic continued, telling me that the man said he had the boy there with him.  She told me that the man conveyed that he was there in the delivery room, had been there when the time came and that he had and would continue to look after our child.

The intensity of this moment held on for what felt like an eternity with every hair on my body standing on end.  I didn't need more, it was enough for me.  The psychic told me that the man was gone and we concluded the session.

There are so many ways to discredit this story and on this blog there is no space for that. There is no way to take away what I experienced; a confirmation and connection with what I needed to believe to be true. It helped me to feel settled.  I am sure that I could have gotten that same feeling through other forms of therapy or other ways of fostering my spirituality but this was how it came to me.  Conversely, it was not something that brought comfort to my husband when I recounted what was told to me and that is okay.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

At Least You Can Have Another One

Flynn's hands and feet forever stamped in ink
"You are still so young, you can try again."
"At least you can have another one."
"Do you have any more children? Oh that is good then."

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the insensitive (while maybe well intentioned) things that the non-bereaved say to the bereaved.  In the discussion we made the distinction non-bereaved to bereaved probably due to our own bias as bereaved individuals (I mean the bereaved would not get it wrong, right?).  The person with whom I was conversing asked me about my loss experience and I told them about Flynn.  They asked me how he died and when I told them that he was born premature and did not survive they commented "oh so he was only a baby?"*
* Sadly that is not an uncommon response and it happens so often that I never say I had a baby that died but rather that my son died to avoid a preconceived idea of what that should mean.

When that bereaved individual said "only a baby" I responded from a place of wanting to educate, as that is where I am in my grief, knowing that no-one has walked in my shoes. I said that "he was my child and long awaited and that his death shocked me and continues to have an impact." The person then asked if I had other children?*
*I have come to realize over the years that this line of questioning is a means of providing comfort to the person asking the questions, as they look for some kind of happy ending from me.

I responded that I had three boys at home.  Then came the response that is even more common then only a baby.  This bereaved person smiled kindly and said "well at least you could have more."  What do you say to that?  This all took place in the context of a conversation about the insensitive things that people say to the bereaved. This person was bereaved themselves and yet they did not seem aware of the insensitivity of this statement. Still, I could not claim to be completely shocked by their response because what we say to bereaved parents of miscarriage, stillbirth, perinatal death, and infant death is very different then what we would say to any other type of loss.*
*Actually, I should include another demographic, young widows get similar messages that they can still remarry or start over. 
In our society, we do not do a very good job of recognizing or legitimizing these deaths.

Conversely, the difficulty continues because you may have another pregnancy, another baby or remarry and then somehow to society (or even just your family and friends) you must be "better" or "over it."  In fact when our third son was born people said things like "glad to see you getting on with your life" or "it was time to move on."  Which really means your grieving time has passed and you should be focusing on this new joy.  Of course we were happy when our son was born but we were also reminded of what we lost and what could not be undone.  Flynn had a space carved out in our family that was his alone; a period in time where he existed and from which his memory carried on. There was no getting over that.

If I could go back to that conversation and do it over, I think I would gently remind that individual that when I was at a place in my grief and my journey, I did have another child (2 more), but that I could not and will never have another Flynn. 

I have included a link to a lovely video that was created on just this idea:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Happy Anniversary Lambert

On my Grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary I asked them what they thought you needed to have a lasting marriage. My grandfather did not even hesitate; he said "you need to be stubborn."  My grandmother scolded him.  She may have reacted that way out of her desire to impart a romantic notion onto us or maybe she was pissed off that my grandfather answered first.  Regardless that answer has stuck with me for years. To be honest I think it has been the idea that influenced me writing this blog on my 16th wedding anniversary.
Let me qualify what I took stubbornness in a marriage to be when my grandfather said it.  I instantly thought that you have to love stubbornly. Dig your heels in and love even when it is hard.  I don't want this to be confused with loving naïvely; that is a totally different thing.  For me it has meant loving through the disappointments in life and practicing how to do that until you get it right. I have definitely had to adjust my approach and reaction on this one (it is still requiring some fine tuning).  There were disappointments of varying degrees and intensities throughout this marriage.  For instance having to walk away from the house we couldn't afford or staying at the job that left us unfulfilled because we had to pay the bills.  It was also the clashing personalities when it came to philosophies on saving and spending money or parenting styles.
When you are a new couple or even newly engaged no-one talks about the disappointments or loving stubbornly.  Imagine that wedding toast!  On the other hand maybe we would have been more prepared when we had doubts about the legitimacy of our fairy tale. It may have been easier to accept and adapt to reality instead of question our compatibility.
We had to find a way to love through the hurtful disappointment and that was harder than the "simple" disappointment. Initially hurt meant not meeting the others expectations of a partner and friend. Maybe it was spending more hours at work then at home or confiding in a friend before telling your spouse.  There were bigger hurts too, ones that left scars.  It was those times when we really had to love stubbornly while respecting what the other was feeling as they processed the source of hurt.  It included doing whatever it took to be fully present and hoping that when they resurfaced from the pain they remained just as stubborn.
The hardest was remaining stubborn through the sadness and grief.  At first when you are stricken with loss you think that you will cling to each other and make it through to the other side as one another's life boat. Then your grief starts rubbing together, causing friction and opening the wounds.  The way each partner copes with grief is different because you are both unique.  It can feel like a solitary experience and how can you possibly save someone when you are drowning too?  What the grief and loss means can be fundamentally different in a relationship and how do you navigate that? For us we had to learn how to love stubbornly with a respect for the individual experience in our common loss.
Loving stubbornly has meant making time for the couple in our family and it has been the biggest learning curve. Remember that couple who loved one another and it transformed into the creation of those little kidlets that have taken over the house? We have had to figure out how to honour our coupledom, because really who else will?  This is an evolving practice too but we do devote time to one another that does not include children, home ownership, bill paying or employment.  We take time to connect with the most up to date version of us by communicating where we are now and where we want to go and we do it with genuine compassion and curiosity.
Mostly we laugh together. That too has taken time to find the spaces where our humour converges and to ensure that it is mutual laughter and not at the expense of the other, but we laugh.  Along with loving stubbornly it has gotten us to where we are today, 16 years.
If one day my grandchild asks me what it took to make it to 50 years of marriage I think I will share my grandfather's advice to be stubborn in love and in laughter.

With love on my anniversary. xo

Monday, July 29, 2013

Now That We are All in the Know

What is it about driving that starts those meaningful, thought provoking, and sometimes painful conversations?  Is it the lack of eye contact, as the driver focuses on the road, only to glance sideways or in the rear view mirror for brief seconds? Or could it be the hypnotising vibration of the vehicle as it cruises over the outstretched road, lulling the anxious mind, making room for the wayward thoughts?
What ever the cause, I was caught unaware by just that type of roadside tête-à-tête last Friday as I drove our youngest to camp.  It was a rare occasion where it was just him and I; no brothers, no dad.  He had me all to himself.  For the majority of the ride he sang to the songs on the radio.  I am sure it was a pitchy rendition of the latest pop song and I was already at work in my mind, laying out what needed to be done to get through my day.  The song must of ended because my trance was interrupted by his little voice from the back seat, "Flynn is dead, right momma?"
My only response, "yes he is honey."
"He was my brother while I was still in your tummy, right?" Oh I felt so torn.  It wasn't that we kept Flynn from him, I had every intention of talking to him when the time felt right. Here was my baby wandering into the ugly truth and away from the nativity of innocence.
I inhaled and replied, "yes, he was your older brother and born many years before you."
A pause. Maybe that was all, possibly I had curbed his curiousity, could I be that lucky?
"How did he die?" asked the little voice.
How to answer, I had said it wrong with his older brother, or he had gotten confused - prematurity is such an abstract concept when you are five.
"He was born before his body was ready and he was too small to survive." It was all I could come up with, not having had to explain this to a little person in such a long time.
Longer Pause.
"Ok." I look in the rear view mirror and he grins back at me.
"I love you baby," is all I could get out through the lump in my throat.
"I love you too momma."
And my heart swells to twice its size once more.

A Burdened Sense of Peace

Blue skies overhead with sun that warms my hair while the wind tosses it wildly about my face.  All I can smell is the fresh pungent fragrance of newly mowed grass mixed with baking green leaves from the maples that straddle the path I am walking.  To the left of me a swelling stream rushes over rocks where it used to only babble, creating tiny rapids that churn the river bed turning the water a murky brown-red.  As I lose myself to the rhythm of the crunching from my feet snapping the twigs, gravel and sand on the path, I can hear the cicada singing for a mate as the temperature continues to climb.
The thistles have already flowered and now the green thorny head fades to brown so it's seed may scatter through the field to germinate and flower again before the summer comes to an end.  The sparrows chatter at a starling overhead, likely protecting a nest of young hidden in the trees. STOP! Did I just hear something sssssssssssslither through the long dry grass up to my right? I can only start my jaunt back up once my heart beat has slowed back to it's normal pace and my veins in my neck slow from their current throb.

Now I slip down the clay, crumbling bank toward the edge of the stream so that I can dip my feet in and cool my skin in the tepid water. The sun splits into a million tiny replicas that bounce and reflect off the waves of the stream, so bright I shield my eyes. I look up just in time to see two dragonflies weave in and around one another, each out pacing the other, dipping and diving until they zip from my sight.  As I peer through the water, down at my toes, I see that a dozen minnows have surrounded my feet, possibly to inspect this foreign intrusion. I wiggle my toes to see them scatter in every direction as the mossy stream bottom whirls and circles in particles that cloud my feet from view.

I experience such clarity of mind as I stride deeper into the forest and further from the drone of the city.  It is in these moments, with nature, when I feel closest to life and what alive means. Moments when I am also the most in tune with my heart and it's grief.  Perhaps it should not even be called grief.  It is in these quiet minutes, that I feel the swell of my heart as I fill with such tremendous love for Flynn; for his tiny moment that weighed on our lives forevermore. It seems natural to drift to thoughts of him. A burdened sense of peace, not freedom, but free of torment. This is the place that wishes intertwine with daydreams.  Where I see his feet moving through the grass and his wavy head of hair curling in rebellion with the breeze.  I picture him laughing and running and I long to imagine him with his brothers, filling in the whole that aches on harder days.  Lost in this daydream I can hear him call after me, "Momma" in the singsong voice of a child pleading for me to witness his latest feat of speed or strength or courage.  I feel the muscles in my chest begin to engage with a dull, deep thumping and I know that it is time to rouse myself to the present so that I may stay with the lightheartedness of my dream.  I hear the crunching of the path beneath my feet and I continue on.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Flynn's Story

When I told Flynn’s story to my own support group 11 years ago, I focused on the months and even year leading up to Flynn’s death.  I actually only allowed for 2 sentences at the end of two pages to talk about Flynn. I was devastated by his loss but at the time I was also struggling with the guilt, blame and anger that fertility challenges and hospital politics contributed to our story.  On the 11th anniversary of his birth and death, my perspective is different, the loss is the same but my focus and what I want to share today has changed.

Our first son, Rhys, was 2 years and 6 months old when we found out we were pregnant on Boxing Day of 2001.  The first four months of the pregnancy were normal.  We heard a heartbeat at 10 weeks and the midwife had commented how early that was and how lucky we were.  I felt the first taps at 14 weeks and by 16 weeks I was joking that our baby had a soccer ball in utero with him.  I felt a deep bond with this baby; I talked to him, dreamed with him and told him constantly how much he was awaited.  In retrospect I was much more connected to him than I had been during my first pregnancy, when I was just in awe of the whole process.

At 17 weeks pregnant, we flew to Calgary for my best friend’s wedding.  I hate flying but I remained extremely calm and tried to keep my stress at bay for the sake of my baby.  The flight was fine.  I was a groomswoman in the wedding and right before the ceremony I started to spot and cramp.  Some of the other bridesmaids were pregnant too (3 to be exact) and they told me that it was probably nerves and that this was not abnormal. I think I believed what I needed to, to get through that day.

The next day was spent in the Banff emergency clinic with a non-stress machine locating the baby’s heartbeat and a doctor telling us how lucky we were and that we had a “missed miscarriage.”  He told us to have an ultrasound when we got home.

We were barely landed when our midwife called with an ultrasound appointment for the following day. We took Rhys with us to the appointment and I remember the ultrasound technician telling him that he was going to have a brother.  The baby was growing normally and there was no evidence of trouble.  Our midwife called later that day to tell us that everything looked fine but they were sending us to a specialized hospital for a better diagnostic ultrasound just to be sure.

The next four weeks would take hours to describe.  What I will write is that we spent days in the hospital as my spotting turned to bleeding and “no evidence of trouble” turned to placenta previa with a placenta abruption.  My husband tried his best to juggle being a dad to a 3 year old, housekeeper and employee and visit me in the hospital when I was admitted for a week.  We had 6 ultrasounds in total and at times we knew more than we wanted to know about every blip and hiccup. However, the baby was progressing normally and seemed unaffected by my body’s inability to carry him.

At 20 weeks gestation I was in the hospital with contractions, hooked up to machines with nurses rubbing my back or holding my hand.  The attending doctor came into the room and told me that I needed to relax and everything would be fine, he said I was being dramatic.  I don’t think he had even left the room when I began to cry uncontrollably.  A very sympathetic nurse called my midwife to come in and calm me down.  My midwife sat with me and let me know that things were not looking good.  It was the first time that anyone had said that to me in the three weeks prior and up until that moment I had believed I was going to be fine.    She told me that my blood count was extremely low and that the continued bleeding meant the abruption was not healing.  She suggested that we start to think about what we wanted to do with the time we had left in this pregnancy and to make tough decisions about the baby; she gave us the grave reality about his chances for survival if he was born.  My husband came to the hospital that night and we sat down and thought about this little boy’s name, what we would call him and we discussed what we would do if we were faced with him arriving too early.  We came to the conclusion that we would not go to the specialized hospital, we would not try to sustain life or resuscitate him if he arrived early.  We made some of the toughest choices we will ever have to make.  When we thought we would be picking out nursery colours, we were choosing whether to intervene with our son’s quality of life.

I talked to Flynn daily; he kicked all the time which gave me peace of mind that he was listening.  I begged him to stick with me, to stay put if he could because we so desperately wanted him with us.

At 22 weeks, 5 days my water broke at home, and by the next day, surrounded by my parents, my husband and his mother I went in to labour.  The doctor on call offered to send us to the neonatal hospital.  She gave us the statistics that Flynn would only have a 1% chance of surviving his birth at the neonatal hospital and his chances of any quality of life were less still.  If he were born in our local hospital he would not live very long.  I was in transition at the time and my husband had to face the decision on his own.  He decided we would go to the neonatal hospital; he could not be responsible for not giving our son a chance. 

The ambulance arrived, we were preparing to leave and I had the urge to push.  Everything became very chaotic at this point, but moments later Flynn was born.  He arrived at 9:35pm on May 3, 2002.  He was 11 inches long and weighed 1 pound 6 ounces.  The paediatrician let us know that he had very little time and the nurses wrapped him in a quilt and brought him to us.  He looked just like his older brother, with fuzzy white hair, a little button nose and a pouty lower lip.  His arms and legs were long for his size and he kicked us a couple of times while we held him.  Those tiny movements brought me comfort that I cherish to this day.  I watched his chest rise and fall and held his tiny hand around my index finger. I heard the nurses as they let us know how many beats per minute his tiny heart was taking.  My parents got to hold him and my husband’s parents got to hold him.  Flynn was in his daddy’s arms when his little heart beat for the last time.  He was so loved on that day and every day since.  Although I remember him every day, it is on his birth day that I stop and cherish the time we had.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Puddle Jumping

 Sometimes I wonder if my blog simplifies life into a succession of losses? While some losses are more predictable in nature, others are shock provoking. Then there are the neither anticipated nor catastrophe losses; the kind that leave you affected but lacking societal recognition. In terms of defined grief reactions this is sometimes categorized under disenfranchised grief. These types of losses are often experienced in an imposed isolation. Sequestered to the shadows to accommodate the discomfort of the many. Here are the grievers of miscarriage, suicide, divorce and separation, death of a pet, to name just a few. In actuality any loss can become disenfranchised grief dependent on how empathetic and validating your community (friends and family) is to your experience of loss.

To clarify, I do not go through life puddle jumping from one loss to the next and I am most definitely a glass half full person, however, we are exposed to more loss then we are allowed* to discuss or experience. Our losses like our joys enrich our time spent on this planet and enable us to grow introspectively and spiritually.  It can be a detriment to our personhood if we are encouraged to process this in solitude or nullify the pain of our struggle.

*by allowed I mean both what is recognized as acceptable or common experiences of grief (and what is not), in addition to the permission that is bestowed on us through cultural and societal norms.

So what the hell is this blog about anyway?  I am climbing down from my soap box resting on top of our death denying and loss denying society to explain.

I am in the last leg of my Master of Social Work degree and starting a new chapter in my career. With that comes an end to more than a decade of pursuing post secondary education.  Inevitably my degree will and already has had an impact on my identity - how I see myself and how I am viewed - while mostly positive I do still struggle with launching professionally from here.  It may not be easy to see the loss entangled in the accomplishment of obtaining a degree but they are there.  I have had "little losses" along the way, some examples: leaving a practicum that I loved, missing daily interactions with fellow students and friends, struggling with continuously changing schedules from one semester to the next and ending sessions with clients.  It may be part of the landscape inherent in the life of a graduate student and I am sure it can be argued that this is what life is all about, managing and navigating little losses but all the same I have found it hard.

What I am experiencing is the accumulation of these little losses - professionally, scholastically and personally - and it feels familiar and at times sad.  In this current experience with navigating loss I have been met by ambivalence, anger and misunderstanding but rarely empathy. Maybe we are all too caught up with our own stuff but I have been surprised at the absence of empathic gestures and communication. Correction, I am not surprised having been bereaved I already knew that the world fails to be empathetic, I am disappointed.  Out of disappointment I am reminded to be mindful of what I evaluate to be relevant, important and valid and in actuality I should avoid evaluating all together.

People come to every interaction with a myriad of stressors and experiences that influence how they respond and engage - empathy may be the starting point of forming a connection.