Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Some Loss Moms and Dads Hate Formal Family Photos

I am just going to throw this one out there.

There are a lot of things I am getting 'better' at, when viewed from outside. But some things that I am not. Or if I am quite honest with you, not necessarily still 'bad' at, but changed. Perhaps permanently.

And the one thing that I hate is really staged family photos, particularly those that line up kids from the extended family. I am just not into it.

The primary reason is that with spontaneous photos it is a glimpse of that moment. Not everyone is always there, and it is ok. Perhaps you get one with just a couple of your kids in a rare very sweet moment that reassures you that somehow they love each other even after fighting over Thomas the Train, Your lap, A Sippy Cup, The Tablet, Dolls, Trucks, Sandbox, Book, Dog, or basically any other noun in this plain of existence. Sometimes you rarely get most individuals (someone still takes the picture usually). In this world of incompletes, the child that is not physically present can coexist peacefully. They still have photos that exist that capture them as part of your family.

In the staged formal photo, everyone who belongs is there, otherwise there isn't much of a point to it. The problem is that either you have to accept that your child is somehow the odd one out, or that someone accepts this as complete. And while extended family may accept this, or see a very different view of the reality, as a loss parent I personally can't (maybe some can, but a lot do not). Everyone else sees who is there, but as a parent I can only see who is not there. It feels wrong. To me there is no point to it, it makes no sense. The concept brings at best alienation as the fake frozen smiles appear, and just pure pain for the most part. My family to me can no longer be a single family photo. It is a collage.

As kids the cousins would all get together and take pictures lined up. It was cute, all the gapped toothy smiles and teenage awkwardness blended together to remind all the parents of not only what had been for each of these kids, but what would follow in the natural order. Like a pair of jeans, I would inherit that teenage awkwardness as one cousin was growing out of it. Future family reunions stretching ahead spanned before us...And then the unthinkable happened. The line of our little group of girl cousins who would hold hands and play red rover under my Grandma's apple tree was broken. Somehow in the confusion of young adulthood one was taken away, and it made no emotional sense. Doesn't really to this day. We haven't taken photos in a line since. Perhaps most of it is simply due to distance, but it felt like the magic of it all left with her.

So be kind, be gentle. Don't fight it or sneak pictures if it hurts someone. You don't have to understand it.

I have to believe that someday photos won't be necessary to remember. And in that moment, we will cry happy tears because it will all be made right. The future will be restored.

But until that time, we will miss you. Both of you. Becca. Perry.

*Just for the record, I actually love this photo. It captured a moment in time and everyone is actually in it. What I hate is photos that set out to capture deliberate sets of people when one person is missing. If it is clear as mud, I am totally ok with it. I still love you if you can not follow that logic.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nearly three years

Wow, I am still here. I mean I am not surprised because I had no intention of leaving, but at times it just did not seem possible. The load was/ is incredibly heavy.

But here I am, and sometimes it seems like things are changing. I do not know if healing is the right word, but I guess a new normal is coming. Sometimes I thought I would never reach it, other times I didn't want to (because letting go of that ugly raw pain is hard, because it is sometimes what you have left of your child in the present).  And yet it is coming.

Sometimes I do not cry every day... in the beginning I couldn't cry anymore because my body had no more moisture to spare. I am starting to look at chores again beyond the bare bone basics.... in the beginning getting out of bed to shower was a victory and a clean house was not on the radar. I buy clothing in advance again... in the beginning every unworn outfit stung (I saw them all as sad shadows of the ghost of a future that was never to be).

How did I get here? I guess I learned to cut myself a little slack. I learned to keep Perry with me in a way that felt real to me. I learned to set boundaries.

The angry is going away for longer periods. Bubble people no longer send me into fits of fury. I can largely sympathize with the minor setbacks in life again, or hurts that pale against death . I see most people as complicated lovely messes again.

I am changed. I still carry the aftershocks of Perry's death with me, still cry in the car or during hymns at church.

But I am surviving.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Blown Away Again

Sometimes you feel like you are adjusting to this backpack you wear and then it hits you again. I found myself last week with a day to myself, around Perry's birthday. I had already sent the sleep sacks to hospitals in preparation for some sort of vacation.

Unfortunately plans do not always work out for various reasons, and of course Emily and Paiden chose this time to become ill.... so the vacation turned into a staycation with short jaunts.

For the first time in over a year or two I lay in bed and couldn't convince myself to get out. I drug Emily's Thomas the train set into our bedroom and let Emily have a tablet next to me. Breakfast was cereal in Paiden's monkey trap cup and a pop tart for Emily.

For a long time I just watched Paiden playing with the toys and cried. I kept reviewing Perry's birth and inevitably his death and I could find no peace in it. I know at some points I got up, fed everyone, changed diapers, and did the bare functional things. But I don't really remember much about that day. I suspect the kids might have still been a bit down from the illness, they both slept a lot anyway.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dear Loss Families- Pain and Love

Dear Loss Families,

Your pain does not equal your love. My love for my son is greater than the pain.

Somewhere along the way we have come to believe this, but it is not true. You can let go of the pain, even if it feels terrifying and like losing your child. You will never forget, you will never be who you were, you may not get rid of that heavy emotional backpack you are carrying here as you walk the earth, but it is ok to dig out of the black pain pit.

I have come to the conclusion that somewhere along the way we came to believe this fallacy, and that that all pain is equal became PC because we somehow validated our loses by pain level.... Well all pain isn't. And I won't lie and say that one loss hurts more or less, or even equal (whether the same exact loss or a different type, or your child was a different age), because I have not walked in your skin. Please do not do the same to me. I thought my miscarriages were the worst, but then I lost my son. I have heard other loss Moms say that the miscarriages hurt them as badly after experiencing both. Or maybe you aren't offering as much support to the Mom who lost her child seven years ago, because you assume she hurts less than the new Mom, but she is crying out that it hurts as badly to face his 8th birthday alone. You know what? None of us are lying. Old loss or new, baby or grown adult with children.

But I am going to tell you that regardless of your present pain level, your feelings are valid. You are not doing this wrong. You do not love your child less or more because of pain level. You deserve support. So don't argue about who hurts more or say all is equal, or deny that each loss has different aspects you may not understand. We do nobody, including ourselves, any favors.

Just support each other.

Once you can finally internalize this, perhaps you can allow yourself to heal a little without guilt.

The pain olympics or PC "all is equal" are both traps. Because you can't let go of the pain without guilt. Because then, what does it mean if you allow yourself not to hurt as badly or equal to what it did in the past? And unfortunately grief has a way of returning you to the beginning a lot, so in the moments you can breath again without deliberately focusing, let yourself.

You may be in intense pain today. And I am sorry we have to be here at all. Don't feel invalidated because you believe the woman who lost her entire family in a plane crash hurts more than you. Even if she does, it does not take away your loss or the love for your child. Don't feel that you have to say you hurt just as bad... because it doesn't matter. How you feel is how you feel. It is ok to believe you hurt less than her or you hurt less today than when your child first died, or whatever you feel. And a big part of seeing beyond your pain is to realize that others have been given a horrible blow in life too.

And then offer support.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Offering

Recently I was reading about Isaac and Abraham. The story where Abraham offers up his son as an offering and his hand is stayed by God.

It occurred to me that as grieving parents, it feels as if this is what we are being asked to do. While the choice was never given to us regarding our children, at some point we are very angry at God. We want to be angry at him.... even if perhaps it is not what he wanted, we think he should have spared our child. Isn't that in his power?  So anger turns towards God.

I know that at times I am made to feel that it was a flaw of my faith that caused him not to answer, but I have come to understand that it is not the case. The purpose, the reason, is not known to anyone who breathes on earth. Plan or a result of the fall, I will never know here.

As a Christian missing my child there comes a point where I am beginning to realize that while I can not choose to get Perry back or offer him up physically, that I do have to give him to God.

This giving does not mean that I do not hurt or cry, it simply means that I am choosing to trust God. I am choosing to believe, at least for this moment, that a day will come where all is made right... that God has not shortchanged an infant or his mother.

This is a very hard step.

I will probably waffle a bit on it... giving up the anger feels a lot like giving up the child himself. Which I don't want to do... that pesky persistent belief that if I hold on tighter God will give him back. That if I am stubborn enough God will deem my 'faith' big enough.

Someday perhaps I will figure out how to hold on to my son with love alone, even as I offer him up to God. It doesn't really sound right emotionally or mentally as I read the line in my mind, but I know I have to find a way to do it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Confessions of a Grieving Mom

Lately Perry is weighing on my mind and heart. I have trouble sleeping. I pray to see him and am disappointed when I wake up without any comforting dreams.

Maybe it is because his birthday is approaching, I am not really sure. We just celebrated 3 family birthdays in March- I am now the lone holdout outside that month that entails a celebration that others will acknowledge. It should be me in December and Perry in June. I just feel this bitter sadness that another year is passing without a little boy here to celebrate. Sometimes I feel like people think everything is ok because I have another little boy, but here I still am wondering why I have to carry this.

It isn't because I don't love Paiden, if anything I love my kids with a fierceness that comes from knowing loss. He has been a complete blessing, another wonderful sweet tempered baby boy, but he is his own blessing and is not Perry.

And I still miss and want Perry.

I am tired of Perry leaving our family in small ways... no longer on official paperwork or in casual conversation. I have a falling feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about things we do as a family and yet Perry is not here with us. People introduce us as having two children, when it isn't true.

And so I found myself contemplating the family zoo membership form. Anytime I fill out 'family' paperwork I have a brief moment of feeling queasy. I hate every time I am forced to leave him off.

The paperwork asked for names and birthdays of children.

And I paused. I didn't want to leave him off.

So I didn't.

It isn't fraud, it doesn't cost them anything. But it meant a lot to me.

And I am not sure if God lets those we love check in on us or at least watch from a distance, but sometimes I hope. In a way the zoo card was a small open invitation- and a message that he is still family.

Friday, March 21, 2014

How to handle a grieving parent or family member when it comes up in casual introductory conversation

So the dreaded question many parents who have lost a child fear: "So how many kids do you have?"

We don't dread it because we want to avoid mentioning our child; we dread it because of the feeling that we are doing something wrong if we make the other person feel awkward or if we show emotions that make them uncomfortable.

So what do you do when it comes up in conversation with a stranger?

It is ok to say "I am sorry", but there is a huge difference in what you do next. If you look away you are telling the person that it makes YOU feel awkward... and sometimes it makes them feel like they have done something wrong. When they haven't. It is ok for them to answer this question in any way that feels true to them... even if they stutter, pause, cry. Because they are dealing with a lifetime of this reality and not just a moment, grieving parents deserve an occasional pass on the social impetus to never make the other person feel awkward. Looking away turns their child into a social taboo- saying that you do not think they should be talked about or that they should only mention living children. It ends the conversation- signaling that they have done something wrong. Which may not be what you intended, but is how it is taken by a parent. This parent may have been rushed by others to 'get over it', when really that isn't an option as normal will never be the same. They are essentially made to feel like they are doing 'it' wrong or should be lying better and your reaction may be reinforcing this.

After you say "I'm sorry" just hold eye contact for two or three seconds. If you don't know how to handle it past this point, if it someone you will have continued contact with you can always say "I want you to know that we can talk about your son/daughter, but we don't have to if you do not feel like it. I just wanted you to know it is ok either way and I recognize that he/ she is still your child." If it is someone you won't see again, you can leave it at the brief eye contact at the end or say "I can only imagine how complicated that question was to answer." Granted every parent is different, but this would at least work for me.

The two second rule can also apply anytime someone who is deceased is brought up by someone who cared about them. Looking away rapidly ends conversation. Whether it is about a parent on Mother's or Father's day, or perhaps someone sharing a memory about a child, give them just a couple seconds of good eye contact.