Dude, This Is Awesome

Sea turtles are very popular at my house right now.  They are quickly taking over my 21-month-old’s world, and by extension, my world too.  When we go to the park, we have to look for turtles.  When we go to the aquarium, it’s the turtles he wants to see, not fish.  And now that I’ve shown him parts of Finding Nemo, he constantly asks for “Turtles” at home.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he thinks the movie is called Finding Turtles and that they are in fact the main characters.  He doesn’t really give a care about poor kidnapped Nemo.

He has even started saying “Duuuuuude.”

I was never really into the movie to begin with, and now that I’ve faced infant loss and PTSD I really don’t like the movie at all (the dad’s character, Marlin, hits way too close to home), but my son loves his turtles, and they have an integral part in the film – one might even say the best part.  I know my kid would agree.

In the scene where Marlin wakes up and finds himself riding the back of Crush the sea turtle, he asks for help finding the “East Australian Current” so that he can get to Sydney, and Crush tells him they’re already on it.

The camera pans up as Marlin beholds a flock (?) of Sea Turtles swimming behind him, and you’d think my son has just witnessed a computer-animated miracle.

He holds his breath and screams “TURTLES!” over and over, flailing his little arms.  Sometimes he jumps up and down.  He experiences so much joy from those turtles, he can’t help himself.  He just loves them that much.

No matter how many times he has watched that scene, his level of exuberance is the same.

He also looks back at me (or my husband), as if he’s gauging our response, and waits for us to cry something like “Yeah, turtles!” or “Wow, look at all those turtles!”  Which we always do, no matter how sick we are of watching the same scene over and over and over and over.

He smiles at us, and then goes back to reveling in his joy.

I guess this is the part in Parenthood where your kid starts reminding you of yourself.

Because we are not so different, he and I.  I get just as excited about stuff that I like (a certain Toxic Event comes to mind) and if you were to witness me enjoying a particular thing (say, a show), I probably wouldn’t look that much different than my kid watching Finding Nemo for the millionth time.

I guess I’ve always been that way, even since childhood.  I’m a passionate person, and when I love something, I really, really love it.  I want to talk about it.  I want to tell you about it.  And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gauging your response as a kind of way to validate my own feelings about it.

Because experiencing joy is great, but experiencing joy with someone else is even better.  Especially if you like the same thing.  That’s why there are fan clubs and Comic-Cons.  We all have something we completely “nerd out” about.  Being a nerd is just loving something to the umpteenth degree.

The problem is, of course, there are always haters.  There are always people who like to rain on someone else’s parade.  And no matter how much we tell ourselves “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” sometimes it’s hard to shake it off and go on experiencing our joy.

No one should tell you to tone down your joy.  You have every right to be as happy as you can be, whether you are broadcasting your happy relationship on Facebook, sharing a hundred baby pictures on Instagram, going to your twentieth Airborne show, or watching those darn turtles in Finding Nemo.

There is enough sadness and tragedy to go around.  There is not nearly enough joy.

And while I am a fan of many things – bands, music, animals, babies, faith – after living through days of not feeling anything except lonely and being numb – I am a huge fan of experiencing joy and having something to be joyful about.

Even if it’s turtles.


Capture Your Grief – Day 5. Empathy

Empathy has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”

True empathy can be found in that dark, scary place that all of us are afraid to go.  You know the place I’m talking about – the saddest, loneliest, scariest place in your mind, full of unpleasantries of every sort.  Embarrassment, fear, shame, hopelessness.  No matter our story, we’ve all been there, and we all hate it.  It truly feels like a god-forsaken wasteland of despair.

Yet, when someone bravely dares to sit with us in our own darkness, they are bravely sitting in their own dark and scary place at the same time, and that is empathy – courageously feeling the worst emotions in behalf of someone else.

For bereaved parents, finding true empathy is scarce outside of other bereaved parents.  Someone who has never lost a child simply does not have the capacity to understand.  In other words, it doesn’t get darker than this.

However, I am blessed to have friends who try to show empathy, and sometimes that’s enough.

1. They listen more than they talk.  90% of the time we just need someone to listen (or read) and just be there for us.

2. They don’t try to fix it.  It takes humility to realize they can’t “fix” us.  Some people want to be the ones to make us “feel better” by saying just the right combo of flowery words.  But there is nothing they can say to make us “feel better” about our child being dead.  Absolutely nothing.

3. They don’t use words like “At Least.”  Because there is no “at least” in child loss.  (See video below.)

4. They do say things like “I’m so sorry” or “I’m here for you” or “I love you” (and mean it).  These things are ALWAYS good to say to someone who is going through something awful.  You needn’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing if you stick to these words.  Just make sure you follow it up by being a good friend (see #1).

5. They let us be our broken selves without fear of judgment.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for friends who have listened through my angry tears and have seen my ugly cry and have heard me say horrible things and acted out in unconventional ways to feel my pain.  They know we (as bereaved parents) are unfixable and unfathomably hurt.  But they see through it all and love us anyway, because ultimately I think they sense our courageousness to simply go on living after the Unthinkable has happened.

Finally, I think the following video best illustrates what empathy truly is, and what it’s not.

May we all practice empathy, and may the pain in our hearts turn to healing.

Capture Your Grief – Day 1. Sunrise


I remember when the sun rose on the day my son died.  The way the light cracked through the windows in jagged pieces as I covered my eyes and buried them in my hands.  That old saying – something about the sun rising and setting in spite of whatever – echoing in the graveyard that was my mind, and I thought I would scream.  How dare the sun rise as my son dies, as part of me dies too.

It was dawn for the other part of me, the one that survived, the side of me that is still here and the resilient spark of a phoenix that rose from the ashes of this dismal wasteland of grief.  From this resiliency is where I speak now, standing on the other side of cripplingly utter despair, and watch the sun come up again.  And then I think, well isn’t that funny.  The sun and I are not so different.  We go on rising and setting.  But we still get up again.  Day after day, in spite of whatever, even when our brilliance is hidden by clouds.  We go on.

The day the sun rose when my son died, I wanted to die too.  But then I survived another day.  And another.  And another.  Until one day I realized I was not just surviving, but living, and not in darkness, but in light.  And now with time and distance between me and that day, I have strung a hundred days where I am grateful the sun continued to rise, and I did too.

We can do this, one sunrise at a time.

Capture Your Grief 2015


Since October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I have decided to take part in this project.  While I do not plan to post something for each day of the month-long project, I do think having a share would be of some benefit, both to myself and perhaps anyone who stumbles upon this blog.

As the months and years pass, the pain ebbs and flows, the seasons of grief come and pass, but there is something that never changes for me: a desperate need to feel connected.  When I’m happy and experiencing joy, I want to share it.  When I’m in the depths of despair, I don’t want to be alone.  Pregnancy and infant loss can be isolating.  I suffered in silence for a long time, and there are times even now when I’m afraid to tell someone I need to talk and ask for help for fear of being perceived as a downer and a black cloud, or as if I’m too consumed by grief to express gratitude for the joy I do have.

The truth is I live a full, joyful life with my husband and young son, and not a day goes by when I don’t meditate on all the reasons I have for joy.  But the darkness always comes.  The weather can change on a dime, from sunny and wonderful to downpours of rain and tears.  So many times I feel split in two, as if one half of me is living in a colorful world with my rainbow baby, and the other is trapped in the cold, dark, and lonely world of infant loss.

The only way to process and heal myself is to connect these two different worlds and keep a steady balance so the darkness never consumes the light, but lets the light shine through the darkness.  So many of those lights come from connection.

Grief is a journey.  Thank you for taking a moment to walk alongside me.  It is my hope that you can see that despite the ugliness and raw pain, there is beauty in broken things.

Firefighters vs. Rebuilders

A friend recently asked me about firefighters and rebuilders in the aftermath of Loss.  She had been reading a blog about infant loss, and how tragedy reveals the true nature of ourselves and others.  In particular, there are certain people who rush in immediately and try to help put out the fire and control the devastation, and there are certain others who show up later and help rebuild.  She wondered if that had been my experience.

My initial reaction was vague.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how it was also true in my case.  Firefighters had swept in to do damage control.  There were meals and flowers and cards.  There were concerned friends stopping by just to check on us.  They surrounded us when we were too stunned to move, and they worked quickly, but they didn’t stay long.

The rebuilders, however, were fewer in number.  They arrived slowly, one by one, over the course of many months.  They brought movies and games and laughter.  Sometimes they brought small gifts or just their company, which is the same as gifts.  Some of them just sat in silence with us.  They helped us rebuild the foundations of our selves, and helped us create a “new normal,” a new status quo of being.

At first I was inclined to feel more affection toward the rebuilders.  After all, their presence was usually longer, and therefore felt more.  But then I realized I was doing a disservice to the firefighters, who came in at the most dangerous point in the game and did whatever damage control they could.  Both parties were essential to our survival, and I am grateful for the love we have been shown.

But there is another group for whom I am grateful.  They are the rebuilders who continue to come back years later.  They know this is a long term project, and we will never be able to completely rebuild on our own.  They don’t come with judgments and time limits over how long this is going to take.  While others have grown frustrated over never seeing a finished product, wondering why we are still not “over it,” they understand our hearts will never be completely healed at this time.  Neither do they reminisce about the people we once were, or seem shocked that we cannot and will never be those people again.  They accept us for who we are today, as angry or as miserable or as devastated as we might be.  They don’t mind the scenery of broken souls and stunning ruins.

It’s those people that make me a better person, not just in healing, but in the work of helping to heal others too.  There isn’t much fanfare and you don’t get a medal, but the grueling work of healing hearts and being there for people has a reward of its own kind, a healing change within yourself that you don’t even know is happening until one day you realize that giving of yourself and your time has sealed some of the cracks in your own heart while you were busy collecting pieces of theirs.

Whether firefighter, rebuilder, or friend, we all need each other, and we will all be called upon to help our loved ones if and when disaster strikes.  There is wisdom in knowing that one day we will all face tragedy of some kind.  And in the face of tragedy, whether it’s our own or that of someone else, we all discover who we are and what we’re made of.


The Darkened Shroud and The Bean Trees

A few months ago, a friend recommended a book to me called “The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver.  After sitting untouched on the shelf for a month, my husband found it in a half-hearted search for something to read.  He blazed through it during our recent beach vacation, and then lent it to his mom, who also read it.  Suddenly the two of them were engaged in a secret discussion, and then invited me to share in the family book club so I could weigh in with my thoughts, too.

While not intended to be a review, this book catches one in a subtle trap of simple words and old fashioned Kentucky slang.  The story is warm yet heartbreaking, and perhaps no one realized just how much I would get lost in the warm glow of a “Southern tale taken West.”  Neither did anyone realize how much I would identify with Esperanza.

She’s a side character with very little dialogue, and throughout most of the story, the reader feels indifferent toward her, then irritated, even frustrated, until her pitiable state is revealed: her very young daughter was kidnapped in their home country of Guatemala, and she has no way of ever finding out her fate.  She takes on the role of a bereaved mother in extreme grief – panic attacks, PTSD, even attempted suicide, until finally the reader is left to believe she finally “freed” herself and found resolution through a turn of events involving the daughter of the main character, Taylor.

When I finished the book and thought I had finished crying, I found my husband in the kitchen one lazy Saturday morning.  We talked about the story, the significance of the “bean trees,” the Kentucky slang, and the characters that strangely reminded us of people we knew in real life.

“I saw myself in Esperanza,” I confessed.

“Yeah,” my husband said sadly.  “I did, too.”

This bothered me so much, I could hardly talk about the book anymore.

While this was a work of fiction, my reality is not a book I can close and put back on the shelf.  The panic attacks I have are real.  They are debilitating, and frustrating to those around me.  I’m the character in the story with all the burdens of baggage, from PTSD to social anxiety to just plain social awkwardness.  And while I’m glad to be alive, honestly there were times I wished I wasn’t.  Nobody should have to feel pain like this.  It’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  An incredibly lonely, isolating, darkened shroud.  An abyss.  A life in ruins.

But I don’t want to be a side character.  I want to be the protagonist.  I want to be the hero.

Some days it feels like a conscious choice, and on other days it feels like an impossible dream.  Lately it feels like loss defines me, written like a bio with my picture attached.  I’m tired of sympathy and pity, but I want do want support and encouragement.  I don’t want the rest of my life to already be buried in a grave.

So I rise up.  I fill my life with good things.  I chase every twinge of happiness, down to small whimsies.  I wrestle with self-pity and defeat it with helping others and showing support to those who are also trying to grow despite harsh conditions.  If nothing else, this darkened shroud is the place I go when I am called to show empathy, and thus it has become more sacred than ever.

Yet I still feel like I have to apologize for the way I stumble through the days, broken and tired and weeping and angry and bitter and haunted . . . and a mess.  “Sorry,” I think to myself in a self-conscious moment after I’ve done something incredibly vulnerable, “I’m just dealing with an unspeakable tragedy is all.”

But I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in the now almost four years, is that I must be patient and kind with myself.  I’m not a character, and this is not a story.  This is my reality, and as painfully harsh as it may seem, I’ve still got growing to do.

And if you’re here because you’re a survivor, or even a spectator, your presence is appreciated.  In the dark abyss of grief, every person with an open heart is like a light.

As long as there is light, I know I will never lose my way.


This Gratitude

Life is so busy now, writing has become a lot like the friends I think about often but with whom I never get to spend time, lingering like you do when the connection is so strong you don’t actually want to leave.  I can’t linger in creativity like I used to, when there are deadlines and turn-around time at work, and naptimes that seem to shorten in duration every day.

Music is played in the background like an afterthought, not for studious consideration in the days before Toddler Life.  It’s hard to focus on the meaning of a lyric or a chorus when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself while he moves dining room furniture around.

The cognitive awareness of his needs and anticipating his next move is so mentally draining, by the end of the day I have little energy for anything other than mindlessly checking Facebook status updates and scrolling through pictures on Instagram.  Writing stuff down – as much as I love engaging in the wordplay and emotional connection through art – just seems like another task.

But I’m not complaining.  I love this life, and if it means never writing another word, I will be okay.  Of course, nobody is asking that of me, but that’s just how much I enjoy what I do.  Being a mom trumps everything.  It’s an honor and a gift not afforded to just anyone.

I don’t go to shows like I used to, nor do I have the time for diligent attention to a certain beloved band’s activities, but the love that I have for music has been transferred and repotted like a houseplant I love to nurture.  Only now can I share it with the little person in my life who demands all my time and attention.  “Let’s enjoy this together,” I think, and I will put on music.  Let’s dance and learn to sing.  Let’s learn some new words and learn the lyrics.  Let’s nurture this love of music, because it is very well in your DNA – not just from me, but from generations before me and your dad – your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and so on.  This is your heritage only we can show you, so let’s start with the music I love and grow from there.

For reasons only he knows, the Airborne song “Missy” has been on repeat in our house.  Except, when he asks for it by name, it’s “Mimi.”  He likes the elongated notes of the lyrics “Just as long as I’m never aloooooone” and “I’d follow you even if it was wrooooonnng” and has started cutting his teeth literally and figuratively on those notes, attempting to sing them on key.  He loves the portion of the song from the All I Ever Wanted DVD with the girls’ choir singing along, and he lights up when Dad plays the song on the guitar for him and we all join in.

Of course, this isn’t the only song he likes, or the last (“Hey Jude” is another favorite, the ‘nah-nah-nahs’  being solidly in his vocabulary), but this song and this band, this is a love that we share together, as mother and son, and family.

Today he asked for “Mimi” just like he does every day, so I put on the DVD and we watched it together until he started rubbing his eyes.  I scooped him up and put him to bed, letting the DVD play with no audience until I returned to the living room to turn it off.  I have seen this show and this band now dozens of times, and these songs are as familiar to me like folk songs in the country of my heart, but I sat down anyway and watched for a moment since the need for me to look over my shoulder was sleeping soundly in the other room.

That pause in a parent’s life, when the dust settles for a moment and you can see the hands in front of you and your plans in the distance, as well as the life you’ve left behind, all came into focus in that moment watching Anna pull the bow across her viola during “This Losing.”

For as often as I’ve heard this song, the goosebumps still rise with the memories right behind them at the surface, of where I was four years ago when these songs were playing in the background like an afterthought.  When I was pregnant and living a distracted life, and expecting it to turn out differently.  Inside my body was a little person developing hair and teeth, limbs and hands, feet and fingers.  And ears.  In the background of my life, I was hearing this music, and so was he.  And though our time together was so excruciatingly brief, we, too, had shared this music together.  Mother and son.  Family.

I have a couple painful anniversaries on the horizon this summer.  Birth and death, and the heartbreak and pain that surrounds them as thick as fog.  But intertwined in these memorials are anniversaries of first shows and concerts, first-time meetings of band members who had no idea their kindness meant so much, and all the love and compassion and connection I’ve received through music.  Of going on and living a life with purpose, and now sharing that life and music with someone else.  I couldn’t be more grateful.  And it’s that gratitude that pulls me through the pain, like a bow on strings.