{Guest Post} Happy(ish) Mother’s Day!

happy mother's day afterwards blogThank you to Clare Wright, an Australian mother and blogger for this wise Mother’s Day reflection. It is so refreshing to read the wisdom of others when my own words are few. Clare is a gifted writer, you can find her at whenihadaseahorse.wordpress.com.

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I found myself both transfixed and irritated by a particular advertisement on Facebook. It wasn’t obscene or crude or exploitative, it was just, well… a bit ridiculous. Clad in a gold negligee with glossy blonde curls cascading over her slender shoulders, the “mother” rises like a mermaid from a pastel sea of roses, pastries, handbags and parcels piled across the bed. A glittery pink eye mask is pushed up her porcelain forehead, and gosh she looks well-rested.

I know advertisements are meant to tap into fantasies, but I couldn’t help thinking this one had gone too far. Perhaps it’s just my own stage of life, but I feel like fantasy for a lot of mums would be waking in a bed sans children after the stars have set. And here is the problem: after enduring weeks and weeks of a glistening, pink media assault, it’s inevitable that many mums will feel dissatisfied with their messy, noisy, slightly tatty Mother’s Day reality.

Last Mother’s Day I remember being sleep-deprived after feeding a baby through the night, and feeling a bit sorry for myself that my husband was working all day and I couldn’t whip out my “it’s Mother’s Day” card to excuse myself from of any of those menial mum-jobs: changing nappies, fixing meals, bathing kids, never-ending bedtime-rituals. I wrote about the sense of disillusionment that my Mother’s Day was far from the “catalogue version” I had been promised.

But this year I’ve been thinking of a dear friend who has just celebrated her first Mother’s Day as a mum and her first Mother’s Day without her own mum – having lost her suddenly a month before the birth of her first baby. It’s caused me to reflect on all those women who are grieving the loss of a mother or a child or who – whether through fertility issues or just the twists and turns of life – have never been granted the child they so desperately wanted.

Yesterday two very different crowded spaces – my Facebook newsfeed and the cemetery near our house – both conveyed a common story of loss and sorrow. For many, Mother’s Day brings a churning restlessness of the heart, a yearning ache akin to homesickness for an alternate version of life with no missing pieces. Thinking of these women (and men) has shaken things into perspective, and enabled me to shrug off the ludicrous fantasy that the media trots out each May.

Late last year I attended a friend’s birthday dinner with a group of girls I mostly didn’t know. As the night progressed and the food and wine flowed, a chequered assortment of life-stories emerged (as they always do at a successful girl’s night). It turned out that a birthday was only one of several events worth celebrating that night. From a group of six women in their mid-thirties, one was pregnant with her fifth child, another with her first through IVF, one had brought along her first baby daughter, one had an adoptive son and was hoping to adopt a second, one was late because she had to settle a three-year-old and breastfeed a ten-month-old before coming (that was me), and one (the birthday girl) had gleefully left two pre-schoolers at home with their dad.

It struck me: what a wide diversity of journeys to motherhood were represented by our small table alone. What thorny, winding, lonely paths many women walk to become mothers. And what travel-wounds some must sustain along the way; what bruises to the heart, what crushing blows of disappointment, what bone-aching weariness. I can only imagine, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My two beautiful children came easily: a sunny, babbling toddler who kisses everyone and hurts himself way too often, and a mostly sweet, sometimes spiky four-year-old girl with an incredible imagination, and a gift for making up songs.

For those whose Mother’s Day was marked by sorrow, I hope that you found some measure of comfort: a soft place to fall, a quiet corner where you could speak your grief. May the God who knows all things guard your heart and mind with a peace which exceeds anything we can understand. I am grateful to those friends brave enough to show me their travel-wounds, to share a little of their pain. On a day when most of the hearts on display are flawlessly fashioned from soft and whimsical fabrics, it can’t be easy to reveal one that is broken and bloodied. We need to see those hearts on Mother’s Day. We need to honour the tales of desperate loss as much as those of joy and triumph. Some of us need to remember the richness of our blessings lest we take for granted all that we hold in our arms. What we don’t need are more unattainable, airbrushed goddesses swimming through oceans of gifts – because that isn’t anybody’s truth.

This year my Mother’s Day was lovely. There was no sleep-in, I missed my mum who lives overseas, and I had to do all the dinner and bedtime routines myself after my husband went back to work. My little boy put a tooth through his lip and kissed at least one girl he probably shouldn’t have in the playground. There was the odd tantrum, sibling fight and quite a bit of screaming when we got lost and lunch was delayed on our scenic drive through the hills. But there were homemade cards and a gorgeous locket, a cheese-platter in the hills, a playground and a toasted sandwich for dinner that my husband cut into a swan at my request. I thumbed my nose at the glossy-haired goddess in the advertisement and revelled in the glory of my sticky, stinky, messy, slightly tatty, beautiful family. I am blessed beyond measure.

{Guest Post} Marching: Thoughts on Grieving a Miscarriage

Afterwards Grief Blog Nicole KemperOne thing I have learned through blogging and relationships in the past four years is that you just never know who you will connect with most intimately about your experience. For me, it’s often people who have a completely different story than I. My dear friend Nicole Kemper is one of these people. She is a beautiful wife and mother of two who has always been filled with wisdom beyond her years. She’s also one of my favourite souls to cozy up with over a cup of tea, as we evaluate all the shapes of the universe. Here is her story, I thank her a million times for sharing it with us.

November

This week, I was forced to sit down. To physically stop. Emotionally finished and at the end of myself.

Last week, we went to our midwives’ office. From the moment she started to examine me, I knew something was wrong. No heartbeat to be found.

Mine was starting to go through the roof.

Off to call friends, and family and pray. Like mad.

And then to the ultrasound. We had such hope, even heading in there. They said it happens, that they can often see the baby and find the heartbeat, sometimes it’s just hiding.

But such was not the case for us. The little life I had carried for almost 12.5 weeks was no longer with us. An empty shell, and I was too.

This is the second time. The first time, was my first time. My first baby. And I didn’t understand the full joy of carrying a baby, the wrenching and gratifying process of giving birth, and then seeing that little one grow. Smiling, talking, walking, laughing. The hard, HARD work, and the incredible joy.

But this time I know. This little one is not going to be with us, until we are finished here. Until it is time for us to go home. I have two little ones sitting with their Papa, smiling. Will they have the blond hair and blue eyes; the laughter and joyful smiles? I do know they are safe. Taken care of.

I sometimes wonder if I am. Is my body defective? Why does this happen, to me, and the many other women that I know have faced this reality. The hurt. The disappointment. The utter physical despair, and waiting for the life inside you to leave, the heart you know is no longer beating. Wanting to be pregnant so desperately, and yet wanting the pregnancy to end, so that grief can continue along it’s path.

We are so incredibly thankful for our two kids. From the bottom of my heart, I know we are blessed. But I still feel robbed, of this special little one. Who would have had a sister and brother to love them, and was already so a part of our family.

With their death, goes the hopes and plans of the day. That first shocking day. The week, the physical agony of loss. And then the life months and year of the firsts, and hopes of the things to come. A May birthday. A summer camping trip.

March

A fitting title for this winter, these months. They march on. The cold is mindless to the isolation and stillness it causes.

Time marches on. Lives march on. We must march on.

But in me, still, lives the up and down days. The sadness and the grief of the lost little one that will not be joining us this May.

My body has marched on. With some difficulty, and I think somewhat begrudgingly.

I have read a number of articles on the internet. What to say and what not to say to people who have miscarried. How a husband might feel about a miscarriage. Or just peoples stories about what happened to them.

The thing that I am finding out about grief is that it really doesn’t play by any rules. It is unfair. There are days that it catches me in my kitchen, singing some old country song. There are days that it leaves me alone, free to soar.

I have enjoyed reading stories of others, knowing it has happened to them. Knowing that they, too, have walked those dark days. I have appreciated ideas and thoughts and suggestions that others have. I have appreciated my husband for walking with me and being patient in the mess. Oh the mess.

This grief is shared, and yet it is my own. It is my story, written in me and in my heart. I embrace it when I can. I cry, when I need to. I get mad, when I need to. I am learning to stop apologizing for doing what I need to do. Because I matter. And the little life that is gone, it matters too. It matters to me.

I matter. And because of that, I keep marching.

Well Meaning Statements That Devastate Mourners | The Grief Toolbox

Even though I’ve been through it, I still have a hard time finding words when somebody goes through a loss. I found this short and sweet advice today and I’m passing it along!

Thanks to Larry Barber for his thoughts.

Well Meaning Statements That Devastate Mourners | The Grief Toolbox.

Guest Post: Losing a parent to cancer, Part One

A dear friend of mine has agreed to write a series of posts about losing a parent to cancer. I am grateful for her insight on this particular experience of loss and I am deeply moved by this first post. Whatever your circumstance, I’m sure you will relate to what she has to say here – such an intuitive description of grief. 

About Katie: I am a twenty nine-year-old who loves to inspire and be inspired.  I love that I get to teach for my job.  I currently work in a school for special needs kids, and they remind me to laugh and find the joy in every day.  I think they are amazing.  I live in Calgary with those who know me, support me, and still love me—my husband, my family, and my friends.  This is also the city I grew up in, and I am surrounded by constant memories and reminders of Dad—a bittersweet thing.  Dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer in 2001.  The doctors gave him a timeline of a year and a half, but he took on the challenge and battled the cancer for ten years before he passed away in February 2011.

The thing about writing about the loss of something is that you can’t honestly write about anything until you’ve addressed your own grief and how it has changed you.  This has been particularly hard for me because I don’t want to give the grief that power over me, and so I avoid having to think about it.  I do think about Dad, I do think about the ten years of the ups and downs of cancer, I do think about the hospital and the hospice, and I do think about my family, their strength, and how loss and grief has changed them.  But I’ve avoided addressing “the process” and the change in myself, claiming always that I’m still in the “denial stage”, when really I’m unwilling to truly see myself through the pain and loss.

It’s been just over a year since Dad passed away, and about eleven years since his battle with cancer began.  I’ve been through “the process” dealing with the grief of a parent being diagnosed with cancer.  It’s there I learned the depth of the difference between trust and hope.  But that was an incredibly different grief than learning to live in a world where Dad no longer exists.

The absence of Dad is the weight of the gray cloud that has followed me around for the past year.  My body often grieves better than my mind.  The weight of the missing-ness hits whenever it wants…there is rarely a rhyme or reason.  I can be in the middle of a chore or enjoying a beautiful day. My eyes will start weeping, usually taking my mind a confusing few moments to realize that I am acknowledging the absence of Dad in my world.

I don’t understand the grief.  I do know it has changed me.  My definitions of happiness and joy have changed.  My role in friendships has changed, many friends not knowing what to do with me, me putting up walls to keep others at a safe distance.  How can I expect them to understand me when I don’t even understand me?  I now most often prefer to spend time alone; I can get anxious or angry when I am about to spend time in groups of people.  I hope this is a stage or phase.  Sometimes the “grayness” is too much for me to fix my attention on much else.

Acknowledging the grief is important.  This I have learned.  As much as I despise that word, and as much as I’m cynical about “the process”, the grief is real.  It takes its toll whether you let it or not.  I am learning to live with my unpredictable self, and have hope in knowing that though I have changed, I have not stopped changing and growing.  I’m not stuck here.  This grief may change me, but it will not consume me.  Dad taught me to truly live life, learn well, and to hold on to hope.  And these I still plan to do and do well.

Katie and family
Katie (left) with her dad and sister

Guest Post: A Look at Fresh Grief

KristaI’ve had the privilege of connecting with Krista through the blogging world. I’m completely inspired by her strength and also by her honesty about how difficult it is to keep going without somebody you love the most. Krista has suffered a different kind of loss than I, but I have found great solace in sharing our experiences. I am so glad she has agreed to share some of her story here.

Krista met her fiance Zach in Costa Rica when they both worked as English teachers there. After eight difficult months apart when she left teaching and returned to Canada, Krista moved to Georgia to live with Zach when he returned from overseas. All of their plans were changed when Zach was taken suddenly in a car accident on October 9, 2011. Krista remains in the U.S., learning how to process grief and handle life without her soul mate in a country that’s not her home. You can read her blog at wordstohealthepain.wordpress.com.

Jennelle asked me to write for her about a fresh look at grief, which is exactly my current situation.  I hesitate to share anything because I know how it feels to be preached at and told how to feel or what you are about to experience following the death of a loved one.  In reality, it is drastically different for each and every one of us, so it is irrational to think any of us can define how another person will grieve.  So I will not claim to tell you how you will feel but rather share from my heart to yours my own personal experience with fresh grief.

When grief is new we are tormented with guilt, sadness, devastation, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness.  I wandered around in a haze for days completely unaware of who was near me or how much time had passed.  From the moment I got the phone call with the news that Zach was gone it was as though my soul left my body and all that remained was an empty shell of a person going through the motions.  Looking back on it now, I question if we made the right decisions, if the funeral really was the way Zach would have wanted it, if I expressed enough gratitude to the people who showed our family such immense support.  Obviously decisions need to be made fairly quickly after a death but it is a nearly impossible thing to ask of mourning people who can barely focus on breathing in and out.  It is an odd time to be forced to go through the motions when these are decisions based on the loss of someone’s life, but we go on auto-pilot and just do what needs to be done.  It really doesn’t matter if we were capable decision makers before because grief leaves us helpless, irrational, and brain-dead.

Although it is mostly indescribable, fresh grief for me feels like a new wound or that there is a gaping hole where my life once was.  So how can I describe grief that is fresh to you?  By telling you it is like waking up from a four year coma with no idea of who you are, no idea of who anyone is, unable to recognize anything around you.  Or maybe it’s better to say it’s like waking up one morning blind, deaf, and unable to taste or feel as you once did because nothing is the same and you are unable to absorb anything around you.  Or I guess I could simply tell you it is like being hit with a sudden onset of a fatal disease which leaves you paralyzed, crippled, and weak.  But one thing I can definitely tell you what grief is not.  Grief is not an injury, like a broken leg, which you can recover from quickly as long as you take it easy for a few weeks and limp around.  It is not a subway that you can hop on at stop one “Shock Avenue” and get off at stop seven “Acceptance Boulevard” like many people assume from those seven stages of grief we all have shoved in our faces.  And it is definitely not a journey that has ever been experienced before because it is unique and personal to you; this is your journey and no one can do it except you.  No one, myself included, can tell you exactly how you are going to feel when experiencing fresh grief, nor can anyone predict how you are going to feel, think, react, respond, or recover.  But I can tell you from personal experience that it is unpredictable and often relentless.  I wish someone had told me that.

The best quote I have come across so far during this process is by Edna St. Vincent Millay who wrote, “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”  During the day I find myself wandering around lost, numb, and oblivious to what is going on around me but at night the hole becomes crushing and I fall deeper into it.  Sometimes the depth of this hole surprises me, scares me, devastates me.  Sometimes it feels like I am endlessly falling and cannot find my way back to the surface.  Maybe you feel the same way.  Maybe you wonder if you are losing your mind.  Maybe you feel utterly alone in how you are feeling because no one has ever felt this way before.  I did.  I do.  I felt like I had gone totally crazy, that I had lost my mind.  I never thought I would be that person whose identity was so entwined with my soul mate that nothing of myself was left after his death.  I never thought I would be that person who would continue talking to him after he was gone just because I have grown so accustomed to sharing every thought with him.  And now here I am.  I have no appetite, can’t bring myself to eat, don’t sleep much and if I do I have horrible dreams, can’t focus, cry almost incessantly, and talk to Zach whether it be a random thought or a prayer for his guidance and comfort. This all leaves me feeling like nothing is normal in my life.  But I have come to the realization that there is no “normal” when it comes to dealing with a fresh grief.  Life has become a sudden state of chaos and upheaval, and that by definition means nothing is normal.  So how can we pretend that there is any one state of “normal” for grief?

I think all we can do is get up every morning and try to figure out what our new state of normal will be because we know that we can go never go back to the way things once were.  Reaching that point of being willing to explore what your new state of normal will be is an entirely other battle and one that I cannot tell you anything about because I am still trying to do this myself.  Maybe I cannot really tell anyone else how to feel, think, or go through this process but I can be the voice to tell you what no one told me; you are not crazy and this is perfectly normal…. as normal as fresh grief can be.

Zach and Krista