Monday, January 11, 2016


2010 — COUSINS: 


Grief fits like a second skin. It is always with me, under the surface. It’s not the outer covering of me but the inner covering. Skin, not something I give much thought to unless it’s dried and calloused, burned from the sun, chilled by the cold, opened by a cut, bruised, bug bitten. I may take note of the wrinkles as the years pile up, the laugh lines—what would life be like without those laugh lines? My second skin—grief, I’m not always conscious of it; it grabs my attention when it serves as a reminder that life is different now. Grief—we’ve taken it out of the darkness and illuminated it. We are having conversations about it. Discussing it like any daily topic—removing the mystery surrounding it, the fear of having to live with it, the reality that it touches us all. Grief has opened my eyes and allows me to see Life differently. It has been an awakening of sorts. Grief has taught me to look, see, absorb the beauty in things, circumstances, people. It has allowed me to slow down, reflect, feel and transform. Elements in nature I would have noticed but now take note of. How many times have I stopped to snap a sunset since you’ve died? How do I feel—awestruck, a small part of a bigger whole. Nature will always be by my side. I watch a sleeping grandchild—I’m taken on a trip down memory lane, to the past where I see you or your brother in your children. I enjoy memories. I allow emotions to wash over—no through me; bringing me back to the present asking myself what the future has in store for these small, human bundles of Love.

Beauty grabs hold of my hand and gently walks me to peace only to let go and hand me over to comfort. Comfort squeezes my hand—an action that confirms I am present and continues the walk. We meet joy, happy to have found her. Relief asks to come onboard and shouts that it can see peace. I am healing. I am being reborn into my body. I am given new eyes to see, new ears to hear, a new perspective to lighten the load—the weight of grief.

January 3rd and 7th, our Missing Matthew and Sarah year one anniversaries have passed and with the dates, the last of our FIRSTS. I’ve struggled with wanting to give Sarah a piece of my heart, mourning uninterrupted by thoughts of you—mourning time for Sarah alone. Our grief for the two of you is so great and so intertwined that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. My Grief for the two of you will always be shared. Sarah and Laura were the first two I saw when I arrived at your home the day we found out you died. In the stairwell. Sarah hugged me first then Laura. A great big “I-hug-like-Matty” hug. That was the last time I’d ever see Sarah. She left me with Love, with the memory of compassion, with the feeling of family by my side. We cried together. Laura, much like Jason is alive and I am so grateful for her. She is a beautiful heart and soul and carries forward the Love and Light you and Sarah embody.

We gathered on January 3rd, family and friends to share stories and laughs and tears. Being together worked better than thinking about you apart. You blessed me with the sound of your voice “MOM!!”. One word—caught me off guard. Your voice, inflection and volume like I’ve heard hundreds of times before when you were trying to get my attention. I double checked with Jason just in case, these signs of a continuing relationship are still new to me. He never called out. It was you; you were with us on Sunday. The kids are beautiful aren’t they? Not just physically, but their hearts as well. Bear made his way from the kitchen into the living room, got a glimpse of Jordyn and immediately with arms outstretched, walked over to her in that robotic, “I must be wearing a diaper” kind-of-way and gave her a huge hug. They’re only a little over a year old. Every time I remember that moment, a smile graces my face. They are filled with your Love and seem to be continuing the tradition that Stephanie so aptly proclaimed “In my family cousins are siblings, a glorious tradition passed on from my Dad’s generation”. Love is like a home for the heart. Its light is so strong it permeates the walls and shines its essence on every organ, muscle, tendon, joint, bone—every cell of our bodies. Love is Life. We felt yours and Sarah’s Love that day. Laura, Adam and Gretl joined us in our celebration of Life. Gretl has Sarah’s beautiful big eyes. If eyes are the window to the soul, that Little One will be teaching us plenty! She is happy, independent, crawling and tackles blocks like a seasoned engineer.

In this first year of longing, I have learned that Life can be completely and unabashedly altered in one moment. Live with Love. There is no room for regrets in a heart filled with Love. I invited Love into my life in the biggest way when I gave birth to you and your brother. Unconditional Love, one of many types yet for me, the most rewarding. Remember. Remember. Remember . . . It all comes back to Love.  In continuing to revisit the months gone by—because sometimes you need to take a look at where you’ve been to see clearly where you are going—I rediscovered a gift you’d given me. This is re-gifting in the truest sense of the Seinfeld word. The quotes, inspirational passages that I’d send your way when life threw a roadblock at you found its way back to me. A computer folder from 2007 made its way (mystery unsolved) into the electronic tax folder I was using to prep data for Nikki. Month three was especially difficult as the shock; the reality of your death was starting to settle in. I needed to let go of the “why” and accept the “what is”. The Byron Katie quote I had originally sent to you via email was lovingly sent back to me:

Reality is the Highest Order What is, is! 

I have simply stopped arguing with reality. How do I know the wind should blow? It's blowing. How do I know this is the highest order? It's happening. Arguing with 'what is' is like teaching a cat to bark. It's not very fulfilling. I am my friend and no longer confused. The way I know that reality is good is that when I argue the point I experience tension, fear and frustration. I lose—not sometimes, but 100% of the time. It just doesn't feel natural inside: no balance, no connection. I want reality to change? Hopeless. Let me change my thinking. Some of us mentally argue with 'what is.' Others of us attempt to control and change 'what is,' and then tell ourselves and others that we actually had something to do with any apparent change that took place. This leaves no connection or room for God in my life. In the peaceful experience of no opposition to God, I remain aware of my nature: clear, vibrant, a friend, a listener. 

Byron Katie

Joy returned to our lives in May, something we welcomed with open arms. Nikki’s and mine’s first road trip with the kiddos—and we have not attempted such a long trip since! I’ve thought long and hard about my grief over Nikki’s losing you. I came to the conclusion that the cherishing that accompanies married Love turns into a memory with death. It’s the small things that are no longer, the acts performed from heart to heart, the words softly spoken daily, the actions that create gratefulness in a relationship and turn the “I” into “We”. It is the completeness of Married Love. Neither I nor anyone can fix or fill this crater of a hole left in Nikki’s heart.  Your special brand of cherishing was/is yours alone. I wear my cloak of Helplessness. It comes in one size fits all and at times needs to be secured with a belt.

I learned how to carry the weight of my dead son and the joy of his living brother. I have always been in awe of seeing a massive ship floating in open waters or a bar of Ivory soap in the bathtub for that matter. Buoyancy—it’s how we stay afloat while walking through grief. The weight of grief is pushed back by the buoyancy of life. It’s that feeling of floating in water. What is below the surface holds many mysteries, murkiness and underpinnings yet when one rises above, one finds a place of calm, fresh breaths can be freely taken. There is no breathing underwater unless one is laden with the proper gear. After the effort expended, rising to the surface, it feels good to lose the breathing apparatus; resting on your back looking up—positive. Life resurfaces in grief.

The dog days of summer brought in physical pain with the mourning. I learned that Grief is a WE thing not a ME thing. I am never alone in my grief. It is shared by all who love you. We mourned in community this summer for you and Sarah. Our grieving community defeated the darkness with Grief’s kryptonite—laughter. Addy (same birth date as Sarah) and Bear’s Great Birthday Adventure brought the families and friends together. We toasted, roasted, ate and drank well while the kids jumped in their Bouncy House with thoughts of Elsa Princesses dancing in their heads (yes, even Bear Bear).

Wise words from you Matthew, in spirit:

Fall ushered in another layer of Grief. Your death, the loss of the physical you shook me to the core. I became a seeker, searching for answers to life’s major questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? Is He/She a good God? Where do we go when we die? What is this life for? Why is there such sorrow, loss, devastation, unfairness?

My thoughts in September: “Grief—it’s taken up residence. Unlike the voice that we carry around in our heads, grief is greedy. It doesn’t want just one body part, one organ—it wants your everything. I can feel it in my body. It slithered in and took hold. It feels like a wool sweater washed in hot water, shrunken beyond good use. It is uncomfortable. It does not fit properly. It constricts. It causes tightness. It blisters my insides. It is not my friend. It is not my teacher YET. There is no evicting grief. Grief is with me for all seasons. It’s too soon for me to recognize and understand her purpose but an agenda she surely has. I can never return to who I was as you are carrying a part of me with you, so perhaps she will help me become who I am meant to be. Evolve—transform—reconnect—live—love, love, love. We are not friends. I must learn how to live with her until we learn to work together. She makes me tired, very tired. I look over the edge of the abyss that is the dark night of the soul and like a lemming; I want to let myself walk over. Sink to the bottom. Curl up into a fetal position. Ride out the storm. I’ve been here before. This time I’ve learned that you can’t crawl your way out. Much easier to be lifted out. Lifted by love, by prayers, by time. It is amazing to me that life goes on after such a loss. It’s harder to move when you are broken. I feel like I am living in a parallel universe, able to see what is going on in the present yet unable to participate. I just want my universe to stop for a while. I want to sleep. I want to not care. I want to heal. None of these elements singularly hold the key to healing. I know it is my journey and it’s not just a journey through grief. It’s a journey to the return to life. I seem to need a jumpstart.”

Another season, a new wash of emotions, a need to feel, a need to still, a need to reflect. The month heralded more signs from you, validating that our Love is forever. It was the balm I needed for my broken heart, my jumpstart. You continue to watch over your family. We are learning to read your signs and take great comfort from your new way of communicating. My favorite was the morning of Dad’s birthday, November 8th. I had Jaelyn and Addy for a sleepover. Sometimes, when Addy awakens, she needs a dose of extra loving care and cuddles. Jaelyn was her favorite person this particular morning. I had set up a twin airbed in the back bedroom, Addy’s chosen spot. Jaelyn crawled into bed with her and as they were giggling and snuggling I explained to them that when Bampy heard our voices, he would come in and say Good Morning. Today was his birthday and we should start singing as soon as he opened the door. All went as planned, Dad opened the door, the girls sang and the surprise came from the humidifier that had run out of water pre-dawn. The red light was on signaling the machine was empty. As soon as the girls started singing, the humidifier turned on and the heaviest cool mist accompanied their sweet voices. Song over—so was the humidifier. I don’t understand the mysteries of the afterlife, yet I gratefully accept its’ blessings.

At nine months—birth and death; the timeframe brought me to the realization that the only correlation between the two is the waiting. There is much waiting with birth—the anticipation of a new life, the tiny human that will soon grace the family, the celebration. Nine months after death, the waiting—there is no celebration; there is still a lot of waiting. Waiting for the ache to hurt a little less, the tears to slow down, waiting to adjust to the finality of what death is.

In October I participated in an online healing project—30 days of mindful healing and reflection. The project proved to be too overwhelming for me. Not enough time to deal with the raw emotions that were raised. Time to raise yet not enough time to process. It solidified that healing is hard, hard work. For as many steps forward I was able to take, I was also walking a few backwards. Such goes the dance with Grief. I did meet some wonderful people online and have added to my support network. The project left me to contemplate the interconnectedness of Acceptance, Adjustment, Attachments and Letting go. These are the cornerstones of my grief journey. Four phases if you will. Impossible to experience one without being touched by the others. I learned that being brave is a far better state of being than strong. Brave works well with courageous. Together they create a net of safety that catches the pieces of your shattered emotional self. Pieces that break and fall because you feel safe enough to walk through, to fully feel the pain accompanying early grief, to let go into mourning. There is no need for the shattered to try and stay woven together. When the time is right, the pieces are there for rebuilding. Wiser, more patient, compassionate, more understanding; renewed with the desire to LIVE, to Love, to laugh, to experience peace and joy. “You are so strong” a statement uttered often in praise at the perception of a bereaved “moving on” is misspoken in my opinion. When one is strong, the mask worn usually hides the pain of mourning that has been pushed aside allowing reentry into daily living. If mourning is not given its due, it complicates grief at a later date. Being strong implies that one is not excessively emotional, crying is under control, Grief is compartmentalized and the tasks of daily living are adequately being handled. It’s much easier to be around a person who is strong rather than one who is brave. There is no “moving on” with brave, just “moving through”. Brave feels every emotion, sits with the uncomfortable, allows it to wash over and through until pain takes on a new softness, a new shape. Brave speaks of their beloved, cries when sabotaged by an inopportune moment of grief, walks through the tasks of daily living while struggling with finding the right fit for the garment of grief now worn permanently. Strong is destructive to the self. Brave is the normal state for a bereaved that is walking the journey to healing.

. . . And then the Holiday Season was upon us. So many special dates, celebrations, feelings of good cheer. So many holidays in such a short period of time. What we were presented with was your empty chair at Thanksgiving, the silence of your enthusiasm over Christmas, the lack of your meal preparations to escort in the New Year. The season was filled with angst. Putting up the Christmas Tree and holding each ornament with its accompanying Matty memory was painful. Christmas music brought tears. Egg nog was so thick it choked rather than pleased the palate. The magic went out of Christmas for your brother this year. Memories of Christmases past fuel us forward. The kids are the next generation, brought into this world by the great force of Love you have for your mates. We are their teachers. They’ve felt the sadness, the heaviness of death. We owe it to them to experience and feel the joy this world has to offer. This is the part of grief where our parental nurturing instincts howl and fight against our healing efforts. We sit with the joy and the ache. It is the price of mature love after loss. We search for some semblance of balance in our broken-ness so that we can help the little ones revel in the joy of the season—knowing full well there will be plenty of ache in life’s offerings. We’ve built a strong support system. We know self-care is crucial. If this is one of the times we need a break to float on our backs, to get a taste of what air feels like, smells like, tastes like, then we ask for help—we reach out to others wearing their scuba gear or deep dive apparatus or their compassion and we ask for help! We ask for help so that the children can feel the joy without having to feel the ache. A great example of “it takes a village to raise a child”.

I was wishing, hoping against hope that the end of 2015 would bring about an end to the hardships faced in the most difficult year of my life. In reality a year ends, a calendar page turns, the ups and downs of life continue to emerge. It’s the first week of 2016, Dad has had surgery on his thumb, rendering his right hand immobile for over a week; a beloved Aunt is currently hospitalized for pneumonia; colds, coughs and flu continue to plague the Bigs and the Littles. Manageable roadblocks yet when looked at through the lens of loss, as explained to me by my grief counselor, trigger the implicit memories of the trauma we’ve just lived through—trauma resurrected and the breath gets knocked out of my center.

The lesson—we are not in control. We can hope, we can strive, we can walk towards relief, peace, joy and happiness—towards healing. Expect detours and roadblocks along the way. Do not sit with discouragement, adjust thinking, tweak perspective.  Learn how to get around, go through, jump over the hurdles presented. C.S. Lewis was spot on when he titled his book A Grief Observed. Grief the teacher, at times requires that you become the observer and not the participant in your story. Peace can be grasped by finding a way to still the mind, quiet the ego. Observing allows our spirit, our inner guide to be heard. Keep my heart open. Live my faith. It is so much more than quotations, words and phrases. Allow the action of Love to guide. Love, it all comes back to Love. Living Love with you in my heart Sweet One. I may never see you grow older, yet I’m sure I’ll continue to see you grow wiser. Our journey does not end here.

I love you. Forever and ever and ever and always.