Tag Archives: Family

goodbye, too soon

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I am confused. Bewildered. So, so angry. How could this happen again?

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Mom and Dad on my wedding day, November 22, 2008

This time, the sudden loss of my dad didn’t shatter as much as the sudden loss of my mom and uncle. The world already seemed less safe. I have had two years of practice walking through the world feeling incomplete. I have become more comfortable sitting with my negative emotions.

When I learned without warning that my dad had died, it had eerie similarities to learning that my mom and uncle had died. I was in a different place, on a different day. It was morning instead of afternoon. But, I was not prepared for it. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I was 38.5 weeks pregnant instead of 37 weeks pregnant. Both memorial services fell exactly five days before my due date.

Two of my three babies will have joined this world when my heart was full of sorrow. I will again, have to find the space and do the exhausting work of holding both the joy and the pain. But, this time, I know I can survive. I have done it before.

It feels so unfair. To be an orphan at 33. To not have my parents know my kids. But, as my sister and I talked about the other day, one of my mom’s favourite things to say to us was: “life is not fair.” How right she was.

I don’t understand, and I’m not sure that I ever will. Goodbye to my parents, my home base, my childhood. Hello to this empty new world.

14 months

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It’s been 14 months since my mom and uncle Rob died. So many people have asked me to try to describe what it feels like to have a loss like mine. I have many times tried to articulate it, and I have failed as many times as I’ve tried. But, I keep trying, and I’ll keep trying, because silence doesn’t serve me. Writing helps me. It helps me to clarify my own feelings. It helps me to find my voice, and it helps me to find those around me who are here for the long run.

Fourteen months have passed. Too quickly. Too slowly. I still miss them. I miss them so deeply that it is just a part of me. I don’t want to not miss them. They are so intertwined in who I am, that without missing them, I would not be me.

Significant loss fourteen months out still hurts. That shouldn’t be surprising. Twelve months is not a magical number that fixes things. Christmas two was harder than Christmas one. I was less numb this year. I could really feel this year. The permanence was stronger; the forever-ness.

After a year has passed, what does it feel like?

It is days where I feel mostly okay, and yet that mostly okay is also different and unsure. It’s knowing that a word, a song, a picture, a smell, can turn that mostly okay into pretty awful. And, for the most part, those words, songs, pictures, smells, catch me by surprise. I don’t realize how much they’ll get me until they’ve got me.

Days of mostly okay always have a tug at the heart. Every smile, laugh, joy, has a tugging at the heart. The tugging is just how it is now. I can’t make the tug go away, even if I wanted it to.

Loneliness of not having the one person I want to call to talk something through. It doesn’t matter how many people I talk it through with, it’s still incomplete, because the one person I want to tell I can’t. It’s lonely not having the one person I want and need to ask, “what should I do?” Even if I know mama’s answer would be, “I don’t know.”

Loneliness because even the people who desperately want to understand don’t… and can’t. And, thank goodness for that.

Anxiety that catches me off guard, making it hard to breath. It’s my heart beating fast, my tears just below the surface. It’s busy hands to still my mind, then still hands when I’m ready to let the wave crash over me. It’s finding my way to the other side of the wave still intact.

It’s hearing your 4-year-old from the back of the van, “Mommy, I don’t want to worry you, but there’s a bad thing I have to tell you. I’m sorry to tell you this, but at the end of this movie Captain Hook will have to go to heaven. Is it okay for you to watch still?”

Desperate longing that can never be fulfilled. Wanting to feel the soft skin on the back of my mom’s hands, or to pull the clasp of her necklace to the back of her neck. Longing to feel another of my uncle’s bear hugs. Craving to see them embrace my kids; heck, to even know Ella.

intervals

Moments or days of resisting change, or not wanting to accept the ripple effects of losing the nucleus to our family. It’s moments of the opposite, of wanting everything to change all at once. Wanting to avoid the differences. It’s feeling confused.

It’s finding my people. The people who get and support me. The people who I can trust. It’s getting to be someone else’s person too.

Questioning life: Why do things happen the way they do? What does it all mean? Reading all kinds of theories and pulling the parts that are comforting into my toolbox. Consuming book after book and article after article and being no further ahead… actually, being further behind than before I started.

It’s thinking about the accident, the sequence of it, and asking myself the same questions for the millionth time. It’s thinking about the bystanders who stopped at the scene of the accident, who jeopardized their own mental wellbeing to help two strangers. It’s wondering how they’re doing after 14 months. It’s being so grateful that my mom and uncle weren’t alone.

Wondering what it must be like, to get in your car one day not knowing that it is the last thing you’ll ever do. It’s so simple, and yet I still can’t wrap my mind around it. One day you’re alive and well, and you do everything for the last time…. and that’s it… and everything you leave behind is forever changed.

Two people have left, and my whole world has changed. Nothing can ever be the same again. I can wake up and face each day, but I am not the same, and I wouldn’t want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last chance for everything

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I’m into a new phase. I’m past that early acute grief. It took over two months for the shock to wear off…. for my brain and my heart to know that my mom and uncle were dead. In that time, every day I was constantly bombarded with, “Mom and Uncle Rob are dead? Mom and Uncle Rob are dead!” I was constantly wondering how this could happen, why it would happen. Though, of course, no good answers ever came to me.

Those early months felt like a dark, weighted cloud was sitting on me, pushing me down. I was split in two. A part of me wanted to feel joy again, to get past the pain. An equally strong part of me never wanted to feel any happiness again, wanted to stay in that pain. Staying in that pain felt almost like a way to make this not real. Like I would wake up one day to find out this had all been a terrible nightmare.

The weight of that dark cloud made it feel like grief was happening to me. I felt so out of control. As the weight slowly lifted, I was able to see that allowing the weight to lift didn’t make this any less horrible, sad, or tragic. It didn’t make me miss my mom or uncle any less. It didn’t mean that I loved them any less. It did give me some breathing room. I no longer feel like grief is happening to me. Now I feel like an active participant in my grief. I’ve established a small sense of control in what still feels like a chaotic and unsafe world. I feel like I’ve gained control over my grief work, setting aside time each day to work through whatever my mind and heart needs me to.

Right now I have two ways of being: deeply sad, angry, or anxious, or, distracted from sadness, anger, or anxiety. I am able to take interest in things, but it’s active and tiring, and I have to pace myself. I still don’t feel real happiness or pure joy. I smile and I laugh, but it’s smiles and laughter that are fragile, the pain just under the surface and threatening to break through at any moment.

The lifting of the weight has started to bring my memory back. For three months the accident acted as a broken sieve, holding back memories that I desperately craved. I wondered if my memories would ever return, despite the assurance from my grief counsellor that they would. It felt like my memories were just another thing that the universe was taking without my permission. Perhaps our bodies are designed that way to protect us from the massive pain that we surely couldn’t endure all at once. In particular, my mind craved the memory of the last time I had seen my mom and uncle, just a week before the accident. Despite my efforts, that visit had become a blur and no details were within my reach. The details are starting to come back. Though not complete, I remember a lot about that last visit now.

It was Thanksgiving. Madeleine and I spent the afternoon sitting on the floor of my parents family room, making beaded necklaces and bracelets. The last gift Maddy would give my mom. After Maddy lost interest, she asked my mom to help her find specific beads, whatever her favourite of the moment, all of the butterflies or all of the hearts. My mom joked with me that she’d be finding beads under her furniture for months (without doubt, after every visit I would get a text from my mom about her decorative marbles Maddy loved to play with, and all of the bizarre places my mom was finding them).

mom and maddy

Eric and my brother, Scotty, took Loki to the dog park. While they were out, Madeleine kept repeating to everyone, with incredible enthusiasm, “Welcome home!” Mom and I convinced Maddy that she should run to the door to say that to daddy and Uncle Scott when they got home. Alas, she forgot by the time they walked through the door.

We all sat together for dinner, dad taking one of his “table pictures”. Prior to the accident, my dad’s insistence on having the same photo at every family gathering was annoying. Today, I’m so happy we have that last photo together. I only wish my oldest sister and family were with us that weekend. After dinner, as usual, my family sat around the table chatting, nibbling on dessert and enjoying some drinks.

fam jam

Eric and I decided it was time for us to leave. Maddy had had enough and it was starting to show. We started pulling our things together. I kept getting side tracked, and by the time we were walking out the door, I hadn’t even really said a proper goodbye, yelling to everyone that we were leaving because Maddy was grumpalicious (and I was halfway to grumpy pants). As I walked out the door, my Uncle Rob called to me. I remember turning to him and letting out a huge, “Ugh!” I then apologized and said Maddy was freaking out and I needed to leave. His response, so clear in my head now, “I just wanted to give you a hug goodbye.” I went back in and gave him a hug and kiss. I can’t remember if I hugged my mom. As I walked to the door, my Uncle said he’d email me to set up a weekend to visit, hopefully in two weeks if we were free. That visit still sits in my brain… the visit that never happened.

While we were driving home, I called my mom. Madeleine was in total panic that we’d left a bag of chocolate at the house. Maddy wanted us to turn the car around, but Grammy assured her that she would save it for our next visit. She promised she wouldn’t let Grandpa eat it. I told my mom that Madeleine was crying because she forgot to say “welcome home” to daddy and Uncle Scott. My mom responded, “Better hope she doesn’t remember that we didn’t make purple play doh!” Every visit home, Madeleine would tell my mom what colour play doh she wanted to make, and they would make it. Maddy began to equate a visit at Grammy’s house with helping Grammy make play doh, and helping Grammy make everyone banana strawberry smoothies. A week earlier, we had called to let Grammy know that we felt like purple play doh next week. Madeleine never brought up the purple play doh. I don’t remember how that phone call ended. I like to believe that I told my mom I loved her, like I often did when we would hang up. I can’t be sure though.

We got home that night tired, and a bit grumpy, but it felt like every other visit. It didn’t feel like the last one. There were no signs that this was it, that I would never see my mom or uncle alive again. I didn’t know that the next time I would see them, they wouldn’t really look like themselves, they wouldn’t be smiling and laughing. They wouldn’t tell me that they wanted to give me a hug goodbye. I didn’t know that that was my last chance for everything.

Big, scary feelings

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We use the term big feelings in our house to talk about strong, overwhelming, or scary feelings. When Maddy is having a tough time we acknowledge her big feelings, label them as best we can, and try to help her manage them. We talk about how everyone has big feelings, even adults. We work hard to have her understand that big feelings are okay to have, that we can learn to work with our big feelings instead of against them, and most importantly, that she can trust us to help her with her big feelings for however long she needs us to.

Since the accident, I am the the one having non-stop big feelings. Grief is overwhelming, consuming, and can be downright scary. Right now, I am messy and broken. I have felt messy and broken before in my life… but not this kind of messy and broken. This is new territory for me. I sometimes feel like a shell of my former self, just trying to get through the day, or sometimes the moment. Grief is unpredictable. Emotions wash over you at unexpected times… sometimes contradictory emotions that feel difficult to reconcile. Grief can be irrational, and even though you can identify the lack of rationality in your thoughts, you can’t control the feelings that surface, you can only work with them so that you can continue to heal.

It’s scary to not recognize yourself, to not know who you are anymore. Who am I now that I don’t have a mother? How does my family fit together without the glue? Where do I fit in the world now? I will always miss my mom and uncle, and the world will always be a different place after this experience. I woke up as one person on October 18, and fell asleep as a completely changed person. I am traumatized, grief-stricken, forever changed. I have become, and for the rest of my life will be, a motherless daughter.

Sometimes I feel shame as a grieving parent. I feel guilty that the girls have to live in a house so full of sadness, and anger; that their mom is irritable, sluggish, and pained. I feel guilty thinking that my mom and uncle would want the girls to live in a happy home. Even though I can recognize my mom as an imperfect, but wonderful mother; I feel as though my imperfections, so apparent while I’m grieving, are failing my family. I can tell myself that my mom and uncle deserve to be grieved, and that they would understand, but guilt is a sticky emotion.

I have worked through this idea of being an imperfect parent before, finally accepting that showing your children that you’re human is of huge service to them… because they too are human, and need to accept themselves as the beautiful, unique people that they are. Our family anthem is pretty much Secrets by Mary Lambert. But, I have never felt as imperfect as I do right now. I am not present with my girls in the way that I’d like to be. I am doing my best, but it feels like it’s not enough.

Tonight, while we were driving in the car, I began to cry. After some time, from the backseat we hear Maddy say, “What’s that sound?” There was a pause. Eric responded, “Mommy is crying. She’s feeling really sad thinking about Grammy and Uncle Rob. It’s okay to cry when we’re sad.” Another pause. Then my sweet child said, “Mommy, I want to hold your hand. I want to help you calm down.”

The next time I feel shame creeping into my thoughts, I will think of this moment, of those words. Despite what I want, my girls will one day feel messy and broken. Maybe it won’t be the result of the early loss of their mother, but it will be something. Life gives everyone their knocks, and one day, hopefully a long time from now, it will be Maddy and Ella’s turn. When it’s their turn, I want them to be able to be loving and kind to themselves. I want them to feel as comfortable as they can with those big feelings. I want them to allow themselves to show their messy selves to the world.

Grieving will not just expose the girls to sadness and anger, it will expose them to an imperfect mother who keeps putting one foot in front of the other. A mother who works through big, scary feelings, who shares her big feelings with people she can trust, and who asks for help when she needs it. I hope that it will one day show them that despite all the heartbreak, we can heal into a new version of ourself. Life might break us sometimes, and we might accumulate more life experience than we may have ever wanted, but we can be our authentic, real, imperfect selves.

My sweet Madeleine, Grammy and Uncle Rob would be so proud of the thoughtful, kind, and caring little girl you are becoming. I am so very proud to be your mommy.

I can’t clean up because…

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The top ten reasons why my three-year old can’t clean up her toys…

10. “We still need these for our camp site.”

9. “It’s a lot of work,” or “It’s too tricky.”

8. “Uhhh, you first!”

7. “I can’t see my toys.”

6. “I already did.”

5. “I’m busy cooking onion strawberry soup for dinner.”

4. “My back hurts.”

3. “It hurts when I bend over.”

2. “The baby/sheep/horse/puppy in my belly makes it hard for me to bend down.”

1. “Because mommy likes to clean up my toys!”

One step

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Before our sweet Madeleine came along, we got a lot of advice from other parents. Still to this day, the two most important pieces came from a colleague of mine, and a colleague of Eric’s.

A woman at my work said to me, “You are never going to be or feel ready. So just do it when you think it’s right.”

A man at Eric’s work said to him, “When things aren’t going well, don’t worry, they will get better. When things are going well, be warned, they will get worse.” The natural ups and downs described so easily.

When Madeleine arrived, people told us,

“Don’t worry, it will get better.”

“All babies cry.”

“You will get to sleep again.”

Amongst a number of other things. I often reflect on these comments and think that they need some changes.

Don’t worry, it will get better. It might not get better, but you will get better.”

It’s true that as parents, you figure things out, and you get better. But, it’s also true that those memories of the first time spent with your baby are engrained and tough to remove.  When you think you’ve been able to move on, you are expecting a second, and the fear and panic from those days comes rushing back. You remember the isolation, the loneliness, the exhaustion. You remember how it felt as though nobody believed you. You remember the feelings that to so many people, you are simply a carer-of-baby, and not a person who is equally as important as baby.

Then you cross your fingers and pray that next baby will be different. Next baby won’t have colic. Next baby will want to be soothed. Next baby will smile and laugh. Next baby will sleep for longer than an hour at a time when he or she is 9 months old.

But, then you’re hit with the realization, that next baby is the least of your worries, and that first beautiful baby of yours is who you are most worried about. Most people will tell you not to worry, first baby will adapt. But, most people have not lived in your home. Most people have not lived through what you have lived through. Most people don’t can’t understand.

All babies cry. All babies cry. Some cry more than others. Sometimes crying means that something is wrong. You are probably right if you think your baby is crying too much.”

Yes, this is true that all babies cry. It is actually not helpful to tell a new mom that all babies cry. She will be too polite to let you know that this is something she has known for many, many years. She will forgive you for saying something like this, because she knows that you’re just trying to be helpful. She won’t need you to know the myriad of reasons she discovered that her baby cried more than most. She won’t have to, because someone else will have validated her experience for her. She will share the bits and pieces that she’s comfortable sharing, with the people that she feels safe sharing them with.

You will get to sleep again. You will get to sleep again… in 18 years.”

The level of exhaustion I felt in Maddy’s first year is something I’m not sure I will ever experience again. It was a true life lesson in why sleep deprivation is used as a torture method. It was an experience where exhaustion played at sanity. I remember waking up to a crying baby, and physically not being able to move. I would try to will my body to get up, but it was not possible.

Over time, sleep does become more consistent. It’s true that you will sleep more than when baby is 3 months old. But, it’s also true that you might not sleep through the night again for many years. You might have a child that doesn’t sleep, no matter what you do. You might be woken 7 times in a night when your child is 3, on a regular basis. You might have a child who takes hours and hours to settle into sleep, no matter how consistent and routine-based your evening is. Your expectations of sleep will change – and you will somehow figure out how to be productive with all of that waking. You will let your body be your guide, and take it easy when it needs you to.

The last three years have been a time of ups and downs, with unexpected curves, and needed plateaus. It has been a time of wild growth, and of deep love. We have learned, we have been hurt, we have been tested, and we have been cared for.

There was a time that I wasn’t sure that I could manage a second baby. There was a hesitant decision to listen to our hearts. Now there is fear and uneasiness. We are entering a kind of work and preparation I never thought I would need to do to expand our family, but we are showing up each day, and taking one step at a time.

 

 

Peaks and valleys

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I’ve been having a rough go emotionally the last little while. I’ve sat down a few times to blog, but couldn’t get the words quite right. The last couple of months have thrown us some twists.  A family vacation that was more difficult than we imagined, despite our endless preparations for it. Repercussions from our family vacation. Follow-up visits with some of our lovely doctors/therapists. Appointments that included information that we weren’t prepared to hear quite yet, and that have left me in a state of confusion and with a feeling of helplessness. A pregnancy that keeps moving forward towards the arrival of a beloved babe, but that sometimes feels like another test to add to our family load. These challenges followed a very lovely and emotionally positive and strong winter – it feels like the a temporary valley. A valley that has its own beauty, even though I’m actively working on climbing out of it.

There are many lovely, amazing things happening right now too – which are acting as an equalizer to this funk. My work hours have reduced to 24 hours a week. Even though I adore my job, I feel like I can breathe and I’m finding balance after a hectic work winter. We are enjoying the summer, spending most of it outdoors, as that is Maddy’s favourite place to be. I am finding strength in my closest friends, in my community, and at home. I have a lovely new haircut thanks to a very talented, long-time friend. Nothing like a new haircut to make you feel like you can take on the world 🙂

The hardest feeling that I’m battling is hurt. As I’m sure any parent reading this will understand, I hurt so deeply when things are hard for Maddy and I can’t fix them. I hurt so deeply when I run out of patience and am not the mom I want to be, especially when I know that the situation that I have lost my patience in is beyond mine, Eric or Maddy’s control. I hurt so deeply, when I’m on the edge of coping, and I have to leave Maddy in a time when she wants me. I worry that she sees it as a punishment for something that isn’t really her fault. I worry that she might use those times to assess her worth or value in this world. I always try to explain when we’re both in a place to talk, but I don’t know if my words are enough.

Parenting is amazing, exhilarating, and incredible, but it sure has tested me more than I expected. Some days it feels like one foot in front of the other is a success to celebrate. Other days I sit and look over the past 3 years and can’t believe what we have accomplished as a family. Every day I love Maddy for exactly who she is, a sometimes over-the-top silly, clever, very inquisitive, strong-willed, determined, active, beautiful little girl. But, there are some days that I wish more than anything that the road was not so hard for her, or us.