FROM ONE MOTHER TO ANOTHER
I asked my dear friend Claire to share my thoughts on how I am coping with the eighteenth school shooting in the United States since January 1, 2018. I asked because I live in South Florida and I am a grieving mother myself-entering year three of my loss.
I live in a country divided and full of rage right now. I am not writing to “pile on” to the anger and blame between those who do or do not support guns and all the layers and laws associated, nor the serious cracks in our mental health care system. The system failed and because I covet words so much – I say ENOUGH !
Enough of promises to curb gun violence and empty promises of providing more mental health funding. Let’s look at the root cause – the brain. Let’s start respecting the brain. Study the brain. Show compassion to those touched by depression. Extend a hand when you know a person’s entire goal is to breath till days end. Enough of the stigma because right now there are too many people suffering in silence.
If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the west there are a multitude of treatments along with real support. With mental illness in the west, one must get past the stigma and then find clinicians willing to do the work with their patients. And then there is the constant trial and error of medications. And do not get me started on our ass backwards health Insurance system here.
So I say enough. This tragedy so close to my home is simply so raw right now it makes my heart ache. These moms (or mum as you refer to in the UK) will travel a path of twists and turns no human should ever have to experience. But she will.
Right now the mornings are the toughest for her as she awakes, realizing this is her reality. That this is not a bad dream and the desire to hide under the covers so intense- all she wants is her bedroom to remain in darkness. That the simple task of showering, dressing and making decisions overwhelming. There will be the overload of advice and she will retain only bits and pieces. Strangers will tell her to eat and she will not. Passing the scene of the crime could be one of the many triggers that gives her chest pain.
And the tears will flow when she walks back into her home and smells her child’s presence. I know because I use to wrap myself up in my sons comforter.
But she is a mother. Her job never ends, even when her baby is not physically here. She is the warrior beyond warriors. She is beginning a journey of the unknown.
So from my broken heart to theirs I send a virtual hug. I send a message of hope that there are other mothers who will show up for you. Listen to you at 2 am. Never judge you and most of all let you know that you are never alone.
WHAT’S MY GRIEF?
Grief is the most uncontrollable emotion I have ever experienced. I am not afraid of doing the work to get me to a place where there is some peace in my life. I operate on the core belief that I must lose myself to find myself. However, this week I’ve learned more about the grief pit and how to climb out of it. My son would have turned twenty-five this past Tuesday, June 6th. The best way I can describe the events I’ve recently experienced is to share pieces of my journal entries:
June 5, 2017
Twenty-five years ago today I started the journey to birth my boy. The day after, he entered this world. The excitement of this life-changing event for me back then was immense. Now he is gone and I am still here.
So many grieving souls talk about searching for their new normal, but I do not believe there is a new normal. Instead, I believe there is simply a journey of living a life with meaning. This was my first thought when I awoke this morning.
Today all I feel is sadness and defeat. The air left in my lungs today is barely enough to breathe. For the last few days, I have been hoping that the mental exhaustion would pass, but it has not. During my therapy session yesterday, I realized that I struggle to remember the happy moments. I can visualize Jake during his lifetime but not much else unless I look through photos and then the moments appear. The events do not crawl easily into my brain space, and this frustrates me immensely.
TC (my therapist) reminded me that a mother will always want to take her child’s pain away, and I am still living this way. My son’s pain is gone. I have absorbed not only his pain but also my pain and the pain of living without him. I left her office not feeling better but validated and lifted that I can share my raw emotions with another soul.
I knew the day ahead could not be avoided, so I purchased a birthday card for Jake—something that was always a tradition for me. I went alone to the bookstore and with tears in my eyes found the perfect card. The words on the front cover could have been shared for anyone we love, but they spoke to me: “Forever, stay open, curious, fearless, transparent and be willing to be. Love being exactly who you are.”
I have evolved and yet my heart has holes that will never be sealed. Jake’s birthday card will never be delivered. When a decade or more has passed, who will want to read the cards and my words?
That night I wrote out Jake’s card and placed it next to a collage of his photos and his school artwork. I also went for a walk. Mother nature was not working in my favor—steady rain fell around me. I did not care. I put on a raincoat and walked with tears in my eyes. It was in these moments I knew my emotional voice was losing momentum.
The other day, a friend who is much further along in her loss shared with me that she treats her grief as an extension of herself to the point that it enlivens her and makes the anniversaries deeply powerful events. She believes she is sharing something bigger than herself.
Tuesday June 6, 2017
My worst day in a long time. We are entering day four of nonstop rain, and the lack of sunshine is only furthering my sadness. MRS (one of my closest friends) asked to speak with me early this morning, and I just could not bring myself to speak any words. All I could manage was a text to her that a mother’s pain never ends.
As the day goes on, people keep texting me asking how I am holding up. Honestly, all I want to do is scream. I am sinking further into my sadness and am spending time staring at the rain, thinking of all the birthdays Jake shared with Rob, whose birthday also falls on this day. I feel deep sadness for Rob (my husband) whose birthday is now forever changed. He doesn’t want a card, a cake, and certainly not a party. I understand totally, yet all this day does is bring me back to the twenty-two birthdays we had together with Jake. I wish for this day to end. My pit of sadness is indescribable.
By Wednesday, I truly believed I never would have started the climb out of my grief pit if I had not answered the phone from a well-meaning friend who, after hearing the pain in my voice, asked me what is the one thing I like to do. My answer was walking. So, even though it continued to rain, I walked the beach.
Wednesday June 7, 2017
I forced myself out of the house to walk in the wind and rain. On the beach, I stopped frequently to watch the ocean and the tides moving in and out. The ocean is my best connection to Jake as the sea is where we released his ashes. I feel connected to him in a way I cannot anywhere else. I kept walking, passing a cluster of sea turtle nests. My first thought was rebirth. The marine turtles will return to the same spot each year to lay their eggs and begin again. I too can begin again as well. I realize I am not stuck backwards but am slowly making my way forward. These days are milestones, and I am finding my way.
By Friday, I had shared my feelings with two other friends, both of whom have suffered other traumas—not like mine but both have the capacity to sit with my pain. I learned that having meaningful conversations with these people helps lift me out of my pit. Sharing my feelings with others is one of the most healing things I can do.
These anniversaries are moments to reflect—moments to accept the grief and not fight it. I learned nature saves me. I learned that fear is not rational and while the darkness of my loss is always present within me, I am doing the work to evolve. I am a work in progress. I like who I am becoming because I no longer hide my feelings in the shadows. I feel alive knowing my heart is shared and that I have the capacity to keep learning. Jake would be very proud of his mom!