Robin

This little robin has been at this window for weeks. He flies away only to return. He sees himself in the window and flies at it and hits himself in the chest/head. As I sit working in the room next door I hear the thumps as he repeatedly flies in to the window. He will fly away but always seems to return the same bush and the same window and the cycle continues.

As I thought about this bird my first thought was he wasn’t very bright. One would think he would eventually realize that the bird in the window was himself and he would stop flying in to the window. Myself and my cats have gotten a kick out of watching him fail repeatedly. I thought what a dumb little bird. He doesn’t realize how utterly stupid he is.

Then I thought that little bird is a lot like me. For the last 4 years I was doing the same thing every night. I was sad and depressed and wanted to escape my reality. I would drink wine to numb and forget my reality. I wasn’t really expecting different results I was just not wanting to have to face life and reality of living without one of my children. I would drink wine to escape and forget about life for awhile. I kept coming back to the same thing night after night. Just like the robin keeps coming back to my window.

I would come to the same conclusions over and over again. I must have done something wrong. I must have been a lousy mother. It was my fault. Over and over I would blame myself. Like the robin I kept coming back over and over again to try to catch the bird in the window. My thoughts kept returning and coming up with the same thoughts. I was in a cycle of beating myself up, feeling lousy and drinking wine to escape hoping to wake up to a new reality, or at the very least to escape from the reality I was in .

Then one day I discovered that I wanted to figure out how to live again. I wanted to stop the numbing and trying to escape. I slowly was coming out of the fog, and I wanted to learn how to see in color again. I found a life coach and learned to feel my feelings and process those feelings. I learned it’s ok to be sad and angry even. I learned that I am in control of what I think and my thoughts drive my actions. I learned to love myself and to stop the insanity of the nightly over drinking. With the help of some very brave women I am learning how to live again.

This morning as I sat hearing the thud, thud, thud of the little bird against the window I again thought how very much this little bird is like me. . I thought today that the little robin keeps failing again and again. Yet he comes back gets up spreads his wings and tries again. Just like I am learning to do.

What I am learning is it is ok to fail. It is an opportunity for growth. When I fail I have learned to evaluate and find the reason why I failed and to figure out what to do differently next time. I get to choose how I respond. I can either respond with self loathing and feeling crappy or I can respond with self love and tenderness and give myself the grace I so often extend to others, but not to myself. I have to learn to keep breathing and processing and trying again.

I have learned to listen for my little friend. I have learned to love him and I am rooting for him to keep on trying.

International Bereaved Mother’s Day

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Sunday May 2, 2021 is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. A day set aside for the all of the grieving mom’s out there. I had no idea this day existed until I became a bereaved mother. To all the bereaved mother’s out there I give you my admiration, my love, and my best wishes for a day that lets you honor and cherish the memories of your child(ren).

My thoughts on bereaved motherhood

  • You are still a mother. Your child may not live here on earth but you are still a mother. Count your child living in Heaven when you share the number of children you have
  • You are brave. Bereaved mom’s are some of the bravest women I know. It takes a lot of bravery to get out of bed and to continue to function. You know others are counting on you and you somehow find the strength and the courage to keep on moving forward.
  • You are strong. So often I hear “you are so strong” and often I don’t feel strong. The truth is none of us were given a choice. We have to keep moving forward for our families and those who are counting on us
  • You have a story to share. Keep your child’s memories alive. Don’t be afraid to talk about him/her. This is your day to cherish your memories and share their story.
  • You are amazing. You get up every day and you keep moving forward in the midst of heartache, pain and anguish.
  • You are beautiful
  • You are loved.

So cherish your memories, share your story. Celebrate you however you choose to this weekend. Some bereaved mother’s will pull out ultrasound pictures and the few photos and moments they have.to look at them. Some bereaved mother’s will go to the graveside of their child and take flowers. Some bereaved mother’s might go to the scene of the accident and put flowers on a cross. Some bereaved mother’s might be to raw and to new to do anything and that is perfectly ok. Each one of has our own unique journey. There is no blueprint for grieving. You choose what you can and can’t handle and when you are ready you will know what the right thing is.

I have never liked Mother’s Day. My own mother died when I was 10 and it’s always been a tough day for me. I gave up going to church on Mother’s Day. It was too much for me to sit and listen to all the mother stories and see all the mother’s and generations of families sharing the day together. Even as a mother I struggled with Mother’s Day. It was never a day I wanted to celebrate. And I learned over the years I wasn’t the only “motherless daughter” who felt that way. I eventually came to the realization that I as a mother I could choose to do what I wanted on that day. And when I became a bereaved mother and learned there was an International Bereaved Mother’s Day I learned that I have the choice to do what I want on that day as well. I get to choose how I remember my son and I get to choose what to do that day.

Whatever you decide to do this weekend. Celebrate you and remember your children. I wish you peace and happiness and above all love. Be kind. Be gentle, and be loving to yourself.

Nothing is the same

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When Mike died I became someone entirely different. I was no longer the same mom, friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend I was before. Believe it or not in some ways I am better than I was prior to Mike’s passing. You might not see it now but one day you will look back and realize you are not the same person you were before your child died. You will realize in some ways you are more aware and more tolerant and believe it or not a better you than you were before..

I now know that life can change in the 10 seconds it takes to answer a phone or open a door. I love a bit more deeply and forgive more freely. In my head I knew none of us was guaranteed tomorrow, but you never really KNOW it until you go through the unthinkable. I have also found I know what is important in life and I don’t get caught up in the bullshit of life. When coworkers and friends begin to complain about schedules, or politics, and stuff that I don’t consider important I walk away. In the past I might have gotten caught up in the gossip, and the complaints, and joined in. Now, I am more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt. When people are miserable or cranky and rude I am not so quick to judge or react. I am more likely to ask how I can help or what I can do. I have learned is everyone has a chapter in their book that they don’t read out loud.

I have found out what is important and I have found I need to make time for my family and my friends. No one has ever said “I should have spent more time in the office.” I have learned it is ok to say “no”. I have learned to prioritize and I have learned it is ok to focus on me and to take care of my needs. I learned that I was not indispensable and as important as I thought I was. My work could figure out and did figure out how to go on without me. I found out it was ok to take care of me, because I am not good to anyone else if I am burned out and fatigued.

It isn’t an automatic transition to this place. It takes awhile until you are ready to shift and change your thinking. I remember in the early years being with a family member who was sad (and rightly so) that her daughter was not coming home for Christmas. She had a fiancé and holidays would need to be divided between both families. As I was listening to her what I wanted to say was “Be happy at least your daughter is alive and you can talk to her any time you want.” Those feelings are normal and they are ok. Somedays you just can’t stop it. You hear the words popping out of your mouth. I personally think that is ok. It can lead to communication and honest heartfelt talks about your feelings, hopes, and thoughts. To bury our thoughts and hold it all in is detrimental to our mental and physical health.

The first time I laughed after Mike died I felt horrible. How could I laugh when my son was gone? But I have found it is ok to laugh. It is ok to have fun. It is ok to live. I love sharing Mike stories. He was a goofball. There are lots of great stories to tell about his short life. I still love hearing his stories from his friends. I really like the ones that start with “Mike said never to tell his mom this……………..” And I laugh and I cry at times and I can hear his laugh in their laughs and it makes me happy that he isn’t forgotten. Life can get easier and it can be good again.

I highly recommend keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Writing is very helpful and therapeutic. . If you aren’t a writer and the thought of writing long entries is too much. You can use bullet points and lists of feelings and thoughts you are having. There is something therapeutic about writing and getting the stuff our of your head and on to paper. But as you are writing I want you also to write 3 positive things that happened that day as well. In the beginning it might be that “I got up and got dressed today.” or “I remembered to eat before 5 pm.”. In the beginning I considered it a successful day if I remembered to change my underwear every day.

I am sending you all lots of love and hugs. Time doesn’t not heal all wounds. But you will learn to live and to laugh again. I wish peace for all of you.

Supporting a grieving parent

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I can’t tell you how many times I read “you are in my prayers call if you need anything.” The truth is I probably wrote those very words many times over the years. The truth is a grieving parent has no clue what they need let alone the energy to ask for it. So I created this list of ways you can support your loved one when they are grieving the lost of their child.

  • show up. Bring a bowl of soup or a pizza.
  • Stick around wipe down the kitchen or bathroom. Just don’t clean our child’s room or wash their clothes unless we ask you to.
  • Sit with us if we can’t talk.
  • Talk about our child. Let us know he/she isn’t forgotten.
  • Call and leave a message so we know you called if we just can’t answer the phone
  • text to check in and ask how we are doing.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about our child. We haven’t forgotten. You won’t be reminding us of anything.
  • If you never met our child ask about him/her. We love to talk about our children.
  • Send pictures or videos you may have of our child.
  • Invite us out for a walk or coffee. We might not accept, but we like to be asked.
  • Know there are 2 days a year that we need a break. No matter how many years have passed the anniversary of our child’s passing and their birthday will bring strong emotional reactions. Be kind and gentle. Send us a text, a card, a message, flowers. Let us know you haven’t forgotten. Ask how we are doing.
  • Know you can’t fix us. Simply love us as we are.

What to say:

  • I am sorry.
  • I care.
  • I am here for you.
  • Tell me about your child.
  • I don’t know how you feel but I am here and I care.
  • My favorite story about your child is………….
  • Nothing just sit with us.

What not to say:

  • Time heals all wounds.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • I know just how you feel (unless you too have lost a child).
  • God needed another angel.
  • You can have other children.
  • Be thankful you have other child(ren).
  • It will get easier
  • God doesn’t give us anymore than we can handle.
  • Let me know if you need anything.
  • You are so strong.
  • I don’t know how you do it.
  • I could never do it.
  • It’s time to put this behind you.

Loving someone who has lost a child might mean you have to change plans or accept there are sometimes we simply don’t have the energy to show up at family gatherings, or we may choose to leave early when a situation is overwhelming. If we say “I need to leave or I just can’t do it today.” Just accept us as we are. Don’t try to talk us in to anything. Give us a bit of space and time then call to say check in and let us know we were missed.

Know things like family weddings, funerals, Christmas gatherings, and baby showers will always be tough. It will bring up the emotions that we might not be able to handle. It doesn’t mean we aren’t happy for you or that we don’t love you. Know we care, but if our emotions are raw and tender we might need to arrive late or leave early.

Please don’t give up on us. Just love us and know we are doing the best we can.

Spring Holidays

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Whether you observe Easter, Passover, or any other tradition if this is your first one or your 31st one without your child(ren) the day(s) will be hard in many ways. You may be thinking how different or how hard the day will be. You may be joining family and friends for the day, or planning a quiet day at home. You might have visited your child’s final resting place and decorated with flowers. However you choose to honor and do the day is up to you. You get to decide how you think about the day.

You might be feeling sad, lonely, depressed or anxious. Perhaps you are feeling content, at ease, courageous, gentle. You might be angry, guilty, tearful, or heartbroken. Whatever you are feeling is it is ok. As you feel the feelings in your body. Breathe through them. Close your eyes and just feel. Know it is ok to have those feelings. We are human and as humans we have a wide range of feelings and all of them are ok. Once you’ve identified those feelings take a deep breath. Allow your body to process that feeling and decide how you want to think about the day. Your thoughts will drive your actions.

Whatever you choose to do today is fine. If you just can’t face family and friends and choose to stay home do it. If you want to get out and be with people do it. If you’ve never been to a family gathering without your child yet I highly suggest you give yourself an out. If you show up and it is too overwhelming you can choose to leave. You get to decide what and how you spend the day.

You might be feeling like everything is different now and you don’t like it. It is ok. You don’t have to like it. Reality is that our circumstances would change eventually anyway. If our children were still living on earth they would grow up. They might go off to college or on to a job/career where they have to work holidays. Perhaps they would meet someone and choose to start their own traditions or spend time with their partners’ family. Life is constantly changing and shifting. We don’t necessarily like it, but we have no choice. We don’t have to do everything the same as we did before. If your home is the house everyone gathered at to have family dinners and you don’t feel up to having the family over you don’t have to invite them. If you choose to go away somewhere on your own to remember, reflect, and grieve for your child that is ok.

I would encourage you to take good care of your body. Drink plenty of water. Rest when you need to and eat healthy nourishing foods. Go for a walk outside in the fresh air when you can and allow nature and the sun to warm your body and clear your mind. Above all be gentle and kind to yourself.

There might be tears and heartache. You might remember years gone by and smile, and yes, even laugh at the memories. It is ok to laugh. It is ok to feel happy or joyful even. It is ok to talk about your child or your children and share funny stories of years gone by. I love to talk about Mike and the funny things he said or did. His friends and my family love to hear Mike stories. It keeps his memory alive and brings me comfort. Your child lived and loved and is. So honor their memory by sharing their story in whatever way you choose. There is no right or wrong way. You get to decide what the day looks like and what you choose to share.

I wish you a day of peace, good memories, and lots of love.

I Know Just How You Feel

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Once the memorial service is over and all your family and friends return to their homes you will find yourself trying to figure out and understand this new life you were just thrown in to. You will read all the cards and notes and listen to the messages left for you. Some of them will bring you comfort and some of them will leave you feeling annoyed and even angry. You will hear comments from well meaning family friends and coworkers that will make you say “what is that supposed to mean?”

Things like:

  • They are in a better place
  • God needed another Angel
  • At least you still have your other child(ren)
  • I know just how you feel. My (grandma, grandpa, mother, father, cat, dog……..) died
  • There is no way I could survive the loss of one of my children
  • You can have other children
  • Stay strong for your other child(ren)
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Time heals all wounds
  • let me know if you need anything
  • I don’t know how you do it

Initially you will want to scream, yell, shout at them. “How can you say that?” But most people mean well. They just have no clue what to say to a grieving parent or how to say it. In reality I probably would have said the exact same things before Michael died. When they say they know how you feel they are trying to relate to you in any way they can. As the years go by it does become a bit easier to remember that and give them a measure of grace.

In the early days your job is just to survive. You take it one day, one moment, and sometimes one breath at a time. There is no timeline for grief. There is no roadmap or manual on how to grieve. No two parents will have the exact same journey. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Be kind and be gentle to yourself.

I found comfort in going to a support group. Years later I still go. I found a local chapter of the Compassionate Friends and as tough as it was walking in to a group alone, once there I found people who understood my journey and my pain. We all had one thing in common. We had children who had died. We share our stories, we share our journeys and it is amazing to be with people who just get you and understand. I would encourage you to seek out a support group for grieving parents. There are in person and on line groups. I find it comforting to hear how other parents survive. I have adopted some of their ideas in my own journey. I love that on days when I’m struggling I can text, message, or call one of them and they will understand and offer me a bit of time to talk and a bit of hope that I will survive.

Time does not heal all wounds. “You don’t get over it” but somehow you get through it. The days turn in to weeks, months and then years. As time goes by it gets “softer”. You do learn to laugh again and smile at the memories. Yes, you will always have what I call “Michael days” when life is overwhelming to you. You will hear a song on the radio. You will see a text or a read a post on Facebook that throws you in to a panic. Be gentle to yourself. On those days give yourself space and time. Learn to show yourself grace and love. If you need time alone, take it. If you can’t stand being by yourself and just feel the need to be with someone call a trusted friend and go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee. And above all remember you are not going crazy. You are grieving.

I

Choosing to live

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November 27 is the anniversary of my son’s passing. As the day gets closer on the calendar my anxiety level gets higher and higher. November 2020 was a long exhausting month. I was dreading the day. No one quite gets the dread you feel as the day gets closer and closer unless they’ve been there.

I was thinking and obsessing over what I would do. I wanted to go away somewhere to grieve, mourn, think, and celebrate Mike’s life. My sisters were going to join me, but life happens and they weren’t able to come. I made a reservation to go to Saint Michael’s in Maryland to stay for 5 days. My hope was to walk along the water, drink wine, and just escape my reality for a couple of days. Well, COVID cases were rising and travel was discouraged and I made the decision to cancel my time away.

As Thanksgiving drew closer I dreaded the day. I was invited to go to Thanksgiving dinner, but had no desire to sit around a table and talk about what I was thankful for when in reality there was not much I was thankful for. I hated the whole month. Reading on social media what everyone is thankful for, reading COVID related posts and arguments, political debates with the election which still wasn’t resolved all had me anxious and depressed. I took a couple of days off from work. I couldn’t concentrate, but I couldn’t stand being alone either. It was a very dark time. One I was filling in with wine and feeling sorry for myself.

On Sunday November 29 I stumbled across a Wine Free Work Week Challenge from Angela Mascenik on Facebook. I signed up for it. On Monday November 30 I tuned in to her day 1 of the challenge. My first comment I wrote was “I have no idea why I am here. Tomorrow is my son’s birthday who died in 2016. I don’t think I can get through the day without wine.” Angela commented “you are in the perfect place………”

An idea formed in my mind. I spent Mike’s birthday walking with a friend of his at a local park. I had lunch with my other son. My sisters arranged for dinner from one of Mike’s favorite places with his favorite meal. (BBQ ribs). I went to a local grocery store and paid for a birthday cake anonymously. It turns out the recipient was a 12 year old boy whose family had covid and they were quarantined at home. The gesture eventually made it on to Facebook and later into USA Today. It was the first December 1 I spent sober in 5 years.

That weekend I joined Angela’s 6 month group coaching program Stop Overdrinking and Start living. With her help, weekly coaching, and the support of the group I am learning to process my feelings, change my thoughts, and love myself. I have decided I no longer want to just exist and drink wine to numb my feelings. I am determined to learn to live again. I have learned I have a passion and a desire to help other grieving parents.

The idea to start a blog to share my journey with the world was born. In this blog I hope to reach other grieving mothers and give them some hope and some inspiration that life can go on. It is possible to live and love again following devastating loss. If you are reading as a newly bereaved parent, a long time survivor of loss, or the loved one of someone who has lost a child, my hope is you will learn how to begin to live after suffering child loss or how to support someone who has gone through child loss. Finding hope…………

My Story

My son, Mike, passed away unexpectedly on November 27, 2016. Four days before his 24th birthday. He went to sleep and never woke up again. I was immediately thrown into every parent’s worse nightmare. Life for me changed in the instant it took to answer my phone.

For 4 years I drank wine nearly every day to numb and forget the reality of my life without one of my children. What I found was grief doesn’t go away with a bottle of wine. It hides behind the door and waits for you to sober up. Then it jumps out at you to say “I am still here.” I was alive but I wasn’t truly living.

I decided to make 2021 be the year that I learn how to live and not just exist. I decided that I wanted to stop drinking wine and alcohol just to escape. I wanted to figure out how to learn to live again. This is my story.

I have a desire and a passion to help other mother’s learn to live without one of their children. I want to help them learn to live a vibrant healthy life without using alcohol as a means to escape reality. I want to help them heal their broken hearts and choose to live in a way that honors their children’s memories.