Forget me not…

Recently I have been struggling with letting go of the past.  It seems to haunt me like a bad dream.  I repeat all of the mantras that I’ve read about living in the now, and I do stop and take time to do short meditations to try to center myself in the present.  But it just keeps creeping back in.  All of my yesterdays- and the frustrations of not being able to change them.

One dilemma that I’ve noticed with this letting-go-of-the-past thing is that as we live each moment, some of what we did or that happened in the past is bound to be apparent in what happens today.

For example, as I look around my house and see all of the things that are not done as we had planned-  the second floor bathroom that never got put in, the kitchen cabinets that desperately need replacing, the huge unfinished basement that was supposed to be a great family room but the kids are now grown- all these things are glaring reminders of that past that I am supposed to be “putting behind me” so that I can live today and be happy, you know, not live in the past.

If we had not been overwhelmed by grief and the subsequent chain of events that came in its wake, then at least some of those things would have gotten done.  So they are constant reminders of a past gone awry.

It is hard when I look at my 2 kids and think about how they have been affected by growing up in a home filled with grief and pain.  I can’t turn my mind away from the reality that it has had an impact on who they are and how they view life. Each of them was effected differently I know.

We did have good times- fun and happy things too but I must be honest and say that the struggles to grow through life in those years following my daughter’s birth and death were very, very hard and in that, asked a price of my other children that I will forever regret.

Now, I can step back and look at that rationally and say that doesn’t make sense, life happens, life is not fair, I did the best I could, blah blah blah-  I know that is all true.  I really did do the best I could.  I worked very hard to give them the best, most normal, loving life that I could.  I was always honest with them about what was going on- I never hid anything from them and our family is close.  I know that there are lots of things that influence who they are, not just this particular thing.  And I know that emotions aren’t rational. That’s part of our human struggle.

I also know that there are positive things that they have gotten from this as well.  They have learned that life is not perfect.  They have learned that there is great joy and great sorrow.  They have seen their parents struggle through difficult emotional times and stick it out and work through their problems and still want to be together, that love can abide.   They’ve seen persistence, strength, endurance, commitment, faith, loyalty and trust.

I believe they have learned good things.  Things that will serve them well as they move forward in their lives.  Of course, it’s hard to know what they really think and what they will tell their kids about their childhoods.  I know that I definitely never promised them perfection.  Thank goodness!

I know that as my days go forward, I will continue to breathe and meditate and try to focus on the moment I’m in.  I will look  for the positive results of my past and try to heed my own advice on all the rest- forgive yourself, be gentle and kind to yourself, accept that you did the best you could and that you are only human, think about all of the good things that you’ve done and don’t be so hard on yourself.  Sounds good.

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Count your blessings…

I read something today which bothered me a little.  It talked about getting over losing your child by starting to look at the good things in your life. You know, “attitude of gratitude”, “think positive thoughts and you’ll feel better”, that kind of thing.  Well…I have a thought or two on that as I’m sure a few others out there would.  My first one being, yeah, right- it’s not quite that simple.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I truly do believe in all of that and I do practice it regularly.  I try to catch myself as often as I can when I am thinking negative things and change my thoughts around.  I read a lot of books on the subject of positive thinking and the Law of Attraction and tips and tricks on how to get my mind in the best possible place.  Let me tell you, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t do those things.

I have a notebook filled with positive quotes and inspirational sayings that I refer to regularly.  I have beautiful pictures, photos of my family, funny cards, cute doggy pictures, drawings my kids have made me over they years- all kinds of stuff hanging around my office to look at to boost me up when I need it.  And of course there’s music, although I realized that I haven’t been listening to it as much as I should- something I am changing.  Music was always a big part of my life in the past so I really want to get that back in.

Anyway,  the person who wrote this talked about counting a bunch of things you can be grateful for when you start to feel bad about your lost child.  Now she did say that moving on from this loss would be a slow process- could require you to take small steps.  But I can tell you that when I am remembering my little baby girl and feeling sad that I don’t get to talk to her about what she’s thinking about doing when she gets out of college or my heart just fell into my stomach because someone unknowingly just said to me for the umpteenth time, “You’re so lucky you don’t have a daughter. Girls are so much harder than boys” and I’m thinking okay mouth, don’t say it- “Really?? Well, you know I would have really loved to have had the chance to find out but…”

I know that the point this person was trying to make was overall a good one.  The circumstances, to me, just were a tad off.  The thing is, I don’t see the two things as mutually exclusive.  I am lucky that I am far enough along in my grief experience that I can separate my losses from other things and still see all that I have to be grateful for.  I think about them every day. I even think that when you’ve experienced loss it can make you more thankful for simple everyday things.  I just don’t see that as a way to deal with not having the daughter that was given to me then taken away.  I could come up with a list of things I’m grateful for and it still wouldn’t make up for that.

It  reminds me of a post from a fellow blogger that I read a while ago about a loss being a gift as you learn so much from it.  When people call it a gift, it sounds like something you’d really want. Well, yes, I can’t deny that I have learned a tremendous amount from these gifts that I have received.  We talked about it some and the conclusion of it all though was – these are gifts we would give back in a heartbeat.

I Would Gladly Trade My Lessons   (Namaste Consulting)

Optimism

Our boys were sitting around with us this weekend and somehow the conversation turned to the idea of “optimism”.  This is actually a difficult concept for young adults today with the constant negativity and distrust that surrounds them in the world they are to command.  Of course every generation has its struggles and disagreements with what has come before but I look at kids now and think how they are bombarded constantly with messages of how terrible everything is in the world.

We are blessed with incredible technology that allows us to do so much but now we can also know about every single horrible thing that is or could happen anywhere, anytime.  I wonder how it must feel to be excited about a future where you are constantly told you don’t look good enough, you don’t have enough stuff, you are not good enough, you can’t trust anybody, and the next Apocalypse can come at any second.  We really need to think about the messages we are sending out there…

But back to optimism.  They have their opinions of course and they tease me about my view about people being good and about how you may as well expect the best thing to happen in a situation because otherwise, you’ll just feel bad and upset all the time and it won’t help anything.  Or there’s the “make the best of whatever happens”, “don’t get upset over little things” and those kind of ideas too. They make fun of all my “touchy feely” books I read- I’m not “realistic”.  They are so young.

Random House defines optimism as:

1. a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
2. the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.
3. the belief that goodness pervades reality.
4. the doctrine that the existing world is the best of all possible worlds.

Synonyms
1.  confidence, hopefulness, cheerfulness.
Antonyms
1, 2.  pessimism, cynicism.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.

It has struck me that I guess I am basically an optimist.  After all of the sadness and pain, the struggles through grief, and coping with life’s ups and downs on top of that, I somehow have come out standing up to that definition and still, mostly, working from a positive mode.

Don’t get me wrong- I am not jumping out of bed every morning feeling like a million bucks, accomplishing every goal I set out for myself.  I carry my scars and have to deal with the fact that things have not gone as I would have hoped.  Obviously.  I definitely have my bad days and say my share of “pessimistic” and “cynical” things I’m sure.  But I know that I could not have made it this far if I did not believe that “good ultimately predominates”.  I know that even in my darkest moments, I would think of my other 2 children and know how important it was for me to be here for them.  That is “goodness pervading reality”.

When my father died, I remember how excruciatingly painful that was and also thinking after all the ceremonies were over, how this was only the first of probably many times that I would experience this in my life.   And when my daughter died, it was the most awful thing I ever felt in my life, something words can’t describe.   But I also remember making a decision that I would go on and somehow survive; somehow make  the best of the life I have- it was the only choice to make.  Somehow, there was hopefulness.

So in the midst of vicious heartache, mind-numbing sadness, rote day-to-day activities and all the rest that grief brings, there is still the possibility for optimism.  It may be deeply hidden right now or starting to shine through and you don’t see it.  It’s not about running around laughing and “turning frowns upside down”.  It’s about finding the good where it is right at the moment you’re in, if that’s as far as you can go. The rest will come.

“How many kids do you have?”

Such an innocent question- something we say all the time when we meet someone new or run into an old friend who we haven’t seen for years.  It just flies off the tongue like, “How you doin’?”  And it’s perfectly acceptable.  We all want to know things like that.  It’s just that when you’ve lost a child, questions like that become a dreaded 800 pound gorilla waving at you whenever you approach someone who may not know your “situation”.

I was reminded of this point after reading a post by a fellow blogger today.  This had to be one of the most difficult things I had to deal with after losing my daughter.  What do you say to someone when they ask you that? Is it 3? 2?  If I say 2, I feel like I’m dishonoring my child and it hurts to discount her.  If I say 3 then I have to explain and I don’t want pity or to make things awkward.

This is what actually goes on when you ask me the simple question “How many kids do you have?”  If you are someone that I feel really comfortable with or I am feeling particularly confident, I might say, and this is rare as it is just easier to avoid it altogether in the casual meeting, “I had 3 – we had a daughter but she died shortly after birth and we have 2 sons who are 23 and 19.” But it usually doesn’t end there.

Usually what happens is that while I am saying “I have 2 boys who are 23 and 19”, inside my head and heart I am screaming “I also have a daughter and I want to tell you that but I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, I just need you to know that she existed and will always be my child just like my other children.  It doesn’t matter that it was 20 years ago, she is still a part of me.  I feel her every day and I think about her and wonder what she would be like and miss all those things that kids do as they grow up.  I want to be able to talk about her like I talk about my other kids and not feel like it will make you uncomfortable.”

It is amazing to me that even after all these years, this thing can still catch in my throat.  In a weird way, I see it as positive.  It shows that my daughter is still alive in me, that nothing has changed that, as I always believed it never could.    It is definitely a part of kind of grief that is different from any other and I think that I have become more comfortable with handling it.  I have my standard answers pretty well in place.  I guess it just settles in after awhile.

I hope that if you have lost a child, you are able to develop some responses of your own that will make it easier for you to get through those “gorilla” moments.

How 1% Can Matter

So today is Valentine’s Day.  The day for celebrating the ones you love.  Needless to say, if you are grieving the loss of a precious loved one, especially a spouse or partner, this day is probably extra painful.  All the hearts everywhere and constant bombardment of ads reminding us to remember our loved ones today with some special gift really helps.

One thing that really struck me after I had my daughter was how incredibly different the significance of certain things can be depending on the circumstances you’re in.  For example, I never even used to notice the kids’ clothing section all that much in the department stores but after I had Jenna it was hard for me to walk through Sears without having all of those bright pink little girls’ clothes screaming out at me, tearing at my heart and reminding me of what I had lost.  Today I can make it through pretty much unscathed.

A much more significant example though occurred when I became pregnant with my son Dylan, 4 months after Jenna was born and died.  As I learned that I had a Chromosome translocation which caused Jenna to have Trisomy 13, we knew that there was a high risk of any other pregnancies having the same thing.  We knew we wanted to have prenatal testing and had the option of Amniocentesis or a newer procedure called CVS.  Not to bore you with the details, the difference was that CVS could be performed much earlier but there was a 1% risk of miscarriage vs. .5% with Amniocentesis.  Now we’re talking a .5% difference.  We’re also talking a 1 in 100 chance of anything happening at all.

I can’t tell you how much I agonized over that decision.  The social worker at the hospital should have won an award for how wonderful she was working with me.  She was so patient, understanding, supportive- she answered every question.  I felt at times so ridiculous making such a fuss over that 1% chance but having just lost our daughter- what if the baby was fine and we lost it because of the procedure?

Anyway, I think you get my point that in that instance, a 1% possibility seemed like an enormous risk to take.  It felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders during the days that I had to make that decision.  In hindsight, I think that if you told me I had a 1% chance of winning the lottery, I’d say those were terrible odds.  I wouldn’t waste my time.  That experience really opened my eyes to how relative everything is.

So on Valentine’s Day, if you’re happy and in love, you can’t wait to share candy and flowers, maybe a special dinner or maybe just a quiet evening with a beer, who knows.  If you’ve lost someone dear, you may wish that cupid would fall out of the sky and that Russell Stovers would go belly up.  That’s ok too.  Now I know that we can’t expect the rest of the world to stop celebrating everything because someone will find it difficult.  It’s just one of those many days that you just have to take a lot of deep breaths, allow yourself to feel whatever you feel and focus on doing something good for yourself.

Doing What Needs to Be Done

Today I finally went for a walk.  This is something I have been telling myself I was going to do every day for I don’t want to tell you how long.  I used to walk all the time.  It was my preferred mode of exercise and I loved getting out and getting a chance to clear my head and just breathe.

Somehow I got out of the habit and it became a chore.  I used to look forward to it; now it was just one more thing to do.  It’s funny how something that is so enjoyable and freeing one minute can feel so heavy and demanding the next.

If you are grieving, you probably know how that feels.  Even simple things can seem like complicated tasks.  Small problems become huge mountains.  As life keeps moving on all around you, you just want everything and everybody to slow down and give you a break.  Finding ways to keep up while keeping sane may feel almost impossible.  I know there were times I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t losing my mind, running from home to job to kid stuff to other family things to home etc.

As hard as it may be to do, it’s critical that you allow yourself whatever time you need to get done what has to get done and let go of the rest.  The key is, you really have to be the one to be willing to let things go.  Maybe the house isn’t so clean or the lawn isn’t perfect or you don’t get to the gym as often or…. you fill it in.  I’m not talking about just not adding things to your “to do” list now but about taking stuff off the one you already have.  Ask for help, get off of committees, say no- all those things everyone always says to do but no one ever does.  If there was ever a time to do them, it’s now.

And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about in the first few months after you have lost someone.  That will probably happen naturally as you’re too upset or exhausted and people don’t really expect otherwise.  You need to continue to give yourself that “break” long after so you have the time and space you will need for your grief as time moves on.  You may be surprised at how quickly people will start expecting you to be back at it and you will need to set your own boundaries about what you will and won’t do.  Grieving takes a good amount of physical and emotional energy no matter how strong you are.  Give yourself the gift of time to make it a bit easier.  Remember, this is your life and your loss- you get to decide how you will handle it.

Looking “Out There”…

As I am sitting here drinking my morning tea, I am distracted by this show on the TV, the Nate Berkus Show.  It’s one of those morning shows where the host shows you how to decorate your home, cook the perfect meal, dress in style, do charitable works- the typical American morning show.

I don’t usually watch these things.  It’s on because my son, who of course has left the room, put the TV on and it landed on this channel.  I just haven’t bothered to turn it off.  Although I do find some parts interesting, especially the cooking, I am usually reminded by how obsessed we can get with “things”; how we are constantly looking for something “out there” that will make our lives better, more beautiful, happier because what we have already is not enough.  And how sad that is as any of us who has lost someone dear knows.

How many times do people look back after someone dies and wish they had spent less time working and more time talking and laughing with him or her?  And all the fretting and stress we cause ourselves about not being able to provide all these “things” for our loved ones, feeling like we are not striving hard enough or don’t care enough if we don’t.

In my worst of times, I have had to take time off from working so our income has been diminished and our home has been in disrepair. I allowed myself to fall victim to this sense of embarrassment, not wanting to let people see us not at our best, lest they think poorly of me.  I know all of the clichés that my true friends wouldn’t care but…I would not have thought that I would have let myself give in to this.  But grief attacks your self-confidence and can make you behave in ways you would not have thought possible.  At the very time I needed to invite people in, I shut people out.  In this case, due to my physical surroundings and succumbing to the societal pressures around me.

So forget the clichés and take it from the heart that people who love you don’t care if your house is a mess- they will help you clean it.  They don’t care if you look like a model- they will take you for a haircut.  They don’t care if you cook them dinner- they will cook for you.  Don’t be distracted by what you see on TV or in the magazines about who you are supposed to be.  Just be.

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