Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Grief is My Badge

Grief. It's a big word. Enormous. It has enormous meaning and brings with it depth of emotion you never knew existed. We're taught to contain it (as if we could). We're told to keep it inside....to hide the emotions that come with it. Grief makes others uncomfortable. Grief is awkward. It's messy. It's not normal.
Except it is. For many of us....grief becomes our normal. It's a constant companion. It's the weight on our shoulders, the heaviness in our chest, the weariness in our eyes and the hollow in our heart. We learn how to carry it, to carry on.....in spite of the grief.  But no matter how adept we become at carrying that pain with us and wearing the mask of actual normalcy in public so as not to upset "the others" or make them cringe at hearing about our losses grief is always there.....just under the surface. Swirling slowly like a funnel cloud....twisting and churning......growing in strength until that moment you least expect it and suddenly- control is lost. The F5 cuts its path through your seemingly tidy life and upsets everything in it's way. You're left to survey the damage, pick up the pieces and wonder if you'll be able to put your life back together.....again.....for the millionth time.
There's another side to grief. To this luggage I carry. To the pain I walk hand in hand with every step of every moment of every day. There's a sense of security. There's a feeling of ...... honor. It's a badge.
There was a time when I prayed the grief would end. That I'd wake up just once and not feel the pain and emptiness that comes from the loss of them. That there'd be a finish line to this journey of constant sorrow. Somewhere along the way....I changed my mind.
I don't want the grief to end. I welcome it's presence in my life because as unpredictable and painful as it may be (is) the grief....the pain.....means they lived. They existed. No matter how briefly. For a moment----they WERE. I was (am) their mother. Dear God how I welcome and revel in that knowledge. They WERE. The grief means that I remember. An end to the hollow place in my soul.....a stop to the tears......would mean I've forgotten their tiny, perfect, beautiful faces. That I can no longer close my eyes and breathe in the memory of their scent. The end to the emptiness means I no longer feel their tiny bodies in my arms as I clutched them to me wishing.....BEGGING to be able to love them awake. Oh how I never want to forget.
And so.....I carry this grief. Willingly. Openly. Proudly. I wear it. And I will keep wearing it as long a there is breath in my lungs. I will wear with honor. Honored to have been chosen to be their mother. Honored to remember every moment they were with me. Honored to still feel the inexplicable mix of soul shattering pain and overwhelming joy in the moments they were born. Honored that even now......ten years later......an entire decade of missed memories and milestones.....even now- they are my daugters. Grief is my badge.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Permission to Miss Them

The time is coming....again....too quickly. I looked at the date on my computer and noticed, of course...it's the 20th. **sigh** So, I counted. Not that I had to. I never have to. We just don't....
Parents who have had to say their absolute final farewells to their children never have to count. We always know. We know how long it's been since and how long until the next milestone/anniversary. We just know. 
Eight weeks. Exactly. Eight weeks from today will mark a decade. It will mark ten years since the very last time I felt my daughters move within my ever expanding abdomen. Ten years since I walked into a doctor's office and heard those words that have echoed in my ears so many times since....." I'm so sorry." A decade without them. Eight weeks. Five days after that I will mark the ten year mark for the day I delivered my daughters. So incredibly tiny, perfect and beautiful....and silent. How is it possible? Have I really survived ten years since that day? Ten years ago I wasn't sure I would survive the moment, the next day, the week.....and yet-I have. 
Sunday was father's day....and I read and smiled at so many posts and comments about fathers both living and no longer with us. And it struck me as it often does that while we (the loss community) have made incredible strides in raising awareness and helping some to understand just what our loss entails-we still have major mountains to move. 
How many postings did you see expressing love and longing for fathers long passed? People who genuinely wish they had more time with their father to create just one more memory, give one more hug, express one last I love you. Many I am sure and you likely expressed your loving thoughts to them on such a difficult day to be without their father. You held out some supportive comment on how lucky they were to have had time with their father and how you're certain daddy is watching over them and proud, etc. And not once did you (no matter how much time has passed since their loss) question their state of mind, their sanity, their ability to function in life or suggest they seek help, stop living in the past or move on because sweet Lord this "hanging on" just isn't healthy or normal. (I loathe that word almost as much as the other n word, BTW). 
And yet.....here I sit....almost ten years after giving birth to two children whose every moment I had planned in my head. Two little girls whose siblings had already determined who would wear which color and what their likes/dislikes and personalities would be. Two little girls who I instead held against me, lifeless as I drank in every detail of their appearance, inhaled their scent and kissed their little faces and fingers over and over wishing desperately to awake from this nightmare. Two little girls whose siblings have grown/aged and become ten years older without them. Two little girls who instead of having toys shoved under couches and clothes strewn around the house have two tiny urns on a shelf. 
Ten years of pain and daily grief that I am not supposed to talk about. It's not normal. It just isn't healthy to relive it. It's funny.....there was a time ten years ago when I couldn't get through a thought of them without losing any semblance of emotional strength or control. I cried. Daily. I sobbed every night. And I prayed often to join them because the pain of living without them outweighed every single other emotion/feeling I possessed. But now...a decade later....I am able to smile. To think of them and remember how amazing it felt when they would toss and turn and kick inside of me. To revel in the joy of those weekly appointments when I could listen to the music of their heartbeats and stare in awe at their growing bodies and beautiful faces on the ultrasound machine. If I close my eyes I can see them. I can feel them. And I can still smell the scent of their bodies as I clung to them. 
But...it never fails....people don't see my loss as a true/real loss. When I talk about my daughters I get messages. People are concerned for my well being. They question my state of mind and whether or not I need to seek help. Should I maybe consider medicating to level out my emotional state? Is it really healthy for my OTHER children (who I really should be thankful for) to see me "this way" ALL the time?? **sigh**
Would you ask your best friend whose father died 30 years ago if she needs help because she STILL misses him? No. Of course you wouldn't. Because their is absolutely nothing abnormal/wrong/unhealthy with the fact that someone misses their father once they are gone from this life. Guess what? There is EQUALLY nothing abnormal/wrong/unhealthy with my STILL missing my CHILDREN who DIED. Why can we not seem to balance those two situations in our minds? 
So....please consider this a REALLY long disclaimer for the posts that will no doubt start popping up on my social media. Because I miss them. Every moment of every second of every hour of every single day. I think of them all the time. And in eight weeks I will be marking a very big passage of time that has been spent missing them. But it doesn't mean I am unhealthy. It doesn't mean I am depressed, suicidal or holding onto the past. It simply means....I miss my children. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Finish Line

Life moves so quickly....sometimes too much so. There's always some deadline, some time limit or some destination we simply MUST beat/make/arrive at in the least amount of time possible. We talk all the time about slowing down, taking a break, enjoying the moment........we just don't seem to actually do any of those things.
I, however.....am about to slow down, take a break and absolutely savor the moment that is kicking in my front door with urgency. It's almost here. Time is almost up. The finish line is right there....almost.....almost.
There were times when I worried if this moment would ever come. Would we make it there together? Would we be a team, crossing that end point in unity or would I be chasing behind them, trying to get them across the finish and into their next race? Would the journey to this destination be smooth, would it be bumpy, would it be nearly impassible? Would our path be blocked or would we see our way clear to the end? I worried. I prayed. I hoped. I imagined. And now......
We've made it. We're there. Together. Unified. Whole. We did it....the road was bumpy at times but it was unencumbered by the evil of the past. We've made it......and for the first time in a decade I feel as if I am almost able to breathe.
When that man walked into that school all those years ago disappearing with my children the very breath left my lungs. The sound of my heart pounding in my throat was deafening. The fear that I might never find them....never see them again.....well....
It took two years. Two years filled with so much pain, confusion,frustration, anger, desperation....and just about every other emotion there is. Two years of having the gears of the legal system grind painfully slow and having courtroom doors slammed in my face. Two years. He stole two years of my life....their lives....OUR life together. But there was a destination even then. And we reached that one. They came home. We made it. The journey was incredibly rocky with obstacles at every turn. The finish wasn't pretty. It was traumatic. But we made it.
We drove away from that apartment, that life, the lies, the coercion, the mental/emotional abuse (and borderline physical) and embarked on a new journey. There wasn't a map for this one. This was all going to be unexplored territory. And my children were scared. They were confused. And I was terrified. Terrified they'd run. Terrified he'd track us down and take them again. Terrified they might never love me again or think of me as their mother.
But guess what? We made it.
There have been ups, downs and in betweens along this leg of the trip. It's been almost a decade. Ten years. Ten years since they left that life. Ten years since they said goodbye to him without knowing it would be the very last time they would see him. Ten years since we started the job of moving forward. I have spent ten years watching with awe as my children have learned, loved, lost.....as they've fallen and pulled themselves back up.....as they went from scared, confused, untrusting little girls with huge chips on their shoulders to confident, loving, compassionate young women with hope, dreams and goals for the future and the drive to get there. I have been blessed to be a participant in all of it. Not a spectator. And here we are....together.....days away from walking across the finish line together. The three of us.
The relief is overwhelming. The knowledge that I no longer have to worry "What if he ....." is empowering. I can't lie-I still feel myself tensing just a bit anytime I see a license plate from Ohio, My subconscious still wonders....could it be him? Has he come to get them? But now-it passes almost as soon as it arrives. Because we've made it. We made it. Together. Unified. Whole.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Purge

Cidney is 18 years old now. She's grown. How did that happen? WHEN did that happen? My two little girls, my oldest daughters - both now adult women. I know this. And yet as with most mothers I try to hang onto small pieces and parts of the little girls I used to know. Favorite books, sloppy drawings, jibberish scribbled on slips of paper.........tiny scraps of when they were so small and relied on me to love, nurture, teach and protect them. They are grown now and while I will always love, nurture and hopefully teach them whenever possible they no longer need or rely on me to protect them. And so........it's time to let go.
I emptied a section of my filing cabinet. It was there in the bottom drawer, tucked away in the back.....just in case. It has been there for over a decade now......just in case. Just in case......in case I needed to prove once again what really happened, what was really said, what was really done. Just in case.....in case "he" decided to show up, unannounced and try it again. Just in case......
To anyone else it looked like random papers, old shipping labels, used up agendas, piles of old emails and file folders. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Typical things we shove in a drawer and forget about. Except I never forgot. I couldn't. The random papers and used up agendas were special. The emails and file folders were extraordinary. Even if for all the wrong reasons.
But it is time to let go........
Out they all came. Every email. Every paper. Every file. Every agenda. And into the shredder. Two years of searching for my daughters, being denied access to them, accounts of their lives with their kidnapper and his accomplices, ignored orders from the courts, countless contempt charges, statements from neighbors and teachers. There were depositions, continuance notices....so many continuance notices. And emails. Tons of emails. Emails from an often distraught and desperate mother begging for help to rescue her daughters. Emails from attorneys making false allegations and excuses for their client. Emails filled with hatred, anger, lies and disgusting things being slung from the accused. And I let them all go......
We did it. We made it. We survived. And they are grown now. I did my job. I rescued them. I brought them home and loved---oh how I loved those fragile, broken girls. I nurtured them. I taught them that they were innocent and that it was still ok to love him, to miss him, to remember him in happier times. And I protected them. From every word in that drawer. Every lie. Every accusation. And they made it. And they are grown. Amazing......beautiful....brilliant and incredible grown women. So now...now I can let go.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Year of The Decades

It's funny what you reflect on sometimes. Even funnier when you are struck with something in the midst of that reflection. These little "epiphanies" make us smile, laugh, cry....bring us joy, make us wistful...and somtimes- they can suck the breath right from our lungs.
As I sit here reflecting on my "big" birthday coming later this year and imagining how it will feel to turn another decade older.....I am suddenly struck by all the other decades that are being marked this year.
You see, I'll be 50 in October. Five decades. Half a century. I've walked this planet (well, existed on it anyway) for almost 50 years. I look back through those decades and remember just how much things, times, people and myself have changed. How far I've come and how far I still have to go. I think about the milestones in those five decades and can't help but acknowledge them.
40- four decades. Four decades ago my baby brother was born. He just celebrated his 40th birthday in Vegas. Forty years and yet I can still remember the day he was born quite clearly. Waking up to bath towels on the kitchen floor and my Aunt Denise getting me off to school. Sitting in Miss Chiles' third grade classroom watching the clock and waiting for "the call" and being shocked (and confused) at how nice she was to me that day. Miss Chiles was NEVER nice to me.
30-three decades. In July three decades will have passed since I found out there was a tiny little person growing inside of me. It seems like yesterday that I sat there, crying and terrifed at the news and unable to register a single thing the nurse on the other end of the phone said to me once she uttered that word. Three decades of the scariest, most joyous roller coaster ride a person could ever take.
20-two decades. My daughter....my very first baby girl will turn two decades old in May. How? How can this even be real? Wasn't it just last week that she was playing with her dolls and wearing those adorably uneven pigtails? Now she is all grown up into a beautiful mother. Where did those decades go?
And then......the breath sucker. That proverbial punch in the stomach. 10.
Ten years.
Ten years ago I sat at my desk thinking something just felt off. Ten years ago I went home from work and peed on a stick. And saw the lines. Positive. Three weeks later I stared at a screen in disbelief at not one but two tiny little people nestled in my womb. I spent the next months fluctuating between ridiculous JOY as I imagined, planned for and (im)patiently waited to meet my baby girls and sheer TERROR at the prospect of having not one but four children aged 3 and under to care for AT THE SAME TIME as well as an eight and ten year old and two newly graduated college kids. And then.....
Ten years ago I walked into a doctor's office and watched that screen, searching for some sign of life no matter how small. There were no signs. No life. Just instant, overwhelming, raw grief and an excruciating and soul shattering agony. In August- a decade will have passed since the last time my daughters took a breath. A decade of missed milestones in the midst of so many others being marked and remembered.
Yes, the breathing will be labored this year.....this year of the decades.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The number nine

Today was incredibly hard for me. Much harder than the last couple have been. And, I fear-not nearly as difficult as next year will be. I can't fathom marking a decade without my babies. It just doesn't seem .....real/fair/natural/normal. How can it be? How can it be nine years now? How can it be that nine years have passed since I touched them? Since I got to kiss those tiny, beautiful and oh so perfect faces? Has it really been nine years since I tenderly wiped the blood dripping from Zoe's nose with hands that would not stop shaking? Was it really nine years ago that I clung to their tiny bodies as the chaplain baptised them and formally "gave them to God"? Gave them to God.....ironic, don't you think? Because He already had them. They were already gone.

Today was dark although no one else noticed. It was 90 degrees. The sky was a brilliant blue. The sun was wickedly and brutally intense. And I didn't notice any of it. Not really.
I didn't fall asleep until well after 3am. And I slept until almost 10am. I had purposefully finished all the laundry and other household chores on Thursday and Friday because I knew......I didn't want to feel obligated to do anything if I wasn't able to. And I wasn't. I wasn't able. I couldn't.
I woke at a couple minutes before ten....and my face was already wet from tears. I had apparently begun silently crying at some point in my sleep. It's funny how the body, the spirit, the mind, the soul all KNOW without you even needing to be conscious. No reminders necessary. That's because the loss is there. Always. It never leaves. It doesn't fade. It is there. Every moment. Of every day. Of every year. Forever.
I tried several times to stop the tears. I of course failed. They came off and on and without real provocation for hours. At some point I left the house and decided to drive around to try and pull myself together so I could at least appear somewhat normal. Another failure. Not only did I fail to get it together, I have very few clear memories of even leaving the house, driving, where I went or returning home. I was absent.
But I did come back home. I sat and had lunch with Cidney and Georgie. Lily had spent the night at a friend's and Ceara was already at work. I ate and then sat on the couch. In a fog. Oblivious to - everything. The tears were still coming and going. I was just so unaware of ...... life.....and so unable to function that I didn't even recognize my own child when he walked into the room and leaned down to hug me. I heard the front door open. I watched him walk up the entry stairs. I heard his voice calling me mom and saying he had come to surprise me. Telling me that he and his brother wanted to be with me and since they couldn't both be here they had decided together that he would come. That they both wanted me to know they love me. That they both wanted me to have flowers.......bright, sunny, beautiful flowers which he held out for me. But I didn't recognize him for several moments. It didn't register. My mind was so incredibly...I don't know....empty of rational thought or filled with painful memories or both? And once the recognition clicked-the tears came. Again.
Ricky and I released the two pink balloons he brought with him. We stood there, holding on to each other, watching them float up in that brilliant blue sky until we could no longer see them. And they made the entire trip together. Never parting by more than a foot. As it should be- since Chloe and Zoe took every single step of their journey on this Earth, in this life and in their departure from it together. Never separating for more than a moment when Chloe took her very last breath, followed by Zoe just seconds later. Hand in hand. Heart to heart. Every step. Together.
Time elapsed today. But I didn't feel it or notice it passing. Not really. Time, for me- stood still today. Again. Just like it did nine years ago. Time for me-today-was nothing more than a cruel reminder that there are two little girls missing. Two voices that don't call out to me. Two sets of feet that aren't climbing trees. Two sets of arms that aren't reaching for me or squeezing me until breathing becomes a problem. Two faces that aren't being washed after ice cream. Two lives that....aren't.
For most of the year, each year....I function. I carry on. I live. I love. I laugh. I experience great joy. I watch six of my children and now two precious grandbabies grow and thrive and love life. I celebrate every single blessing that is each one of them....their successes, their failures, their hopes, their dreams and am thankful for all of it. Good. Bad. Ugly. For most of the year I am "normal". Or at least....as normal as any woman who has ever had to sit in a funeral home for her child or children can be. I miss them. I think of them. I carry them with me. I have my moments. But all in all, I am ok.
And then.....there is the month of August. The pain. The sadness. The sorrow.....they are all there. In August. August 7th....the last time I saw my daughters alive, bouncing and kicking on the ultrasound. Pushing each other and competing for what little space was left. August 15th.....the day my daughters took their last breaths. The day my daughters died. The day I had to pretend everything was ok-nothing was wrong so my oldest daughters would be able to focus and do well on their placement tests for their new school. They had only been home, in Maryland for 15 days. They had had just two weeks to be told I was pregnant, to get used to the news and to become incredibly excited that they would soon be big sisters, again......and this time to twins. And now...they were never going to meet them. August 20th. The day my daughters, silent and still, perfect and beautiful entered this world and every single thing I had ever known, felt, thought, believed was forever altered. August 21st. The day my daughters were baptised in my arms. The day I kissed them for the very last time and sent them away with a funeral director while every fiber of my being was screaming to please just let me keep them a little while longer. Knowing that a little while longer was never going to be long enough. Nothing would be. August 22nd. The day I left the hospital- empty. Empty handed. Arms empty. Heart shattered. Soul broken. Empty. August 31st. The day I walked into a funeral home and walked out with two tiny porcelain urns that now held my daughters inside. Two jars. Small containers that sit on a shelf as a reminder that nine years ago there were two little girls who.....were. I hate August. And I love it. IT is a battle. It will always be a battle.
This August was no different. But it was at the same time. I made it through almost every one of those dates without the anxiety and tears that typically ensue. And then...I didn't. Then I fell apart. The control was no more. Then- August 20th happened. Again. Nine years. And I wondered the same thing I wonder every August 20th. Will this ever get any easier? Will the pain ever lessen? Will there ever be an August 20th that doesn't send me right back to that hospital room? To the all encompassing and excruciating rawness? I know the answer. My heart knows. My head knows. My soul knows.....it has always known. No. Simply. There will never be a time without the pain. There will never be a birthday celebrated without the tears and longing. The ache will never dull.
And so- I will continue to function as normally as a mother who has said goodbye to her children can. On most days. For most of the year. And I won't for the rest.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Back to School #67

That's right. I said number 67. That's because that's what this was for me. Today. This afternoon as I led my son into his elementary school to meet his fifth grade teacher I walked in to my 67th back to school meet and greet. My son, my little boy-who is now all grown up (or so he thinks) and will spend his final year in elementary school will be the last time I walk into an elementary school to meet a teacher for one of my babies. Not because he's the last baby I have.....because he's the last baby I have that's alive. 
When your child/children die "they" tell you lots of things. They tell you it will be hard (it's impossible). They tell  you there will be sadness and tears (try full blown depression and soul shattering sobs) at first (for years). They tell you the pain will get better with time and that your wounds will heal (the pain does NOT get better....ever.....the wounds are reopened with EVERY SINGLE missed milestone. We simply get better at carrying our scars with us.) But there are many more things they don't tell you. 
They don't tell you that one day you will wake up and it will be what SHOULD have been their first day of kindergarten. And you will cry. You will be reduced to a heap of tears. You will lost your ability to form full sentences and to function in any real capacity as a human being. And you will-as you have so many MANY times before pick yourself up, dust yourself off and force yourself to continue....foward....to care for the children you have with you,relying on you for their care. Because you have to. 
They also don't tell you that one day, you will walk into fifth grade with your child feeling all sorts of sentimental because this is your "last" baby. Your "youngest". Your "last" fifth grader meeting his last elementary teacher. Ever. Except....it's not. He is not your last baby. He is not your youngest. He shouldn't be your last fifth grader. There were two little girls born after him. They were your last babies. They are your youngest. They should be your silly, smart and rambunctious third graders. They should be your last fifth graders. But they died. 
They don't tell you that this knowledge will cause your brain to count. How many first days? How many back to school nights? How many open houses, award ceremonies, concerts, science fairs, Christmas plays, winter festivals, school carnivals, book fairs, field trips and graduations have you attended? How many have you missed because your babies never got to be in them? How many years have you sent your children off to school and how many more years will you miss out on because your babies will never go?
67 . Sixty-seven back to school nights and first days of school since 1993 when I sent my very first baby off to his very first elementary school teacher. Lily will give me five more. Georgie will give me seven. And there should be two more little girls with nine more first days of school. But they aren't here.