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Alien

There’s nothing that makes you feel more separate and different than grief. Grief is an individual and lonely experience; you can’t compare one’s grief to another’s because of so many factors. The manner of death, relationship with the person who died, social support system and people who will show up for you and listen, and your own mental, physical and spiritual health all play a part in making each person’s grief unique. All these factors also affect the length of time it takes to heal, mourn, and regain the ability to live again. There is a profound loneliness in having lost a child. There are very few people who have had a similar loss, it feels, and it’s very abnormal today, unlike 150 years ago when many children didn’t reach adulthood. Observing other people around me whose families are intact, who haven’t watched their child die, is like observing someone from another culture with whom I now have very little in common. Their innocence, joy, small talk, ease of manner and engagement and interest in life feels like something from a distant time and place that is a part of my past. I continue to journey in an alternate universe; the land of grief that is invisible to others but enshrouds and envelops my entire being. I can do my best to pretend to fit in, but I really no longer do. The loss of my child is changing my personality, my beliefs, my values, and my entire life; I will never be the person I was before.

Fiona was welcoming and kind to people who were different from her. She didn’t judge a person’s skin color, appearance or disability. She cared about orphans and refugees; she was very interested when they talked about the orphanage in Africa that our church supports. She wanted to sponsor a child and help others who were poor and displaced. I really would have like to see her grow up and see what she would have done in the world. When she died we had to complete the horrible chore of notifying the Social Security Administration; her social security number was no longer needed; she ceased to be an American citizen. She did not take her SS card with her into the afterlife. It sits in my jewelry box, needed for so few years, incompletely used. She was an American citizen while alive, but in death she is not a citizen of any country. That made me think about how silly countries, borders, and all the fuss we make in this world comes to naught when we die. There are no countries or borders in heaven, I’m guessing, and the gate is there to keep out evil and death, not people who hold the incorrect documents. We will share eternity with many of our Mexican neighbors despite a wall dividing us in this lifetime. Heaven will be filled with people of all colors from all over the planet. I wonder what God thinks of all the energy put into keeping what’s ours, ours, and keeping out those who we fear want to take what’s ours. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about it, being a refugee and immigrant himself while he was on earth. I wonder why we don’t fear more what God thinks about this issue, as he is the creator and owner of this planet and all who live on it.

I identify more with aliens now. I was a Canadian citizen until several years before Fiona died when I became an American citizen. I just read in the news that the U.S. government is monitoring internet search histories and social media accounts of immigrants, whether they are now legal citizens or not. That includes me. Another reason to feel different I suppose. But such a small one compared to being a bereaved parent. This summer we spent some time in Vancouver, B.C. where I was born. We saw part of the Canada Day parade celebrating 150 years. The parade appeared to be mainly groups of people of all colors from countries all over the world, proudly done up in their native dress, free to express their cultural heritage and identity. For some reason it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes to see so many smiling faces, people from all different countries singing, dancing, waving and happy to have the freedom and acceptance to be themselves. They loved being in a country that embraced them with kindness, and the freedom to find a new life. I think it made me think that is a little what heaven is like, and what Fiona experienced upon arrival, and what we all will when we get there.

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Do the hard things

It has taken me many months to have the courage, strength, and mental capacity to write another entry. The kids were home from school over the summer, leaving me little time and privacy to write. We tried our best to get through a summer without Fiona, but she was missed every moment. Her death has stolen the joy and innocence from life. Every family trip, swim in the pool, BBQ, birthday party, backyard sleepover, play date, and gathering no longer holds the carefree allure of summers’ past. The shock of Fiona’s sudden, unexpected death has worn off, and an inescapable and constant pain has set in, sinking deep into my bones, and becoming part of who I am. Last summer was a fog of shock, barely remembered; this summer was one of deep grief and pain. The pain has not gotten better over time, as some might expect. Instead as time goes on, it’s just been longer I’ve had to live with the memory of her death, days piled upon days, and the pain of her absence. Learning to live with the pain, to manage it, and not have it manage me, will be a life long process. A parent is just unable to quickly process the sudden death of their child. Instead, each new realization of how her death impacts our continuing life arises daily, in many different ways, unexpectedly and not within our control. Constant “little deaths” that must each be grieved and mourned, or pushed away until one can no longer avoid facing it.

I’ve had so much constantly running in my brain, but haven’t had the will to journal, write, or sit down at the computer in my dear Fiona’s room. Her bedroom is a painful and scary place to me now that she’s gone, a place of mourning, of dreams that died, her voice suddenly silenced, and prayers unanswered. Her quiet room that we can’t bear to change is a reminder that she is gone, she is nowhere on this planet, she will not return to us, and we will never get to see her grow up. Her life was stopped too soon, for unknown reason and by a series of mistakes that make it hard to trust in anything. I trusted too much, hoped too much, and that relaxed attitude proved deadly. Life no longer makes sense. The American dream for us is now dead; it died along with our child. I am bewildered at how anyone can be excited enough to care about things like work, hobbies, remodeling, travel, sports, possessions, their child’s college plans, and anything normal. Although I continue to engage in these things, it all feels like a grand acting job; I usually feel I am just “filling time” until my pain goes away, which of course it really doesn’t. I can enjoy some things, but I wish Fiona was enjoying these things; it feels so incredibly unfair that I get to and she doesn’t.

I have an urge to leave town, state and country, to be elsewhere, to be with people I can relate to and feel normal around; those suffering from trauma, death and grief. I want to buy a one-way plane ticket to Greece, to welcome traumatized refugees, or to Africa, to cry with those who have lost loved ones. I know I should be grateful for my easy American life, my remaining children, and all the blessings we still have. But I am unsettled, discontent with living here, in this town and even on this planet. My purpose in life is now a mystery, an unknown. A constant underlying anxiety and fear eats away at my soul, because the worst thing happened to my child, and life no longer feels safe or good. I am easily startled, I cringe or jump at loud noises, large crowds of shoppers and aggressive drivers induce anxiety, as do the potentially painful social encounters that are now so different than before my child died. I wish I had our normal life back as this is one I don’t want. I am not o.k., doing better, or moving forward, except kicking and screaming against my will.

Think of the most terrifying horror movie you have ever seen, but now you are actually the hapless victim in the movie, and it’s not a movie, it’s real, and it doesn’t end after two hours, but continues constantly and forever until you die. This is how life feels when your child dies. I would trade this constant emotional suffering for a physical one if I could; at least then I could take something to numb the pain and escape. From the pain of grief there is no escape that I’ve found, at least not a healthy one. There are only very small things one can do to lessen the sting in little ways; a cup of good coffee, visiting with a caring friend, some dark chocolate, travelling somewhere new, hiking, driving my new car, a snuggle with my child, petting a soft kitten, reading a good book, having a good conversation with my teenager, or working out. But the pain never goes away; it underlies everything.

So why write about it? My counselor encouraged me last week to write as a way to process these horrifying feelings and thoughts, to expose them, air them out, and so make them less scary.  I have no choice but to try to integrate this horrible new “identity” as a bereaved parent into our lives, our family, and our future, as Fiona’s death affects every single aspect of our lives.

I started going to a weight lifting class this summer, as I was bored of running and the heat and smoke from summer fires pushed me indoors. As a beginner, I’m definitely nowhere near the top of the class, but any competitive or comparative feelings I used to have at the gym (or in parenting) are now non-existent. Just getting out of bed, facing another day without my child, getting myself to the gym, and just trying to live takes a different kind of strength. The cheerful instructor’s words got my attention last week, and became the push I needed to sit down and write again. She was encouraging us to finish our reps, to keep on going, to push through the pain and finish strong. She said the pain means the muscle fibers are being torn down, and will be rebuilt stronger than before. Although I’ve known this fact about weight lifting, I felt like Someone was talking directly to me, saying I need to face the hard things in grief, to push through the pain, in order to get stronger. Growing stronger after losing my heart’s treasure seems unlikely. But what choice do I have? I have a wounded family to continue to raise and care for, and a life that continues to roll onward.

Poppy and Fiona

Today Poppy turns 7 years old. It will be her second birthday without Fiona. Last year she turned 6 a few weeks after Fiona died. It was a difficult birthday to celebrate. I actually don’t remember much about it, except the party she had at the gymnastics school with her friends. Poppy seemed to be in a daze as well, reeling from the sudden loss of her sister. Everything felt forced, as we are forced to continue life with part of our family missing. So many years ahead of us without Fiona. It is overwhelming to think about. Poppy has grown so much since Fiona died. She has changed too. She is not so happy go lucky; she is more cautious, anxious, and stubborn about things for no apparent reason.

Fiona was such a cheerleader for Poppy, and a loving and proud big sister. Fiona did get pretty annoyed with Poppy at times, as Fiona was quiet and methodical, while Poppy jumps from one thing to the next. Having a little sister was very good for Fiona, and boosted her self esteem and sense of place in the family. They seemed to be always giving each other hugs. Their love for each other ran deep, despite the little fights and arguments kids have.

Shannons Iphone 802

I had a dream last night about my girls. Poppy was flying a hot air balloon type of contraption over a park, while crowds of people watched below. She lost control of her balloon and crash landed in the park, barely missing the trees and houses. We ran over to check on her and she was fine, just mad that she crashed. Then Fiona was there, and she was checking on Poppy, encouraging her. She gave her a hug, of course. That’s what Fiona would have done in real life. She was very loving and sweet, especially when someone was upset. Fiona had on a sundress, and she stood with the other kids while Poppy looked over her crashed aircraft. It seemed natural that she should be there, as Poppy’s sister. Then in my dream I remembered Fiona was dead, and it was not normal for her to be there. Realizing my luck at seeing her, I put my arm around her and sat beside her. I asked her how she was, and she said great. I asked her how she liked heaven, and she said it was great. It felt a bit like when you ask your kids how their day at school was, and you get a one word answer. I said, “Is it perfect? Because I know how you always liked things to be perfect.” Fiona said “perfect” a lot; I think she learned it from the mean dance instructor in the movie Barbie and the Pink Shoes. Fiona smiled at my joke, and said yes in her quiet, sweet way. Then my dream was over.

If only Fiona could be here today to wish Poppy happy birthday and watch her open her presents. To be the big sister to Poppy on her special day. To share with us her sweet smiles and funny jokes. To be a part of our family again.

Normal is gone

Oh how I wish my children could have a normal childhood. One with all their sisters growing up together. One without the trauma of death snatching Fiona away. Now their memories of Fiona will fade and she will be just a part of our past life that was normal and happy. I wish they could have normal parents instead of ones who are now not always there mentally and who are often just hanging by a thread. We didn’t just lose Fiona, we lost our normal family, our future together, and a lifetime of what might have been.

I read a devotional this week about rejoicing in trials. While I can be thankful for the blessings I have, the loss of a child is not a trial you can recover from, and certainly not a way for God to teach you a lesson and grow your faith. It’s a lifelong disability that you have to learn to live with, that tests your faith deeper than any other thing I can imagine. I can’t believe in a God so cruel as to take my child away in order for me to be a better Christian. These kind of teachings are what cause people who have truly suffered to turn their backs on their faith, as what is needed is comfort, grace, and compassion, not judgment. A bereaved parent already judges himself/herself more harshly than anyone could. We are damaged, fragile, and wounded; in Grief Share they said we should treat ourselves as if in intensive care.

I blame myself for not being able to save my child from death, even though you may find that crazy. I carry the guilt and shame of failing to keep my child alive, failing at the most important job I have ever been tasked with carrying out. I remember feeling like a complete fraud at Fiona’s funeral; I wondered when people would figure out what I was guilty of. I wondered if the hospital would be contacting CPS to make a report. I didn’t feel I deserved any of the kindnesses shown to me; I had failed to notice my child was dying in the hospital and just allowed her to fade away. Now I wonder if I can be a good parent to my surviving children. I second guess many of my parenting decisions. I have lost confidence and the ability to make quick decisions. I have a long way to go before I will feel like a normal parent again, if ever.