Finding the Sweeter Side of Grief-A Look at Child Loss Ten Years Later

So July 16, 2018 marks ten years since our car accident.-when a routine commute to work on a hot summer day, ended with my daughter gone and my son and I in the hospital.

I remember clearly when it was nearly evening time that day and we were finally allowed to leave the hospital. I was heavily bandaged from shoulder to wrist, dressed in a grey sweat suit, and sent out the door with an army of prescriptions to aid in my pain and grief.  As they wheeled me out of the room, into the lobby were fountains of people waiting inside and out, standing room only.  Coworkers, friends, strangers, even my brother’s childhood best friend was there.  I felt like an exhibit at the zoo, on display with all eyes on me. I bowed my head unable to look up, ashamed and guilt ridden, in complete disbelief.  A horrifying start to the new phase of my life.

Ten years. A decade. Oh my gosh, excuse me while I try to catch my breath. I am having a hard time believing that it has actually been that long since Lydia died.  My strawberry blonde, confident and beautiful sassy pants 5 year old little girl has been in heaven for ten years now.

It’s sort of scary really and sometimes it feels like a dream.  How can I possibly have lived that long, drudging through life for ten years in these cement boots?

Reluctantly, I looked into the mirror days after the accident and didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.  She was a stranger. Who was I?  A terrible mother? All sense of identity and normalcy was stripped away instantly, leaving me just a shell of a person with nothing left inside.  The thought of drinking myself into oblivion to escape my new reality, I have to admit was very appealing, however I was terribly fearful I would lose control and wouldn’t be able to stop.  So after one day of margaritas, I quit.

My incapacitated self-had no motivation for anything and was glued to the couch in a daze.  I never moved, days went by and I hadn’t showered in almost a week.  My best friend came over and gave me a bath.

Imprisoned by guilt, I lived in the dark back corner of my closet, shielded by my hanging clothes, which offered strange sense of security.  It was there, where buckets of tears were released where no one could see or hear me.

Regret remained in the forefront of my mind for quite some time. The record of my last moments with her, the trip to Disneyland we never took, the vivid yet suffocating reality of no first day of school, no more dance recitals, no proms, no more shopping dates, no wedding, etc. The No’s were endless.

My future had been destroyed.

Suddenly, nothing mattered anymore.  I had failed. Failed to protect my most prized possession. Failed horribly as a mother.  I was at the bottom of the food chain.

I had to learn to live again yet life as I knew it had ended.  The darkness surrounded me, the trauma and flashbacks consumed me, haunting me for years. Every breath was a challenge.  Perspectives changed to where getting up off the couch to get a glass of water was monumental, and finally not burning the toast and sleeping for more than 3 hours straight became something to celebrate.

I couldn’t make sense of it. Why did this happen to MY family?  Things like this never happened to people I know, let alone MY family.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

How could I live again, and was I even going to be able to? These were questions I asked myself over and over again. Was I being punished? Did I trust God? Did He hate me? Did Lydia hate me? Why did He allow this to happen?  My faith had been tested to the end. How could He do this to me? Why? WHY? Like a broken record, my thoughts and unending demand for answers played incessantly in my mind, yet none would come.

I had heard stories of others who were told to give God the glory in times of weakness.  Praise God?  Seriously?  In my situation, how could someone even think of doing such a thing?  It was the last thing from my mind, completely weighed down in utter devastation, yet scripture so boldly states, praise Him.  Does He know how I feel?  Praise the Lord and give thanks. Thanks for what?  For letting my daughter die? What was there to learn in this?

However, when the phone quit ringing, when friends stopped coming by, I found I was alone.  ALL ALONE and it was unspeakably frightening. Everyone had moved on and no one could relate to my experience or had any inkling as to what I was going through.  Left with no other way out of my grief, I knew I needed to uncover and bring to the surface the faith buried deep within me.  I would not survive this without God. And he was such a loving God.  I was desperate and grasping at any sliver of hope I could find, eventually realizing He was my only hope.

Circumstances, pain, confusion, and sorrow engulfed my soul. Completely broken and alone, what did I have to lose?  Down on my knees in my bedroom in the dark of night I surrendered. I had nothing left. Sobbing uncontrollably barely able to catch my breath, I prayed for Him to rid me of this pain, forgive me, give me hope, and give me strength to endure the future.  So, I praised Him hesitantly with tears while whispering out loud, “Thank you Lord for all the blessings in my life.” Thanks be to God.  I needed to humble myself, and “I will praise Him” became my daily mantra.  And I did, thanking Him for my family, my children, and for bringing me to a place of such brokenness that I was unable to put myself back together.  It was at this point where I conceded myself and allowed Him to have full control over my life.  I put my hope and my trust in Him.  Only God could restore this brokenness.

The guilt, shame and pain was an incredibly heavy and arduous load to carry, becoming increasingly unbearable day after day.  I turned to my Bible, opening the pages of a book I had often let sit unopened, but always close by. The Word became my friend, and in my weakness He became my only strength.

In the midst of loss, especially when it is new, taking one breath at a time is often all we can do.  As time would go on, I would somehow learn to manage the intense grief and pain, miraculously and subconsciously training myself to live with the “new normal.”  I never wanted a “new normal.” I wanted my old life back.

To those who knew me before 7/16/08, I thought I was unstoppable. I was confident and outspoken, a career focused and fun seeking woman.

In all honesty, let’s just say in my early 20’s, you would find me, a free-spirited, social director reigning the title of beer drinking champion, planning the next event.  Living up my independence, every day was packed full of friends and round the clock activities.  I never turned down and opportunity for an adventure, squeezing school and work in when I could. My zest for life continued through my late 20’s.

When I became a mom in 2002, life slowed down a bit, but I continued on my self-absorbed path, keeping up with the Jones’.  I loved being a mother, don’t get me wrong.  Lydia was the love of my life. I never knew how full my heart could be, yet I still did not perceive the enormity of the gift of being a mother.

Looking back, the years did scream by terribly fast but not at first.  My 20’s were grand, full of excitement and adventure, spontaneity and determination. It was full of confidence, friends, graduations, weddings, parties and new beginnings. And then the decade of the 30’s arrived, and only one year into them, at 31, tragedy struck and my life was instantaneously shattered into a million pieces, leaving me feeling like a helpless child. When Lydia died, I lost everything. I had no direction, no purpose, and no motivation for life. My existence had been reduced to crumbs.

And after 7/16/08- Well, it’s been awful. It’s been great. It’s been terrorizing at times, yet it’s been beautiful as well.

Weird. I know.

I didn’t know what I had until I lost it. How many times have we heard that deep-rooted cliché? Those few powerful words pack so much meaning.   As for anything, we don’t really fully understand the value of what we have until it is gone.  So true.

I feel invisible sometimes and long for the person I used to be. Yet, I strangely welcome who I have become.   I persevered and fought through those first years of “firsts.”  I powered through the guilt of my first smile since she died, her first birthday, every visit to Starbucks without her, the overwhelming jealousy seeing others with complete families, the continued dance sign ups in the mail, and so much more.

Amidst the pain and sorrow, I first felt a faint sense of inner peace, slowly growing more prevalent in my heart, allowing me to know deep within that somehow God would make this alright.   It took relinquishing control to Him, trusting that He would carry me through.  I knew I couldn’t do this on my own.

I’m happy, but also sad. I’m so blessed, yet broken inside. I’ve learned to balance these delicate feelings of grief and sorrow that ambush me at moment’s notice, while still being able to experience amazing joy and gifts of each new day.

Not one day goes by where I don’t think about her. Her presence is missed on every holiday and family gathering. The inevitable empty chair makes itself known.   Even today on occasion, I avoid social functions, baby showers, church, graduations, and birthday parties. And that’s okay. I have learned what works for me, where I fit comfortably and what my limitations are.

I’m still as forgetful as I was that first year.  I have never recovered from this and seem to have gotten worse. So I apologize in advance if I forgot to return your call or text, or email. I’m sure I read it and replied to you in my mind.  Please be persistent and patient with me.

I don’t cry every night, or every month for that matter.  My grief comes and goes, here one day, gone for months until a song, a smell, a place, a photo or something else transports me back to that familiar day. But my smiles far outweigh my sorrow.

Questions like “how many children to you have?” aren’t paralyzing and uncomfortable anymore. They are welcomed, as they provide me an opportunity to share my daughter. To talk about Lydia brings me more joy than anything else.

I’ve learned to take off that mask of “I’m okay,” and be authentic to myself and others.  This is real life and they get the real me.   I’ve learned that it’s okay to cry through church and embrace those pure emotions, moments that touch my soul.

I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and panic attacks, recognizing and combatting them with God’s word.  I carry Lydia in my heart and have her special items placed throughout my home. Her artwork is framed on the wall, her bottle of High School Musical perfume sits on my bathroom counter, her photo next to my bed, her favorite princess blanket draped over the couch, and so many others. She is always with me and will always be my daughter and I her mom.

Perspective is what keeps me going.  Eternal perspective.  Imagining my darling daughter dancing with Jesus, joyful and in complete bliss.  Nothing makes me happier.  Knowing what awaits us all after we depart this world, is something we must treasure and eagerly anticipate.

The fog has lifted. The me who lived a decade ago is not here anymore. Not sure where she went but, an older and wiser me has evolved. I know what’s really important in life.  I’ve learned about forgiveness and generosity, perseverance and deep love. And I’ve finally figured out how I like to eat my eggs- (scrambled), and that my favorite time of day is just at twilight when the sun it setting. The sky is illuminated in a magnificent light that amplifies the spectacular rainbow of colors, bringing peace to my soul.

Now, as I look at the reflection in the mirror, I see a woman who hasn’t taken her necklace off in ten years, the one with the silver pendant of her daughter’s last thumbprint with her name engraved in the back.  I see a woman who feels old as the creases on my face get more prevalent. I feel exhausted, and deeply scarred. Yet on the contrary, I also see someone who is strong, full of faith and is a thriving survivor of life’s most horrific circumstances, whose direction in life has been made clear.  A lady seasoned on the lessons of grief, a heart bursting with love for others, who has found the secret to surviving child loss.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the past ten years, is that if we allow Him, God will turn our grief, sorrow, and anger into something so beautiful. The trauma, the flashbacks of that horrific moment, were like stabbing pains directly through my heart, over and over again, hour after hour, day after day, penetrating my core, for years. Yet, beneath all the pain was a tiny spark of hope that I was determined to uncover. As I reached for the light that I could just barely see, He gently brushed away what kept it hidden, and slowly He began to strengthen me, mold me, and refine all that He created in me. What He has clearly shown me in this process is that through recognizing His work in our own lives, God is able to give us the ability to see others in a different light, with a heart full of compassion. Finding meaning, and living fully with passion and purpose, is what life is all about. It’s unfortunate that it often takes us being broken and at rock bottom, before we can see the light through the cracks. But, my God is faithful, full of mercy, and His love is immeasurable.

No one is exempt from tragedy and loss. No one is exempt from accidents or mistakes. Guilt, regret, and shame do not have to haunt us. I made a choice-a choice to find hope. It didn’t matter anymore how she died, but how she lived and how she is still living on in heaven.  I learned to gently let go of those things that weighed so heavily on me, slowly removing the blanket that once enveloped me. Although scary, I was able to get through it by clinging to my faith. He works miracles, and is the only one who has the power to bring amazing beauty out of total devastation.

For now, when I feel that time is just rushing by way too fast, I try to slow down to read those books to my children, to play games, pick ugly flowers that they think are beautiful, explore and appreciate the sloppy kisses, silly questions, fantastic indiscernible artwork, sassy attitudes, teenage arguments and make ample time for the simple things, learning that a little gratitude goes a long way. I’ve learned to embrace my unorganized, chaotic and messy life, making room for what really matters.

The scars on my arm have forever marked me providing me a daily reminder of my difficult journey, dividing my life into “before and after.” Something that I will carry with me always. Presently, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, however, I know I’m equipped to handle whatever life throws at me.

So, my advice to you all, if I can do this, so can you.

I pray you find that sparkle of hope seeping through your darkness and come to see the Lord is our strength and faithfully carries our burdens.  In time, He reveals a striking world, a slow dance exposing the wonders of life, teaching us to appreciate and see Him, and to see this life we’ve been given from His perspective and not our own.  Remember, God’s got this!

I have experienced the worst and at times still, relive those gut wrenching soul-killing sobs and accompanied sharp pains. However, instead of that initial blanket of hopelessness, these intimate moments are followed by an overwhelming peace that embraces me, bringing comfort and healing.  This is the gift of grief.

I can honestly say that having lived through the trauma of the death of my child, my eyes have been opened to a new world. Initially, it was the world full of sadness and unending pain. It was struggling with heavy doubt and perpetual what ifs.

However, as the days and years progressed, slowly I began to evolve, hatching from my cocoon inviting flickers of hope into my life and soon, they out shadowed the darkness. I found myself smiling more, and counted the days in between the tears.  Progress was being made.  My faith was growing and glimmers of joy were blooming inside me.  I began to forego the judgmental self of previous days, learning to appreciate the struggles of others, understanding full well that each one of us is fighting a silent inner battle.

However, ten years later, it has evolved into a world of deep introspect and life lessons.  Grief is constantly developing and growing my heart of compassion while pruning my spirit and blossoming my faith.   Grief causes you to become authentic to yourself as you walk that fine line between past and present, delicately balancing the dynamic emotions that flood your soul, while reflecting on yesterday and pondering what the future holds.

I have learned that I cannot only survive this, but can thrive.  It humbles me to know that without grief, my life would have been entirely different and I would not be the same person I have become today.  For that I am grateful.

Well, what’s another 10?  Bring it on.  Every day is one day closer to my reunion with my little girl.   Thinking of all of you grieving hearts and sending prayers of peace and love. Hang on-hope is just around the corner.

www.grievinggumdrops.com

 

 

 

 

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Independence Day Pastimes-Riding the Grief Waves

Sharing again, a post I wrote two years ago….

July.

It’s here. Bittersweet. It’s a sweet month for our nation, one in which we should all give thanks.  Yet on the other hand, for me, its sharpness once again caught me by surprise, saturating my soul and wetting my face with the painful sting of how life used to be.

We had always engaged in Independence Day activities in our old town, barbeques and picnics, fun for the entire family. As the children’s parade began, hundreds of little ones dressed in their patriotic colors as they walked and rode their bikes, waving and smiling in sheer delight.  My mind flashed back to Independence Day 8 years ago, as Lydia rode in the same parade, eager to throw candy and take in the festivities. She rode in a toy jeep with her best friend, dressed in her white and red star covered shirt strawberry blonde pigtails blowing in the wind, grinning from ear to ear. It was so real.  I could see her innocent, happy smile and hear her contagious laughter.  Clearly, she was enjoying every minute of it and so was I.

Just then, the swarm of children came fast and forceful. Lots of giggles, shouts and squeals of delight filled the air.   Upon first sight of this chaotic and beautiful display, I swallowed the lump in my throat as I looked around. I saw families making memories, parents tending to unruly children, people laughing taking candid photos, and smiling faces covered in colorful snow cones.

I wiped the tears…

And then I saw one little girl who was in Lydia’s dance class, who suddenly wasn’t so little anymore.  Had it really been that long ago? The petite little girl who used to dress in leotards and twirl in pink tutus was now a grown teenager.  Shortly behind her, a lady I hadn’t seen in years. Her mother. The compassionate woman who came to my house to sit with me days after Lydia died.

Hot tears fell down my cheeks.

So much remains cloudy about that time, but the vivid memory of her coming to see my husband and I, is one I will never forget. She didn’t come with traditional gifts or cards or casseroles, she came to just BE with us. She sat close to me, one arm stretched out on the back of the couch behind my head for what seemed like hours, gently rubbing my shoulders and rarely saying a word.  She was there. Present in that moment which meant more to me than she will ever know.

Seeing her daughter so beautiful, tall and grown up was tremendously difficult.  My mind told me how it wasn’t fair.  My heart broke for what would never be.  Secretly, I sobbed, desperately longing to see my daughter grown and experiencing the joys of this annual event.

I attempted to conceal my sadness, wiping away the tears underneath my eyes, before someone could see me, quickly readjusting my sun glasses hoping no one would notice.

And just like that, the moment was gone.

The memories remained and I embraced the craziness and incomprehensible thoughts of how my life was forever now divided into the before and after of July 16, 2008.  My mind scrambled to make sense of millions of racing thoughts about my journey past and present.

Wondering how I got to where I am today, I put on my best face and pressed on, one moment at a time.  I looked at my children there that day. Seeing their excitement and happiness brought me to a place of peace and contentment.   Out of my tragedy came three new vivacious little lives, to nurture, love and raise.  Incredible. It’s never an easy road to tow, having a giant void deep in my heart. Although I may not have all the answers or understand why things happen, it’s the hand I have been dealt. So I press on. I am thankful for God’s grace, strength and ability to find gratitude in each new day. Gratitude. One secret to living life after loss.

Wishing you all a blessed day!

www.grievinggumdrops.com

While We’re Waiting

Psalm 27:14  Wait patiently for the Lord, be brave and courageous.  

One wouldn’t think that after ten years, a parent whose child has died, would need to take a “retreat,” now would they?

After all, it’s been ten years right? Time to get over it and move on, and quit dwelling in the past?

Easy to say, however, when your child dies, life is forever changed. And I mean forever.  Not just for a few days, weeks, or years, but for the entire rest of your life.

You live differently.  July will mark ten years since our Lydia went to heaven. And yes, we absolutely still think about her every day.  As we reminisce, tears may fall as we wonder what she would look like, how she would interact with her siblings, wonder if she would still love music, dance and the outdoors like she always did.

A couple of months ago, I was on a work trip sitting in my hotel room alone, when I began doing research for a book I’m working on.  It wasn’t long before I came across a faith filled retreat for bereaved parents. Instantly, it piqued my interest.  I went to the website and felt and immediate connection.

It was a Christian based organization based in the Midwest, offering much-needed retreats for parents just like me. Have you heard of  While We’re Waiting?  Sighing, I shrugged my shoulders realizing that traveling to the Midwest was not an option for me.

As I continued reading on, what did I see? That they were having their first couples retreat in my home state, just a few hours away.  Seriously?!  Without hesitation I emailed them, claimed the last opening and signed up for this soul quenching event.

Personally, I had been searching for a bereaved parents retreat in the Pacific Northwest where I live, however, came up with nothing. Contemplating starting my own somewhere, let’s just say I was beyond thrilled to find this. Thank you God!

So a few weeks ago, Jake and I snuck away and had the honor of attending this healing retreat for bereaved parents, something we had never done before, yet something I always wanted to do.

As some of you may be aware, I love to help others through grief and am a huge advocate of connecting with others who have been there as well as expressing how God has carried me through this horrific journey.  Faith is without a doubt, the secret sauce, after the death of a child.  We cannot do this alone.

A little nervous and apprehensive, I hadn’t shared our story or daughter in this type of environment before.  Strangely, I found myself to be completely excited as I anticipated the weekend to come.

We dropped off our children at their uncle’s house for a few days and headed down the highway.

Nestled in the mountains, we turned onto the gravel driveway and followed the signs until we reached the lodge. Cars lined the perimeter as we searched for a parking spot.  Clearly we were the last ones to arrive.  I was eager to meet everyone and could feel my heart beating rapidly as we approached the front door.

As we walked in, everyone was seated at the dinner tables, conversing and getting acquainted.  We received a loving warm welcome and quickly found our seats. The vibe in the room was relaxed and inviting.  I didn’t feel the need to explain my life or circumstances, and just enjoyed a casual meal with new friends.

Uniting in fellowship and sharing with a bunch of strangers. Hmm. Some may think that sounds kind of weird and uncomfortable.  Let me tell you, it was the best.  Parents from different cities and states meeting for the first time. Parents that have endured the same pain and sorrow we have.

New friends and relationships formed.  Our eyes met, our souls connected. A time of quiet solace and reflection.  All coming together talking and sharing our joys and sorrows about the day and difficult path we have been on since our children went to heaven.

After we lose a child, we become weak and connecting with others provides that kind of heart salve that mends the soul.

We shed tears, without judgement, in a place where you obtain a sense of belonging. Our children’s photos decorated the mantle as we enjoyed a time of comradery with those who have walked this seemingly unbearable new life.

It was a place where you needn’t speak a word yet have an immediate connection with other parents the moment your eyes make contact.  Oddly, it brings comfort to your heart to be surrounded by other parents who know the extreme depths of your pain.  They understand. They get it. They know what it’s like to hear those words, “your child has died.”

They appreciate the arduous and terrifying journey each of us has been on.  This retreat emanated the infections persona of faith and presence of Christ, while keeping us refreshed and renewed, filling us with hope and healing.

An essential reprieve, a place to share our experiences, rollercoaster of emotions and how we have tackled those demons of hopelessness.  A place where the hand of God was profoundly evident and hymns of praise were sung with confidence.

It was a place where we comfortably share our sweet Lydia, not having to justify or explain our journey. A special time devoted to our healing and our precious daughter.

While We’re Waiting is an extraordinary group of people who have been led by God to help others experiencing child loss.  They have created refuges for parents to come and unite, receive the word of God while offering hope and encouragement.  It’s a place where life is real, and pain is palpable, yet hope and faith dominate.

The strength of a grieving parent is immeasurable. Through child loss, our faith is tested and we can be transformed into super heroes without even being aware.  We live like no one else. Our hearts are open wide, lined with compassion and our differences are washed away.

Yes, even ten years out, bereaved parents still need to recharge.  I had a burning internal desire to be able to share my daughter and my story, while connecting with others that understand.  Let us not underestimate the power of connections.   We are indefinitely changed and equipped with the armor of God to sustain and protect us, free from the shackles of grief and sorrow.

What a blessing this was.  I am so thankful to be able to meet these amazing parents and know their children.

Whether you are a newly bereaved parent or you are a parent years out from your loss, I absolutely recommended attending a While We’re Waiting Retreat or contributing to their ministry.  Go check out their website and see how they are making an impact on grieving hearts. Find them at https://www.whilewerewaiting.org/home.html

 

 

Photo by Anisur Rahman on Unsplash