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I Feel Your Pain

I am sharing this post as part of a blog series I guest write for– an organization called STONES. I was asked to share about my journey through grief. In case you don’t know what a STONE is, I am going to give you a quick recap.  A
stone is a physical representation of hurtful words, self-defeating mindsets, insecurities
and personal tragedies. We all have STONES, although we do not get to choose which
ones life throws at us–like in the case of personal tragedies.

Until two and half years ago I didn’t have many stones in my life. I was a pretty confident person who felt like she could do anything. I didn’t really struggle with poor self-image, anxiety, or debilitating fear. That all changed after a world-tilting loss. My husband and I lost our firstborn daughter unexpectedly in utero. One day she was alive, the next day she was gone. I will never forget the moment our Doctor told us there was no heartbeat. My heart literally stopped, and the wave of emotions hit my husband so hard he almost threw up. That’s the raw stuff of life, and our hearts were splintered into a million pieces.

Maybe you are like me and you must live with a new reality; you carry the stone of grief
and like me you will never forget when your world was shattered.

At first I was too afraid to talk about this Stone, because grief often makes me feel alone. I often buy the lie that no one else has deep pain from personal tragedy or that I
shouldn’t make people sad—because that’s all I’d be doing by being real. But then as I
was lying in bed thinking about what I wanted to say to YOU, my little sisters, I thought
of the few that were BRAVE enough to share with me their own personal tragedies,

stories of deep loss. Some of you lost a friend to suicide, some of you lost siblings to accidents, even murder. I listened as you broke open your hearts and shared with me the most precious parts of you. You shared the love you had for your friends, siblings, parents. That courage will never get old to me, and because of your pain I feel I must remind you, you are not alone.

Thank you brave, young woman for speaking out about the pain that you feel. I know
how hard it is to be perceived as a “downer.” I know how out of control you feel, and
maybe you even unfairly blame yourself for this tragedy. Maybe you have picked up
self-harming habits because your pain is so great and you have NO IDEA how to handle it. Your stone of grief is a very HEAVY and COMPLICATED one. You carry it day and night, and until you find someone trustworthy and compassionate enough to help bear the load, most of the time you are alone.

I will share with you how my stone of grief had so many layers, and still does. Before life threw this Stone at me I never had anxiety or near panic attacks. But now this has been my daily struggle to overcome. The anxiety usually comes from feelings of lack of
control and incredible fear that I will lose someone else close to me in a horrible way.
This is so “normal” for those of us that carry this stone. Another way this stone has
really crushed me is my self-image and security. All of the sudden I found myself so
profoundly uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt like a failure to some degree, and the
weakness that I couldn’t help exude seemed to scare people away. I began to shut
down and go inward in social settings. I just wanted to disappear. But I didn’t
disappear…Thank God!

Sadly, I’m not here to tell you that you can leave your stone of grief and just walk away.
No, some stones, believe it or not, stay with us our whole lives—and this is one of them. I am here to share with you how I have handled this stone, and for those of you who haven’t had a personal tragedy I can hopefully help you help a friend in need of a loving ear.

Because this stone is so foreign and new, I often times wish there was some kind of
guidebook for how to handle the stone of grief. I don’t have a book recommendation, but I can offer some advice from my experience. The first advice I would give would be to surround yourself with people who love and care about you. This may sound silly, but
it’s really quality over quantity. Before my daughter died I had many social type friends,
but after she died, most casual friends found it very difficult to handle my grief. They
didn’t say anything, and if you’ve lost someone you know that the worst thing someone
can say is…NOTHING. So I lost a lot of friends, but the ones that I kept were people
that were not afraid of my grief. Sometimes you may feel that people are afraid of
“catching” your stone. They may avoid you, talk about you behind your back, or make
you feel awkward. Maybe they even make you feel like it is your fault. It’s not, and you
owe it to yourself to gently remove these people from your inner circle. Your heart has
been broken and you need to protect it from people who are truly too selfish or oblivious to care.

The second thing I want you to know is, it’s not your fault and whatever you are feeling
is ok. I spent so much time beating myself up over feeling certain emotions. Emotions I
had NO control over. If I was happy, I would beat myself up that I wasn’t sad enough. If I was sad, I would beat myself up over not being happy. You must learn to be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling.

The reason that I can still get out of bed in the morning after my daughter died is
because I FEEL and FELT it all. I didn’t bottle it up, hide it, or avoid my stone. I didn’t try
to bury it. Instead I used all my pain and wrote songs, and pages and pages of music
about my daughter and the anger and sorrow I felt over losing her. These songs turned
into music videos of my story—and now they are being watched all over the world by
other parents who have lost children. That is the power of sharing your grief.

Maybe it doesn’t look like that for you. Maybe instead it’s going to a grief support group
and finding out you are not as alone as you feel. Maybe it’s following a blog of someone
else who has experienced a similar tragedy. Maybe you channel your pain into
something beautiful, like starting a 5k in honor of the one that died or writing a poem or
painting a picture.

There are still days when I wake up very sad and even depressed that she is not here,
and nothing will be able to fix that feeling. I just have to feel it, because I loved her
deeply and I still do. I have learned to live with this stone—sometimes it feels like a
boulder, other times like a tiny pebble.

Time does not heal all wounds. But time does change them. They get more bearable in
time. This does not mean they go away or the pain is not as deep. It’s just different.

If you carry this stone of grief like me, know you are not as alone as you feel. You
cannot see what personal tragedies people have gone through by looking at them—but
more often than not, you may find that your stone of grief will be a LIFELONG bridge,
connecting your broken heart to another broken heart.

I know mine has.

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Anecdote

Sometimes after the passing of time, someone you love can sort of be turned into an anecdote. “Grandpa in heaven,” or “so and so always liked this,” or “I bet Ella is so happy in heaven.” The tenderness and quiet honor that people once observed seems to be a thing of the past. Now, when people talk about Ella…it’s just so matter of fact. I do not harbor any bitterness or resentment towards people, but I do not know how to react. I cannot feign the indifference that time has brought to others. I cannot feign the acceptance that others have chosen to embrace. I am still her mother, and I have not accepted her death.

The other night I felt the clouds of grief descend upon me, and the tears would not stop. I don’t know why it’s difficult for me to admit these feelings and tears to others and even to my husband. The words struggle to come out. The truth is–at times I am completely submerged in a sorrowful anguish. My heart breaks open anew continually, and all of my memories, regrets, questions and broken hope come spilling out. I feel lost again, when all I want is to feel found and safe..even for a moment.

I thought that after Beck came, I would feel infinitely more grateful to God. I thought that that gratitude would somehow propel me to a greater intimacy and closeness to Him. Beck is here, and although I am grateful–I still struggle with a faith that is to me, so fragile. Sometimes it even seems a facade. I don’t know why I am still ignorantly trying to “figure God out.” Trying at times to stuff him back into the box of my past understandings…how I long for that child like trust and naiveté. I am trying. Trying to do the things that I think I should, and the things I think God wants me to do. Read my bible, memorize and meditate on scripture. The truth is, I do not know what the truth is..and I don’t think thats good enough. I wrestle with God on lots of fronts, but I really desire peace. I wait vainly for a prompt or secret message that will suddenly make life and all it’s tragedies “click.” I know that Jesus is the answer…and that He was a man of suffering and sorrows. I know this. I like this Jesus. But I still don’t understand Him.

A relationship without trust must not have any love in it, and that scares me. I cannot reconcile my former faith and foundation, the death of my daughter, and the birth of my son. I don’t know why this is so challenging for me, but it is. I can pin-point the time of my doubts and the start of the extreme testing of my faith.

After Jason and I found out that Ella had no heartbeat, we were required to go to the hospital and get an ultrasound for a second opinion. We called my entire family, and had everyone praying. As we went into that room, the ultrasound tech searched, but found no heartbeat. My dear family…sisters, brother, mom, dad and brother-in-law all came in the room. My mom asked the tech to leave so they could pray over me and Ella. She left, and my family prayed the most fervent prayers I have ever heard in my life. They begged God, petitioned God, recited scriptures to God, rallied their faith, wept their tears and asked. Then the tech came back in and checked again….and still no heartbeat.

Before Ella died I had made the habit of reciting the Lords prayer everyday…”Our Father who art in heaven hollowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” I cannot pray this prayer right now. I am afraid of Gods will. I wish I was more godly, and a stronger person…but I am shook to the core, and my foundations are laid bare. All I can cling to is that God is doing a work in me, and that He will finish it. I cannot change my own heart, and this current excavation is incredibly ugly and broken to me.

6

Numb

Dear Ella,

I don’t know if I have the courage to be honest right now. In fact, I know I don’t. I am consciously blocking thoughts of you out of my mind…because I fear my worst fear happening all over again. Does this make me untrue?I feel so cheated, and ill-equipped to cope with the life I have been given. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I hit, or thought I hit “pause” on my grief button. I entered a strange survival mode. Survival mode is a lot like living like a robot. I wake up each day and force a lonely emptiness on my mind, as I will my consciousness to a barren and wasted mind-scape of nothingness. The first thing I see everyday is your cloud hanging above my bed, then I see the dress you never wore, and the quilt that never kept you warm. I see, but the eyes of my heart are dead and unregistering as I begin to will the pain, acceptance and even reality away. I build my wall of resistance and I try to defy my grief by convincing myself it is better to feel nothing. Numb. I’ve become numb after growing so weary of feeling every little thing so intensely. The pain of feeling constantly judged, the pain of feeling like I’m never enough, the pain of my pain going unrecognized, validated or even spoken of. I have grown so tired of the pain of not having my should be almost one year old baby girl here with me. Death denies me my motherly right everyday, would you fault me for wanting to deny it back? My pain and tears have been replaced with numbness and fear. My mind oscillating between the two as I try so very hard to feign indifference. I don’t know how to function when my only frame of reference for being a mother is birthing and burying a dead baby.

And I think to myself, Ella…I wish I could have heard you cry. But then I realize how selfish that is, and that your first breaths were not cries–in fact I’m sure you opened your mouth and either a song came out, or a laugh. Not here though. Why is it that the thing we do after we draw our first breaths is to cry? It seems sometimes that there is nothing more to life than that first cry. These walls and this “get through the day” mentality will all come tumbling down in a matter of time…with the birth of your brother. I see the tidal wave of hope and also of renewed despair and grief. A wave that will haunt me for all that we’ve lost again..but that will also soothe with new life. I hate living in this almost realized paradox of life and death. Soon the floodgates will open, and my heart will be open again to feel the intense love for another one of my children. I know I cannot keep it out, and I do not wish to–but for now it’s all damned up. I am broken. I am surviving. I have lost track of how many times I have spoken to the silence, and to your dad “I just want both of them.” I want to have my little Ella, and I want my little prince. I miss you Ella…and I know I am going to miss you in new ways that I didn’t think were possible when Beck is finally here. I am so scared to miss you more…but I want to. I am afraid I will not be able to stand what is coming…so for now I wait and watch fearfully and numbly…I know that this will all change as the new waves of joy and grief are coming. 

 

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10-11-12 3:21

Almost exactly this time last year, I woke up in a quiet hospital room and looked out the window with brand new eyes. I remember everything like it was yesterday, the whole sequence of events from the news, to the delivery, to the exact emotions I felt as I looked out at the crashing waves, and pink and blue sky. The splitting ache in my soul has yet to subside a year later. Greeting me the morning of Ella’s birth was silence, and pain, and unmentionable solitude. There was no infant beside me, or inside of me anymore…just an aloneness that truly haunts and shakes me to my very marrow even now.

A year later and I am still looking out that very same window, asking God “How could you let this happen?” A year later and I’m still questioning, still struggling, still broken, still wanting the ending we never had. I honestly believe that there is no redemption this side of heaven for me.

This whole week has been dedicated to Ella–more specifically I’ve given myself permission to mourn for her in any way I feel fit. The magnitude of the actual date of her birth was really overwhelming for me–so this whole week has been about unpacking, reliving, relishing, loving, creating, dreaming, crying, talking and thinking about her and her life. Lately I’ve given myself permission to revisit as many memories as I can, and to let myself cry, and break again. Jason and I have talked a lot this week–even mentioning some things that we’ve never been able to speak to each other. He told me this week that he remembers how she smelled. This prompted me to revisit the short time I had to hold her, look at her, and touch her. I realized that these memories are very rarely visited for me–because of the shock of labor and the trauma of her birth. Facing these truths has been very monumental for me. Allowing myself to remember these things that have felt too fresh and painful have brought me closer to her, and Jason. I wish I could’ve studied her longer. I wish I would have held her longer–although I realize that when your child has died, there will never be an amount of time to say goodbye that’s long enough. I wish I wasn’t in shock. I wish maybe I could’ve sang to her..or said something profound.

At the same time I realize I sang to her all of her life. She heard my voice, and my love for her everyday. I believe that I was just holding her shell, and that her spirit was gone. Reconciling this faith, and knowledge with this temporary and fading world that we live in is astounding. My heart knows that there is more to life than this…and she is on the other side. Regardless of this knowledge, the amount of faith it takes to believe the truth at all times is staggering.

This week has been such a special journey for Jason and I as parents. One night we laid in bed and just looked at her pictures. We haven’t looked at her pictures in months…at least I haven’t been able to. We looked, and marveled at her again, and I couldn’t help but wonder who she would’ve been. We also talked about what and when we thought her final moments were…and even wondered aloud if she felt any pain. These thoughts are ones that have been unspoken and thought in solitude and maybe even guilt–but speaking them to one another has brought tremendous support and oneness.

I’ve done a lot of hard things this week. My mom and sister came over and helped me go through her closet. We packed up things to give away, and saved the truly special items. This is something I haven’t been able to do until now. We also made a special tribute wall to her in our bedroom. We used quilts, fabrics, sweaters, and dresses that we bought for Ella and displayed them in looms on our wall. This is the first thing I see now when I wake up, and it brings me a sense of peace. The wall project is so special to me–because it’s just as tangible as she is. I can touch her dresses, and see the reminder of her light and love–and the joy she brought us. There is something powerful about having something as a reminder…so she’s not just in my heart, or my memories–everyone can see and be reminded. We also put a pair of moccasins in a shadow box and displayed it on my mantel. Looking at these little remaining pieces of her is still heartbreaking–but somehow your heart can break and find peace and joy at the same time. It’s so bizarre. My project today was framing her hand and footprints. I literally debated in the frame aisle for twenty minutes, no frame was good enough. The framing was the last little project I really wanted to do–and they are also a beautiful reminder of the miracle of Ella. My sentiment towards these projects can be summed up in the lyrics I wrote “Sometimes I just want to hold something your body has touched, I don’t have much, I don’t have much…like the little pink ribbon that we put in your hair, while you were lying there, you were lying there…” My mothers instinct is still desperately yearning to be close to my baby girl, and these little tokens allow me to be that much more.

I still have a million more things to say and process, but this day is about honoring Ella and that’s all I really want to do.

Dear Ella Rae,

Thank you for bringing me so much joy. When I found out I was pregnant with you I was completely overwhelmed with a heavenly love. I didn’t know a mother’s heart until You gave it to me. You brought me so much joy–especially when it was just you and I in the silence, or you and I in the car, or you and I on stage singing. Knowing you were there, and knowing your light made everyday such an adventure. You gave me brand new eyes to see the world. Everything was brighter, and better, and more hopeful. You put into perspective life for me. You helped me realize that the only success worth striving for is love. You helped me realize that my music, my career, money, things, and status are garbage in comparison to love. I know I should’ve learned these things before, but I was waiting for my little teacher and gift to give me lessons only you could give. I can remember when we told both of your grandparents and aunts and uncles about you–and the joy and elation and pure happiness we all felt. The world was brighter for everyone because of you. You are and were so precious to us. I remember most fondly how your dad cried, and sprinted out of the house and ran laps, and did jumping jacks…and finally fell on his knees in gratitude and awe. You made your dad melt…and I’d never seen him exhibit such wreck less abandon and joy before. There are countless memories that we have with you, at Niagara falls with your Aunt Beamer (who made you go on the splash deck :)), and festivals, and memorials, and roadtrips, and beach days and boat rides. Every day spent with you was special. I know people say that you wouldn’t want us to be sad for you…and I’m not sad for you. I know I’m sad for myself. Maybe you can ask God for more angels, or signs, or love for me…or just strength to keep going.

I remember right after you were born, seeing your dads face for the first time was like seeing  a stranger. Your dad was smiling with such pride, and love…that I’d never witnessed before. You had changed him, and I saw it. He loves you so much, and he has an easier time than I do imagining you playing. He often remarks, “I wonder what Ella is doing right now?”

The gifts you gave after you left are just as important and valuable to me as the ones you gave while you were here. Ella, you have given me a changed perspective on suffering and pain. Your short life has made me care so much more than I ever used to about people around me. You gave me more compassion. You gave me understanding. You gave me a perspective that is so precious to me. Never again will I be so oblivious and callous as I once was. Thank you for life and light…and I know that the ultimate thanks will be to God our creator and Father. He chose you for us, and these gifts are ultimately from Him…I am sure you know that much better than I do. I don’t believe you are watching over me, or that we can even communicate..but if by some design you can hear my heart…I just want you to know that I love you, and I miss you. And I really can’t wait to see you again.

Love your MomImageImageImage Image