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Monday, December 19, 2011

'A person's a person no matter how small...'**

Grief is so very difficult, and grief that refuses to be recognized, is the hardest to deal and cope with.  The other day I noticed that one of my classmates was visibly upset.  I watched as she would occasionally get up and leave our class, always with tears brimming in her eyes.  Each time this occurred something would tug at my heart. 

Here was a young woman in pain, her grief so deep so profound.  Here was a mother who had lost not one but two children, in such a short time.  What was even more difficult for her was that she did not have an opportunity to hold these children, they were both miscarriages.  Yet her grief is as real as mine, and I believe, even more so.  

Too often those who have lost a child through miscarriages, stillbirths and in infancy are treated as if their grief should be non-existent or diminished in some way.  As a mom who has lost a child, I cannot even imagine not having had the opportunity to hold my child, let alone not being given the opportunity to meet them or getting to know them.  I have met too many moms who have not forgotten, who remember there due dates, and have named their child.  The love they have for their child is no different than mine.  Any woman, who has carried a child in pregnancy, knows the bond that begins long before their child makes their debut into this world.  

For most moms, we begin to talk to our unborn child; we begin to dream of what they may accomplish, what they can become, and what they will add to our lives.  This child is a part of us, and we a part of this child, we cherish every movement and kick; we look forward to sonograms, and doctors visits.  So much anticipation, so much fear and joy, and so much hope.  That unborn babe is life itself, we begin to nurture this precious life long before the delivery date.   
 Recently, there was some commotion about pictures taken of a families' stillborn child.  I can honestly say that it is the pictures of my daughter that I cherish most, and I fortunately have many years of photos.  For others this is not the case.  Yes, it may seem odd to so many of you, but for many of these parents, it is there one cherishable memento of their little angel.  My husband and his family have a picture of their little brother, Rui, who lost his battle with illness at the age of 10 months.  At a time when photos were rare, someone offered to take a photo of him at his funeral, the only photo his parents have of this child.  When photos come out, as they often do at family gatherings, this picture always brings wonderful memories of a life too short.  

 Grief is grief, whether we have so many precious years with our loved one, or profound memorable moments; love is love.  And for so many of us who are moms, the love of mother and child, is the strongest love of all.  It is unconditional, our hearts are poured out for the love of our children, and we cherish every nuance, every heart beat.  Whether you have had just hopes and dreams, hours or days, or have shared some memorable years; the spark of life, the fulfillment of dreams, the realization of love, is a loss that cannot be measured.  
 When we do not understand what is happening, or have not experienced a loss ourselves, we need to step back and realize that grief is very real in so many instances.  Loss needs to be acknowledged, we must be willing to accept that others will hurt, that pain is real, regardless of what we or society deems as an appropriate grievable loss.  Our role should be to LISTEN, to hold their hand, to simply say 'I'm sorry,' and to allow them to work through their grief in whatever way works best for them.  We are not 'cookie cutter' people; we are each and every one of us, unique.  And it is this very uniqueness that makes us all the more wonderful, all the more vulnerable to all life hands us, and that gives us the courage to get up and face each new day with a renewed sense of hope.  

Love crosses boundaries that no man or woman can or could ever understand.  Yet love is one emotion that can bring us so much joy and sorrow at the same time.  But to not know love, for me is a greater loss than any other I can even begin to fathom.  We hurt because we love, but we also begin to heal because we LOVE!
To all parents who have loved a precious child, who have held them in their arms, or simply in their heart; know that they now hold you dear, and that they continue to send you love, and you will always be their mom and dad.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

For a list of resources for grieving parents visit:  Honored Babies

**Title quote by Doctor Seuss (March 2, 1904 - September 24, 1991)
                                     From Horton Hears A Who!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

That's not right! It's more like this!

All too often people cannot understand why someone is grieving so deeply or for so long.  After Rachel's death, I was home for a year, and I existed in a state of semi-hibernation.  My husband, on the other hand, went right back to work.  He runs and operates his own business as a tailor, and for the most part was alone a good part of his day.  I worked in the demanding cosmetic world prior to my daughter's death, so I knew I would be afforded very little quiet time, if any at all.  I also knew it would be difficult to deal with the demands of other people when I was lacking so much in me.  

My point is that people began to compare my husband and I, stating things like you both lost a child, your grief should be the same, and so on.  Word to the wise, it is not the same, ever.  Each and everyone of us experiences grief differently.  There are many factors that effect how we grieve a loved one.  The relationship is one that quickly comes to mind: were you very close, or was there some estrangement?  What did this person represent in your life, was this someone your relied on, trusted, shared all with?  Was this person someone who fully and truly accepted you as you are?  All these and so much more play a big part in your grieving.  The more you love the greater the pain.  So to say that two people who both share a similar loss should feel the exact same amount of pain or grief is so untrue and unfair to the griever.  Grief is unique to each individual, and only the individual who is grieving knows how they feel.

I have often heard people saying things like, 'I lost my spouse and look at me, I'm doing fine, why are they still moping about'.  Or 'I don't understand, didn't they both lose a parent, why is he or she still having a hard time with this, the other seems to have been able to get on with their life.'  I have been myself compared to other grieving mothers, and either was given negative or positive feedback.  'She went right back to work, why didn't you?'  'Oh she is not doing as well as you, you have a better grip on the situation, it must have been guilt.'  You name it, I've heard it and been compared to it.  

But like I said before, no two of us is alike, we have unique personalities, unique likes and interests, we are 'individuals' -'1. a single human being, as distinguished from a group. 3.a distinct, indivisible entity; a single thing, being, instance, or item.' (  We think differently, we feel differently, we experience things differently.  I'm reminded of my childhood days when my friends and I would lie down on the grass, staring up into the sky, looking at the clouds drifting by, for the shapes that our imaginations would conjure up.  I remember even now, how we would each see different things, and then agree or disagree with the other.  

Grief is no different than looking up at those clouds, it is all a matter of perspective.  We all see, understand and deal with events and experiences in our lives from the angle we are coming from.  That is one of the main reasons why you will so often hear, that grief is a process, that it takes time, that one must do what is best for them.  Because no one really knows what you are going through, you are the only one who does.  Does it mean others don't understand, of course not.  The greatest help for me was talking to other mothers and parents who had lost a child.  Listening to what had helped them make it through, what had been very difficult for them, and what had helped them cherish the time they had with their child.  In those darkest days and even today, they are a source of comfort, wisdom and hope, letting me know that I too will make it.  

The message here, is to allow yourself to mourn, to grieve, and to give yourself the space you need.  People often mean well, but unless they have gone through what you are experiencing, they truly have no idea what you are going through.  Don't let anyone pressure you into feeling a certain way, or try to conform you to what they believe is the 'normal' grieving period or behavior.  And if you are trying to help someone who is grieving, let them know you care, you are willing to listen, and give them space.  Most often all we need is someone who is willing to just be there with us and for us.  And most importantly, don't compare yourself to others, and don't allow others to compare you with anyone else.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011



Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twists and Turns

Photo by Rose Mary Saraiva
The road ahead may at time seem so clear.  However, as we travel along our chosen paths, we start to realize what seemed so certain, so straightforward is anything but.  We find obstacles, turns, detours, dips and rises, so much we weren't expecting.  Life is such a road.  

Looking back over the years, my life has taken so many turns, some pleasantly surprising, others leaving me longing to go back and choose an alternate route.  I'm reminded of my late teen years, at the age of 19, I was engaged, had finished school, was working and knew exactly which direction I was headed.  The world lay before me waiting to be conquered and explored.  

Today, as I have crested another mountain in my life, and I am slowly beginning to coast down the other side, the view though splendid, is not always clear.  As I look out at the scenery that is my life, I find myself wondering where this path will lead me, what lies ahead for me.  There is a certain amount of apprehension and fear, as I take another step into my life, into my future.  

It is often said that adversity shows one's true colors, draws upon strengths we did not know or realize we possessed, and opens our lives to unbelievable possibilities, if we are willing.  Through my grief, I am learning that I have a capacity to do so much more, help others, and to relish the loves in my life.  I have chosen, in reinventing myself, to learn all I can about grieving, the grieving process, and how it effects me as a person.  In my exploration, I have come to realize that each new day offers endless possibilities, and that I have the ability to make a difference if I so choose.  

This does not mean that I am personally not still hurting, it means I am allowing my self to grow, growing pains and all.  Grief is now a part of who I am, but its company is not so unwelcomed, I have learned so much from grief.  The poet Robert Browning says it best,  

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way.
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things
I learned from her
When Sorrow
walked with me!

Are you willing to take that walk with 'sorrow,' are you willing to let it help you become someone new?  We all have choices in life, we all stand at the start of each new road, and we all are given the freedom to decide which path we'll take.  I may not always choose the right path, but I will always choose to learn from it.  Rachel's death was not of my choosing, had I a say in it, the outcome would have been totally different.  But alas, death like life is inevitable, and I believe the reward after death is so much greater.  So I take each day as it comes, knowing that Rachel continues to teach me so much and is my constant companion; and that the love of a mother and daughter is all the fuel I need for the journey.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's A Boy!

It's a boy!  We have a new grandson, and all are doing fine.  

Amazingly enough, I did fine that day of his birth.  Like anyone awaiting the birth of a child, I was excited, nervous, and every other emotion you could think of as I awaited the news of his arrival.  When the time finally came and I was allowed in, there he was, a perfect little miracle.  I did not cry, I was just so happy to see that mom and baby were all doing well, and all had gone well. 

Of course there was a lot of bustle as there always is after the birth of a child, as nurses and doctors continually check on mom and baby.  The pediatrician came in at one point, examined the baby, and told the parents that he had 'stork bites' or 'angel kisses.'  These are red marks that go away in time and his were over both eyelids.  Immediately I heard angel kisses and thought to myself, Auntie Rachel sent him off with a kiss.  My daughter told me it was not only Rachel, but his late uncle Richard, on his dad's side which would explain the two marks.  

Rachel was very much a part of that day, and I was not the only one who sensed her presence.  I felt that she had more than likely met her new nephew way before we did.  Comforting, to say the least!  And even though it has been a busy few days, it has been wonderful in so many ways.  Life is amazing, and even though it refuses to play by the rules, it is wonderful just the same.  

Grief remains a constant part of my life, sometimes it remains silent and we go about our day, and at other times it can be intense, catching us off guard, it all depends on what is happening.  We find ourselves 'reinvesting in our life.'  Reinvesting, what do you mean reinvesting?  We begin to let go and allow the deceased go on with their new life, as we gradually find acceptance and move into our life without the deceased.  We allow ourselves to love others again, not to replace our loved one, but to share the love we are capable of giving.  

When we begin to reinvest in our lives, we find ourselves going back to work, or as was the case with me, new employment in a totally different line of work.  Others take on new hobbies, especially if they have lost a spouse, and there were certain activities they enjoyed together.  Still others, find that they now feel that they can share their experience with others, hoping to help them in their journey.  There are so many ways in which bereaved individuals can begin to reinvest in their lives, while still honoring the memory of their loved one.

As we begin the process of reinvesting, we find that memories are much less painful, and bring comfort and a smile.  We no longer worry about forgetting our loved one, but more so remembering the beauty, love and gift of their life.  Some set up a special place in memory of their deceased, for my husband and I, it is Rachel's memory garden and a special chest that holds mementos of the love, care and thoughts of others during our darkest days.  For others, it's a special area in their home, it can be whatever works best for you and your needs.  

It's not to say that this forward movement, does not sometime elicit pangs of guilt.  As we find ourselves becoming more fully immersed in life, we often feel guilt creeping in.  Even 5 years later, I still feel a sense of guilt, as if maybe my memories are slipping away, or I am forgetting.  This is okay, and we allow ourselves the feeling, but remind ourselves of that we will always have the memories, because of the love.  And as a mom, I have so, so many wonderful and beautiful memories of Rachel to last me a lifetime and then some.

Regardless of where we have been, we know that there is always forward motion, always change, always a newness awaiting discovery.  As we begin the new chapters in our lives, we learn to welcome them, to accept that another page has been turned, and that we are constantly writing and re-writing our lives.  We learn to live anew, we learn to love again, and we become stronger because of where we've been.

My life has taken turns that I least expected since Rachel's death.  I am working in a totally different field; I have gone back to school, and will be completing my certification this coming December.  With this certificate I will be able to act as a grief facilitator, helping ease others through their bereavement and grief journey.  I am able to comfort others who are grieving and somehow lighten their load, when possible, because I have now experienced a significant loss, and understand the pain.  I now have two beautiful grandchildren, proof that love blooms all around us, in both expected and unexpected places.  So much has happened, so much has changed.

My life is a constant whirl of motion, taking me in new directions, allowing me to grow, to become renewed each and every day.  We are asked to continually invest in ourselves, and occasionally to 'reinvest' in who we are becoming.  Grief is difficult, but when we allow ourselves the space, when we go through it, rather than circumvent it, we allow ourselves to be 'reborn.' And though we may come out kicking and screaming, we do come out, we do make it, we are fine, and we are given new chances to make life all the more worthwhile, for not only ourselves, but for those around us as well.  So that each and every day is a 'birth day,' a new beginning, and a chance to cash in on our investment.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Awaiting a Bundle of Joy!

These past few weeks have been truly busy as we prepare for the arrival of our newest grandchild.  My daughter is scheduled to deliver our new grand baby tomorrow, and we are all so filled with excitement.  It is even more exciting since we will not know until tomorrow whether it is a boy or girl, refreshing actually in a time when everyone needs to know NOW! what they are having.  

Rachel doing her Fire Marshall Bill impression
Yet with all this, I still feel a heaviness and sadness, as I think of how this newest addition to our family will not have the pleasure of getting to know their Auntie Rachel.  As I sat thinking about this, I could not stop the tears that fell freely of their own volition.  Thinking of how Rachel would have been an awesome aunt, how she would have spoiled any nieces or nephews, and how they would have loved her antics.  Especially in the way she made a point of making you feel so special, of letting you know that you were the most important thing to her in that moment.  

As a grandmother, I know the joys of seeing my grandson as he runs into my arms screaming gamma, that feeling that I am someone so very special to him.  I know that any nieces or nephews would feel the same way about their auntie Rachel.  I see it now with my son, and how my grandson seeks him out after he has greeted my husband and I.  How he is content to just sit in his lap as he plays video games or watches TV.

It is these subtle moments that remind me of what is missing, what could have been, and what will never be.  This newest addition like their big brother, will know Rachel through our sharing and stories.  They will see her picture, and when they ask, 'Who's that?' we will answer Auntie Rachel.  And I strongly believe, they will sense her presence in their lives, know her in ways that we as adults can not fathom or understand.  

I was gently reminded yesterday by a dear friend, that Rachel has been keeping a watchful eye over this soon to be born child. She has more than likely already had the pleasure of meeting him or her, and has told them of the love that is waiting.   What a beautiful image, what a wonderful thought and such a comfort to believe that our spirits our connected in ways that our humanness cannot comprehend. 

When we grieve, we feel the joys tinted by a hint of sadness and longing.  Our grief does not dampen the happiness, it simple creates an aching.  Jokingly, I have told family and friends, that I can luckily shed tears tomorrow, that for all outward appearances, will mimic tears of joy.  But my heart will know that my joyful tears, with have a bittersweet taste.  And as I hold my new grand baby, I will offer up a simple prayer, and I will ask Rachel to be his or her guardian, as they travel through life.  My heart knows that she will act on their behalf, constantly guiding their steps. 

Recently, I finished reading a book entitled, 'Outside Wonderland' by Lorna Jane Cook.  A story of three children who were orphaned at a very young age, and how unbeknownst to them, their parents would catch glimpses of their children from afar.  Unable to interfere, they would send their love to them, and watch as their now adult children would make pivotal decisions in their lives.  The book conjured up so many beautiful images for me, of Rachel looking in on her father and I, her brother and sister, her nephew and so many other family members who had meant so much to her.  It was also comforting to believe that my dad and grandparents may be doing the same. 

So with faith that the new arrival in our family, will be carefully cared for and loved from afar, and that Rachel will look in on her new niece or nephew from time to time, I welcome this much awaited baby.  I will share the love of a grandmother, and the importance of family, and that love is the most important gift we have to give one another.

Love after all makes all things bearable.  Love conquers all.  As I so often hear, we grieve because we love.  And when all is said and done, I thank God for love each and every day.  For it is love that reaches beyond all borders, and truly survives the test of time.  Love has been known to soften even the hardest of hearts, and to dare to go what others fear to thread.  Even death cannot take it away from us, it is the love that makes Rachel so much more present in my life.  It is love that keeps her always in my heart. 

And tomorrow there will be another special little person in my life, who I can love unconditionally.  Who will undoubtably leave indelible footprints on my heart.  A heart that I find has a greater capacity for love than I ever dreamed possible. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Hakuna Matata'

'Leave your past behind you.' and 'Hakuna Matata.'  two wonderful quotes from the Lion King.  Great advice, but sometimes your past refuses to be left behind, and you unfortunately have 'worries' to deal with. 

This weekend I played hostess to an impromptu baby shower for my daughter.  This is her second child, so it really was a small gathering of people.  She already has so much from my grandson, so it was mainly to help her buy what she will need after the baby arrives, diapers, t-shirts and so on.  It was really a great afternoon, lots of food and fun, and a complete surprise for my daughter. 

So you are probably wondering, what does this have to do with the past?  This is exciting, promising and wondrous all wrapped up in the joy of a new baby coming into our lives.  You are right, it really shouldn't have anything to do with the past, but alas, it does. 

The night before Rachel's death, I was getting my home ready for a friend's shower, whose baby would soon be my godchild.  That evening, I prepared the favors, decorated the rooms of my house, and started preparing some of the foods, and scanned my to-do list for the next day.  Guests would be arriving in the afternoon, so I would need to be completely ready by 12 noon.  As I lay in bed I hoped it would all go well, and that she would enjoy her special day.  Well as you are very much aware, my day did not go as planned.  In the wee hours of the morning we were headed for the hospital, and to a life that would never be the same again. 

So what does this all have to do with my daughter's shower?  The night before, a couple of us prepared the favors, and as we sat around joking, I confessed that I was a little scared and nervous.  The last time I had planned to host a baby shower in my home, things had not gone so well.  A fear I realized was unfounded, but a fear just the same.  They acknowledged my concern, understood my unease, and we talked about it for a bit and then right back to the task at hand.  Later on after they had gone, I sat catching up on some favorite TV shows and cried. 

Why was this bothering me so much, why was I so afraid.  It would be okay, everything would be fine, and go well, I had nothing to worry about.  But there is something called PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and anyone who has ever experienced a life altering event, knows exactly what I am talking about.  Most of us associate this syndrome with war veterans, rescue workers, medical staff, etc., but it is very real for so many people, regardless of what their occupations may be or their lifestyles.  PTSS really shows no partiality, everyone and anyone can fall victim to its untimely visits.  

For me the simple task of tying ribbons on favors, brought to the surface, many unaddressed fears.  It also triggered vivid memories of the day that followed, and the harsh reality that life can change at the drop of a dime.  As I sat there crying, I kept thinking to myself, wow it's been five years, why am I having a hard time controlling my feelings and emotions.  Everyone keeps telling me that the five year mark is a pivotal time frame, so why am I spinning instead of simply turning the corner.  

So I did a mental checklist:

                      Yes, I know that Rachel is gone.
                      Yes, I have come to accept that she is not coming back.
                      Yes, I have adapted to a new 'norm' in my life.
                      Yes, I know she is always with me, a heartbeat away.
                      Yes, I share her story, and let others know it is okay to talk about Rachel.

Okay then, everything seems to be leaning towards my full acceptance of Rachel's death, so why did this hit me so hard.

Whenever any of us experiences a traumatic event, we protect ourselves by locking away unpleasant memories, our minds keep them hidden until suddenly a simple thing unlocks it.  Thankfully, I recognized what was happening, but all the same it took its toll on me.  I found myself unable to sleep, and staying awake until 1:30 a.m.; at which point, I convinced myself that the phone would not ring and I could get some rest.  Even though I seemed to come to grips with what was happening, I didn't decorate my home until after I came back home from Mass.  It was around 12 noon when I finally began hanging the decorations and preparing my home.  

Even though my heart knew everything would go beautifully, my mind kept reminding me of what could happen.  Needless to say, I survived, the day went wonderfully, everyone had a great time, and my daughter received much needed baby supplies.  

Anything goes in grief, there are no rules, no guidelines, and time frames are only estimations.  We all cope and deal with life's alterations at our own pace, regardless of what the 'experts' say or how others have handled it.  We are as unique as grief itself, and grief in turn is as unique as we are.  What seems abnormal in normal day-to-day living, can be quite normal for the griever.  If however, you find yourself unable to function, even years later, please find help.  Speak to your physician, find counseling, get together with others who have been where you are.  Letting it out, allowing yourself to vent, speaking it out loud, truly help with the healing process.  So be good to yourself, give yourself space, and know that once in a while, you may hit a bump in the road.  Sometimes it is just a simple little pebble, and other times it may be a boulder which might require a little more maneuvering to get around it.  Most importantly, allow yourself to grieve, when you do, you will allow the healing to begin.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Twenty-nine years ago today, I was holding my first born child, a baby girl whom we named Rachel.  In those first few moments when we first lay eyes on our children, barriers break away, and we fall instantly in love; lending credence to the expression 'love at first sight.'  As the days progress, that love seems to double each and every day; in our 'bank' of love, the compounding interest and the rate of return would blow any major investor away.  But the love of a parent and child, for the most part, is unconditional, our hopes and dreams for our child, and what they can become, overpowers any doubt and uncertainty and we simply allow love to lead the way.

Is it an easy road, God, how I wish, but anyone who has had children, or ever been in love, knows that the road is rocky at best, and occasionally we find ourselves going in the wrong direction.  Yet love, with all its joys and disappointments, is something to be cherished, longed for, and not taken for granted.  It is because of love, that we hurt so deeply, that we find ourselves missing a loved one, that we long to hold them, just one more time.  

When Rachel died, I felt as if I had once again given birth, I experienced the pain, but yet my arms were empty.  There was no innocent face looking back into mine, only a void so deep, that nothing could fill. 

Those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one, know all too well the pain that anniversaries, birthdays and milestone events in life, can bring.  The missing and longing are so much more profound, the silence seems to echo our pain, we notice with so much clarity what is gone from our lives.  As my day dawned, I thought of Rachel, and how at 2:30 a.m. this very morning, she would be 29 years old.  As I took the dog out, I looked at her memory garden, and cherished the roses that were in full bloom, and marveled at nature doing its thing.  Birds flew overhead, squirrels played in the trees, life was happening all around me, unaware of my inner pain or of my minds musings.  

Yet, as I looked upon the scene unfolding in front of me, I felt no bitterness, no resentment, only an ache, a deep sadness, a strong awareness that even though my life had changed, life itself goes on.  Acutely aware that I am accepting the fact that Rachel is gone, no longer a physical presence in my life, I allow her to be present in my very being; totally aware that she is all around me.  The very fact that memories of her evoke smiles and laughter (fringed with some pain and longing), gently remind me that I have survived, that I will survive, and that I can and will continue to move forward.  Yes, I may occasionally look back over my shoulder and long for what was, but I know that love will continue to propel me forward, allowing me to have the luxury of my memories. 

Happy Birthday, Rachel. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lest We Forget...

September 11, 2001, how can any of us forget!  

We somehow remember where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt after those harrowing moments, when are world was transformed and rocked.  Today marks the 10th anniversary of that fateful day.  The people who lost their lives, were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, coworkers, and a multitude of other titles too numerous to list.  They were all individuals who held special places in the lives of those who love them and miss them.  They are not forgotten, no more so than the families members who we have lost to death.  Their memories live on in the hearts of those who held them dear.  Their very essence of part of each and every person who comprised their lives.

My prayer for those who died, their family and friends, is one of peace and love, of continually finding the strength and courage to face each new day, and the knowledge that their sacrifice is not forgotten.  I may not personally know them, their names, but I understand the pain of loss, the confusion of grief, and the longing to once again hold them near.  May we never forget those who sacrifice their lives every day to keep us all safe, to insure that freedom continues to be our birth right and that we are a people who longs for unity and love.  Life is fleeting, it is a wondrous gift, and each and every person is a gift to each other, to their families, their communities and to our world.  

The memory of today is a great sorrow for the United States, but every nation understands loss, understands grief, recognizes tragedy, and in this knowledge, we all stand united as people who recognize that life is precious, and that regardless of where you live, we are a people who long to be loved, and who need to love.  

May God continue to bless us, bless the United States and everyone who sheds a tear for a loved one.

Let us never forget!  We shall never forget!  You are always in our hearts, today, tomorrow and always.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

For My Sweet Angel

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Rachel's death, and I still find it so hard to believe.  Looking back over these last five years, it is hard to believe that I have made it this far.  Yes, I still shed tears, I still remember details as if it were only yesterday, and yes, I miss her so much.  Even though the intensity of my grief has and will continue to diminish, I still will feel that sense of loss, that emptiness in my life.  I will see years pass by and continue to wonder 'what would Rachel being doing now.' 

So much changes in our lives, there is so much we take for granted, and yet looking back, I am glad I had my time with Rachel, my special angel.  In her life, cut short too soon, she taught so much.  Last night I thought of how much I miss seeing her smile, the sound of her laughter, and her antics as she made everyone laugh.  She was life, love and energy all rolled into one dynamic person.  She had her difficulties, she made my life difficult at times as well, but yet through everything, there was always a beautiful person, just wanting to be loved and to share love.  

We all have individuals in our lives who are truly dear to us.  Some are right next to us, just a quick hello and a hug away.  Others have moved away, but remain a phone call away.  Others have gone 'home' and now reside in our hearts and souls, their very essence a part of who we are.  Let none of us take anyone we love for granted, allow yourself to be present in their lives, allow them in.  By letting them in, refusing to take them for granted, we allow love to surround us, so that when they are gone, love will surround us.

Rachel will always be a part of me, she will always be missed, and she will always be my little girl.  And the joy and love she brought into my life will for ever sustain me.  

On the day of Rachel's funeral we chose a song for the recessional at the end of her funeral Mass from Celine Dion.  The words from her song sum up all I believed in those dark days, and continue to believe until today.

Touched by An Angel

by Celine Dion

I was waiting for so long
For a miracle to come
Everyone told me to be strong
Hold on and don't shed a tear
So through darkness and good times
I knew I'd make it through
And the world thought I had it all
But I was waiting for you
Hush now
I see a light in the sky
Oh it's almost blinding me
I can't believe I've been touched by an angel
With love
Let the rain come down
And wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul
And drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls
For a new sun
A new day has come
A new day has come
Where it was dark now there is light
Where there was pain, now there's joy
Where there was weakness, I found my strength
All in the eyes of a boy
Hush now
I see a light in the sky
Oh it's almost blinding me
I can't believe I've been touched by an angel
With love
Let the rain come down
And wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul
And drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls
For a new sun
A new day has come
A new day has come

Rachel, I love you.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Day in The Life...

Over the years there have been many times when I think back to what I was doing on any given day.  Today, last night, are no exceptions.  As I lay in bed, I began thinking 5 years ago I was doing the exact same thing, getting ready to sleep, plumping the pillow, finding just the right position, and drifting off to sleep; but it really isn't the same at all.

As I tried to get comfortable, I thought of how totally unaware I was, how blissfully ignorant I was to how quickly life can change.  Five years ago I was probably running a list of things to do in my head, what I needed to tackle first, and so on.  Last night, I thought of Rachel, and how in less than 2 days, she will be gone five years.  Tears streamed down my face unto my pillow, as I longed to go back and change the outcome, resigned to accepting my reality, I finally drifted to sleep.

This morning my thoughts again drifted to five years ago as I more than likely followed a similar routine.  Hit the snooze button for those last five minutes before relenting and finally getting out of bed.  Jumping in the shower to start another day, taking the dog out, picking up coffee, heading to work.  Even though my daily routine has pretty much stayed the same, my life on the contrary is so very different.  I remember September 8th only because the events of the 9th etched every aspect of my day prior and day after into my memory bank.  

I dropped off my son at school, headed to my office, checked my planner for appointments, met with a few prospects, etc.  During the course of the day, Rachel called to ask me to get her transcripts as she was going back to school, tell me about her job and how she was getting paid to do something she loved.  We talked for a while, I asked if she was coming to a friend's baby shower the next day, and we wrapped up the call by both saying 'I Love You!'  She called several other family members including her dad, sister, grandmother; in retrospect, it was as if she was saying her good-byes.  

The day progressed and evening came, I prepared my home for a baby shower I was hosting, and later sat with my husband to just relax and have a glass of wine.  Headed to bed thinking of all the things I needed to get done first thing in the morning, and drifted to sleep.  At 3:18 a.m. the phone rang, and my routined life became totally unrecognizable, nothing would be the same ever again.  My once orderly life, would take on a whole new direction, seeking meaning, understanding and wisdom.  My world would shift in a way which would change it's course for ever.  There is a song that speaks so loudly to this very thought, 'Who Knew' by Pink, whose lyrics reflect what so many of us think, 'if only,' I could change it all back.  The very ending of the song says so much:

If someone said three years from now
You'd be long gone
I'd stand up and punch them out
Cause they're all wrong and
That last kiss
I'll cherish
Until we meet again
And time makes
It harder
I wish I could remember
But I keep
Your memory
You visit me in my sleep
My darling
Who knew
My darling
My darling
Who knew
My darling
I miss you
My darling
Who knew
Who knew

 But 'who knew' that it could all be gone in the blink of an eye.  

It seems as if I am unable to truly focus today, to stop the thoughts of Rachel from permeating every moment.  It is as if the loss is woven into every fiber of my being, I can feel tears that keep threatening to spill over, emotions that feel so raw, a reminder of how much I have lost.  But as I my professor stated this week in class, pain is good.  He actually wished us all pain, because when we hurt, we realized that we love and are loved, and would any of us truly have wanted to miss out on the love.  We grieve because we love, and I know nothing but love when I think of Rachel, regardless of what hurts I may have experienced during her life time.  Even though it hurts, I am so grateful for having had Rachel, for the love of mother and daughter, for the love of a friend, for the love.

Thank God for the gift of love.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Surviving Irene!

New England is still picking up the pieces after Tropical Storm (Hurricane) Irene's visit.  It's been a few days and yet many are still without power, running water, and simple luxuries like reaching into the fridge for something cool to drink.  My family and I were fortunate in that we lost power for only a few hours, but so many still wait in darkness.

Grief in many ways, is just like life's unexpected storms, and even if we have time to prepare, no one really knows what the aftermath will be like.  When all is said and done, we still have so much to do, so much to clear up and clean up, and we struggle to get back to what seems 'normal.'  We wait in darkness for the lights to go back on, for the ability to see clearly, to no longer having to fumble around, groping for reassurance and something to hold on to.

I have faced the tempest many times, and each time, it was the days after that seemed the hardest.  Where do I begin?  Where do I go from here?  Where will I feel safe again?  Will I ever feel normal again?  What will my life be like now?  So many questions, so many doubts, so many uncertainties, so much upheaval, it leaves you spinning, looking for direction.  

These few days after the storm, I have heard so many complaints, too many what ifs, and have listened to one tragic story after another.  I thought back to the days after Rachel's death, and I too asked the very same questions, and listened to other peoples' tales of woe and loss.  Whenever we are faced with change (even good change), we find ourselves dealing with the doubts that surface.  We inevitably also hear those people who tend to down play what has happened, hoping to lessen their own fears and misgivings.  In grief, these are often the people who say the darnedest things, who leave you scratching your head in disbelief.  In their attempts to placate, they add a sort of humor to our darkness, as we listen to their sad attempts at consoling.  

But yet, people make do, they reconnect with friends, they seek solace from family and friends, and they find their way through the darkness.  They survive, we all survive, we begin to accept what has happened, and look for new ways of living.  We hold on to the memories that keep our loved ones near, and move forward knowing our lives have somehow been enriched, for ever changed.  And just like the aftermath of storms, we begin to rebuild, and hopefully improve upon what already existed.  Unfortunately, too often it takes the storms in life, to help us see what we have, what is important, and what truly matters to us.  Sometimes it is the storms that refocus us, teaching it's lessons, and if the student is willing, can take so much away from the experience.  

As I stated earlier, I have had my share of storms, some I was prepared for and knew that death was inevitable.  My father, father-in-law, my grandparents, had battled illness for a while and even though they beat it several times, we all knew that eventually they would succumb, and the disease or illness would win out.  In the case of my father-in-law and my grandmother, we actually prayed that they would be relieved of their suffering.  And when my dad became comatose, we slowly began to acknowledge that this might be it.  But even with these expected deaths, if you will, there was so much to pick up after, so much to straighten out, and most importantly, what would we do with out them? 

When Rachel died, there was not preparation or expectation of death, just the aftermath.  It think of all those victims of earthquakes and tsunamis and other disaster that come on them all of a sudden.  Whose lives are terribly altered in a flash, who suddenly are faced with the realization that their lives have drastically changed; knowing that nothing will be as it was before.  That was how I felt after Rachel's death, it was as if my world suddenly and unpredictably came crashing in around me.  Like so many before me, I stood there surveying the scene in front of me, wondering where to begin, where to go from here, and realizing how dark my life was getting, fast!  

But like so many New Englanders, and scores of others around this globe we call home, we pick ourselves up, we brush ourselves off, we rebuild, and we find our way back into the light.  We cling to hope, and all it promises; knowing that even if we no longer have a cherished loved one in our lives, that their love is right there, always with us, no matter what changes we face.

It will be five years in 7 short days, and even though I still feel I have far to travel in my grief journey, I know I have already come a long way.  The sun is beginning to warm my face again, the clouds are no so threatening, and the pieces are somehow falling back into place.  Albeit there will always be one piece missing from my life, but I feel it is in this missing piece, that the sun shines the brightest, that the love is the strongest, and that I feel a sense of wholeness that I cannot begin to explain.  I am not the least for my loss, but the most because of it.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Annual Family Reunion!

Another family reunion has come and gone, but the memories we create definitely last a lifetime and beyond.  Yesterday was our 13th annual family reunion, it was so wonderful to see family members, and just catch up on what has been happening over the past year.  It is beautiful to see that our family is continually growing with new additions almost every year.  It was so much fun to watch all the little ones having a great time, playing with cousins they don't get to see too often, it's just wonderful. 

We also miss those who could not be there this year because of distance, commitments or life, but luckily there is generally lots of photos taken, so they at least can feel a part of the festivities in some way.  Of course we also feel the sense of loss, feel the void of those who are no longer with us.  But somehow they manage to let us know they are near, watching over us.  For example, just as we began to gather for prayer prior to eating, a beautiful large butterfly floated by, and I knew Rachel was present.  As the day progressed, my dad, uncles, aunt and grandparents where very much on people's lips.  They were part of conversations, especially as a photo album was being passed around.  Even though each of our deceased family members were not there physically, they were most definitely there in spirit.  

Memories where shared, laughter abounded as old photographs were circulated.  Younger cousins,  nieces and nephews, laughed and poked fun at hairdos and clothing styles, or how serious people looked in older photographs.  But what truly amazed me, was the connections that were occurring as older relatives shared the stories, and younger family members took them all in.  For some, it seemed they couldn't get enough, a simple reminder that there are so many stories to be told.  We are all story-tellers, we are commissioned to pass the baton to the younger generations.  It is through the stories and sharing that they come to know those family members they never got the chance to meet.  These are the stories of great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and all those people who made us who we are; FAMILY!  

My grandson recognizes his Auntie Rachel's photograph, and in a few years when he can comprehend, we will begin to share her story with him.  Like my grandson, for so many family members, that is there only connection with deceased family members.  I noticed it yesterday with some of the younger cousins from my generation, those who did not really have the opportunity to know my grandmother, those born after she had died.  They longed to have pictures of her, i-phones, etc., came out of the woodwork as they eagerly took pictures of pictures, wanting to have a momento, wanting to say 'this is MY grandmother' too.  

Luckily my family is not uncomfortable talking about our deceased loved ones, in fact there is a sense of pride when there names are spoken.  It gives everyone an opportunity to share there fondest memories in an atmosphere of compassion and understanding.  It allows healing en-mass.  My family is like one great big counseling sessions all wrapped up in love, laughter and life.  And even if we are not comfortable in sharing all our feelings, thoughts and emotions, we at least know they care, they put family first and that when all is said and done, we are family.

Yesterday was just a very strong reminder of how I made it through the darker days of my grief.  For me, it was in knowing that no matter what, I had and have people I could and still can rely on to give me the strength and courage I need to face each day.  It is just knowing that with all my faults and failings, they still love me for who I am, quirks and all.  My family is truly a blessing too me, and Rachel, my dad, and all my deceased relatives knew and still know this strong bond, this deep nurturing, and most importantly, this undying love, that not even death can steal away.  My hope for you is that you have people in your own lives who can do the same for you.

Well today I am tired, this 'weekend warrior' stuff is killer, I have muscles hurting that I don't remember having, but the memories that have been created will sustain me not only today, but tomorrow and for years to come.  Again, I am grateful for the insight of a couple of my uncles who decided that a reunion would be a great way to connect, even if only once a year.  It gives so much more in return than anyone could have ever anticipated.  Life will constantly change, people will come and go in our lives, and hopefully there will always be someone who is willing to pass on the baton and allow the memories to be shared.

Who we are is a reflection of everyone who has been a part of our lives, directly and indirectly, past and present, whether they were part of our lives for years, or for a short time, they are all a major part of our very fiber, our essence; just a Rachel is very much a part of who I am, and I a part of her.  The connecting fiber throughout is love, and love is the strongest of all, binding us together for eternity; giving us so much, helping us to carry on.  

Love could be felt this weekend even if it was not spoken, and love has seen us through many difficulties, and it will takes us well into the future.  Love does not fail, love does not end.  Love gives life, love is life and love flows freely through the veil of death.  Love conquers all!

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where was God?

Recently the question of my faith keeps coming up.  A few weeks ago someone asked me what God and my faith meant to me.  Just last week I was asked again where I felt God was in my darkest days.  And this past weekend, the question came up yet again.  Where did I see God in Rachel's death?  As many of you already know, Rachel died on September 9, 2006, a date which is rapidly approaching, and will represent 5 years since her tragic accident and death.  My faith has been my anchor in the storm, my foundation when everything around me shook, and the light even in the darkest of hours.  It has kept me going.

The first question of God's presence took place right at Rachel's bedside.  A friend had stopped by to see Rachel and be there to support us in our hour of need.  As he stood there, he quietly asked, 'Where is God in all this?,' to which I answered 'He has been with us all day.' and really gave it no further thought.  I had started that fateful day with one simple request, and I had asked God to give me the strength to deal with whatever the outcome might be.  I was unable to pray all day, even though my rosary remained in my hands, and when clergy came in and out of Rachel's room, I found myself often times, just going through the motions.

The following morning, September 10th, my husband and two children attended 10 a.m. Mass.  I felt a need to attend Mass, and I had been scheduled to be the lector for that Mass and in my infinite sense of responsibility, had not gotten anyone to cover for me.  So here we were, and I proclaimed the readings, and even though it was difficult, I felt comforted.  Why did I need to be at Mass?  Why was it so important to me?  For me, this was a place that brought me peace and comfort, a place that I knew I was accepted in all my brokenness.  This was my extended family, who would embrace me as I was.  This was were I needed to be at that moment in time. 

A few months later while driving my son to school, he asked, 'Why did God let this happen?'  Why did he let Rachel die?'  Questions that I knew would eventually come up, since they had been questions, I had often asked in silence.  My response, was God didn't let it happen and he no more wanted to see Rachel die than we did.  I assured him that God cried right along with us, for He too had watched his own Son die.  I reminded my son that God actually had been with us all through that day and the days that followed.  He was present in the people who came to the hospital.  He surrounded us with family and friends.  He sent us medical staff that were kind and compassionate.  He even somehow made sure Rachel was not alone on that stretch of highway.  And in the days that followed, his comfort could be felt in the many calls, cards, and the simple gestures of those around us.  The amazing thing for me was when I voiced this belief, a sense of peace came over me, and still comes over me every time I share my journey and how my faith has kept me going.

A friend called several months after Rachel's death, and my answer surprised her.  She asked if I was angry at God, to which I simply said, 'No, it wasn't His fault, Rachel fell asleep at the wheel, there was no one to blame, but Rachel herself.'  I guess it wasn't the answer she expected, and I found out later, that others did not expect it either.   Did I ever get angry with God?  Yes!  Did I ask for explanations. Yes!  But I also spoke to Him, even yelled at Him, trying to understand.  I remember going into my room, closing the door, and having an argument with God.  I have to admit it was a bit one-sided, I did all the yelling and He simply listened.  When I had finally spent all my emotion and anger, and was quiet, I heard the reassuring words 'I'm here!  I am with you.'  I cried and journaled and in my writing I felt a calming, peacefulness that is hard to explain, a sense of being hugged and held.  

Grief is not an easy journey, and in its darkest hour, we sometimes feel there is no way out.  We believe that we will never be happy again, we will never be able to smile or find joy in life.  But yet, somehow we do smile, we find joy, and we begin to laugh again, and the memories become treasures we hold dear.  My faith has been my guide and continues to be my strength, and anger and doubt help us to voice what we keep within.  God after all is my Father, and like my own father, He accepts that there will be anger, there will be disagreement, there will be discouragement, there will be questions, and that in time there is acceptance and understanding.  And like any loving father, He too worries about us, but yet keeps at a safe distance, and waits for us to call on Him for help and guidance. 

I know that it has been my faith that has held me in those times when I felt I could not go on, let alone stand.  It has been my faith that has been my true strength, and my belief that I will see Rachel again when I die.  My prayer and hope for you is that you have something to hold on to, a faith to cling to, a belief to see you through.  Whatever you believe, let it be you comfort and strength, your guide and hope.  For what is life without hope, what is love without give and take, and what is strength without sacrifice.  This weekend I heard someone say, that without hope there is no life, only death.  This is not necessarily a physical death, but a death to who we are, and what we can become.  Faith is hope, and when even a small glimmer of hope exists, so much can and will happen.  It brings to mind those miners in Chile, who held onto the hope of rescue.  Who in October of last year, rejoiced at the tiny glint of light that made its way through the depths to lead them out of their darkness and back into the fullness of light; into the arms of their loved ones, and the rejoicing that resounded around the world.

So remember that everything we hold dear, holds us dear, and it is our faith, our beliefs and our hope that give us the tools for the journey, no matter how arduous the road.  For me personally, it is the knowledge that I am not alone, that gives me the strength to go on; knowing that I am loved, and that I am 'held in the palm of His hand,' gives me a comfort that goes beyond explanation.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

It has definitely been a hot one, here in New England and all across this nation.  But even with all this heat, humidity and feeble attempts at keeping cool, I love the summer.  Summer has always been a time when family and friends get together, enjoy the outdoors and being with each other.  This summer has been no exception, it seems every weekend my family and I have yet another gathering.  A cookout here, a birthday party there, or just getting together at someones home, to take a dip in the pool. It's about fun and laughter, planning for the future and reminiscing about the past. 

With all these fun activities, and so much to do, you would almost think, 'wow, there is no time for grief.'  But if you are grieving, even years later, you notice, you feel the difference, you know what's missing.  Everyone else around you may mention your loved one's name, make talk about their exploits, and even say how much they miss them; but it is not the same.  We may not show it, we may suppress our feelings, and others see someone who they believe has gotten 'over it,' who has 'moved on.'  Occasionally our eyes may water up, a lone tear will make it's escape, coursing down our cheek, but it's expected (once in a while), or so it is assumed.  And we find that people tolerate this, after all it's normal to feel something, to tear-up when we are reminiscing, just don't break down in front of them.  (Note: they can't handle it; they run for cover, find a place to hide, so I've learned.)  Just kidding, not everyone runs for cover, but it does become awkward, especially if it has been several years since the death of your loved one. 

Why?  For most of us who have experienced the death of a loved one, we know it doesn't go away.  It could be 2, 5, 10 or even 30 years or more later, and we still feel the void.  For others who have not yet experienced such a loss, it may seem as if we are not coping or refuse to move on.  Today is the 35th anniversary of my Grandmother Rose's death, and yes I still remember.  I was only 15, my first true experience with losing a close relative, and it was very difficult for me.  I can still remember that morning when the phone rang; how may grandmother looked at the funeral home; and how I was plagued with nightmares for quite some time after the funeral.  My fear of losing others I loved, overwhelmed me, and I dreaded then and still dread now, early morning phone calls.  (A symptom of post traumatic stress syndrome.)  And of course Rachel's call came at 3:18 a.m., so my fears were again revisited, and my experience all the more real.  So please don't call me before 7 a.m., unless you really have too.  From my own experience, we just coast along, we learn to adapt to a new 'normal' in our lives, we learn to cope, and we survive and begin to heal.  

Yes there may be scars, reminders of what was, but we learn to live with them.  To accept them as part of who we are becoming, and gentle reminders of what we love and hold dear to us.  I have come to love my scars, and I have a few, they remind me that love is truly what matters, and because I love, I will hurt, but I will also live and I will have those cherished memories that only love can give.  But will they begin to fade in time, yes and no.  As you have just read, my grandmother is still a part of me, the scar of her death is definitely faded, but her memory has not.  And even without a conscious effort, I somehow remember each July 28th, that my grandmother died today; as I do with other family members who have died.  

Her loss is less intense, because the years have allowed healing, have allowed me to accept that she is no longer with us.  Will I be able to feel this way year's after Rachel's death?  I can only hope, but for now it still hurts, there is still pain, it is definitely become less intense and I have begun to accept the fact that Rachel is gone, but it is still a fresh wound, with the scar just beginning to form.  

Two of my children just celebrated birthdays, a sharp reminder that I won't be taking Rachel out for dinner, or singing happy birthday, there won't be Facebook messages from her friends, and no excitement when the cake appears with candles to blow out.  Just the date on the calendar that simply says Rachel's Birthday.  Evidence that the scar it just now beginning to form, and that the wound is still not completely healed. 

To add to this awareness, as I drove home from work today, I spotted a young woman that reminded me of Rachel.  I began to wonder what she would have been doing now if she was still alive.  She would be turning 29 this year; would she be married, or still single, would she be a mom, giving me grandchildren.  Where would she be living, would she be close by, or would her adventurous nature have her exploring the globe.  So many possibilities, but none capable of becoming reality.  I did not cry, however, but just felt a sadness for what could not be; for so many promises that would remain unfulfilled.  
These are the thoughts that go through my mind as I watch my two other children, reach another birthday, or fulfill yet another dream.  This is what I think of as I attend functions and activities, and see how far others have come.  Yet I smile and laugh, I act as if all is okay with the world and I move through my day, accepting the new 'norm' in my life.  At times I feel like a duck on a pond; all calm and collected on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath.  But when the day is done, I have made it through another day, I have survived, and I can feel the wound beginning to close.  

Grief has its own agenda, it takes it's time, and it definitely requires a lot of work and effort.  But somehow we find our way, we accept what it brings and the time requirements, and we find the strength, fortitude and courage to face each new day.  For me, love has been my guide, acceptance my co-pilot, and my faith the anchor in the storm.  And each new day brings with it a knowledge that I will be okay, as you too will be, and that we do not need to hide our scars,  but to accept them as part of who we are and all they represent, especially the LOVE!

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm grieving, so how can I help someone else!

This past weekend my husband and I met with a couple who have recently loss their son.  I had met with them shortly after the death, but my husband had not, so he was apprehensive. Tony kept saying over and over, I don't know what to say, you're the one who is good at this.  I smiled, thanked him for the vote of confidence, but reassured him that I was just as nervous as he was.  As we spoke, prior to meeting with this couple, I simply reminded him of what we needed during those dark days after Rachel's death.  

So what was it that we needed?  At the darkest time in our grief, we wanted to know that there was hope, we wanted to see what grief looked like after this period; we wanted to know that we would somehow survive.  We did not need or want lectures or long dissertations on grief and all it encompasses, we merely needed to know that someone understood our pain, that we were not alone, and that even though the pain may not ever completely go away, it will ease and subside.  We also wanted to share our story, let the world know who are daughter was and still is to us.  That too, is what most parents want, to let anyone who is willing to listen, know what this child represents in their life.  

We also wanted to know that our child was okay.  Was she happy?  We believe in life after death, we believe that this life is simply a journey, and that we are 'spiritual beings having a human experience.' (Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)  Because of this belief, we so longed to know that she was okay.  Like us, this couple also longed for the same things.  Was their son happy?  Would he ever let them know?  Did my husband and I ever have dreams with Rachel?  We didn't have dreams right away about or with Rachel, but friends and family did.  And as I look back at this, their dreams were shortly after Rachel's death, at time when I would not have been total aware or even open to dreams.  Not because I couldn't handle it, but because my mind was so preoccupied with so many thoughts of 'what ifs' and 'how comes' that nothing else could squeeze it's way in.  When I finally had a dream with Rachel, it came after resolving some issues that I had tried to bury after Rachel's death; and her message was simple, 'I'm right here mom, I have always been here.' 

Ironically, those who did have dreams, were individuals who would not hesitate to share the dreams with us.  These were people who knew we would be very much receptive to the dream and its message, even if it brought a tear or two.  People who, in my case, Rachel knew would definitely let me know she was okay, and relay the message without hesitation.  As we shared this with this family, you could sense their relief; they had been afraid that something was wrong with them, since they were unable to dream with their son; when others in the family had had dreams, and they hadn't.  

When we arrived at their home, they were waiting, anxious to just sit a while with us.  We walked in, said our hellos, shared hugs, and then they led us to their sons pictures.  They had laid out his photos, news clippings, his turn-out gear (their son was a firefighter), and even his boots had a prominent place near this place of homage at the dining room table.  So many pieces of their sons life laid out for the world to see, or at least anyone who took to time to stop by and visit for a while.  

For those who have been down this road, you will fully understand the need to have a loved ones pictures, personal effects or any other items that meant something to our loved one, nearby.  When Rachel died we kept her photos prominently displayed.  It is that need to keep that connection between us and our loved ones.  A belief that if by having the things that represented who they were in our midst, we are somehow closer to them.  It allows us to touch the things they touched, smell their fragrance on their clothing, or think about the last time they held a particular object.  For those of us who are grieving, it is our sanity, it is our comfort, it is a way of coping.  

All we need to remember is that the most important thing we can do for someone else who is grieving, is to be present to them.  To just sit with them, you don't have to worry about having the right words to say, or knowing what they need.  You don't even need to know the answers, often there are none to be had, we just need to listen, hold their hand and just be there.  So much can be accomplished even in the silence.

We each find our own path through our grief, we find our own ways of coping, but we also look to the strength of others, we draw on the courage they display, and hold on to the hope that we will again smile and laugh; that joy will be ours again, and that life will go on.  Grief is a lonely dark place, but if we allow others in, we at least have a hand to hold on to, and lead us through the maze of grief, bringing us out into the light.   

We are not alone, even if it seems that way, others have traveled the road before us, we only have to know that we need to ask for direction.  Reach out to a family member, friend or others in your church or community that have been were you are.  Seek out counseling, this allows you to share openly what you might not wish to share with those closest to you, and to express feelings in an unbiased setting.  And always remember that there is love, love never fails, and even death cannot take it away.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

In Loving Memory of Eric Fernandes

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Live your Life...Laugh, Cry, Sing and Dance....

Whoa, just realized I haven't posted in a while.  I have been on vacation, and believe it or not, unconnected; felt great!  Did a lot with family, both immediate and extended.  Day trips, cook-outs, and all sorts of celebrations, it was so much fun just being together with others. 

With all the festivities, and buzz of activity, Rachel was a constant on my mind.  As the events progressed I came to realize that not only was she on my mind a lot, but on others as well.  With each new conversation or discussion, Rachel's exploits would come out.  Whether we were discussing babies, childhood years, or adolescences, Rachel's name would be uttered by one person or another.  Even an impromptu diving competition led to talk about Rachel's prowess at swimming and diving.  It just seemed that she was very much present not only to us, but everyone there who had been touched by her life.  

A reminder that Rachel's presence is still felt by so many, not to only my husband, my children and I.  It was also liberating to hear Rachel's name spoken without hesitation, without fear of upsetting us, it is as if there is acceptance.  Acceptance that she is still very much a part of our lives, and we will talk about her.  Acceptance that none of us can change what has happened, so acting as if her name is taboo, doesn't alter a thing.  Acceptance that she lived, she loved and she touched so many lives.  And finally, simply acceptance. 

Yes, I have continually let people know that I will talk about my daughter, I will share her story, and I am still the mother of 3 wonderful children.  The only change is that Rachel is no longer physically present, but very much alive in my heart.  I am comfortable speaking of Rachel, her life and death, and it is this willingness to do so, that helps me through the difficult times.  Times like this past week and weekend, when so many family and friends were together.  Times when I know Rachel would have loved every minute.  Times when my feelings tug at my heart, because Rachel isn't here.  And times, when I am just simply missing her so much. 

It is not easy, and yes there are tears, there is always tears, but just when no one is looking.  When I'm alone in my car, when the house is quiet, when everyone else is asleep, or even when I am writing here on my blog.  I allow myself to release all those emotions that I keep at bay in order to insure that others are not uncomfortable.  I let my guard down, remove the mask, because no one is watching, I can be me, I can be that mom who lost a child, I can be that mom who is still trying to understand, I can be that mom who is hurting, who still feels the pain of loss. 

I know in my heart that there will still be ocassions, events and gatherings that will leave me longing, that will cause the heart to ache.  There are several events just peering around the corner that will have some affect on me.  We will soon have our family reunion, then the anniversary of Rachel's death, and her birthday shortly after.  I have another family wedding, and once again I will be reminded of what will not be.  But I know I will be fine, I will come through it, and that this is part of who I am now. 

Don't let my words be discouraging, they are not meant to be that way.  It is just when we grieve, we feel the void that gatherings and events can create in our lives after the death of a loved one.  I can tell you that it has gotten easier, I no longer dread attending special functions, I no longer fear what my reactions will be, and if I do need to shed a tear or two, I do.  Will there be triggers?  Yes, we all have certain things that can evoke a memory, that will pull at our emotional fortitude, but I have come to accept that this is part of grief, this is part of the 'process,' and I go with it. 

It's funny a minute ago, I had tears rolling down my face, now I am smiling, thinking life is so quirky that way; and like the weather, anything goes.  The sun is shining one minute, the next it is cloudy and gray, and it begins to rain.  Sometimes its a passing shower, and at other times, it lasts for a while.  But no matter what, there is always the sun, and every once in a while, a rainbow, too.  And to add to the promise of the rainbow, occasionally a butterfly will flutter by on silent wings, letting me know Rachel is near.  (And yes, we saw a butterfly at every gathering we were at, Rachel hated to miss out on the fun.) 

So live your life...laugh, cry, sing and dance...knowing that your loved one is always near, always a heartbeat way.  And that once in a while they let you know they are near.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What does it all mean?

Our minds and subconscious seem to work of their own accord at times, and when we are most open or unaware, long forgotten events, memories, fears, worries or matters we have yet to cope with, bubble up to the surface.  For me, like so many, it is in our dreams that buried thoughts, worries, feelings and emotions manifest themselves.  

In my last post I spoke of PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) which can suddenly awaken long forgotten doubts and fears.  It seems that recent events in my life have triggered off a series of waking images of Rachel in her last hours, as well as dreams.  This past weekend my dreams were non-stop.  It was a reoccurring dream, in it, Rachel was a young woman who suddenly needed medical attention.  As my dream progressed, I found myself carrying Rachel as a child into the hospital, as she lay upon the stretcher, she seemed to get smaller in size.  As I stroked her face, she kept telling me over and over, 'I love you, Mom.'  Finally in what seemed like an eternity a doctor appeared, by then Rachel was about just over an inch in size; he picked her up, not knowing what this was, placed her in a tissue and put her in his pocket.  I was perplexed and began screaming over and over, 'that's my daughter, that's my daughter.'  His look was one of confusion as I followed him around as he saw other patients, repeating the same phrase, occasionally adding Rachel's name to it.  Finally he handed the tissue over to a nurse as I kept telling them that it is my daughter.  She finally placed her under a microscope and quickly announced that she was still breathing.  The doctor began to apologize profusely, but said he didn't know what he could do, or how he could help at all.  The nurse stopped his tyraid to inform us that she had disappeared, 'she's gone,' and looked up at both the doctor and I in disbelief.  Now I began repeating her phrase, 'she's gone, she's gone' as tears rolled down my face.  Throughout this dream sequence I would awaken, tossing and turning, at one point even my husband asked if I was okay, and each time I would fall asleep the dream would start again, ironically sometimes where I had left off.  When the dream reached the final phase where I was saying 'she's gone,' I was awaken by the dampness on my pillow from the tears that began in my dreams.

I awoke Sunday morning exhausted and drained, made myself a cup of coffee, looked at my husband, and told him that I had dreamt of Rachel all night long.  The dream was so vivid, so exacting, that I can still see some of the scenes if I just close my eyes. 

So what does it all mean?  That has been the haunting question for me since waking yesterday morning.  I looked at what could have caused this dream, but like I said before, so many things have happened recently, that one or a combination of many could have triggered such a dream.  The message however, was very clear, 'She's gone.'  But what of the other imagery, the diminishing size of my daughter; it was as if the cycle was being reversed, she went from adulthood, to a child, an infant, and finally an embryo, and then nothing.  It almost seems as if my subconscious wants to find a way to accept that my daughter is gone, to match up to what the brain and heart has already seemed to accept, or so I believed.

Since the dream has occurred, I find myself easily saddened, tears threatening, and a tiredness that is hard to explain.  My lack of restful sleep explains the tiredness, but the raw emotions I experienced in my dream, refuse to let go. 

Why do I share this with you?  Because this is 'Living with Grief,' this is coping or attempts at coping, this is trying to find rational ways to understand what has happened and find acceptance.  Nothing is as it seems with grief, one minute you appear to have fully accepted the death of a loved one, and the next you are in the grip of overwhelming sadness.  When does it finally stop?  Who knows, really.  So many 'experts' will tell you that there is specific time frames for grief, but those who understand it best, are those who have been there, fully understand, and know the uncertainty of loss.  Someone recently asked me if the pain ever goes away, to which I simply answered, 'No' but it does get less intense, easier to bear. 

I have stated many times, there are no rules in grief, no guidebook, no step-by-step instructional manual, just life and the experience of others.  As I shared my dream with you, I have also shared it with someone who has done grief counseling, and her comment was that sometimes the subconscious mind wants to come to grips with the reality of what is happening to us.  She explained that our dreams do tell us something, and encouraged me to write it down, advice I had heard before when I was seeing my counselor after Rachel's death.  And that when we dream, it is us we dream about, or a part of us. 

Dreams can be interpreted in so many ways, and since man could speak, dreams have always played an important part in many cultures.  I will not even begin to go into all the different studies of dreams and their potential meanings, because there is just so much out there on the subject. 

What I have come to understand from my own dream is that Rachel is in fact gone.  She is no longer visible to the human eye, but yet I know she is with me, now even more than ever.  Her words 'I love you' mean so much to me, and yes 'she is my daughter' and will always be my daughter.  I will forever be mom to three wonderful children, nothing has changed that fact, nothing can. 

Do not let your dreams frighten you, embrace them, write them down, look to what their message might be.  Share them with someone you trust, who you feel will understand, and maybe together you can decipher its meaning, or at least shed some light on your emotions and what may have triggered them. 

Grief is a journey and its path may not always be clear, but know that you are not alone, someone has walked ahead of you and has found the way.  And when the journey gets too hard, as it often will, stop, rest and allow yourself to deal with it one step at a time, one moment at a time, and definitely, one day at a time.  I have seen what others have accomplished, and know that I too, will be okay, as you or someone you know, will be as well.  So take it slow, be good to yourself, and know that we find ways to cope in the most unlikely of places, we just need to allow ourselves to be opened to the message.

Blessings! and until we meet again.