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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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why do I remember every detail?

Memories, images, flashbacks, one never knows what will trigger them, what makes us recall certain images or details of an event or time.  Last week was pretty eventful for my family and I, from learning of a beloved priests death, to finding out that two of my nieces are expecting, and then capping it all off with the knowledge that Rachel's gift of life, was still very much making a difference in the recipients' lives.  Needless to say, a lot of thoughts and such were floating around in my mind, sadness, happiness, bitter sweetness and a host of other emotions to numerous to mention.  So it came as no surprise when certain memories floated to the surface. 

A couple of nights ago I had just gotten into bed, closed my eyes and suddenly I could see an image.  I was in Rachel's hospital room, and everything was as it was in the early morning hours of September 10th; from the placement of my chair, to where my mother was seated, and even to how the blanket lay over Rachel's body.  Her face was a peaceful as I remembered, and all the life sustaining equipment was all to the right side of her bed.  It was as if someone had taken a photograph of her and the hospital room.  It brought back a flood of emotions, as this particular scene was the last image I remember before they wheeled my daughter away to be taken to the operating room.  The last scene before our final 'good-bye,' before I would no longer be able to hold my daughter's hand, stroke her hair, or kiss her cheek. 

Grief can be funny that way, one minute we are reminiscing about the wonderful times we shared with our loved ones, the next we are recalling details that we somehow thought were locked away or forgotten.  This particular aspect of grief is often lumped into Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS).  For many this can be debilitating and have many adverse affects on their lives and the lives of others around them.  Once considered a syndrome attributed mostly to veterans of wars, it is now seen not only with veterans but with rescue workers, medical professionals, and almost anyone who has experienced a traumatic event.  For example, natural disasters, of which we have seen and in some cases experienced in the past several months, can have many affects not only on those who actually experience the event, but anyone who is even remotely connected with the events through family or friends.  There are so many more, fire, auto accidents, violent crimes, abuse, and a host of other life altering occurances that can cause PTSS.  

The affects of PTSS can occur shortly after an event or years later, and can be triggered by a host of things.  One can never be sure what can trigger a memory, what can cause a flashback, or what images will somehow resurface from our mental archives.  In my case it was the flood of emotions, both happy and sad, for others it may be sounds, smells, locations, or even people themselves, that somehow cause a long forgotten memory, event or images to make its way into our daily lives.  For me and so many, talking about it, helps us to deal with the emotions that such events bring along with them.  As this image of my daughter came into focus, I found myself crying, unable to stop, missing her that much more, longing all over again, for just a few more moments with her.  The next day as I shared what had happened with my husband, I felt a relief, a sense of being somehow in control, of being okay with the imagery and all it conjured up.  

So, what are the symptoms, how can I tell if I may be experiencing PTSS, and what should I do if it gets worse, or interferes with my life?  

According to, some of the symptoms are: 
  1. Continued recollections and replays of the event - which can include unavoidable and vivid recollections of the event, flashbacks and nightmares.  The event is often relived over and over despite attempts to avoid the memory.
  2. Emotional withdrawal and avoidance - emotions are often numbed and can cause people to appear unaffected, disinterested or emotionally isolated or dazed.  Habits may be changed to avoid situations, people or places that trigger memories.  Emotional withdrawal also dims joys, happiness and the pleasures of life.  
  3. State of anxiousness and easily startled - along with symptoms of anxiety, rapid heart beat and shallow rapid breathing, people can also become restless, unable to concentrate, have trouble sleeping, suffer from an underlying fearfulness and find themselves being on guard for danger constantly.  Panic and heart attack like symptoms, can also cause avoidance of public places.  There may also be a sense of guilt in knowing that they could not stop the situation or event from occurring, with some have a distorted sense of self blame. 
 There are ways to help you heal from PTSS, these include talking about it, sharing your story, allowing yourself to deal with the emotions and memories that have resurfaced.  For me it is talking about Rachel, the events of that fateful day, and writing in my journal and here on this blog.  By doing these simple things, I allow myself to come to grips with all that has happened, helping me to gain a better understanding of all that has occurred, and even though I may not find the answers, at least I can find comfort.  It also allows me to alleviate any feelings of guilt or helplessness that I felt after Rachel's death, and that sometimes find a way of pushing its way into my emotions and feelings.  Yes, there is guilt, after all I am a mom, and moms should be able to protect their children, and kiss away the boo boos.  

There are three general steps to recovery, these are:*
  • Regain a sense of safety and security
  • Regain a sense of control over what has happened and being able to bear the feelings associated with the trauma
  • Retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma to allow the emotions to gain a new and more realistic understanding.  Reconstructing the story will also allow for different, and more positive, responses to the traumatic memory and its triggers.
We all need to grieve, we need to be able to mourn our losses, we need to get past our own feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and allow ourselves to 'let go' and let healing begin.  If it becomes more that you can handle, find help, it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and courage.  Strength in the knowledge that we can not always go it alone, and courage to stand up, reach out, and make the decision to ask for help.  I did, and do not regret a single moment of my decision to do so, Karen was my counselor, and with her help, with her willingness to listen, to let me vent, and to just be an unbiased person who had no preconceived ideas of who Rachel was or who I was, helped me to be candid.  My sessions with her allowed me to share what I could not share or dared not share with family or friends.  

No one is required to or should try to go it alone, find someone who you can talk to, or get professional help if it has become too much for you to bear.  We all go through major events in our lives, some happy and full of promise, others rock our world and leave us questioning life, full of doubts and uncertainties.  We are not alone, ever, there are so many people who have traveled the road we are on, who have experienced our pain, who have seen what we see, who can take our hand and guide us through this maze called 'life;' all we have to do is reach out to them.  Healing starts by letting go, but sometimes we need a hand to hold onto as we begin this process, reassuring us that we are not alone, and that someone is nearby in case things get rough.

Memories are wonderful, and can help us heal as we recall wonderful times spent with loved ones who have died.  Sad memories and flashbacks, also can help us heal, as we learn to understand what they mean, why they occur, and how we can come to grips with what we have tried to forget.  When we face these challenges, we begin to take control of the emotions associated with them, releasing ourselves from the very feelings that hold us back.  Healing begins and we live again, more fully, more aware of who we are and what truly matters to us. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

*Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome & Grief (2008),

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Gift!

Time passes so quickly and life continues its head long journey through our hours, days and years.  It will be five years soon since Rachel's fatal accident.  Yet her presence and life continues to be at the very core of all we do.  

Today I received a call from the organ bank, in the years since Rachel's death, we had not heard anything about the recipients of her organs.  For those who may be reading my blog for the first time, Rachel was an organ donor, a choice she had made long before her death.  But after all this time of wondering if all was well, we finally were given a 'thumbs up' that her gift of life had made a difference.  

Three individuals received organs on that fateful day and today I learned that they are all doing well, that they have been able to return to their active lives and have met with no complications since the transplant.  Recently our family initiated contact with the recipients in the hopes of at least hearing how they were doing.  The letter we wrote was forwarded to each recipient, giving them a brief synopsis of what Rachel was all about, and how we truly hoped her gift had greatly improved their lives.  

The news was wonderful indeed, and I was truly grateful that Rachel's ultimate gift had made a difference in their lives.  I listened, took some notes, and as I was thanking our liaison at the NEOB, I could feel the emotion welling up.  I hoped she couldn't hear it in my voice, but another second longer and I would no longer be able to hold it back.  No sooner had I placed the receiver back in its cradle, when the tears broke free.  Tears of joy, tears of longing, tears as a result of knowing that my daughter still lives on.  That Rachel still manages to make other peoples lives better.  

She had a gift for making you feel special, as if you were all that mattered to her at that moment, and her ultimate gift, is no different.  She may not have always done things by 'the book' as they say, but her love of life and her acceptance of others, was a constant in her life.  If you were someone she cared about, it was all about you!  This is her moment, her chance to shine, and she is doing so with a brilliance that far outshines the sun.  She is doing what Rachel does best, giving completely of herself.

The tears do not seem to want to stop, they keep coming to the surface, occasionally making their way down my cheeks.  Yet, I am so happy, I just want to shout, I want to let the world know she lives on; not only in our hearts, but in the very lives of others.  It is a feeling that is so hard to explain, it is life and love, it ebbs and flows like the tide, happiness and sadness all wrapped up in my emotions.  I feel as giddy as a school girl, I really never expected to react this way to just knowing that everyone was okay.  That life can come from adversity, that there is hope even when all seems lost, and that a ray of sunshine could be so comforting, warming me to the core of my being. 

The funny part of all this, is I don't even know their names and we may never know if they so wish it to be; but the blessing I was granted today, is so much more than I ever expected or anticipated.  I can't believe that I can't stop crying, its as if I have been allowed to spend a little more time with Rachel.  It feels like life just gave me another chance.  Of course, we still hold on to the hope that we will someday have the opportunity to meet one or all of the recipients, and be given the chance to fully share Rachel with them.  But whatever the future holds in store, they are always in our prayers, and our petition is always for their continued good health and a renewed fullness of life.  

Thank you for today, thank you for letting me know Rachel is still very much alive! in so many ways.  What a truly wonderful feeling.  I had seen and heard the joy in other donor families, as they talked about having had the opportunity to meet the recipient, and how it had made such an impact in their own lives, and now I think I know why!  This is a WOW moment, it is LIFE, it is so unbelievable!  I am laughing, crying, smiling and every other emotion in between.  It is as if I have just witnessed a birth, and experienced all the pain and happiness that goes with it.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, June 6, 2011

'So when it gets distressing it's a blessing!'*

Whoa another weekend has gone by.  As you get older it seems that weekends shrink, going by much too quickly, especially when it is stock full of family and friends.  Compound it with an abundance of good news and you have the makings of an amazing weekend.  And what a weekend it has been for my family! 

Saturday morning began as most do, I slept in a little longer than the Monday through Friday routine (instead of 5:30 a.m., I awoke at 7:30 a.m.).  Hey it's a couple more hours, really!!  Showered, took the dog out, made coffee, etc., etc.  The phone rang, and this beautiful sunny day had a little black cloud in it suddenly.  A parish friend called to inform me that our now retired pastor, had passed away the night before.  Fr. Cardosa was a wonderful man, very gentle and kind, and had been our pastor for several years before being forced to retire because of health issues just under 5 years ago.  So now I need to make a few phone calls and post a message on 'Facebook' to get the word out.  The realization that now I am facing the prospect of a wake and funeral, and I am once again face to face with the reality that life is so unpredictable and far too short. 

An hour or so has gone by and my phone begins to ring again, and I'm thinking probably someone with questions or just another telemarketer calling.  I looked at the caller id and I notice it is one of my nieces calling, and my mind starts ticking off the possible reasons for her call, as I say 'hello.'  We start with the usual banter, but I am detecting a certain excitement in her voice, and then she just blurts out the words 'I am going to have a baby!'  Of course, I am ecstatic for her, and I start with the usual questions, 'When are you due?,' 'Oh, your parents must be so excited!,' and a host of other comments and questions.  So now that dark cloud that was threatening has gotten it's silver lining, and things are looking bright, really bright.  

I call my daughter and we both talk excitedly about how her second child will have a cousin to play with.  Yes, my daughter is expecting her second child, so needless to say this grandmother is very, very happy.  My little Lucas will have a little brother or sister as well as a little cousin to play with.  Could you ask for anything more???  Well, yes you can!  

My family and I are seated around the dining room table having dinner, when my daughter starts getting some texts messages (thankfully we had already eaten and were just enjoying each others company) and she is getting excited.  The rest of us are trying to figure out what is going on, and she won't even give us the slightest clue.  I start making assumptions, wild guesses and then the phone rings.  It is my nephew and he starts by asking me if I now he's engaged, to which I say 'yes.'  Now I can sense there is something more, and I simply say 'You have something else, don't you?'  He pauses then says he is going to be a daddy, his fiance is expecting.  Now I am beyond ecstatic, I have flown somewhere over cloud 9 and I am well on my way to Pluto.  This is amazing two new additions to our family both due to arrive in January 2012.  Life is just amazing that way, one dies and another life makes its way into the world, or should I say two new lives begin their journey.   

What a sad, happy, exciting, amazing, encouraging and blessed day Saturday turned out to be.  Yet, at the end of the day, I thought of Rachel, I spoke to her about all the good news and how wonderful that her cousins would soon be parents.  I spoke, she listened.  How bittersweet our joys can be when someone is missing from our lives.  Of course, I wouldn't dream of saying anything to my family, I just express it here, my source of counsel, my way of venting and letting my feelings take wing.  Some would not understand, others would think I am just being silly, yet others may feel that I might need help.  Silly or not, I need to express it, I need to let it out, I need to be able to free the emotions that threaten to well up inside me.  As for needing help, don't we all...after all we are human, and there is only so much we can handle on our own.  

Yesterday, we just relished the fact that our family is growing, that there are so many blessings that we can be grateful for, and how truly wonderful life can be even in the midst of all the darkness.  It reminds me of the song from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:' 'Out of the ashes come the roses of success..'* and how so very true indeed, there is always hope amongst the rubble, there is always light at the end of a tunnel, and there is always the morning after the deep darkness of night.  And as Fr. Johnson explained yesterday in his homily, 'we are made stronger by the trials and sufferings in our lives' and yes, we 'do overcome, we do become stronger.'  In my experience, we also become more compassionate and understanding of others, taking every blessing as a 'gift' a very special gift in this very uncertain life.  Letting the joys fill in the sadness, allowing ourselves that space to grieve and yet rejoice, to cry and find laughter, to sit quietly and when we feel the urge, to get up and dance.  To be alive, and yet very much aware of all that is important to us, to who we are, and what makes us, us!  

Life is a gift to be cherished, love is a gift that not only needs to be cherished, but is life-giving, sustaining us when all else seems to fail.  Love is forever, no matter what separates you from your loved one.  Even death cannot break the hold love has on us.  Love, after all, does make the 'world go round.'  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

*The following are the words to the 'Roses of Success:'

Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you'll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Oh yes!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!
(spoken) Yes I know but he wants it to float. It will!
For every big mistake you make be grateful!
Here, here!
That mistake you'll never make again!
No sir!
Every shiny dream that fades and dies,
Generates the steam for two more tries!
(Oh) There's magic in the wake of a fiasco!
It gives you that chance to second guess!
Oh yes!
Then up from the ashes, up from the ashes grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!
Disaster didn't stymie Louis Pasteur!
No sir!
Edison took years to see the light!
Alexander Graham knew failure well; he took a lot of knocks to ring that
So when it gets distressing it's a blessing!
Onward and upward you must press!
Yes, Yes!
Till up from the ashes, up from the ashes grow the roses of success.
Grow the ro
Grow the ro
Grow the roses!
Grow the ro
Grow the ro
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Grow the ro
Grow the ro
Grow the roses!
Those rosy ro
Those rosy ro
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster, grow the roses of success!
Start the engines!
Batten the hatches!
Man the shrouds!
Lift the anchor!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We All Need Each Other...

Family gatherings can be so much fun.  They grant us opportunities to catch up with family members and friends we haven't seen in a while.  These past few weekends my family and I have celebrated graduations and First Communions, or have just gotten together, to be together.  It can be so much fun, relaxing and rewarding to just be around people who love and understand you.  

This weekend was also Memorial Day Weekend, a time to remember all those who gave their lives so that we can have our freedom.  It is also a time of remembering deceased loved ones, and what they represent to us.  Like so many of you, I have had my share of losses, my grandparents, my dad, aunts and uncles, and of course, Rachel.  All people who played a very important role in my life, who because of their sacrifices, their love, I became who I am.  Each of these individuals played a role in forming me as a person, even my daughter, who through her love of life, compassion to and for others, and her nature of acceptance, taught me so much in her brief time with us.  Yet there is still so much to learn, still people to meet, and just a world waiting to be explored. 

Recently someone asked me why I decided to write a blog, what had moved me to put my thoughts, feelings and emotions in writing.  My quick answer was that I knew I had something to share, that I wanted others to know that they are not alone.  Shortly after Rachel's death, I began searching for support groups, blogs, websites, books, etc., anything that would help me understand what I was going through and continue to go through.  My hope was that I could find someone who understood my pain, could let me know that I was not 'crazy,' and that my reactions, thoughts and feelings were normal (to some extent).  During my search, I realized that even though I did find others, I did find resources, they were limited, or so it seemed, in regard to what I was experiencing.  So I believed I could help, some how, in some small way, by sharing my own experience, as well as the experiences of others I have met along the way.

But as I gave it more thought, I realized that I also needed a place where I could freely express myself without the fear of reprisal, without someone handing me a tissue so I could stop crying; a venue where I could be free to share Rachel without hearing a gasp at the sound of her name.  My purpose was both altruistic and selfish, a giving and a taking, a pouring out and a refilling of a void.  It was a means to help others, but more importantly a way of finding self-help.  It also opened my eyes to the various types of loss and how it impacts our lives.  I have found myself more open to the pain, confusion and suffering of others, becoming more capable of realizing that people hurt, and that it is not always clearly defined, accepted or even recognized.  

One of the most beautiful aspects of blogging, has been the responses I get from others.  The comments not only reinforce my desire to help, but they allow me to see from different perspectives, from varying angles.  These comments reaffirm that Rachel, even in her death, is reaching out to others through my sharing.  She is traveling (something she loved to do) around the globe, meeting so many wonderful people, and giving so many of you a glimmer of hope or a way to help a friend in need.  Yet, when I receive some sort of feedback, I find hope, I feel compassion, and even though there is not a full understanding of what I am going through, I can sense a genuine desire to help ease my burden.  I thank you for your comments, for sharing yourselves with me and so many others who read not only my post, but your comments as well.  It is so very true, 'there is strength in numbers,' and together we can help each other along the way.  Our journey need not be a solitary one, we can count on each other, and when necessary, we can reach out to a stranger.  

It is in the sharing of our stories, our sorrows and triumphs, that we can often make sense if it all.  The insights of others often helps us to 'get it' when we seem to not be able to draw from our own inner knowledge and experience, when nothing seems to come to us, or when nothing is making sense.  So what began as a way to reach out to you and others, has become a healing balm for me, a vehicle which allows me the luxury of easing my travels through this world called 'grief.'  Thanks for coming along for the ride, and I pray you continue to do so and that together we can find our way.

Blessings! and until we meet again.