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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.