Thursday, December 20, 2012

trying to find joy at Christmas

Christmas is said to be 'the most wonderful time of the year'... 

When your child has died, it is hard to feel 'wonderful' about anything....especially any days that suggest any type of celebration.  Birthdays suck, holidays suck, every day is draining.  High expectations are placed on the bereaved.  People don't want to see you hurting, and they don't know what to say.  Often, they expect you to be cheerful, and it's really the last thing you want to be. 

When your heart is broken, there is no joy, and there is little hope.  What was once 'normal' has been shattered.  Nothing seems right, and even your most favorite songs, meals, movies and traditions lose their luster.

Last year, my husband and I realized, two days before Christmas, that we could not bear the thought of being home over Christmas, so we took a last minute trip to Las Vegas - a place where no one really seems to care what day it is.  It was great - we were able to get away, and we didn't have to face the 'traditions' that used to be associated with Christmas.

This year, has been hard, too....I'd even say it's been harder than last year.  Last year, our Christmas was "blessed" with the cover of shock as we tried to go through the motions.  This year, we are still trying to go through the motions, but unlike last year, the shock has faded, so this year carries all kinds of Emotion as we face each day.

My heart is torn.  One part of me has always loved Christmas.  The decorations, the giving, the kindness and joy.  The other part of me wants to ignore the whole thing.

Deep down, I feel like we need to do something for Catelyn, to remember her....even if our hearts ache, even if we don't feel joy.

We did purchase a small tree to set up in Catelyn's room.  I think it's 18-24 inches tall.  I found a few ornaments I had picked up last year, and I bought lights for Catelyn's tree this year.  My initial thought was that we could write little notes to her and tie them to the tree as a special tribute to her... 

I truly thought it was a good idea, and that it would be therapeutic to write to her all of the things I want to say, but to be honest, the tree is still in its box sitting in our kitchen, and I don't think it will be used this year, especially since today is the five days before Christmas, and we are heading out of town tomorrow.

At a time when so many are feeling joyful, I can't help but feel hopeless. 

I miss my daughter.  I try not to focus on the fact that she is gone, but sometimes I can't overlook it either.

Catelyn would be celebrating her 3rd Christmas this year, and then her 3rd birthday on December 30th. 

She had one Christmas and one birthday with us.  She was 360 days old when she celebrated that first Christmas, so it was fun watching her try to figure out opening gifts.  Between celebrating with her great-grandparents, her grandparents (on both sides), and her aunt & uncle - not to mention my husband and I, she had plenty of practice!  She was so dainty as she scraped the icing off her cake piece (quite possibly the cleanest 1st birthday pictures ever!!!). 

She was so fun to watch, but we don't know what future Christmases and birthdays would've been like if things had gone differently. 

It's heart breaking to wonder about, and yet, it's hard not to.

So how am I supposed to find healing or even joy in a time when I feel so broken? 

Well, recently, I heard about a blog called Theo's Christmas Stocking.  Theo died at 9 months of age.  His family has spent 7 Christmases without him now.  As the first Christmas without him approached, they decided to ask friends and family to help them honor his life by asking a favor.

I realize that it's not fair to ride on the coattails of someone else, but the idea was so beautiful, I could not help but want to do the same for Catelyn.

So, what my husband and I are asking is that our friends, family, and even strangers, consider doing something kind for others in Catelyn's honor.  Simply send us a note telling us what you did via email or mail if you know our address. 

We will save any messages we receive and read them on Catelyn's birthday (December 30th).

Please note, we are not expecting anyone to do anything that costs money - the idea is just to do good things for others, and to think of Catelyn as you do them.  Besides, there are plenty of free things you can do for other people that are meaningful:
This request may come easier to some than others, and that's okay too.  Some people may want to do things year round, and that is great!  The email address will be available year round, though it may not be checked often, since the goal is to read the notes on Catelyn's birthday - 12/30.

Please know that we are appreciative of anything and everything done in Catelyn's name.  And, no matter what type of giving suits you best, it is my hope that each of you can find joy in the gifts you are giving to others.

We could not move forward in our grief without the love and support of each of you, and we are so grateful for everything you do.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

no magic

As a person who is already mourning the loss of their child, I find myself feeling especially helpless as I see people around me who are grieving.  I feel like I should be able to offer some kind of comforting words, and find myself realizing that there are no right words to say...ever.

There is no magic way to take the pain away.  There isn't anything that can 'fix' the situation.  As a person who likes to fix things, this makes me feel so incompetent.

Recently, I have put my foot in my mouth, trying to talk with other grieving people, more than I care to mention....oh yes, I have.  It just goes to show that when tragedy strikes, no one, not even the bereaved, knows what to say.

The best thing that any of us can do is listen, without expectation, to what is being said to us.  I truly believe that we cannot offer any "right" words of comfort.  The best thing we can do is LISTEN.  Let the person who is mourning say (or not say) what they need to.  Offer support through actions and not words.

When we try to offer words of encouragement, they usually get in the way of what our intentions are.  We find ourselves, accidentally, trying to hurry the course of grieving along.  It's not that we don't believe, or even understand, that grieving should take a long time, it's more that we want to remove the suffering.  We want to make it "better".

There is no "better"....not immediately, and sometimes not even after a couple of years.  "Better" comes with time, and often lots of time.  Each day gets a little "better", even when the days are feeling worse.

I am going to try to illustrate this timing by looking at astronomy (which you will soon see that I am no expert in - sorry Ms. Burrichter if you should read this).

In school we learn that it takes the earth approximately 24 hours (or 1 day) to make a complete rotation on it's axis.  At the same time, it takes the earth approximately 365 days (or 1 entire year) to completely orbit around the sun.  Because the earth is tilted, and also rotating on its own, as it moves around the sun, we experience different seasons at different times.

When we experience a loss, in our own way, we become tilted (like the earth), and we begin to experience different stages of grief (seasons).  We continue to try to move forward (orbiting on our own axis) the best we can in life (while rotating around the sun), and eventually we realize that we've begun to heal (made a complete revolution around the sun).

The biggest difference between grieving and astronomy, is that there is no set timeline for the seasons, and we can't rush it either.  The seasons (stages of grief) come when the come; we don't necessarily get the luxury of knowing that in a certain amount of time this will all go away.  We have to accept that healing will come when it's supposed to.  We may not feel healed in one year, or five years, or even fifteen years, but we keep moving forward.  It's all we can do.

Not everyone will understand, and perhaps most people won't, but it's not up to us to worry about that.  We have to look out for ourselves and do the best we can.  Our world is now tilted.  We're going through things differently than we did before. 

Our "better" will come, but it may take a while.

If you are struggling with grief, find people who will listen to you and not try to force you to find "better".  Find people who have the power to listen and don't have to fix things.  If you can find 2-3 people who can support you, it will help.

At some point, if you look backward, you will begin to see how far you've come, and though your "rotation" may not be complete yet, you can see that you are may not feel it (much like we don't feel the daily rotation or annual rotation of the earth), but you will start to see it.

we are not experts on anyone's grief

As many have already heard, there was a very tragic shooting at an Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday.  I believe I last heard that 26-28 people died, at least 20 of which, were children.  My heart truly aches for all of the families whose lives have been forever changed by this incident.

At this time, the tragedy is too hard for me to think about in great depth, but a few days ago, I was researching websites on bereavement counseling, and found a couple of really helpful websites:  one is somewhat more geared towards people who want to be grief counselors, and I feel that the other is more for anyone.  Either way, they both have a lot of good information to offer:

A couple of important points found on the former website are as follows:
"We are not the experts on anyone’s grief...we must meet the grieving without expectations about what should happen or what they should be feeling....there are no experts..."  
“Without time to incorporate change, the mourner’s assumptive world is abruptly destroyed. Control, predictability, and security are lost, and the assumptions, expectations, and beliefs upon which the mourner has based her (his) life are violated.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

TCF memorial candle lighting

Tonight was one of those really tough nights. 

Good was mixed with bad, heartache was mixed with joy...

The Compassionate Friends, an international grief support group for parents, siblings, and grandparents, held their candle lighting ceremony tonight.  At 7pm, in every time zone, all across the world, people lit (or are lighting) candles, as groups or individuals, to honor the lives of the deceased.  It's a very powerful and touching ceremony.

My husband and I participated as helpers in the ceremony.  We greeted every person who came in, we passed out ornaments that were shaped like doves and stated 'love', 'joy', or 'peace' on the body, we lit the ceremonial candles with another couple, and we joined all of the participants as each of us lit an individual candle for the child/sibling/grandchild we miss.

It was so touching to be a part of something so important, and yet, it was hard.  It was hard to hear the music choices, one of which was 'From a Distance' (my friends from grade school could attest to the fact that song has made me cry since I was in 5th grade and my grandpa died).  It was hard to see so many people gathered to remember so many children.  It was hard to watch the PowerPoint presentation of so many faces and names.  It was hard to listen to the song that was played as we lit candles to remember our babies/siblings/grand-babies.

As I watched the faces streaming across the presentation, I was sad to recognize names of children I have heard so many times in The Compassionate Friends meetings I attend nearly every month, yet it was sort of nice to see the faces of some of Catelyn's angel friends.  Catelyn's name approached, and I felt myself growing anxious, almost as though her picture couldn't pop up fast enough, and when her beaming smile crossed the screen, I felt like it should've been up far longer. 

It's so hard to only be able to see her face in pictures or video, and even if I look all day, it's never long enough. Oh, don't get me wrong, we have ~2500 pictures and a decent handful of videos of that little girl (yeah....she was only 20 months old), and I am SO grateful for each and every one of them....

But what I wouldn't give to be able to hold her smell her run my fingers through her kiss her hear her laugh and tell me things.

At the end of this month, we will reach Catelyn's 3rd birthday.  Three-year-old's are wicked-smart, highly observant, and they have no 'filter' of what they should and shouldn't say....I can't even imagine the things she would know or say or do....

At 20 months, she was so wise already.  She knew that when it was time to leave, we'd give everyone a hug; she knew that she had to put on her hat & shoes before we'd go anywhere; she knew that she had to say 'please' if she wanted something - which was usually 'up', and she'd say 'uppies' to request it; she knew how to put on her shoes....and everyone else's!; she knew how to dance, sing, sign, & speak German & English; she knew she ought to pet the kitty 'nice' ly, though she hadn't quite mastered how to lay her hand on him gently (and he didn't seem to care); she knew she was supposed to go to the pool & play on daycare days during the summer, and she knew what it meant when mama or daddy appeared and weren't in swim clothes....and so much more.

It seems I've become side-tracked from what I was trying to say.  I was a part of something vastly important to so many people tonight, and it was nice to be able to let my heart ache in the company of so many others, though it was so sad to see so many people tonight, too.

I'm grateful for The Compassionate Friends, and having so much support from people who understand all too well what it's like to endure the death of a child/grandchild/sibling.  Even though many of us may have had mixed emotions tonight, it was still a good experience overall.  It's nice to have a designated day when all of our loved ones are honored, and candles are pretty much lit for 24 hours straight....our hearts ache, but it's heartwarming.