I'm having a hard time right now. With more than just grief. But isn't it a bitch how other struggles can so easily amplify grief? Frustration with work, financial stress, sickness and tiredness cause me to implode and among the rubble he's screaming for me. My God, how I miss him. I haven't struggled with missing him in a long time. The chaos of the last few months has settled. Ryan's 2nd birthday, Brayden's first. Returning to work. Family things. I've one again carved out yet another "new normal" routine. And I was adjusting just fine. Until I wasn't anymore.
The routine. The normalcy. It jars me sometimes. How little my life has changed. I mean, my life has changed a lot. Yes. But now Ryan's two and we're starting this third year without him here, and my life looks so normal. So much like it did before he died. The part of my life that everyone sees. We walk around and live our lives looking like a normal family of three. Except we're not. How we look on the outside just does not match at all how I feel on the inside.
Especially when I'm struggling.
It kills me when I'm having a hard time coping with the realities of life and everything looks so normal. Because it is this illusion of "normal" where my biggest fears start to happen.
I'm overwhelmed lately with this feeling that people are forgetting. Maybe not forgetting, but certainly not engaging with his memory. On the 15th of October, we lit candles for Ryan and his friends. And I couldn't help but notice that on this third Wave of Light, there were no messages with burning candles pouring in from those who've celebrated in the past. And I'm always so grateful to see the various birthday celebrations (from around the world!) on September 7, but I also can't help but notice when (and by whom) he's not mentioned on that day.
Most painful for me, is that I didn't even make time to write him a note on October 7. The very first 7th of the month since he died that I didn't. It was Thanksgiving weekend and he was obviously on my mind. But with going back to work, and family things... I was busy. I was tired. And I was already pretty emotionally drained. I know I need to give myself a break. But when you're feeling like around you, everyone has "moved on from him" the last thing I need to feel is like I'm leaving him behind too.
Grief is lonely.
Even when you're lucky enough to be able to share it so openly. As I am. When it hurts, it hurts. And when you look around you, and see how smoothly the world keeps turning, you feel stuck on an island alone.
I know time has passed. I know you've got to keep moving forward. And I have. I do. But some days the moving forward hurts.
That's me this past week.
So when I saw the 7th on my calendar today, I needed to stop. I needed to sit here. And I needed to write. Despite how tired I might be. Despite my frustrations and stresses. I needed to put it out there and maybe feel less like I'm being swallowed by the loneliness that is my grief.
Because really, I just miss my son.
I've been pretty tuned in lately to the subject of grief being tackled on TV. Both "reality" shows and scripted television. Two instances in particular really resonated with me and I wanted to "talk" about them with someone, so I figured, why not here?
The first was a few weeks ago on Dancing with the Stars. I mentioned a small point briefly on my Facebook page, but there was so much more in the episode that struck me. The "stars" were dancing about their most memorable years. And for each dance there was a package presented where the celebrities discussed why their year was so significant. I was most struck by Nancy Kerrigan's story about her journey to motherhood. She was so candid in her interviews, explaining her desire for a large family, and how in getting there she experienced 6 miscarriages in 8 years. Her emotions were raw as she talked about feeling like a failure. Grieving each loss with the belief that she was failing. But hers wasn't the only story that touched me. Dance after dance the stars revealed intimate details about their lives. Their struggles. Life-threatening injuries. Life-changing decisions. Battles with illness. It should have been so depressing. But I watched each one and noticed a trend. None of these people were defeated by the turmoil, the struggles, the hardships. Each story had some kind of triumph. Maybe not a perfect, happy-ending. But they were all able to find some light and hold on to that.
I walked away from my TV that evening thinking about the human experience. I know there are some people fortunate enough to have never been touched by particularly rough roads. But for as many who haven't, there are those who have. But the thing about the human experience is that we can be beat down by life, but it's in those ways that we rise that there is so much beauty.
About a week later I was catching up on another guilty-pleasure show, Jane the Virgin.
The show is now taking place 3 years after Jane's husband, Michael, died suddenly of complications from a gun shot wound. Jane has been struggling with talking openly about her life and experiences with Michael, when her grandmother, who also survived the death of her own husband, gives her some advice. (Which I'll now paraphrase)...
She basically explains that the more Jane talks about Michael, the easier it'll be. Which will be hard in it's own way. She says that Jane is now in a long-term-relationship with grief.
YES! I nodded emphatically at my television that day.
Bear with me for a moment while I act like a fictional character is real. But for 3 years she's been working on things. Living her life -- fully, I might add. But always struggling with her great loss. And then to hear it described so perfectly. Sigh. It was perfect. A relief to see grief explained and explored in a way I feel I've been going through it.
Because here I am. Nearing 2 years, and definitely feeling on the other side of the true darkness. But then simultaneously feeling a whole new sense of hardship because of that. Yes, definitely a long-term relationship. Complicated. Yes. But I'm finally starting to understand it.
Who said TV is a bad thing? Sometimes seeing a semblance of your own experience reflected back at you from the television can give you a lot of clarity.
"You don't have to pretend like you're not frightened. Naming your fear is part of getting through it." - Levi Lusko
I recently came across this quote on a friend's blog and it jumped right out at me. Because lately I have been dealing with a fear of my own. A fear that comes from the realization that I'm really doing great. And fear of admitting that out loud.
I'm afraid of this feeling of "better-ness." This feeling like a whole person even though I'm not -- not really. (See, I won't even allow myself to admit to feeling whole). It feels like such a betrayal of you. And deep down, I'm afraid that if I can feel this good again, then to everyone else you must be such a distant memory.
It's times like this when I'm reminded how complicated grief is. How I can feel great and still miss you so terribly every day. How looking into your brother's eyes can fill me with the greatest joy and also the deepest longing all at once.
How I can feel relief in my happiness and also be so scared of it.
Every time another month passes, and I am a little bit further away from the raw despair of losing you, I feel lighter than I did all those months ago. And when I feel lighter, I start to worry. I don't want to forget the painful feelings because they're all tangled up in my memories of you. But don't misunderstand me. I am grateful to be able to walk through my life and see colours clearly, feel joy, see hope. It's how I know it should be. What's the cliche? You would want me to be happy.
And, my sweet boy, I am. I am honestly, happy. But there will always be an asterisk by that word. Because my happiness is wrapped up in complications and confusion. And this month, as I sit in silence and think about how I'm feeling, 19 months without you here, that complication is the fear that as we continue to move forward, our time with you falls further away. And I'm left scrambling -- trying to find new ways to carry you forward with us.
It's like I'm afraid of losing you all over again. We've already lost your physical presence, and I don't want your memory to get lost in this happiness we've found.
You are as much a part of me now as you've always been.
And I hope you know my happy face isn't meant to disguise my missing you.
I guess today I just really felt the need to shout that out loud.
Love you always, baby boy.
Today is my website's one year anniversary. I was surprised when I logged on to Facebook this morning and it reminded me of this fact. One year ago today, I published my first piece here. And I can't believe how far it has come since then. It gave me a moment's pause to think about life then, and life now. What this blog meant then, and what it still means today.
One year ago, as I started writing, I was looking for a place to share my fears, my worries, my hopes, my grief. I was a bereaved mother with aching arms and a deep desire to share my heart with anyone who would listen. I felt I was floundering to find purpose and hope and took to the internet to connect with people who maybe felt the same.
Now, as I continue writing, I strive to share all of those same things, but I'm coming from a different place. Still a bereaved mother, but one with a living baby here in my arms. I'm still seeking to share my heart with anyone who will listen, because one year later, the ache has lessened but a void still exists. I know my purpose now, and I have connected with so many beautiful mamas from all around the world.
So, why do I still write? Yes, because my grief is ever-evolving. And with Brayden's arrival it has deepened and intensified and created a whole bunch of new little nuances that I sometimes need to sort out. But also for a very important reason.
When I started writing, it was because I had read so many other stories from so many other mamas with more experience than I had and it was those stories, those blogs, those mamas, that gave me more hope and courage to move forward every day than I thought possible at the time. I keep writing today, one year later, because I hope to return the favour. I hope to reach new mamas looking for support..
Babyloss hurts, to put it mildly. And it is without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Knowing I wasn't alone was the real game-changer for my grieving.
I have written about it, and will continue writing about it, because nothing has helped me more than talking about our loss. Before Ryan died I knew no one who had lost a baby. Or at least that's what I thought, because no one talked about it. And I didn't know it was okay to talk about it until I just went ahead and did it. I was so afraid of everything babyloss-related. I mean, that's why I only have one photo of Ryan. I didn't know what was normal. In fact, I felt that the whole situation was so NOT normal. I know differently now. I know that babyloss is normal and common, and I know how important it is for people to talk about it and to feel that they CAN talk about it. By opening up about it myself, I invite others to do the same. This creates a discourse, and a way of normalizing this very specific kind of grief. The more people talk about it, the more support there is for people who need it.
So a big thank you to everyone who has supported me in this writing and advocating adventure I've been on this past year. Thank you to those who have read and reached out. And thank you to those who read and hold my words in your heart and in your mind. If anything I've ever written has helped anyone half as much as writing it has helped me then every minute spent writing has been worth it.
Here's to another year of sharing, connecting, and grieving together.
This week I did two things. I continued what I imagine is the incredibly long process of figuring out how to tend to Brayden's needs on my own now that Rich is back to work. And I also managed to find some thinking time as I spent some time alone for the first time in a while. In the last 13 months, I've grown accustomed to "me time." Always finding an excuse at least a few times a week to spend time alone practicing self-care and reflection. So as overwhelming as the past few days have been, in a lot of ways they've also been really good for me too.
I thought I'd piece together some of my thoughts through the last few days (ahem, week) that I've missed for Capture Your Grief.
Day 21: Relationships
I've already written at length about relationships. Those that have strengthened. Those I have lost. Those I have gained. When I hear the word relationship right now, there's one that comes to mind that I feel a little worried about. And that is the one between this baby in my arms and the one in my heart. Brayden and Ryan. How will that look? Because one thing is for certain: I want them to have one some day. I'm not totally sure how it will look yet. But I've seen it be possible, and I want that for my boys.
Day 22: Pearls of Wisdom
The only piece of advice that I've taken and really ran away with has been: Do what I need to do in my own time. This whole grieving thing looks different for everyone. How I grieve my son is going to be different from how someone grieves a father, a brother, an aunt, a grandparent. And even how someone else grieves for their child. I have climbed through the darkness time and again by doing whatever I need to do to get myself there. And this bit of advice, this "pearl of wisdom," has allowed me to do that without guilt or fear of judgement. That has made all the difference.
Day 23: Sounds, Seasons, + Scents
To this day, I still think of Ryan whenever I hear the song, "Riser" by Dierks Bentley. At this point, I can't even remember why that song takes me to him, but it does. It's everything I had hoped to be able to be after losing him. Strong again. Unafraid. A protector of him and my family. I work on these things every day, and it always seems that when I need the reminder most, that song pops on the radio and gives me a boost. I will also always think of Ryan when Fall arrives. Ryan came to us at the end of summer. But I don't remember it being summer at all. Probably because when I "emerged" from the thickest fog, it was suddenly Fall. And I remember the fear of seeing the seasons change and feeling that time was moving on without me. I still love the Fall, for all the beauty it brings. But it will always remind me of Ryan. And when Fall creeps in, there will always be a little jolt to my heart that time has kept rolling on.
Day 24: Consciously Becoming
"So many of us split our lives into a timeline of before and after our children died. Who were you before your children died? Who are you now? Who are you now in this present moment? What are you feeling? Have you been irrevocably changed by the death of your children? How are you different now? Do you love anything about the new you? Do you want and old part of you back? Who are you becoming? " ... Well then. Those are some big questions. Questions I think anyone might have a hard time answering, let alone someone in my shoes. Someone who spent a year defining and defending her motherhood only to bring a baby earth-side and have to wrestle with the term "motherhood" all over again. So instead, let me say: Yes I'm a bit different since Ryan died. But I am still me. A little bit broken. A little bit stronger. I'm a walking contradiction, I guess. I am consciously trying to become better. A better mother. A better wife. A better daughter. A better friend. Just a better me. And in that way I'm the same as I've always been. Maybe a bit hard on myself, actually. So I'm also trying to take it easy on myself. 1 month, 13 months, 5 years... I'm always going to be changing and evolving and growing. And that would be true even if Ryan had stayed. Except maybe then I wouldn't be that little bit broken.
Day 25: I Am (Finish these sentences:)
I wish... I could watch my boys grow up together.
I remember... what I imagined my family would look like some day.
I can not believe... how wrong I was.
If only... I could have them both here with me, instead of only one.
I am... once again trying to figure out my "new normal."
Day 26: #WhatHealsYou
This. This is what heals me. I've been swimming in a sea of diaper changes and feedings, trying to figure out a routine. Trying to learn how to mother a baby on earth. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But then this guilt sets in. This consuming guilt that the garden in the back has yet to be tended to, yet to be prepared for winter. I haven't been the cemetery in 3 weeks. I haven't written here in a week despite an overwhelming flood of feelings and thoughts. I haven't even had the presence of mind to light Ryan's candle in the whirlwind that has been the last 2 weeks. So when one of many nap times rolled around today, and I sat down to REALLY get into this catch-up session, I found I could breathe a little lighter. I'm "healed" at least temporarily from the "mom-guilt." When I'm focused on writing, I'm focused on Ryan. Sure, I'm still tuned in to the hiccups and grunts and sighs in the bassinet next to me. But my heart is with my other son. My first born. And that brings me some peace.
Day 27: Family is Forever
I have built a family of four. (Five, including our dog, Chase!) And even though all four of us humans aren't here walking the earth, each and every one of us plays an important part. Each member is forever. And because of that, it's so important to me that they're all acknowledged. Before my parents left after Brayden was born last week, they wanted a picture with their grandkids. "All four of them," they said. My sister's two, and Brayden, and Ryan's bear. When my dad grabbed the bear to hold in the photo it took everything I had to not break down in tears. Not because I was sad. (Though, yes, I was certainly sad Ryan wasn't physically here for the photo). I wanted to cry for the joy that he was included. Then today, in the mail came a big package addressed to "Mr. Brayden Francis Russell." (Which was adorable to see, by the way). Inside, from my mom (and dad) was a Halloween package for him. There was a card, some bottles, soother clips... That kind of thing. But there was also a card addressed to Ryan. A perfect little Halloween card with a message for him. And yes, okay, I cried. And my heart sang a little too. Because I have two sons. And the acknowledgement of that will always bring me simultaneous joy and longing. It's all about the confirmation that my boy is forever part of our family.
There's a lot of power in the lighting of a candle.
That's probably my biggest grief ritual. On days where I miss him especially hard, or days where I just want a little visual reminder that he's close, I light his candle.
I brought it with me when we travelled at Christmas. Lit it by the tree on Christmas morning as we opened gifts. I even brought it to the hospital when Brayden was born. We couldn't light it, but at that point, it was more what it represented: that Ryan was there with us. And the visual reminder got me through some of the challenging emotions I felt in those first few hours and days.
The candle has also been a bit of a signal (I think). A way of letting Rich know when I'm having a tougher day. Morning, afternoon, evening... When the candle is lit, my heart is a little bit heavier than usual. It's usually good for getting me an extra tight hug, or an especially attentive "How are you today?"
And sometimes, as a ritual of grief, it's just a bit of a habit. I'm always feeling it, and at some point in the last year, lighting the candle has become one more way for me to show it.
As an English teacher, I hate cliche. As a bereaved mother, I hate trite phrases spoken in place of something that holds actual meaning.
"It's God's plan."
"Everything happens for a reason."
"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
I hate them because you can't fix the hurt of a major life-changing event with some tired cliche. Everything about the lemons to lemonade cliche makes me cringe. The comparison of Ryan's death to a bright yellow citrus fruit especially.
Maybe the only thing that makes sense in the whole horrible phrase is that lemonade, no matter how much sugar you put into it, will always be a little bit tart. A little bit bitter. Lemonade is bittersweet.
And bittersweet is the perfect way to describe anything "good" that has come since losing Ryan. Because even though I know goodness has happened, it's happened because he's not here in our arms. That just doesn't seem like a fair trade.
My first truly harrowing experience with loss was in 2007 when my cousin and his girlfriend were killed in a highway accident. I was close with my cousin; we were born a year apart, grew up next door to one another, and went to elementary, high school, and university together, When he died I was very lost. And I did not surrender to or embrace the grief I felt. I wandered around for weeks in a bit of a fog, denying my feelings, until my mom pushed me out of it. Then I hit things. I screamed. I yelled. I cried hard. Weeks of bottled up emotions flowed out of me in that moment. After that, I saw a counsellor back at school. Made sure to talk about it when I felt I had to. Wrote my feelings down in letters I never sent. I wasn't "good at it." But I slowly accepted my grief for what it was.
8 years later, came the next most devastating blow. The blow so great I still marvel at my own survival. Ryan died. And I did things differently. I do things differently. From the beginning I let myself cry. In front of whoever. I didn't have to be strong for anyone. I just had to feel his loss. And by letting the tears come, letting the sadness wash over me, I never slipped into that volcanic anger I experienced when Marc died. The indescribable sadness was just allowed to exist.
One year later, and I have totally and completely surrendered to and embrace my grief. I have taken it on as another part of who I am. Some days I conquer the world, and some days I need to hide for a bit and feel sad. Those days don't seem to come on as often as they did in the beginning, but I think that's a product of not being afraid of it. Of taking it for what it is: Just one of the ways I have left to express my deepest heartfelt love for my first born son.
To have Ryan described as a beautiful mystery is fitting in so many ways. He is far and away the most beautiful thing I've ever done in my whole life. And the reasons why he had to slip away from us will forever be the greatest mystery in my life.
And now, he will forever be a mystery. I don't like to spend too much time thinking about what he would be like now, if he lived. I find it doesn't help me. Mostly because I'm not good at it. I lack the imagination to picture how his features would have grown and changed. To determine whose personality traits he would have picked up. Would he have a stubborn streak, a hot temper, and silly personality like me? Would he be sweet, kind-hearted, and super-smiley like his dad? I don't know the answers to these questions and I won't until we meet again someday.
But I have on occasion done this horrible thing, where I log on to BabyCenter's mom groups and scroll through what used to be my birth group with Ryan: the September 2015 group. And I try to learn about where he'd be right now. Would he be walking? Saying any words? What kinds of foods would he be eating? What activities would we be doing? I browse the photos of moms and dads out apple picking with their little ones, all Ryan's age, and think: "This is who he'd be now."
And it doesn't make me feel better. It makes me sad. And it makes me so angry to read the posts from moms lamenting:
"Where does time go?"
"My baby is getting too big!"
"I want my little baby back!"
No, lady. I want my baby back. I want my beautiful mystery to not be such a mystery. I want to know everything about him in the way that you get to know everything about your children. I don't want to pretend and imagine.
Ryan is a beautiful mystery, and every day I wish that he wasn't.