The Legacy of Grief

And Why It Is So Important to Own Our Pain

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

I am still thinking about the people who lost their loved ones in the Las Vegas shooting massacre last Sunday night, October 1st.

Yes, still. It has only been a week.

Those left behind to grieve lost loved ones are on my mind because I was them. I know what they are feeling right now. The rest of the world may have moved on, but they are still in the thick of it, possibly paralyzed by sadness, scared about the future, and looking for answers on how they are going to live without their mom, dad, son, daughter, sister, brother, or best friend.

I know their pain. I have felt their pain; as I too lost someone in an unexpected, tragic accident. One day my mom was here, turning 60 years old, and the very next day she wasn’t. That next day changed my life forever... October 10, 2006, eleven years ago today.

The deadly weapon used to kill her was a truck, not a gun; but the person operating the weapon was unwell just the same. The driver was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of the accident, and so her impaired state caused her to drift off the two lane highway she was speeding on. When she swerved back into her lane, she over corrected and plunged her Bronco into oncoming traffic... slamming it head on into the car in which my mom was a passenger and killing her instantly.

My mom died lying on the asphalt of a rural road in Northern California at the hands of a woman not intending to kill her that day but who wasn't in the right state of mind to safely operate a vehicle that became a lethal weapon. There was no news coverage of the accident; and no villains were vilified nor heroes celebrated (although the driver did get sentenced to a year in prison). There were no hashtags prayers. Still, my mom's death changed the lives of her family and friends instantly, just as the deaths of those 59 people in Las Vegas changed the lives of their families and friends instantly, and forever.

In both cases, the irresponsible act of one single, troubled and unwell individual took innocent lives. The Vegas tragedy was just on a much larger scale and in a very public forum; and that act was committed with malicious intent. The added sting of knowing the killer intended to harm and kill people that day is one I was spared when my mom died; yet, the result of both events was the same - people were killed violently and unexpectedly.

Social media was ablaze this past week, with some people praying for Vegas, others demanding gun policy change, and still others protesting those demands by trying to convince the opposition that they should blame the individual, not the weapon. I know this is not true, but it seems like the people in the latter group are stuck in time somehow, like we are all still living in the 19th Century, when guns were shot one bullet at a time and were used primarily for protection from looters, robbers, and carpetbaggers. Their argument frustrates and confuses me, seeming archaic and inaccurate on so many levels. Yet above all the various protests, there were genuine sentiments of grief and many heartfelt pleas for stricter laws and demands to hold our politicians accountable for their failure to implement policies that they believe could have prevented this tragedy.

Now, over a week has passed, and most voices have quieted on all sides, save the various articles still being written and shared to further the debate on the subject of guns, media, and politics. It seems most people have moved on, resuming their normal output and usual consumption of media and going about their regular lives.

As I touched upon in Forever Changed, the only post I shared last week, our society functions on our collective ability to keep the tragedies of each day at arms length, and to prevent them from penetrating the armor we built up to protect us from daily doses of bad news, depressing statistics, and inconsiderate behavior by those around us. The Vegas tragedy was so tragic though that people could not help but let it into their hearts; and so they allowed themselves to feel devastated for a day or two, or three... just as they did when deadly shootings happened in Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Columbine.

But eventually, after a few days, maybe a week, most people expect themselves, and each other, to revert back to their normal routine of disconnect. Be it for self-preservation or simply for keeping their lives operating, they pull themselves up, look ahead and move forward, leaving the devastation behind, along with most of the emotion connected with it. After all, they would argue that they have to get out of bed, go to work, take care of kids, and contribute to society in the way they normally do and are expected to do. They can't afford, neither financially, emotionally or mentally, to curl up under the covers and allow themselves to feel sadness, fear, and powerlessness to the detriment of their careers, families, and self-images.

For about a week, praying for the families of the victims in Vegas or "keeping them in their thoughts" was the extent of what most people would allow themselves to do or feel. This is understandable, as it really is all most of us can do. The sad reality is that a week of prayers won’t give the lost loved ones back to those families, and heartfelt thoughts won't stop future acts of violence, irresponsibility, and loss that are bound to occur in a society full of people in pain that are taught to treat the symptoms instead of the roots of problems.

The people that were demanding stricter gun laws and policy changes may have felt more in control by "taking action" rather than just sending prayers. As admirable and empowering as this feels, it may not have any effect, since deeming something illegal does not mean people will immediately abide by the law and cease seeking out and possessing it. This has proven to be true over and over again by the whiskey and rye drinkers during prohibition, the pot and hash smokers of the sixties and seventies, the cocaine snorters of the eighties and nineties, and the crack, heroin and meth IV drug users of any decade. It is a well known fact that making something “illegal” doesn't make it unattainable; it just makes it trickier and more expensive to attain.

Too many people own guns already, or possess a large enough arsenal to sell them illegally and make a lot of money. So even if stricter policy changes are made, possibly banning bump stock devices that allow semi automatic weapons to perform like automatic ones, someone somewhere will still figure out a way to make, sell, and buy them illegally.

Aside from guns though, add to those illegal drugs listed above the issue of legal drugs - alcohol, prescriptions, and medical marijuana - that are over used and abused daily, and you have a whole other group of citizens that are taking lives via DUI accidents and drug overdoses in record numbers that dwarf the 59 souls lost in Vegas at the hands of one soul with an automatic weapon.

This man’s horrific deed has incited ideological arguments, intense anger, and (more than usual) political dissonance; yet adding to the debate on gun laws, the responsibility of the media, and the political failings of our leaders is not the purpose of my writing this. It is charged subject, with multiple facets and layers that don't add up to one definitive solution. It troubles me, but I am not entirely convinced that what happened in Vegas could have been prevented by stricter gun policies in a culture that, on the whole, glorifies violence, condones separatism, and encourages and enables the denial and numbing away of our emotions.

Instead, I write to share and process my experience of loss these past eleven years, and to grieve the loss of the people killed nine days ago. Their families are just beginning their journey into grief and loss, so I honor them and the difficult road toward acceptance and healing that they have just begun to travel.

Yet I also write to ask questions. To bring up that which most don't and won't talk about. To point out the way in which our society (dis)functions as a whole to the detriment of our collective mental health and emotional intelligence. Among all this discourse about policy and politics, where is the dialogue on the state of our overall wellness as a people, as a society, as a nation?

Wellness is a buzz word these days, as is mindfulness and meditation. But these concepts, and the efforts to implement them, only seem to surface in progressive communities and are often isolated to an individual's personal journey of growth and awareness. Self help - therapeutic, holistic, spiritual or motivational - is seen by the general public as an esoteric ritual reserved for yoga instructors, therapists, fitness and lifestyle coaches and their tribe of followers.

The fact is, there is nothing alternative or obscure about addressing our natural human emotions and our fundamental need for connection and love, or honoring our pain by approaching it with awareness, compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Where is the national agenda promoting true wellness in our society, outside of Western medicine's money making racket of drugging its people up on prescription medications? Where is a national dialogue confronting how to tend to people's mental and emotional well being without the use of drugs or other numbing methods?

There isn't one. There is no national dialogue such as this.

Sure, we have renowned alternative medicine doctors, writers, and self-help gurus, such as the late Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, and Eckhart Tolle who guide and teach those who seek them out through their books, articles and talks. We also have influential people such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Brené Brown who do the same with their powerful platforms, working in their own unique ways to show us how vulnerability and emotional intelligence is not something to shame or be ashamed of, but something to strive for, encourage and support within ourselves and our fellow humans.

There are also thousands of therapists and social workers doing their part every day, without the fame and glory of the former teachers and leaders mentioned above, to instill knowledge and awareness, promote courage and healing, and help people face and overcome their adversities without the use of prescription drugs, violence, or the usual numbing tactics coveted and accepted by our society as the norm.

But on a national scale, the need for and goal of true wellness, for the most part, is unaddressed in our society. In its absence, the crises of our culture is the perpetual numbing of pain and discomfort with a host of band-aids... anticipating and celebrating wine-o'-clock, ritualizing Sunday Funday drinking, zoning out on YouTube videos for hours, and binge streaming seven seasons of Game of Thrones in seven days, to name a few.

Numbing and denying our pain, instead of embracing it, leads to isolation and disillusion. Sharing our pain and our struggles in a supportive environment, instead of sweeping it under the rug, is the road to healing and thriving. The "rug" in its many forms - alcohol, TV, drugs, movies, video games, work, social media, sex, gambling, pornography, and retail therapy - has the magical ability to camouflage and cover up a lot of hurt and pain. Yet after the magic wears off, in a matter of days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, we are still left with the same hurt and pain, now increased exponentially. If left under there, unchecked and unresolved for too long, this pain can rot, decay, fester, and transform into something twisted and toxic, with the potential to erupt in violence; and in last Sunday's case, a shower of bullets.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave me in writing about my cyclical grief for my mom's death and the empathetic grief I feel for the families that are suffering tremendous loss right now? I don't know. All I know is I will continue to hold the victims of this tragedy close to my heart, next to the memory of mom, for as long as my grief needs me to do so. I am open to feel and accept it all. The grief, the pain, the disappointment, and the loss. I am a living testament to working through grief and pain by embracing and owning it, instead of concealing it away in a dark corner of my soul.

I will grieve, and when I am done this time around, I will remember and cherish my mom even more. I will recall how my kids brought flowers to her grave site on her birthday yesterday... how my son placed his colorful fall bouquet in the ground and uncomfortably yet sweetly wished her a happy birthday as he looked down at her grave marker... how my ten-year-old daughter chose red roses for her because through the years she has learned that they were her favorite... and how she hugged me tight and cried her first tears ever over for the loss of her grandmother whom she never had the chance to meet.

The legacy of grief.

It seems like an unwanted burden to bear, but it is really an invitation to expand our capacity to love.

Just One Year More

Nine years ago today, the day after her 60th birthday, my mom was killed in a car accident. I was six months pregnant with my first child, her first grandchild, and I was the first one in my family to get the news. On this day last year, I decided to finally write about it, and about her.

I didn't widely share Eight Years With, Eight Years Without when I posted it last year, so I thought it would be fitting to do so today. And although I wrote it one year ago, I could just as well have written it a month ago, a week ago, an hour ago. Time is no matter. I still feel the same, and I still miss my mom... just one year more.

eight year with mom.png

Eight Years With, Eight Years Without

Originally published October 10, 2014

Eight years ago today my mom died. In an instant, a car crashed into another car and she was gone.

I had just spoken to her a couple days before. She was on a road trip with her best friend celebrating her 60th birthday weekend and had called me from a baby shop, excited to tell me about the crib bedding she had found for my soon-to-be-born baby girl. Using verbal imagery, she exuberantly tried to sell me on this expensive, over the top crib set from a store hundreds of miles away; something that I could not return or exchange if I didn't find it as perfect and dreamy as she did. As she was not known for her practicality when it came to shopping, I gently declined it before a bad cellular connection ended our call prematurely. No goodbyes were exchanged. I didn’t bother trying her back, figuring I would just talk to her the next day, not knowing that would be the last time I would speak to her.  Read more>>

The Line Between Holding On and Letting Go

My one day road trip to Santa Ynez this week had me facing an all too familiar task: dealing with stuff left by my mother when she died. It's been almost nine years now, and many of her keepsakes and photos are still waiting to be addressed... what to save, what to toss, what to preserve for our kids as remembrances of her, their grandmother they never met.

There we were, my younger sister and I, standing in front of a dusty storage unit, feeling hot in the humid, 90 degree weather and totally perplexed by the fact that we had to, yet again, decide the fate of more of our mother's things. As my sister had moved and was ridding herself of this unit for good, those items of mom's for which she had been the custodian all these years needed to be relocated. Just how much of it was going to land in the trash bin this time? Which items had time rendered less vital and easier to part with? Which items were going to move on to a new home where dust and cobwebs would rest upon them once again?

And for God's sake, HOW, after all these years, are we still doing this?

When the accident happened back in 2006, there were things my three siblings and I had to face immediately. The need to go through our mom's daily belongings - clothes, paperwork, personal effects - was unavoidable and painful, but necessary. Her home and the large storage space she rented were filled with antique furniture, film/tv memorabilia, press kits, VHS tapes with recorded "Entertainment Tonight" segments and Academy Awards ceremonies, and an extensive lineup of framed, celebrity autographed pictures and movie posters... all vestiges of her former lives as an entertainer's wife, an event planner, a celebrity personal assistant, and a Hollywood publicist.

The boxes upon boxes the four of us had to go through, jam packed with keepsakes, photos, mementos and random clutter, all reflected and symbolized her passions, her obsessions, her professional successes and personal accomplishments. She held on to A LOT, which made everything even more stressful and time consuming... I mean, we found stacks of unused personalized notepads from public relation firms she worked at twenty years prior. The firms were gone, the clients gone, but those notepads sure survived!

We knew we didn't need or want to keep most of this stuff to remember her by, yet all of it still had to be sorted through, passed on to friends, donated, sold, or thrown out. We soon discovered that disseminating sixty years of a person's life in one fell swoop was incredibly overwhelming, especially a life as unique and interesting as hers; and that doing so while grieving was even more so. I was also pregnant when she was killed in that car, and so was my brother's wife.

Our two sisters tirelessly helped with our newborns when they arrived shortly after the accident; and although these babies brought such joy to a time of darkness, we were all still hanging by a thin emotional thread. Nursing my daughter post partum with crippling grief, I found the reality of sorting through the remnants of my mother's life in the past tense totally surreal in the worst possible way. WHY did she have to die with so much stuff stored away and so many things unresolved? It was all just too much. 

And as such, her most treasured memories and valued earthly possessions were simply put aside. Those things that, right when she died, we just could not imagine parting with, yet still didn't know what the hell we were going to do with either. So we each took a portion of these "invaluable" valuables, agreeing to deal with them later when it wasn't all so fresh... when the pain had somehow lessened, and when time had put some distance between us and tragedy. Call it avoidance or procrastination – none of us were ready or in any shape to decide who was going to keep the family photo albums or inherit the heirloom china and silver.

So these put aside things were put aside, stored and untouched, for years. Most of them are still in "put aside" mode, as our lives of having more babies, parenting toddlers, and changing careers have been stretched so thin that making time to revisit the burden and the pain hasn't been a top priority.

This past Tuesday in Santa Ynez changed that. My sister could no longer put aside her lot of mom's indispensable treasures and together we were forced to finally deal with it. And as luck would have it, she seemed to have gotten the most priceless commodities of all - only a small portion of what we found was disposable. Damn. There I was, the chump who agreed to drive up there and give what needed to be saved a new home. After all, I still had my own portion of mom's priceless bounty to unearth and deal with at some point, and now I was agreeing to take on more... big chump.

We packed five cumbersome and dusty plastic storage containers into my car and went to toast a chapter being closed with a glass of wine from one of Santa Ynez's finest. It was still 80 degrees outside at 8:00pm when I stopped to take a breath and enjoy the sunset before continuing my long journey home. Although I knew what we did that day needed to be done, I was now weary of the work ahead to figure out what to do with it all.

The question pondered on the drive home? Where do you draw the line between holding on to material things to honor a life and preserve a legacy, and letting those things weigh you down, trap you in the past, and hinder your ability to thrive in the present or move forward in the future?

Here I had spent another day of my life sorting through her possessions. THINGS. Things that weren't even mine. Heavy things. High school and college yearbook heavy. Sorority scrapbooks, multiple 3-ring binders full of slide film, endless envelopes of photo negatives, stacks and stacks of unsorted 4x6 prints, loads of photo albums, a framed newspaper article from when she was crowned homecoming queen in college, and a myriad of old film reels and cartridges with home movies that were made before I was even born.

Stuff. Not people. Memories of people. Memories of times and places. Of loves and experiences that, for the most part, weren't mine. Of a life that wasn't mine. A life that was now gone, but that supposedly lives on because of the mere existence and proof of these "things"? These things that are now occupying my time and taking me away from living my life, being with my people, experiencing my loves. 

All I could think was, IF she had just lived to meet her grandchildren, maybe she would have hugged, kissed, and loved them so much that she would have no longer needed so many reminders of her past to comfort her. And IF she had just lived to find peace and happiness in this life, maybe she would have discovered that all the material things she held on to so tightly were not that important after all. And IF she had lived past sixty years old, maybe she would have grown into a wise old lady who would declare that none of it amounted to a hill of beans in this crazy world, or some other nugget of wisdom a wise old lady would spout out, and would have resolved to purge her life of the clutter, downsize her most precious mementos to a manageable collection, and pass it on to us before dying a peaceful, natural, non-tragic death. 

IF.

If anything, at least she would still be here and we wouldn't be saddled with all of this.

Yet, it is less the gaining of her stuff and more the loss of her herself that troubles me. She was my mom... a daughter, a sister, a friend... a woman who created, enhanced, and affected lives. Five dusty old containers full of sentimental pieces of film and paper does not a legacy make. It may seem like the essential elements of her life are encapsulated in those old bins, but the truth of her life, of HER, lives inside of every person she touched. 

My children could comb through all of that stuff when they are older and they still won't know her. They still won't see her smile up close, hear her laugh in person, feel her arms around them. None of her kept things can replace what those kids have lost - what we all have lost.

So where does that leave the line?

Maybe it exists somewhere between holding on and letting go... between honoring a loved one's memory while not allowing their memories to suffocate us... between preserving their legacy by sharing their stories not recorded on film or paper while still saving the tangible items that best represent them and their life.

As for us? We exist somewhere between the sadness of losing them, the peace of acceptance, and the healing passage of time.

Why Dads Are Not Mr. Moms

Yes, I was one of those moms that started out believing that my husband should do and say and be just like me when it came to our children. When they were babies, I thought I held the premium on knowing how to care for them and I wasn't shy about making sure he, and everyone else, knew just that.

My mother died in a car accident when I was six month pregnant, just three short months before I was set to welcome our first child and her first grandchild into this world. So not only was I a postpartum and sleep-deprived new mommy, but I was also a severely grief-stricken one that desperately needed to feel in control of something in my life. Taking care of my newborn baby girl was that something.

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

As a result, I was very controlling and overbearing in relation to how my husband dealt with her. I believed I reigned supreme on all baby duties... from feeding, diapering, burping, rocking - you name it - I just knew better. From that skewed perspective, I expected my husband to take his cue from me or he was just going to be doing it all wrong.

It was a tough beginning to what was supposed to be a magical time. We got through it, and the rough times made way to healing and easier states of existence, enough so to want to have a second child. Yet surprisingly with the second, I still seemed to hang on to the idea that I was boss. Now we had a baby boy and a four-year-old girl, and a new sibling dynamic emerged that gave way to even more challenges to contend with. Good grief... it was almost worse the second time around!

Yet this time, I was not mourning the loss of my mother nor was I flying blind, now a seasoned veteran of motherhood... kinda. Blame it on the ever present lack of sleep or postpartum hormones run amok, but something in me still held strong to the idea that, since I was the one who gave up so much of the day-to-day reality of my previous life, and I was the one who stayed home ALL day, EVERY day with these children, then I deserved some sort of free pass to dictate what my husband should do in relation to them. After all, he was gone all day! I figured that acknowledging this truth would be obvious to him and perfectly reasonable since, of course, I knew best.

Great in theory... disaster in reality.

As you can imagine, he didn't appreciate or agree much with my ideology.  As a committed new dad, he wanted to do things his way, on his time, using his instincts and opinions, and he resented me trying to micro-manage his parenting. Conversely, I felt his blatant disregard for my "expertise" and insight into the kids' behavioral patterns and preferences was egotistical and irresponsible.

I tried to control everything to such a degree that I ended up getting the opposite of what I was seeking. Instead of heeding my advice and guidance, he firmly protested against it, and turned a deaf ear to most anything I had to say about the kids' care. He approached dealing with them on his own terms with little regard for my opinion. Not the best way to nurture a "we're in this together" team vibe as parents or to display a united front to the kids. It didn't do wonders for our marriage either.

Today, over eight years into parenting, I have since conceded to the fact that my husband has his own unique gifts and attributes that he brings to the table that aren't intrinsic in me - and that's a good thing. I see how some of his strengths can benefit my children as much as certain strengths of mine can. I recognize how the things that don't come naturally to me seem to be instinctual to him, and vice versa. He too has been able to see that there is method to my madness; and we have both come to accept that conceding to the other in certain situations is for the greater good. 

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

You could say we are two halves of the perfect parent, if there is such a thing, which I know there is not. And even though we still butt heads at times about how to do things regarding our children, we try to be respectful of each other's opinions and feelings even when we are on opposing sides of an issue. 

Even so, I don't conceive it ever to be completely smooth sailing for us; and I admit I envy those couples who are more compatible when it comes to their parenting ideologies. However, I now see that his freedom to experience parenting authentically for himself and to contribute his own thoughts and ideas to the mix is vital for our family's harmony. I also know that not allowing him that freedom, but instead continuing to demand he behave like a carbon copy of me (a Mr. Mom of sorts), is not in anyone's best interest, least of all the kids.  

I feel there is greater benefit for them when we both are able to be who we are: and for us, it's mom and DAD. And them discovering and accepting that not everyone thinks alike or agrees on everything... well that's a lesson in life that is never too early to learn.

*Article as featured on the GoodMenProject.com

Eight Years With, Eight Years Without

Eight years ago today my mom died. In an instant, a car crashed into another car and she was gone.

I had just spoken to her a couple days before. She was on a road trip with her best friend celebrating her 60th birthday weekend and had called me from a baby shop, excited to tell me about the crib bedding she had found for my soon-to-be-born baby girl. Using verbal imagery, she exuberantly tried to sell me on this expensive, over the top crib set from a store hundreds of miles away; something that I could not return or exchange if I didn't find it as perfect and dreamy as she did. As she was not known for her practicality when it came to shopping, I gently declined it before a bad cellular connection ended our call prematurely. No goodbyes were exchanged. I didn’t bother trying her back, figuring I would just talk to her the next day, not knowing that would be the last time I would speak to her.

I couldn't reach her the next day on her birthday, and had to leave my wishes in a message. She didn’t call back, probably having too much fun to bother. The day after her birthday, I got a call from the road, but it wouldn’t be from her. Instead it was from the officer on the scene of the disaster she had just been in, saddled with the duty of telling me “your mother didn’t survive the accident.” Six months pregnant and shellshocked, it was the darkest day of my life.

I’ve now lived the past eight years without my mother, and those same eight years with the void she left… Eight years with my daughter and the overwhelming happiness, intense love, and joyous fulfillment of being her mom, and eight years without my most loyal supporter and eager babysitter-to-be… Eight years without hearing my kids call my mom “Grandma,” and eight years with a pervasive sense of loss… loss of the vision of how I expected my life to unfold, loss of the delusion of control over my life and what may happen in it, and loss of an emotional bond that was so embedded in the fiber of my being that I have had to fight and flounder to find my way to live without it.

Yet, my mom was not my hero. She was not someone I emulated or wanted to be like. She was fragile, she was damaged, and she was, at times, hopelessly hopeless. Her life disappointed her in a way that she found hard to manage, hard to accept, and hard to overcome. She had an extremely rough time of it, not because she had a wholly rough life, but because she perceived it as rough and received it as rough. Her perspective skewed heavily to the glass half empty and try as she might, she rarely was able to get that damn glass full. 

My siblings and I grew up under the weight of this, which shaped us and cursed us with ingrained habits and programmed behaviors developed throughout our childhood that we have had to work (and still work) to overcome as adults. It is the reason that, in my 20’s and 30’s, I focused my energy on how not to be like her. I have since realized that the more you concentrate on what you don't want, the more you draw it to you. So I don't do that anymore.

But it wasn't until my mom died that I fully realized most everyone else she came in contact with had a very different perception of her. I know they had to have seen her dark side, but I think most of them chose to focus on her more endearing qualities, maybe because she often was just so fun to be around. She was cleverly sarcastic, generous to a fault, wickedly daring and inappropriately funny. She was always up for a drink, a smoke, a laugh, a party, an adventure. Adored by her friends, treasured by her colleagues, and loved by her family, my mother succeeded more than she failed in lighting up the lives of those around her with her charm, beauty, and intoxicating likability. This was never more apparent than on the day of her memorial, when the chapel was bursting at the seams with people from all stages of her life, all there to mourn the loss of one of the kindest and most lovely spirits ever to walk this Earth.

I wish she could have been there to see it. To see all the people whose lives she had forever touched. She would have loved it; and for a day or so afterward, she would have felt like the luckiest woman in the world. 

Sometimes I feel she was laid to rest when she was to spare her of all the pain and disappointment she so often felt. I like to believe she was truly happy in the moment she left us... on an adventure, discovering new places, escaping her troubles and enjoying the present - free from the pain of the past and worry of the future. Just living it up. Living it up to the end. If you knew her, you would agree that that may have just been her perfect ending.

Booby Trap

As a new mother, many of the decisions I had confidently and unequivocally thought I made while pregnant were turned on their heads by LIFE.

Life happened, as it so often does, in such a way that unexpectedly altered the course of my existence, and my mothering journey, forever.

"I Belong With You" by  Katie M. Berggren

"I Belong With You" by Katie M. Berggren

In my previous post, Milk & Cookies, I briefly touched on the fact that one of those self-assured decisions I made during pregnancy was to breastfeed. I wrote that as a self-proclaimed, "post-partum, hormonally-imbalanced, sleep-deprived, and geographically-isolated newborn mother," nursing my two kids was very challenging for me, especially the first time around. What I didn't go into in that post was why.

When my baby girl was born, nursing didn't come as naturally as the naive and enthusiastic pregnant version of me had hoped. After a couple weeks, I was in over my head, completely at the mercy of the most demanding, albeit precious, task master.

My daughter's unrelenting need for mother's milk, and my unrelenting sense of duty to provide it for her, left me feeling (and looking) like the walking dead. Although no one but she was expecting me to keep it up, it was my fervent, almost maniacal, penchant for following through with my intention, coupled with my need to maintain control of as much as possible at the time, that kept me from quitting early, despite my many notions to chuck it all and buy a big tub of baby formula.

Riding the waves of latch problems, breast engorgement, nipple soreness, plugged ducts, and monotonous pumping, I vowed to stick with it, despite the extreme discomfort. Fighting in the trenches, I was winning and losing battles left and right; but committed to the war effort as a whole. My breast pump became both my nemesis and my salvation. I was not going to shirk giving my baby this gift of my abundant milk supply, even though no one would blame me if I did. No one, that is, but me.

I can see how this may sound like a dramatization of the facts, or simply a case of a really negative attitude on my part; especially to those whose nursing journeys were enjoyable or even just moderately challenging. But I assure you it is not, at least not from where I was existing back then.

Living in a very rural coastal area, just feet from the ocean but miles from any conveniences, none of our close neighbors were home during the day nor did any of our family members live nearby to help or relieve us. My husband, who worked all day, five days a week, and an hour drive away, helped me as much as he could. Yet I ended up fending for myself and my baby most days, isolated and alone.

This rough situation was made a thousand times harder by the unexpected and unthinkable tragedy that had occurred just a few months earlier. I was six months pregnant when I got the phone call that my mom had been in a car accident. A couple frantic calls later, the officer on the scene informed me that she had not survived the crash, having been killed instantly on impact.

Being the first in the family to hear the news, I was saddled with the responsibility of breaking the news to her three other children, her mother, her sister, her entire world.

How was I possibly going to do this amidst my own shock and disbelief? After telling my younger sister and older brother, they agreed to disperse the news to the others. Still, those were the two worst phone calls I have ever had to make.

The remaining three months of my pregnancy were somewhat surreal. I grieved, but not much. I consoled others in the face of their overwhelming grief. I spoke at her funeral... composed, resolved, and shedding little to no tears. I was mostly numb. I was so afraid that if I really let myself feel the depth of my sadness, my baby's well being would be compromised; and I just couldn't take that risk. So, I didn't feel it. I wouldn't. I couldn't.

When my daughter was born, I was elated. A sense of happiness and purpose I had never experienced enveloped me. Then quickly, as the days went by and the nursing challenges, exhaustion, and hormonal shifts set it, all bets were off. Finally.

I started to cry. A LOT. And loudly. I got angry. I yelled. I screamed. I couldn't understand why my mom, who was so excited to finally become a grandma, wasn't going to get to be one after all. My grief, juxtaposed with my joy, together created the most imbalanced reality I have ever lived. Grieving the loss of the woman that nurtured me my first months of life, while I nurtured my own daughter through hers, left me jumbled.

I found it difficult to fully embrace and enjoy my new role amidst the sorrow. I was a motherless daughter living in a world I didn't recognize - one with my daughter but without my mother. Their lives never intersected on this Earth, and they never would. This truth was difficult to accept, and the pain of it made that first year both a blur and one I will never forget.

That's the why of it. It isn't pretty. It isn't sunny. But it's a big part of what makes me, me, today. It shaped me in ways I don't think I would have been otherwise. My mother's death continues to challenge me to this day. When it comes to not living in fear of suddenly losing those I love, or not being afraid of taking risks for fear of something bad happening… I am still a work in progress.

Although not always successful at it, I strive to let go and surrender to what comes - no matter what comes - and to live with joy, hope, positivity and fortitude. I think motherhood is the ultimate teacher of these things; so I guess I am in the right classroom.

 

*POSTSCRIPT: The circumstances surrounding my breastfeeding challenges were unique to me, and as you read above, I have many specific and varied reasons why it proved extremely difficult for me.  I got through it hope and perseverance; but mostly by just plain, day-to-day surviving. 
However, this description of my personal experience does not in any way reflect my opinion about breastfeeding as a choice.  It is important to make this clear because it was such a significant thing for me to accomplish; one of which I am still very proud. Also because, truthfully, I would do it again, hands down, no question, if I had to do it all over again.
Even as hard as it was the first time around with my daughter, I was committed to giving my son the same benefits of my breast milk, no matter the challenges I would possibly face. I am happy to share that it did go much smoother with my son, although I had to contend with a toddler while doing it!
So if asked, my advice to any prospective mom that is considering breastfeeding is to DO IT. Just try it, be patient with it, persist with it, find the joy in it if it is in the cards for you to be a nursing mother. And be sure to enlist the help of as many people as you can to assist you in any way necessary to help you accomplish your breastfeeding goals.  
I believe it is worth it, and that it will be something you will be happy you did. Even with all my issues, I am SO glad I did it! 

For more information and support on breastfeeding, please visit bestforbabes.org.