This post has a bit of a dark side. We all know the term “rose tinted glasses.” Seeing the world through a rosy, happy glow. We have this innate ability as children, as young adults without a care in the world. As long as we are untouched by sorrow.
I was thinking about perspective the other night. I was online late in the evening. I came across a post by a friend of mine. Actually, she is my friends mother. A man I have known since grade school. He was recently brutally murdered. His mother, she had posted that she was struggling. She was missing her son. I reached out to her (this is my calling, as an SBD, as well as my duty as a friend!) I called her, and I could feel the pain in her voice. She lives 3000km away from me, but I could absolutely feel her sorrow. All I did, was listen. She just needed to talk.
During the conversation, she mentioned that she had a disagreement with her surviving son in the weeks after her youngest sons death. It was a matter of perspective. He had done something in remembrance of his brother, (I won’t say what it was, out of respect for her privacy) which she was shocked at. She felt like his tribute to his brother was a morbid gesture, while he thought it was beautiful. And she asked me why…. why didn’t she see the lightness of his gesture, the way that he saw it?
I have thought about this question… this question has plagued me since my own journey with grief began. Why is everything so dark!!?? And I was honest with her. I told her that she will see beauty again, she will recognize it. But that in my experience with being a bereaved parent, my “new normal” was that perspectives change. Things seem to be “morbidly tinted.” A bereaved parent will always have this morbid tint to their perspective on life… We can laugh, love, enjoy life, but our perspective has changed.
We are people who know that ugly things do happen in the world. We cannot hide behind misconceptions such as bad things do not happen to good people, or innocent children. We are people who have experienced the dark side of human emotion. And unfortunately we are people who do not easily forget the darkness. We can rejoice in the lighter side of life. We can rejoice in the light and love that came from our deceased children. But once we have lost that piece of ourselves, we will see things through a slightly darker tint.
I wish I had come to terms with this early on in my grief. It would have saved me a lot of time spent wondering what is wrong with me, why am I so dreary? Why did I see that differently than how everyone around me saw it? Now I know that nothing is wrong with me, I am not strange or morbid. I am a woman who has a slightly different perspective. And there is an entire community of bereaved parents around the world who can see through the same shade of tinted glasses.
Over the past couple of days I have encountered a few articles written about how a mother describes her family after a loss. The subject seems to repeatedly present itself to me, so I figure that it is time to reflect on it. I’m going to reach back all the way to about 6 years ago, when I can first remember feeling the sting of a strangers assumption that I was not a mother…
About 3 years after Levi’s death I was in a local health goods’ store, trying to decide on a method of eco-friendly menstruation control. After weighing all of the options (cloth pads, organic unbleached tampons, etc…) I decided to give the Diva Cup a try. There was a little sign on the shelf asking customers to inquire at the register for different sizes. So, I approached the woman at the register, and explained to her that I was unsure of which size I needed. It was a pretty busy day in the store, and there were a few customers lined up behind me. The woman impatiently snapped at me that there were only two sizes, size A was for girls who had never given birth vaginally, size B was for woman who had. She rolled her eyes at me and stated loudly, “Obviously you need size A, and we currently only have size B available. We’ll have to order size A in for you, it will take about two weeks.” Then she proceeded to dismiss me, and began to ring up items for the customer who was next in line.
It felt like a slap in the face. Tears welled up in my eyes. I got really angry! Rationally, I should have been more forgiving. A perfect stranger could not possibly know that I was a mother.
“Um, excuse me!” I interrupted, harshly. “I don’t need to wait for you to order Size A. Thank you, I will take the B size.”
The woman stared at me for a moment. Her eyes widened, her gaze softened as she realized that I was offended. Very quickly it dawned on her that I must be upset because I was, in fact, a mother, a woman who had given birth.
“I’m… I’m sorry. You’ve been a regular in this store for at least a year. I’ve never met your children. How old is your little one?” She inquired as she bustled around on the shelf behind the counter to find the Diva Cup in the size that I required.
My face burned. Suddenly I was very aware of the people standing in line behind me. I resented the woman for asking me such a question. Since Levi passed, whenever the subject of children came up, my normal response was no response at all. Most strangers assumed that I had no children, and I never had any reason to explain otherwise.
“My son is three,” I stated simply.
The woman brightened her smile. “Oh that’s wonderful!” she beamed. “You’ll have to bring him in to the store tomorrow! It’s Earth Day, we’ll be hosting some family friendly events.”
Quietly, I explained that, although I’d love to, I couldn’t bring him to the event because he was not with me.
She didn’t even skip a beat before she assumed that I meant my child only lived with me part time.
“Oh thats a shame,” she gushed, as she rang up my purchase. “Is he with his daddy for the weekend?”
I shake my head slowly. Again, I respond very quietly, so as not to involve the various strangers who were waiting patiently to pay for their purchases. “No, what I mean is that my son is no longer with us, on Earth.” My eyes are downcast to the floor, trying to hide my tears.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she mumbles, awkwardly. She finishes ringing my purchase through without another word, hands me the receipt, and tells me to have a nice day…
Over the years I’ve felt a twinge of guilt whenever I tell someone that I don’t have any children, or whenever I have passed up an opportunity to mention him for fear of creating an awkward situation. Thankfully it didn’t happen very frequently before I gave birth to Ghanima. It seems, though, that since I became pregnant with her, and during the months since her birth, the question has come up more often. Well meaning strangers stop to admire my precious baby girl, and the conversation always leads to whether or not she is my only child. What do I say? Well, it depends on the person. If the person is just a passerby, someone I feel that I will never come into contact with again, I simply state that she has an older brother, and try to change the subject. If they happen to inquire further, sometimes I will share his name and age, implying that he is alive and well. If I feel like the person who is inquiring is someone who might become a part of my life, if I feel safe enough, I will share that Levi is our family Angel, who is watching over us every day.
I have absolutely come to dread the look on a persons face when I tell them my son passed away as an infant. I don’t need to feel pitied. Every day I struggle to see the positive side to his short life, and I try to put in to perspective that I was blessed to know him, and that he is in a better place. So when a person has a negative reaction to hearing about him, for the rest of that day at least, the struggle is just that much harder. I catch myself weighing out which scenario would be worse; do I want to feel remorse for the rest of the day for not acknowledging his existence, or do I want feel awful because of an awkward situation with a stranger?
… My husband and I were out for dinner with my brother one evening. I was about 4 months pregnant with Ghanima, and my belly was just starting to pop out. The waitress came to the table, and upon noticing my little belly, she began to ask the usual questions; “You must be so excited, how far along are you? Do you know what you’re having? Is this your first baby?”
I nodded politely, placing my hands on my tummy. “It is pretty exciting! I am about 16 weeks along. We don’t know what we’re having, we want to be surprised. This is my second baby.”
“Oh that’s nice, how old is your child?”
“I have an 8 year old boy.”
“Well, he must be excited to be a big brother! Let me know if you guys need anything else,” and with that she hurried away to see if any of her other tables needed her.
After she was gone, my brother leaned across the table to squeeze my hand. He said he thought that I handled her questions really well. I must have looked confused, because he added, “You know, you don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable by getting in to all the details…”
Sometimes I find myself outright lying to people about him, indulging in a little fantasy. I go to the local farmers market regularly, and have been going there for years. I buy my face cream and shampoo from a gentleman there who makes all natural beauty products. A few months ago, I was wearing Ghanima in her sling while browsing through his booth. Of course, the gentleman recognized me as one of his regular customers. He approached me to admire my three month old little bundle of joy, and asked me how I was enjoying becoming a new mother.
“Oh, I’m not a new mother,” I replied, smiling. “I have an eight year old son.”
“I’m sorry! I’ve never seen him with you before!” he was a bit confused because I’d been there almost every Saturday morning for the past few years and never had a little boy in tow.
I told him that I never brought Levi with me because the farmers market was boring for little boys and he would much rather be at home with his dad on saturday mornings…
Oh how my heart aches for that to be true…
I want to honour my son. I don’t want to feel as if his story is a source of discomfort. I want to be able share his life, the wisdom that he taught me, safely, with as many people as possible. And I need to feel supported in doing so. Otherwise, he died for nothing.
After Levi passed, I told myself for a lot of years that I would never want to have another child. I never wanted to feel so much love for as long as I lived. I drank and abused my body with drugs, numbing myself of all feeling. Until he came to me on the fifth solstice after his Death. That miraculous glimpse of him showed me that I was meant to nurture. I was chosen to care for him while he was learning what it is to be human. He felt the pain of being human, but he also felt unconditional love, and I am sure that I was chosen for a reason.
When my husband and I decided to try for a baby in 2010, and that baby passed at 12 weeks gestation, it compounded all of that hurt over and over again. I felt like I was never meant to be a mother. I felt like maybe I was only meant to learn the lessons that pain can bring. My midwife said to me, “As soon as we discover that we’re pregnant, we already plan a full lifetime of love for that child, and losing them can feel like an entire lifetime is lost.” It’s so true.
At the time of that loss, there were a lot of friends and family members who were also expecting. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was so JEALOUS. I hated those women for being happy, posting pictures of their growing bellies, announcing their joyous births and sharing pictures of their happy little babies. I hated them for not having to feel the pain that I felt. And I am ASHAMED. I know now, that even though a woman may not have suffered the loss of a child, or suffered a loss through miscarriage, a woman who has children certainly can and will feel the pain of another woman who aches to hold her babies in her arms.
Now I have been on the other edge of that sword. I became pregnant again a year later, and although I was nervous, I was also ecstatic. When we passed the first trimester, and began to share the news with our loved ones, a close friend was suffering a loss. And I realized that she must be have been feeling some of that hatred towards me during her time of grief. I hate that life and love can be so cruel. I never want another woman to feel this immense pain, though it is part of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. Emotional pain is, unfortunately, part of the human condition. We learn from it, grow with it, work with it, or become dead inside.
I have a 5.5 month old daughter now, her name is Ghanima. She was born on Oct.6, and that would have been the due date for the child I miscarried the year before. It’s funny how sometimes life events can be so parallel. Her birth marked an otherwise sad date, gave it a new cause for celebration. When she started to roll over, and laugh, and now is starting to sit up and eat her first foods, I am overjoyed, but always in the back of my mind I reflect about how it would have been if Levi, and our middle child, had reached those mile stones.
I hope that I will not be too over protective of her as she grows up. I know that I can’t put her in a bubble, but some nights I find myself checking her breathing. Some days I find it hard to bring her to places where she might catch someones cold, or pick up a sickness. My husband is very supportive, he has a good way of putting things into perspective for me, gently reminding me that she is a strong, healthy baby. I try not to be such a worrier, but it is something I fear I will always struggle with.
As parents, we feel so much, our love is a giant entity, isn’t it? It is amazing that one heart can be so full, even at times when it feels like it should be empty. I am simply in awe of the human condition.
Levi and I, June 20th 2004. His last day of suffering.
Ghanima and I, January 2013
June 21, 2010
Sunday night/ early monday morning. Another summer solstice, another longest day of the year. I enter the cedar steam pod with an open heart, naked, craving metaphysical experience. Eagerly perched on the cusp of the Astral plane. There are roughly seven to ten beings experiencing the steam as I enter. The door swings closed behind me, leaving us in darkness, save for the soft ember glow from the hot iron in the centre. We settle in, new energy mingling with energies already established in the sacred space.
Delicate sage burns. We pass around a cold bottle of drinking water that has been brought into the steam as an offering. Everybody takes a hydrating gulp, a collective contented sigh. A general sense of coming together is evident, in spite of unknown identities. Connection without social recognition is profound. We begin to sing together, steadily humming at first. Just a few notes, climbing to a joyous laughing row. Our voices rise and fall, harmonizing, pulsing out a beat. Steadily we increase in volume, an energetic buzz becomes visibly present.
Each time the steam billows from the red hot iron, we are able to ride the gentle ripple effect which brings us deeper into our true self. In turn, further immersing us with one another. It’s as if we are bathing in a hot spring, a warm bath of divine intuition, delicately swirling not only our limbs but our most intimate spirit in the nourishing waters. Some mystics consider warm water to be a representation of our most in depth emotions. We feel absolute empathy for one another, without the clumsy use of words. Every one of us is as we are intended to be. Caring for ourselves as well as for our peers.
Throughout the night I emerge to the fresh air once every hour or so. By four a.m. the sky is bright with waves of deep fuchsia and royal purple. The sun is rising before the moon has had a chance to sink behind the trees. For a moment, they share the immense majesty of the star streaked sky, illuminating our conscious path. I retrieve a linen sarong from where I had draped it over the low bough of an oak tree near by, and wrap it around my dewy skin. The morning air is fresh and a bit chilly. A huge bonfire is burning just out side of the steam pod. There are a few beings gathered around it, drying themselves in it’s heat, reflecting upon experiences past. Ceremonious rite. Some tap out a rhythm. Low drumming echoes into the vastness of the pale prairie sky.
Singing a quiet mantra, I join the people who are enjoying the fire. With eyes closed I can recognize the voices of the beings with which I’d been immersed in the steam. I feel the vibration from the drums on my cheeks and fluttering my lashes. The sound resonates deep inside of my chest. I can escape to reflect on heights of healing, leaps and bounds. After a meditation on this sensation, I am guided back in to the embrace of the steam.
This time, we raise our voices individually. We receive each others stories, each persons journey, one by one. When it’s my turn, I tell of my son. It is the first time that I have ever spoken of him in an intimate way with people that I have only just met. Tears flow freely, my voice waivers as I recount my journey with him, into the darkness. All are listening attentively, encouraging me to go on until there is nothing more that I can say of him. We finish sharing, empathy and love are offered from each and every being there. We sing together, we uplift and energize one another.
The being beside me takes leave of the heat. Light seeps briefly in from the open door, then is sucked out again quickly as the door swings closed. In the darkness I can feel a distinct presence beside me, although no physical being occupies the space. A light from within is conjured to illuminate just the space that I long to visualize. A young boy sits beside me, naked, bright red hair plastered with sweat. He is peering intently into my face. His mouth opens, singing in harmony with my own voice.
My heart soars at the chance to share this sacred ceremony with him. Another being pours more water on to the hot iron in the centre of the cedar pod. The steam that billows from it forms a soft image, like the beat of a thousand butterfly’s wings. They quickly morph to form the outline of a young boy, hands in his pockets, happily skipping rocks into a sprawling river. He shows me his journey; I am completely at peace. The image fades as I am gently embraced by the person sitting on the other side of me…
June 21, 2009
I`m on a misty river bank, high as a kite on mushroom tea, calling to mind each and every moment of his short, yet profoundly earth shattering life. Perfectly still I am, breathing deeply, clinging to one of his little blankets.
I whisper his name into the mist. Tears stream down my face. I am able to meditate, to step outside of myself and in to the astral plain. Being here allows me to relive my brief experience with motherhood. Memories which, up until now, I had been too hurt and ashamed of myself to really feel. Rather than using them to heal, cherishing them, I`d been drowning them with alcohol. In this moment, I find myself aware, uplifted, needing to feel each and every emotion. Especially the hardest to face.
It is very early in the morning, on the fifth anniversary of his death. June twenty-first, the summer solstice. The longest and brightest day of the year. At five a.m., the sun is already painting brilliant pink streaks across the prairie sky.
I kneel down in the mud, bending to sink my hands in to the warm earth. Turning my gaze towards the sky, I am gifted with a fantastic vision. A mirage displayed just before the bend over a foggy river bed. Words begin to bubble up from a light and special place. I pick up my journal, which is splayed out beside me. I sit down and begin to write down what I envision in the sky…
…His free spirit boldly emerges before me. A care-free yellow butterfly… dancing in flits and flutters. Human form would not have suited my graceful little muse. Wrapped in his warmth here, I am allowed to watch him play. A young mothers` dream realized. Affirmation that her offspring has evolved from a tiny embryo, into precisely the magnificence that his destiny had hoped for him. He shows me where he’s been.
With this rare and special glimpse of him unfolding, I am able to reach an understanding as to why he couldn’t stay with me on Earth. Simple human emotion is suddenly irrelevant. Clearer perception, brought about by his timeless wisdom, guides my merciful heart into healing. A deeper realm of consciousness is exposed. Here, a place is found where heartache is impossible. Awareness is the key. Profound sense of connection will finally wash away any resentment left on my soul, energy healing…
A gentle breeze from his wings summons a breath, scattering seeds of contentment in the warmth of the solstice sunrise. Seeds multiply, instantaneously growing many beautiful weeds. A fuzzy blanketed field emerges, soft and white, comforting, igniting a spark of faith in the ability of endless, unconditional love…
A friend took this photo of me, having this vision. NCF 2009, Driftpile River, Alberta Canada.
June 21, 2004
Today is the longest, brightest day of the year. The sun is just passed its highest point above us. At 12:48 this morning we began the long journey back into the darkest depths of winter.
I know that this will be the last time I am allowed to hold his physical body. It is a vessel which has been so degraded by drugs that it is swollen, disfigured, failing to support life. His eyes are glassy yellow marbles. I look into them and know that he is pleading for me to let go. He is much too pure to have to endure such suffering. One so young does not deserve this miserable fate. I set intention for him to be without pain.
Three hours ago I’d gone to bed, to sleep the non-sleep of a mother racked with fear. I’d retired to a cot in a quiet room set aside for the restless mothers of the children being cared for on this ward. Mere moments after closing my eyes, I can faintly hear alarms chiming from the I.C.U. A phone set near the door rings. There are two other women stirring in the room. The three of us snap to attention, glancing wearily at one another, each of us holding our breath. I instinctively know that the fateful call is for me. It is the doctor calling from my sons’ bedside.
I can’t help myself from wincing at the sigh of relief coming from the other two nervous women in the room. They lie back down for some rest, while I pull on my sweater and hurry to my two and a half month old infant son. When I get there, he is surrounded by a team of late night emergency doctors. A feeling of panic is evident among them. My baby is hooked up to a machine that breathes for him. Tubes snake down his nose, they have been feeding him for three weeks. His limp body seems too tiny to endure much more. I know his immense strength, impossible though it seems.
One of the doctors catches my eye, and motions for me to join him in a corner of the room. I take a sharp breath in, and desperately try to prepare myself for the impending news.
“Your sons’ blood pressure is dropping rapidly,” he begins, tentatively. “We have been able to keep his heart beating using a synthetic adrenaline for the past few minutes. It seems that without it, his heart will inevitably stop.” He paused, allowing me to absorb this disastrous information.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I reply, slowly shaking my head. With a sympathetic nod he continues.
“We can give the adrenaline for as long as it takes for you to say good-bye. When it is discontinued, he will die. At this point, there is nothing else we can do for him…”
Each and every doctor and nurse in the room is staring at me. They are poised, waiting to see my reaction. All I can do is simply nod. I gather myself into a sort of numb submission. A nurse guides me to call my loved ones from a phone beside his bed. I dial my parents first. My moms’ voice is groggy and disoriented when she answer the phone. She and my father live only a few blocks from the hospital, but her voice sounds like she’s miles and miles away. She is baffled by my calm demeanor as I tell her very plainly that my son will be dead by morning.
“You need to come now. Come and say goodbye to him.”
“No,” she is protesting as I hang up the phone, “…he seemed to be doing much better…”
And he had seemed much better. My mother had visited yesterday, as she did every afternoon when she finished work. She always made sure that I had a hot meal and clean clothing while I held my vigil beside him. She would chat with the doctors who came by for the evening rounds, and sit with him while I had a shower or took some fresh air. During her most recent visit the doctor had presented her with a hopeful outlook on a new plan for his treatment. This was Sunday morning. On Friday afternoon we had finally gotten some insight as to what was actually wrong with him. After what seemed like countless trial and error procedures, the specialists here had finally figured out what was causing his sickness. During a conference with a team of hospital officials, it had been decided that on Monday morning we would take him home to continue palliative care. It seems, though, that all of the trial and error had caused significant damage to his vital organs, mainly his heart and liver. The new treatment plan was too late…
I have to make one more dreadful phone call. I pick up the phone again and dial his father. It takes a few tries before he eventually answers his cell phone.
“Yeah?” he grumbles, “who is this?”
“You need to come to the hospital,” for the first time, my voice cracks with the weight of what I have to tell him.
“What do you mean?” he is confused. It is four a.m. ” I am out of town for work. I can’t come there right now…”
“I’m sorry,” I mumble, “you have to come and say good-bye to him.” It is all I can muster into words. My mouth feels clumsy, like I’m not in control.
“What does that mean?” he is even more confused, and starting to pick up on the dread in my voice. “Are you sure you’re not over reacting? I know he’s really sick, but he’s going to be ok.” He is trying to soothe me. “What did the doctor say?”
I tell him exactly what they had explained to me. I tell him that I love him, and that it’s almost over. I hang up the phone without waiting to hear any more of what he has to say. Levi’s pediatrician is rushing into the room. One of the nurses had called him at home. He consults with the night shift doctors, and checks their chart, shaking his head. He comes to me, and confirms their diagnosis.
“We will make him as comfortable as possible, I am so sorry.” He hugs me.
I sit blankly in the rocking chair beside his bed, where I have cradled him day and night, praying for the time to come when we could be at home together. A nurse comes to hand him to me for one last cuddle. He seems to be caught up amongst an octopus’ tentacles, a tangle of wires and tubes. I do my best to cradle him against me without disturbing any of them. I sit that way for hours, it seems. Five a.m. comes; I am impulsively rocking him back and forth. His little rosy cheek is pressed to mine. I whisper over and over again that I love him without end. My parents and my brother are stumbling sleepily into the ICU. I watch as the doctor tells them what he has already told me. My mother clutches at my young brothers’ sleeve; her face is twisted with disbelief. They huddle around us, stroking my hair, leaning in to kiss him and me. Tears are streaming down each of their faces.
At some point the pediatrician comes forward with a clip board. He hands it to me and explains the paperwork that I need to sign before they can remove my son from his life support systems. I ask him again, begging this time for a different opinion, if this is absolutely unavoidable.
“The only thing keeping him alive right now is the drugs. He is in a lot of pain, and his heart will not continue to beat without them. His organs have all shut down, and can no longer sustain life. The longer we give him the drugs, the longer he stays in pain. It is time to let him rest.”
My heart is shattered as I sign the papers and hand them over.
The nurses slowly start to unhook him from various machines, watching me carefully out of the corners of their eyes. Desperate panic takes hold of me as the last of his life lines is severed. I can hear myself scream at them.
“DON’T,” I scream, although deep down I know it’s absurd. “He needs those… please DON’T…. don’t give up…”
A hand rests on my shoulder. My dad is close to me, his face crumpled with the weight of his grief.
“Honey, let him be with no suffering. He has to go now. It’s time he moves on from his pain. It’s too much” His voice cracks.
I feel as though I am squeezing him too hard… he is turning blue. There is not a single wire or tube left to hold him back. His little lifeless body is finally free. His heart beats ever so faintly. Alarm bells still echo in my ear drums, my pulse mimics their screams as I feel him letting go. A well of false hope floods me with belief that he might live on without the machines, without the drugs. A young mothers’ last glimmer of faith. Someone reaches to turn off the beeping monitors, rendering the room completely silent. The last of the adrenaline wears off with a few final flutters of his tiny heart. I am sobbing into the crook of his neck. The pulse has stopped. My fingertips lightly trace the outline of his sweet face. His treacherous journey in a human body is finally over. Here begins his journey as a supernatural light being… surely he is destined for much more than this.
An eternity slips by in the misty vapours of those last despairing seconds. Ideas of human importance, of spiritual oneness, are lost on the likes of my scarred and empty soul as of that fateful moment. When I finally lift my eyes from his peaceful sleeping face, I am aware that I am being watched by a team of exhausted hospital staff. It is six a.m. A ragged sob tears through the room as my gaze turns to my family. They are huddled together, leaning against one another for support. They look about as terrified as I feel. A nurse comes forward to receive his dead body. I stand to deliver him to her, and collapse back into the chair. Handing him to her is one of the most wretched moments of my life. I want to sit there forever, clinging to him, hoping he will revive himself. She wraps him in a soft blue blanket and lays him gently to rest in a sterile metal crib.
Over the next hour or so, my empty shell of a body goes through the motions of dealing with all of the paperwork that one must sign when a loved one is lost. Bureaucracy can be a cruel joke in times like this. I long to lie down and sleep, if only to wake up after a lifetime and realize that this was simply my wildest nightmare. When it is finally time to leave the hospital, the sunshine seems to be mocking me. It is a beautiful, warm summer day, the solstice. The longest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, we are beginning our descent in to the darkest and coldest depths of winter.