Stuck With Grief

Let’s face it, we’re stuck with grief. Like Gorilla Glue stuck.We are stuck living with the kind of emotional residue that can never be completely washed away. We can participate in creative grief projects and actively heal, but we will go to our graves with the epoxy of grief.

We are glued together, and as members of this hate-to-love community we understand what it feels like to be stuck with a group of people who were not a part of your life before yet you can’t live without them in grief’s after. We can share and connect, but no amount of layers revealed will peel away this pain.

Like adhesive to the soul, we are bound to a forever love and we won’t let go, no matter how much we must continue to move forward. We can’t let go. Grief leaves us feeling like we are coming unglued but somehow we are still hanging on, stuck to grief with the glue of love.

I’m thankful to be stuck with you. With this grief. This love.

Leaping Into a New Year

Have you ever jumped from rock to rock along the riverbank; Trusting that your feet will cling to solid ground and hold you upright? Believing that you will hang on and stay on, rather than lose your grip on the slippery slime and plunge into the water? Praying to land with balance and grace?

Looking ahead, yet sometimes behind. Nervous, yet confident. Scared, yet hopeful. Excited, though focused. Heading forward, yet sometimes looking behind.

This is precisely how I intend to live in the new year. Living and looking for new hope, new light, new rocks to jump yet looking back, honoring, remembering, and cherishing yesterday’s memories, wishes, moments, and even the plunges.

New beginnings can be scary, exciting, and sometimes relenting. It is difficult to leave the comforts of ritual, habit, and times of grief behind in order to begin anew, to move on, and forge ahead. Sometimes the best we can do is to take that which holds us back and use it to propel us forward.

Jumping from rock to rock, like leaping from one year to another, takes courage, determination, belief in yourself, and heart.

…But how can you take heart when your heart has been taken?

…What can you do when each day brings a sense of newness that is both refreshing and smothering?

…How will you live through this new year without your child?

You will live and learn to blend “what should be” with “what is” in order to create a beautiful “now” and “will be”.

You will face the newness, yet you will look back. You deserve to look back, as you have come a long way.

You will connect with others and share your tale of love, loss, and gains. You will be heard, seen, and taken by the hand.

You will ache for your child longingly last year, this year, and every year. You deserve to long, as your heart is missing its biggest piece.

You will face this brand-new year and this same old grief head and heart on, and I will be right here encouraging you.

Much love, Cullin’s Mama

Photo credit Jordan Whitt, Upsplash

O’ Cullin Tree

O’ Cullin Tree, O’ Cullin Tree, your leaves are so…..sparse. Broken and bent. Unraveled and twisted.

This year the kids and I decided to retire our “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree and buy a new one to hold the special ornaments that we hang in honor of our Cullin. We found a four foot tall, white tree that stands about as high as he would in his Christmas jammies.

Our pitiful little tree has held up our most precious baubles, as well as our spirits, during some of the heaviest times for the past six Christmases. Adorned with his name, Cullin receives ornaments from his siblings, complete strangers, and me each year.

My mom has the same tree. Or had. Her “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree also broke this year. The kids and I were upset, but mama was just sick about it. “Good grief.

The weight of the ornaments, the wear and tear of storage, and time have wilted the already fragile trees. For all of these reasons and more, our Cullin trees mean the world to us, so I thought up a way to salvage the pieces.

When you ache, create.

  • I took the end pieces of the fir branches that fell off and stuffed them into an empty ornament bulb.
  • Then I cut a sliver of Linus’ blue blanket that normally wraps around the base of the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree, tied a knot, and placed it in the ornament.
  • I added a fake red berry to represent the red ornament that Charlie Brown placed on his tree.
  • Finally I tied a string on top and hung it on our new Cullin tree.

“It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Linus

I love learning from life, but grief has been my least favorite teacher. If my children and I have learned anything from grief, it’s that though we may feel broken and bent, unraveled and twisted, we can still choose to pick up the broken pieces and salvage them in creative ways.

Cullin’s Mama



Setting the Table for Grief & Gratitude

I’m setting the table for grief & gratitude, rage & remembrance. I’m planning for pain & peace and thinking of so many whose bellies are stuffed with grief this season.

There are thousands of parents who will wake up on Thanksgiving without their little turkey for the first time this year. They may want to stay in bed. They may want nothing to do with anything. They will just want their baby back. They may be too stuffed with grief for gravy or small talk.

I remember the first couple of Thanksgivings without my son Cullin. It was like a scene from the movie Return to Zero https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFim4AcaAaU

I was too enraged to count blessings, too empty to eat.

All I could see was that space where the high chair should have been, and subsequent years,the empty chair.

It’s hard to be grateful when your child has died. Dare you disagree? Dare you judge the mom or dad who decline your invitation this year? Don’t. Rather, make them a plate of leftovers, set it on their doorstep with a note mentioning their child’s name, and walk away.

Small gestures from friends and family will help you gain ground in your healing journey and over the years you will become a master at making memories within the moments without your child. You will find ways to incorporate them into hard times of gathering, and it will be easier for you to sit with rage and remembrance at the same table.

How can you set the table for grief and gratitude during those hard-to-choose-gratitude moments?

  • Choose to find one thing that you are grateful for in three areas of your life.

For example, if you choose to focus on your Family, Friends, Home, think about one aspect of family that you are truly blessed for. Then focus on your friends and one thing that you are grateful for about your tribe. Think about your home and why you are thankful for your space. Write your reflections and read them during times when you are feeling less than grateful. It can be hard to see the blessings when your heart is so broken, so pull out that piece of paper and remind yourself.

  • Remember your child in your own special ways. Create traditions which incorporate their love into your day. Literally set a space for them at your table.
  • Read about gratitude in other cultures or study the the Spiritual Law of Gratitude.
  • Show up when you can. Stay home when you “just can’t.”

May your Thanksgiving be full of gratitude even in grief, beautiful memories within missed moments, and peace through the pain.

Grief Is No Treat, Here are 3 Tricks

Have you seen the movie Return to Zero?

The Halloween scene?

Here.

I can relate to Aaron’s attitude and level of excitement, especially the 1st Halloween without Cullin.

Lost in a world of grief, he grabs a handful of aquarium rocks, shoves them at the trick-or-treaters , and closes the door yelling, “Because they can’t all be treats, kids.”

Grief is no treat, but here are three tricks to help you make it through Halloween.

  1. Picture what your child “would be”. Each year since 2012, I imagine what my son Cullin would be for Halloween. I take a screenshot of the costume and look at it when I want to picture my child as a trick-or-treater. On Halloween night, I take special note of the children who are dressed in that same character, smile to their faces, and burst into tears as they parade by. This year, I believe Cullin would be a vampire pirate like his little brother Raylun. I can see him now; a six and a half year old boy, running around, swashbuckling his sister, plank-walking his brother, biting me. Since I can’t see my son, I chose to envision him, to see him with my mind’s eye and my heart. How old is your child? Which character would be appropriate for your child’s age? Can you see? What do you see?
  2. Do something creative in honor of your child. Write down what you just envisioned for your child, and share your vision. What costume would your child choose? What is your child wearing? Can you see any other details? Creating a narrative and visual of the “would be’s” is a way make a new memory with your child despite death, time or space. Carve a special character on a pumpkin, or engrave your child’s name or initials. Make goodie bags “from” your child and hand them out on Halloween night. Create and mail goodie bags to your bereaved besties in honor of your children. Watch a scary movie while holding your child’s keepsake blanket and pillow.
  3. Do nothing. Stay inside. Turn off the front porch light, and do nothing. Watch a mind numbing show. Rent a movie. Or don’t. You don’t have to picture your child if that’s too painful. You don’t have to honor your child’s memory publicly. You don’t have to do something creative. You can choose to do nothing at all for Halloween or any other time of celebration if you physically or emotionally can not find the energy or care to join in the festivities. It is your choice because you know what you need. Do what you need, or do nothing at all, the choice is yours.

The first Halloween without Cullin would have been his 1st Halloween ever, but he died on the first day of October. I wanted to “Do Nothing.” but thirty days into my grief, my other children were ready to celebrate Halloween. I was ready for the day of the dead. I felt, plus looked like, the “Night of the Living Dead.” Somehow, for Cullin’s siblings, and in his honor, I took them trick-or-treating that night. When I saw “Woody” from Toy Story I almost buckled at the knees but somehow I kept walking, and smiled through the tears though, because I pictured my son Cullin dressed up as “Woody” that year. #planforpain

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Cullin’s sister Kindil colored these wooden figures Halloween ’12. She was 4 and witnessed the events the day her brother passed just weeks prior. Kids are so damn resilient.

 

This Is Somewhat Us

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This Is Somewhat Us

as seen in Still Standing Magazine Sept.2017

This Is Us is beyond brilliant, but when will the show address the death of that third triplet? The writers seemed to have skipped over writing about the actual pain or effects of losing a child, and replaced the couple’s misery with an orphaned newborn whom they effortlessly adopt. The couple expected three babies to come home, and three did, but it seems like the Pearsons left their deceased baby, and the looming shadow of grief, at the hospital. If you are like 1 in 4 of “us” in the “child loss community” then you know that grief will forever be present in your child’s absence. When are they going to address this forever grief? Will they? Will the writers avoid the topic and continue to force Rebecca and Jack to “move on” or will they be able to break their silence and grieve in waves on future episodes? Edited to say that Season 2 addressed Kyle, not by name, but at least by mention. The writers explained why Rebecca overcompensates with love for Randall, but I’m hoping for more depth and maybe even a mention of the stillborn Kyle.

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During the pilot episode, Rebecca and Jack Pearson have planned and prepared for the arrival of their triplets but despite the fact that it was Jack’s 36th birthday and he willed “only good things will happen in this room”, their plans and lives change against their will as Rebecca’s regular doctor was unable to attend the delivery and Dr. Nathan Katowski was forced to stepped in.  He delivered two healthy babies, and a stillborn.  Bereaved parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, watched in both horror and delight as the taboo topic of child loss was addressed on a platform with 4.5 million viewers, and Dr. K’s message was heard and felt around the world as he turned his personal story heartbreak into heartfelt advise for grieving father Jack and grievers around the world.

He said, “I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me talkin’ a young man’s ear off explainin’ to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that, then maybe you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital, just maybe not the way you planned.”

The next day, there were more “Lemons to Lemonade” memes on social media sites than could be counted, and conversations about infant death, stillborn babies, and other types child loss that were not happening the day before because such an amazing show addressed such a sensitive issue, our issue; enduring the death of a child.

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This is Us has millions chanting, “This is Us, This is Us!” Yet others, like myself, are left saying “This is somewhat us,” and wondering, “Will the writers take a sip of and savor the lemonade they have created or spit it out because it seems too sour?”

You will need a lifetime of sugar to sweeten the sour taste of child loss, and even still life can seem so bitter.  If you are a fellow loss mama or daddy then you know exactly what I am talking about and have probably tasted the bitterness of grief even on your sweetest of days.  Your child’s absence is always present, always felt, but not always seen or understood by others, especially if they have not survived the death of their child.  They can imagine.  They can surmise.  They can put themselves in your shoes, but they cannot comprehend the magnitude of love, the depth of grief, or the resounding void that fills a life lived without the child you intended to raise.

Should they sit with you, listen to you, and ask you questions about your child then they will somewhat understand.  Should they accompany you to your child’s grave, hold your hand during your darkest moments, and listen to your heart when you have no words, then they will have a glimpse into your grief.  Should they look away, forget to call, and ignore the pain then they probably cannot handle the weight of your grief.  Avoidance does not elude the void.  Ignoring the tragedy of child loss is yet another one of its many subsequent tragedies. Grief refuses to be ignored, and must be faced head and heart-on.  In life and on television.

Epidsode 12 addresses the love and bond shared between mom Rebecca, and son Randall but the story is not complete.  What the viewer will see is a bereaved mama trying with everything she has to avoid displacing the love for her baby that has died onto her new baby whom she has adopted.  You will hear her need to give Randall his own name, rather than the one intended for the third triplet, Kyle. You will feel elated that this mom’s empty arms have been filled with a beautiful child to love.  Your heart will soar when you see three babies lying beside one another.  But will you remember that there should be four Pearson children?  Will you remember that Kyle should be there too?  Will the writers think more of Kyle, the character that did not get to play a physical part in the Pearson family story, yet should play such an emotional role?  Will Randall continue to be portrayed as a replacement to fill the hurt, a body to fill that void?  The writers addressed the topic of child loss but will they delve deeper?  Will we see a glimpse of Rebecca in the delivery room as they whisk her boy’s lifeless body away?  Did she get to hold him?  Did she ever get to see him?  Did Jack get to see him?  Did they have to plan burial or cremation services?  Will Rebecca wear Kyle’s ashes on a necklace, carry a tuft of hair in her pocket or hold a stuffed animal in his absence?  Will we see her open a box and break down as she holds special treasures from her still born, still loved son; a hospital i.d., Kyle’s blanket, a special coming-home outfit?  Will Jack see a kid who “looks like Kyle might have looked” as he takes the other kids to school?

Will Rebecca have a grief attack at Kate, Kevin, and Randall’s high school graduation? Will they portray the magnitude of such grief during the upcoming seasons, or continue to write off the tragedy?  Will Kate and Kevin ask or be told about their brother who passed away at birth?  Will Randall know about Kyle? Will the Pearson family gather together at the cemetery or will viewers catch Rebecca in a moment of solitude, standing over her son’s grave?  Will they tell a lie at the park, saying “Three kids.”, or confess with a sigh, “Four.  One died.”  Will Jack take his angst and grief with him to the grave, or did he release his sorrows within the comforts of a secret grief diary? Will the couple’s known divorce be a result of some twist in the plot (Rebecca falling in love with Jack’s best friend Miguel) or some twist of fate (the effects of grief on a relationship)?  Will Kyle’s death forever lie in the undercurrent of their lives? Will the characters wake and walk, sleep and breathe, live and die in honor of their fourth child?  Will we hear Rebecca and Jack reflect upon what “Kyle would be, could be and should be doing” during certain seasons of their lives?

Will these issues be addressed, Dan Fogelman?  If so, then bereaved parents around the world will tune in and say, “This is pretty damn close to us!”

Season 3 begins Tuesday, September 26th. How will they handle Kate’s miscarriage? Will she and mom Rebecca bond over their deep pain as bereaved mamas? This is us, watching!

 

Grief Upon Grief

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I have been numb the past couple of weeks as yet another loss mom has crossed the line that separates inspiration and borrowing ideas for personal gain. I’m not mad. I’m numb. I’ve assured her a few times that, indeed, I’m not mad, but have expressed that I am not happy about it either. I’m actually getting pretty sick of it.

This is the third leading voice in the world of grief that has borrowed one or more of my quotes, sayings, phrases, ideas, or programs and I can’t keep quiet about it anymore. I Can’t. Follow someone else. Gain inspiration from someone else. Stop stealing my art.

When you steal words written for, photos taken of my child, or borrow from programs designed in his honor, you are messing with the wrong angel army. Every brokenhearted soldier is lined up, ready to rally against those who value personal gain over integrity.

Some of the quotes that you are tweaking, using, and “making your own” have actually been recycled a couple of times over the past couple of years and are a copyright under our nonprofit. Some of your articles that have my phrases may get some likes, but keep in mind that they are essentially my likes. They are not your likes as they are not your ideas, words, or visions, they’re mine. You are actually stealing intellectual property. More unethical, you are stealing emotional property.

Again, stop, I have enough grief in my life.

End of rant.

Cullin’s Mama