Sunday, July 6, 2014

Putting My Vocal Dukes Up

This time of year is always intensely introspective for me. My girls died the first week of July in 2008. Ellie on the first and Aubrey on the 7th. It was the hardest week of my life. I remember going to a Fourth of July celebration for the sake of my son who, at the time, was two and a half. We wanted him to see the fireworks and have some semblance of normalcy despite the hellish reality we were living at the time. I remember not wanting to go at all. I was afraid I’d burst into tears in front of strangers and I was still recovering from my C-section. I sat in the car pumping my milk and grieving my sweet Ellie while my other precious baby was confined to the NICU.  And by the look on my little son’s face we were not fooling him with fireworks. It was the worst Fourth of July ever.

Six years later this Fourth of July was fantastic: a parade in the morning, swimming all day, and a fantastic fireworks show after dark spent entirely with family. I thought about my girls as I always do, how it would be fun to have them with us, two blondies waving little American flags and swimming all day in Nana and Grandad’s pool. I always feel their absence. I've come to accept that it is simply a part of my life now and I’m even able to smile when I daydream about them.  My heart doesn't hurt like it once did and I’m thankful for that. It feels good to be full-hearted again even with pieces missing.

It does make me sad though that this community is so steeped in stagnant grief. Worse yet, there are many in this community that proclaim not-healing as a perfectly acceptable reality. Since the saddening An Open Letter to Those Who Use Lying Language  post on the MISS Foundation blog by Dr. Joanne Cattiatore I've found myself more vocal than ever with my stance on hope and healing.  It compelled me to put up my vocal dukes so to speak and make my disagreement known, not for my sake, but for the sake of all the broken, hurting hearts.

So here is what I have to say: Any person, doctor or otherwise, who refers to the death of her child as a sentence of suffering is not someone I will listen to, ever. Although I respect her freedom to feel how she wants about her daughter’s death, I will not now nor ever let her speak on behalf of my children or my experience. I’ll speak for them and myself, thank you very much, and she can take her lying words and STOP IT. NOW. Her words do not tell my story either. I am neither unsophisticated nor uncomfortable to firmly disagree with her condescending limited perspective. Her experience is not truth. The death of a child is NOT a sentence of suffering. It is statements like this from influential lips that fall onto vulnerable ears that are the real fraudulent language that confuses an entire community into becoming trapped in their pain because some entitled doctor wants to put a so-called ignorant society in its place. I’m sorry but I can’t stand by and allow this to go unchallenged a minute longer.

I will not be ashamed to heal nor shame others for healing. I will spend my life helping others find healing if they want it.

I will not be intimidated nor manipulated by others using bereavement to bully and project the chip on their shoulder onto me.  

I will not make it society’s job to make my healing or my hurting easier. I will not pretend that others have an obligation to fix me. I will take responsibility for my own heart always.

I will not allow anyone else to speak on behalf of my children that died without my permission, EVER.

Hear me now all who ache: HOPE IS NEVER LOST. HEALING IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE.

Healing is possible after the death of a child. Healing is possible after any loss for that matter. A broken heart is not permanent if you don’t want it to be. This isn’t my opinion either. It is the truth. How do I know it is the truth? I know because healing is a choice, not a happenstance. Healing doesn't befall us randomly like tragedy can.

The healing of our heart is ultimately up to us and nothing, not even the death of our precious babies and a misunderstanding society, can steal from us our freedom to choose how we will tend to our heart in the face of tragedy and pain. The state of our hearts is our responsibility, our choice, always. Not even the death of a child can override the power we have over our own heart.

It isn't our family’s responsibility to heal us nor our spouse’s. It isn't society’s either. And not healing, although an option as we can choose not to heal as freely as we can choose to heal, is even more tragic than the death itself.  

I personally have experienced true healing and not because I’m just lucky or because I must not have loved my girls as much as you love the baby you miss so much. I have healing because I gave myself permission to choose it standing over the tiny grave of two little girls I’d have given anything to get back. It hasn’t been an easy journey but a worthwhile one absolutely. I shook off the chains of my impending sentence of suffering with obstinate refusal to let the sweet little girls I love only be remembered in the pain of their death. I suffered for a time yes, but there are no chains on me. I am free and I use my freedom to honor them in my healing. Unashamed. Unapologetic. Undeterred.

It has become my life’s calling to make it known to all aching hearts that healing is always possible. It is possible to find healing after the loss of a child. And not just for me. For everyone. I know what I wrote is bold and it won’t land well on everyone, but sometimes it is the uncomfortable things that propel us forward toward things we once thought unreachable. Sometimes the death of a child leaves us feeling that healing is unreachable, but it isn’t. And someone had to say it.

The truth is a parent can find healing and live full-heartedly after the death of a child. Anyone who says differently is lying, confused, or has lost hope. And the death of a child is not more or less traumatic than other death or tragedy.  All hurting hearts can find healing.

Tomorrow I will celebrate the 6th anniversary of my Aubrey’s death. I will cry, I always do, and take flowers to her and set them alongside her headstone. I’ll talk to her and miss her and wonder about the little girl that touched my heart so profoundly in just 13 days. I will continue to long for her as I’ll never get “used to” not having her here but my life isn’t empty without her. My heart is full because I've chosen to fill it. My girls have not been replaced nor forgotten, but I have nothing to prove with pain. I am healing. Every day, I’m healing.


If healing seems impossible to you or you feel confused on how to even begin, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I can help you get the support and tools you need to choose healing and guide you in making a plan. Healing is possible for everyone no matter what, but we can’t do it on our own. Supportive relationships, effective tools, and a plan create a foundation for heart healing. I’m here to help you walk your own healing journey to restore full-hearted living.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Still Missing My Ellie Six Years Later


There is something both sad and beautiful about posting through tears. It is a familiar circumstance for me trying to type with tears filling my eyes and streaming down my face. The tears are as comforting as they are painful. Each one reminds me of just how much love and longing I have for my sweet little girl, even after all this time.

I don't have to close my eyes to see her little face in my mind. It is always there. I remember how her skin felt and how tiny she was in my hands. I only held her once. She died in my arms. It was the first and last time I felt her warmth and watched her chest moving up and down.


My time with her before the end was spent peering through the incubator glass wanting to reach in, scoop her up, and make a run for it. I wanted to hold her close, to be as near to her as possible, to comfort her and make her well, but the glass and the harsh reality of her sick little body never let me as close as I wanted to be.

I studied her for hours so I would remember her. I was so curious about her. I watched her personality emerge despite her fragile state and admired her loveliness and poise. What a sweetheart my Ellie. My beautiful little Ellie.

She left us after seven days. Seven scary, hopeful, sad, confusing, precious, frozen in time days.

Six years later it is every bit as fresh.

I miss you sweet girl. Everyday, I miss you. Wait for me. I'll come to you one day.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Keynote Speech

MISS Remembrance Walk Key Note Speech May 2014

Last night I made myself a cup of tea after I put my boys to bed. As I waited for my tea to steep I just stood there for a few minutes, thinking, and enjoying a moment of peace and quiet with the movie Return to Zero on in the back ground.

I’ve been privileged to see the movie three times before it premiered worldwide last night so I can almost say I know it by heart.

In a way we all know it by heart. The movie has done us all an amazing favor by showing the world that babies do sadly die and when they do they leave a story for us to tell on their behalf. We have been granted the rare privilege to be the story teller of our baby’s life.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always feel like a privilege. This beautiful honor comes at a soul crushing cost we’ve all lamented to pay.

Yet we all woke up this morning and came here because we want to have a voice. We want to speak for our precious little ones who cannot speak from themselves. We want to make clear that their lives matter, their existence changed everything for us, and their death not only broke our heart but robbed the world of someone truly special.

We want our babies counted. We want them remembered.

There is no manual however to guide us in telling our babies’ story. People ask me all the time for ideas about ways to memorialize their babies and they are always curious to know want I’ve done. 
In 2011 my sister and I started Teamotions- a revolutionary tea company with an out-of-the-box approach to emotional care and healing.

Grieving and struggling to cope after the deaths of my sweet girls, I found solace in tea. You would rarely see me without a cup of tea in my hand. One day my sister was visiting me and said, “I wish there was something I could put in your tea to make you feel better.” Knowing nothing like that existed, we set out to create it.

Our line of teas was created to support the full spectrum of emotions, offering comfort and healing to the hurting.

We use scientifically supported adaptogen herbs, tea, and botanicals in each blend to help boost immunity, improve the body's response to stress, and restore well-being in every way.

Teamotions was originally intended to be a line of grief-care teas formulated around the emotions often experienced when grieving. However, we quickly realized those emotions are not limited to grieving. Understanding that everyone experiences these emotions we put our whole hearts into developing a line of teas that would bring comfort to all.

Teamotions is so much more than a tea company. It is the legacy of my sweet baby daughters and the platform of which I tell their story. It is also the tangible representation of my passion to help others heal and my commitment to walk along side those who are hurting.

But the truth is you don’t need to have tea company, start a foundation, or even make a movie to tell your baby’s story in a remarkable way.  The best way to honor your child is by the healing of your own heart.

Our love for our child is not measured by our misery. Sadness does not preserve their memory. Our babies did not exist to place a sentence of suffering upon us. They came as a precious gifts. Beautiful examples of life and unconditional love.

I chose healing because I know nothing else I do could ever honor my sweet babies more.
Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. On the contrary. Healing means remembering-remembering that love this deep may cause unfathomable pain but it also makes a depth of joy possible that non-sufferers could never know.

Our lives are richer for knowing true loss. Compassion overflows in us. Gratitude abounds. Superficiality melts away. And what our babies leave behind is not a permanent prison of pain but the opportunity to embrace fully the beauty and meaning of their lives.  

We must chose healing every day. We must fight for it. We must embrace it. We must find our strength and find our voice –we must never be ashamed to heal

Why? Because it honors our beautiful babies.

We have a precious responsibility that starts with our own hearts. Give yourself permission to heal. Grant yourself the voice your baby deserves 

We are the tellers of their story and only our voice will do.

If you are struggling today believing that healing is possible for you please seek me out. I would love to encourage you.


Healing is possible after the death of a child. Dig Deep. Find your voice. Tell your story. 

And never ever lose hope. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Healing Power of Friendships: Retreat HOPE Afterthoughts

Retreat HOPE crew!
I have not been posting much here. I'm sorry. It is kind of lame of me I know, but it isn't because I don't have anything post worthy. My time has been limited and it seems that this falls into the I'll get to it later category of my life.

To be honest I haven't quite figured out what to do with my blog lately. It used to be almost a compulsion to write here. It was a haven I built for myself that served me well for many years. I was in a lot of pain for a very long time. This place let me vent in ways nothing else did. I cried here, screamed, grew, changed, healed, and found bits and pieces of myself that I thought were lost forever a midst the ashes right here, in this place. 

It is sacred space here. 

I've sat down a million times to post something and my brain locked up or fingers would not type or I emotionally froze and couldn't get into the flow. BLOGGER'S BLOCK. Yes I invented that term. And I am completely in favor of inventing any words necessary to articulate myself properly. You should try it. It is empowering. But anyway...bloggers block is a real thing and it was messing me up.  For a few months now my words have felt forced and I didn't like that at all. Inspired writing inspires others, forced writing, well, doesn't. This is a place that should be overflowing with authenticity, not obligatory writings that fall flat and bum people out.

Truthfully though my heart just wasn't in it. Other things have been captivating my heart of late and I poured myself into them, and not regrettably because here I sit with something to write FINALLY. My diversion has not only filled me back up with epiphanies and overflowed my heart but led me right back here to tell you about it. 

So pour a cup of tea and get ready...this is going to be long one. 

This past weekend was Retreat HOPE. Kiley Hanish of Return to Zero, Crystal Tenpenny of Teamotions and myeslf co-founded the retreat and led the weekends' activities and lessons. Seventeen women showed up from around the world, literally around the world, to come together to find support and healing after the death of their baby/babies. I had been looking forward to the retreat for some time. We worked incredibly hard on it and poured our hearts and souls into creating a truly meaningful weekend. I have not been that nervous in a long time. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to not let the women down. We were all coming from a place of such profound pain.  I felt wholly inadequate yet fully willing at the same time.What did I really have to offer except my own broken heart? Would that be enough?

Most days I feel like I am in pretty good place now, but I know I still have a long way to go. I look back on the early years after Aubrey and Ellie's deaths and don't even know how I survived. I have not forgotten the intensity of the pain of losing them and the fear and confusion of trying to go on without them. I still miss them desperately but along with the missing and the longing I feel peace, joy, and hope too. For a longtime it was either/or, but now it is and. I am sad and joyful, broken and strong, heartsick and content, confused and clear. I don't know how it happened but it did. And I feel a little more like who I want to be. I can laugh and cry at the same time. It's pretty awesome actually. A skill I cherish. 

I've spent the last few days decompressing from the retreat. When everyone left on Sunday I was overflowing with thoughts, feelings, ideas, and memories I will keep forever. The retreat went better than I imagined and I got more than I imagined out of it for my own heart, but the importance of what was taking place was so huge that I had to step out from under the weight of it all come Sunday. I felt myself go numb. Sometimes I just can't cope with how heavy life is and don't really want to. Coping sucks. I've been exhausting myself for the past six years, pushing myself hard through grief, to get beyond surviving to thriving. I don't like when I feel myself seemingly take a step backward into those old familiar places of numbness, coping, confusion, and uncertainty. What was happening to me? Where was all this coming from? What does it all mean?

Grief is a beast. Healing is a mountain. The journey is long, unpredictable, and not for sissies. I've become quite the fighter. My days are full of slaying the beast and climbing the mountain. I can be pretty tenacious when I set my mind on something and healing was something I chose almost six years ago and haven't looked back. It hasn't been pretty. As a matter of fact, it has been down right ugly at times. There is no map and I have an ungraceful way of throwing myself into things. But until I draw my last breath I will not let Aubrey and Ellie's short lives and tragic deaths rob them of the legacy they are worthy of...and that legacy isn't being a shadow of who I used to be cloaked in sadness without light in my eyes. I've heard it put this way, we all know that we'd give our lives for our children, we'd die for them without hesitation, but would we live for them? 

I chose life. Everyday I choose life.

Choosing life can completely kick your a** though. I mean let's be real for a second. This isn't a movie. This is real life. And real life is a lot harder and significantly less glamorous than the movies. Even those of us whose life is a movie (Kiley Hanish!) would agree that there was a lot left out of the script. If my life was a movie it would be one of those straight to DVD movies that no one would ever admit to watching (unlike Kiley who gets a world premier and played by Mini Driver-but she deserves it because Return to Zero is really amazing and was such a privilege to watch). Although I'd be impeccably dressed the entire time though and have flawless skin in my movie life...I'd be shockingly radiant considering all I've been through. In my real life I am, well, less radiant. Grief has taken a toll on me. But that is ok. There is something beautiful about walking through the fire and living to tell about it. Something rare. Something real. I wear my scars proudly as they are evidence of my sweet girls and how hard I am willing to work to honor them with my life.

I have always known that if I am going to heal and leave a legacy for Aubrey and Ellie worthy of them I would need the support of others, but I didn't truly grasp the transforming power of that support until this weekend. I watched the power of our foxhole friendships transform each other from walled-off, hesitant and nervous upon arrival to open, engaged, and relaxed within hours. Tears flowed freely but so did laughter, we shared about our babies and ourselves, and we were understood without even having to explain anything. I was my uncensored real self. It was the safest place I've been in almost 6 years. 

I think that is why I shut down on Sunday after the retreat ended...the support I so desperately needed and finally found had disbursed. The little perfect island I got to live on for three days and two nights sank into the sea. It was just me again and all my sweet friends were missing. I felt so sad, too sad to cope really, so I had to turn off for a while. 

I miss every one of my new sweet friends. Every single one. I needed them more than I even realized. Each one was a gift. I am forever changed for knowing each one of them.

I am still so traumatized by Aubrey and Ellie's deaths. I have two wounds that just won't heal. I've become pretty adept at functioning with my wounds. I don't want to fail my girls. I'll fight for my healing for their sake for the rest of my life because I believe it is what is most honoring to them, but there is a tiny part of me that has always wondered what about me, my heart, and my future?  

No one tells you that you are ripped from humanity after your baby dies. No one tells you that you are thrown into a subcategory of mankind. Demoted and segregated in an instant, all in secret. The new place makes it borderline impossible to truly relate and connect anymore with others, at least not easily, not completely. I think we should call it what it is-grief leprosy. But instead of being shipped off to be with only "our kind" we remain among the oblivious becoming invisible in many respects and no longer able to relate. It is a tough place to be. Maybe if we wore some visible marker we'd be recognized for what we are and less would be expected of us. The hardest part of grieving is pretending that we are not.

Truth be told I had grown quite weary and I began to believe that the feeling of constant struggle was just part of the healing process. I was trying to get used to it. But this weekend shifted my paradigm completely. This weekend provided rest and strength I didn't even know was available to me. I felt truly accepted, understood, and valued. The constant struggle is NOT a permanent part of the healing process. There is respite. And that respite is found in the face-to-face heart-to-heart company of other women who know the pain of losing a baby. All the hugs, smiles, tears and conversations were priceless. More than priceless, precious. More than precious, miraculous. I am different now because of it, more whole, which is unfathomable to say after experiencing such loss, but I am. I found a part of me that I thought was lost. I didn't feel like a grief-leper. 

I've always said the human spirit is remarkably resilient. It blows my mind what our hearts can endure. But this weekend taught me that resilience is rooted in real connection. We simply can't heal without each other. The friends I made this weekend empowered me in ways I have never been empowered before. I felt more like myself than I have in years. I am closer to who I want to be since Aubrey and Ellie's deaths.

And it was powerfully healing for my heart. 

Thank you for a wonderful weekend ladies! I know it took courage. Thank you for the gift of your friendship and the connection that only comes when you take the risk and open your heart. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Retreat H.O.P.E. 2014!



I can't even believe that I am posting this. It has been a dream of mine for years, a longing in my heart, a wish...and it is actually going to happen. IT IS REAL.

I was approached a few months back by Kiley Hanish of Return to Zero to collaborate on an idea in her heart for a healing retreat for women who have had a baby die during pregnancy or early infancy. I immediately said yes and the rest is history. Retreat H.O.P.E will take place in Ojai on April 11-13, 2014. 

Since Aubrey and Ellie died in 2008 I have dreamed of a safe place where hurting moms could go to get real help and support with their grief. More specifically I dreamed of a place where the mother's heart would be the focus instead of just the memory of the babies we've lost. Don't misunderstand me, memorializing our babies is important and personal and has a valuable place in the grief process, but I've seen so many heartbroken moms lose themselves in their mission to see the memory of their child live on.

As I wondered through the darkest part of my grief I longed for a place where I could remember who I am under all the sadness and pain and learn to live again as my whole self shaped by my whole story, not just the part of my story that is Aubrey and Ellie's deaths. After all, Aubrey and Ellie's deaths is not who I am, it is something that happened to me. It is a part of my story, a significant part yes, but only a part, and who I am is still in there somewhere and she deserves a chance to reemerge and triumph.

I think sometime we need a little help remembering that the best way to honor the children that we miss so deeply is to pursue healing with abandon. We deserve to love ourselves as much as we love the children we lost. It is ok to ask the question,"what about me and my heart and my life moving forward? How do I live, not just exist, after loss?"  Retreat H.O.P.E. will help answer some of these questions but most importantly offer hope to heart-broken moms everywhere. Healing is possible. It really is. I promise you, it is.

Retreat H.O.P.E will be a weekend of rest and respite to women who have had a baby die in pregnancy or early infancy. The purpose of the retreat is to help women find Healing from grief, Optimism for their journey, a Plan for the future, and Encouragement from other women like them.

This retreat will focus on YOU. Our goal is to share valuable tools and insights that you can use over a lifetime to care for your body, mind, and heart in new ways after loss. Activities such as yoga, cooking, hiking, writing, and group discussion will help you to process, heal, and transform your grief.
Organic food and Teamotions well-being teas will complement your healing experience.

If you are interested in attending please visit our website www.retreathope.com. Or if you know someone who could benefit from this retreat please pass it along.

We only have 25 available spots so act quickly to reserve your spot. See you in April!. I look forward to hugging your neck and healing together.

It is time to give ourselves permission to heal and the tools to do it!


 
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