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 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!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Living the Life that's Waiting for Us

I hopped a plane to Southern California earlier last month to attend the OC Walk to Remember as well as to spend some much needed time with my sister (and business partner) to work work work.

Teamotions is hands down the hardest venture I have ever undertaken. We've been working, selling, brainstorming, planning, executing, and revamping ourselves into a coma. Both of us look like a truck ran us over. But the potential of it all keeps us going.

Teamotions is growing, but more importantly it is changing, and with it has come some amazing experiences. We see lives touched and all the work is worth it.We are building a worthy legacy for my sweet girls. That alone is enough to keep me going when it all just seems like too much.

I always enjoy time in SoCal but this trip was extra special. I got to meet Carly Dudly of Names in the Sand and Christian's Beach. Her and I made contact five years ago via email when we were both new grieving mommies with a desire to leave a legacy worthy of the babies we buried. She came all the way from Australia to take part in one of the STILL project short films by Jonathan and Carrie Pascual and we all met up along with Sean Hanish from Return to Zero in Orange County at the OC Walk to Remember.

Left to right: Zaya, Jonathan, and Carrie Pascual, me, Carly Dudly, Sean Hanish, Kiley Hanish, and Crystal Tenpenny at the OC Walk to Remember 2013
It was surreal to hug Carly. We've crossed paths so many times in cyber space and worked together via internet on many projects, but meeting in real life, hugging, crying, and talking was a truly beautiful moment. The bond I felt with her is in fact real and I think we were both moved. It was a good day.

Aubrey and Ellie's names are above my head
It was a hard day too though. At the ceremony before we walk they read off every baby's name, give us roses, and put our baby's names on a giant mural. I never quite know how to feel when I see my daughters' names like that. As if I need to be reminded that they are in fact gone. I haven't forgotten I assure you. And, for the first time in a while, I TOTALLY LOST IT. I broken down. Publicly. And I couldn't gain my composure. It just reminded me how close to the surface my pain still is. I love and miss my girls so much and I HATE that they are gone. I HATE that I can find their names on a mural for dead babies. I HATE that I held two roses for them. I HATE that my tank top said "Remembering Aubrey and Ellie." And I HATE that more that five years later I am still so raw. I would murder death with my bare hands if I could because I hate it so much. That is why the tears still uncontrollably flow...I WANT THEM BACK.

(Deep breath)

I suppose this is life. Beautiful. Sad. Stirring. Crushing. It felt good to cry. It felt good to stop crying. It's my life, I am learning to embrace it. It is time to live the life waiting for me. I know I am more than my sad story, much more. It just took me a while to remember.

I left California on a mission. My babies know I love them and miss them. I have nothing to prove to them. But I do have something to prove to myself. A life is waiting for me. An extraordinary life full of blessings and gratitude and compassion. It is time for this broken little bird to fly again. I mean really fly. Impressively fly. Freestyle fly like its cool.

So I literally flew home on an airplane to these amazing kids with new inspiration in my heart ready to shake off the melancholy and live more alive. (I just threw in these pictures to make you all smile).

And I also created this.

Share if it inspired you. Life is waiting for you. Live it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Teaching Children Empathy

Empathy is a learned skill, not a personality trait, and essential to emotional well-being. Empathy, at its core, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so to speak.  Empathy can be learned and developed at any age, but the earlier a person can empathize with others the better.  The ability to empathize is a strength, not a weakness. It promotes connectedness and a genuine interest in the well-being of others. A lack of empathy destroys well-being and relationships and erodes society as a whole.

It is important to teach empathy to our children so they can thrive in their youth and grow up to become healthy, compassionate adults capable of meaningful relationships and purposeful living. The capacity to be empathetic is fostered or undermined by a child’s environment and parenting. This TEAching, Teaching Children Empathy, was created to provide parents with 3 practical tips for cultivating empathy in their children.  

We can help our child develop empathy by providing an environment for them where their feelings are considered, connecting with others and caring about how they feel is modeled for them, and they are instilled with a value system based on morality not entitlement. Empathy is more complex than merely feeling someone else’s pain. Science tells us that being empathetic requires several components. Along with sharing feelings, the empathic person also needs to be able to have a sense of self-awareness, see another person’s perspective, and regulate their own emotional response. As parents, it is our responsibility to instill these fundamentals in our children for their benefit and the benefit of others.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Meantime Until Fine

When hard or bad things happen it can be so frustrating to be patted on the back and told “don’t worry, everything will be ok.” First of all, how the heck do they know!?!? And second of all, it is great if eventually life won’t be so terrible and hard anymore, but the question remains-what do we do in the meantime? The un-hard life of the future isn’t the problem. The present difficulty is!
This is my best advice for how to endure the meantime until fine:

1.       Hold out on making any big decisions.
Let the crisis and its emotional repercussions pass before making any big decisions. That is advice you can take to the bank. If for some reason that is not possible, make sure to consult someone you can trust to help you make the decisions you need to make. When we are in pain or panic we cannot trust our own judgment, plain and simple. We need another set of vested eyes and ears to help us wade through decisions we are simply too emotionally impaired by difficult times to think through properly. Don’t make huge financial decisions nor start a new relationship. Don’t quit a job nor move. Don’t do anything extreme that can’t be undone. Protect yourself and sit tight until the crisis clears. If a decision must be made pull in a time tested trustworthy friend or family member to be your sounding board. I cannot count how many people tell me that they thought they were clear-headed during a crisis and could trust their own judgment only to regret their decisions and wonder what in the world they were thinking. Don’t be one of those people and heap extra stress on yourself during an already emotionally taxing time. Hold off on all big decisions or lean on the judgment of others in times of crisis.

.       Protect your physical health.
When our coping mechanisms are depleted due to stress or emotional pain it is important not to sabotage our ability to function and recover by taking poor care of our physical health. In crisis, pay extra attention to the little things as not to undermine your healing.
a.       Guard your sleep. Exhaustion undermines our coping mechanisms in every way.
b.      Get sun and fresh air. Go outside every day, even if it is freezing, hold your face up to the sun and take a few deep breaths.
c.       Exercise. Physical activity improves emotional well-being, boost immunity, and releases pent up emotions. 
d.      Eat well. Healthy whole real food builds up our health. Processed foods full of chemicals, sugar, and salt tear our health down. Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial under stress. It simply isn’t the time to live off of fast food and candy bars. It is also not the time to not eat. Even if your appetite is gone, force yourself to eat small healthy snacks every three hours. Your body  needs nutrition to persevere.
e.      And if possible, take a good multivitamin and other supplements that nutritionally supports the stress your body is under.
Emotional pain can surprise us with its grip. Loosen that grip by taking care of your body by supporting the delicate connection between our emotions and our physical health.

.       Drink tea, ditch the coffee.
Let’s just be honest here, too much coffee will slay you. We’ve all been there in college shaking while cramming for finals ready to crawl out of our skin from too many cups of coffee.  No one has ever complained about tea that way. Science proves what our bodies seem to be telling us all along. Coffee depletes essential nutrients like B vitamins (your stress fighting vitamins), causes inflammation in the body, and contributes to adrenal exhaustion. Tea provides nutrition in the form of antioxidants, ECGC, vitamins, minerals and bio-available water. Even the caffeine in tea is different from the caffeine in coffee. Tea has much less caffeine than coffee and also contains L-theanine. Caffeine and L-theanine work together to boost energy, mental alertness, and concentration while simultaneously calming the body. No other caffeinated beverage both energizes and calms. This produces a sense of well-being unparalleled to coffee, even decaffeinated coffee. People who drink tea regularly have more energy, are less anxious, and feel more centered than people who drink coffee regularly. It may seem that coffee gives you the boost you need when you are depleted but over time it will deplete your more. Restore your coping mechanisms and health with tea.

4       Cry, yell, and smash something if you must.
Times of emotional difficulty are no joke. It is incredibly frustrating when life goes on and we have to go on with it even though what we really want to do is punch something and scream for time to stop. When emotions start mounting up the best thing to do is LET THEM OUT! Cry, vent, talk, yell, laugh, sigh, write, dance, paint, play music, craft, throw something…do what you have to do to get some emotional relief before you explode. After my daughters died I loved to go to the indoor range and fire a handgun. I’d shoot at the circle target (not the one shaped like a person, that felt weird to me) with the goggles and earmuff things on. I am a little intimidated by the whole putting the bullets in the clip and loading the handgun experience so I think it felt good to face my fear and conquer it. And then, the adrenalin rush of firing a gun is exhilarating and empowering at the same time. I can’t exactly explain how it made me feel but the sense of relief it provided was undeniable.  I went in overwhelmed and after a few rounds I came out strong again and brave, able to face another day. I also ran and wrote. There are all kinds of safe and healthy ways to find an outlet for your feelings. Find what gives you the relief you need to keep yourself going.

5      Get professional counseling.
Life can be really hard. If something is going on that has set you on the emotional brink GET HELP. A professional counselor can make all the difference in the world. There is nothing wrong with you if you can’t deal on your own. The truth is, no one can. We are all a disaster behind closed doors and need support to overcome. Love yourself enough to get help when you need it. You have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Let a professional help you.

6.       BONUS ADVICE: Do not cut your hair.

This bit of advice may not apply to everyone, but it was one of my greatest regrets so I wanted to pass it along. DO NOT CUT YOUR HAIR OFF. Do your best not to be impulsive while in crisis. Do not march into the salon with a picture of an A-line bob and let the stylist go to town. You’ll regret it. This could probably also apply to getting a tattoo, getting piercings, hair color and cutting your own bangs. DON’T DO IT. Seriously. Don’t.
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