Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Full and Whole with Broken and Missing Pieces

I woke up this morning from a dream. I was lying on my back in the ocean listening for my girls and all I heard was silence. I was in the water looking up at the sky. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the sea was calm and quiet. I was content except for the silence. I kept listening hard, closing my eyes to listen, but heard nothing. Then I woke up.

When I opened my eyes I put my hands over my heart.

I wish you were here sweet girls. I wish I could have known your voices.

These are the confessions I make daily. These are the things I release so I can grieve them and find peace. When the longings grip me I give them a voice, even if that voice is one only my heart can hear, so healing can replace the longing and I can go on living the best life I can.

I wish I had more time with you.

I wish I could have pierced your ears—pearls for Ellie, diamonds for Aubrey.

I wish I had a picture of me holding you both, the one I imagined in my mind since the moment I found out I was having twins, one baby in each arm in the hospital bed, exhausted and proud.

I wish I had the opportunity to NEVER dress you alike so that everyone knew you were each your own person and honored your individuality.

I wish…

I wish …

I wish…

Every morning another wish.

Every morning another choice to heal.

Every morning a conversation with God to give me the strength to press on until everything gets put right again and for comfort in the meantime. This life isn’t all there is and thank God for that, but I still need hope and hugs and a way through because the pain isn’t less real just because Heaven is real.

When I put my hands over my heart I can feel the empty space inside, the two little Aubrey and Ellie shaped holes that remain since their death. I feel their absence, even in my dreams, when I listen for them and hear nothing except my own breath.

I have not filled these spaces and I never will, yet I live with a full heart. This is how I know I’m healing. I have fullness despite the empty spaces, wholeness despite what is missing, and peace despite longing. This duality is what makes healing from grief possible.

Joy and sadness can coexist.

From ashes can incense rise.

Healing is not the product of undoing all the pain but choosing to give our hearts a voice and willingly handing all the pieces over to the One who knows how to put them back together again. It is our chance to reveal our heart, to be honest, to seek intimacy, and recieve peace. Our circumstances don’t have to change one bit for our heart to change and find the healing it desperately seeks. We can choose fullness without having every nook and cranny filled; we can choose wholeness without every piece of the puzzle intact.

The human heart is remarkably fragile but also immeasurably resilient. And resilience is our choice, not our luck. All we have to do is ask and avail ourselves to the healing work God wants to do in our lives. Our hearts were never whole in the first place. He has always been weaving himself into our holes and cracks, since the first moment we asked Him in, and will continue the work He has started if we allow Him. We must invite Him into the shattered mess and trust that He knows how to piece us back together again, even if His work isn't complete until the next life. In the meantime He will sustain us. If He can make dry bones get up and walk He can breath life back into the broken smithereens of our hearts.   

Broken hearts still beat. Hearts with holes and dents and scars beat powerfully. My heart is stronger than it has ever been. And I wear it proudly on my sleeve, holes and all, because, honestly, it is a miracle.  It isn’t a gaping, hemorrhaging wound anymore. It is an always healing, ever-stronger, honest badge of the choice I made to heal. As long as my heart still beats I’m seeing my healing to the end without guilt or apology.

When my hand goes over my heart in the morning and I give my never-coming-true wishes a voice, my heart keeps beating. It doesn’t die with the pain. It beats again and again and again. Stronger each time. It’s another chance and another and another to get up and live full and whole with broken and missing pieces.

That is my choice. Morning after morning. Day after day. Night after night.

Wholeness.

Fullness.

Life.

Christ.

I choose life, abundant life, with every beat of my less than whole, missing a few pieces heart.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Emotional Resilience


I'm always been curious about what makes some people so much more resilient than others. I've observed my whole life how some people crumble under grief and hardship never to recover while others take the hit and seem stronger for it. I am always impressed with those who may fall for a time but rise up with joy, clarity, and conviction. After Aubrey and Ellie died I wanted to be one of the ones that rise up out of grief like a phoenix from the ashes, but it was way harder than I thought. I had to learn. I had to fight for it. I had to choose healing. 

I found this article and it really resonated with what I already felt and observed about emotional recovery. It isn't just the luck of the draw. We can have emotional resilience if we want it. Anyone can, if they are willing to learn how, but we have to choose it and learn new skills. 

These 10 traits are useful to everyone. I'll admit I'm still mastering these traits, but at least they are on my radar, which has made a huge difference in my healing journey.
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Ten years ago this month, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article “The Art of Resilience”:

"At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It's possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It's possible to fortify your psyche. It's possible to develop a sense of mastery."

So how do we fortify our psyche to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent? How is it that some people handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart?
Those who master resilience tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity--times are tough but I know they will get better. The old metaphor applies: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane--they bend rather than break. Or, even if they feel like they’re broken for a time, there’s still a part of them deep inside that knows they won’t be broken forever. Here's how they do it...
10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People:

Trait 1

1. They know their boundaries. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of theirtemporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity.

Trait 2

2. They keep good company. Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there’s a need for support. Supportive people give us the space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice. Good supporters know how to just be with adversity—calming us rather than frustrating us.

trait 3

3. They cultivate self-awareness. Being ‘blissfully unaware’ can get us through a bad day but it's not a very wise long-term strategy. Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs—knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some extra help. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending.
On the other hand, a prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness can make us emotional glaciers: Always trying to be strong in order to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment.

trait 4

 4. They practice acceptance. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time. When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows. As hard as it is in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it. Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it's about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting that we will bounce back.

trait 5

5. They’re willing to sit in silence. We are masters of distraction: T.V., overeating, abusing drugs, risky behavior, gossip, etc. We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle there is mindfulness-- being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance. It takes practice, but it’s one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.

trait 6

6. They don’t have to have all the answers. The psyche has its own built-in protective mechanisms that help us regulate stress. When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face to traumatic events, that trying too hard can block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time. We can find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when our mind-body-soul is ready.

trait 7

7. They have a menu of self-care habits. They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most. We can all become self-care spotters in our life—noticing those things that recharge our batteries and fill our cup. In part two of this resilience blog series, my guest Karen Horneffer-Ginter, author of Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much, shares her 25 ideas for cultivating resilience. Her blog just might inspire you to create your own self-care menu. Karen has taken the menu idea a step further by designing a self-care poster that serves as visual inspiration to nourish the soul when life’s just too much.

trait 8

8. They enlist their team. The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help. They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let’s be honest, who won’t! Our team of supporters helps us reflect back what they see when we’re too immersed in overwhelm to witness our own coping.
We can all learn how to be better supporters on other people's team. In this L.A. Times article, "How not to say the wrong thing", psychologist Susan Silk and co-author Barry Goldman help readers develop a strategy for effectively supporting others and proactively seeking the support we need for ourselves. Remember, it's okay to communicate to our supporters what is and isn't helpful feedback/support for our needs.

trait 9

9. They consider the possibilities. We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change. Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering? This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being colored by our current interpretation. Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today's interpretation can and will change, gives us the faith and hope that things can feel better tomorrow.

trait 10

10. They get out of their head. When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper. As Dr. James Pennebaker wrote in his book Writing to Heal, “People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.”

Writing is one resilience strategy we can literally keep in our back pocket. But there are other ways to get out of our head. Looking back at #5, it’s actually okay to distract ourselves sometimes. That is, it’s okay when the distraction serves to get us out of rumination mode and bring us back to the present moment. Healthy distractions include going to the gym or going for a walk, cooking & baking, volunteering, or any of the self-care items on your self-care menu from #7.
More to come on self-care habits and healthy distractions!

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Created from the article "10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People" published on May 21, 2013 by Brad Waters in Design Your Path 

Brad Waters MSW, LCSW provides career-life coaching and consultation to clients internationally via phone and Skype. He helps people explore career direction and take action on career transitions. Brad holds a Master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan and Master's certification in Holistic Health Care from Western Michigan University. Brad is also a personal development writer whose books are available on Amazon and BradWatersMSW.com

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Heal by Choice Retreats

 A few of you may already know that recently I started Heal by Choice, an organization dedicated to helping people find healing from grief and loss of all kinds. As the mother of two sweet baby girls in heaven, I am well acquainted with grief. I am also grateful to be able to sincerely say I am well acquainted with healing too.

Healing is possible if you choose it. I'm the living proof.

My last six years of healing have not been walked out in a straight line though. The healing that has taken place in my heart, which can not be understated given the depth of my sorrow, follows a line that looks like a mutual fund graph before the recession.  It is full of peaks and valleys inching ever higher slowly but surely.

It started out pretty rough for me. I'm an intense personality anyway so I approached my grief like I do most everything in life- ALL IN. Then I got so emotionally exhausted I bailed. ALL OUT is where I stayed for a while until I learned how to resolve my grief. Before understanding what resolving grief meant I was trying to beat my grief into submission. I hated my pain and I just wanted it to stop. I now know that resolution is the only thing that cultivates lasting relief. Discovering how to make emotionally complete what has been left incomplete changed my healing journey. It can change yours too.

I didn't just give it time. I used time and invested wisely into my heart so that I'd reap real healing, not just temporary relief.  My healing is not yet complete, fragments of my grief still rise to the surface and have to be resolved, but that doesn't make the healing I've experience thus far any less real. I'd like to think of my heart as a work in progress. All our hearts are a work in progress. That is what being human is about.

The problem is, healing, although ALWAYS POSSIBLE, can be difficult, confusing, and lonely. I feel like I've learned a lot the hard way and want to, if at all possible, help others avoid the Grief School of Hard Knocks I attended on my healing journey.

That is why I founded Heal By Choice. I want to help. I want to be a clear voice in the murky pain that is grief. I want to be a supportive and tender ally. I want to offer true, practical advice that cultivates deep and lasting heart-healing. I want to stand against the myths, misinformation, wallowing, stagnation, entrapment, and peer pressure that occurs in the grief support communities we seek for help and find little if any. I want to be a gentle teacher to a society that doesn't understand grief and lead by compassionate example to foster change. I want to wear my own healing heart on my sleeve for all the world to see and not be ashamed to choose healing today and everyday for the rest of my life.

Heal By Choice is taking shape a little more everyday. I've been working hard developing workshops, ebooks, videos, curriculum, and resources that support real healing and it's all generating positive feedback.

That is why I am so excited to announce Heal By Choice Retreat!

Heal by Choice's inaugural retreat will take place November 6th-9th, 2014 in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley of California. It is an intimate healing retreat for women seeking care and comfort for their hearts after the death of a child.  Heal By Choice Retreat is a safe place to share your story, connect with other women, and learn valuable tools and insights you can use for a lifetime to not just survive, but thrive, after a child dies.

This four day, three night all-inclusive retreat combines grief recovery workshops, daily yoga, trail walks, and a Teamotions tea tasting with healthy meals, special guests, and friendships to support your healing journey.

The Heal by Choice Retreat will be led by me and Crystal Tenpenny of Teamotions with special guests Carrie Pascual of The STILL Project and singer and songwriter Alisa Turner.

I've also decided to pour my  heart into not just one, but a series of healing retreats that focus on learning the skills and tools necessary to recover from grief and loss of all kinds. Grief is a part of life, but unfortunately most of us have not been taught the skills necessary to resolve grief and find healing.  This is not something we should be ashamed of but proactive about. Let's learn how to tend to our hearts, build supportive relationships, and foster hope and healing that lasts. Let's refuse to believe that some things are impossible to get over. Let's choose healing and change our own lives!

Please visit my website www.HealByChoice.com or www.HealByChoiceRetreat.com to learn more (and watch our short video while you are there!).  If you'd like to continue to receive information about this or future Heal By Choice retreats please join our Heal By Choice Retreat email list HERE.  Also, I invite you to like my Facebook pages Heal by Choice and Teamotions as well as the facebook pages of STILL Project and Alisa Turner.

Thank you again for beginning yet another new journey with me!

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.


 
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