Grief Journal: He’s Still Here

I have a tattoo that says “Always 3”, with a heart for each of my children, in their favorite colors (blue, green and pink). I never thought I wanted a tattoo, and will probably never get another, but this one is so special and meaningful to me. Every time I look at it, I remember that I have three children.

Not had, have. Because one of the things I’ve learned is that Charlie is as present now as he ever was. I think of him multiple times a day. His Bear is the first thing I see in the morning, and the last at night. In fact, I talk to Bear Charlie every night, giving him a good night kiss and hug just as I do my other two children. 

He is present through his absence. He’s there when I see my husband tear up because something has reminded him of Charlie. He’s there in struggle my oldest and youngest have in bridging their age gap without the one in the middle. He’s here in my office, his former bedroom, as I type these words.

Of course, he’s not physically here. I can only wonder what he would be like as a 12 year old in sixth grade. I can’t ask him about his day, or teach him how to make banana bread, or help him do his homework. But he is present in my memory every day. He is still a part of my life. My love hasn’t changed, only how I can express it.

Because the ones we love never really leave us. We still love them, so they still are present, safe in our hearts. I am always a mom of three.IMG_1687

Grief Journal: For Love

“That one,” the wise little soul said, pointing.

The soul and the angel sat by a stream in a meadow, potential lives swirling around them like dandelion fluff blown on the warm breeze.

“Are you sure?” asked the angel, the hint of a frown on its perfect face. “It’s such a short life, not much time at all.”

“But look how bright it shines! See, its light echoes through so many lives, illuminating paths those souls wouldn’t have chosen otherwise,” he said. “Besides, it’s the only way to be with the souls I love in this lifetime. This is all that’s left. Except for being the dog, and I’m past that now.”

“Yes, you are,” the angel said affectionately. “Although you were an excellent dog and learned a lot about loyalty and unconditional love.”

“That’s just it,” he said. “This life is all about learning about love. She needs to learn that lesson, right? It’s why she chose it. I owe her; we owe each other. And look at all of the fun I get to have!”

The angel sighed. “She might learn the wrong lesson. She might think it’s about love not being enough.”

The wise little soul shook his head, stars sparking off from the energy of the motion. “No, I trust her. She will figure out that it’s about love being everything.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” the angel started to say.

But the wise little soul was already chasing after the life he had chosen, ready to be reborn and burn bright, if only briefly. For love. 


Grief Journal: Happy 12th Birthday

IMG_0808Today would have been my Charlie’s 12th birthday. I often wonder what he would be like now. How he would be handling middle school. If he would have started puberty yet, and what effect that would have had. If he’d still be into YouTube and LEGOs.

I’ll never know. Instead, all I have is 10 years worth of photos, videos and memories. Here’s a video I made of him from his first year. He was the most adorable little baby.   
(The video link should stream for you on your device. Songs copyrighted by their owners.)

Grief Journal: 18 months

Today is 18 months since we lost Charlie. Yesterday, I heard three statements about grief I thought I’d share as they really resonated with where I am now. 

“No one gets to tell you how to grieve.”

This comes from the season 5 premier of one of my favorite shows, THE MAGICIANS on SyFy. In the season 4 ender, a major character died. This episode showed the other characters dealing with the loss of their friend. I found it a bit ironic that although this was meant to be a powerful, freeing, supportive statement, in the context of the show it’s quite clear that there is a “right” way to grieve—one that involves finding meaning and purpose in loss, and talking about your feelings. 

While I get that processing your feelings is important, shaming someone who doesn’t want to talk about them with *you* is wrong, even in the closest relationships. And while I understand that many people find comfort in making a horrible loss less awful by taking action that brings meaning, that doesn’t work for everyone (hello, me). Grieving takes time. Everyone’s journey is different. No one gets to tell you how to grieve (this means you, THE MAGICIANS). 

“I don’t know how you just keep plowing forward.”

This was said to me by someone very dear to me, who sees how I cope (or not) on a daily basis. The answer is, I don’t know how I do either, and many days I don’t feel as if I am. But one thing I’ve learned about grief is that even when your entire world has crashed down around you and you just want to crawl in bed and stay there, life goes on. Work needs to be done so you keep a roof over the family’s head and food on the table. Kids need to be loved and parented. Family and friends have their own challenges and pain and deserve your care. So sometimes when it gets really bad you crawl under the covers for a couple of hours and cry, but most of the time you just keep putting one foot in front of the other because you simply must.

“I see your posts and it hurts my heart.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but bearing witness to my grief is one of the kindest things people do. There’s nothing anyone can say or do to make it better—except acknowledge the loss. It sucks. Those of you who knew Charlie have your own grief. Sharing that grief together helps. 

18 months seems like both forever and no time at all. Because honestly, it hurts even more now than it did that day—I just handle it a bit better in the day to day because the shock has worn off. Thanks for being on this journey, for not telling me how to grieve, for helping me move forward, and for witnessing this pain. 

Grief Journal: Do the Next Thing

This song really captures what it is like to be weighed down by grief, yet you must go on. This week–his birthday and the 18 month anniversary of his death–is almost unbearably hard. Yet I must wake up and do the things I need to do.

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing
Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor?
But it’s not you I’m rising for
Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez / Robert Lopez
The Next Right Thing lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company

Grief Journal: Owned by It

Grief has a mind of its own. It knows no master — not me, not my therapist, not time, not medication. 

I mean, all of those things help to a certain extent. I can at least function. Most of the time. Okay, some of the time and not ever at 100% any more.

But grief is a sneaky jerk. So many things send my train of thought hurtling down the track that ends in Charlie’s death. So what can I do?

I can tell myself guilt is a useless emotion, but I still have to consciously forgive myself. I probably always will (and I probably never will truly mean it).

I can tell myself that there wasn’t anything I could have done, or done differently, or not done, but there’s always that little voice whispering, “liar.”

I can tell myself that time will help, that eventually I won’t feel as if I’m drowning, all the time, gasping for air that doesn’t exist anymore.

I can remind myself over and over to cherish the two children I have, and still miss the one I lost like I’d miss a limb. 

All those things I can do, but they don’t work and don’t matter, because of the one thing I can’t do—hug my Charlie just one more time. All I can really do is grieve. And it’s sucking the life out of me.

Christmas only makes it worse. Every thing that used to bring joy–family traditions, shopping for presents, spending time together–now just reminds me of how much things have changed. There’s no joy, no peace—just grief. Because it owns me.

Grief Journal: Open House, Open Hearts

Over the last year and a half, the one light in our darkness has been the love and caring shown by our friends and family—blood and chosen. 

Like most families, we have our own holiday traditions. One of the most fun is our annual Christmas tree decoration time. Every Sunday on Thanksgiving weekend, we have put up and decorate our tree. As part of that, each of us received a new ornament for the year that reflected something special about us and the year past. Often, it was a favorite show or game, or some where we went as a family. But they were all different, and all reflective of who we are. The kids also have a special little tree I put up in their playroom that is made up entirely of ornaments with their names on them. 

Last year, we could not be home for Christmas; the echo of Charlie’s ghost was too strong and it would have been too sad. So we went to beautiful Tucson and had fun in the sunny, warm desert, about as different as could be from snowy, cold Wisconsin. 

This year, we decided to stay home, mostly because the kids really missed our cozy Christmas, with all of our fun family traditions. But the one tradition my husband and I couldn’t face was decorating the tree. We cannot—and are not sure we will ever be able to—face opening the ornament boxes and seeing all of those ornaments labelled with Charlie’s name. It would be like losing him all over again; tangible evidence that he is gone and never again going to have a special ornament dedicated to something he loved. 

So we got the bright idea to instead turn to our wonderful friends and neighbors, who are always so lovely and ready to help us through our grief. We held an open house and asked everyone to bring an ornament. Not one they bought, just the random red ball that ends up being missed, or a candy cane, or something their kids made.

I put together charcuterie plates and snacks and drinks, and then we waited. And boy, did we have fun. 

So many people showed up to share their love and kindness. I think we had more than 100 people, and we ended up with more than 70 ornaments. Our tree is filled!

Our lives are all so busy, it was magical to take some time to chat and laugh. So many friends that we rarely see in person stopped by. We introduced people to each other and I know new friends were made. We didn’t really talk much about Charlie, but his ebullient presence infused the gathering with a sense of love and fun. 

For me, it was an occasion of sadness layered over with joy—knowing that so many people were there because they loved Charlie and he touched their lives. One of the biggest fears a parent has is that their child will be forgotten. It comforts me more than I can say, to know that Charlie’s spirit and light live on in so many hearts. That Sunday was the closest thing to having him back with us. 

To all who came or mailed ornaments, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are the light and warmth in the darkness. So long as you keep Charlie’s memory and the lessons he taught in your heart, his light will burn on in this world. And who knows what magic that light can still bring. 

Merry Christmas, friends. Thank you for being here for us. We love you. 

Here is our tree in all its glory. I call it our “Tree of Love”