Friday, September 6, 2013

The Walk

Today marks 2 years since my Pep lost his short battle with cancer.

I have never broken my blog silence on my Pep's illness or passing until now. It was his death that brought my blogging to an almost standstill. 

His illness, suffering, and death happened so fast that I was left spinning. To watch someone suffer the way he did...well it left me unable to talk about it. Even here. Even though this blog has centered around my grief, and was my sacred spot, my safe place...I just couldn't type the words of what I experienced those short 6 weeks with him & his fight.

I still can't.

Instead, I would like to share with you a piece of writing I did last year. It captures a moment in time I spent with my Pep. One I cherish so very very much.

Today I would much rather focus on his life, rather than his death...


The heavy Romanesque cathedral doors shut with a thud behind us. I stood in the vestibule located between the main doorway and another set of closed wooden doors, leading to the church’s nave. I still shivered from the frigid New England autumn air outside. The residual aroma of the incense used at that morning’s Mass filled the air. I could hear the soft whispers of our guests. My heart raced with excitement, nervousness, and relief. So much planning and work had taken place in preparation for this day.  

In front of me there stood six of the closest ladies in my life. They wore harvest colors, their gowns flowing to the floor. Loose draping curls fell down to their right shoulders. My eyes now caught the sparkling lights reflecting off the crystal accents on their gowns and in their hair. I was honored for them to be there with me. Frolicking alongside our two flower girls was our ring bearer. The pride he felt for his job shone through in the way he carefully held onto the cream colored pillow and straightened the autumn foliage pinned to it. His almond shaped blue eyes, which reminded me so much of his grandfather, my father, were filled with excitement and a hint of apprehension. He appeared very grown up in his black tuxedo and ivory vest and tie, a small version of his father’s attire. As the young girls twirled, their off-white dresses swirled around their ankles. They were careful not to drop their fabric covered baskets filled with leaves. Their curls bounced as they played. They both wore a string of pearls that I had given to them as a gift for this day.

My wedding coordinator stood at the apex of the entryway staircase. She looked down at me and gave me a reassuring and calming expression. Our Deacon’s wife stood behind me. She was a warm and loving woman. Decades of experience shown through her eyes as she serenely directed me to let go of all the stress, worries, and control. I found her presence comforting for my nerves and I did as she said. I wanted to be present in that moment. Her husband and she had prepped my fiancé and me for this day over the course of the prior six months. I was happy she was there with me.

To my left stood the most important person to me in the room- my grandfather. At 74 years old, he stood there looking the same to me as he did twenty years ago. His olive toned skin had acquired faint age lines but he was a man who never seemed to truly age.  He looked distinguished and elegant in his tuxedo. His salt-and-pepper thinning hair was combed over in the same 1940’s hairstyle he wore since childhood. He had on gold, slim, wire-rimmed glasses that resembled the 1980’s style pair he had worn throughout my life. His eyes had begun to fail him but he was a stubborn man who was not going to let that stop him from walking his granddaughter down the aisle. His right hand clutched his cane for support but he still remained strong and ready for this moment. If he was nervous, he hid it well. He always possessed an easy-going disposition. I pulled my strength from him. His left arm was draped through my right and I clutched it tightly. I felt blessed that I still had him in my life and was able to share this special moment with him. I could not think of a more perfect surrogate for my father, his son. I know we both thought of him in that very moment. The presence of his absence tugged at each of our hearts.

The processional music began to play and immediately the doors to the church were opened. It was in that very moment that the magnitude of the day washed over me. I felt the butterflies in my stomach and I remember mentally telling myself to breathe. I wondered if maybe my maid-of-honor had laced the corset to my dress a bit too tight and noted to tease her about that later. Surprisingly, I had spent the earlier part of the day very relaxed. I was grateful my nerves held off until now.
I kept my eyes focused ahead of me and watched as each bridesmaid stepped out of the corridor into the aisle of the church. As my maid-of-honor proceeded, the doors closed behind her. My grandfather and I took our final place directly behind them to await our departure. My left hand clasped the bouquet of white roses decorated with silver crystal accents. Dangling from it was the sterling silver cross that belonged to my father. He had worn it every day for the last ten years of his life. My mother had gifted it to me that morning. It was nice to have a memento of his entwined in my wedding day array.
My coordinator adjusted the train of my dress one final time. As we paused, I had a flashback to the many times as a little girl when I fantasized about my wedding day. I could hardly believe the moment had arrived. My daydream was broken by the sound of the crescendo in the hymn. We carefully chose that part of the composition for the bridal march. My grandfather leaned over to me and asked if I was ready. I was. I nodded yes to him. Suddenly all my nerves disappeared. I was excited to start the walk that would lead to the next stage of my life.

As the doors opened up I glanced into the church and scanned through our crowd of guests. They rose to their feet as they waited for our entrance. I gazed at the beauty of our 92 year old church. It was always a glorious site with its stunning French Rococo design, but on that day, it was more breathtaking than ever.  The ornate ceiling paintings spread across the dome and the Angel sculptures were illuminated by the altar lights that extended from the floor fifty-five feet up to the ceiling. The altar was covered in the most beautiful flowers in harvest shades with a light infusion of autumn foliage. They were placed around the base of the Sacrament table atop the earthy orange carpet that harmonized our quintessential harvest wedding. The towering candles flickered with light above them. I then took a deep breath followed by our first step onto the aisle.

The walkway ahead of us was lined with dark wood church pews that were decorated with ivory colored bows and autumn leaves. They were one of the many special touches we had worked on for our special day. My grandfather and I found our pace. About a dozen steps in, he looked over at me and said, “Take your time. Enjoy this moment.” I smiled. He had always been a man of few words but when he spoke, I listened. I did just what he said. I slowed my pace and I relished the moment that I was sharing with him. I knew it would be a fleeting speck of time and a soon-to-be memory that I would hold very close to my heart.

 As we came closer in view, I stared straight ahead at my fiancé. He looked extremely striking in his attire. Our Deacon stood to his right and his best man and five groomsmen stood to his left. His handsome, mocha, oval framed face looked lovingly back at me. It no longer held the boyish appearance I held fallen in love with a decade before. His now virile features held a slight grin as he watched me make my way towards him. After all these years he could still make my heart flutter. My eyes locked with his deep-set dark brown eyes and we exchanged smiles as both our eyes filled with tears. I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the man I was about to marry.
The flashes from guest’s cameras were going off all around us. I smiled at everyone as I tried to hold back my tears of happiness. It seemed as though the almost 80 foot aisle extended forever. Although I was anxious to reach my soon-to-be husband and excited to start our life together as husband and wife, I knew we would have a shared lifetime together. As I turned to look at my grandfather, my lifetime shared with him flashed through my mind. I envisioned all the time he took to play with me as a child, all the many laughs, and everything he did for me throughout my life. We remained silent for the duration of our walk but looking back, I wish I had leaned over to him and whispered thank you. A thank you to show my gratitude for being there with me then, as well as all the times that led up to that day. I have learned that sometimes the most regrettable words are those left unspoken.

Upon arrival to the altar, my grandfather placed my hand into my future husband’s, and let go. I smiled at them both and then took my place next to my fiancé as my grandfather took his in the pew next to my grandmother. We went on to have a beautiful ceremony. It was full of meaningful readings by our Deacon and our friends, and many prayers for our future life together.  We were blessed to be surrounded by so many people that cared about us.

It is true what they say, your wedding day goes by too quickly. So does life. Almost 3 years later, my grandfather passed away. I try and live by his words. The adage whispered to me as he escorted me into the next chapter of my life. I have slowly learned to take my time, to stay in the moment and enjoy each experience in life for what it is. I thank him for that. I take time for remembrance. I am so fortunate to have such a special memory with him. An instant in time where it seemed as if it slowed down just for us, allowing me to share a few extra moments with a man who made such a large imprint in my life. A moment I will cherish, always.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Grief Reflections

This post was originally published on Still Standing Magazine on June 26, 2013 

“The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.”
-Juliette Lewis

It has been 4 years since that shake of the head – the one that indicated, “no”, to my husband across the room and sent him into deep sobs. The doctor never could look me in the eyes.

Our daughter’s heart had stopped beating. The screen was motionless. So was I. Even the excruciating pain of the placental abruption I was experiencing was numbed by shock.
Just a couple days shy of 8 months pregnant, I never thought this could happen to me. To us. To her.
I delivered her the following morning. It would be the one and only day our daughter would physically be in our arms. After spending twelve cherished hours with her, we handed her over to the nurse for the last time, and our lifetime without her began.
Initially, there was numbness—the period of time when your body is trying to protect you from reality. The world was gray and dull. Food held no taste. Even the strongest of scents were absent of any aroma. It felt as though all life and color had been drained out of the world.
Then, the pain set in. Excruciating, soul shattering pain. It wasn’t only emotional, it was physical. My heart hurt in my chest. My head hurt from sobbing. My eyes burned and felt raw as scabs appeared beneath them from all the wiping of the tears. My arms ached for her. They physically throbbed because she was not there to fill them.
The grief worsened as time continued on that first year, taking us further and further away from the day we had held her.
In those days, I did whatever I felt I needed to survive. I blogged, wrote her letters, spoke with other grieving mothers, lit candles, sent balloons, spent hours at her grave, and gazed at the sky in hopes of figuring out where she went.
Sometime after her second birthday, after allowing my grief to run its natural and uninterrupted course, slowly, very slowly, I could breathe again. I could taste food again. I laughed a genuine laugh. I noticed the flowers that had bloomed. I heard the birds chirping in the morning. I smelled the scent of fresh cut grass.
Life returned to my world.
And then, I felt guilty.
How dare I laugh when she couldn’t? How dare I enjoy a beautiful day when she would never have that chance? Survivor’s guilt had hit and I knew I had to find a way to work through it.
Experiencing the world all over again, I felt as though I was being reborn into my surroundings. I was seeing things as if for the first time.
My daughter would never experience any of the world’s beauty, so I had to, for her. I took a deep breath of the summer air. I picked a flower and took the time to feel its silky petals. I watched a butterfly dance above me. I looked at these things in overwhelming amazement, witnessing a miracle in each life form. They had made it to the world and were here, alive.
“As long as I can I will look at this world for both of us. As long as I can I will laugh with the birds, I will sing with the flowers, I will pray to the stars, for both of us.”
Getting to that place took time and required that I give attention to my grief needs. I found outlets for my pain. I found ways to honor and remember her. I have this online babyloss community to thank for guiding me. I found understanding here. I found comfort and support from mothers ahead of me on this path, and friendship and empathy from those walking beside me. Each of these interactions added another tiny piece to my healing, until eventually enough pieces had accumulated and I was able to find moments of peace.
This community saved my life.
I have learned so much in the past four years about grief. Some are lessons I wish I never had to learn, but, because I have, I am a much stronger, more compassionate, and deeply loving individual.
As I reflect on my past four years of grief, here are a few things I wish I had read at the beginning of my grief journey…
  • Each and every one of our babies has a life story. A beautiful love story, held in their parent’s hearts. Each time we are gifted the chance to tell their story, to share our love for them, it is a blessing. Our babies are not too sad to talk about or acknowledge.
  • Our childrens’ importance shall not be measured by the days spent here, wrapped up in their mommy’s womb, or in their parent’s arms. They matter. Your love for them matters. Your grief matters.
  • Do not let others diminish your child’s worth or your pain. You have faced the unimaginable. You have said goodbye to your child. You have earned your right to grieve.
  • Acknowledge your pain and take each emotion as it comes. One day at a time. One moment at a time, at first. Your grief is not weakness. It is love. Never be ashamed of it.
  • Reach out to friends & family for support. If you do not find it there, continue searching. You will find it. You have already found it here.
  • I can never tell you that you will get over your grief, because one does not get over their child’s death, but I can promise you that you will get through it. With time. In your time. Not someone else’s expected time frame for your grief.
  • If you allow your grief its course, there can be better days ahead. You will find joy once more. Your child’s life may have been brief, but yours is still worth living. Honor their importance by knowing how important your life is. Live for them. Live for you. They would want you to. I want you to.
I have been on the rollercoaster ride of grief for so long now that it feels normal. It has been four years since we said goodbye to our daughter, and although there are still some ripples of grief, and an occasional wave, those moments are so intertwined with joy, that they have become manageable somehow. I take them as they come and know that even though I am not okay in that moment, it will pass. I will get through it. I will be okay.
In time, you will be okay too.

Check out my Etsy Shop!