Three Years

 

It’s been three years.

Three years of seismic shift and exponential growth.  Lots of tears and anger and joy and pleasure.  Learning experiences, so many damn learning experiences.  Stress and gratitude and quiet moments in the breaking of the day. It’s been a moment and a lifetime.

I’ve come to a point where I recognize the perception of Tim that I told in my memory is likely fixed now.  I’ve read through all his journals and pawed through all of his material belongings.  I’ve read the notes and letters I’ve found tucked in his pockets and places.  I’ve explored and analyzed the evidence of his 34 year life that I have at my disposal, and I is likely I have learned everything I will know of the man I loved for 12 years of my life.  He was a good man.  A brilliant man.  A good husband, most of the time, we had our moments. He was a phenomenal father.  He loved hard.  He was super annoying about housework.  He was far more complicated than most people will ever know.  I loved him, and always will.

The kids and I have grown and changed a lot in the past three years.  I’m now the mother of a six and almost four year old.  I’ve been a homeowner for two years.  Jack Byron is learning to read and Claira can talk to anyone about anything for hours, seemingly.  My mind and body and soul are different.  My perceptions have shifted.  I’m more relaxed about timelines and screen time and other people’s drama.  I’m more open and accepting of the chaos.  I don’t take things for granted. I’ve worked through my grief, and though it visits from time to time, it’s more a quiet companion that rests in the edges of my conscience.  It’s a part of my life.  It’s not my whole life.

I’ve met a lot of new people and experienced a lot of new things in the past three years.  Good things, fun things, frustrating things, life changing things.  I’ve amassed a completely new collection of furniture and clothes and material possessions.  I’m not the same woman I was in the hospital three years ago, but I’m proud of that woman.  I embrace the woman I’ve become.  I’m different, in good ways, and I’m grateful for that.  I keep trying and working and putting effort into being the person I want to be.  I’ve loved other men since Tim.  In different and meaningful ways.  I call someone else “my love” now, and he’s deserving of that title.  He’s not Tim.  He’s his own man, and I love him for the man he is.  It’s a shift, reconciling what I thought would be with what it, but my heart and mind have grown with each new connection and experience, and I’m thankful for all of it.

Today does not carry the crushing weight it once did.  It’s easier (they say it doesn’t get easier, but it has for me).  It’s different.  I’ve learned to roll with that, to manage the surreal-ness of it all.  To accept the path that has unfolded and harness what I have to do what I wish.

While I would prefer an alive Tim that could watch his children grow up, I’ve come to accept the brief but beautiful life the universe offered him.  I still feel him with us.  He’s always in my heart.

Three years.  We are doing ok.  Actually, we are dong great.  Because of who Tim was, and what he taught us, and everything he left us.

Thank for for all of it, love.

 

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Wild Geese | Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Grieving Our Schools: A Love Letter

I was the kind of kid who loved school.  I loved the structure of the days, the nurturing energy of many of my teachers, the intellectual stimulation of academics, the artistic outlets of Specials, the various social joys and complexities that helped me grow in my empathy and sense of self.  Even with a learning disability that made traditional learning challenging, I felt at home in the public school environment.  Even on challenging days, even as a child, I always saw the value of the education and social experiences it provided me with.

My children are similar in this regard.  They adore school.  Their classes, their schedule, their teachers and friends.  The large chunk of day that allows them space from each other to learn and grow and expand as individuals.  It is an environment in which they have thrived and flourished as the unique little beings they are, independent of me, independent of one another, their own oasis of learning and camaraderie.

Of all the things we have lost in this societal response to COVID-19, school has been the hardest loss to process.

I bought a house less than a mile from the Elementary school my children attend.  If I walk to the end of the the neighboring street, I can see the 1960s era building sitting squat in the middle of a corn field.  I work at the school my children attend, my office just two doors down from my son’s Kindergarten classroom.  I transitioned into School Counseling as a career path in order to work on my children’s schedule.  We drive to school together, music blasting in our car, armfuls of bags and jackets hauled into the early morning hum of the building, down the hall to my office for a few short moments before the children say their so-longs and transition into their school days.

For me, my office is a sanctuary.  A small but serene environment where I am able to work in peace, away from the bickering and wrestling matches my kids engage in at home.  I am respected there, a foundational element of the structure of our school, working closely with colleagues to create an emotionally healthy environment for our 500 students.  My opinion matters when I am at work.  My intellect, education, and experience are appreciated.  I am energized by the work I do with my students, by the privilege of supporting children through the complexities of the full spectrum human experiences they live.  At school, I can provide a safe space, nurturing the emotional needs of children so that they can grow with a holistic sense of health and wellbeing.  I am not there to save anyone.  I am not there to fix everything.  But everyday, I can help.  I can do something for the betterment of my community and world.  And that brings me great joy and fulfillment.

For my children, I could not have handpicked a better pair of teachers.  Claira is in a classroom environment where she is loved.  Her wild, creative, powerful energy nurtured and embraced in its comforting structure and routine.  Jack Byron is full of confidence when he walks into his classroom, fully engaged in the learning process, proud of the exponential progress he has shown in reading, writing, and developing his mathematical and scientific mind.  Their teachers are loving, warm, patient, kind, intelligent.  They just *get* children, and I have been filled with satisfaction knowing my children spend their days with women I hold in such high respect and esteem.  This school year felt like a dream.

Yesterday Jack Byron had a breakdown.  He had wanted to do a front-flip from his bed to the tumbling mat below.  I had dissuaded him, and gasped loudly when he attempted with his arms at his sides, almost landing head first, mercifully braced by his knees.  He immediately started crying when he landed.  He was angry at me for setting a rule, a limit.  He retreated to his cozy corner, his closet floor on which he had laid out a soft faux-fur rug and some fuzzy throw pillows. (His space he goes to for a quality cry.). I sat near him, a witness to whatever he needed to express in the moment.  He yelled his frustration over rules, over being told “no” over and over, over not being able to do what he wanted to do.  He wanted to see his friends.  He wanted to be able to leave the house and do fun things.  He wanted what we used to have, a month ago, before all of this began.

In that moment, I felt his pain so intensely.  Because I am suffering the same grief.  By losing our schools, we lost out community, our structure, our daily routine, our social and intellectual outlets.  Our little family of three, once cradled in the comfortable predictability of the school day, now left to our own devices in an unknown world and future.

We are privileged, of course.  I still have a steady income and benefits.  My kids have a highly educated parent, crates full of art supplies, musical instruments, paper and crayons for writing and drawing, books for reading, STEM toys and puzzles.  My kids have more than most.

But we still struggle.  The balance of work and parenthood is impossible as a solo mother, and I’m unable to give my children the attention and patience they need in their early development.  They get too much screen time.  They eat too much frozen pizza.  I yell far more than I would like.  We are all barely holding it together (none of us are really holding it together).  And this is in our home, with all our privileges and all our comforts and our massive picture widows flooding our space with natural light and neighborhood views.

My heart breaks for my students.  For the little girls who would come into my office every single day for a hug, without fail.  For the kids who have disclosed their challenging home lives and the traumas they endure daily.  For the kids who’s parents are struggling to make ends meet, homes filled with very valid stress and discourse and uncertainty.  The kids who, like me, like my children, thrive in the stimulation and structure of public schools.  We teachers, administrators, school counselors work constantly to improve our schools, to make them an equitable and welcoming environment for all.  For many (not all, but many), school is a safe space, a place to grow and learn and express.  A place to fully be yourself.

But, for now, school is closed.

And we are all hurting.

I have never felt more passionate about the importance of public schools in American society.  I have never felt more motivation and purpose in my professional path and role.

Schools will re-open eventually, and we will slowly adjust to whatever our new normal looks like months down this road.  We, as educators, as parents, as therapists, will reenter those halls with a renewed sense of purpose and agency and drive.  We will welcome our students wherever they are in their process.  We will hold space for them as they share their stories of quarantine and isolation.  We will understand when they act out and express their inner sadness and abandonment and fear.  We will provide the nurturing, stimulating, dynamic education environment we always have.

And we will love them.

Because that’s what we do.

The Collective Grief Process

In Northern Vermont, it is still late winter.  The snow slowly recedes from the icy earth.  The maples are ending their cycle of thaw and freeze.  The chill lingers in the air, the last bitter bites of winter angrily nipping our bodies as it slowly fades into the shadow of the first crocuses.  And everything’s different, isn’t it?  Suddenly, in the course of weeks, the cycles, the routines, the existence we walked has changed.  And we are finding ourselves, as individuals within the collective organism of our combined consciousness, in grief.

The thing you will read about grief, is that it is an individual process.  We all experience, process, and express our grief in unique ways.  There are elements to grief that area universal.  The sadness, anger, and pain that is felt may be experienced at varying levels, but is experienced non-the-less.  The heaviness, loss, scattered sense of self.  We all feel it on some level, and have different ways of working through.  So grief looks different in different people, and right now, as a human community, we are all in it together.  Alone.

I reflect back on my first months without Tim and recollect what a weirdo I felt like.  This shell-shocked husk woman simmering in bitterness and sadness.  Somehow expected to continue in an unwanted alternate reality.  I didn’t know how I would ever escape that darkness that lingered in my bones.  I didn’t believe I would.  Until I did.  For the most part.

And here it is again.  This sudden shift into an alternate existence, previously unbeknownst to any of us.  Chaos’s unsubtle reminder that our sense of permanence is a foolish illusion.

And it’s happening to all of us.  All at once.

It’s a lot to process, isn’t it?

We are all going to move through this in different ways.  We all have unique stories and situations that will shape our experience in the coming weeks and months.  We will all loose something.  We will all experience something.

But what is different about this grief, is that it is a massive grief.  It is a Universal grief.  It is a grief that will settle into the crevices of society and shape us for generations to come.  And while it is happening to all of us in unique, individual ways, we are all cells in this greater human organism.  We are all affected.  We are all vulnerable.  We all have skin in this game.  And nothing quite like this has happened within any of our lifetimes.

None of us can know what our lives will look like on the other side of this.  But they will be different no doubt.  Maybe the changes will be subtle in the long term, a slightly altered way of moving and relating and connecting as we all slip back into our sense of normalcy.

Perhaps the changes will be profound.  Earth shattering shifts that toss us into new and uncharted directions.

We don’t know what will happen.  (And that’s what’s scary about this situation for many of us.)

I’m struggling, my friends.  This change process is dredging up a lot of discomfort and poking old wounds.  It’s testing me in ways I wasn’t quite ready for.  It’s being a bitch.

No doubt it’s doing the same for you.

This experience will test our connections, our assumptions, and our resilience.  It will bring forward the parts of ourselves we may normally push to the sides, shadow and light.  It will uncover new pieces of our individual and collective beings we were previously unaware of.  We will learn.  Or not.

We will continue.

We will.

Promise.

But right now, we are all right in the middle of it.  And that’s a terribly uncomfortable place to be.  But please know, that unlike previous losses and traumas and discomforts we have experiences, none of us are alone this time.  (Even if you might, literally, be alone).  We have each other this time.  For better or worse.

So let’s be with each other.

 

Banana Oat Muffins for Pretending to be Ok with an International Pandemic

 

My friends, it is a time of stress.  In a situation where we find ourselves sitting at home with nothing but time and anxiety on our hands, coupled with a growing stockpile of hoarded food supplies, you may find yourself eating.  A bit more than usual.  Maybe a lot more than usual.  I’m not judging.  Leggings are pants, right?  We’ve got this.

Today felt like a good day to bake.  We had gotten a blanket of snow over the night, and we are officially on full quarantine for the foreseeable future.  I wanted to make something yummy.  Something nourishing.  Something the kids would like.  Something I could eat to maintain the illusion of health and control while sitting on the couch bathed in the sweet, sticky darkness of existential dread.

My kids like Banana Muffins, so I found this recipe  and tweaked it a bit.  I’ve never made the original recipe, so I don’t know if my version is actually better or not, but it *feels* better.  Because I generally assume my ideas are always better anyway.  So we’re just going to go with it.  Cheers to assuming our ideas are better without any significant supportive evidence.  Hey, we all gotta believe in something here.

Banana Oat Muffins for Pretending to be OK with an International Pandemic

(Makes a little over 1 dozen.  Don’t worry about it.)

1/2 cup Maple Syrup

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

4 large bananas, mashed

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 t salt

3/4 cup white AP flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rolled oats

1 tsp baking soda

mini chocolate chips (optional, but what do we have to lose here anyway?)

Rainbow sprinkles (not so optional, obviously)

 

In a large mixing bow; combine maple syrup, bananas, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Beat.  Beat it hard.  You’ve got some things to work out here.

Add in oats and whole wheat flour, stir to combine, and let it sit for a bit.  The wet ingredients will soak into the grains, softening the crumb and making them taste less like soviet rations.  That’s a good thing.

Combine white flour, salt, and baking soda, and stir into the wet mixture until it all comes together.  I gave it a firm stir.  You do whatever you need to do with that.

Have your pre-schooler add a generous pour of mini chocolate chips.  Just trust her on that one, chocolate is her speciality.  This is an area in which she knows more than you.

Spoon the mixture into individual muffin cups.  Don’t worry if a bit spills onto the edges, ok?  You can’t try to control everything here.  Chaos is very real and muffin batter is a good lesson in that.

Dust with magical rainbow sprinkles to make you feel better about the world.

Bake in a 325 degree oven.  Set the timer for 20-25 minutes.  Or don’t.  Time doesn’t even exist anymore.  They’re done when they are springy and slightly browned.

Give some to you kids to quiet them down.  Enjoy in the brief solitude they afford you.

You earned this one.

 

Dearest World, Welcome to Griefcity.

By late November of 2019 I thought we had settled into a new normal.  Life was becoming routine.  I generally knew what to expect.  I was undergoing personal transitions, but not of the variety that I felt compelled to share openly on the internet.  I felt settled.  Life felt good.  I saw a clear path ahead, and slowly began to take for granted the mundane patterns of life 3.0.

I got through the holidays just fine.  I managed the ups and downs of the darkest season, spent time with friends, met a new guy. For New Years, I participated in an intentional circle of connection and community while journaling and making medicine pouches tied up with sinew and crystals.  A sound healer bathed us in the resonance of metal singing bowls.  We toasted 2020 with kombucha,  a group of strong women in a cedar hot-tub on a snowy hillside under the open sky.

I went into January with an open heart.  Fell in love with the man with piercing blue eyes and a peaceful, comforting presence.  Bought some new books.  Played around with watercolors on quiet nights.  Picked up my guitar a few times.  The snow began to melt as the daylight increased.  The scent of mud and maple began to waft through the air.  I allowed the calm to carry forward, after all, Spring was just ahead.

Then the world changed.

All of it.

The events of the past weeks have been unprecedented.  We could not have predicted the shifts we all have had to endure as Covid-19 threatens human life and wellbeing at alarmingly increasing rates.

Suddenly, I am back.  In May of 2017.  In a hospital on the East River, completely uncharted with my partner on a ventilator and nothing but unknowns for my future.

Except, instead of being alone, this time, we are all in this together.

It feels Sorrow Pie still has a purpose in my life, and I am back to it.  I hope what comes helps to carry us all through.

Thanks-giving and Transitions

 

img_9573Tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2019.  My third without Tim.  Unlike last year, I am feeling well, and excited to host a group of family and friends at Hopewell House tomorrow at noon.  Entering into the holiday season with a renewed sense of connection, purpose, strength, and love.  In Tim’s words, “livin’s alright”.

A lot has changed in the past months, though not much has really changed.  I continue coming into a deeper understanding of myself and my place in this world and life.  The children continue to grow, developing and growing in exciting and new ways.  Each day brings new promise and challenge, and we have learned to roll with all of it.  We simply live.

My most recent relationship ended last week.  My doing.  Amicably.  He is someone I love, and will continue to love, as our romantic connection transitions into friendship.  I learned a lot from that one, and I am grateful to have had it while I did.

These transitions, I’ve learned to trust them.  To soften myself in the expectations I hold, and embrace what comes with the unfolding of time and opportunity.  I’m healthy, physically, emotionally, mentally.  I’m happy.  I’m well.

I’ve come to realize that I no longer need this space to process. For two years, this blog served as a lifeline, an irreplaceable connection between myself and that outside world.  I needed this space to emote and express and have a sounding board for the pain and complication of post-loss life.  This blog kept me going.

It’s different now.  The connections I form are more personal.  I’m less eager to share my inner world with the vast inter-web.  The recipients of my love and affection are alive, and I am uninterested in sharing the details of these relationships publicly as I navigate the complexities of adult connections and child rearing.

It has come time to finish this blog.  While I will continue to write, I will find other outlets for publishing my work.  I will continue to move forward, with my everlasting love for Tim in my heart, and an understanding that life is different now.

I’m whole again.  I’m thriving.  And I’m ready to close this chapter.

To anyone reading this, thank you.  Thank you for the support you have given me through this process.  For serving as a witness to my grief and transformation.  This blog will continue to exist as a capsule of this time, and a resource for anyone who may need it moving forward.

2019 is wrapping up.  2020 lies ahead.  2017 was a lifetime ago.

Onwards.

With Love,

RoseAnna

New Normal

 

It occurred to me recently that we have firmly rooted into the new normal of life 2.0.

We have been living in Hopewell House for 1.5 years now.  The paint I slopped on the front steps after days of rain last June is predictably peeling from the permanently wet wood.  The gardens are ridden with weeds and neglect as the season transitions into the cooler days of autumn.  The floors need to be swept and mopped, and toys litter the unkempt yard.  We are easing back into the routine of school and work.  Jack Byron started Kindergarten last week, and Claira will begin pre-school on Wednesday.  Two school-age kiddos who still need so very much of my everything, but grow by the day.

I have been at my job for a year now.  I find myself enjoying my work more and more as I settle into this new role and place.  It is a gift to have an office to retreat to at the beginning of each day.  A place to support others in their own challenges and transitions, away from my own.  I work two doors down from my son’s classroom and just a few hundred feet from my daughter’s building.  A place to grow and expand as a professional  while keeping close watch over my littles.  A perfect balance for a solo mom.

I’ve been hiking a lot.  Maybe not as much as I would have hoped, but enough.  My body is leaner, with powerful muscles strong enough to carry 90 pounds of children up the stairs.  I’ve found balance in the way I eat and move and live my life in general.

And then, there’s the most significant development of life 2.0…I’ve fallen in love.  With a man who loves me with the same passion and respect I hold for him.  A musician, intellectual, and fellow single parent living in central Vermont.  No doubt his presence in my life will be further detailed in future posts, but for now, he is here.  Someone who brings a smile to my face when I wake each morning.  Someone to process my day with on quiet evenings.  Someone with whom to share music and passions, adventures and text messages.  He makes me poached pears and tunes my guitars and washes my dishes.  He affects my brain like sunshine and hot coffee.  Light streaming into once-dark corners, crumbling walls, illuminating my existence in ways I believed were no longer possible.

img_8648

His name is Peter. He’s pretty special.

Tim would have liked him.

 

It’s raining today.  I’m looking out the picture windows at the sunflowers blooming beyond the rock wall.  Music over the speakers, Claira napping upstairs.  2.5 years ago I could not have imagined I would find myself here.  In a place of happiness and peace.  Thankful for the life I have.  Hopeful for a future with infinite possibilities.

Not every moment feels quite so smooth, but this one does.  I now have the perspective to appreciate that.  To enjoy the simple contentment of a new normal.  To be grateful to be here, now.

Forward.

 

 

Supporting Kids Through Loss

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Like any important life experience, death is not just one conversation.  As parents and caretakers, we must prepare for the concepts of loss and death to be woven into the everyday conversations of life.  A dead fly on the windowsill might spark an explanation of the physical death of the body.  A lost toy may be a means of working through the concepts of impermanence and lost attachment.  Like any major life concept ( sex, finances, spirituality), death is a lifelong conversation that evolves with our developmental growth.

The first time I talked to my son about death, I was sitting on the front step of my parent’s home.  It was late May, shortly after his father had died.  We had not seen each other in days.  As I stepped out of the car, dazed and disassociated, he ran to me from my father’s garden and softly said, “Mama.  Where’s Papa?”.  At three years and two months old, he felt the heavy weight that question had taken on in the past week.  I scooped him into my arms and took a seat on the edge of the deck, my feet resting on the rocks below.  I told him that Papa was dead.  I explained what death was.  And we had his first glimpse into the concept of death while processing the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of his beloved father.

We have had countless conversations about death, loss, grief, the body, since this moment.  Claira asks questions now too.  It’s a part of our dinner conversation, and small talk at birthday parties.  Death is part of our lives, and we treat it as so in our family dynamic.  We have to.

A lot of people have approached me, personally and professionally, to gain information about processing death, dying, and loss with children.  I have put a great deal of thought into this subject, and I would like to share my own beliefs and practices around this important concept.  I am a LCMHC, Music Therapist- Board Certified, and School Counselor, but this is information I also share as a mother and widow.  I highly encourage anyone seeking information of sort to seek multiple resources and talk to qualified mental health professionals in their own communities.

Supporting Kids Through Loss:

1. Explain Death

It can be difficult to find the words to explain exactly what death is to children.  We, as a culture, are generally removed from realities of the body’s death, making it a taboo and uncomfortable subject for many to talk about.  This is the script that I have used in talking to my children about death: “When someone dies, their body stops working.  They do not move or breath or talk.  They are not able to think anymore.  When someone dies, they are dead forever.  They do not come back to life.”  Depending on your family’s personal spiritual belief system, it is then helpful to describe the afterlife and important spiritual aspects of death.  Including their method of burial can also be part of this conversation.

(Because I am secular, I describe that Papa’s physical energy went back into the universe, and that his body was cremated and put in his urn.  I tend to keep it science-based, but this is up to each individual family).

My professional advice around this discussion is to keep the information you give your child simple and honest.  Answer their questions as best you can, and do not give them more information than they ask for.  Allow them to feel comfortable asking any question, and encourage them at any time.  Know that it will be an ongoing and evolving conversation through childhood and adolescence.

 

2. Show Your Emotion (But Don’t Make Them Responsible For Supporting You)

Something that I have seen stated repeatedly is the importance of allowing children to see us grieve.  We attempt to be strong for the children in our lives, hiding our tears and emotions in times of sorrow and strife.  The reality is that sadness is normal.  Crying is healthy.  It is important that children see adults grieving as we grieve, and normalize the emotions that come with loss.

There are times that I’m having a tough day.  Perhaps an anniversary or special occasion has triggered my memories, or I am simply feeling overwhelmed by the weight of post-loss parenting.  I may be irritable or sad, and struggling to keep up with my children’s needs.  On these days, I tell my kids that I am having a tough day.  If I yell or have an inappropriate outburst, I will explain to them how I am feeling, and they will often respond with a long hug and empathy.  I allow my children to go through their emotions, and support them in however they are feeling.  We talk openly about how we feel, how we miss Papa, and allow each other the safety of trusting challenging emotions to be a normal and healthy part of the grief process.

This being said, it is also important for us to do our best not to make children feel personally responsible for caring for us when we are overwhelmed with emotion.  While crying in front of a child and sharing feelings is a healthy means of dealing with grief, it is important that children know we are capable of caring for them and loving them even when upset.  Throwing breakable objects or sobbing over a bottle of bourbon is best saved for after bedtime.  Driving too fast while listening to excessively loud music is common, but not with kids in the car.  (I’m not recommending any of these things, but you know what?  It happens). We can express emotion to our children while also being sure not to make them feel personally responsible for supporting us.  It can be a difficult balance, and we all make mistakes, but it is a concept to keep in mind during dark days.

 

3. Behavior is a Form of Communication

Kids can be total shit-heads.  Their incessant demands, irrational opinions, big feelings and infuriating sleep schedules can wear down even the most patient caregivers.  Children can be challenging in general, but the behaviors of grieving and traumatized children can be especially difficult.  Bereaved children and adolescents may experience and exhibit changes in sleep and eating habits, behavioral regression, tantrums, emotional outbursts, sudden bouts of crying, depression, withdrawal, anger, talking-back, risk-taking behaviors, and violence.  This may present itself in different ways with different children at all developmental stages.  When a grieving child acts out, it is important not to personalize their behavior.  Children do not show us challenging behaviors because they are trying to hurt us, it is because they themselves are hurting.

It is important to take a rational approach in dealing with difficult behaviors in bereaved children (any children, really).  Responding rather than reacting.  Recognizing that a child screaming “I HATE YOU!” in a crowded grocery store is not trying to be a terrible person, they are just processing a feeling that feels too big for them to express.  Respond to their anger with love.  Tell them when they are crossing a boundary, but chose natural consequences over punishment (ie, a screaming child may get carried out of a store without a treat, but should not be spanked or publicly shamed for their outburst).  Not not attempt to neutralize anger with anger, rather respond with kindness, empathy, and understanding.  Easier said than done.  Still important.

 

4. The Arts and Healing

Expressive Arts Therapies (including music, art, dance/movement, drama, and play therapy) are an incredibly powerful tool in support children through the grief process.  If you are fortunate enough to live in a community with access to expressive arts therapists, consider reaching out to enroll your child in individual or group therapy sessions.  Child psychologists and mental health counselors who specialize in working with children may also use expressive arts techniques in their work.  Giving your child a trusted adult to process with is a gift that will continue to support their emotional and behavioral health beyond the initial stages of grief.

At home, consider creating space for art and music in your daily lives.  Put music on in the background while eating dinner, or play dance tracks and groove during clean-up.  Make art materials easily accessible, and allow your child to focus on self expression and exploration of the materials over structured crafts.  Give your child opportunities to explore themselves through art, music, movement, play, and hang even the angry paintings up on the wall.  By expressing ourselves, we feel seen, heard, validated in our emotional experiences.  Give your child to express any of it, without judgement, as they grow and cultivate their interests and passions.
5. Get Outside

In the early stages of loss, it can be difficult to get out of bed, let alone go for a run.  Find small ways to get you and your children outside.  Feel the sun on your face and allow the wind to cool the tears on your cheeks.  Interact with nature.  The rhythms of the natural world mirror the rhythms of our lives, and the first crocus, even on the coldest day, is a reminder that hope is possible.  Even when it is difficult, even when you don’t feel like it, try to get outside with your children.  It will offer you all freedom and emotional re-set, and might make the day feel a bit more manageable.

 

6. Take Care of Yourself

Being a caretaker to bereaved children in an astronomically difficult task.  Especially when you yourself may be grieving.  Be sure to fill your own cup first.  Hire babysitters, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who offer it.  Give yourself time and space to explore your own passions and meet your own basic needs.  Shower, eat, move, sleep. Get a therapist.  Get out sometimes.  Do the best you can to care for yourself.  In time, and with personal work, it will get easier. (Maybe a lot of time and work).  Care for yourself so that you can care for them.

On Vulnerability

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“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brene Brown

 

It has never been especially easy for me to find myself in a place of vulnerability.  Throughout my life I have built my identity on my strength.  My ability to navigate challenging situations.  My willingness to lead.  My ability to learn quickly, and adapt to new situations and environments with ease.  I intellectualize my emotions.  While I share my internal world openly, it is through an analytical lens.  A self study on emotional transparency.

Vulnerability, or avoidance thereof, has become a theme in my post-loss existence.  To have experienced the sensation of being publicly exposed, nude, flayed from belly to neck, my guts spilling out for all the world to see.  Emotionally mutilated, stripped of privacy and place.  The sudden loss of everything I ever held to be true.  A fiery wreck on a busy interstate highway, helicopters buzzing overhead, passerby’s faces pressed to glass.  Tragedy in real time.

I have a clear memory of Tim’s hospital room.  Sitting in the plastic recliner next to his bed, my engorged breasts pressed into the plastic flange of the hospital grade breast pump.  My nippled pulled to the steady rhythmic whoosh as milk sprayed into a small bottle.  My baby on the other side of the East River.  My husband on a ventilator.

Tim’s cardiologist walked in, quickly excusing himself for the intrusion.  I was numb and apathetic.  I invited him over.

We sat and discussed Tim’s care.  The failing state of his liver and kidneys.  The timeframe of a possible MRI.  The levels of Fentanyl building up in his bloodstream.  His comfort and care in the time to come.  Woosh, spray, woosh, spray, areola on display.

You might imagine I am not comfortable with the feeling of vulnerability these days.

 

I’ve established patterns of self-preservation in response to this instinct.  I have avoided asking for help, and rarely have taken others up on their offers of service and support.  I have purposefully pursued emotionally unavailable suitors in an attempt to avoid any significant emotional attachment, and therefor, heart hurt. (Spoiler alert, it hasn’t worked.)  I have attempted to do as much as possible independently, often to my own emotional and physical detriment.  A island of steel and granite rising from the grief ocean.  Impervious to further damage.  As if erosion isn’t an unavoidable reality.

I had grown comfortable in this lonely tower, basking in the illusion of invincibility.

Recently my therapist called me out on my shit.   A simple observation tearing the facade of effortless strength.  Exposing the delicate tissue below.

I have spent the past month reflecting on the obvious revelation that I’m just a regular, vulnerable human.

I am no longer willing to allow myself to exist solely for the purpose of comfort.  I have pushed and expanded myself in countless ways over the past two years, and I have arrived at a juncture in my path.  To continue on being guided by my fear and focused on my own self preservation is to prevent my own emotional and spiritual development.  To lean into the discomfort of vulnerability, to allow myself to be more easily aided and supported by others.  To be a tender being.  To open myself to the next level existence I hope to experience.

That’s scary, dudes.  But necessary.

One could argue sharing these revelations in the vast, exposed platform of the inter-webs is vulnerable in itself.  We’ll start there.

 

 

 

 

In Sickness and Health

I tend to get sick at highly inconvenient times.  Last night, just hours before the kids and I were scheduled to drive to New Jersey for a family visit, I came down with a stomach bug.  A bad one.  The kind that keeps you up all night with abdominal contractions that are a little too close to childbirth.

My mom arrived early this morning to take the kids and give me a chance to rest.  Throughout the day I’ve been trying to recover and heal as my body violently sheds itself of whatever virus settled into my system.

Jack Byron struggles when I’m sick.  He knows that Papa’s body was too sick to survive, and his subconscious fears affect him greatly when I’m not well.  I’ve been burdened with guilt over not being able to care for my babies, while simultaneously being overwhelmingly relived not to have them in my charge for a night.  Solo parenting through illness is a special level of challenge that I most often attempt to power through and avoid, until life sends me a not-so-gentle reminder that I am, indeed, human.

I write about this because it reminds me of a memory.  Six months into our relationship, on a cold night in January, I came down with food poisoning after eating a questionable tuna melt from the college student center.  I was a kid, 21, violently vomiting in the three stall bathroom next to my dorm room.  I was scared to be alone, and started calling friends around campus, all of whom were out at parties and not answering their flip-phones.  I couldn’t get ahold of anyone nearby, so I called Tim, 1.5 hours away in Storrs Connecticut.

Even though it was late and cold and snowing, he drove in his busted up old car, up 91, to my college dorm.  He parked in back and I embraced him weakly as I let him in the door.  He brought Gatorade and crackers.  He set my love seat futon up so that he could sleep sitting up, watching me through the night as I writhed on my twin size bed.  He nurtured and comforted me through the night, and left early the next morning to make it back for a class.  At a time that I felt vulnerable and frightened, and completely undesirable, he made me feel unconditionally loved and cared for.

I knew that night that I would marry him.  6 months into our young love.  5 years out from our actual wedding.  I knew he would be my person.

I don’t do well with vulnerability these days.  I like to pretend I have super-hero emotional and physical strength.  The kind of woman who can single-handedly raise her babies without ever feeling hurt or sick or grief-stricken.  But I’m not.

I’m missing Tim like crazy today.  I’m feeling endlessly thankful for my mom.  I’m cleansing my body of some real shit.  (Metaphorically and literally).  Sometimes I need a little reminder that I deserve help too.