Living With Grief

Helping others through shared experiences

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The End of the Journey

It’s seven a.m., and I am awakened by warm breath on my cheek and loud breathing in my ear. I turn toward the warmth, open one eye, and am inches away from a black nose, white muzzle, and whiskers close enough to tickle me. Holly’s mouth is open, with her pink tongue protruding. She is panting into my face, without as much as a whimper or bark, for the morning hello. Standing next to my bed, she is the exact height to rest her chin on the edge of my mattress. We are eyeball to eyeball. She stares at me. This translates to “get up.” She continues to watch me until I stir from under the covers. I delay this delicious moment by petting her and feeling the softness of her silken ears that are still honey-colored.

I tell her, good morning, ‘”seis kindt,” which is the only Yiddish I remember from my childhood. On days she liked me, my mother called me her sweet child.

I continue to stay submerged to the neck under my warm down comforter. Holly stares. She is relentless. This is our basic communication system, no barking, just eye contact. I am not annoyed that she has wakened me earlier than my usual 9:00 a.m. schedule. In the past she sensed when I was ready to get up. I never needed an alarm clock. She doesn’t sleep in anymore. And no matter how early she appears at my bedside, I say, “Thank you, god, for another day with Holly.” This is an amazing statement for someone who says, “I don’t do god.” But this is a time of crisis and I need all the help I can get– so I’ll take my chances with god.

I roll out of bed to be with Holly. My bare feet and her soft paws pad across the wood floor into the kitchen for breakfast. She gets kibble laced with two tablespoons of heated up canned pumpkin. I was told by a holistic veterinarian that yellow vegetables are good for managing diarrhea. She has had chronic inflammatory bowel disease since she was five months old. I have always believed it was triggered by the stress of repeated dog bites as my too-friendly young puppy gaily approached strange adult dogs on the street. I didn’t have a clue that I should be protecting her. She was corrected severely for her trust and my ignorance. Nothing in the books I read on raising a puppy warned me to keep her away from older dogs. There would be serious repercussions of those early attacks that would change the course of our lives together. We both learned some hard lessons.

I eat my oat bran flakes with a banana and rice milk. Later I will eat my yellow vegetables too, and for the same reason. Her stressors have become mine. We manifest the same reaction to stress and I too have developed g.i. issues. We both have diarrhea.

She follows me back to the bedroom, and stands in the doorway watching while I slip into the gray sweats lying on the wicker hamper. No time for make-up or hair. I cover up my face with oversized sun glasses and my uncombed hair with a wide brimmed hat. Down the stairs we go. I lace up my tennis shoes in the entry way, and grab her red lead hanging on a hook near the front door. I hold the lead open as she presents her neck to me, walking into the loop. Good girl!

I open the front door as she waits respectfully for me to exit and follows at my heels. By now we have both learned the order of things, the status of our relationship. I lead, she follows. It took us awhile to get this straight in our minds– years, in fact. Still, there are moments of hesitation or weakness on my part, and then she leads me. I have to know where I’m going. This may be the mantra for my life. When I’m confident, we’re in sync. That’s the way it is.

Today we are out for our morning walk around West L.A. College. The sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky and another glorious day with Holly has begun. I am grateful for it.

The tennis ball bulges out of the pocket of my sweat-pants. I will toss it for her to retrieve when we reach the top of the dirt fire road across from the college. Her tail swings as she walks at my side. Her keen sense of smell alerts her to the treasure in my pocket and heightens her excitement. Sometimes I let her carry it in her mouth. She will chase that ball even if she has to limp after it. With the early onset of arthritis, the vet suggested no more running, just walks. I said that Holly would not understand and would despair without the joy of chasing her tennis ball. She would think she was being punished if I withheld her daily play time. I had to weigh the progression of the disease with the quality of her life. She lived to retrieve. It’s who she was. I could never take that away from her. I never did.

When we reach the summit, I unhook her lead and stand facing her with the ball poised over my head. She backs up in a ready pose, alert, waiting, legs astride, mouth open, eyes fixed on the ball. I yell. “Get it!” and toss the ball as far as I can with the limited range of motion in my right arm. She scrambles after it, hobbling but determined, scoops it into her mouth and trots back to me, dropping it into my waiting hand. She backs up into the same stance and is ready to retrieve again. We have played this game at least once a day for nine years.

And then one morning there is no warm breath on my cheek. There is no sweet white face leaning on the edge of my mattress and no pleading eyes riveted on me. She is too stiff to stumble over to greet me. These days she sleeps on her own comforter, preferring to keep her vigil on the floor at the foot of my bed.

I get up without her bedside invitation, and gaze at her gorgeous, still golden body, sprawled diagonally over her crumpled green bedding. She looks up into my eyes, tail thumping the floor and mouth open panting. “Let’s get up, sweetheart.” I gently pull her onto her feet. She flops over on her side. She can’t stand. Her legs, arthritic since she was five, finally have given out at the age of nine. My dog is lame.

I wonder how I will get her down the stairs of my condo and out onto the grass to relieve herself. Standing on the top step and throwing a cookie down the stairs used to motivate her to scurry after it while she ignored the pain in her legs. She wanted the cookie and being a retriever would chase anything. But today I must coax and push and pull and lift her all the way to the stairs. She holds one front leg up in a bent position, and the other paw barely touches down. She hops on her back legs as I assist her. It’s not the first time she can’t walk.

Landing in the wrong position, or on uneven ground as she jumped to catch her obsession, the yellow tennis ball, often caused her to twist a leg, tear a ligament, or injure a tendon, but they always healed after a time of rest. This is different. This is degeneration due to advanced arthritis. This is not temporary and not a sports injury. It is the decline of old age–a premature old age. I learned to handle those injuries by wrapping a large bath towel or my sweat shirt around her middle, tying it at her waist and then pulling up on it to take the weight off her front legs. So I know what to do today.

We get to the stairs; she hops down the first two with me pulling up on the towel. But the pain stops her dead on the third step. I gently smack her rear the way you encourage a horse to move. I hate myself for this but I say emphatically, “You have to walk.” At 65 pounds she is too heavy for me to carry down the stairs. She hops down two more steps, then freezes.

“I can’t do it,” I imagine her saying. My heart sinks. I lower myself onto the stair. She flops down next to me. We sit there together quietly for a moment. Holly’s face turns toward me and she looks at me the way she does when she wants something: her tennis ball, a cookie, to lick the last trace of ice cream off my plate, or eat the crust of my pizza, or to go outside in a rain shower. I always know what she wants. This time the look in her forlorn eyes tells me she wants me to stop the pain.

I try to massage away the ache in those long golden legs with their swollen joints, the same legs that carried her in freedom and joy across parks, fields, beaches, and any open space, soft velvet ears lifted and open as if to propel the whole body and spirit in the poetic motion of life, flying with no limits, no boundaries, no endings, mouth laughing.

I bring her into the veterinary offices the next day to have her legs x-rayed. I already know that she has arthritis as she often limps after her ball. But the surgeon insists on x- raying her legs and also her abdomen. “Golden Retrievers often have spleen tumors,” she says. “It’s very common.” I decide she is overly conscientious. How foolish I think. It’s just that she’s not able to walk, nothing more.

I wait in the examining room for them to bring her back. But the surgeon reports something suspicious in the abdominal x- ray and orders an ultra-sound. I think she is a little bit crazy, but agree to it. Dr. Farber, her holistic vet, carries her back after the ultra-sound. The look on his face scares me. He is death white. I say, “Something’s wrong?’ not believing for a second that this surgeon’s wild ideas have any validity.

“She has cancer of the spleen” he begins, but before he can tell me the rest, I feel my feet giving way from under me .My blood sugar has dropped and I feel as if I will hit the floor.”I gotta sit down.” I tell him. I slump into a chair.

He says, “Sometimes tumors in the spleen rupture and the dog can bleed to death.” He schedules her surgery immediately.

When they cut her open and remove the large tumor in her spleen, they discover two more cancers in her colon just in case the first one isn’t enough to kill her. Is that what they mean by over-kill? They cut her open on the last Thursday in February. I feel cut open the same day. And I bleed. And I bleed.

Malignancy: comes from the root mal, meaning ‘bad’; malpractice, malnutrition, malformation, maligned, maladjusted, the bad kid in Harry Potter, Malfoy. Bad, bad, bad. When I leave any of my pets in the hospital, it is a bad omen. Sometimes I never see them again.

After her surgery, I don’t want to leave her in the hospital. I sit in the car alone, crying. I am afraid to go home without her.

I drive home terrified that something awful is happening to my precious girl. I have forgotten the cats who have been alone without me. The minute I walk into the living room I smell something foul. Stormy, my diabetic cat, has soiled himself and is a mess. He needs an emergency bath. I bend over Holly’s tub to wash Stormy in warm water, and hear the crack. Ouch. I can’t straighten up. My back has bent me in half on the same day of the mal-surgery. I live the metaphor. I cannot stand because I cannot stand it. I am broken. I manage to towel wrap the cat and let him go. Then, unable to stand up straight, I stagger slowly, bent in half, to my bed and lie down. I feel that I will never get up again.

The following day I arrange for my pet sitter to bring Holly home from the hospital. My back is in spasm. I feel helpless. Meryl has cared for Holly for nine years. I know that she is grieving too.

When they arrive at home, I am lying in bed unable to get up. Holly plops down in her bed and stays there. It feels like death in my bedroom. Meryl stands in the doorway and says the wrong words. She tells me to “prepare myself.” I have never been upset with Meryl until this moment. I say, “I’m not ready.” She says ,”Well, you better get ready.” This sounds so cruel to me. I am too angry to tell her that I am well beyond prepared. My life will end with this loss of all losses. Doesn’t she know that I will die without Holly? Prepare yourself?

I struggle to understand why this is happening to my nine year old dog. We are not finished. I did my research on Goldens; nowhere did I find splenetic tumor. I read all the books, went to the best breeders, did all the training, and gained all I could know about this very first dog in my life. I wanted a healthy dog. She became sick. I wanted an obedient dog. She didn’t listen to me. All my unresolved issues in life were played out with her. I was never assertive. I wanted to please her. I waited on her. I worshiped her. I thought you were supposed to give them choices. Do you want to go out and play now? What would you like? What do you need? Let me take care of you. Why is she being taken away from me? Have I failed? Am I still the bad child, the defective child who never did anything right? Is this my punishment?

At night, I sleep on the floor with her. We are in hospice together lying on her comforter at the foot of my bed. I put her head in my lap, massage her shaven abdomen with the deep dark gashes that go from one end to the other, and I tell her how beautiful she is. She sleeps peacefully. I don’t sleep at all. And never will again.

I thought we would grow old together. But time has fast forwarded her into old age. She is leaving me.

Unable to walk the distance from the UCLA parking through the long corridors of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, where for the last eight years Holly has proudly announced her arrival, greeting everyone in her path, tail wagging merrily, lifting a paw for a hand-shake and what can only be described as the golden smile. I face the cruel reality. She has been the quintessential therapy dog, the first canine allowed in the hospital and the demo dog for new volunteer teams. I retire her quietly and simply with a phone call to notify the PAC office, and then the call to the adolescent unit where we have worked for eight years. We will not be in this week.

These have been the most fulfilling years of my life. Holly and I are connected to these teenagers. They give a luncheon in our honor and cook it themselves. It is the only time I am there without her.

The kids from 2 South, NPI’s Adolescent Psychiatry unit personally serve my lunch to me: macaroni and cheese, a green salad and chocolate cake. I am the guest of honor. It is the most elegant luncheon I have ever attended. I sit with a group of adolescent boys and girls on long wooden benches with our knees touching under the table. I relish the homemade food they created, and we talk about Holly. Each child has a story to tell about how Holly helped them with their problems. I am amazed that they know her stories as well as I do. For years I kept a journal and documented all the dramatic anecdotes. I wrote about all the kids she helped to recover; about all her healing work. Now it’s over. All we can do is remember.

Today, these are not psychiatric patients, they are just “our kids” remembering “our” dog. I am ceremoniously presented with a plaque in Holly’s honor. They have decorated the frame with paper flowers surrounding her picture featured in the center. It is the photo taken on our last day at Malibu Beach, her last day playing in the surf, hobbling on three legs on the muddy shore chasing after her tennis ball. She posed for the picture, standing with her front paws on a rock formation, with the shoreline and the sea behind her, like a picture post-card saying,“Greetings from Malibu.” Like many of the patients photographed for the last time with a therapy dog on their beds, this is the last picture taken of her. The plaque with this picture hangs in the Neuro-Psychiatric hospital in honor and memory of the healing work she did there.

Even though she couldn’t attend it, the luncheon is for Holly. There are tears and laughter. I am losing my working partner, my companion, my golden girl. These children will never forget her. I will never forget them.

At home, Holly entertains those that come to honor her, and to say goodbye. Her beloved Auntie Kc, the director of the PAC program at UCLA who trained us to be the first therapy team comes to visit her. She lays on the floor with her arms around Holly, just as she has always done when we invaded her office in the hospital. Holly would roll over on her back and the professional director of a prestigious program would get on the floor and give her a bear hug. Today she does the same. And Holly purrs and hums softly from pleasure at the touch of Kc’s hands on her body.

Other devoted friends come to the house when I notify them that the time is short. Her “Auntie Meryl,” the extraordinary pet sitter, comes to say goodbye. She and I have resolved the argument about “prepare yourself.” We both know it is now. And it is all about Holly. Kisses and hugging go on all day. Holly has done well and is being rewarded. She devours the affection and forgets about the pain as canines do so well. She smiles her famous golden retriever smile and gazes at her friends with those eyes that entrance us all. Meryl says, “She is my best friend; she got me through some tough times.” I didn’t know this.

That night I keep a dim light in the room so that I can see if the nose bleeds start again. She has had cortisone injections in the knotty joints in her legs, codeine pills for pain, and morphine packs that slowly release pain killers, but still she pants, and doesn’t sleep. Panting is the way that dogs express their pain. I hold her in my arms, and massage her legs. She will need a new morphine pack tomorrow, Friday. She had nose bleeds a few days ago that would not stop. I carried her to the car at 7 a.m. with blood covered towels wrapped around her face. Applying pressure did not stop the bleeding. My bedroom walls and carpeting are covered with rust colored stains.

She was hospitalized for two days until the bleeding was cauterized. They don’t know what caused the nose bleeds; maybe it was the pain medication. We are treating advanced degeneration in the joints of her legs. The surgeon is amazed she can stand at all.

A new ultra-sound reveals that the cancer has returned. It was removed with her spleen. Now it is in her abdominal area. She weighs 65 pounds and I cannot carry her anymore. My back is in spasm. We are both in pain. I have not slept more than a few hours in weeks.

At 4 a.m. she seems to be quieter, so I crawl into my own bed; exhausted and sleep deprived. I drop into a numbness for about an hour. The sound of loud breathing close to my face jolts me awake. I open my eyes. She is staring at me. She somehow managed to get up and drag herself over to the edge of my bed, to the place she used to waken me quietly every morning breathing into my face.

Today when she looks into my eyes, I know exactly what she wants. She continues to stare. Holly has learned to make eye contact for everything she wants. I am the key to fulfilling all of her needs. I look into those brown soulful eyes, and I have no doubt of what she is asking for. I say out loud, “Okay, I will help you.”

I get dressed, and wait for 7 a.m. to call the veterinary offices. All the doctors are busy with their morning rounds. It is after 9 a.m. when I get a call back. “Is she going to get better?” I ask her internist. “No,” he says. I take a deep breath and am quiet for I know the next answer before I ask. “Am I prolonging the agony?”

I leave a message for Dr. Farber to call me when he comes in. Dr. Farber has given her acupuncture and positive energy for a year. She follows him everywhere, without a lead, even into the dreaded surgery room, so deep is her trust. She will die in his hands. I will not let anyone else touch her. He calls at 11a.m. He is reticent to help me with this decision. He says, “Maybe there is something the surgeon can do for her legs. The cancer has not invaded any organs yet, she might have a few more months.” Now I am totally confused. I suspect he’s having trouble letting her go. I tell him I’ll speak to the surgeon.

She calls me at 1p.m. I say, “She’s still eating, she still responds to me, she’s still alert, the cancer hasn’t attacked any organs yet.” She tells me, “The constant pain in her bent and swollen joints is more than arthritis, since she has not responded to any of the anti-inflammatory meds. It may be bone cancer to be causing this much pain. And as far as eating, she’s a Golden Retriever. I have seen them eating and still wagging their tails down to their last breath. We would have to biopsy her legs to see if it’s bone cancer.”

“No, we will not do that,” I say. “Please tell Dr. Farber I am coming in.”. I will keep my word. No crying, no sympathy. No pity. I must seem normal. It is just another day, another trip in the car to see Dr. Farber.

I look in the mirror at my blank face, eyes puffy without sleep, without make-up and notice my half eyebrows. I take an eyebrow pencil to draw in the missing brow line and put on some cologne. I’ll smell normal to her when we go out.

It’s just another day. I help her hop on her back legs by tying a large sweatshirt around her middle and pulling up on it to keep the weight off her front legs. We go down the stairs one at a time. I have to lift her into the back seat of the car. My friend Nina, who always comes through when my dog is in trouble, has offered to go with us. We drive up to her house as she is returning from walking her pack of five West-Highland White Terriers. She is a slim young woman wearing light blue denim jeans and a tee shirt. Her curly blonde hair bounces as she leads the Westies on their little legs down the street toward us, with light leads in both her hands. It’s a Westie parade as the sun lights up the pure whiteness of their fur and cars slow down to take another look at this pretty girl with the five cute dogs.

Miki, the oldest, has been Holly’s best friend from the first day they wrestled in the park and bonded as puppies of four months old. As they matured, Holly tolerated all the hi-jinx that she would never allow with any other dog. Miki still acts like a puppy, full of playfulness and although the same age, Holly hasn’t played with Miki for years, though she still enjoys her company.

When Nina sees us in the car, she brings the dogs into the house; all but one. She comes right back with Miki, opens the back door of my car and Miki jumps in next to Holly. They have traveled together many times, smashed up against each other and the other dogs, crammed into the back seat with Holly perfectly content to have Miki sitting on top of her.

Today is different. Maybe they know. Maybe there is the smell of illness, or medication, or the smell of pain. They greet and lick each other’s faces as we watch with tears in our eyes. It is a final farewell of good friends.

We change cars silently. Nina puts Miki in the house and drives us to VCA Animal Hospital. I call for a tech to come down and carry Holly upstairs. I ask him to place her on the floor, and the three of us are led down the hall into the “grief” room. I don’t want her carried in. I want her to feel as normal as possible. Just another day. .Nothing to be afraid of or anxious about. Holly hops on her back legs while I pull up on the sweatshirt wrapped around her middle. She stops to greet the staff as she passes them in the hallway. Laura, a vet tech, smiles over her glasses at me and glances at the Golden Retriever she knows so well. I tell her quietly “Today is the day.” And that’s all I say. I am not crying. I don’t want Holly to think something terrible is going to happen to her. We are simply here as we have been many times. But the staff has been alerted, and they all know. They stop to pet her. I smile and say hello to each one.

Laura tells me days later that she has never seen anyone bring in their beloved pet for euthanization with the calmness and normalcy that she witnessed that day. She remembered that I had only said, “Today’s the day.” She remembered that I had smiled and said hello to everyone. And she tells me she was stunned. She says women come in clutching their dogs or cats in their arms crying hysterically. I tell her, “I could never do that to Holly.” I didn’t feel brave, just determined that she not be stressed or afraid. It’s the least I could do for her.

The grief room, so aptly named, is carpeted and dimly lit. There is a small love seat and two arm chairs; two lamps with soft pink bulbs and an end table with a box of Kleenex. I have said goodbye to Charlie, Lorelie, Lancelot, and held friends in my arms while they held their dying animals. I have been in this room too many times.

When Dr. Farber comes in, Holly tries to get up to greet him. For the first time, he is not smiling. He does not kiss her on the nose as he usually does. I feel his grief and say, “Aren’t you going to kiss her on the nose?”

“Of course I am,” he answers. And I say what I always say, “Oh, if you knew where that nose has been.” And he answers, “I do know.” And kisses her squarely on her black nose.

I act cheerful, smiling and joke with him. He is morose. I had not realized how hard this is for the doctors who get attached, until I see his long face and watery eyes. I feel as if I want to help him through this. He inserts the catheter in her leg and leaves us, saying to let him know when I am ready. Is he kidding? I want to say, “Never.” I will never be ready. Instead I say okay, I’ll call him.

My daughter arrives. We all sit around and visit with Holly. Nina goes to the candy machine and buys her a chocolate covered peanut butter bar. I say, “Oh, I should have brought her rice cakes. She can’t eat that.” Nina says, “Marian, she won’t have diarrhea.” Holly has lived on rice cakes for treats all of her life because of her bowel disease. She never has cookies or candy. I don’t really get it, that she will not have diarrhea ever again. Her auntie Nina gives her two candy bars. Holly cannot believe her good fortune and wolves them down happily.

One by one, members of the staff come into this room to pet her and say goodbye. She has been coming here for nine years, and the staff know and adore her. Holly has a relationship with everyone. She is lying on her stomach on the sheepskin pad I brought in from the car, with her head up, looking around, alert and interested in watching the parade of visitors. She thinks she’s at a social event, which is just what I intended . The staff members kneel down on the floor and hug and kiss her. She wags her tail and smiles her golden smile for each of them. I find it strange that everyone is saying goodbye, like some sort of ritual. I know in my heart she is coming home with me. She always comes home with me. She is my dog.

Don’t these people know she is coming home with me? I would never leave her.

Everyone is visiting, and talking in this lively room. No one is crying. Holly socializes with everyone, and is having a good time being the center of attention. She loves this. Someone steps in and reminds me that Dr. Farber has to catch a plane at 7:00 p.m. Have I forgotten the horror of why we are here? It is nearly 5:00.

I say, “Okay, please call him.” My daughter gets up and walks out of the room. I think she is fearful of death since her father died when she was fourteen . She avoids hospital visits and funerals. Nina asks to stay. She has been Holly’s auntie, friend and trainer for nine years. I say, “Yes, stay.”

Dr. Farber comes in looking like he just lost his best friend. I have never seen him upset before. He has been my support system for the last year, always smiling, always keeping things positive and hopeful for me and for Holly. He attaches the IV tube filled with fluids to the catheter in her leg. I ask about first giving a tranquilizer, as I know that valium usually helps to relax the animal before the overdose of anesthesia that will stop the heart. He says yes, valium is already set up in the IV tube. Again, he asks me if I am ready.

I think never. I say, “Yes.” He releases the clamp that starts the flow of valium through the catheter into her vein. I lie down on top of Holly, covering her body with my own, feeling her heart beat, and letting her feel mine. I want to shield her from all of this. Let it go through my body first.

Dr. Farber holds her head in both of his hands as the valium is drained from the catheter into her body, and she sinks into a sleepy and relaxed state, her head now dropping to the side of his arm where it rests. Now the pink drip of anesthesia begins. It lasts only a few seconds. I hold back the rush of emotion until I feel her leaving her body. I don’t want her to hear this. And now as if the clamp on my emotions has been released as well, all of the wrenching sobs of a life time expel from the guts of my body.

All that has built up for the last eight months since her diagnosis and probably all of my life begin to climax, building up louder and deeper without any self consciousness, without any concern for anyone else in the room, or outside in the hallway, until the offices and examining rooms and surgical areas and kennels are filled with my agony. It is primal, it is all of the hurt and pain and grief that exists in the world, flooding out of me, and there is no stopping it.

I hear someone else in the room crying softly. It is Nina. My face is buried in Holly’s fur. She is quiet but seems to be asleep. I think I feel her heart. I stop weeping and look up. Dr. Farber is now leaning weakly against the wall. I say, “She’s still breathing.” He assures me she is not. He bends down with his stethoscope to listen, and says, “There is no heart beat.” He asks me if I want to stay longer. “No,” I tell him. Do I want her tail? I never heard of such an idea. I say,”Yes.” Nina carefully cuts the beautiful golden plume keeping it in one piece, and ties it with a ribbon. I put it in my purse, walk to the door and leave her there on the floor.

I go home without my dog.

October 24, 2002: Outgoing voice mail message

To my friends calling to inquire about Holly:

On October 24, I made the agonizing decision to give Holly my final gift of love by allowing her gentle spirit to leave her beautiful golden body and continue the journey of healing for which she was sent to us. She had a beautiful death, assisted by her beloved Dr. Farber, with all the courage, dignity and style with which she lived; surrounded by love and gratitude. With bliss, she died in his hands.

She sends you all her steadfast unshakable love with reminders that:

All we have is love. Love is all there is.

 

Submitted by Marian Silverman in loving memory of her beloved dog, Holly Go Lightly. “The End of the Journey” is an excerpt from her book, White Rose: Stories of Love, Loss and a Dog Named Holly, available from Amazon.

Holly-and-me-2

You’re Not Alone

If you’ve lost someone who meant more than life itself to you

you’re not alone

If you can’t believe they’re gone

or that they’ll walk through the door at any moment

or that they’ll be on the other end of the phone when it rings

or you can’t bring yourself to delete them from your phone contacts

you’re not alone

If you can’t fathom how you’re going to go on living

but somehow you wake up every morning

and somehow you go back to work because you have to

and you can’t understand how the world can just go on like it was before they died

you’re not alone

If you’re angry at your god or the world

and can’t stand hearing people laugh

and don’t think you’ll ever be able to be happy again

and bite your cheeks to keep from smiling at something funny

because you think if you are anything other than miserable it is a betrayal of your loved one

you’re not alone

If you sob uncontrollably

and make those around you uncomfortable

or you can’t cry at all and wish you could

or you cry over things that aren’t sad and have nothing to do with your grief

you’re not alone

If you feel like you’re going crazy

and think things like how cold and wet they must be at the cemetery when it rains

and can’t seem to remember simple things anymore

and hear their voice when they’re not there

you’re not alone

If you feel so exhausted you can barely stand

and every muscle in your body is sore

and your heart literally aches

and you feel nauseated

and you either can’t sleep or can’t stay awake

you’re not alone

If you feel isolated and alone

and completely misunderstood

and feel like you no longer relate to your family and friends

and even lose some relationships you thought would last forever

you’re not alone

If you feel like you’re losing all hope

and even might feel like life is not worth living anymore

and even might have thoughts about ending your own life

please reach out for help

because you’re not alone

 

While your loss is unique to you

others have experienced similar losses

and others have experienced similar thoughts and reactions

and others have made it through those impossible early days

and others have learned how to be happy once more

and others have even learned how to live a meaningful life

and others are here to support you on this journey

because you’re never alone

and people care about you

Behind the Veil

Alive-in-Memory-Behind-the-Veil-smallWhen you see me, you probably see what you would consider to be a strong person. You see someone who appears to be living the “American Dream”; juggling a successful career, a beautiful family, a healthy social life, and even time to volunteer for a good cause. You see a person who came back from the death of a young child, and – as you usually put it – has moved on with life.  You see someone who has seemingly taken lemons and turned them into lemonade.

But unless I want you to, you don’t really see me. You see me through a veil that I wear. A veil that lets you see a version of me that I think you want to see.

I began to wear this veil as soon as I started to have to interact with the world a few weeks after my daughter’s sudden death at four years old. When I first put the veil on, it felt awkward and didn’t fit well. But I put it on because your reactions to my overwhelming grief seemingly made my life even harder than it already was. I put it on because I couldn’t handle your looks of pity, your awkward pauses, or sometimes your indifference to my pain. I wore the veil because I didn’t want to call attention to myself in my darkest hour.

When I had no choice but to go back to work, you saw someone who didn’t smile or interact with you much, but you thought that was to be expected – at least for a little while. From your side of the veil, I appeared to be throwing myself back into work with a passion and concentration you hadn’t seen before. You even commented on how impressed you were with my work ethic. After avoiding me and leaving me to myself for a few weeks, you decided it was time to go back to your normal interactions with me. You casually asked how I was and expected the standard, “I’m good, how are you?” You apparently thought it would be good for me to start telling me again of your latest dramas and the juiciest gossip. You wanted me to feel included again.

From my side of the uncomfortable and ill-fitting veil, I was barely able to hold a thought for more than a few minutes before my mind turned to my daughter, her death, and the nightmare I was living in. All the while, I was desperately trying to hold back the tears that were constantly welling up behind my eyes day after day and week after week. I used the veil to try to shut you out so I could use all my energy just to get through the day without bursting into tears and screaming at you all to shut up because I didn’t care about work, your dramas and gossip. None of it mattered any more. Nothing mattered any more. I bit my tongue, painted on a fake smile, and told you I was “fine” for your convenience…and by the way…you’re welcome. I guarantee you would not have liked being around me without my veil on at that time.

When I saw you in the supermarket or doctor’s waiting room or my kids’ soccer and baseball games, you saw someone who usually avoided eye contact but smiled back at you and said hello if you managed to catch my eye. You saw someone who politely made small talk with you and seamed perfectly personable. You asked the standard question when you saw me with my four boys: “Are you going to try for a girl?” You didn’t notice that I flinched when you said it. If I was in the rare mood to tell you the truth, you heard my brief, but sobering statement that I had a daughter who had died. You said a brief condolence and then politely changed the topic, stopped talking, or said goodbye.

Behind my veil I constantly pleaded in my head for you to not look my direction. I just wanted to stay invisible and avoid your small talk. Behind my veil it was exhausting to keep up appearances for your side of the veil. When you did engage me, I summoned up all the energy I had to pretend to be normal; to pretend my world was still the way it was before she died. When I heard you start to ask the question I dreaded most, thoughts raced through my mind of how I should answer. Was it betraying her to pretend she hadn’t existed so that I could avoid prolonging this torture? Most often I gave my standard response that politely laughed it off and said, “No, four kids is enough,” in hopes you would change the subject.

The veil has changed a lot in the last five years since her death. I got so used to wearing it that it began to feel comfortable and even normal. Even though it began to feel normal to wear, I never fully embraced it. I looked forward to the times I could take it off and just be myself around you. As I changed over time, so did your reactions. As I learned how to better harness the pain of losing my daughter into learning how to live a more meaningful life, my grief softened and felt less threatening to most of you. I’ve learned to surround myself with those of you who don’t want me to wear a veil, and for all of you I am truly grateful.

These days I don’t wear my veil very often. But I keep it in my back pocket and wear it on days that are particularly hard – often for no apparent reason. I wear it when I get triggered in public by certain special events, an innocent comment, disturbing image, or the sounds of sirens screaming by.

The veil was an invaluable tool when I was early in this journey of grief, but I would love to live to see this society become one that tolerated authentic grief in a way that made the veil altogether unnecessary. Wouldn’t that be something.

 

Distance

“Time heals all wounds.”

If you’ve lost someone dear to you and find yourself in the darkness of grief, I’m certain you’ve heard or read that refrain numerous times already. It’s a nice thought… but the truth is not so simple and clean cut as that. It makes me think whoever coined the phrase hadn’t yet suffered the devastating loss of a loved one that both shatters and redefines the world you live in.

Another new year was ushered in this past week. It will be another year that my daughter did not live to see. It is another unwelcome reminder that she has been gone for more years than she was here to experience. It takes me further away from her – from her birth, her short life, and the impossible moment of her death.

It is distance.

Distance is a difficult concept to grasp or explain in the context of grief. It is both good and bad at the same time. It is both painful and liberating. It can both soften your devastation while solidifying the difficult reality of loss. It can help close the door to the agony of early grief, just as it unearths new aspects of grief that you hadn’t expected…and weren’t altogether ready for.

I am thankful for the distance between where I am now and the horror of the day my daughter drowned. I no longer experience sleepless nights for fear that if I close my eyes I might be forced to see those images I’d rather wipe from my mind altogether and relive the worst day of my life. I’m no longer a complete wreck who can’t manage basic functions in the world around me. I am no longer at the mercy of uncontrollable waves of emotion that might leave me a crying, angry, trembling mess for the majority of the day.

But it isn’t just distance. It is distance combined with hard work. If I had not acknowledged my grief or faced my emotions head on, I might still be trapped in a web of despair concealed by numbness. I might have completely cut myself off from any meaningful interaction with life. I might have swallowed my pain and pushed it so deep that it transformed itself into a devastating and debilitating illness.

Time alone does not heal all wounds. Time just gives you more opportunities to work through your pain…or to find new ways to try to hide from it.

Distance has given me the perspective that the four years I did get to spend with my daughter is much more than those who are denied the opportunity to have children in the first place, or who lose them before they even take their first breath. And while I am forever grateful for having more than a few days, weeks, or months with her, distance also makes me somewhat envious of those who got to spend more time – even decades – with their children.

Four years worth of memories of my daughter don’t add up to much. I don’t have a treasure trove of stories to tell. The milestones are limited and weren’t cataloged all that well to begin with. After all, I was expecting a lifetime of them. She didn’t have friends, lovers, or children who will remember her in perpetuity. Her brothers were too young to remember most of the time they spent with her.

All those everyday moments I took for granted are eroding away on the treacherous path of distance. Details are being lost to time. My mind tries to fill in the gaps based on pictures or conjecture, but it only serves to make me question the validity of those memories I once felt so sure of. When memories are all you have, distance becomes your enemy…and a new form of grief.

I don’t know what distance has in store for me. Each passing day, week, month and year seem to bring new healing and personal growth – and for that I am truly grateful – but it is always with an undertow of longing. I suppose it is representative of life itself. With love comes pain. With pain comes understanding. With understanding comes growth. With growth comes wisdom, purpose and fulfillment.

I suppose if I am forced to live the rest of my life without watching my daughter grow, I will continue to try to grow and thrive in her honor. From that perspective, I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

A Gift for the Bereaved

Alive-in-Memory-A-Gift-for-the-Bereaved-smallThe holidays can be a lonely and difficult time for people who have lost someone close to them. Lonely from the isolation they feel at secretly – or not so secretly – resenting the joy the season brings when they are filled with despair so deep that it colors their every thought. Difficult because the overwhelming pain of missing someone so dear to them leaves them feeling as if it would have been easier if the world itself had just come to an end when their loved one died.

When you experience a loss so profound that it shakes you to your very core, your outlook on life inevitably changes. Things that once seemed important may tend to appear trivial in the sobering reality of the fragility and unpredictability of life. In this light, the materialism of Christmas and other gift-giving holidays might seem unimportant to them. Short of bringing their loved one back from the dead, they may not want to receive anything that can be wrapped in a box.

Thinking back to that first holiday season after my four-year-old daughter’s death, I didn’t want to receive gifts at all. What I craved the most involved no wrapping paper or bows. Many days I didn’t have the energy to venture out of the house or sometimes even to talk, and would have appreciated the simple act of quiet companionship. Sometimes all I wanted was a loving hug and someone to cry with.

Over the years since my daughter’s death, my grief has evolved and my needs have changed. However, one thing has remained the same: I miss hearing her name. After the first few weeks and months after Margareta’s death, most people stopped talking about her. It had become too painful for them. It is very isolating to feel the pain of missing someone, constantly think of them, and yet feel as though the rest of the world has forgotten about them.

The best gift family and friends could offer me now is the gift of hearing them say her name out loud without me bringing her up first. I would love the simple act of hearing them say, “I thought of Margareta today. I really miss her.” It might bring tears to my eyes, but it would bring happiness to my aching heart.

It’s the Most Difficult Time of the Year

Alive-in-Memory-Its-the-Most-Difficult-Time-of-the-Year-smallSo the song goes, it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” for many. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, etc…this is most certainly a holiday season. Sparkling lights and decorations adorn many houses and stores. Holiday advertisements, shows and songs saturate the airwaves. Cards from relatives, friends and vendors arrive day after day in the mail. Party invitations are sure to follow. You can’t help but see the joy and excitement in the faces of children and adults alike.

The problem is, there are a group of people who don’t see this as a season of joy – but one of dread. Dread of the constant reminders and inescapable torture of the pain associated with the loss of a cherished loved one during a time of year almost exclusively focused on celebrating family.

These people often suffer in quiet anguish, wishing they could completely shut out the outside world and all of its overwhelming holiday noise. They begin to resent the relentless happiness and joy…and may even come to hate this time of year.

My husband and I lost our four-year-old daughter, Margareta, in the fall of 2009. The Halloween and Thanksgiving that quickly followed had been very painful, but the anxiety of the impending first Christmas without her was devastating. How could we possibly celebrate a holiday primarily focused on children when one of our children had just died? While both of us would have preferred to skip Christmas altogether, we still had three other boys who believed in Santa.

In an attempt to try to alleviate some of the pain, we decided to alter our normal routine slightly. It was an effort to not just go about “business as usual” when there was nothing usual about this Christmas – much less life – anymore. So, instead of buying a regular Christmas tree, we borrowed a friend’s artificial tree. It wasn’t much different than a real one, but at least it was different.

Knowing it might be a confusing time for our boys, we took them to a workshop for bereaved children at a local hospice that was designed to help them navigate their conflicting feelings during the holidays. They made memorial candles for their sister and ornaments featuring her pictures. Guided by grief counselors, they shared their feelings with other children who had lost parents and grandparents.

Nevertheless, we were faced with the reality that preparing for Christmas must go on. Shopping for presents for our boys was pure torture. Walking past all the beautiful party dresses Margareta would have loved to wear, and seeing all the toys she would have wanted made me constantly have to fight back the tears amid the thick crowd of holiday shoppers.

We were faced with a new quandary: we couldn’t buy her gifts anymore; she wasn’t there to give them to. In the weeks before Christmas, one of our boys wondered aloud whether Santa knew if Margareta had died. I told him yes, Santa knows she died. It was quickly followed by the question, “Will he still bring her presents?” I didn’t know what to say, so I said as much. “I don’t know, but I’m sure Santa will know what to do.”

The truth was I didn’t know. This was all new territory and incredibly painful. My husband and I discussed whether we should participate in one of those programs where you can fulfill the wish list of a child in need, but it was all so overwhelming, we didn’t do it that year. Instead, we followed a suggestion I had read for people grieving during the holidays. I asked that we all write a note to her and put them into her stocking. Ultimately deciding that Santa would not leave her stocking empty, I purchased a wind chime I thought she would have liked. That was her only present.

Christmas morning came and the boys rushed to find the presents Santa had left them. They were lost in the magic of excitement while we stood by with smiles painted on our faces. We did find comfort in their joy, but it was hard to watch. After some hours had passed, we drove to the cemetery to hang up Margareta’s wind chime on a tree near her grave. Let me tell you…there is nothing quite as sobering and heartbreaking as having to visit your four-year-old daughter’s grave on Christmas day to deliver her present.

In the five years since her death, Christmas and the holiday season has become significantly easier. After years of difficult grief work, we have once again discovered the joy the season brings. We see it in the faces of our children. We look forward to sharing the excitement of our youngest child – born a year after Margareta’s death. We can truly celebrate the season once again.

Of course that doesn’t mean the pain is gone…just softened. As I wander through the stores during the holidays now, I face a new kind of pain. Instead of seeing what I know she would have wanted, I’m faced with the reality that I don’t know what she would have wanted. I don’t know what my daughter would have liked at nine-years-old. It is a hard reminder that we didn’t just lose our daughter – we lost our future with her in it.

So, if you find yourself dreading the impending holidays, know that you are not alone, and there are plenty of people that understand how you feel. Also know that as time goes on, it will get easier to handle, and one day you may come to find joy in the season again.

Wishing you peace.

To the Boy Who Has My Daughter’s Heart

Alive-in-Memory-To-the-Boy-Who-Has-My-Daughters-Heart-smallThe day after my four-year-old daughter Margareta’s death in 2009, we received a call asking if we would be willing to donate her heart valves and corneas. Being believers in the benefits of organ donation for years, we agreed. I was told that day that while the corneas would only be viable for a short amount of time, the heart valves would be frozen and kept for two years in hopes they would help give another child a second chance at life. During the call, I asked to be notified if and when any were used.

Over the next few years, we received occasional grief support letters and cards from the transplant organization, but we never received any word that Margareta’s heart valves had been transplanted into someone else. As the end of the two year time frame neared, I decided to email the organization to get confirmation that there was no longer any chance her heart valves would be used so that I could stop wondering about it. This was a week or so before Thanksgiving 2011.

The day before Thanksgiving, I received a call from Maggie, who was in charge of donor relations. She told me she had received the email and it took her some time to look up Margareta’s files. She apologized, saying that it was not noted in our file that we had requested notification of transplants. What she said next took my breath away. One of Margareta’s heart valves had been sent to New Mexico, but had not been a perfect fit and sent back. After that, one of her valves had been sent to California (the state we live in) and had been transplanted into a five-month-old baby boy. We have no other details, and were told that it is entirely up to the recipient’s family to initiate any contact between them and our family. I immediately started crying.

I don’t know who this boy is or if we’ll ever meet him. All I know is that a piece of Margareta’s heart has helped give him a chance to live the full life that she didn’t get. While I’m quite certain that this boy and his family are thankful every day for this gift of a second chance at life, on this Thanksgiving I want to tell him a little bit about the girl who literally gave a piece of her heart to him.

Hello,

We don’t know each other, but our lives are now forever intertwined. When you were five months old, you received one of our daughter’s heart valves in a procedure that I can only imagine gave you a renewed chance at a long life. The heart valve belonged to our daughter, Margareta, who died shortly after her fourth birthday. While we miss her terribly and always will, we are able to find some solace that she was able to grant you the gift of a healthier, longer life. There are a few things you should know about Margareta, and my hope is that they will inspire you in some way.

In her four short years, Margareta lived life to the fullest. While she loved dressing up and embracing her inner princess and diva, she wasn’t afraid to play rough, get dirty and scrape her knees if it meant having a good time. She was game for just about any adventure and wasn’t afraid to try new things. While she never had the chance to grow up and follow her dreams, I hope you will always follow yours. I want you to know that whatever life throws your way, you will always have all the strength and courage you need to follow your heart and reach for your dreams…even if you get a few scraped knees on the way.

Margareta also danced to her own beat. She wasn’t one to conform to what she was “supposed to be” based on society’s rules, and used her creativity and talents to explore life from new perspectives and we encouraged her to do so. She was quiet and observant when she wanted to learn, and she was loud and outspoken when she wanted to lead. She seemed to understand life is a continual balance of opposing forces and seemed to have had the wisdom of someone who had learned the lessons of a lifetime. I hope that you keep your heart and mind open to all of life’s possibilities and ideas. The love of learning and ability to look at problems from a new perspective can only improve your experience.

There are many more things I could tell you about Margareta, and I’ll always be happy to tell more stories or answer any questions you may have. I would love to think that in some way she helps inspire you to fully embrace this gift and the life you have and to live without regret. My hope for you is that you live a life filled with gratitude, compassion, kindness, and happiness. I wish you the wisdom to recognize that relationships with those you love matter more than anything else, and that you always take advantage of the opportunities to let them know how much you care.

I encourage you to always listen to your heart, and know that a vibrant, beautiful soul once shared a part of it.

Wishing you a long, healthy life,
Maria (Margareta’s mother)

How Can I be Thankful?

“How can I possibly be thankful for anything anymore?” That’s what constantly raced through my head in the days before the first Thanksgiving after the death of my four-year-old daughter, Margareta, in September 2009. My husband and I had managed to skip Halloween completely that year, but the anticipation of the first big family holiday in the aftermath of Margareta’s death was overwhelming.

I discussed the anxiety with my grief counselor. What should I do? Should I accept my brother and sister-in-law’s invitation to Thanksgiving dinner? What if I burst into tears at the Thanksgiving table? Worse yet, what if I developed a full-blown panic attack? And there was no way I was going to participate in the tradition of going around the table saying what we were thankful for. NOTHING! There was nothing I was thankful for. In fact I was the absolute opposite of thankful. My daughter was dead…never coming back.

My counselor gave me helpful suggestions. She advised that I talk to my brother and sister-in-law and let them know that I preferred a small gathering over a big one. She said I should request that we not say what we were thankful for that year. She also suggested I sit in a chair closest to a door where I could quietly excuse myself and leave if I started to panic or cry. The advice alleviated some of my anxiety.

The first Thanksgiving went rather uneventfully. I managed to get through it unscathed. In the five years since, our family has often opted for non-traditional Thanksgiving venues. We’ve taken our other children skiing or to amusement parks. In those cases, Thanksgiving dinner was eaten unceremoniously at restaurants. Other times, we’ve participated in smaller traditional Thanksgiving dinners with relatives. We still don’t say what we’re thankful for. This year we’re going to have a quiet, smaller dinner at home.

I’m much better at dealing with holidays these days, but it is still a painful reminder that for the rest of my life, my daughter will remain missing from all our family events. While I am able to recognize many things to be thankful for in my life again, I will never be thankful that my daughter is dead. Ever.

I think the holidays get easier to handle as the years go on. The gaping wound has closed in the last five years, but the scar of a broken heart will last forever. Intense pain has been replaced by a quiet longing for my daughter. Rather than focusing on the devastating pain of her death, I’ll keep trying to learn to focus the joy her short life brought us – and for that, I am truly thankful.

Juggling Grief

Alive-in-Memory-Juggling-Grief-smallEver since I had my first child 15 years ago, my life is pretty crowded. As a busy, working mom, I often jump from one activity to the next until I collapse in exhaustion onto the couch in the evening. Part of this pattern stems from a life-long belief that I’m happiest when I’m helping others. I realize now that to help others in a meaningful way, I have to take care of myself first. Overwhelming grief taught me that.

Five years after my daughter’s death, I find myself juggling time for grief with all my other daily responsibilities. I manage to find time to write about it; I try to go to support groups and grief counseling when I can fit it in; and I visit the cemetery every couple of months when I’m having a particularly hard time. That’s not to say I don’t think about my daughter, Margareta, many times throughout the day – every day. But these days, I have reached a place in my journey where grief doesn’t suffocate and affect every minute of my day. It wasn’t always this way.

In the months after Margareta died, grief was everywhere. You know the phrase about looking at life through rose-colored glasses? I looked at life through grief-colored glasses. Not by choice, mind you. Regular things and activities became overwhelming and sources of intense pain through these glasses. Everything I did – every thought I had – was focused on how I would survive a pain that was so powerful, words can’t describe it.

The pain felt like being stuck in a pit of quicksand. I felt as if I were slowly being pulled under, and it took tremendous thought and effort to do basic things like feed my surviving children and get them to school and back. From what I understand about quicksand, the more you move your body and struggle to get out, the faster you sink. So, in hindsight, the debilitating physical and mental exhaustion brought on being caught in a quicksand of grief may have actually been helpful and had a purpose.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to put my own needs first. It forced me to drastically slow down my normally hectic life. It forced me to pay attention to my body; my health. It forced me to focus on me: my survival, my healing and personal growth so that I could then help and support my children in the way they were used to; the way they needed me to.

Learning how to better care of myself has been a slow and difficult process. Unlearning decades of bad habits and negative thoughts is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication and effort. It requires being willing to unearth the buried pain of the past and thinking about it in a new way. It means having enough humility to admit I’ve been wrong in how I approach and deal with difficult situations. It takes courage to learn how to be more open and honest with myself and those I love. It is admitting that I have more to learn, and always will.

After years of hard work, I have come back to a place where my life is hectic once again. I think that comes with job of raising kids that range in age from four to fifteen. But this time, I’m better equipped to deal with it. I’m better able to balance my needs with theirs. I have a new perspective of what’s important to me, and what benefits my family the most. I’m not afraid to speak up and voice my concerns both at home and work. And it has made a world of difference.

I know now that grief will be my lifelong companion, but it no longer has to rule my life in a negative way. In fact, I have learned how to harness grief into a force for positive change in my life. It makes perfect sense to me since the grief is just an expression of deep, profound love for my daughter.

Looking for the Silver Lining

Alive-in-Memory-Looking-for-the-Silver-Lining-smallRecently, several people have made me think about what it really means when we talk about the “silver lining” in relation to the death of a child – or any close loved one for that matter. After such a death, people often find themselves in the depths of despair and suffocated by overwhelming pain. In desperation, they may reach out to find support from others who’ve already been through it or spend countless hours reading articles and stories that show them there is hope; there is a way out of the worst pain imaginable. But where and how they should start their journey towards healing can become a source of confusion.

At a support group meeting last week, during a conversation about our inherent need to assign meaning to a meaningless event – in this case, an accidental death – a mother who lost her teenage son when he was struck by a car stated that there cannot be any purpose to the loss of a child. Being religious most of her life, she had lost all faith; repulsed by the idea that there could be a God who would willingly take the life of a child for some “grand design”.

After losing her son when she was five months pregnant, another woman read a recent article that I wrote and commented, “I am struggling to find the positive in my son’s death and to grow from this experience, but it is still so raw and I’m not sure how to start… I hope that one day I’ll have peace.” I think the confusion lies in where we should be looking for purpose and how we define the “positive side” of losing a loved one – especially a child.

I would argue that it is a mistake to look for a “positive side” of a child’s death. The death itself is completely tragic. It can rip families apart; it produces trauma, broken hearts and the worst pain imaginable. If you spend time looking for the positive in that, you’ll be disappointed. The pain of losing a child lasts forever. How is that positive? What purpose can be found in giving a child life only to have it taken away prematurely? It only serves to underscore the inherent unfairness and randomness of life.

Instead, you can focus your efforts on looking for the positive “silver lining” of what that intense, lasting pain can teach those who are left behind. You can learn that you are stronger than you ever thought possible. The pain may teach you to focus your energy into cultivating what you’ve discovered matters most to you now instead of following society’s preconceived – and often detrimental – ideas of how to achieve success and happiness. You can find purpose and meaning in how you chose to live your life and best utilize your talents while you remain in the permanent shadow of that dark cloud that is your child’s death.

Another way to look at it is to contemplate what a “silver lining” really is. The image that always comes to mind is a dark storm cloud that is seemingly outlined by a bright, shining light. This visual image has been translated to mean that for every bad situation – or dark cloud – there is something positive that can come of it, such as the calm and light after a storm.

But what actually causes the silver lining on a dark cloud? The “lining” is not the cloud itself, but the source of light behind the cloud. A child’s death is the darkest cloud that is so filled with pain and suffering, it initially blocks our view of anything positive or hopeful in our lives. But over time, we may be able to step back into another perspective and catch a glimpse of the source of light we once basked in. The cloud will never go away, but when we are able to remember that there is light – in other words, love – that came first and will always be there, the pain of the cloud does not seem so overwhelming. The cloud of death can give us a deeper appreciation of the light of life.

So if you feel stuck or lost, the goal of healing is to not get rid of the dark cloud (your child or loved one died, and nothing can change ever that), but instead to learn to recognize that there will always be light and love that you can find once again as you work through the pain of loss.

 

Follow Alive in Memory

Dedication

This website was inspired by the memory of Margareta Sol Kubitz in hopes of helping others work through the pain of grief.