One year ago today was the worst day of my life. It was the day that I experienced the absolute greatest, most profound pain I will ever experience as I was told that my sister had died. This year has been one of sheer, blinding agony. From one moment to the next, one morning to the next, I've been burned alive from the inside out.
Could it be true, the idea that life is suffering? There was a time when I would have rejected that idea outright. Now, I’m not so sure. Now, I’m thinking maybe there is something to that idea.
When I go out into the world, I see it all around me. Many people, most in fact, seem to be uncomfortable unless they have a coffee cup in their hand; a travel mug, the latest electronic device or three, a smoke, a snack, a something, an anything. I am fascinated by the physical motion involved; the reaching out, the pulling toward, the taking in; the consuming, the comfort it brings, or seems to. Yet the reaching continues.
We were all born with it, of course. Whatever it was, we touched it, we brought it to our tiny lips and it taught us about the world. As we grew we perpetuated the motion and as adults we continue, though now tending toward coping, blocking out, avoiding, hiding from, feeling powerless to change and/or being afraid to fully live in this world without a Binky.
I recently read a letter written to Dear Abby by a young woman who at age 19 still sleeps with her baby blanket as the result of trauma and fear of the dark. She’s worried her dorm mates will tease her as she was teased for it in high school. I felt sorry for her believing she had to give it up at all, let alone at a time when really needs it… leaving home, going away, starting a new life; a grown-up life. Abby told her to make her blanket into a pillow because many people sleep with an extra pillow and that’s not odd. Extra blankets? Well, that’s just weird.
It doesn’t surprise me that teenagers want to wear their pajamas in public. It doesn’t surprise me that many of their parents have followed suit. It may be socially inappropriate but it’s comfortable in a time when so many of us seem almost desperate for comfort. In this desperation, we move through life unconscious of what actually moves us, what calls us, what truly comforts us and why we need comforting to begin with, all the while snuggling into our pajamas and reaching out again and again to bring in something more to fill the fearful, lacking spaces.
About a year and a half ago, I started paying attention to what I was eating, how much, when, and why. I began to learn what it felt like to be hungry and I learned that the feeling wasn’t going to kill me but that I had to feel it fully to understand the difference between hunger and depression, loneliness, fear, or boredom. I realized how little food it actually took to stop the hunger and how long each meal kept that feeling away before I needed to eat again. I realized the clock had nothing to do with when that would be and that lunch time could be 11:00 one day and 2:30 the next. I learned a lot about myself through that process. I also learned how to converse compassionately with the traumatized, afraid of the dark part of me who had come to believe potato chips would save her even when there was no trauma at hand and it wasn’t dark.
I apologized to her for all the times I’d yelled at her to shut up or given into her demanding tantrums only to resent her for it. No wonder she was traumatized. I think she forgave me, though, and the weight started to come off. In the next couple of months I’d lovingly released over 25 pounds.
When my daughter passed away, 359 days ago, hunger vanished from my awareness completely even as loved ones began walking through my door with dish after dish of warm stuff or frozen stuff to warm later. It looked wonderful, smelled wonderful, and I couldn’t eat any of it. Hunger had been consumed by the emptiness that had also consumed all the light in my life, my nightly dreams, my ability to move, all motivation to live, the physical presence of my precious Dannica. My traumatized, dark fearing, inner dear one was thoroughly insulted at the idea that a warm dish of something could even begin to comfort by trying to fill a space so abysmal.
I began observing the world around me filled with other empty people, the grieving, mourning, blindly hungry, mindless comfort-clutchers. Initially, I felt sorry for them and wondered if they’d ever see what they were doing the way I could see it. I wondered if they’d ever figure it out. Then I came to realize just how much I am like everyone else. I have my giant purple suitcase which allows me to bring all my clothes and all my pillows and all my slippers with me anywhere I choose to bring them. I have my travel tea mug, my travel coffee mug, two travel cups with straws for iced things. I’ve got my electronic devices, various bags and pouches and pockets for special pens and journals, snacks. I wear pajamas out whenever I can get away with it. I have a black flowing set that people often mistake as me getting “all dressed up.” That works well. I even wear a purple blankie around my neck sometimes. I call it a scarf. All I have to do is touch it to feel comfort. I also wear a chain around my neck with precious charms from a friend and the rings my daughter had on her fingers when she died. I touch them and I feel comfort. I sleep with them and when the dark refuses to consume my consciousness, they do instead, and I am comforted.
Human beings require comforting. It is in the job description. Each of us is grieving, mourning, experiencing some darkness or emptiness. Every one. So whether life is suffering, I suppose, ultimately depends upon how good one becomes at finding comfort that doesn’t clog the arteries or cloud the mind. I’m learning to meditate between bags of Goldfish crackers and cream of tomato soup. I started with yoga. It was terrifying. I quit more than once. When the others were resting seemingly peacefully in Shavasana, I was fighting back tears and starting to shake as the image of my dying daughter’s left hand falling over the edge of a stretcher consumed me. Meditation is slowly teaching me to compassionately direct my mind in other directions when it’s necessary and appropriate.
By carving out the time and the space necessary to sit with myself, staring this endlessness in the eye I’m beginning to realize that despite the fear I feel about doing it, it’s a necessary part of healing my own heart and I’m going sit here in my pajamas, wrapped in my blankie if I want to. My Dannica would be 19 now. She had plans to go to college, too. Were “Still Scared in Delaware” my 19-year-old daughter, I’d tell her she doesn’t need to leave her blanket behind; not for a few nights, not for any nights at all, not as long as she lives and finds comfort in the presence of her blanket.
Blankets don’t clog your arteries, they don’t cloud your mind, they don’t make you fat, they don’t make you sick, there are no side effects. Being addicted to time with your blanket beats addiction to drugs or alcohol or another person. Should there come a time when you feel ready to begin setting the blanket aside, a time when you learn efficient and effective ways to find comfort from the center of your soul there will be no withdrawal symptoms. Should you decide to pick it up again, there is no shame in falling off the blanket wagon. Think of it more as climbing onto the blanket wagon. You’re certainly not alone there and it’s quite a comforting place to be.
Countless times in the past two months I have settled in to write again only to become afflicted with a condition known in my home as “yo-yo-butt.” I’ll write a few words then jump up to make coffee or tea or grab a bite of something. Sometimes, I’ll check the mail or take the dog out. Once in a while I’m sucked into the often substantial, gravitational pull of the couch after deciding my mind will feel much better about this when I wake up. It’s taken me this time to realize it isn’t my mind making the decisions, it is this heart, and this heart still just wants to curl up in a ball some days; most days, in fact. Today is no different but I am resisting the urge with full reverse thrusters.
The events I wrote about in my last post were a big deal to me. My trip and the journeying that happened within it was a big deal. Physically, I picked up and flew out of my reality and landed in a different one but it didn’t take very long for the one I live in to catch up. At that point, my heart broke open releasing waves of grief, hollowing me out completely once again. Once that pressure is relieved, there is space; to sit quietly, to reflect, to seek comfort, to find peace, and to question everything. (I am now resisting the urge to make coffee. Reading the word coffee made me want some but I am staying put…increasing thrusters)
The questions generally consist of, “Who am I *really*?” and “Why the hell am I *really* here?” Once in a while I will have what I feel to be a genuinely, divinely guided day where everything is a message that I actually understand and so much makes sense, even senseless things. But then the next day I’m asking those same questions again. I have this short-term memory when it comes to miracles, I guess. Whatever angelic company I keep must just shake their haloed heads and roll their holy eyes at this one because it’s never enough. I always want one more, you know, just to be sure.
I find that most things I do, now require recovery time and the past two months have consisted of a lot of recovery time. I’ve had the beautiful opportunity to spend a lot of time with my step-son, Peter. I got to hug the stuffin’ out of him as well as my other step son, Jordan. We had the opportunity to talk and to cry and to laugh. It was a bittersweet “so long for now” sending the two of them off again. They’re amazing young men, striking out into the world, making their way as they should be. I feel richly blessed and so happy to be a part of their lives but it has been an adjustment, again settling into the emptier nest.
Also since last posting, I have experienced loss and fresh grief again, twice. Tiny beings, dear pets, my son Braeden & Dannica’s pets. Each of these little passings was the loss of another living connection to our Dannica. I’ve also done a lot of things in these two months. I’ve met new people, made new friends, become acquainted with new clients, begun leading a meditation group once a week, said yes more often than not to all manner of invitation and event and I’ve wanted to say yes to more than I have. I believe this is the equivalent for me of yo-yo-butt on a lifestyle level.
Doing, doing, doing, wondering when I decided it was actually good advice to “keep busy.” I’m not saying doing the things I’ve been doing is bad, I’ve just come to realize how important it is not to “keep busy” to the exclusion of allowing my heart to break fully open again on a regular basis. There’s always a message there, like cracking open a cosmic fortune cookie. Why wouldn’t I want to receive that message?
This is how far I got before the word coffee just yanked me into the kitchen. (25 minutes have now passed) You may not be surprised to learn that before I got to the kitchen, I saw my shoes in the hallway so, naturally, I put them on and took the dog out to get the mail then sat back down here having completely forgotten about the coffee, yet not even realizing it had been forgotten until I re-read what I’d written about being yanked into the kitchen. Crike. Welcome to the chronic yo-yo-butt of bereavement. Why do I do this? Why do we all do this?
I have a confession to make. I was guilty of this behavior even before my daughter’s passing. In fact, I’m not sure I remember a time in my life when I wasn’t guilty of this. It has been since my daughter’s passing, however, that I’ve become more fully aware of it because it has been since my daughter’s passing that I have had to begin learning how to be genuinely alone with myself, in a comfortable way. Even now, sitting here looking this fear in the face, I am resisting the urge to put the laptop down, get up and leave this room. There is an empty space within me that seems to believe that something out there is needed to fill it and its gravitational pull is more substantial than the one around my couch.
Of course nothing on earth creates a larger empty space than the loss of a dearly loved one; for me one of my children, my sweet girl, my daughter, Dannica. Yet, despite realizing the necessity of taking this time for myself, I found the further in time I got from the previous post, the more I feared facing the next one. I began to question myself for writing at all, for sharing any of this with anyone. In fact, I received some pretty harsh criticism regarding Beyond A Shadow of Doubt, and nearly decided to hang it up completely. I was called “despicable” for that one. It takes one more despicable than I, however, to kick someone when they’re bleeding and bearing their soul in hopes of healing. I realize there will always be critics. I also realize that despite the fact that I am generally a very private person, I have decided to move through the process of debilitating grief in a very public way so perhaps that is to be expected.
So here I sit. Hollowed out. Again. And it feels good to have wept again. To have faced the eternity of Dannica’s physical absence on earth again. To have allowed the gravity of mother earth to hold me tightly to her in affirmation of my own choice to live the best I can… here. Also important to me is letting those I love and those who love me know how I really am.
I felt quite numb as I sat on the shuttle, as I made my way through the airport, as I settled into my seat on the plane and looked out at the planet below, the planet that her feet no longer walked upon… nor, in this moment, my own.
As I stepped into the jet way in Phoenix, the first air that hit me was oppressively heavy; a hot blast that I couldn’t breathe in completely. I thought immediately of my daughter and wondered if this is how she felt all the time, unable to breathe deeply, comfortably, in this world of humans so unlike the world of angels from where she came and to which she has returned. She tried. I saw how hard she tried to breathe on earth. It broke my heart how hard she tried.
In the moment, I regretted this trip. I regretted the expense since I haven’t been working much, I regretted the time away from home and all that I truly find comfort in (other than all the stuff in my really big suitcase). The only thing that stopped me from the downward spiral was the numbness. It’s actually more of a layer of disengagement that tends to hold me in a place of self-observation most of the time; silent observation of the world around me and all that’s in it.
First leg of the trip behind me, the journey began, or rather, it continued. See, this extrication cloak that transports me to my personal observation deck allows me to see a bigger picture of my life, my journey. When I’m in this place, I begin to get a sense of eternity, to release my attachment to this world and the people and things in it (not forgetting my really big suitcase) and I just begin to glimpse what might be a reason for all the hell we go through here on earth. The same cloak allows me to find beauty, love, compassion, motivation, determination, a will to live my daily life without the physical presence of my daughter.
There’s a feeling of failure when a parent loses a child by any cause. I have never heard anyone actually come out and say it but I’m going to be so bold because there isn’t a thing that I’ve heard from another parent experiencing this sort of loss that hasn’t rung true for me regardless of the child’s cause of death. I cannot be unique in having this thought at least fleetingly if not suffocatingly. Successful parents raise their children to be self sufficient, responsible and caring members of society. Independent. They guide their little birds out of the nest and into one of their own. Parents who don’t do this have failed as parents. The reason doesn’t matter. Your child dies? Game over. You failed. Isn’t it interesting how easily I can say that about myself yet would never *dream* of even thinking such a thing in the presence or direction of another parent suffering the loss of a child?
For this reason among others I am grateful for the cloak I now wear and my right to wear it.
Is it possible Dannica and I had an agreement of some sort? A contract, perhaps? Something we agreed to the potential of before either of us came here to earth? What if roll playing games or video games or legends or fairy tales are a microcosm of the macrocosm? Suppose this time around, Dannica’s soul required the challenge of anxiety and depression and an early transition to finish the game and go home. Suppose my human earthly character required the challenge of failing as a parent and the loss of my baby in the prime of her life to reach my soul’s achievement for this lifetime. Suppose the next level is simply to survive the next level.
Suppose my precious son required the indescribable loss of not only a sibling but a soul twin and all they shared in addition to all they would potentially share throughout the lifetime that he is now moving through as an only child in order for his soul to reach the goal it came here to earth to reach. Suppose. Just suppose the only way it could actually happen would be to lose part of his own soul. Now suppose that he and she planned it, knowing it would be hell on earth but that we would all be strong enough to do what needed doing so we could all win the game.
Regardless, we are in the fire. We are moving through it, this kiln. We’re being melted down, mixed together, reshaped, remade, remodeled and it’s an emotionally violent process. Still, it’s a process that each and every one of us must go through as human beings…somehow.
This is the only explanation for completely senseless things that makes any sense to me, that brings any comfort… that in some way, on some level, we all had some say in the paths our lives would take and that there really are no completely senseless things.
Perhaps our souls, having seen the potentials, brought us together as families in the first place knowing the circumstances were right, like fertile fields waiting to be planted with life’s lessons, harvested and blessed and taken in to nourish allowing us to flourish spiritually.
Following the trip, I realize as fully as I can in this moment the value of having made it. I met people I needed to meet. I learned things I needed to learn and though still walking through the fire I’m beginning to feel some of the strength that comes from this part of the journey.
In hindsight, no regrets. Hindsight always brings glimpses of blessing. Never, ever a sense of being okay with the fact that this happened, that my daughter’s life was taken, never that. But glimmers of hope and of strength and greater purpose behind the scenes…glimmers of blessing in the wake of the trauma and tragedy. The fact that I can truly feel grateful for anything at all astounds me, but I am grateful.
Hindsight will happen again at the end of my own life. Perhaps I will be able to look back over the course of this lifetime I’m living and be grateful for the challenges that allowed my soul to grow beyond what my human mind conceived as possible.
It felt so strange to leave home for the first time since my Dannica’s passing. I don’t mean ‘leave home’ as in going to the store or to the coast for the day but to be getting on a plane and leaving the state. The last time I flew on a plane, she was still alive. The last time I returned home from a trip like that she had three days to live but I didn’t know it.
I cried as my husband drove me to the shuttle stop early in the morning. He asked me why I was crying and I told him I didn’t know, I just felt like crying. There were many whys, though, and I knew if I started talking about them I’d start sobbing without knowing when I’d be able to stop. So I pulled it together and saved the thoughts and feelings to explore later when I could be alone with them first.
My packing began in my mind a couple of weeks before and led me to the idea that I wanted to buy a new suitcase… a big suitcase, really big. I already had a great suitcase; it had been plenty for all I needed during fifteen years worth of trips. I liked to travel light. Somehow, this time I couldn’t manage to do that.
I flipped open the paper and whaddaya know? Luggage 50-60% off at Khol’s. The universe was telling me it agreed with me on the new, really big suitcase. I found just what I was looking for and it’s even purple. If I curled up tight, I think I could pack myself in it.
I started piling things in. My things, way too many of them, my clothes, again way too many of them. Shoes. I never pack extra shoes. My slippers. It’s going to be 111 degrees in Phoenix…so what. They’re my slippers and I’m bringing them with me. Yes, and my blow dryer even though there is one in the hotel room. My own full-sized bar of the soap I like. Full-sized bottles of hairspray and other toiletries instead of the little ones I’m not used to. I packed my pillows, both of them; my journals and my rainbow of pens, a book on tape. I even packed the clip fan from the kitchen counter. That actually came in handy. I’d pack it again.
Finally, I stood back and saw all my stuff waiting to be zipped in. I contemplated whether to put a piece of tape over the tag that reads ‘Light Weight’ so no one strains themselves lifting it and then I started to really see myself. I watched myself arrange, zip, unzip, rearrange, zip again with curiosity and fascination.
Eventually it became clear to me that in leaving home for the first time, there just wasn’t a security blanket big enough to wrap myself in; me and my new filters and my still fragile, still forming new identity. The only way I could go was to bring as much of home with me as I could.
I simply couldn’t bear the thought of possibly wanting something while away that I couldn’t have. I live day in and day out with that feeling since my Dannica passed. Feeling even a little bit more of it caused more anxiety that I realized.
“Thank you,” I said to each shuttle driver and the sky caps as I tipped each of them for helping me bear the weight of my trip, my grief, my journey. “Thank you,” I say now to my new suitcase, “and I hope I don’t need to take you on every trip I make from now on.”
…though I must wish you a belated birthday here in Blogland. You would have been 19 years old one week ago today, Father’s Day, 2013. June 16th. I had planned to write this then but, as usual, I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d be feeling or how it would manifest on the day. Your birthday without you was one of the most difficult days for me yet. As I have done every birthday since the day you were born, I began remembering, “Last year at this time… last year at this time… last year at this time….” followed by, “Nineteen years ago at this time… nineteen years ago… nineteen years.” I remember certain things about every one of your birthdays but most vividly I remember last year at this time and nineteen years ago.
I remember the excitement at those first painful contractions and I remember tucking your big brother into bed and telling him that he would have a baby sister the next day. I remember sitting in the rocking chair that now sits in the waiting room to my home office, my feet up, rocking us gently and watching the clock ticking away the time until the next contraction then the time until the next moment of relief. I remember the midnight call to your grandma asking her to come now, “It’s time.” It was raining that night, as it is as I write this, a warm summer rain. We had a bit of a drive, it seemed like an eternity of suffering, something I truly know the meaning of now. I was able to walk into the hospital and most of the way down the hall before I couldn’t walk any further and your dear dad went to get a wheelchair. Walking was easier! Like grief, no way to know how labor will feel or how it will manifest on the day.
As I begin to type this sentence the word count is 311, the address of the home we moved away from on Thanksgiving of my pregnancy with you. It’s a number that would get my attention as is the time this draft was saved, 7:11. These are numbers that you know would get my attention… Thank you, sweet baby, for the gifts of knowing that you are with me as I write this. Thank you. or as you would have said, “) …correction, as you are saying! Ahhh! As you said on your birthday! The message on the screen of your iPhone was from Dictionary.com and the word of the day was Palinode!!! This is not exactly a poem, but correct my correction with palinode! I so feel you here. I so feel us actually conversing. Do I share this with the world?? “Well, let’s just see. No rush, yeah?” Yeah.
This time last year you had just turned 18. On your birthday you were quite excited to be getting a tattoo and I was excited with you! You had decided on the image of your three pet rats. I was happy and felt honored that you let me help you find an image that spoke to your heart. I wanted to go with you, “Don’t hurt my baby!” but I relaxed and let you go with a friend. Earlier that morning, before you got up, I wandered through my garden and picked a small bouquet of flowers for you. I set it out next to the birthday plate that I painted just for you as a gift on another of your birthdays and I made the fruit tart you requested instead of a cake.
You usually didn’t have a specific request for gifts and you usually said, “Well, maybe ____ and whatever surprises you want.” The ___ was always something simple, inexpensive, easy to find. You *are* an old soul, aren’t you. So when you said you wanted a really nice camera I couldn’t wait to go all out! I got you the best I could afford and it made me so very happy to do so!
It tears my heart out every time I touch it now because the first thing I see is your image at the top of this blog, holding this camera, snapping a shot of what I thought might be your future; your version of this world. I knew it would be amazing and I felt your passion and your own excitement of being gifted a tool of expression for the things you kept within you; the things that didn’t feel quite safe to express to any other human being or in any other way. It humbles me to have it. It nearly brings me to my knees to pick it up. But I’ll do it for you, my Sweetiebee. I’ll continue to reach for this tool in hopes it will help me to see the beauty of this earth, of this life, of this time that is so short despite the way it drags here without you.
Earth is a special place. I want to capture all I can so next year I can say, “Last year at this time…” Well, when I say it, it will hurt… because this year at this time, IT HURTS!
Why do we do this? Why do we come here? Do we have a choice? Does it serve a purpose?
I like to believe that there’s a reason and I don’t know it. I like to believe we come here because this planet is unique among all planets just as we each are unique among humans. Do we have a choice? I’d like to think we do. Does it serve a purpose? I think we’d all like to hope it does.
Happy Birthday, DanniLove. Happy Birthday To You <3
I sit here in stillness, thoughts passing through the empty rooms of my mind; just being. I notice the ticking of the clock on the wall. It’s loud. That’s why I like it. Sometimes, I lie down on the couch and just listen to the clock, ticking away the seconds, minutes, hours, of my stillness. There is another clock on the desk. I don’t always hear that one because it isn’t so loud, but once in a while the clocks become entrained and join forces to tick away life on Earth in unison. Something in me joins them. I close my eyes and feel my heart, my breathing, other subtle rhythms of my human body beginning to hum along, sway a little.
After a while I rise, I put on some music, I water plants, I pick up clutter, and sweep the dirt from my floor, and it all seems okay. I sit to write a long overdue letter of thanks for a precious gift from the heart of someone in my family and it isn’t okay any more. It hurts so much. It’s a profound, deep and sinking ache, this missing my daughter, but that doesn’t mean it’s not okay or that it won’t ever be okay again. Does it?
Drying my tears, I return to the couch and the song of time. I envision myself sitting alone in the middle of a theater where we once performed the story of our lives together. The props are fading and cracked after months of cold and rain. I can’t believe it’s over so soon. I can’t believe the story of Dannica is complete. Now what? Now that the show is over, what do I do now? I feel like a fading star floating aimlessly, just waiting to burn out; Grizabella the Glamour Cat, waiting to float up, up, up past the Jellicle moon.
New passion, new purpose, must live somewhere in me. They’re so hard to find; so hard to hold onto even when I do catch a glimpse. But until I find those things, I know that I, too, will fade and crack. Dannica was the sparkle and light… and the glitter and glam. She was the music and the laughter.
Now, She is the clouds and birds… and the sun on the water. She is every rainbow and in every beat of my heart; every tick of entrained clocks whispering to the beating of my heart that the show must go on. But the script is new and strange and I’m struggling to remember my lines. The cast has changed, they’re all wearing new masks and I don’t recognize them. They don’t recognize me. Part of me likes that just fine. It’s also frightening and lonely, sitting, waiting for the voice of the director, “Quiet on the set everyone! Quiet on the set… take two!”
I’d rather take five. I’m tired. The clocks continue to whisper, I’m beginning to hear them more often, “The story of Dannica is not complete. She lives on and will live on until you are complete; until everyone who knew and loved her is complete; until the trees nourished by her ashes are complete, until the earth itself is complete.”
Listen. Watch. Wait. Love. Know. My time will come. The clocks whisper this, too, and at that time, they will whisper to someone else.
Since I posted last, time has flown for me. In deep contrast to the glacial pace of November, the winter months and early spring, time has suddenly accelerated out of control hurtling me forward directly into something I had perceived as being so far away. In five days, I’ll look back seven months and remember my daughter saying, “I love you, too,” for the last time, leaving home for the last time. When she came back through that door it would be as ashes held close to my heavy heart in a small box. Like the head-on collision that took her life, I am now head-on with the task of opening this small box on her birthday in honor of her wishes; to be planted with trees by her loved ones. I still can’t believe she’s gone. I don’t believe she really is. I am beginning to understand the anger I have felt toward those who have told me she is dead. In my heart, she is not dead and she never will be. The sensation is in my heart when I hear someone say it, “she is dead.” It isn’t a sadness, it isn’t a despair, it isn’t grief; it is utter incredulity… “NO – SHE – ISN’T.”
Some may call this a phase of the grieving process but I choose not to believe in those either. I have experienced enough grief in my life to know that it isn’t nearly that tidy. Would that it were. Would that we could simply go down the list, bargaining, denial, anger, guilt, regret, depression, acceptance, check, check, check, done. No, it doesn’t work that way. You’re lying to yourself if you think that it does. I’m trying to do you a favor by suggesting to you that it doesn’t. I also know that when one is grieving the loss of the physical presence of a loved one in their life, the last thing they need is someone doing them any favors.
Who really knows anything for sure? Who can prove anything one way or another? No one. Not me, not anyone. So how do I know my daughter is not dead? I just know. “Prove it,” you may be saying. That’s what people tend to want. Proof.
Recently, on the sixth month anniversary of Dannica’s passing, in fact, I was called to serve on a jury. It was an interesting experience; one I’d not had before. I took my job for the day very seriously. I listened intently, I closely observed everyone involved, I took notes, I wrestled inside with the emotion of viewing everything through the filter with which I’m currently equipped, and I did my best to make a decision based on the evidence as it was presented. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? Where’s the proof? Before we were dismissed to deliberate we were asked to weigh the evidence and make our decision with “moral certitude.” In other words, to ask ourselves, “If I decide this way, will I be able to sleep at night knowing I made the right decision?”
In the end, we decided the burden of proof had not been met. We decided not guilty. And then there was that moral certitude thing. Guess whose mind circled the events of the day like a starving vulture all night long?
It was around this Jury Service time that a friend of mine told me about a television program called Long Island Medium. I looked it up On Demand and watched a few episodes. Finding it quite entertaining, I began to relax into the way the Medium conversed with those who have crossed over. I laughed and I cried along with those whose questions were answered, hearts comforted by messages from the “other side.”
I have my own questions, ones I may never know the answers to. So many questions. I have done my best to piece together the puzzle of my daughter’s death and I have arrived at conclusions that allow me to sleep at night, most nights, or at least most parts of most nights. Ultimately, having my questions answered changes nothing. My baby is not in my arms, not hanging out in her room, not at work, or with her friends… whether I know exactly what happened changes nothing. Or does it? Hearing the Medium’s messages, having some of their questions answered, was enough for some of these people to move forward more peacefully in their lives after being able to release guilt, regret, fear, some of the uncertainty.
Not long after discovering the Long Island Medium, I learned of a book by Annie Kagan; The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How my bad-boy brother proved to me there’s life after death. I purchased it on my Kindle immediately but I found myself putting off reading it. I was compelled but kept feeling like it wasn’t the right time and I did other things instead. What I didn’t realize until I actually read the book a couple of weeks later was that several things needed to happen in my own life first that would later be validated as messages from my baby girl. Reading the book after these things happened was her way of telling me she knew I was going to read it right when I was and not before. To some this will sound fluffy. So be it. In my heart it makes sense and it excites me and that is why I share it. I understand it may do nothing for you. I understand your skepticism. It doesn’t bother me.
So, I spoke with another very dear friend of mine who happens to be a judge. I told him of my experience as a juror and of my sleepless night of moral un-certitude. He told me, “Anything you are convinced of as the result of expert testimony constitutes proof.” Such a concise definition but one that wasn’t present in my brain when I needed it to be. Thankfully, I now have a new definition and understanding of what constitutes proof for me.
I asked my daughter to send me an elephant so I’d know she was okay. An ELEPHANT! In the moment I knew it was a crazy thing to ask for. How could she send me and elephant? So I asked for a bird. A bird she could probably send me. Then I questioned myself…what if she sent me an elephant and I was looking for a bird? I sat for a moment and then asked for everything… “Send me and elephant AND a bird!?” Not two days passed and what do you think showed up in my email but an inspirational message with photos of, yes, an elephant and a little yellow songbird. I am convinced. To me this constitutes proof. She is with me. She hears me. She can tell me so. And she did.
Again and again I think back to the question posed to me by many in those first dark days, “What has this done to your faith?” I remember saying that my faith was stronger than ever. That seems a contradiction in light of the fact that I’m now more agnostic than ever. None of us can ever really *know* until we are there and at that point, we are not here.
None of this is really proof of anything unless it’s proof to me. That’s all the proof I need. It’s the only proof that matters.
Hello fellow adventurers, here is an update and some info on the book portion of this project.
Over the past few months I have been studying book arts and self-publication from a man named Michael D'Alessandro who runs a small press here in Portland called Bedouin Books. From that I've learned how to set movable type and print using old-fashioned letterpress machines as well as design, stitch, and bind books by hand.
Sweet Dannica… I saw you today as I was driving by where you used to work. You were about five years old and you were riding your Little Mermaid bicycle with the knobby white tires, sparkling tassels dangling from the handlebars. Your helmet seemed so big on your sweet little head. Fragile little calves clad in flowered leggings and chunky white running shoes with purple stripes. Beautiful curls cascading out from under your helmet like Ariel’s own melodies kissed by the sun, set free on the breeze like a zillion glittering butterflies fading into the sky as I approach the next traffic light.
My little one, there you are again with two of your best girlfriends. The weather is warm today, the sun brilliant. You are older now, maybe fourteen. Your innocent laughter swirls with the ecstasy of being young, happy, beautiful, and on the way to the mall. Your friend repeatedly pounds the button on the poll to signal your turn to cross. You’ll chat with other friends, you’ll be silly and probably annoy some of the other shoppers with your easy and endless amusement as they roll their eyes and whisper “Mall Maggots,” under their breath. But you’ll have the time of your lives just being who you are and that makes me so happy.
I’m nearly home now and there you are again, love. You’re walking through the park hand in hand with a handsome young man. You are smiling, the sun lighting your hair and you are young love personified. You see forever in each other’s gaze and feel it there between your clasped palms; a microcosm of the rest of your long lives together. And then you’re gone. I blink hard… and remember the butterflies and smile sadly.
I walk toward the front door of our home remembering, trying to remember, trying not to lose anything and as I see the purple ribbon and the butterfly that tell the world of your continuing presence here, I am so grateful that I got to know you and to love you every moment of your entire life…from your first breath until your last and now beyond. In this moment I feel a sense of gratitude. In this moment I have been given the gift of glimpsing a silver lining to the horrific dark cloud of your passing. You are with me, the whole of your life is with me, within me, and always shall be.