Joy in Grief – Mom’s birthday. 

This day arrives as it usually does for myself and I believe most of my siblings, quietly with grief and memories of a time when we had celebration. While it was and is in subtle ways a joyous date, there is great sorrow. Today is my Mother’s birthday. And she is not here. No phone calls to be made. No cards to write. No meals served with love or visits to be had. Not even Grandparents to call on their daughter’s birthday. It is sad, this day. It is lonely. It is also full of memories of when it was bursting with life. This contradiction we live in. It could tear one apart. 
I don’t feel overwhelmed by this date. Once, I believe I did. Now it arrives with a quiet awareness of what is and what was. I am painfully familiar with this Place, where the deep bottomless well of grief resides. Most of the external world cannot see it. I rarely bring these notable dates up within my day to day life. I wonder at that. How hard it still is to share. Within the context of my siblings and a few close friends it is almost always acknowledged and never forgotten. This feels good that outside of our crazy external world, there is still connection of what is real. What continues to move us.

I cannot find happiness or peace on this date. I also do not feel that I need to. For I can find joy – not in the traditional sense of ‘happiness’ but in the upwelling of emotion that has flavors of gratitude, delight and appreciation for the years we did get. For the context of this grief is to have known the other side of pure joy. I may not smile much on this date, but I can feel the love that is still present even after these years of sadness and despair. I don’t know what it looks like for everyone, but rare it is that I have seen a Mother so wholly loved as mine was and very much still is. How can this not bring tears of joy and not just sorrow? 

This pain we feel, it’s very real and soul deep. Words skip along the surface like stones on a stream, never sinking below the easily seen shallows and ending up on the other bank. Being told to only remember the good times is dismissive of our pain. I cannot say in place of my siblings, but for me, it is okay if you cannot connect with my pain, my grief, my reality. But do not ask me to separate from it. Do not ask me to smile for your sake. Not all of us can run from a lack of comfort, please do not burden me or my family with an inability to be uncomfortable with loss and grief. 

If I could- I would gladly hug each of my brothers and sister and tell them that I know the joy in the pain on this day. And that it is okay if they do too. That whatever it is they feel, it is okay. These feelings and emotions do not need to define you. Instead I am 4 time zones away and hope my words will reach them. I hope they find something in the ways I am able to be there for them. 

I have love on this day. I have grief and acute sadness. I have joy and a bittersweetness of memories. I have appreciation for those who see and a lack of patience of those who cannot. I don’t know what else I could give my Mother on this day other than just being me. For that is all she ever wanted for every one of her children – to have peace, love and purpose in their lives. To find joy. And mostly, to be who we are. And to grow. 

Happy Birthday Mom.

This grief, it tears apart my heart, just as the love around you keeps it going and strong. This contradiction I live in. 

~ Joannie

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5 Years Now Without Mom

I read the ‘4 Years Gone’ write up I did a year ago basically to the day, and I am struck by how much things have changed – and how much they haven’t. I could just copy/paste most of the words again for this year. The emotions, the thoughts, the memories; very little is different in those areas, even with another year for perspective. That in itself is a little scary. Makes me want to rage at those who quote that insufferable phrase ‘Time Heals All Wounds’. Dumb fuck who wrote that was clearly in-denial or hadn’t lost very much. I rarely feel angry, except at shallow empty words thrown in my face to ‘console’ me (but only them, in reality). Then the extraordinary pissed-off redhead temper comes out in force.

As you may have guessed, I don’t feel any less grief this year then I did the last 4. I do however feel more sadness than anger (or at least I believe I do) with the world. I also find myself looking back at my experiences with people those first few years, and having much more anger now than I did then, at the level of shit I went through. All it takes is a misguided statement made by a family member or friend and I feel the slow burn of angry pain that they still don’t get it. Maybe my increased sadness is that they and most of the world never will and its unfair of me to want them to be able to grasp the faintest idea of it.

Last year I attended a Tracker class with the 3 women who many know as my ‘Element Sisters’. Though I was around people and not trying to shove everything down, I also didn’t share much – and what I did share was mostly through the girls. Tracy, Linda and Afsoon’s support that year was the beginning of me not trying to hide 24/7. This year, the Healing School I have been apart of ran the 3rd class during the corresponding weekend (the dates are set when we sign up). So not only was I in another class, but this time it was even more hands-on with the emotions of life. Instead of fading into the background and only letting people know the significance of the dates via my Sisters, this year I had to do it myself and beforehand. Instead of standing on the edge of the 130+ group of classmates – many whom I didn’t know – I was in the middle of a very close knit group of 13 that I have worked with before. Not only did I not sit in silence all day, I shared my experience with classmates and friends, many of whom are quickly becoming true family.

I keenly feel the lack of contact from most people in my life, particularly this day. Lorien, best friend, person that Facebook says I am ‘In a relationship with’ and many people do believe that (which is totally okay by us) and the first person who ever sat with me in the long silences always makes contact this day. Even if its just through text. This year I had more people than I honestly know what to do with make contact with me. Interestingly most were not actual family members – or even old friends. I also shared my experience with feeling for the first time since the first weeks of 2009. In class, while words can be important and are often used to jumpstart an event, its the feeling, the emotion that we are most concerned about. I was the ‘group project’ to experience past events – all 12 classmates and the 3 instructors at the same time. Those of you who really know me, will realize that it is close to the last thing I would ever want to do, share ‘feelings’ while actually in contact with a shit-ton of people in person! But I did. Many may think that the ‘talking’ part is hard. Its not really, I’ve had to tell that fucking story over and over again. For family, for friends, for police, for doctors, and lawyers, therapists and teachers. I’m so not in touch with my emotions when I talk about the days leading up and shortly after Mom was killed, that I learned to ‘fake’ some reaction so as to not upset family or alarm the doctors for the first few years. In the past I’ve been accused of not caring, being a cold heartless bitch and having ‘something really really wrong with me’ because I can’t talk and feel at the same time very well. Clearly the world isn’t as ‘aware’ as they think they are about things like PTSD. The worst part was never how I felt talking about it, but how the other people felt. The shock, the disbelief, the looking for the silver lining, the inability to grasp, and of course; the wondering of how I ‘didn’t know’, which eventually leads to questioning of my intelligence, the darkness I must have to attract such people. The ways in which I am broken that I could be a part of such evil – even as a bystander. My grief, anger and pain I sit with everyday. Its the rest of the world and their judgements, their dismissal and lack of awareness that is so fucking impossible to be with.

By year 2 I had stopped calling people. Asking for people to sit with me (Lorien never had to be asked, but then I moved away) or be supportive. Some friends would take it upon themselves to be around in any way they could. Something I am very grateful for and applaud for dealing with my despair. It was a strange feeling to be the one who explained to the new people in my life (Shaun, classmates, etc) what the days leading up to the 4th meant to me. It was even more surreal when even after I explained that there is only ‘dark and twisty’ on that day that I found myself accepting them in my experience of it. – I will write up another post going into more detail for those interested.

I wish there was a positive spin I could put on things from the kids and Dad. But I am not really privy to their experience with this anymore. I texted the ones who have cell phones, reaching out in between the madness of driving through snow, DC traffic and flying to Alaska. To the younger kids it is probably more of ‘another day’ in the time span of not fun days that makeup this time of year. I can’t really say how they are doing other than just getting by. I like to think I have moved from the space of surviving to living, but some days I am not as convinced. Or maybe it is more of perspective, that in my own way I do live; in the moments possible, and when not, I survive.

I do know that the various places the boys and younger kids are, Mom still smiles. I watch my brothers as they mature, and even with their anger and pain and their struggles, at their core they are amazing young men. Every single one of my 8 siblings is unique, with their own talents. I hope for each one that one day they live, fully and lovingly, their own lives.

I see my Mother in every red sunrise and sunset. I spy a cardinal on a branch and think of her. A waterfall. The Mountains. Roadtrips. All these things she loved. All these things she inspired us children to love. Thinking back to one of the many gifts she bestowed upon her loved ones, I don’t think love was the biggest one. Or even hope. But maybe was inspiration. I have countless (literally, I forget the them often) stories of the people out there who were inspired to do and be more in life from knowing Mom.

Even in death my Mother somehow inspires people to live more fully. To laugh more often. To love more fully. To nurture and care for the lost children. Below: Early 90’s in Alaska, with (I believe) a baby Jeremy. She didn’t let things like having 3 young children, 9 dogs and winter keep her tied down. She had fun anywhere she was.

Mom in Alaska with a baby brother

Mom in Alaska with a baby brother

In one breath I can go back to my last day with Mom. The brightest most beautiful light. The hope. The love. The laughter. 5 years ago in the space of a moment. And in the same space, the 5 years is also an eternity of hell. Of pain. Of a deep black hole of grief that never goes away. A breath of love and an eternity of hell in just one moment. I walk in both worlds, as they are both true. It almost feels as though it should be strange, that just a breath of love can inspire someone to live through hell for eternity. But then that is the type of love my Mother inspired. Not strange at all. Beautiful.

~ J

Mom’s Birthday

November 12th is Mom’s birthday. I often find myself in the odd place of wanting to make sure the world knows of this day, when someone larger than life was born. But the rest of me wants to hide in my bed alone to try to forget how I’ll never write her a card that I drew, surprise her with a gift that she never expected or share a Bailey’s coffee to toast the day. It’s the epitome of bittersweet.

I often think of the many birthdays we did have with her. The way Jesse would cook her breakfast (he grew up watching Jeremy & I making her Birthday breakfast as a baby). The way the little kids would argue who got to take her coffee up to the bedroom (it was an unspoken rule that the Birthday Mom not get up till she wanted to) and sing her happy birthday and asking as they did every year ‘how old are you??? Wow that’s old!’ Sometimes she would have breakfast in bed, other times it would be in the kitchen or in the library with a fire going. She would almost always insist upon spending time with ALL of her kids, even if they were too young to understand the desert was not about them… It’s in those little ways that I often think of how different she was from most other mother’s I’ve known. Even the times when Dad was home from work, she rarely wanted to go out with just him for her birthday, it was with everyone and home cooked meal (that one of us kids put together). Even in the busier years of rental houses, school stuff and sport stuff for the kids, we always managed to make her smile even she was upset with one of the younger kids or a selfish teenage moment.

Every year I hope that the words will be easier. The memories are little less heart wrenching and that the silence that sets in will lift. This year wasn’t any different. My birthday I never bring up and don’t like to share it with people (I did let Reuben take me to dinner though), basically I hate it and feel like I shouldn’t have any recognition. Mom’s birthday though, on said is very hard for me, I think people should know.

This year was even a bit harder because this was the first time since her death that I didn’t call my Grandmother to try and cheer her up (I don’t know that it’s possible on your dead daughter’s birthday..but there you have it).  I still haven’t really wrapped my mind around that Grammy Gail is also gone along with the others (Mom & Uncle Rick)- compounded with my having Rosie (Mom’s dog that I gave to Grammy Gail).

Every birthday, everyday and every moment is a gift with you loved ones. Don’t watch them pass by for anything.

3 Years Gone

The day is finally over. It’s a sad, sad day for everyone around. Mostly I stare blankly ahead. At this grey picture that is supposed to be our lives. I think about how life was with Mom (Renée). So full, so lively and so loved. There was never a question of if someone didn’t belong or was wanted. The days had music and color. Everything she touched was special. The kids fought over who got to go to Wal-Mart because she could turn it into a Holiday. Cleaning the kitchen could be done with more fun than some families birthday parties. Even when things were tough, chaos was full throttle and life was questioned; not once were we not happy with Mom. She healed broken animals and children alike. She taught her boys how to love. She made sure her daughters knew that their life was also their dream. The every-day things that were simple to her we have thousands of self-help books covering how to for the rest of us. Childhood friends from less than ideal homes would ask if she could be their Mom too. Animals and people alike were drawn to the farm and to our family. Getting them to leave was usually the problem. I have never met anyone who lived with so much love and enthusiasm in every single day as my Mom. I’ve never heard of a mother with a bigger heart and the skills to back it up. I’ve never met someone who could turn literally anything mundane into fun. I’ve yet to meet a person who sings along with silly songs with her kids and debates philosophy with a keen mind and fresh perspectives. Everything Mom did was nothing short of amazing. It’s easy to think that once someone is gone that talking up their deeds and personality is natural and everything should be taken in account as such. But the truth that everyone who knew her agrees on is that we can’t do her justice. Our reminiscing while seemingly outlandish falls sadly short. As a child your often asked who was your biggest hero, your influence, had the biggest impact on your life ect. Mine has always been Mom. She was the force that moved mountains, saved lives, inspired minds and brought a new meaning to life, love and possibility. Everyday was lived to fullest.

Mom on a friend’s trampoline in the early years in TN.

Nothing was impossible to Mom. She learned whatever she decided she needed to know or was interested in. In the year before she was taken, Mom was in a Irish dance class – because it was fun. Starting a youth wrestling club at the kid’s school because no body else would. Getting her certification in Equine assisted psychotherapy to help behavioral problem children was a goal. As if the challenges of 9 kids, 30 horses on a farm, running a rental house business and homeschooling weren’t enough. Yet no one felt that Mom wasn’t around, involved or too busy for us.

Mom & muledeer    Mom & Mule Deer in CO. Early 90’s

Baby & beer in tow O.C Maryland with Jeremy (brother 3). She never tired of playing with us as children and exploring. We got to go everywhere with her. One year a couple of the kids and her really wanted to see Roswell New Mexico. So she took the 7 yr old (Jason) out of school a week early before Christmas break, packed the 6 youngest kids, myself and a friend of mine into the van and we drove. Dad and the two older boys stayed home with the farm and Wrestling tournaments. All her friends couldn’t believe she was traveling with 6 kids and 2 teenagers across the united states just for a road trip. We went to New Orleans early the next year before it got hit by Katrina too. She loved being a Mom. She loved life. She showed us what possibility really was and just how full everyday could be.

Mom & baby Jeremy Mom & Jeremy Ocean City, MD.

Words do not encompass my Family’s and I loss. The words we use to describe the emotions are flat and lifeless compared to the feelings themselves. 3 years of confusion and colorless life filled with challenges and one question that we will never have the answer to. Why he did it. I know for myself to think of the ‘rest of my life’ now is just too much. Too much sadness and pain. So years after I still have to think in the shorter timelines so as to not despair. 3 years gone. 3 years and it’s still too painful for the right words. 3 years since we heard her sing. 3 years of just trying to get by.

I wish I had some great wisdom to share with the kids and those who lost her. But I’m human. All I have is the same confusion, another shade of grey and another type of hell.

What time doesn’t change

Time doesn’t change the depth of pain. Time doesn’t change the harsh silence of the despair over losing her. Time doesn’t even begin to alter the wordless feeling at how she died. The only thing time has changed is my ability to hide the pain further away from unknowing eyes. Time has taught me that there is truly very little that we cannot live without – no matter the pain or suffering. There is nothing about thriving, but live we do. I’ve also learned that time actually has no impact on my actual feelings, just others it seems. Hurtful words like ‘you need to move on, ‘let go’ and ‘live your dream’ make it blazingly clear that very few people have the capacity to believe this kind of pain is even possible..let lone understand it. Frankly I have no need for people to understand something they cannot possibly ever come close to without experiencing it. I just wish for some to curb in their stupid tongues or simply for acceptance that this is the way things are in my life; that nothing will ever change it, make it better, less senseless and not completely shattering all life’s’ dreams. There are no ‘great’ lessons to be had. Unless of course it’s how fucking cruel people are and how unbelievably messed up this world is. Don’t get me wrong, many things I’ve learned from this. But one of best statements I’ve ever heard is – just because someone can survive something, does this mean they should have to? Do you really want a loved one to be that strong? I’ve yet to hear a yes. I would give up everything to still have her with us. I know that my whole family would.

The concept seems to be incredibly hard or mayhap even impossible for many to understand that MY life ended that night. The life of this person who just keeps marching no matter what happens started. My dreams were shattered into dust. There is nothing to fix, nothing to pickup, nothing to save. It’s just gone. Not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror and go ‘who is that??? Oh right.. that is me…’ I suspect my brothers feel the same. I have to find something that looks like a life I could not shake my head at when all is said and done. A life that shows the kids that they can have something if they try, though it sure as hell isn’t what any of us wanted.

I wish I could say that ‘everyone is okay’ and that time has helped. But I cannot attest to either of those things. I wish I could sleep at night. But I can’t. I wish the world made an inkling of sense. But it doesn’t. Tomorrow it will have been three years. Time hasn’t helped. I wish I could help my brothers, comfort the kids, but I cannot even do that. I sit here wondering how I’ll get through tomorrow, life just seems too long. But it always goes on. Particularly when time changes nothing.