Sunday, April 6, 2014

Though, it's been several months, for Caitlin's death date, her dad and I released balloons at her grave site. As I looked up and watched the balloons fade into the the brilliantly blue winter sky, DH snapped a family portrait. Parents at their only child's grave site. It is what it is. We must acknowledge the family we have.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What's Your "Anything"?

“I would have done anything to save her.” When parents of dead children make this declamation; they mean it. Unfortunately, the “anything” was not available. For me, my daughter’s heart didn’t develop correctly, ‘nor did her GI system, which we didn’t know until her bowel perforated and she died. With prayers flowing and medical science using up all its options and me making one-sided deals with the great beyond, I held Caitlin as she took her last breath. And when her breath escaped, I wanted to go with her.

“I would have done anything to save her.” I meant it, and I still do.

Like many bereaved parents, I’ve come to see that now my child parents my heart. I am still her mother, and I continue to strive to be the mother she deserved. Which brings me to Sandy Hook, and why I will continue to invite others to consider supporting the “anything” that may save a child’s life. The “anything” that is only an option in prevention and not an option after the last breath escapes a child’s body. Knowing that prevention is too often dismissed and unappreciated—usually because observation of the results of preventive actions is difficult—I persist.

Why? Because Caitlin deserves the kind of mother who will risk the judgment and ridicule of others for what should have been her daughter’s freedom to be in a school without fear for her life. She deserves a mother who will aim to use respectful and factual pleas, rather than hurtful name-calling. She deserves a mother that will push-back against the natural proclivity of those not directly affected to end their empathetic mourning within about 5 weeks and return to hoping it won’t happen to them.

It will happen to someone, and rather than silently hoping, I’m asking that others consider acting as if they knew it would be their children. Is that cruel to name a parent’s worst fear? Or unfair and manipulative of parents’ love for their children? I’ll risk that condemnation, because I would have done anything to save my child.

What is the “anything” you can support? One of the proposed gun violence laws? Changes to mental health guidelines? Training for teachers and health workers to identify depression and prevent bullying? Suicide prevention programs? Gun safety education? And how will you support this “anything”? Letters to lawmakers? Reach out to individuals? Report that “off comment” to a child protection agency? Practice the lock-down procedure at your school, place of work, home? Take a gun safety class? Join a community watch group? 

With so many ways to engage in something, it's tempting to throw up one's hands overwhelmed and defeated that "nothing will fix it completely." Consider the bereaved parents and community members of Sandy Hook and their response to creating safe communities. They launched the Sandy Hook Promise that highlights the bereaveds’ impassioned plea:

I promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.

Prayer, hugging our children tighter, lighting a candle, and sending condolences address the first part of the promise. I’m inviting those for whom this promise resonates to consider how they might address the second part of the promise.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Its arrogance will break your heart. Two weeks ago
we had to coax it
into taking her body.
after a light rain,
I see it hasn’t bothered
to conceal its seams. 

~Jo McDougall


I remember the anger I had at the seams in the ground where Caitlin's coffin was buried. A small rectangle of sunken earth with scars where they cut the sod to lay her in. It took a couple of seasons for the growth of grass and work of bugs to mask those scars. But sometimes, when the weather is severe, they can still be discerned.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Going Public . . . not yet Activist

Caitlin's death cracked me open. Her tragic death and my response to the event destroyed the compartmentalization of my public and private lives. The professor, family member, friend, and citizen became indiscernible to me, and I shared my early writings publicly and invited people from public and private spheres to read on a different site. Eventually, as the grief work progressed, I managed to build new distinctions of the roles I embody. I reclaimed some barriers, and I began this blog to continue the writing.

But I no longer wished to invite all to read. Since I began writing here, I experienced some anxiety and considered going private and limiting the readership to only my fellow bereaved parents. Later, I thought about shutting the blog down completely only to slink back because I needed to write. I needed a place for the continued life as a bereaved parent. And, the blog remains public . . . though I don't invite friends and family or students or acquaintances to read. I know some have found me, but that's OK.

Two events have pushed me to consider going more public in a way that may seem activist. The first is the DSM-V and it's success in making grief a mental illness. The second the NRA's insistence that arming more people--specifically teachers--would make our children safer.

The DSM-V provides guidelines for medical professionals to label and thus provide care via health care plans. This on the surface sounds good, essential, and necessary. However, APA threw out the grief provision for determining severe depression, and they made it possible for those experiencing symptoms beyond 2-weeks to be labeled mentally ill as severely depressed. TWO WEEKS! And a common approach to treating this mental illness is prescribing anti-depressants. Wow, what a market for big-pharma. How wonderful for them. They found a way to make these drugs needed by nearly every person, because everyone loses someone they love dearly at some time in their lives. And everyone experiences the "symptoms" of grief (which are normal loving responses, and to my mind should be honored and valued--yes, valued--as such) for long past two weeks. The bereaved and health care professionals know that there is no timeline for grief, each person grieves in their own way and at their own pace. However, professionals also know that virtually no-one who loves is "done" with feelings of sadness and sleeplessness at two weeks. Therefore, the DSM-V opened a door for misdiagnosis and drugs prescribed inappropriately.

Then the Newtown deaths--and my mind raced through so many emotions and topics of why, how, and what can we do. One of the nagging thoughts was who will tell these parents of 20 dead children that after two weeks they don't have to feel this way anymore? Who will tell them that their extreme sadness is pathological and they are mentally ill? How many of these bereaved parents who have just laid their children in the ground or spread their ashes in places of meaning will pick up a prescription during week three? I have no answers only fear for the health of the newly bereaved.

The attention regarding mental health centered on the poor care for the perpetrators of these gun-violence massacres. Here, I agree. We should be better at providing care for our mentally ill; we should better attend to the early warning signs. There was silence about the mental health of the bereaved. I suppose it seems unrelated, but I struggle to trust a mental health industry to offer help and guidance when they made love a pathology by dumping the bereavement exclusion.

Since Columbine, our public response has been shock, sadness, and some action. Now with Newtown and just days ago another shooting in a NY movie theater, it seems our response continues with shock, sadness, and some action. Some of the actions are words, sending cards, toys, and money, increased security measures, improved lock-down procedures, and . . . prayer, hugging our children tighter, and throwing up our hands with "there's nothing else to do but hope it doesn't happen again."

In addition to the returned discussion regarding improving the mental health system, the public eye took another critical look at gun laws. And the NRA took it's usual methodical approach 1) tell us our response was inappropriate and only prayers should be said, 2) remain silent until the public outrage subsides, and 3) make a statement to protect profits by keeping the gun market healthy through a restatement of the ideology of preventing tyranny. When the NRA broke it's silence, some gun-lovers broke theirs as well with Facebook memes to save guns and protect gun-owner rights. Their anger made me sad. Their name-calling disturbed me. And I struggled with my conclusion that many were dismissing yet another massacre to fight for guns. GUNS, NOT CHILDREN. Jesus Christ.

I believe, that the assumption that more guns makes children safer is untenable. I believe that the prevention of tyranny through more gun ownership is fictitious. I'm of the mind that there are reasonable restrictions and sensible approaches to consider and enact. I'm convinced that a pragmatic discussion, rather than an ideological one may save a few more lives.

Not yet an activist, but going public on these issues in this space have become part of the fabric of my journey mourning my daughter's death.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I don't understand . . . rather I don't agree

The senseless death of 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut this month has me reeling. Reflecting on my personal experience of a parent's worst fear realized. The physical sensation and memory of that wail that comes from a primal place---before evolution brought our reasoning to manage our emotions. I sat in silence for a long time. It hurt trying to send love to parents and family and strangers in some telepathic crazed intention. Knowing there was nothing I could really do.

Then, I waited for anger. And that didn't come, either, only this intense sadness that others still value un-regulated gun ownership over the lives of children. That somehow a child's death must be tolerated for the sake of the second amendment.

Then questions came in droves, and all answered with "I don't understand."

Why is it easier to buy a gun than it is to get mental health coverage?
Why are we not supposed to talk about gun control in the wake of dead children?
Why should teachers be demonized as greedy pension seekers, rather than those who give their lives protecting them?
How can arming more people, actually de-escalate gun violence?
Why do teachers submit to rigorous criminal background checks, and gun owners do not?
Why do we require training for operating machinery, including a variety of vehicles, and don't insist on training for gun ownership?
How does lax regulation make everyone more free?

Truth is, I do understand the "other side's" answers to these questions. I've read and considered their answers, and the bottom line for me is that I don't agree with their rationalizations.

In particular, I find it troubling that some suggest we should arm school personnel. I don't want a society that expects me to educate teachers in proper gun handling techniques. Teachers and administrators should not add a police cap and holster to the materials they need in educating children. I'm coming to see the NRA as similar to big pharma. They exploit these events to suggest a need for a product. They are developing the market for more members, more gun owners, more more more death . . .

When I entered this profession, it didn't occur to me that I was entering law enforcement or that I was entering combat training. It feels hopeless, what profession is safe? What profession can we focus on serving others? I don't know.

Post Script

Just donated to the Brady Campaign, a group that works for sensible gun laws.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Caitlin's death date today.

No words. She's still dead. It still sucks. And yet . . . I still go on. 'Cause what else is there to do.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not About Me

It's hard to think that it's not about me. Her cancer that is. My dear and best friend's cancer. It's her's. The road, the journey, the chemo, the fear, and the hope, and yet, it's hard not to focus on what I might lose, again. Another close, soul-mate kind of friend who gets the struggles and the joys that make me me is walking a path that serendipitously intersects with my own. The times we've walked together we've shared in big and small life revelations. I suppose it's no different than how it was before, only now the wonder of where her steps may take her is laced with fear. It's about her, supporting and staying positive, making phone calls, sending a meal, a card, a text, a hug, and avoiding the "you shoulds," the "whys," the "god's plan" and the like. It's about her, but it feels like it's about me. She's decided to "choose joy," and has asked me to do the same. I'll try. Though, I feel like defeat, not joy, has chosen me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Problem with Emissions

It began with noting that Caitlin's tree has no flower buds. The tree had a growth spurt and the trunk it thick and strong, but the flower buds should be there and opening this fall and I see no buds for those flowers. It's been disconcerting.

In reflection, I avoided the cemetery this past summer. Each time I thought I should go, I couldn't make myself. I knew it meant something, but wasn't willing to look inside to find out what. Sometimes coping means avoiding. When it was right, I knew I would go.

I went. Today. I wept as I remembered the day her father and I walked towards the hospital elevator after the "It's time to come" call. I thought that if I didn't get in the elevator at the hospital she wouldn't die. And today I hoped when stopped at the red light that if I didn't see her grave, she wouldn't be dead.

I worried that the angels and frog toys I left at her stone would be gone. Anxious that new dead babies would be there. I arrived and parked. All the baby graves seemed to be swallowed by grass--only the crosses, plastic flowers, and angle statues whispered that beloved children lay in rest there. It seemed a metaphor for my summer absence. I tried to exhale, but choked on my tears.

I sat staring at her stone and absent mindedly picked the grass away blade by blade. I listened to a few of Caitlin's songs on my phone and cleaned the stone from the dirt kicked up by my grass pulling.

Hugging my knees, I sat and rocked myself to the music and closed my eyes trying to recall holding her during her life.  The sun burned through my eyelids with a frightening red glow until I relented and opened them for relief. The breeze refused to cool my hot cheeks and burning tears. And walkers strolled by just feet away seeming oblivious to the grieving mother rocking above the earth, as they ranted their day's troubles. I longed to transform from body to the fine grain of sands the ants had successfully unearthed from the thick grasses. If I were sand, I wouldn't hear thoughtless chatter, and I could sprinkle myself about the sacred rectangle.

I went to the trunk, where I keep several toy frogs and other items to leave at her grave, so that I am prepared for any visit. I attached a new frog toy that makes sounds when you squeeze it--a similar toy she loved when she was alive. That helped. I stood for a while. At last I kissed her stone, and whispered my love.

Then I got in my car and turned the key. Nothing. Then every warning light went flashing, and the car tried to start. Seemed to start. I think it started. With lights flashing I put it into gear, thinking that I was just crazed from the emotionally charged visit. I traveled just a few feet. The emergency brake light was on. But the break wasn't pulled. Every square of the gas gauge was gone, but I'd left with three squares. The lights continued to flash, and I left my foot on the gas until the car refused to move. I shifted to park and sat at the exit of the cemetery, unable to leave.

I waited until the crazy thoughts subsided, and finally called DH. "I'm at the cemetery. The car died. And I can't leave." He arrived 40 minutes later with a couple of gallons of gas. We turned the key. A clean start. The tank was half-full. One indicator light glowed faintly--"So I didn't imagine it," I thought. The light signifying a problem with emissions remained on as I drove cautiously home.

Yes, there's a problem with emissions. I suppose I need to have some work done.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grief Invited In

I wrote this yesterday for Caitlin's birthday. 

Our daughter, Caitlin Anne, would be 5 today. Absence makes Herself present again with memories of what should be--Sending off an excited 5-year-old ready for numbers, songs, and ABCs to Day 1 Kindergarten fortified with Mama's hugs and kisses, and pink backpack with juice box and Crayola box of 8. 

Today's a day of reflection, of a bereaved mother's imaginings of an alternative universe where her child lives. 

Those who love us wish to take the sorrow away, but Grief is best invited in and Absence best honored with Love's tears.

I spent the day crying, texting and talking with family, and writing an article about nursery rhymes. I experienced another of those common sad, yet comforting ironies.While looking for a particular source, I encountered another scholar who had accessed the source I was looking for. The access date was Caitlin's death date. I interpreted it as a hug from beyond, her way of letting me know she's with me in all I do.