maribeth wilder doerr

Shades of Healing ~ Creating a Wholehearted Life

Shades of Healing – Holding Space for Myself

My Mom, Marie Wilder May 14, 1928 - July 30, 2011

My Mom, Marie Wilder
May 14, 1928 – July 30, 2011

This is my mom, Marie. Last Saturday, May 14, would have been her 88th birthday. May 14 is also my birthday.  Fifty-seven years ago, I got to be someone’s birthday present. After two boys who were 11 1/2 and 7 1/2, my mom didn’t think a baby girl was in the picture. Then I came along, on her birthday, a week late, and she hadn’t spoken to her husband, my dad, in two weeks. He went on a bowling tournament out of town when she was 39 weeks pregnant. I probably wouldn’t have spoken to him either! On the morning of her 31st birthday, my dad dropped mom off at the hospital and went to work. He stopped by the hospital on his way home from work to see if anything had happened. That’s when he found out from his sister, the head OB nurse, that he had a daughter (he was still getting the silent treatment).

Two days later, he walked into my mom’s hospital room on his way home from work and asked my mother if I’d been circumcised yet. Reportedly, my aunt said, “Brother dear, you do know babies come in different styles, don’t you?” That’s when my mother took pity on him and started talking to him again, probably by first laughing her head off.  Such was my beginning into the world 😀

Because I had these two older wilder (yes that’s a pun on my maiden name) brothers, my mom was afraid I would turn out terribly spoiled. She asked my pediatrician about it and he told her, “Mrs. Wilder, she’s not spoiled; she’s just well loved.” And that was what my mother did best – she loved well. She was critical and judgmental but she loved well. It took someone who didn’t have her mother’s love to point this out to me. Life is amazing like that.  Six weeks before she died, my mother threw her arms around me and said, “you are the love of my life!”  She’d never said anything like that to me before.  Looking back, I’m sure she knew she was dying.  A lot of old hurts healed in that one spectacular moment, and I can still feel that hug and her breath on my neck as she said those words, as if it happened a second ago.

I miss her everyday, but especially every May 14. Out of the 52 years we had, we spent 50 birthdays together. My parents worked hard to make that happen! I tend to not quite know to do with myself on my birthday these days but it’s not a sad day either; it’s just very different. I’ll figure it out eventually!  In the meantime, I hold space for my own healing (see previous post on holding space – yes, we can hold space for ourselves too!).

bartoloThis year, I’d planned to visit my hospice patient who was just two weeks older than my mom.  I actually first met this woman at my mother’s funeral, and it just felt right to spend a few hours with her on my birthday.  She died five days before so I really felt lost which seems to bring out some ADHD in me.  Do you fellow grievers ever feel like grief gives you squirrel brain?  From the time I woke up on my birthday, I cried, I tried to read, I did some shopping – nothing was settling me down.  I tried quilting and my sewing machine was acting up so I wanted to google some help.  As I walked into my office, the picture to the right was sitting in front of my monitor.  It’s a picture of Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon.  I started to laugh immediately and I knew this was my birthday gift from one of my sons.  Bartolo pitched for the Oakland Athletics (my fave team) when I was terribly sick in 2012 & 13.  He’s a character, and watching him pitch when I was so sick was one of the few bright spots of that summer and fall.  He was traded to the Mets in 2014 and is still with them (BOOOOOOOOOO!).  A few weeks ago, Bartolo hit his first major league home run playing against the Padres in San Diego.  It was a hoot watching this 285+ lb 42-year-old pitcher lumbering around the bases; it’s just not something you see everyday and he may have set the record for slowest run around the bases.  We probably watched the clip 5 times!  (I know, we’re a bunch of boring baseball nerds.)  As goofy as this whole story sounds, it was a moodshifter for my birthday.  I laughed and laughed and will chuckle every time I see this picture.  My son got me a goofy gift that he knew I’d get a kick out of and I with that one simple thing, I let go of all the angst that was making my shoulders rise up over my ears.  I could breathe again.  And what do you know, when I got back to my sewing machine, it stopped acting up!

If there are any takeaways to this story, it’s healing is always available, even in the most unlikely of ways and even when we think we don’t need any more healing.  Being open to it and being willing to be surprised by it is one way of holding space for ourselves.   It’s hard to quiet down the squirrel chatter of a grieving mind to listen and hold that space, but when we can open our hearts enough to let in a little light (like laughing at a silly picture), healing happens.  It just does!

If you want to see that 285 lb, 42-year-old first major league home run by Bartolo Colon, check it out here:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVFsq9FQBlc]

 

 

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The Great Declutter Project of 2014

I have a walk out basement that is finished except for the laundry/storage room.  It’s always been a bit cluttered; you know that space that just seems to acquire anything without a permanent home.  It got really out of control when we moved my dad in along with 2/3 of my parents’ belongings.  In January, I was really appalled when I walked in and noticed that my guys had just tossed all the boxes of Christmas decorations (including the tree) on top of all the junk.   I was about to do some screaming when I realized they had done this because they couldn’t get to the closet that houses the Christmas stuff.  How they got it out in the first place is the real mystery here.  I was looking at 250 square feet of a mess that the T.V. show Hoarders would have loved–quite literally, stuff was piled on top of stuff from floor to ceiling–and that mess had begun to trickle through my entire house.

It’s taken six months but the room is FINALLY decluttered.  Can you hear the relief in my words?  There’s room to DANCE  now and my son and I have had a few dart games in there and holy shillelagh!!  With the energy change from this completed project, I couldn’t stop there . . . I’ve since gone through 97% of the house.  I feel as though I have my home back after three years of sharing it with my parents’ stuff and it feels so good!

Going through your loved ones things is a tough job.  I got stuck doing it by myself for both my mom and then my dad.  Lots of things were boxed up and stored in that laundry room because we were in a hurry after Mom died and I simply couldn’t decide what to do with most of it in that raw state of grief.  Three years later, I’m not so attached to bowls and artwork and . . . well, crap, my mother owned.  I’m still clinging to things she made like crocheted afghans and embroidered linens plus several photo albums I still need to go through but otherwise, I was able to let go of almost everything else  knowing I’m letting go of STUFF, not my mother.

Once my parents’ things were gone, it was time to go through our own junk.  I have to say, this resulted in some unexpected and surprising finds – some not so nice and others were totally delightful.  Here’s a few:

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Baby Mari

This is yours truly.  On the back of this picture, my mom had written, “Mari, dad carried this in his wallet for years, that’s why it looks so worn out. That smile is just like Eric’s.”  🙂  Eric is my oldest surviving son.  I’m guessing Mom sent this to me after he was born, that baby that took years to get and the whole family was a little gaga over him.  I love that shiny bright look in my eyes.

Eric and Chad

Eric and Chad

Another classic photo find.  These are my babies at grandma’s.  On the back, Mom had written, “Look at that monkey go!”  I have no idea what Eric may have done to Chad to get him to climb up the chair like that but it looks hilarious.  These boys are now 27 and 25 1/2!  I found so many fab photos that were just tossed into this room.  My winter project will be to sort them all out and do something with them.  No more crazy photos littering up the joint!

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Gone With the Wind

I found a very old copy of Gone With the Wind.  I remember my husband buying this for me in a used bookstore many years ago.  He wrote this note on the flyleaf, “Mari, with lots of love for being a great sport.” I have no idea what I was a great sport about! Note the date – just over 20 years ago. Curious!  When I asked him about it he said, “Do not remember ol sport.”  I think he was channeling his inner Sean Connery.

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Best Find of the Great Declutter Project 2014

This was probably the best find of all, at least in my husband’s opinion.  It looks like a corvette but it’s really a decanter!  It was holding about a pint of SEALED whiskey.  This was a gift to my husband from his mom in 1987!!  27 year old Jim Beam.  We spent about an hour on google trying to see if whiskey like this could spoil but everything we found said if the seal wasn’t broken, it was probably fine.  Greg opened it, smelled it, poured a little into a glass and examined it for yuck . . . seemed okay so he swallowed it and waited 24 hours to see if he’d be sick.  All was well so he nursed this juice for a week.  He’s still alive so this gets the best find of the Great Declutter Project of 2014!

It was a toss up for worst find between old horrible cat food in the cabinet next to the washer (the cat died in 2008!) and this gem:

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Greetings from the Hole in the Wall gang

We have four large bookcases in our living room with a zillion baskets on the tops.  The baskets were filthy so I took them all down to wash and possibly chuck some when I found this lovely hole in the wall/ceiling.  There was something wonky with the gutter right there and well, at some point the water leaked through and caused this damage.  We have no idea when it happened as this was totally dried out.  Oy vey!  Mr. Fix-it got right to it and now we need to repaint the living room (needed it anyway) but the crazy hole is gone.  He fixed this right after he fixed the dining room light I broke with overzealous cleaning:

OVERZEALOUS CLEANING GETS SLOVENLY HOUSEWIFE IN TROUBLE. Dateline Nevada, July 30, 2014 . . . . As amateur housekeeper, despite being married 28+ years, Maribeth Doerr removed the 4 light bulbs and 4 globes of her dining room chandelier (Note: chandelier is stretching the description. It’s really a hanging light with nothing chandy about it.) The fixture including chainlink hanger were dutifully cleaned to a sparkling state (Note: sparkling only in low light on a cloudy day). When she attempted to replace the globes, it became obvious that one socket had been stripped during the removal process and now hung rather low compared to the other globes/bulbs. Gregory Doerr, said husband of the amateur unhousekeeping wife, will now have to remove the entire fixture after shutting off the electricity to that room and attempt a repair. Considering it’s Hot August Nights week in Reno where Mr. Doerr is himself a fixture with his 1965 Pontiac GTO, the repair will have to wait. Mr. Doerr was overheard muttering to his German Shepherd that this is what happens when ze wife attempts to clean where no one has cleaned before.

Between the books, VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and cassettes we’ve donated to the libary plus bags of coats, jackets, and games given to Goodwill, we have empty shelves for the first time! And I LOVE that. The flow of energy around the house is so free now. The next step is the BIG CLEAN which will keep me busy for another six months but as much as I resist housework, the effort and result just feels so good – finally. My house is my own again.

If you have boxes of stuff from your loved ones and you don’t know what to do with it, my best advice is give yourself some time.  I really needed to wait before I got rid of everything; it was too heart-wrenching to do it all at once.  For me, I finally reached a point where the clutter bothered me so much, it was painful to not go through the stuff.  Once I got started and could FEEL the results (besides see the results), I was very motivated to keep going.  Doing it in spurts seemed to work for awhile so do what feels right for you.  And if you have to go it alone like I did, be really kind to yourself while you’re doing this work.  Play your favorite music and give yourself permission to cry or feel however you feel.  This isn’t easy work!

And now . . . I’m going to go dance through my empty laundry room, throw a few darts, and then tackle the disgusting spots in my dining room carpet.

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The Unmentionables . . .

Sean, Chad, & Eric

My 3 Amigos

Today is Harry Potter’s birthday!  Did you know that?  As a Potterhead, I always thought it was cool that Harry’s birthday is the same as my nephew’s.  Like Harry, Sean was full of magic and fantasy.  His heart was bigger than his head and like Harry, he had a lot of inner demons.  Today would have been Sean’s 37th birthday but unlike Harry Potter, he wasn’t the boy who lived.  He died exactly four months ago.

Sean’s cause of death is officially recorded as peritonitis from a perforated ulcer.  You’d be right to wonder how something like that could happen in 2014 in someone only 36 years old.  Sean had been an alcoholic since his teens.  He’d been hospitalized for bleeding ulcers four years before he died.  He was told then to stop drinking before it killed him.  He couldn’t – or didn’t want to, even though he knew what would happen.

I share this with you today for two reasons.  A death like this is often referred to as a high stigma loss.  There’s a lot of judgment surrounding deaths related to addiction as if the person deserved it or was somehow less than. Why didn’t he just stop? (As if it were that easy and even recovering alcoholics have said that to me.)  Why didn’t the family do something?  He must have been weak-willed.  Oh what a waste.

“Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus… one of those two doesn’t sound right.” ~ comedian Mitch Hedberg

You don’t blame someone who has Lupus but as a society, we certainly blame someone with alcoholism.  And when someone dies from alcoholism, fingers point everywhere.  (Those of you who will quickly say he could have killed someone driving need to know that Sean never drove and never had a driver’s license.)  The end result, we don’t talk about it . . . which leads me to the second reason for sharing this today . . .

People truly don’t know what to say to a bereaved person but after a high stigma loss, it’s even worse!  We all have a “big book of grief rules” where we rank losses based on some kind of inner metric that tells us how much compassion we give to someone based on where the loss ranks (and everyone’s book of rules is different and arbitrary).  For example, a 6-week miscarriage falls at the lowest rung for most folks and the murder of a 6 year old child is probably at the top.  But, you don’t know what that woman who had the 6-week miscarriage went through to achieve that pregnancy or that she may have lost 10 babies before that one and will never have another pregnancy.  We can’t know all the ripples of loss in any bereaved person’s life to fully grasp how much someone will grieve any type of loss.

So, for me to lose a nephew (as opposed to someone I birthed) to an alcohol-related death (as opposed to cancer) is probably on the low end of anybody’s compassion meter.  But this nephew wasn’t some guy I saw now and then.  This was a child who spent a lot of his growing up years with my family, who was a brother to my sons, who lived with me as an adult and cried as hard as I did when my mother died.  This was a funny, talented, magical person who understood me in a way no one else did and I’m sure he’d say the same about me.  This wasn’t just a distant relative. He was like my little brother, especially when my brothers died and then my parents.  And it matters not to me how he died because I choose to remember all those funny goofy memories we shared (and thankfully there are MANY!).  I will always be pained that I couldn’t save him (as if I had that kind of power) and having people suggest that I’m making too much of his death adds to that pain because he IS worth remembering.

Please, rethink your big book of grief rules.  Please, don’t disappear from someone who has experienced a high stigma loss (it’s really not contagious).  Ditch the platitudes . . . I heard things like, “Well this isn’t a surprise.”  Why do people say that? Is that supposed to lessen my sorrow?  Please . . . Hug a lot, listen a lot, and talk about the dead.  Remember the funny and special memories with me!

Sean was a talented writer and was beginning to get his work out into the world of fanfic.  We encouraged each other in our writing because no one else in the family did.  And now, I’ll use his legacy as my “big why” for writing.  I know he’s cheering me on because he was an awesome cheerleader.

Happy birthday Seanie!

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THEN, THEN, THEN . . .

IMG_0141In September 2013, I began yoga teacher training.  I was 54 years old and still finding my way back to health after my lengthy illness and losing 55 pounds, much of it muscle.  I didn’t have much strength left and my stamina wasn’t good but I just knew the time was right.  I spoke with the trainer and she had every confidence I could do it.  Actually, Kim had more confidence in me than I did!

In May 2014, we had our last training and I taught my group class – 10 days before my 55th birthday.  As I look back on those months of study, practice, hair-pulling moments, fears, doubts, giggles, and OMG-what-the-hell-have-Igotten-into moments, I’m kind of in awe that I finished.  LOL.  Okay, I admit it; I’m surprised that I finished.  I had lots of moments of wanting to quit.  And honestly, I’m still not totally finished.  I need to video myself teaching a class and then critique it.  I keep finding reasons not to do this last step.  Why?

I was ambivalent with the training for the first 3 months before I totally embraced it and fell in love with the process.  It was a HUGE commitment of time and energy.  At that point, I was probably walking around with my chest puffed out that I was 54 and in yoga teacher training.  Then . . . yeah, then (get ready for a lot of thens), I got sick right after Christmas along with almost everyone I know and it seemed to take forever to get my energy back.  THEN I got food poisoning and missed an entire training weekend.  THEN my back went out a month later and I couldn’t practice much.  THEN my group was assigned Bhekasana, frog pose, to create a class around.  Bhekasana is a heavy-duty backbend that I couldn’t do with messed up back!  THEN I went to Tucson for a Baby Loss Doula training and got sick (food poisoning again?).   THEN my nephew died two days after I got home from Tucson and I was grieving all over again!

Sick of the THENs yet?  Well I got sick of them.  Oh yes indeed!  Time to remember I’m a pick-myself-up-by the bootstraps kind of girl.  Through all of the THENs, I discovered that if I simply sit on my yoga mat, I was meeting myself where I was at that moment.  Sitting there for a few minutes would show me subtle nuances of change.  Maybe my back felt slightly better than the day before.  Maybe my gut was rumbling a little less than the day before.  Maybe my mind was a little less scattered than the day before . . . if I hadn’t spent those moments on my mat everyday, I would have never noticed those subtle nuances.  Sometimes I wasn’t a little better than the day before and that gave me a moment to be kind to myself.  I learned the gift of gentle yoga practice, of truly listening to my body.  I also learned how to listen to my heart . . .

The day after my nephew died,  I hit my mat for practice and found I couldn’t stand to hear a teacher’s voice.  It was too much stimulation.  I also didn’t have the bandwidth to intuitively move through sun salutations (I had zero focus except for thinking of my nephew) and that made me feel stupid and frustrated.  So I rested on my mat in vajrasana, hugged myself tightly and then practiced opening up my arms to open my heart.  It felt vulnerable and I closed my eyes which felt like a little kid who thinks when you close your eyes nobody can see you.  I asked myself, “What do I most need right here in this moment?”  It was self-love.  I was feeling guilty for ways I thought I’d failed my nephew.  So, I wrapped my arms around myself again and reminded myself that I was wrapping myself in love, not closing myself up.  I sat with that and thought about Sean.  I couldn’t unwrap again and hold my arms out again but I did feel better.

The next day, I still couldn’t intuitively move through sun saluations but I found a picture with each pose in black on a white page.  No sound, very plain visual.  That was enough stimulation.  I moved through them VERY slowly and totally focused on my breath, eyes closed.  After the first round, I felt like I was floating, a dance with grief.  When my heart rate started to climb, I stopped.  I just couldn’t stand that stimulation, so I sat back down on my mat and tried the heart open visualization again.  Same result.  Even crunching food was too much stimulation.

I continued to meet myself on my mat in this way, changing things up and trying restorative poses instead of sun salutations.  This worked so well because as my joints and muscles let go in the poses, so did my jumbled grieving thoughts.  As my muscles relaxed, so did my heart.

At the next teacher training weekend, I shared all of this with my classmates.  With their love and energy, I was able to do the practices that weekend and not feel overstimulated.  I gently resumed my home practice and then amped it up a lot to work on my group’s class we needed to teach in May.  My body embraced the practice and what do you know . . . I could do Bhekasana!

I graduated and now . . . it’s time to complete my student teaching, video it, and send it all in.  What a ride to get to this point!  All the reading, studying, practicing, classes and THENs of the last 9 months!  I miss the training weekends and the focus I had.  I need a big nudge to get my student teaching done (please give me one dear readers!).

I never planned to teach basic yoga classes when I finished because I want to create and teach yoga for grief but now . . . well, now that I have taught regular yoga, I find that I love it so why not?  I’m not designed to teach advanced yoga to 20-somethings with tiny bendy bodies.  But I have a passion to share yoga with older folks who want some gentle movement in their lives.  I’m not a stereotypical yoga teacher and I’ve found lots of folks who find me comfortable like an old stretched out pair of jeans.  😀  Yeah, that’s me.  A bit faded around the edges but still your go-to jeans.

And THEN there is that amazing realization that you’re never really too old to do something you truly want to do.  You’ll find a way – YOUR way.  Then doesn’t have to be an excuse.  It can be an embrace.

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WriteGrief for the Holidays

WriteGrief for the Holidays is over until November 2014.

In the meantime, try WriteGrief weekly prompts. Details here.

Announcing a new offering – Write Grief for the Holidays: Weekly prompts encouraging a self-exploration of healing and grief.

Grief can often leave us numb, and it can be hard to articulate the simplest things. You may feel that there are no words to express your feelings, that it’s all just a big knot in your throat or your heart and everything is stuck there. Writing can be an outlet for these knotted up feelings, a way of unraveling the stuck. I have often found writing to be a new way of seeing my thoughts in black and white which brings more clarity to the muddy chaos of grief.

Once a week, you’ll receive a writing prompt which you are free to use – or not. Write a lot, or write a little. Share it – or not. It’s all up to you. We will have a private Facebook group where you can share your writing if you wish. Here’s a sample prompt:

“If I could sit across the porch from God, I’d thank Him for lending me you.” ~Flavia
Prompt: If you could sit across the porch from your loved one, what would you thank him/her for? For 5 minutes, write a list of what you’d like to thank your loved one for. After 5 minutes, circle a few items on the list that really grab your attention. Then spend however long you like writing a letter to your loved one focusing on one or two of those items you circled.

Our first session will run from November 4 through December 29 – 8 prompts with a focus on the holidays. The cost for these 8 weeks is $25. You can join anytime before the end of 2013; previous prompts will be sent to you so that you receive the full 8 weeks of prompts.

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If you would like to schedule a one-on-one coaching call to discuss anything that comes up during your writing, the discounted price for WriteGrief participants is $50 for a 45 minute session.

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In January, WriteGrief will continue with weekly prompts available as a month-to-month-subscription. Details here!

Questions?
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NDEs, Death, Dying, Grief, and Lots of Joy!

I had the privilege of being the guest on Martha Atkins’ inaugural BlogTalkRadio show, Light After Death.  Martha is amazing, and it’s because of her warm loving encouragement that I’m finally able to talk openly about my near death experience in 2004.  I had one of the “non-dramatic” kind that I was embarrassed to talk about because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously.  It’s not like I was pronounced clinically dead and woke up with a sheet over my head. Many many people have such experiences similar to mine and feel as I did, that no one would take us seriously.

BUT . . . we need to talk about it because the experience has the opportunity to profoundly change us.  For me, I was gifted with the knowledge that my babies who died are still with me, are still my babies, and that they matter . . . and that there really is life after death.

Here’s the interview which runs about 30 minutes.  Even if you don’t listen to the show, bookmark Martha’s show on BlogTalkRadio and become a regular listener.  The more we talk about death, dying and life, the more comfortable our culture will be with it . . . which it makes it so much easier to grieve in compassionate community.  We will ALL (bereaved or not) be healthier for it.  Let’s take it out of the closet!

BlogTalkRadio Show with Martha Atkins

Click the link to listen in. I’d love to hear your comments and your stories.

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Choosing And . . .

I made this video for a class I’m currently taking.  The assignment was simply to tell a story.   The quality of the video was not a factor in the assignment, and as you’ll see, quality it is not 🙂 – but I do tell my story of birth, death, sorrow, joy, the holidays . . . and choosing AND.  It’s really called Wholehearted Living!

Please overlook the bad hair day and the pasty-still-sickly skin, not to mention the poor video quality.  Just listen with your heart. ♥

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/52495013 w=500&h=281]

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Creating Compassionate Community – How to Support Baby Loss Parents

Loving Mark Adam who taught me more about love, life, and myself than any other person in the world.

One in four pregnancies result in a loss of some type which means nearly a million babies in the United States alone are lost.  If you haven’t experienced a loss, it’s very likely that you know someone who has.   As widespread as pregnancy/infant loss is, it’s a very misunderstood experience and frequently swept under the rug.  Baby loss parents often feel very alone, even shunned.   I know I did, and I know many parents who have felt the same way.

Since October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in the United States, and October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in several countries, it’s the perfect time to focus on awareness for both baby loss parents and their friends/family.

Why is pregnancy/infant loss ignored?    

As a culture, we tend to compare ourselves with others (and compare our friends with other friends), and this, unfortunately, includes grief.  Most people have a ranking list somewhere in their heads of what the worst possible loss would be for them, followed by the next worst loss, etc, until they get to the bottom of their list.  This is their hierarchy of loss list, and everyone’s list is different.  The lower a loss is placed, the more a loss is minimized.

With pregnancy/infant loss, many people rank their lists by how far along the pregnancy was when it ended.  The further along a pregnancy was, the higher the loss is placed in the hierarchy.   Early miscarriages are then seen as an unfortunate experience to be forgotten as soon as the bleeding stops.

The perception of these types of losses is further diminished by the simple fact that no one else but the parents knew this little person.   We grieve because we love, and it doesn’t matter to us how old a person was (or how far along a pregnancy was).  However, for friends and family to make sense of the loss, they try to lessen the loss by lessening the attachment (and love).  Unfortunately, the ways of trying to do that are often the most hurtful.

When a baby loss parent hears . . .

  • You should be over it by now (even if it’s only been a few weeks)
  • What’s the drama?  It’s been XX years or “it” was just a mass of cells
  • At least she wasn’t 5 or 15 or (fill in the blank).  That would be worse.  You didn’t have time to get to know her.
  • Maybe you weren’t meant to be a mother.
  • You wouldn’t want a defective child.
  • You’re young; you have plenty of time to have another baby.
  • He was incomplete.  What’s there to grieve?
  • You have three healthy children.  You have to move on for them and stop feeling so bad.
  • When are you going to stop grieving for a baby?  You’re ruining Christmas for everyone.
  • Everything happens for a reason.  Accept it and move on.
  • It was for the best.
  • I know how you feel.  My dog/cat just died.
  • You need to get back to the happy person you were before.
  • God is punishing you for your sins.
  • Next pregnancy, don’t exercise so much.
  • Your baby died because you’re vegetarian and you starved him to death.
  • At least you know you can get pregnant.

.  .  .  when a parent hears these comments, s/he feels SHAME.  These comments imply that they’re grieving incorrectly, that they’re broken  .  . .

I really don’t think anyone truly wants to hurt a bereaved parent, and most of these shaming comments are meant with good intentions.  My mother said some of the MOST hurtful things to me after my losses, and I know she never intended to inflict more pain.  She wanted to help and didn’t know how.  Nevertheless, her comments HURT as do all of these comments no matter how well intentioned they are.   By the way, all of those comments above are real comments said to real baby loss parents.  And they are all incredibly hurtful!

So, before you say something to a baby loss parent (and yes, they are still parents even if they do not have living children!), stop for a bit.  Take a deep breath and really listen to what the parent may – or may not – be saying.  Note their body language.  It could be that the only thing needed at that moment is a hug, some physical contact with someone who isn’t judging or proffering advice.  Listen with your heart and put aside what you think you know about baby loss, grief, and the grieving parent.  Meet them where they are at, not where you are at.

Please remember this . . . a baby loss parent doesn’t want you to fix them.  They aren’t broken, and there’s nothing for you to fix.  Please don’t try.  They are grieving, and that is a normal reaction to losing someone you love.

Some of the BEST things to say:

  • I’m sorry.
  • I don’t know.   Or, I don’t know what to say.
  • I love you.
  • Talk about the baby by his/her name.

I love this bit of advice from a baby loss parent – keep it simple.

Just be there.  Just listen.  Just love.

Some of the WORST things to say:

  •  Anything that starts with AT LEAST.  That little phrase negates a grieving person’s feelings no matter what you say after at least.  Strike it from your vocabulary!
  • Anything that sounds like a comparison whether it’s to your own experiences or someone else’s.  You will NOT make a baby loss parent feel better by telling them about your friend who lost a baby in what you think is a more horrific way.
  • Anything religious unless the baby loss parent is deeply religious.  Please keep your religious views to yourself.  Let the baby loss parent lead the way in this area!
  • Anything that suggests how the baby loss parent should feel.  You aren’t walking in their shoes and you really don’t have a clue how they “should” feel.  Telling them to move on or cheer up, etc. is so incredibly hurtful and not a bit helpful.

Some of the worst things to do:

  • Avoidance – either avoiding the bereaved parent or avoiding talking about the baby.
  •  Don’t ask how they’re doing if you really don’t want to hear the truth.
  • Don’t try to explain the loss or how they should be feeling.

As I mentioned before, we grieve because we love and that love doesn’t die when the baby dies.  Bereaved parents need permission to grieve.  You can offer that in such a loving way.  When grief is acknowledged and accepted, the bereaved can learn to live wholeheartedly again.  And what bereaved parents need most is compassionate community – not shame, judgment, criticism, and shunning.   They need your love and understanding.

To learn more about supporting a grieving parent, particularly a baby loss parent, please visit these resources:

Written in memory of my babies Andrew John, Mark Adam, M.J., Summer Rose, and David Gregory.  We will forever feel your presence and love you always. ♥

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Getting REALLY Personal – Cultivating a New Body Image

Mari at 15

Me at 15. I thought I had the fattest thighs on the planet.

Anyone who has known me since before I turned 50 knows I struggled dearly with my body image. It probably started when I was little, and my mom enjoyed telling me stories about the aunties coming to visit us when I was a baby just see the size of my thighs. I know lots of you have similar stories of growing up thinking you were the biggest/fattest kid on the planet. I was the first kid in my fifth grade class to hit 100 lbs (boy or girl!). I can’t remember how tall I was because nobody cared; I weighed 100 lbs that’s all that mattered! When I graduated from high school, I was 5’ 5” and 118 lbs. Yeah, real fat. But those old stories were so embedded in my psyche that my mirror told a different story.

When I was 23, I had an emergency c-section. They had lost the baby’s heartbeat while prepping me and all hell broke loose in the operating room. Suddenly I was being ripped open from navel to pubic bone (I felt it since they hadn’t had time to knock me out yet) and my 9lb 13oz son was born not breathing. He was resuscitated and taken to NICU where he died 5 ½ days later. The incision was long, the baby large and putting the skin back together was messy. Too much skin, not enough space to make a flat scar without the baby to hold it up. It healed, but it looked bad by anyone’s standards. Every time I looked at my body, I saw a scar that was a potent reminder of how I had failed to bring a healthy baby into the world. Losing Mark Adam was my second loss; Andrew was lost at 19+ weeks three years earlier. Not only did I think my body was ugly but I believed it had betrayed me in the worst possible way, twice.

More losses, another baby in NICU (he survived!), a hysterectomy, constantly yo-yoing weight, and in 2004, I nearly died from pancreatitis and a gallbladder infection. More body betrayal. Was I broken or what? I started wearing baggy clothes and forgetting what I looked like naked. It’s not important if you have a guy who loves you, right? (Don’t buy into that, okay? We look good for ourselves, not others, and we also can look bad for ourselves. I was making myself look bad because I thought that’s how it should be.)

As I hit 50, I began to make peace with my body. I think that’s a common denominator for women over 50. Maybe it’s an I don’t give a rat’s ass mindset or maybe it’s just realizing that life is too short to worry about the size of our thighs! It was a VERY slow process for me but it was progress. In February 2012, I started the Creative Grief Coaching Studio’s certification program. One of our “tools” was to create a body image painting (on our body!) and video the process. It was optional but I felt it would be a wonderful opportunity to really make peace with my body. It was amazing! It was truly life-changing, and I don’t say that lightly. I had a huge aha moment at the end (and making the video was fraught with so many technical issues I nearly abandoned the project several times!). I shared my video with my classmates, and they were so incredibly supportive. I am taking a leap by sharing it here with you now which also shows how much I’ve progressed with my body image. Gulp.

This is the video and the password is markadam.  It is a HUGE leap for me to share this video publicly so please be kind. ♥ [vimeo 39172277 w=500 h=375]

Since this video was made in March 2012, I have lost over 30 lbs, unintentionally. I posted about my illness here. I was hospitalized again in August, had a surgical procedure on my bile duct, and am doing much better. My intestines and liver were very traumatized by the illness and vomiting for over two months so it’s been a long road to recovery since the surgery. I’m getting there. I still battle nausea and some pain but it’s much better. I’m still detoxing and the medications really do a number on my head. Sometimes I feel like my brain has completely atrophied! I am starting to get some quality sleep finally, which helps immensely with my thinking abilities. I hope to get back to work full-time sometime next week or at least a solid part-time. It will depend on how many mistakes I make the first day 😉

Through this, I thought about body betrayal a little bit.  It used to be such a huge thing in my life and it’s not a surprise that it would pop up again.  With everything else going on, why did I have to lose my health as well?  However, most of the time, I think about how this experience has taught me many things . . .  good self-care, patience with myself and for those who are tired of a very slow me (sorry StorkNetters), that there are ways to comfort myself that don’t involve food . . . I have to eat a rather restrictive diet but I’m learning to accept what a gift that is. I can’t put preservatives or poisons or processed food into my body anymore. My allergies are amazingly better when I don’t consume grains! Who knew?! I’ve been on allergy medication for 30 years and now I don’t need it.  Maybe my asthma will go away in time as well.  I have to be honest though and say I did fight this HARD. I wanted to eat what I wanted when I wanted because food was a comfort and with everything else going on in my life, I felt entitled to that one thing and damned if it wasn’t taken away too!!!! Whine, snivel, moan and COMPLAIN.  When that feeling fires up inside, I’ve learned to sit quietly somewhere and just sit with it – no judgments – just leaning into it a bit (not falling into it mind you). It would seem that feeling just wants to be heard and when I acknowledge it without judgment, it quietly moves off into the sunset. It tends to come back, but I just wash, rinse, repeat . . .

In case you’re thinking I’m lucky to have lost 30 lbs quickly, please don’t. I made a very short video on that too . . . meant to be silly. I can be VERY silly. But, this is also a sign of how I’m learning to embrace my body, bitch-slapping arms and all!

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/48552121 w=500&h=375]

Because I have lost so much muscle with this weight loss, my strength and energy have much to be desired. I started a weekly yoga class to start building back some of that muscle. I do my best to keep up but I also honor where my body is at so I don’t overdo – another exercise in listening to my body and good self-care.  I tend to sleep for two days after a class!  Yesterday while we were in a supported shoulder stand, I looked up at my legs and a few tears started to flow down my cheeks. I was struck by the feeling that I LOVED my body. I’ve NEVER said that to myself – EVER. It was such an overpowering feeling. Despite the losses, scars, illnesses . . . it’s MINE and it has served me well.  It’s a beautiful body, warts and all!

And so is yours!

So please remind me of this post when I forget 😉  I would love to hear your body image stories and how you’ve cultivate love for your beautiful body.  ♥

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A Personal Tsunami

Since February, I was concerned about my parents’ living situation. Mom was tired and not able to wait on Dad like she used to. She was frail, not feeling well, and refusing help. Dad’s memory issues were more apparent, and we had taken him to the hospital on Father’s Day night with either a mild heart attack or a gallbladder attack; the doctors were never sure.

Shortly after that, my prayers were answered when my parents’ pastor got involved, and we all had a meeting to discuss assisted living options. Everyone was so kind, and I was filled with more hope than I’d felt in months. Mom told everyone Dad was resistant to the move, but honestly, it was Mom. Dad would have gone wherever she did as long as she was with him. Mom didn’t want to leave her condo of nearly 20 years. She struggled with the huge change such a move would be and she thought maybe hiring a weekly cleaning service would be enough.

My youngest son had always had a special relationship with his grandma. He and I were planning to visit Mom soon while Dad was golfing so we could speak privately. We thought perhaps we could convince her to move in with us, and my two sons could move into their condo – just swap places. The boys were excited since the condo is closer to their college, and my parents would be safe and looked after. I knew I was in for a battle because every time I mentioned their moving in with us, Mom would adamantly refuse. “You don’t know what you’d be getting into!” she’d say over and over. She was so fiercely independent and hated to ask and receive help.

Chad and I never got the chance for that discussion. My mom died in her recliner chair, apparently while napping, on July 30. Dad was napping upstairs and came down a few hours later to find her. We had recently disconnected our landlines and Dad couldn’t find our phone number. He managed to call 911 and handle all of that alone. When they took Mom away, he drove to my house with a man from social services following him. They wanted to be sure he got here safely and that he really did have a family because he obviously couldn’t live alone.

When Dad came in that day, he just blurted it out . . . “Your mother died this afternoon.” My mind was thinking she was ill and in the hospital or something else but not the D word. It was a shock and yet it wasn’t. She was SO tired and frail. Both of my brothers have died, and my sister-in-law died this past February. Mom was brokenhearted and weary. As Pastor said at her funeral, she was “soul weary.”

So now it’s nine days later, and we’re moving Dad in with us. We slept in my house for the first time last night, and he was up at 4am looking for something but he had no idea what. He’s upset about the change in location of his medication and his breakfast items. He couldn’t figure out where his clothes are in their new locations even though we tried to create his new set up like home. Hopefully it will become familiar soon but such changes are so traumatic in people with memory issues.

All we can do is try our best and call upon help when necessary. I learned a huge lesson from Mom – ASK for and be willing to receive help!

I’m writing this in a Starbucks while Dad golfs. It’s still too early for phone calls to figure out his prescriptions so I’m taking a bit of “me” time. The workers are all laughing, and it sounds so nice! I cleaned out my purse and found a little feather so I know my angels are with me, as hard as this is.

And I’m struck by a question in the midst of all this chaos . . . when will I have time to grieve for my mom? She was the only female in my daily life surrounded as I am by men (I have no sisters or daughters), my confidante. Dad’s needs have to come first right now and my life has drastically changed . . .

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