What I've Learned the Past 362 Days
We lost our girl on December 20, 2020. I consider that day 1 of the rest of my life. That was the first day that I had to keep living after she had passed. Today marks the 361st day that I have woke up without my girl or the 362nd day of grief. There has been a lot that I have learned about grieving these past 362 days, but the biggest thing is that a grief journey is a very personal journey and what one person might love, someone else might not be happy with. I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned about grief while also sharing some of the special pictures of my little girl who I miss so much.
Grief Is Personal
Grief is a very personal thing. What one person might not want, one might desire. For instance, I saw a post recently on a grief blog about how people should not send Christmas cards or family pictures to those who are grieving. I LOVE receiving family pictures from my friends. I love seeing how my friends' kids are growing and changing. I even love staying in contact with Adeline's best friends. However, there are those who do not love this. That does not make either of us wrong. It means that grief is personal.
It's Okay to Ask
I find that the most difficult moments in my grief have been from when people have not asked me how I felt or what I would have wanted. When others have answered for me, it has often not been the things that I would have wanted but the exact opposite. Instead of having people go behind me and ask others what I wanted, I wish that they had just come to me and asked me. I am sure that there are grieving moms who would rather not have people ask them about things, but starting with a simple "Hey, I have some questions, would you rather I ask you or is there someone else you'd like me to talk to for you?" could really go a long way for a grieving mom.
The Grief of Losing a Child is Incomparable to Other Grief
First off, I am not saying that there is not anyone out there who is not entitled to the grief that they feel. I am not saying that there is not other forms of grief that hurt in ways that no one else can understand. I am 100% certain that there are different types of grief that can cause you to live in a painful hell. What I am saying is that losing a child is a different form of grief. I have learned this by listening to others and by sharing with them the story of my little girl and how very much I miss her.
A few months back, I gave up my job at the juice bar. I did this mainly because I could not stop crying when a child would walk in and something would remind me of Adeline. I cried when I saw a hair bow that she had owned, a t-shirt that she would have wanted, or shoes that she had worn. It was incredibly difficult to work a job where the environment was supposed to be tranquil while also grieving such a big loss and being faced with daily reminders of that loss.
I ended up getting a job at a 21+ club as a bartender. I work Tuesday and Thursday day shift and I love it. I have the most understanding and caring bosses in the world and the environment is great. All jobs have their problems, but this is the one that I have felt the best at. Here I have met other grieving families. One man shared with me that his brother lost his little girl at 7 years old in a tragic farm accident. He talked about his brother struggling with the pain of losing her and after the family had another loss of a pregnancy, he could not handle life and committed suicide. This man told me on a day where I felt that I had no hope and where I felt like I was nothing but bad for my children, that I had to fight to live and that I was needed for the other people in my life. He then handed me extra tip money specific to purchasing flowers for Adeline's resting place. This was such a kind offer and I was able to find the perfect gold forever rose to match her urn.
Then just last week another man came in and we were talking about our losses. He has lost a son a few years back. He talked about how his wife was really struggling with the holidays. I shared with him that I struggle daily because I know that I was supposed to protect my child and I failed her. After we had shared and he had finished having a drink, he handed me extra tip money and asked me to pick up a gift for the toy drive in memory of my daughter. I am so thankful for this as well. I chose a cute unicorn journal that I am certain my girl would have loved.
I believe with everything that I am that the grief of losing a child is not comparable to anything else. When you lose a child, you are literally losing a piece of you....a child that is part yours and part your partner's. The child that you raise, that you had hopes and dreams for. Losing a child is not just losing the person. It is losing the ability to watch them grow into an adult, to watch them achieve their dreams and be successful in life. You are losing the hopes and dreams that you had for that child. You are losing memories and being forced to live creating memories with other children in your life, all while you feel like you don't know how you are able to keep breathing.
The Best Gift is Showing You Care
I have amazing and generous friends in my life. I am so thankful that they are constantly checking up on me, letting me that they are sending love and light, saying prayers for me, or just thinking about me. I love that they continue to show that they care in these small ways. The best for me is when someone reaches out and just asks how my day was and tells me that they are there for me. I know that this might sound overly simple, but this small simple gesture is one that really does mean the most to me. I love getting any gift that commemorates the time that I was able to spend with my girl Earthside. I also love getting any gift that is a unicorn or reminds someone of my girl. Those are really my favorite things.
Don't Answer for Me
So many people really think that they are being helpful by not coming to me, but in the end I would rather just answer things for myself. Again, some grieving moms would likely want to have someone answer for them, but for me I would rather just tell you what I think. I mean, you all know me, I was never a quiet or demure person and while I might not have as much to say these days, I still will happily answer you when it comes to any question that you have.
Grief Is Very Personal
I know that I wrote this before, but this one bears repeating. No two people, even two connected people, are going to grieve in the same way. I have seen this with my husband and other children. While I think that I have an understanding of things, there are times when I do not. I know that I have one child who seems to bottle a lot up inside and it was causing concerns for me as he was not talking, but then he opened up about how he was grieving and I realized that his process looks very different than mine. I have two kids who want to talk about their sister daily. My husband is the most amazing and supportive man in the world. There is literally no one else in the world who I think that I would have made this journey through with. My husband has been my rock but I learned early on that we grieve differently and that it is okay to tell him when I need for him to share with me his grief. I learned that Shane primarily grieves silently because he didn't want to put anything else on me. I struggled with this a lot in the beginning because I felt like I was grieving alone. Talking with him and being open and honest has put us into a space where we can share our grief together, all while doing it differently.
It is Okay to Just Breathe
I remember in the beginning my mom's cousin (they tragically lost their daughter a few years ago) told me that I needed to just breathe. She told me that I might need to remind myself to breathe and that it was okay if I had to say to myself "breathe in, breathe out" over and over again in the head. This was one of the best things that someone has ever said to me. I am so thankful that Kathy consistently reached out to me and shared with me how she was able to mourn my cousin Danielle all while helping me know that t was okay to just breathe. There were days when I was unable to accomplish anything but breathing...and there still are, but thankfully those days are fewer and farther between.
Grieving a Child Never Gets Easier
I remember in the beginning when I was reading grief blogs and books that I read about grief being easier. I suspected that this could not possibly be the truth when you have lost a child and I was right. For me there has been no let up in the relentless pursuit of my grief. However, there have been changes. I am able to better handle myself, to pick up and carry on throughout the days and to share with others the story of my girl and her beautiful life. This does not mean that I do not still cry regularly, but I have been able to learn how to use the Buddhist practice of mindfulness to create safe spaces to have my big feelings. (I will share more about mindfulness in a minute.)
When you are grieving a child, it doesn't get better for so many reasons. You are never going to not have a longing for that child. You are not able to replace the relationship that you had with a child with another relationship. Okay, so let me explain this and what I meant because I do not believe that any human is replaceable to those who love them, but I do think that relationships can be replaced with similar relationships that can help you through your grief. For instance, if you lose a grandparent and are longing for the talks that you had and the advice that they shared from growing up in a different time, you can volunteer at a nursing home. While this is never going to replace your grandparent, you are able to get some of that same advice through the relationships that you build there. So, your relationship with someone else who his similar can help you not feel such a sting over the longing.
When you lose your spouse, you can date again. This does not mean that anyone can ever compare to your soulmate, but it means that you can have a loving relationship with someone and build a life with someone. You can share memories and moments, go on dates, attend events, and just have intimacy again.
Losing a parent is probably the thing that is most similar to losing a child. However, you always expect that your parent is going to pass on before you. People don't expect that your child is going to pass on before you. Even parents who have sick children pray for miracles so that their children will live longer. Parents who lose their child suddenly, do not have this. We wish that we would have been taken instead. Every single grieving parent that I have met who has lost a child unexpectedly shares the same feeling with me about how they would have given up their own life in order for their child to be able to live.
Find What Works for YOU
When grieving, you have to find what works for you. I have friends who I have met through grief groups who grieve very differently than me. One good friend takes drives and screams and cries in her car. She said that she will just drive for hours around the city going nowhere, but having that space and that moment to be alone to just feel her grief. For me the things that work the best are staying on my meds. I know that this one sounds simple, but to be honest I didn't think that I was depressed at first. I thought that the antidepressants were keeping me from having other feelings. I learned quickly after being off of them that this was not the case. I am likely going to have to be medicated for the rest of my life and while I hate this for me, the alternative of facing things without the meds that help so much makes me realize that it is what is needed.
I use the Buddhist practice of mindfulness a lot. I first learned about mindfulness when I was about 25 and just dating Shane. The book The Miracle of Mindfulness has been life changing, but even more so in my grief. The principle of mindfulness is that you do not allow your mind to wonder, but instead you use all of your energy to train your mind to be on the task at hand. For instance, when I am washing dishes or doing laundry my thoughts should be on washing dishes or doing laundry. When I am working or working on schoolwork, my thoughts are completely on the work or schoolwork. This might seem simple and I am sure that it comes more easily some than it does to me, a person who has struggled with ADHD for as long as I can remember, but it is so worth it to try. I have a grieving hour in the mornings. Sometimes this grieving hour is in the shower, sometimes it is while journaling or blogging, sometimes it is laying in bed in my partner's arms, sometimes it is holding one of the kids close and letting the tears fall. I try not grieve as heavily around the kids so the last one is pretty rare for me. (I will say that my routine in the rental house had been a nice warm bath to grieve in each morning and I really miss having that space for my grief. We need a bathroom remodel so that we have a bathtub again.) Giving myself that hour each morning to have my biggest feelings helps me to be able to function throughout the day without constant tears or sorrow.
Another thing that works incredibly well for me is thinking about gratitude. While I have lost something huge and my life will never be the same, there are still so many things that I am grateful for. I am grateful that I was chosen to be Adeline's mom. I am so thankful that we shared 9 amazing years together. I am thankful that she was here to teach me so many things. I am grateful that I was blessed with so much and the ability be home with her rather than having to work. I am grateful that we were able to travel so much and share so many places in the United States with her. This does not mean that I do not wish that I could have had more than 9 years and 15 days with her. It does not mean that I do not wish that I could have shown her more of the world, but shifting my focus and perspective to gratitude is something that has completely changed my life.
The final thing for me was to find my thing that makes me feel better. For me it is journaling. I have a journal now that is just letters to Adeline. I try to do this daily but at times I miss a few days or even a week. This does not mean that I am not still thinking about her each and every day, it means that sometimes I do not have the time to sit and write a letter or sometimes I do not have the mental capacity to write a letter because I literally have feelings that I don't know how to express with pen and paper. (I started keeping letter journals for my other kids -- and even one for Shane-- too because I wanted to share what I thought of the moments that we had together with them as well.) I also keep my own journal where I write about me and the feelings that I have and the life that I live. I find that guided journals are a great way for me to decompress and write about things that I would not have thought about. This does not mean that journaling will work for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to try a letter journal if they are struggling with grief. With a letter journal you are still talking to your loved one. l love that I get to talk to Adeline and share my day with her through the letters that I write.
This blog is also therapeutic for me. I love that I can share my grief and know that sometimes that willingness to share is something that helps others not feel so alone in their own grief. I am so thankful that I can give that to someone else.
You Will See People's True Colors in Grief
The hardest lesson for me is that you truly see the true colors of those in your life during your grief. I have been so very blessed in this way. For the most part I have had nothing but great support, but there have been some people who have not been so supportive. (Don't worry you will get my thoughts on this too...just be patient.) I was so supported by the community where we lived. I miss living there but being just 6 doors away from my parents has been one of the greatest blessings. Not only do I get to be close where I can help with things, like picking up a few groceries when I am at the store but they are there to help me on my bad days. I can send the kids to spend time with them when I need a moment to have big feelings or when something has become too overwhelming and I know that I am going to freak out or have a meltdown.
People's true colors really shine when you are grieving. For me this has happened with those who I have in my life. Some of my best friends have been here each step of the way. It has healed some of the broken relationships in my life with the people who were really good people who intended well. This is so very important and special to me. I am so thankful that we have had these people to step up, both those who have always been by my side and those who have really stepped up and came back into my life. I am thankful for each and every single one of them. People who reach out to tell me that they are thinking about me, praying for me, or who take the time to simply ask if I am doing okay mean the world to me.
Unfortunately when it comes to people's true colors, you are also going to see the worst out of people who are just not good people. I have had several people try to compare their grief over losing Adeline to mine. My favorite is being told by distant family that she saw less than a handful of times over the year before she passed how they grieve daily. I want to scream at them! I want to tell them that there is no way that their grief can be compared to mine. However, that would do no good because these people are obviously don't care about me or my feelings so why share with them such intimate details. I just ignore them and go on. I have cut ties with many, but I have to if that means that my mental health and my children are protected.
Honoring My Girl
Another very healing thing for me has been to find ways to honor my girl and give back. We are thankful that we have been in a position where we can do a few things to honor her. We are hoping to start a charity in 2023 and are looking forward to using 2022 to fundraise and come up with a business plan, etc. I am excited that I can share this with those in my life who have been supportive. Keep an eye out for an announcement about ROK for Adeline and Sweet Adeline's Birthdays. We plan on launching a charity called ROK for Adeline (ROK = Random acts Of Kindness). Our first mission will be Sweet Adeline's Birthdays which will provide small birthday parties with decorations, treat bags, snacks, a cake, and a small gift for children who are living in homeless shelters. Adeline had a huge heart for those who were not as fortunate as us and I want to continue on and honor her legacy and that huge heart by giving back in our community.
We are also working on a special way to honor her with her 4th grade class, recently ordered a memorial bench for her school to be by the amazing tree that was planted in her honor (right outside of the last classroom that she was in person in), and donated our former home's lot to Habitat for Humanity which is going to honor her with a special memorial project during the building of the home. We find that by honoring her in these ways, we find healing and love and we also just carry her legacy forward..
I have learned that it is okay to ask for help. I was always scared of the stigmas that go along with mental health, but now I am proud to share information about psychiatrist with anyone who is struggling. I didn't get the help that I had desired in therapy. In fact, I have found that this blog and keeping a journal are far more therapeutic for me than therapy ever was, but for a long time I held off on seeing a psychiatrist and going to one ended up being one of the best decisions that I have made since losing my littlest love.
In addition to this type of help, staying on my meds is important. I know that I need my antidepressant each and every day and that is so very important to me. I also am on ADHD meds which help in multiple ways.
Another way that I have found help is by connecting with other grieving moms. I will say that the grief groups on social media are a lot some days and some have not worked for me. That is okay. I was willing to try them and that is what matters. You have to be willing to let go of things like grief groups if they are not serving you. Don't be afraid of offending people or not having someone who understands you. I have found that the right group for me eventually existed, but I have regularly left groups that seemed to trigger me and make me feel worse than I already do.
The moms that I have connected the most with are those who I have met at in person events. I have been very blessed over the course of the past year to attend not just one, but three grief retreats. The first that we went to was a parent grief retreat. This did a lot for the way that Shane and I communicate with one another and made it possible for me to have moms to turn to when I was struggling. The three moms that I met during this weekend have been rocks to me and I regularly think of them and their beautiful children. I even connected with one mom who I believe has a little man that is now Adeline's best friend in Heaven. I just know that we were connected for a reason far beyond my control or anyone's earthly control.
I also attended a grief retreat with the entire family. This was so good for my kids and Althea regularly talks with one of the people that she met there. This has been helpful for her grief as well. Sadly, the moms from the family retreat and I did not stay in touch like the moms from the parent's retreat. Oddly we connected more with the moms and dads at the family retreat than we did at the parent retreat but the lasting bond was just not there and that's okay.
Then I was able to attend an amazing mom's retreat. This one I had a larger group and it was huge in comparison to the size of the others. Our group of moms seems to have connected well and we also stay in touch with one another. This has been helpful as we are all in different phases of our grief.
You Might Need to Cut Some Ties
It is okay to cut ties while you are grieving. If you are in relationships, positions, etc. that are not serving, you have to learn that it is okay to let them go. I have had to walk away from family, people who I thought were my friends, and a job. I have had to do what is best for me and my mental health at this time. What I have learned through this process of cutting ties is that you end up with stronger relationships with those who really matter when you let those who don't go. I have struggled with some of the ties that I have been forced to cut, people who I thought loved me and relationships that I thought would be healed after such a great loss. While the effort was there on my part, I realized that some people who didn't have that close of a relationship with Adeline wanted to make this about their grief. This was really offensive to me because their grief can't be comparable to mine. In the end I realized that they are more likely dealing with guilt than grief for how they treated relationships and things in the past, but when I had to listen to them go on about how they grieve daily, I knew that cutting ties was the best thing. After cutting ties, things got really bad for a while (I won't lie!) but in the end I know that they will get better. People say mean things when they are losing control of a situation, but those mean things can't be unsaid and the fact that these people that I was cutting out of my life said them meant that they were never sincere or caring, but only in this journey with me for themselves and to serve themselves. This made letting go so much easier.
Just remember that toxic people do not deserve space in your life, no matter who they are!
Your Journey is Your Own
I am not going to pretend at all to know what any other grieving parent is going through. Each journey is one's own, but I am so very thankful that I have had those with me along this journey. The moms who I have connected with have helped to provide some of the greatest sources of strength for me.They are cherished and loved. When I am having a bad day and I need to talk to someone who has been there or someone who can understand, I reach out to them and they always show up...even in the midst of their pain. I just hope that I show up for them in the ways that they have shown up for me.
My friends and those who I consider my family have been the most amazing people ever. They have cheered me up by making me take trips, going with me for weekends, sharing lunches or dinners with me, being supports for me to use when I am sad or shoulders to cry on, and so much more. They are always there, no matter how much.I need them, and for many, there is no way that I could ever pay it back. However, I will spend my days making sure that each one knows that they are loved and appreciated.
So, I guess what all of this means is that grief is personal. You can't share a grief journey with anyone else. You can't change things so that someone else understands your grief. Instead you are going to have to step out and take that journey no matter where it may lead. You are going to have to be willing to be uncomfortable and to share your struggles with those who are there are to help you. I wanted to grieve 100% alone and not bother anyone with my issues, but that would be impossible. We all need people. We all have someone, even when we feel that we do not. If you truly have no one, email me and we can be friends. I will be here for your when you need someone to talk to.
Please do not use my words to try and help someone other than me unless you are asking them clearly what they want from you. Some people need more help than others and some just want to grieve alone. Either way it is okay to grieve however you feel the need to grieve.