When Heather died, I felt like my body had been gutted, like a fish. Somebody just took my guts out and I felt completely empty! There was nothing inside me. My mouth would open to speak, but my emotions choked any sound I could make. It was like the painting, The Silent Scream. I had a physical body but it was just an abyss. I was overcome by feelings of helplessness, so powerful it rendered me mute and frozen. I wanted to scream and punch and kick and destroy something for taking my Dolly Girl away from me, but there was nothing. Nothing I could grab onto and destroyed the way I had been. In fact, that was what I felt like, dust. Ashes. Totally burned away yet still living.
The simple fact that Heather died made me different from all other parents, in my eyes, but especially in everyone else’s eyes. To many, I was the personification of a parent’s worst fear; the death of their own child. It was human nature to want to believe that tragedy was something that only happened to others. I was an uncomfortable reminder that disaster could strike anyone at any time.
The most difficult thing I had learned to deal with during this past year was how to answer “THE QUESTION.” You know the one that came up when meeting someone for the first time, or in a social setting where you are not known. The dreaded question about how many children did you have? “THE QUESTION” was excruciating when I was confronted with it in social settings like dinner parties, graduations, showers, weddings, doctor’s appointments and even in an airplane seat. It felt a heavy-weight boxer’s punch to the most tender and vulnerable places of my heart, soul and mind. So, what did I say when I was asked, “how many children do you have?” I was filled with anger over being put on the spot, guilt over betrayal if I lied because I was not sure I wanted to share the precious memories of my Heather and the fear of breaking down and crying in public in front of strangers.
The reality of “THE QUESTION” was not really the question. We all have asked “THE QUESTION” automatically, with not much thought to what the honest answer might be. So the real question was “THE ANSWER.” How did I answer “THE QUESTION?”
“I have three daughters, and my middle daughter died of cancer when she was 21?” Then came “THE SILENCE” and “THE REACTION” after my answer. Their eyes roll towards the floor and the conversation abruptly ended. Reality stopped everything dead in its tracks. All of a sudden, the enormity of an icebreaker question came crashing down around both of us. Most of them if they were honest were thinking thank goodness that was not me. Maybe the other person tried to change the subject quickly; or they did a quick acknowledgment and then back to “happy talk.” Most were speechless when I tried talking about what happened. They clearly wanted to change the subject.
Another answer to “THE QUESTION” could be “I have two daughters…” But while this was a very safe answer for the person who asked, I was overcome with guilt that in one second I had erased my daughter. It was all about the “feeling” that I got about 0.02 of a second before I answered “THE QUESTION” about that person that guided my answer.
What I longed for was the conversation to become about Heather; what her life was like; what she meant to me, even what happened to her during cancer treatments and when she died. Maybe that was unusual for someone who had a child die, but that was what I longed for. I guessed that only those who had a child die could understand the desire to keep her spirit alive. Heather lived, she laughed and cried and loved. My biggest fear was that Heather would not exist anymore. No one would remember her, in time memories and thoughts would fade and it could be as if she was never here.
(Confessions of a Grieving Mother Blog)Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The first 365 days without Heather here have been the longest and shortest 365 days I have ever had. It seems like it has been a million years since I heard her voice, her laugh, held her hand or been with her. Then at the same time, it has been as clear in my memory as it if was yesterday. The memories will remain clear till the day I die I am sure.
During the first year, I had to face the inconceivable task of deciding how to celebrate the birth and death day of Heather. Those two dates bring up deeper and more complex emotions than perhaps any other day. Not so much of fear or great pain, but having to face the joy of others and not being able to experience it myself. April 20th is just another normal day to the rest of the world, but is such a life-altering event for me. It will forever be known as “THAT” day for me. It will always be Monday and then the 20th forever. Many people create rituals to mark birthdays and death days; right now I am unable to do this. The only thing I was able to do was on Monday to buy 12 pink balloons and went to the mall and released them. I was by myself as Bill had to make a business trip to Asia. It just felt like something I needed to do. It was amazing to watch them float away to heaven…
Thanks for taking such special care of me. God knows that me, this little fragile life, would need you to take care of me…and lots of other special reasons too…
Thank you for everything and I know that’s not enough.
I love you up to the moon and back
Written by Heather and given to me shortly after she finished treatments. September, 2008