Monthly Archives: June 2016

Six Years

I feel it first in my body. Something about the warmth of the air or the position of the sun or the smell of summer that triggers my body into a panic response. I feel the anxiety building, first with a knot in the pit of my stomach and then the tightness in my chest and then the sense of dread, fear, and sadness all rolled into one accompanied by the distinct realization of complete powerlessness and finally erupting into a volcano of emotions begging to be released through tears but held at bay until I am able to find a safe, secluded place.


This all occurs instantaneously before my mind catches up to remember the date. Oh yeah, it’s June 21. That’s what is going on. Here we go again. Six years later I relive the day my life was forever changed. The day I took my sixteen-year-old daughter Claire to the Emergency Room. Nothing would ever be the same again. Nothing.


I feel pulled back to that day and want to be there again. Because Claire was still here then. Because maybe if I could go back knowing what I know now things would have turned out differently. Maybe because I want to go back to not knowing what was about to happen? Maybe because hope (and denial) existed then.


But because it is six years later I now know everything that did happen. So I am not only taken back to the day, but to the pain, struggle and trauma of the following years which started with that day:


Learning about the disease Rhabdomyosarcoma, and that Claire had the worst type, Alveolar, and that hers was stage IV, and that older kids had less of a chance than younger ones. Watching her cry as her golden locks fell out and never returned. The emotional roller coaster of scans – feeling hopeful when the tumors shrank and feeling devastated when the cancer returned and took over. Being treated for my own breast cancer and going to radiation on the day she died, informing the staff (who also knew her from her own treatments) that she had passed. Attending her high school graduation and hearing her name called but not seeing her walk across the stage; my eyes burning with tears as her whole class gave her a standing ovation. Learning to live with the endless grief and hole in my heart and then learning to enjoy life again, but always in a different way. Standing beside my husband while he lost his only son at the age of 23. And now, just days ago, he said his final goodbye to his dear mother.


So I will honor this day as best I can, allowing the anxiety and emotion to ebb and flow, crying with the painful memories, smiling and laughing with the good ones, and giving Raja special food today, her birthday. The actual date is unknown to us, but Claire decided this was the date we should celebrate the birth of her precious kitty instead of focusing on how it was the date that changed her life forever. June 21.

raja in car

A Typical Day in the Life of a Bereaved Mom

Woke up this morning from a dream where Claire had died but was alive again and had a second chance. The only thing that might save her this time is if I took her place and died. So I got hooked up to the IV which would push the lethal drugs through my body but then she died anyway. For some reason everyone else still wanted me to go through with it. I started freaking out and screaming that I didn’t want to do it anymore because I still wanted to live and it was too late for me to save her anyway. But people were upset with me because of my decision. I didn’t care and I just threw myself on the ground and sobbed because my baby was dead.


Good morning. And so the day begins. Takes me a while to shake off the horrible sense of fear and helplessness caused by the dream but so what else is new? First task of the day to complete the paperwork for my jury summons. Great. They want me to serve the week we have a vacation planned. I ask to be excused but only after being traumatized once more when I have to fill in the blanks on the questionnaire answering: Ages of Children: (1) ______ (2) ______ (3) _______ (4) ______ (5) ______. FUCK! I fill in the appropriate ages for my three living children while screaming inside “I HAVE FOUR CHILDREN!” For a moment I consider filling in the fourth with “18 but deceased” and then realize how ridiculous that is. I think to myself that this should be an essay question, not one constrained to a couple of numbers. I wonder, “Why the hell do they need to know how old my children are?” I go on to the next section feeling as though I have betrayed my youngest child by leaving her off the list and not making her existence known to the government representatives; strangers who have reopened my wounds and intrusively made their way into my most personal story without even knowing or caring.


Next I make my way to get my hair done, ready for a change of style. In trying to explain what I might like I realize Claire’s hair was a lot like mine and hers always looked so cute (when she had hair). I pull out my phone to show my stylist Claire’s face (and hairstyle) which is the screen saver on my phone. This and other photos of her are my only means to be warmed by her smile or look into her bright eyes. A comforting yet painful reality I deal with on a daily basis. So what else is new?


I shove down my sadness and tears because I need to shift focus before I get to work so that I am able to be fully present with my clients as I bear witness to their own painful stories, traumatic events and small and large successes. In the middle of one session I make the split decision to share the fact that I have lost a daughter to cancer, believing in the moment it will be of therapeutic benefit to the client. But after the session is over I doubt myself and wonder if that was the right choice or not. I tell myself it is ultimately okay because if nothing else, they will know I am human and have experienced great loss, which hopefully will increase their trust in me as their therapist and not diminish it. It is, after all, my reality and makes me who I am.


Driving home, feeling the warm summer air lifts my spirits and causes a deep stabbing pain in the same breath as I anticipate the anniversary of Claire’s diagnosis in a couple weeks; the weather and position of the sun always remind me of that summer evening in 2010 even before my brain remembers the date.


I get home to be greeted by Claire’s cat Raja waiting for me in the window. I open the refrigerator whose door is covered with pictures of all my kids and Claire at various ages. I sit down in the living room and she stares back at me from her framed senior picture.

claire senior year

I walk down my hallway to be greeted by her large canvas painting self-portrait. I watch Raja jump up at things that don’t seem to be there and run from room to room as though she is chasing an invisible string. I choose to believe Claire is playing with her, which makes me want to laugh and cry in the same moment.

So time for bed. I wonder where my dreams will take me tonight.