Category Archives: Grief and Loss

DEAD END

Ever have one of those days when it feels like everything is a dead-end? The person you need an email response from has an auto reply “out of office,” the website you need to make critical updates on is down, important phone calls are all met with voice mail recordings…I think you get my drift.

Well I feel like I have been stuck in a dead-end for the last several months. I think it began at the 5 year anniversary of Claire’s death on March 1 when I realized, “I don’t know how to do this anymore.” Prior to that I had felt like I was beginning to get a handle on the grief thing. I thought I understood the ebbs and flows, I knew to “ride the wave” of grief, I comprehended that it had a mind of its own, etc. But something happened at the five-year mark. I don’t even know what and I don’t know how to put it into words. I just knew I felt different and it was unfamiliar territory and I did not know how to navigate it – and still don’t.

So here I am, wandering around in the dark, running into dead-end after dead-end.

  • I feel the incredible pain and anguish of grief bubbling up inside me, just on the cusp of breaking loose, but it stops short. Dead End.
  • I sit down to write but my muse is MIA and words are unable to appear on the page. Dead End.
  • I attempt to prepare for a class I am teaching this summer but thoughts and ideas elude me and my brain can’t seem to comprehend simple words and concepts as I try to read relevant information. Dead End.
  • I carefully count my calories each day and put in my required 5-6 workouts per week only to see the scale stuck in place month after month. Dead End.
  • I feel overwhelmed with sadness at the state of our country with all its injustices and inequities, but feel powerless and lack energy to make a difference. Dead End.

The thing about a Dead End is there is no outlet. That is not good. At the risk of becoming too graphic in my use of metaphor, if we are unable to expel the waste after ingesting food, it becomes toxic and can kill us. It needs a way out. Or I think about the health of rivers due to the flow –water comes in and it goes out. As opposed to a body of water which is closed off and becomes stagnant. I feel that my flow is blocked but I don’t know how to break it open. Do I blast it open with a stick of dynamite? Do I chip away slowly like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption? Do I back my way out the way I came in and look for another route? Is any of that even possible?

One of the most irritating things for me to hear in my grief journey is the old adage that “Time heals all wounds.” I want to cry “Bullshit!” Time can make the wounds go deeper. It creates new wounds. Claire has never had the chance to meet her new brother-in-law. She wasn’t able to attend the weddings of her father or her mother to their new spouses. She has never seen the house I live in. Life goes on but she is not here to experience it with us. And that is not okay with me. It never will be. How do I maintain my sanity while trying to move forward in a time where she doesn’t exist in physical form while hanging on to a past in which she did? And who would she be as a 23-year-old young woman? Would she like whisky or vodka or neither? Would she have a boyfriend? A girlfriend? Would she live on her own or with roommates? Or with us? What career would she have? Would she have been standing on I-94 last night making her voice heard for justice and equality? Or would she quietly express herself in a different way? WE DON’T KNOW AND WE NEVER WILL! And that frankly feels like a big fucking DEAD END. Literally.

On a lighter note, this picture was taken several years ago while Dan and I were visiting his dad and step-mom down in Florida. We had a good laugh at the indisputable connotation of that intersection, probably both secretly wondering if it were some sort of omen regarding our own relationship. I insisted on snapping a picture with him posing proudly, possibly inferring that this was his personal mantra. But here we are some eight years later still happily residing on our own Lovers Lane. So I guess not everything is a Dead End. And that is what keeps me going. And maybe remembering that will help things start to flow again.

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International Bereaved Mother’s Day

(So I wrote this last year [2015]. Overall I still feel the same way however I discovered that while last year I took offense to finding out we had a special day and didn’t want to be singled out, this year I find myself feeling slightly glum because no one has acknowledged the day to me. Not a big deal, really. Just a passing thought. Sigh. Such is the hypersensitive, contradictory, enigmatic, unpredictable life of the grieving mom.)

 

Apparently the first Sunday in May is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. One of my friends reached out to me to tell me she was thinking of me on this special day, but I was completely unaware of its existence. My initial response to her was, “Every day is bereaved mother’s day for me.” I don’t know much about who founded this day or why but I did discover it is relatively new. I imagine the intention in creating this day to acknowledge bereaved moms was out of a compassionate place, but to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean Mother’s Day is next week. I still am a mother even though I have lost a child. Obviously the celebration of Mother’s Day for a bereaved mom can be a painful reminder of our loss, but do we really need our own day? When you lose a child you suddenly gain membership to this club that no one wants to be a part of and it often feels isolating. People feel awkward around us. They don’t know what to do or say. Sometimes it is easier for us to be excluded from normal activities because people don’t know how to handle us. Like we have some kind of contagious disease or something. People are afraid of saying the wrong thing or hurting us. What they don’t realize is it does not hurt us more to be reminded of our loss. We feel our grief all the time. If someone says our child’s name or talks about them it doesn’t make us sad because it reminds us of our loss (like we could forget…), it actually makes us feel better to know that our child is not forgotten. Life does go on and it can be healing for us to be able to see our child’s friends grow up and hear about what they are doing. Is it painful? Absolutely! But everything is painful after losing a child! As a bereaved mom, however, we need to be the ones to decide if we can handle it or not. Please do not decide for us. So when I hear about a special day for bereaved moms, a part of me feels excluded once again. Like when you lose a child regular Mother’s Day isn’t for you anymore. I am sure that whoever invented this thing did not mean for us to feel excluded, rather acknowledged and honored, but grief has a way of creating hypersensitivity, especially when you get used to experiencing subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection time and time again after losing a child. Whether it be a friend who can’t be your friend anymore because your loss is too much for them to bear, or not being invited anymore to girls’ night out or play group or family gatherings. As if it’s not bad enough to face the death of your child, oftentimes more loss follows – loss of friends, loss of family, loss of identity, loss of belonging. So I’m not sure how I feel about International Bereaved Mother’s Day. I don’t really want to be acknowledged as a bereaved mom. I want to be acknowledged as a mom who loves her kids, dead or alive, and I’d like to know that my child who has passed is still remembered. The best thing you can do for a bereaved mom on this day or any day is to say their child’s name and that you remember. Tell them how their child’s life made a difference. Share a memory or a funny story about their child. Don’t exclude them. Invite them. And let them decide if they can handle joining in. And if they are having a hard day and can’t, be kind and patient and invite them the next time.

So now I know that there is such a thing as International Bereaved Mother’s Day. Maybe next year I will feel differently and I will embrace the day. But for now I will celebrate regular Mother’s Day feeling thankful for all four of my children, including the one who is with me only in spirit.

 

Jane Frick,

Mom to Hannah, Ellen Seth and Claire

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Raging Grief

My daughter Claire is dead. She died at the age of 18 while a senior in high school from a “rare” childhood cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. And the thing about having a dead child (well, one of the things) is that I am full of rage. Rage that must be acknowledged, ignored, hidden, managed, contained, revealed, suppressed and/or worked through on a daily basis. Every. Single. Day. Most days I do an okay job of keeping it at bay. I’m pretty sure people that see me regularly don’t observe my rage or feel its intensity. But every so often it gets tired of being politely masked and it comes unleashed. Like now, for instance. I have felt it brewing for a while and have been painfully aware of the things which have poked and prodded it out of its slumber, but still was unprepared for its dramatic appearance when I blew up at my husband for a completely unrelated matter. Once it was out, however, I quickly became its puppet, becoming numbly insulated from myself and going through the motions of an out of body experience, simultaneously feeling devastation, sadness, hopelessness, anger, helplessness and inconsolable pain.

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And the last thing I need as I try to wrangle my grief induced rage back into the corral is to be repeatedly exposed to a raging, arrogant, misogynistic, hate generating xenophobe masquerading as a presidential candidate. It is beyond my comprehension how successful Donald Trump has been in his latest endeavor to rule our country with his iron fist and orange face. I am beginning to lose faith in humanity. I knew that racism still existed, on a personal and institutional level. I knew that there are people who fear what they don’t know and are angry. I knew that White privilege is alive and well. I knew that in spite of women being told, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” sexism still rears its ugly head. What I didn’t know, however, is just how many Americans are still clinging to those hurtful ideologies. And that scares me. And it also makes me realize how many of us are full of rage. Maybe all of us? I mean, some things should be raged against, right? Like injustice, violence, bigotry, rape, murder, cancer. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their rage since I am so full of it myself. But I see Trump abusing his followers by tapping into their rage and welcoming it and giving it space to play out regardless of who it may hurt. And he does this for his own benefit. Again, it boggles my mind that anyone can believe a narcissist has anyone else’s best interest at heart. I could stay on my anti-Trump soap box all day, but in the end I don’t know that it will make a difference anyway, and the more I think about it the more my own rage expands. So I am left with once again trying to manage my rage while allowing it to be expressed. How the hell do I do that?

 

I’m not sure if my latest raging bullshit makes me more reactive to Trumpgate or if the political climate has contributed to my recent rage attack. Chicken vs. egg situation I suppose. But that’s the thing with the erratic rage of grief, every day we face situations which heap rubble, gravel, glass shards and sharp metal objects onto the trebuchet waiting to fling our rage into whatever happens to be in the way when the weight becomes unbearable. Thinking back on the last several weeks I suppose it makes sense that I was due for a release of rage….

  • February 10 –the second year anniversary of the death of my husband’s son, Ben.

 

  • February 14 – while most of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, I will forever remember this date as the day we brought Claire home from the hospital to die, hearing the doctors tell us “There’s nothing else we can do.”

 

  • February 26 – attended the unveiling ceremony at Regions Hospital of the Donor Wall acknowledging those who have donated organs where Ben’s photo is displayed.

 

  • March 1 – the fourth anniversary of Claire’s death.

 

  • March 5 – the anniversary of Claire’s cremation and 20th anniversary of my father’s death.

 

  • Receiving a letter indicating I was denied the option to purchase life insurance because I had breast cancer four years ago, even though I am probably in the best health I’ve been in my life right now. Apparently I’m too great a risk and the insurance company thinks I will die too soon for them to make any money off me.

 

  • Business taxes.

 

  • And then there’s this, which is not a bad thing at all, yet evokes all sorts of conflicting emotions within me…. All of Claire’s friends are getting ready to graduate from college this year. I am so proud of them and happy for them as I hear news of them becoming journalists, educators, world travelers, musicians, activists, inventers, world changers…for the better! But the pain is indescribable as I am left to wonder what contributions Claire would be making to society and that she never got a chance. And she would have made such a positive impact. She had such a kind and loving heart full of passion for social justice and was an amazingly talented artist. To be honest it makes no sense to me that she was taken and someone like Trump is allowed to go on living and is damaging humanity in the process.

 

And so now my rage has calmed down for a time, turning into a dull headache after getting these words onto the page. When you see me I will smile and tell you I am fine but know that the rage always lurks and requires vast amounts of energy to remain contained.

 

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A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

I just updated my profile pic and cover photo on Facebook and now I am having a mild panic attack. You see, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month and so I always “Go Gold for Claire” and use her picture as my profile pic during the month. Seeing as it is almost the end of October I figured it was time for a change. So I finally posted a picture of myself and Dan that was taken on our wedding day back in July.

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I love my husband (still sounds weird to say after being together for 10 years) more than words can say and am happy to show the world our happy faces, but a part of me feels guilty removing Claire’s photo because her profile pic never changes. She isn’t here to change it. It will always be the picture of her blowing out her candles on her 18th birthday. Time stopped for her when she was 18. It also stopped for me and yet cruelly and wonderfully it keeps on moving forward.

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I also decided to update my cover photo and replace one of the last family photos that was taken when Claire was still alive, four years ago now. It was taken shortly after she had finished treatment and before she knew she relapsed so we were all happy and hopeful. But everyone in that picture and everything about it has changed. Some relationships have ended, or at least changed in form, and new ones have developed. Claire’s beautiful and contagious smile is now only seen in pictures, never in person. And even though the rest of us continue to smile, a sparkle is missing because we have become intimately acquainted with death and grief.

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But I felt the time was right to replace it with a more recent family photo, one also taken in July when Ellen and her boyfriend Jesus were here from Santa Fe for our wedding. Unfortunately Seth’s girlfriend Natalie is missing because she couldn’t be with us that particular day even though she is part of the family. But most noticeably to me is that Claire is missing and starting with March 1, 2012 will always be missing from our family photos. We change and grow and live and laugh and love and life continues to move on. But Claire is frozen in time as a senior in high school even though her friends are now seniors in college. I know it is irrational, but I feel so guilty and like I am betraying her or abandoning her or something by posting a family picture without her in it. I suppose the reality of it all just comes crashing down on me once again. She is not coming back. She is gone. She is still here but we can’t see her. She is with us and we feel her but I cannot get any new photos of her. Ever.

 

So I hope as people “like” my new photos they remember that someone is missing. I have four children, not three, and will always have four children. Unfortunately my current family photos deny that truth. So even though a picture may be worth a thousand words, those words may not tell the whole story.