I knew the holidays would be hard but I'm not sure my fragile heart was ready. I've been ugly crying for two days. It's family time and a time of year to be thankful, so pass the mashed potatoes and the tissues please.
Ive added to this post several times over the months and I'm sure it isn't finished. l have the privledge of learning a thing or two from our Piper, although she did not ever take a breath. The most important lesson to me is that love my momma talked about. That love so deep it's physical. That love that sets your soul on fire. I have to love my child from the earth side so it's ever more fierce. To know that there is that love in the world, admist all the hate, is beautiful.
I learned that everyone has a story and be careful to pass judgement. I've said aloud that there are 'rubber neckers'. People I harshly named that want to get close enough to see the tragedy but ultimately want to drive on by then call their friends to say, see that wreck that is me, on I-64. Truthfully, everyone has their own story and their own tragedy to contend. It may not be the same but it could be the worst thing that has ever happened to them. Pain is pain.
I learned that grief is freeing. After Piper died, people shared stories of their own losses. Ranging from child loss, infertility issues to siblings and parents passing. I welcomed it. In the immediate weeks after my daughter died, I worked hard not to yell at strangers at Food Lion about this beautiful, blonde that is forever sleeping. There's a society cap on sympathy and an overall discomfort in speaking of the dead. Given the freedom, people will unburden. Piper's death invited people to share and mourn their loved ones out loud and to a willing audience.
I've learned what love from your community looks like. I like to talk about our tribe because I would not be standing. It takes a strong person to hold you up at your worst. To love you through the pain. It's all the tangible niceness of flowers, food and cards. Also, it looks like patience, prayer and sitting with your friend as she mourns. It's accepting and working with the new version of us. Our community comes up with such beautifully, creative ways to honor Pipes.
What for better or for worse really means. I thought I loved Beau before our daughter but the love that I feel after has no measure. To have someone who loves you through the worst possible tragedy, who still loves life and provides you a positive platform on which to rebuild is essential to my very existence.
I learned to let the little things go. Piper's death showed me big picture. So the fact that I'm running late, so-and-so did this and Beau said that isn't that big of a deal. This one I'm still working on. My former self was a bit crazy, type A, loony bird. Still is. The process of merging is still on going but it's given a new pause, reflect button. A bit more impulse control.
I have a whole new perspective at work. I work in a pediatric setting with all types of kids with exceptionalities that have always required patience. The patience I have been forced to afford myself has overflowed to a professional setting. I can now empathasize with concerned parents because I too am a mama bear.
I've learned how much my family loves me, how to find joy, to force joy, to choose happy, to choose life.
Rest easy Piper Kai, the best lesson of my life.
Running for Pipes
I'd been journaling about my positive experience two weekends ago but then last Monday happened and I crashed, burned and am in the rebuilding stage. I came off the incredible high of spending an entire weekend with some essential pieces of my tribe and completing the OBX half marathon, four months post baby. Then an unhealthy does of realty hit. You know, the typical life events. Work, errands, Karma Jane to vet. The normalcy led to me being borderline horrible with lots of tears, extra sleeping and plenty of snippiness, aimed mostly at my all too understanding husband. At times, I try and tackle too much normal which results in an odd, emotional fatigue. Now that I've sufficiently whined I'd like to go on to share about a happy experience.
The first few weeks after our Piper died my family coaxed me from the house to take walks. People mumbled things about vitamin D and fresh air. Sometimes I talked, or cried but mostly just truffle shuffled behind them. I stumbled, then walked and eventually ran. I used exercise as a purposeful break from my grief. Every morning I set intentions: eat, shower and exercise. These simple goals were often the only things I could manage to accomplish while Beau was at work.
The familiarity of running was like welcoming back an old friend. Maybe not as dramatic as running towards the light but perhaps the somewhat stability that now exists.I began to crave the physical transfer of energy and the outlet exercise provided. Somewhere in the early weeks I decided to follow my girlfriends and sign up for a half marathon. Did you know fogginess is a symptom of grief? I most definitely did not think it all the way through but wanted to honor my daughter in the sense of my gratitude for my life and health.
The anxiety started about three days before we were to run the race in North Carolina. Some it was the typical stuff. Have I trained enough? Hydrated enough? Ate the right things? On a bit deeper of a feel. Did I trust my body? It let me down four, short months ago, will it hold up? It took me until a few hours before it started to realize the anxiety stemmed from the deeper meaning of this race. I am moving both physically and mentally, not away from Piper, but towards my new life.
Like all of my firsts, this one was brutal. It hurt much more than past races and took me a long time to finish it. If it were not for my friends, I would have succumb to my anxiety at mile 11 and laid down. I cried through mile 12, telling Nichole how much I missed my kid. All my crew crossed the finish line and did so to celebrate Piper's important lesson: you only get one life, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and try to smile when doing it.
Maybe this off week was a result of the mental and physical energy it took to complete 13.1 miles. Or maybe the heavy realization that this will continue dictate how I live each moment of my life. That is some serious responsibility. But the race was a good representation of what it is like living without your child. It's rough, slow and exhausting but you finish it. Then you congratulate yourself, eat some carbs, take some pride and figure out the next step. If you stand still too long that becomes your choice.
Rest easy my darling girl.
I did not lose Piper, she died. I didn't misplace her or forget where she was. The memories died too, before they hatched into a reality. It's a dangerous game letting her grow up in my head. It brings me joy, comfort and a whole new level of pain each round.
I have this perfect image of a blonde, diapered baby running back and forth to the ocean's edge like a sandpiper. I wonder if she would have been bold and willful. I sometimes dare dream of her first day of school. Pig tails and a too big backpack waving to me from the classroom door. I think she would have been smart, loved to read. I close my eyes and see her stand on her Daddy's feet to dance. I see his face too, the way I'd know he'd adore her. She looked just like him with my lips. I wonder if she would have liked peanut butter sandwiches and demanded the crusts be cut off. I picture her Halloween costumes and Christmas outfits. I wonder if she would have been afraid of the mall Santa or the Easter Bunny. I can see her surfing with Beau, me terrified ashore. I just know she would have inherited my competitive nature and her father's love for life. I picture her attending high school and buying her prom dress. Recently the thought of her never getting married, wrecked me for days. I imagine all of the birthday parties and trips to the zoo. Me holding her and rocking her to sleep. Kissing boo-boos and playing dress up. I see a little, blonde sandpiper.
I haven't looked at the pictures we have of her but I'm thankful they are there. One day I might. But now, I don't think my heart can take it. So I close my eyes and dream of her. The imagine of her sleeping, all warm and pink. She isn't lost. She is here, imprinted on my soul. Forever perfect.
Rest easy my little sandpiper.
A Mother's Guilt
I don't even know how long it would take me to chronicle all of the things I have felt guilty about since losing my daughter. I feel guilty for smiling in pictures, for attending social events, for exercising, and going to the store. I feel guilty when I think I want more children or don't think I could mange another pregnancy. I feel guilty when I'm happy and when I'm not. I feel guilty crying then in the absence of tears think how I am a bad mom for not mourning her. I am walking an exhausting, emotional tight rope that will span a lifetime.
"Guilt is both a cognitive and an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes that he or she has violated a moral standard and is responsible for that violation. People can feel guilty about something they actually did or didn't do." therapy.com
Guilt is a typical response of being a devoted parent. I'd venture to guess it provides you an element of control over the uncontrollable. It's the tendency to think if I do everything right, then no bad will happen. My mom friends worry about everything. Is she eating enough? Is he sleeping enough? Is that a bug bite or a hive? They feel guilty when they travel or drop their kids at a babysitters'. They feel guilty when they work late. I won't lie and say guilt is a new emotional experience for me but I will share the guilt I feel now is on steroids.
I've talked about how I don't feel guilty about Piper's death but I do feel guilty for my life after. I worked hard to provide my girl with a happy, healthy environment. I took all the vitamins, stayed away from microwaves and sushi. And given a choice, I would have gone in her place. Perhaps the most heavy one, is the guilt, I feel when other's encounter me in public. I imagine they look at me and wonder, how I am standing, clothed, clean and sometimes smiling. Depending on the day, I do too. Now I'll assume this is mostly in my head but I forgive them for the side eye and whispers because what I lost, is so great, you cannot imagine going on with your life. Living after your child died is unimaginable, but here I am. Proof that the world goes 'round. So when you see me at the pub or in line at the Food Lion, I too, am shocked.
There is no hiding our tragedy. I paraded around with my very large midsection, had baby showers and made plans. This cannot be an internal struggle where I wait for the storm to die down, my loss is obvious. When your child dies it is beyond difficult to give yourself permission to live again. I feel as if we have violated the natural way life should occur in outliving my child. How am I to function in a world where she does not live? It sounds impossible and depending on the moment feels that way. So there is the guilt. The guilt for creating a new version of your life. The mother's guilt.
The only way I can manage it the guilt is to justify it. It may look different to a lot of people but I know I would have kept on living my life with an infant. Choosing to live your life to honor your child is a challenging choice. There are still days where I only go through the motions and there are days when I am as close to 'me' as I am going to get. By forcing myself to participate in life I happen to find moments of joy and peace. My life has new meaning now that I live it for Piper. I try to feel all the feels and experience this new life extra, for her.
I am a mother. She is forever a part of me, a bond not even broken by death. So I go on telling myself how Piper died but I am alive. The guilt is all part of the game. Sometimes I have to give myself a good pinch and yell in my car.
Rest easy Piper Kai.