Why We Need To Talk About ‘Good’ Days After Loss.

If you would have told me twenty weeks ago that I would be able to smile again, I would have rolled my eyes at you. I would promise you that a smile would never cross my face again because how could I smile after my baby died? When I thought of smiling, I thought of the pure happiness from before Jensen was born. A smile that filled my whole entire face and came from the soul. I’m not sure I’ll ever have one of those smiles again in the after, but I have smiled. My post-loss smiles are broken, but they come and go.

My good day today falls on the day Jensen’s heart stopped. I never really pay attention to Mondays because I was so numb that day. Now I won’t let myself just focus on his death, but I mourn alone on Mondays. Tuesdays represent the last physical connection, which is harder for me. But alas, I’ve finally had a good Monday. Even on the Monday before the month changes! There’s been multiple reasons to smile today. I’m still gushing over the sunset that reminded her of Jensen, shared with me on Saturday. Yesterday while swimming, I found a little feather from Jensen. Today I got to see Jensen’s name (three times!) from two other people. One on a beach in Canada and two others from the Painted Name Project. I looked through all his pictures and hospital memories today too. All these moments are happy moments that stemmed from Jensen and his time here. It hit me after all these good things that these good days, with tears, don’t get shared enough.

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Up until a few weeks ago, I felt guilty over smiling. Heck, I felt guilty for having a ‘good’ day. Before I go any further I’ll explain what a ‘good’ day looks like. A good day after loss is different from before loss. It’s when you can breathe without feeling like you’re drowning. Where you can leave the comfort and safety of your home and not be overcome by triggers. Tears still come during these days, but they don’t stall everything else. You can live in the moment, still thinking about your angel, but able to do things for them and yourself. Good days are still hard right now, but they’re crucial during grief. But when it hits you that you’re having a good day and you find yourself smiling; the guilt rushes over. Especially on that first good day.

Then it all spirals down again. Grief hits harder and it pulls you under. You feel like a horrible person for being able to enjoy a day when you know your baby isn’t here and will never be here. There’s guilt in feeling like you haven’t fully mourned your child on that day. There’s distrust in good feelings and emotions. A part of you doesn’t ever want to feel happy again because how can you when they’re not in your arms? How can a mother feel anything but the pain that comes after hearing your baby’s heart isn’t beating? It hurts and you breakdown. The first good day for me ended up in tears. So technically it was half a good day. It was a learning moment in grief and I learned it was okay to have a good day.

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He Paints the Sky.

The sky was painted for me last night.

How do I know it was painted for me? Because of all the colors in the universe, he chose his favorite two. The two that decorated his room: orange and blue. He spilled them out for me as he guided and protected me on my way back home. Instead of finger paintings on the fridge, Jensen paints the whole sky for me.

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Four Months & Jensen’s Tree

 

It’s taken me all day to write this, so I’m going to start off with what will be less of an emotional toll for me…

We bought a tree! Well, more like we donated a tree to the Gnadenhutten Nature Center in Jensen’s name. Jensen’s tree is a Red Jewel Crabapple tree that attracts birds, pollinate the area, and looks beautiful.

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We have been wanting to plant a tree in our backyard in honor of Jensen and do a memorial garden around it, but the locus deterred us from doing that this year. Anyways, since the locus are gone, we were happy to donate a tree in his name for the community. It’s just down the road from us and we can go visit him there. Since we had Jensen cremated, he’s always right there with me. It’s nice to be able to go to a place and feel connected to him. We’re planning on getting a stone with his name on there to place in front of his tree.

 

His tree is placed right in front where everyone can see it. I hope I can come back to his spot in twenty years and the tree is just so big. Maybe he’ll send us cardinals and blue jays. I can see us going down and having a picnic there and just basking in the peace. We donated his tree yesterday and have ridden our bikes to see it four times already. I know Anthony and I are just so happy to be able to do something in Jensen’s name, especially helping out the community and the nature center.

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We have probably fifty more pictures of the tree, us and the tree, and the sunset in the background with the tree. It’s pretty silly, but we just love seeing it there. I hope it’ll bring joy to others when they see it as well. I’d also like to say, the two gentlemen that planted the tree and play a major part in this project were so nice and genuine. From the time I contacted them to dropping his tree off, they were so nice to stay in contact with and help out. If you’re local, I hope you can go check it out!

Now to the hard part. I’ve been trying to find words all day to explain how I’m feeling and coping. Nothing seems to fully capture everything, but I’m going to try my hardest.

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Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.

Sometimes in the grief, I just want to scream and give up. It feels like there’s only glimpses of relief, only to be shut down again. Relief is a tricky word to use. I’m not devoid of all my pain and sorrow in the glimpses, just I can breathe.

There weren’t a lot of times this week where I could really breathe. Anthony started his new job this week and was gone for the majority of the day; leaving me with the cats, grief, and work. Being left alone during the raw moments of my sadness is scary. There’s nowhere to turn or no one to ground me when I want to rip my hair out. At his new job, Anthony can’t pick up his phone when I call sobbing; and this is only week one.

To celebrate his first week at his new job, and for me getting through the week in one piece and mentally okay, we decided to go on a little retreat. Well, more like Anthony bought tickets and I halfheartedly said I would go, scared to breakdown in front of everyone and afraid to disappoint him.

Retreat – a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax.

Our secluded place was Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio. Secluded because there were probably hundreds of people there and three weddings going on while we were there. Thankfully our tour only had two other people in it. Ironically, Anthony and I relax around the hustle and bustle of museums and history.

Quickly, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens was the home of Mr and Mrs Seiberling and their six children. Mr Seiberling was the co-founder of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The tudor revival home has, around, 65,000 square feet, an indoor swimming pool, and a huge music hall. It’s absolutely stunning. They had a lot of money, stories, and love for their family. The estate echoed all of these when you walked into each room (well we only went through 30 of them), discovered each garden, and learned more and more about the couple. The Gate House on the property is also where Alcoholics Anonymous was created. Just a little Akron history for you all.

After our tour, we retreated to the gardens. The smell of roses and running water was constant everywhere you walked. It was such a hot day, but with the shade and water, it really didn’t feel as miserable as it should have. I personally loved the English Garden. It reminded me of a secret garden where Mrs Seiberling came to relax and get away from it all. It was truly a retreat. At the other side of the reflection pool was a women and cherubs. Little angels were all over the estate. It was lovely.

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The Elements.

Grief is usually described in two ways: a crazy line graph or the waves of an ocean. At first I tended to relate more to the scribbled mess of the graph. It was black and white, had the path going everywhere, and there was always an endpoint. I used to be comforted by that end point, it represented no more pain. As if all of this anger, sadness, deep grief would just stop at the end of the line.  I was naive and have never faced grief before. I would never have thought pain and loss could be described by the beautiful, calming ocean.

It only took me a month to realize pairing the ocean and grief together is pretty spot on.

At first, I was dropped right in the middle of the biggest ocean ever. It was calm while I was still shocked and realizing the depth of where I was. I don’t think anyone can explain those first few weeks of shock, especially in stillbirth. My body still felt wonky and I really believed I could still feel Jensen kicking around. I was completely numb to everything. Then it seemed like the ripples that started when I was first dropped in, came back with the biggest wave I’ve ever saw. It put me down and I couldn’t breathe for a very long time. I was getting tossed and turned. Every time I felt like I was reaching the air, I actually was flipped around. Nothing seemed normal. I wouldn’t cry for an hour, then my email would ding and it was a baby email. Then tears and not breathing and screaming, all at once. From the end of that first month to even now, I am constantly being thrown from wave to wave. There have been days where it’s calm, but there’s always rippled. At times, I can even feel the warmth of the sun.

The comfort of the end point in the line is nonexistent with the waves of ocean and grief. Yeah, I know that the shoreline would be the endpoint, but have you ever just floated in the ocean? If you’re not continuously paddling, you get pushed back. Grief is no different. I have to constantly battle all my emotions at all times. Even when I feel like I have no strength to keep paddling, I have to tread or I’ll be pulled way under. Of course I slip up. Sometimes I feel like I could be touching the ocean floor. The breakdowns, in public or in private, let me feel all that I felt when I was in shock. I flashback to not hearing his heartbeat, the stillness in the room when he was born. That’s what happens when you slip under. Maybe driftwood comes every few days to help give me something to hold on to. A good memory. A happy ultrasound picture. My driftwood is Jensen and his love. Sometimes it can just be the cat laying on me. The calm waters on the driftwood, those warm, happy moments are all I look forward to right now. They help me gain strength for the next wave that I know will be coming. There’s no shoreline in my viewpoint right now, just the oncoming of waves and the relief of the breaks.

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Even though I’ve only been kayaking twice, I’ve found so much peace. Obviously I can relate grief to the waves of the ocean, but I relate the calmness of it with Jensen. That’s what going on the lake is like for me right now. I hear him in the wind and feel him on the gentle ripples of the other boats going past me. He’s dancing there in the cloud. The trees rustle giving me the background noise I have to hear. You can’t see it in that image, but the sun is swaddling me with warmth and it’s love. It’s the same kind of feeling I pray Jensen has every second in heaven. In this picture I am at peace. The rest of the world is silent in that moment, but I can hear him in the elements.

I paddle to shore and my moment of peace ends. Getting, literally, grounded is like getting swallowed by the waves. On this day, I pick daisies and see a blue dragonfly. Blue, like Jensen’s colors, leading me to the flowers I pick. Here I am, picking flowers with Jensen again, trying to tread in the waves. The sun, wind, lake, clouds, and trees all still singing to me. I guess I pick what Jensen wanted me to, the blue dragonfly hovers right in front of my face then flies back to the waves.

We leave all these elements that remind me of Jensen; the waves of grief growing as we drive away.
*Originally posted on Still Mothers on July 18, 2016*