Tag Archives: Motherhood

When There Were Two

Sisters

“Because we have ‘only’ children”, she said. I can’t remember my response now. I’m sure it was something pleasant and agreeable, but in my head I was shouting that I don’t have an ‘only’ child. I have two children. And yet, the fact remains that my not-only child, is still, in many ways forced to grow up like one. After all, she is the only child currently living in our household. But in her heart, she knows she has a sister.

What a strange way to go through childhood; knowing you have a sibling, even remembering them, but not sharing in the sibling life together. Is it what children who find out they have half siblings somewhere, or come to know of another sibling given away for adoption before they were born feel? I don’t know. All I can know is that in our house, our oldest daughter, may be our only living daughter, but she’s not our only daughter.

Even as the mother of two girls, I’ll never know what it’s like to parent them together, in the conventional sense, anyway. We were blessed to have three years and four months where our two girls shared their early lives together, but even then we didn’t have a typical lifestyle. There was no fighting, no crying over unshared toys, no complaining about the other when one didn’t get her way. And while I longed for the normalcy of that life, I still cherished the one I had. It may not have been ‘normal’ at all, but to our oldest daughter, it was. It was all she had ever known.

There may not have been moments of playing dolls, or blowing bubbles together, but there was holding hands, and reading stories, and so, so much more that made our children’s lives wonderful. Even in our youngest daughter’s death, a sense of joy and peace was present in my ever-so-resilient older daughter. A gentle understanding that our sadness was all for us, and not for her younger sister who was now free from the earthly constraints of her immobile body and mind.

I see a lifetime’s worth of compassion and tenderness bestowed on her. I see tolerance, and understanding. I see acceptance, and most of all, I see an immense amount of love.

When I hear or read of ‘typical’ mothers complaining over the blessings in their lives I become ruefully angry with them. I want to shake them and tell them to stop. To get a grip. To woman up, so-to-peak. This is not to say we don’t all complain over ridiculous ‘first world problems’ in our society and culture from time to time, and yes, we all ‘vent’ once in a while too, but when it comes to complaining about your very children for being just that – children, especially the ones you have planned for, prayed, for, wanted more than anything who are happy and healthy my acceptance and tolerance level dips dramatically. How dare you.

Narratives that sound like, ‘no sleep, so tired, two kids at once, changing diapers, spit-up food, just need a break, etc…’ frustrate me immensely.

What I would have given to have those ‘problems’. Mine sounded more like, ‘seizures, choking, inability to chew or swallow, medication administration, can’t sit or lift head, can see, can’t think, PT, OT, neurology appointments, etc.’, and the part that really gets to me the most is never did I complain about my child’s life. I would beg for years of sleepless nights just to have ten more seconds to see her and hold her in my arms again.

This is my hindrance. My own bias, and personal issue. I get that. And would I have been one of the women complaining about my ordinary everyday life had I not had the experience of living with a severely handicapped and terminally ill child? I very well may have. It’s just that now I know better. And all I can do is be thankful that in the end those other mothers have no idea. Their children will grow out of sleepless nights and diapers. They will become little people who do the usual little people things. They will fight with their siblings, and go to each other’s ballet recitals and soccer games. And here in our life we and our not ‘only’ daughter will carry on, as she plays alone, not sharing toys or splitting Christmas gifts, the unbroken focus of our attention, just the three of us, holding the memory of the time when there were two, when we were four.

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Portrait of a Mother

For the one who is, the one who was, and the one who never would be,
for all my children.

I had a daughter once who died.
I have another by my side.
I had a son I’ve never known,
he who will not know our home.
A girl who’s future so small and bleak,
The one whose life is gone, as we speak.
Lit softly in my arms to rest
and nestled her head against my chest.
Her sister survives in a world below
while she looks on as we onward go.
A distant mortal memory of heart,
but one that time nor space could part.
All of her, a part of me.
Shadows of her life I see.
Dancing in and out of time
reverberating through this rhyme.
Her life I carry with me now
as I trudge along somehow.
For her sister’s sake, I survive.
I’m learning how to be alive.
Though my son was never mine,
he existed within my mind.
A figment of imagined child,
With thoughts of him my mind goes wild.
A boy we were to never know.
A son, not ours to call our own.
I love him now, I loved him then,
I’ll love him ’til my days shall end.
For all my children near and far,
for all of them, for who they are,
My heart belongs to every one,
and will until my days are done.

No Words

“You can be amazing you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug” -Sara Bareilles, Brave

Words hold power.  The power we assign to them.  We get to decide what they mean, and we can do so on an individual basis.  They can mean one thing to one person and quite another to someone else.  In this situation we’re at risk for our sentiment being lost in translation, so to speak.  Words convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  With them we can tell stories and share moments in time.  We can even recall memories and give those meaning as well.  They can also be used to hurt.  Though they may not break your bones the way we’ve been taught that sticks and stones will, sometimes words will hurt you even more.  All the words in the world, all of their uses, meanings, and inferences, and sometimes we can’t seem to find a single one to do us justice.

What do we do when words escape us?  How then do we convey those thoughts and feelings whelming up inside of our hearts and minds?

This week I found myself standing in front of the greeting card section of my local grocery store.  I was there to buy a card to send to a friend.  I wanted her to know I was thinking of her. I wanted her to know I was remembering her son’s life, the anniversary of his birth and subsequent death later that same day.  I wanted her to know he is not forgotten.

I stood there, in front of the cards searching for the right one.  The one to convey my sympathy, unfortunately, my empathy and also comfort to her as well.  There were cards that expressed you were thinking of someone, cards of support, and cards of sympathy for loss of grandparents, parents, spouses…and even pets.  Yes, pets.  But there were no cards for loss of a son or daughter.  Loss of pets, but not of children.

Cards

They don’t make cards for that, not that they stock at that store anyway.  They don’t make words for that.  When you lose a parent you are called an orphan.  When you lose a spouse you are called a widow(er).  The very idea of loss of a child in our society is so unthinkable, unimaginable, horrific, and taboo that we do not even have a word for it.  It is literally unspeakable.

Nothing works more efficiently to keep uncomfortable, unenviable, hopefully ignorable pieces of society locked away in the shadows than lack of speech.  And that’s exactly where society wants to keep it, us.  Why?  We’re scary.  We know you want to keep us at bay.  We get it.  We know how daunting it is to talk about, how difficult to imagine, and truthfully, how alarming it is for you to even think to pull us from the shadows and to be forced into the light of knowledge to concede that you look just like us and in further consideration that you could, in fact, be us.  After all, isn’t everyone afraid that if our light were to shine too brightly and you got too close that your wings might melt?

Nothing makes us feel like more of a monster to be hidden from than being expected to exist only in those shadows.

It’s a simple sentiment that means the entire world to parents of lost children; we want to know that you still remember.  We know they are gone.  You will never remind us of that fact.  We live with the scars of their loss every day.  We just want to know that you remember they ever were here in the first place.  Not to make you uncomfortable, not to punish you, or push you away but for our own soul’s soothing.  For our broken heart’s sake.

My child lived.  She was a person.  She mattered. I have thoughts and memories of her that permeate every day of my life.

Sing her name unto my ears and let the beauty and magic of her spirit radiate into my heart and soul.

“Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out, honestly, I wanna see you be brave” – Sara Barelilles, Brave

Three Long Years

We are rapidly approaching the time when it will have been three long years since our precious Miss Elliott passed away.  A scant four months later and then we will forever enter into that tragic time period that we will live in for the rest of our lives; the one in which she will have been gone longer than she ever was here.

I worry about that time.  I worry about her memory.  To so many people that I meet she is now only a story, and idea, if even a remembrance, but not a living person known unto them.  She is alive in my heart and soul.  She is imprinted onto my being.  I vow to spend the rest of my days spreading her message in her stead about the beauty, value, and importance of every life, no matter how short, no matter how small.

“Serenely I could while away the hours.  Stay in contentedness with her forever, just staring at her beauty, stroking her face, holding her head and massaging her hands and feet.  This was our life, the one we share.  It didn’t look exceptionally pretty to others.  It was expensive, but not fancy, cumbersome, and not at all convenient, imposing and difficult.  No one coveted it.  I kept it close, as close as I could, for as long as I could.  No matter how unattractive this life was to others, it was mine and it was my most prized possession.”

-excerpt from Three Short Years: Life Lessons in the Death of my Child

It’s been just over a year since I published Miss Elliott’s book.  I sincerely hope that everyone who reads it takes her message to heart and learns some of the many lessons she bestowed on us with her presence while she was here.  She taught me so much about life itself.  I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to be her mother.

To get your copy of Three Short Years, and learn more about Miss Elliott’s life and our journey with her, click here:
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Three+Short+Years+by+Becky+A.+Benson

To Let Them Live

“I just try to let them live their lives,” she said.

“I say, just try to remember every moment. She won’t be two months old for long,” she told her seat-mate. “Soon she’ll be walking and talking.”

Or she won’t, I thought grimly.  The rest of the world doesn’t seem to share the same outlook as me with their constant expectation of a bigger, better, brighter tomorrow that they seem to feel entitled to, but I couldn’t help it. As the mother of a now deceased child who never did those things it’s just the automatic thought that springs to life in my mind. A consequence of my position, I suppose.

“I worry about them,” the petite, approximately mid-fiftiesish Asian woman continued from the seat behind me. “I just see them working all the time, and I know it’s rough on them. I know they want to get a house, and now they have the baby so you wonder when it will work out, but what can I do?  They’re adults and I have to let them live their lives. I just can’t wait to see my grand kids this weekend…,” she continued.

This eavesdropped upon conversation was a reminder to me that parents never stop parenting. Not when your children are grown, not even when they’re dead. It was an all too familiar thought, and ironic given the timing as we were wheels down in San Francisco after the first leg of our flight on our way to a good friend’s wedding.

Like me, this friend has also lost a child. Again, like me, she lost that child to Tay-Sachs disease. She knows the pangs of grief that accompany never hearing those first words or seeing those first steps that, like everyone else, we also thought we were entitled to as a mere byproduct of giving birth to our children.

Like me she’s never stopped being a mother to her child, even though he now exists in some form and realm beyond her reach. Even so, here we are this weekend to celebrate with her and for her. She’s found new love and recently become a mother again to a beautiful new daughter named, in part, after my own daughter.

She relayed to me in one memorable conversation how strange it is to see her wiggle and crawl around. It’s something foreign to us, uncharted territory, as our deceased children were never able to achieve such praise- worthy accomplishments.

This trip marked my first official face-to-face meeting with this tiny, magic girl. Holding such a precious child, my daughter’s namesake in my arms was a salve to my deeply broken heart. I whispered in her ear that I loved her so and had since long before she was born. I watched my husband cry as she was placed into his arms and I marveled at the beauty and joy she brought into the world.

It’s a relearning about the process of life. A continuation. Another chapter. Time matches on, and so must we. Old wounds may sting somewhere from below the surface, but new joys may also be just around the corner. Incessant worry won’t change what’s already there waiting for us, it simply distracts us from the pleasures of the present.

Living without entitlement doesn’t mean living without hope. We each have to choose to have the courage to ’round the bend as the road begins to curve. None of us know what the future holds for ourselves, let alone anyone else. You just have to let them live their lives. And as a parent, or child, or lover, or friend, you just have to live yours. And know that even in times of extreme pain and suffering this life, your life, and theirs too, can always circle back around and turn out to be better than you ever thought possible.

She Never Told Me She Loved Me

Two fo Us

She didn’t show me either.  No grand gestures.  No small ones for that matter.  No kisses or hugs.  No cards made at school for Mother’s Day.  No birthday presents wrapped in crayon covered tissue paper.  She didn’t help out or ask how I was doing.  She never even said thank you.  So how do I know if she loved me?

Sometimes early on, as I held her she would smile.  In those moments my world only extended to the crook of my arm, the safe haven in which she lived.   Nestled in my lap she would relax her posture and her breathing would slow.  Hey eyes would drift and she would fall asleep in my enfoldment, softly cooing against my chest.  Contentedness.  She loved me.  This is how I knew my love was not unrequited.  It couldn’t be told or shown to me, I had to feel it, and I just knew.

My every waking moment I spent caring for her, attending to her needs.  Happily foregoing showers, curled hair, or freshly applied make-up.  That’s what unconditional love is. It’s something that we discuss incessantly in our society, but not something we practice much of in return.  Instead, we spend so much time qualifying what our ideas of true love are, that we forget to put them into practice when they are not self-serving.  True love-unconditional love that is, is never self-serving.  The terms are mutually exclusive of one another. Unconditional love involves making a choice, and choosing to place someone else before or above yourself is the exact definition of not serving yourself first at all.

We place many conditions on the love we claim to have for others.  We put on their shoulders the responsibility to be deserving of receiving our love.  Of our spouses, children, parents, friends, we decide first whether they are worthy of our love before we give it, then of how much, to what extant, and finally, we continually reevaluate that worth as time goes on.  Through our circumstances and experiences, their actions and behaviors, our expectations gradually evolve.  Sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

By holding our love back from freely loving without condition we also hold ourselves hostage from the ability to receive the same love in return from others: to receive unconditional love, you must know how to love unconditionally. As human beings we all fall folly to the trap of qualification by nature.  A vicious cycle of lack of love emerges.  Unfortunately this is what we know to be the norm.  We become so comfortable with these deficits in our lives that we no longer recognize them as such, rather view them as standard operating procedures.

Have you ever asked yourself, by accounts of your own behavior, if you would live up to the standards and stipulations of love in the eyes of others?  For true love to reign, shouldn’t the expectation of qualification simply fall away?  If the output of one does not begat love from another, and so on, would our paltry justifications of eye for an eye still not eventually make the world blind?

So how do I know I have experienced unconditional love?  I have given my all, every fiber of my being to someone who could do literally, nothing for me.  Someone who could never repay me.  Someone who couldn’t even say thank you.  Someone who never told me she loved me, though I told her so all the time.  It was never about what I was receiving from her, I was about what I was giving, but she also never placed any standards on my behavior to receive her love either.  I expected nothing in return, yet my ability to love was strengthened, my capacity for love was deepened, and my heart was made fuller by it all.  Yes, I have experienced unconditional love.  Most certainly I have.  And I have no doubt that if she could, she would have said she loved me too.

The Sunday We didn’t go to Church

Two years ago this July I received an unexpected phone call from one of my very dear friends who was in somewhat of a panic.  A panic only someone in my position could fully understand.  Her daughter was turning sixteen and she needed a favor for her birthday.  There was no party planned, no driver’s license test to be taken, or presents waiting to be opened.  There was only the grave of a little girl who had died when she was just five years old.

“It doesn’t hit me like this every year,” she said.  “It’s just that it’s her sixteenth birthday and I can’t be there to be with her.  I’d ask my sister but she’s gone too.”  My friend lives far away from where her daughter was buried, here in Seattle, all those years ago and even though her sister, usually able to be there, happened to be out of town as well.

“Would you mind taking some flowers to her?” she asked me.

She asked because she knew I’d understand.  Not because I could logically comprehend what that must feel like, but I would understand because I was in the same position.  Even though I had never met her daughter, she had died of Tay-Sachs disease just like my Miss Elliott had and we had been brought together in recent years in our shared losses.  My own daughter was buried at such a tender age and I too would one day be missing those parties, presents, and milestones.  I would be suffering the same heartache she was.

It was a Saturday when she called.  Part of her panic was that time was ticking away.  Her daughter’s birthday would be here the very next day and she just needed someone to be with her.  She couldn’t stand the thought of her daughter being alone on such a special day.  At this point, my Miss Elliott had been gone for just five months, and I had yet to have to celebrate one of her birthday’s posthumously, but I knew what she meant about not all birthdays hitting her like this.  I knew that her grief comes and goes in waves, but always lingers under the surface of the veil of functionality.  Today, it was ripping right through it.  Today, it was breaking her down.

Of course I would go.  We would leave in the morning, drive into the city, and navigate our way through the maze of the cemetery to her grave.

I heard a parable once that went like this:  A boy and his mother were on their way to church.  They stopped because they saw a motorist out of gas on the side of the road.  When the mother pulled the car over the boy questioned her, asking “Mother, if we stop to help, won’t we be late for church?”  “Son, if we don’t stop to help, there’s no point in going to church at all,” his mother replied.

What’s the point of a relentless and intensive study of life’s guidebook if you forget to look up and put it into practice once in a while?

That Sunday we did not go to church.  We picked up the flowers from the florist and drove to the cemetery.  We walked as a family to her grave and carefully placed the flowers on her bench.  We did our best to honor this so-loved child.  We wept for her, for her mother, for her brother and father.  We wept for Miss Elliott, and for ourselves.

I knew I would call someone in a panic myself one day.  I will need someone to bring flowers to my Miss Elliott at some point too.  We will all be in the position of needing help from others to some extent at some point in our lives.  Thank goodness for the kindness of the motorist who notices you standing on the side of the road and slows down to help.

This year her daughter would have been attending her senior prom.  She would be graduating right now.  She would be turning eighteen next month.  Soon she would be off to college to start a new chapter in her life.  Glowing with the excitement of young adulthood.  Buzzing with the energy to make her way in the world.  Unfortunately for her, it was a life that never was to be.  In the hearts the mind’s eye of her family, those who love her, and all who were here for her as she left this world behind, she will forever be that five year old little girl.

That Sunday we didn’t go to church, but we put into action the sentiment behind the words in The Good Book, nonetheless.

Karla