I’ve seen a meme circulating that if (during this pandemic) you don’t start a new hobby, improve yourself, or craft a new skill then it wasn’t about time, it’s a lack of discipline.
I have to be one of the most disciplined people I know. When I have a task, I am focused until I complete it. When I have a vision, I go after it with everything I have. It doesn’t matter if I have time or not, the time is created.
But when you are in the midst of chaos, the midst of CRISIS, there isn’t the space available to put towards self-actualization because your brain’s sole focus is surviving.
I sheltered my family in place on March 13. This pandemic brought up a fair amount of PTSD from having cancer and imagining what life would be like if one of us had to be hospitalized and facing death again. At that time with all the unknowns of this virus, it felt like a true risk. It was a true risk as many in our community experienced.
I didn’t want to take a chance. So, I kept myself and the boys home even before it was mandated. I asked Chris to stop working even before it was mandated. He didn’t want to but we know the severity and the reality of facing mortality so we sheltered in. And yes, we had more time. But we also returned to the fight or flight adrenaline in our bodies when your sole purpose is survival. Our bandwidth became shortened.
There was no space for creativity, other than creating a safe home and environment for our children. I couldn’t write, my brain would not allow me to go there. And it hasn’t been able to for a long time. I first attributed it to chemo brain, which is entirely possible. Then I attributed it to my inability to multitask since radiation, which is also entirely possible. Then I was wrapped up with school and all my creativity went to my job. And now, a pandemic.
But last night, I stumbled across Adam’s journal. The notebook I started when pregnant. My last entry was the night before I started chemo, just a few weeks after having two surgeries. It was a sweet entry, telling him of my courage and love for him. But it was also very sad. When his brother was little I wrote to him constantly. I did have more time but I was also healthy. I have TWO journals for Reid because one could not contain enough pages for all the writing I held for him. As a mom, that didn’t sit right with me that at some point one child may feel more loved than the other because I wrote about it more.
So after 6+ weeks of being home with my family, I wrote for the first time since January. But even that writing was only a brief moment of clarity. I couldn’t write before then because I was in the throes of a crisis (like we are now as a worldwide community) facing emotional, physical, financial worries. But since the boys went to sleep early, I spent an hour writing last night. It felt so good to write, to process.
This morning, I felt clear and motivated, compelled when I woke to write again. I feel relief. I feel a grounding. I feel a return to me.
It wasn’t time or discipline I was lacking the last 6 weeks, it was the safety of being in my body and in my home and not feeling a threat to my life and those who I love. It was feeling the realistic fear of my husband losing the business he loves so much. It wasn't me being lazy--and it isn't you being lazy either. In survival, higher-level thinking, motivation and determination no longer get a seat at the table. So give yourself some grace and scroll on past those presumptuous memes.
I know we are still facing risks of this virus, but I can finally see the flicker of light now. I see life returning and while I know it will be far from normal for some time, I feel a settling into what is and I am hopeful for what is to come.
We have five chairs at our dinner table. The sixth one is used as a desk chair in my bedroom. It has always been this way. Last week Adam noticed the empty chair. He was upset and said that somebody should be sitting there. He was adamant about it. He didn’t directly say Ruthie, he may not even have meant her, but Chris and I exchanged looks because he was right. Someone should be sitting there. And now that 5th chair feels sad to me. Or it feels like a direct statement. Or it is her being included at our table. Someone should be sitting there. Ruthie should be sitting there. Although in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe in “should”. I want her to be sitting there, but she isn’t. She won’t. She never will.
Then, yesterday we were on a bike ride and a dad cycling by had a babyseat on his bike. Adam said we needed a babyseat for Ruthie. I reminded him Ruthie wasn’t here and he said he knew that but that she needed a bike seat. Again, Chris and I exchanged looks. Of course she would have needed a bike seat. But she never got one. She never will.
Adam and Reid should have their sister. But they’ll never know her, not in the way they should. They will never meet her. They will always be “the boys”. I will always be a boy mom. But, not really. Because even though she isn’t here, she WAS here. She existed and she matters. I will always have a daughter. They will always have a sister.
Next weekend, on Mother’s Day, I will have two little boys stumble in my room to wake me, with handmade cards and sloppy hugs and kisses. It will be their day to celebrate me. But today, International Bereaved Mother’s Day is Ruthie Lou’s mothers day. It honors the motherhood that should be, the child I should be raising. It isn’t Hallmark approved, you won’t find cards for it in the grocery store, but it is a real thing-just as bereaved mother’s are REAL moms.
The chair that is empty, the bike seat that isn’t needed, the brothers who will never meet their sister-these moments exist over and over in our lifetime because Ruthie was not given life. But she was real and continues to be loved, missed, and included in our family of five forever. So today we acknowledge and honor the very real mothers of the very real children who are loved, missed and included forever.
I walked past a man at the store who wore a white helmet with the words “I had a brain tumor” written cleanly across the front. I glanced at the helmet, which is not often seen worn by 50 year old men and smiled at him. As I walked away I felt compelled to show him my support of what he was enduring so I commented on the helmet and then, the brain tumor. Having recently completed treatment for cancer myself, I told him how I often wished I could wear a sign so that others knew to treat me gently during that fragile time, when even going to the grocery store took such effort. It got me thinking, how would we treat one another if we knew the trials we were enduring? If we wore them across our shirt (or helmet) for others to see?
After my daughter died I wanted to wear that sign so badly. I needed others to know that I was doing my best to face the world when every part of me screamed silently inside. My world had stopped spinning on its axis yet people walked down the street and in the grocery store unphased. I needed their compassion. If others were unable to offer understanding, even just a reassuring smile of acknowledgement would have been a salve to the loneliness I felt.
Seeing the man's bravery (and truly the necessity of his helmet for safety) allowed he and I to have a real conversation about his upcoming surgery where they would replace a missing piece of his skull. We connected on a human emotional level beyond a quiet glance as we roamed the aisles searching for milk. It was a beautiful moment in the mundane errand.
After asking a friend how could I possibly face the world after my daughter died, she commented that everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. That every person we pass on the street has endured a tragedy that at one point defined them. It gave me something to think about; that I was enduring the greatest heartbreak of my life and that even though others may not know this exact pain, they know their own pain. It was hard to have compassion for others at a time of such devastating grief, but it did give me something to consider.
We may not wear the sign of our life’s tragedy on our sleeve, or even on a helmet, but we can treat one another as though we do. We can offer a smile, look others in the eye, and be kind. We can glance up for true human connection with those we sit next to on the bus, at the bank or doctors office. We are all fighting our own battles and doing the best we can to show up. Even if we can’t read each other's signs, we’re all wearing them on the inside.
I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.