I love those willing to step into this world with me for one minute and truly be present. Today, a question was posed in which I was completely unprepared for its honesty, "Does it get any easier?" This beautiful mother, who has all of her living children, looked straight into my eyes, hers welling with tears as I choked back, "No." Because it doesn't get any easier, everyday my heart aches for my daughter in the same way that it is full with my son. The weight of my grief has shifted and it has made its way into different parts of my being but no, it certainly does not get any easier. I have joy, I love my life, I am so grateful for all that we DO have but you never miss your child any less or stop trying to understand the devastating loss of the one you love.
The other day I appreciated reading something to the effect of, "The weight of the loss doesn't get any lighter, you just get stronger carrying it." That thought stuck out to me, I am stronger now. Time has passed and the loss of my daughter tears at my heart (probably much more than is apparent on the outside) but I can carry the pain differently than I once did in those terrifying early days. However, it is still there and becomes even more evident as more cousins are being born and as Reid gets older and talks about his sister regularly. But, I carry Ruthie Lou differently now too; I work her foundation, I am on hospital advisory boards, I have ladybugs on the walls of my classroom as well as on my body, all so that I can say her name with pride and joy in my heart and a smile on my face.
And when I am lovingly asked if it ever gets easier, I can honestly (and so grateful for her openness) say, "No, but I am stronger now." Although answered with us both in tears, that conversation was the deepest entrance into my heart.
Life goes on. Well, time sure keeps moving even if you don't want it to. Death stands still. The moment somebody passes away, their story on Earth ends. There are no "new" things to talk about, nothing different that hasn't been said, but you still crave hearing that persons name, still desire to include them in your new life, even when others can't bear to speak their name aloud. I miss Ruthie Lou every single day and every single moment, that has not changed. There is not a day that ends that I lay in bed and think, I didn't think of her today, not a moment for that matter. This process of grief is a mystery, unless of course you have experienced it yourself but that in itself is a double edged sword. I wish so badly for people to understand our experience, to have empathy and compassion for this journey, yet I would never in a million years want even the worst person, to experience this loss, this broken heart, this emptiness where Ruthie Lou was once held in my arms that will now forever only be held in my heart.
I have contemplated updating Ruthie Lou's Caringbridge every time I have posted since her death, not wanting that to page to be about me and fully understanding that this was HER story told here, the only way you would meet her. I prefer to be private yet chose to make her life public because that's all she would have, her 33 days on this website being the only way that you could know her and I so desperately wanted you to know her, for her to be present in your life, for her life to have meaning more than her one month of living here on Earth. And so the story of her life continues in our world, even after her death. It is my experience and others have said as well, that Ruthie Lou was a teacher and she continues teaching and reminding me of her lessons everyday.
So as the months have passed, reluctantly so, I feel it is part of her legacy to continue teaching the beautiful lessons of her life and the painful lessons in her death. Ruthie Lou's death has taught me far more than I ever wanted to know about grief and this is what I have learned:
Grief is lonely because it is different for everybody. There is no "manual" that would sum up everyone's experience because each is as individual as we are. No two experiences are the same. My journey through this is much different than Chris's, I could never speak for both of us, it wouldn't be fair. Some things we share in our process, but many we do not, we are only here to support each other as we try to make sense of our new life. This is true for anyone who has lost someone they love...no TWO experiences of grief are the same and that is a lonely place.
Grief is constant. Even when the bereaved have returned to work, has social interactions, can function on a daily basis and have made it out of bed more days than they stay in it, the grief is still there. Every choice I make is because Ruthie Lou would want nothing else for me than to continue my life, I continue to live for her. I get out of bed because I have to, because that is the way of this world. I spend time with friends because they "stalk" me, they have not for one second allowed me to feel alone, even though they have no idea what I am experiencing. My friends have allowed my pain to sit in their world, while they've held my hand. My grief is constant, I go where I feel safe, where the grief can sit in silence or can laugh out loud with loved ones, it shows up in many ways.
Grief is present even when from the outside the person looks ok. My life has continued, I am working, working out, making dinner, grocery shopping, spending time with friends, all things that were so hard after Ruthie Lou died, things that are so simple in daily life, but the grief is still present. Grief is not always the "lay in bed all day" type of thing that comes to mind when you imagine someone grieving. Sometimes the grief is more distant, but it never fully goes away, Ruthie Lou is never far from my mind and never away from my heart.
Grief is unexpected. Grief shows up in the most unlikely of places and is not ever really a welcomed guest. Sometimes grief shows up in the unwrapping of a frozen dinner in your kitchen, when all of a sudden you realize that you will never watch your daughter get married, fall in love or have babies of her own. There is no rhyme or reason but sometimes, grief looks like that, too.
Grief hurts. After Ruthie Lou died there was an actual physical pain in my heart, one that I am sure doctors would not have found on a scan, but PAIN that hurt so much it was unreal. It has now diminished into an underlying sadness that at times is less than others, but there are moments when that pain returns and the sound of my tears are unlike any other that could ever be compared to, other than the moment you have lost your child.
"Grief is a process, not an event." This quote sat on our fridge, reminding us that we are "normal" in a situation that is not normal. Grief is not 5 stages that happen in order and when completed, you are done. I remember learning of grief in seventh grade, it was all very clean and cyclical. It was taught that one stage occurs, then the next until finally, when all 5 stages were complete, so was your grief. That is not the case. Grief is messy and all stages/phases can occur simultaneously and out of "order" and interchangeably and JUST when you think you are okay to be in the real world, it all falls to pieces again.
Grief is all consuming. It would unfair for me to say that we are not responsible for our actions in the time after Ruthie Lou died, but I can honestly say that there are times since her death that I don't remember A THING. I don't remember who I talked to, what was said, an interaction, or an experience, these simply are times that have left my memory and probably just to protect itself from pain. In between those times, I was able to celebrate life, celebrate Ruthie Lou and find joy surrounding me, but I was really only living minute by minute, which was all i was capable of, and I don't remember most of it. Grief consumed me leaving me only able to take care of myself...and I even needed help with that sometimes. Thank goodness I wrote most everyday, I read those entries like memories of someone else's life.
Grief changes relationships. This has been one of the hardest truths for me to accept. In the beginning, it was my fear that people would shy away from us, leave us when we needed it the most and sadly for some, this has been the case. Some reasons known and others never explained, the most shocking yet unspoken change in grief is that not ONLY do you lose the person who died, the one you love most in this world, but many times you lose relationships that you loved, too. Grief changes relationships and that is salt to a wound.
Grief changes relationships. Alternately, this has been the saving grace in our journey, as well. There have been relationships that were already strong that are now stronger, close friends that are now family and friends that unfortunately share our experience that I couldn't imagine life without, while wishing they (and we) knew nothing of loss so great. Grief changes relationships and we are comforted by those who we feel safe with.
Grief has no timeline. It is overwhelming to know that I will forever miss Ruthie Lou, but reassuring to know that she will forever be part of our family. Grief will always be in my heart, when I think of the plans I had to share my life with Ruthie Lou, it would be unreasonable for any parent to think that it wouldn't. I know that this grief will change its appearance, be farther at times, but it truly has no timeline and will not ever fully go away. My daughter, though moved on from this life, will never go away. So the fact that grief has no timeline, while overwhelming, gives me comfort that Ruthie Lou will always be with us.
Grief changes you. Grief changes the very core of who we are, sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better. I choose the latter. I choose to cherish today. I choose to cherish all the goodness left in my life. Grief is now a part of me but it is ONLY that, a PART of me. My daughter brought such beautiful gifts and lessons, too many to list and some too private, but grief will not be her only memory, just one more lesson she left us to learn. Life is (still) good, it is just different, the sadness deeper, the joys greater, the choices in life easier to make, the rest of our life awaiting us to live it.
Unrelated to my personal experience but the timing is so, that there are major changes in the psychological world right now, changes in the proposed DSM-V (the "bible" of their world) limiting a loved ones grief to two weeks. I am living proof, as I am sure many of you are too, in any type of grief, that two weeks is an unreasonable amount of time to grieve the loss of someone you love with all your heart. My hope is that the words of the bereaved can help straighten out the confusion in the medical field, my hope is that stories of the lives that we have lost will help those needing it in the future. My hope is that Ruthie Lou, along with the many others gone before us that continue to be teachers, can continue to change the way in which we view death, the way in which we live our life. Once again, Ruthie Lou has taught me lessons I may have never otherwise learned. Clearly, I would prefer having never learned these lessons of grief but I think it's important to share a different perspective on death.
Our society is so quick to "fix" everything, to "brush stuff under the carpet", to not talk about the unspeakable such as death, grieving, sadness but this is not being honest, this is not honoring ourselves or our loved ones lost. Each life is important no matter how long and our grief, our sadness is just the remaining evidence of our love. I love Ruthie Lou so much, I will live every day in gratitude so that her life has meaning, I will LIVE for her. Our lives are blessed because of her. We are forever changed having met her, held her, loved her and forever loving her and even in this grief, we still live our life with love and gratitude EVERY DAY.
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.