The county in which I live has suffered a devastating catastrophe, a wildfire that intruded our cities.
Early Monday morning, I was awakened to the doorbell and pounding at the front door. Because I was alone with my children, I didn't answer it immediately, instead letting my dog to scope it out. When his barking stopped, I realized it was someone we knew at the front door so I ran to open it.
Outside was as active as the middle of the day, only it was pitch black instead of light. We didn't know what was happening, but could smell the smoke and feel the fear. Neighbors were loading their cars, their trailers and RV's with their most prized possessions. I frantically moved throughout the house trying to decide what was worthy of fitting into my medium sized car should we never return to this house we call home.
Those moments were one of the scariest of my life, while the next week continued to be exhausting, worrisome and stressful. The days were long as we were glued to the news, the radio and social media for updates. We watched in horror as loved ones homes were burned to the ground. The fires continued to spread for days as the wind moved it in different directions. Our lives were on hold as we waited for the weather to shift in our favor.
Our entire community is grieving the loss of lives, homes and businesses as a result of these fires. While our hearts are healing and bodies needing the strength and stamina to move forward, I found myself remembering the survival skills from the early days of grief after my daughter died.
Here are my recommendations for simple steps when grieving:
Take Care of Your Needs
Make sure to be well fed, even if you don't feel well rested. Drink ample fluids and make sure you are always nourished. Tea became my lifeline. I wasn't hungry but tea soothed my parched soul. Teamotions tea offers adaptogen herbs for emotional well being. Taking a moment to breathe and taste a cup of warm tea can offer a much needed rest. To find out more about Teamotions tea, click HERE.
Tend to Your Heart
Take a break from the trauma. As much as you're able and as often as you can, be sure to tend to your heart. For me, that means writing. I journaled about my feelings and wrote about my experience at Still Standing (HERE). as a way to process my emotions on paper. Writing may not be your thing, or maybe you don't have a "thing" yet. To give you some ideas and support, I have compiled 100+ ways to tend to your heart HERE.
Days before the fire, my friend and fellow loss mom Kristi from Lilla Rose, sent me a Flexi Clip for my hair. It was such a nice treat to get this in the mail and was especially useful last week when we were left without power and gas. Because I was unable to shower, I would dry shampoo my hair and clip it up with the Flexi Clip. Wearing that clip in my hair made me feel that although I was in a state of chaos, at least I didn't look like it...entirely! I used it near every day and brought it everywhere I went. Give yourself permission to be treated in any way that makes you feel good, especially when you're grieving. As a gift, Kristi has offered to giveaway one Flexi Clip! To enter, click HERE.
11 days later, the fires are nearly contained and most evacuation orders have been lifted. Many families are returning home or learning that their home is no longer standing. It's just going to be a long haul to rebuild both emotionally and physically. But, my community is #sonomastrong and we will get there, It's just going to take time. In the meantime, make sure to take care of your needs, tend to your heart and treat yourself.
The hall was full of people sitting in chairs facing the stage. The leaders sat on stage at a table looking over the crowd. They held papers in their hand, they were reading names and stories and matching families together.
A man held his paper and read the description, "There is this baby, she is amazing. You will love her more than anything in the world. She will change your life. You cannot keep her, but her love will sustain you for a lifetime. And it will be worth it."
I felt my heart jump out of my chest as I jumped out my seat to proclaim, "I'll take her! I will take her!"
And so went the story of our beginning. I was her mama, she was my girl.
That dream plays over and over like a record in my mind. I don't even know where it stems from. I don't remember dreaming it, only knowing it- as if it were any other memory in my mind. I no longer question this thought, I only love that perhaps in some other dimension this is how I was given the most beautiful girl in the world.
I chose her. She chose me. Whatever your beliefs, it does not matter. Whatever gives you peace in the most dire moments of your life is private, personal, and without need for judgement or confirmation.
To wake each year on August 9th (and the days leading before and after) are more than bittersweet, they are heartbreaking, soul-crushing. Remembering the time that I didn't know that my life would irreversibly change, the innocence that was so quickly lost, and the short time I had to parent my daughter, rips my heart out.
Celebrating the birthday of your child who has died mimics the weight of an elephant upon one's chest not allowing breath to escape.
It is not fair for you to always see the strength that remains and the good that is done in honor of Ruthie Lou. All of those things are important. All are valuable. All are true. But it doesn't make it ok, it doesn't mean I am ok. There is also the very real human mama heart that breaks to live without my baby. All the things that I do are the only way I can parent my child-my child who is no longer living. My baby who died.
Every birthday that passes, I celebrate my daughter. I honor her. I remember her. But, I remember her every single day. Just as you think of your babies in the moments that you wake, I also think of mine. Just as you feel excitement and reminisce about the day your child was born and marvel at their growth, I equally cry in pain that I don't have those joyful moments. I miss all the beautiful moments of watching your child grow because she is no longer here.
I would choose her again. I would choose her over and over again. The pain does not negate her life, but it is not easy. It is the single most difficult thing that I endure again and again as we surpass milestones, birthdays and the anniversary of her death. It is a daily choice to heal as I live every day without my girl.
I remember my daughter every morning when I wake. I think of her every night as I close my eyes. I hope to dream of her in my sleep. But that's all I get, the thoughts, the memories, the hopes for a glimpse of her beauty.
So today on what would have been her 6th birthday, I will proceed as I always do. I will wake without Ruthie Lou. I remember the beautiful light that she brought to our life. I mother her brothers with all that I have. I will make meals, clean house, entertain small boys and tonight I will kiss two babies instead of three. And when my day is done and I finally get to close my eyes, I hope to have even a glimpse of the baby that I forever long for.
Every day is a day that I miss her.
Every day is today, the day of her birth.
This is the year that Reid understands birthdays without understanding it is also the day his sister died. I knew this day would come. I visualized it on the morning I woke up in 2011, when Ruthie Lou was still with us and I couldn't fathom why or how she could actually leave me on my birthday, a day I will now forever share with her. I cried and cried and cried and I could not make sense of it.
A friend told me that someday this would be a gift, to share the day with her. What a painful gift to be given, but he was right. It still hurts and I am not in the emotional space of celebrating my birthday yet, but my son is. We have four birthdays in a 6 week period so he has it down now; decorations, cupcakes, candles and presents, it's all very exciting to celebrate the person we love.
Reid can't wait to decorate for me, he's been talking about it for weeks since the night we decorated for him. And this is the year, the one I visualized that awful morning. I could imagine Chris taking the kids to buy me a present, them oblivious to my heartache that day and us living in the joyous moments with our (living) children, celebrating life not death. I want to be there, each year I get closer and the innocence and excitement of my son helps, but I'm not there yet.
So on that day, please don't wish me a happy birthday. I am happy to be born, it used to be my favorite day, but "happy birthday" will never feel quite right. Please honor my daughter and the complexity of our hearts that day, and acknowledge that yes I was born, but leave out the word happy, it breaks my heart and only tells me that you don't understand.
My daughter should have turned five this year; kindergarten, new school, drop offs, pick ups, picture days, father-daughter campouts and her new little brother. She's missing out on all these things and we are missing her dearly.
I know that sharing this day is a gift, that one day we will be less mournful and more celebratory but it's not here yet. My heart aches, my chest hurts and my arms forever empty. I will love the decorations my four year old displays, I will eat all the delicious food that day and smile with my family, for it isn't any different from every other day that we've survived without her. However, Chris and I will know that our hearts ache a little extra on my birthday because in my being born into this world, our daughter was leaving it for the next life, whatever and wherever that might be. All we know, is it was without us and that pain will never end
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.