Monday, December 31, 2012

I am completely blown away. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

OMG, when I wrote about the day Meghan died, I hoped it would compel people to share and act.  I could not have possibly imagined how many of you would.  I am completely blown away.  I went to bed last night and 27,000 people had read that day's blog.  I thought that was phenomenal.  Less than 24 hours later, it's nearly 100,000!  Go Meggie, go! Shine your light and save those lives!  I'm so proud of her!

I wanted to write a quick post to say I have so much more to say and hope to have the time to articulate it tomorrow.  In the mean time I'd like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who read and shared my post from December 18th about the day Meggie died.  I cried tears of gratitude this morning and again now after returning from work to see all the people who read my blog from that day and all the wonderful messages left for me.  I want to answer each and every one of you, but for now, please know I read them all.  I also read all the comments and messages on the Meghan's Hope Facebook page.  There have been so many the past few days, I just haven't caught up yet!

I am so grateful to have so many messengers spreading Meghan's Hope around the world.  Words fail me.  My heart is so full.  I feel your love and support and I thank you for it with all that I am.  It is by far the best holiday gift I could have ever received.

Wishing you love, peace and prosperity in the New Year.  May all of our resolutions include making the world a safer and more gentle place for our children.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kisses from Heaven

Merry Christmas!  I hope your day is filled with merry and bright, love and laughter and boundless joy.

Living in New England, we like a white Christmas.  It was nice to wake this morning to softly falling snow and dusting of fluffy white snow on the ground.  Not quite all white, but enough.

I like snow.  From the inside of my house.  Preferably snuggled up with a blanket and a cup of hot tea.  I love to watch it fall.  I love the pristine whiteness of the landscape. I love watching the birds, so colorful and playful in the snow. I do not like it so much when I have to drive in it, of course.

So this morning, in the early morning hours, I went to visit Meg's special place.  I brought her some flowers for Christmas. I thanked Santa for being there for/with her (the gentleman buried across from her has a Santa etched on his stone!)  It was so quiet.  So peaceful.  So still.  I closed my eyes.  You could hear the birds singing their morning song.  You could smell the winter air.  The slight breeze was cold against my cheek as it was only 24 degrees.  It was a lovely connection with nature.  I could almost hear the snow softly falling.  As the soft fluffy snowflakes mixed with my silent hot tears, I smiled.

Kisses from Heaven.  Soft.  Gentle.  Pure. Loving.  Abundant.

You see, I've never thought of snow in quite the same way as I have since Meg died.  The day before her wake we had a big snowstorm.  I remember two distinct things about it.  I remember it began the night before and I went for a walk in the snow.  I remember looking up to the sky and feeling the cold, wet flakes hit my cheeks and mix with tears.  I remember having an epiphany of sorts, that the snowflakes were as close to kisses from Heaven as I could get.  It brought me comfort then.  It does to this day.  It was a gift.  A soft blanket across the land.  To insulate.  To bring peace and pureness of light.  To force us to pause and connect with nature.  I remember the next day, going outside with the boys to play in the snow.  We made snow angels, of course.

Now, every time it snows and especially at Christmas time, I am filled with gratitude that I have another opportunity to receive kisses from Heaven.  I hope you got some, too!

If not, I hear we'll have a few more chances in the coming week.  I'll be outside soaking up my kisses and making some snow angels.  Will you?

Peace and joy to you and yours this day and always.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fly High, Fly Free

December 22.  Three days until Christmas!  The excitement of the children.  The festive decorations.  The parties.  A gathering of family.  A joyous time of year.

Unless you have to plan or attend a funeral.  I encountered a funeral procession just this morning.  Hello trigger!  Not that it wasn't already on my mind, it just sort of slapped me in the face.  Eight years ago, I was the one in that first limo.  It's so difficult.

You've probably figured out by now that grief involves rituals.  At least for me.  In order to heal, one must move forward, yet must never forget.  My therapy is writing.  I do promise you, my posts going forward will not all be about Meghan or about topics that make readers uncomfortable or move them to tears.  That is not my intent. It is my hope that in sharing my experiences of this week eight years ago, that it not only helps me heal, but that it gives you a sense of what the depth of such a loss is. That you might have some insight into what might be going on inside my heart and head and indeed in the hearts and heads of anyone who has lost a loved one during this season or during their 'anniversary' week, whenever that may be.  That you understand that this is not about reliving the pain because I can't move forward.  It's about sharing my pain, my experiences, so that we can ALL grow, heal and move forward.  It's a process.  One that involves remembering even the difficult days.  There is no right or wrong way.  This is my way.  Once again, I thank you for walking with me.

Funerals are a ritual in which we, those left here on earth, have a formal chance to say good-bye.  It's a ritual of closure.  The burial of the physical body or for some.  It's a celebration of their life. A chance for all those who knew them to gather and share.  To remember the joy and laughter they brought to our lives.  It's a bittersweet mixture of laughter and tears.  It's a chance to gather in support of those left behind, that they need not grieve alone.

With the funerals of the 20 children lost in the Sandy Hook School shooting last Friday so prevalent in the media this week, I know many people are feeling for those families.  I saw the media there and thought what would I done if it were my child.  I'd have run out there and told them to go the hell home and let us mourn in peace! Families need privacy.  To be surrounded by friends, family and loved ones.  To feel as if they can truly grieve without it ending up on the evening news or the front page of the paper.  No one needs or wants their '15 minutes of fame' to be in such a personal moment of grief and pain.  I feel for those families.  On so many levels.

This is what the media can't show, could never know.

The morning of Meg's funeral we met at the funeral home for our last goodbye.  We all had one last chance to see her.  Our immediate family said goodbye, one by one, then left to get in their cars for the processional.  We were the last.  We said our goodbyes.  I kissed her one last time.  We all took a pink rose from an arrangement by her casket.  The director asked if I wanted her blankets or kitties.  I said no.  No sooner were we in the limo and I regretted it.  The casket had already been sealed.  She would've wanted them I rationalized.  But of course, she didn't need them.  She was not there.  Only her body was.  To this day, I really wish I had them...

The hearse pulled out of the driveway with her little white casket surrounded by her pink and white flowers visible through the windows.  Our family limo followed.  The boys thought it was pretty cool to ride in a limo!  I remember the traffic that was stopped on our town's main road at the intersections as we traveled the mile to the church.  Everyone knew it was her funeral.  It had been in the paper.  We are a small town.  I distinctly remember one woman bowing her head in her car, visibly crying, and make the sign of the cross as Meggie passed her car.  That's what moved me to tears first that day.

Our little processional arrived at the church.  The parking lot was overflowing.  I thought it odd, not that many people could have taken the day off to come.  We watched the last few people enter.  Then we walked in as a family of 4, instead of 5.  The church was packed, standing room only.  Nearly everyone was crying.  All eyes were on us.  I held my boys hands.  I was numb.  My head was spinny again.  I saw nothing but the red pointsettas at the altar.

Then, Meggie came in.  We were asked to place the pall, a decorative cloth, over her casket.  Her father and I did so with a little help from the boys.  When we were finished my husband briefly placed his head on her casket in a moment of grief.  Her twin, who I was holding in my arms, very quietly said "it's perfect".  And we took our seats.

There were two priests and a Deacon, my uncle, who had baptized her, officiating.  He delivered the homily. A neighbor did a reading.  Then, instead of another reading, a song was played on a CD player.  It was called "Visitor From Heaven" by Twila Paris.  It was beautiful and moving.  I don't remember much from the service.  I remember our priest asking if we wanted them to wait to decorate the church for Christmas until after her funeral the day before.  I said of course not!  I remember him giving me the choices for readings and hating them all.   I remember the choices for songs being easier and more appropriate but not what I really wanted.  

I had asked a friend at the last minute if she'd take a few photos.  Again, so the boys would have them to refer to should they ever wish to since they'd likely not remember.  I scrap-booked all of the photos from her wake and funeral.  It was good therapy for me.  I look at it every year this day.  My oldest son has never wanted to look at it.  Meg's twin has looked at it twice with me.

After the service we returned to the limo to wait for everyone to get in their cars for the very short drive to the cemetery.  I remember watching the people pour out of the church, being surprised to see some of the people there that I did.  I was touched.

We made the slow and short journey to the cemetery.  I remember seeing the officer stationed there to stop traffic fighting tears off.   I believe he was one of the first people at our house the day she died.  I was later told he had just had a baby girl himself.

As we gathered at her 'special place' at the cemetery for her burial, a brief prayer was said.  Her twin was holding a stuffed cat he had received as a gift the day before.  He wanted to play in the snow.  When it was over, I took the pink rose we had taken from the funeral home and placed it on her casket.  I remember saying "You always wanted to fly my angel, I love you".  Her twin placed his flower.  And another.  And another.  He asked if he could go in the special place with her. As if my heart could have broken any more that day...  Slowly, others did the same with flowers and left us alone.

I remember the funeral director coming to me and asking which way we wanted her body to lay relative to the 'head' stone.  He said he only asked because although it made no sense, having her head away from the road seemed a more peaceful rest.  I agreed and laughed.  She'd really have a 'foot' stone!  Sounded about right for Meg.  He handed us a bag of some of the things we had on display at the funeral home for the wake and hugged us.  We headed for home while they buried her casket.

We listened to that same CD of Meggie's favorite music in the limo.  We arrived home to "You can Fly".  Her twin couldn't wait to get out of the car and immediately threw himself into the snow and attempted to make a 3-year old snow angel.  A fitting tribute! We went into the house to find it full of family and friends and neighbors.  The food, my God, the food!  To be honest, although I understand the ritual, the last thing I wanted to do was be social.  I wanted everyone to go the hell home and leave us alone.  I had to make the boys lunch.  Ham cut with a Christmas Tree cookie cutter.  It was the only way they'd eat it.  I think I hid in my room most of the rest of that afternoon.  I just didn't want to be social.  What a stupid tradition, I thought.  Of course, it was more for everyone else than it was for me.  The support was definitely appreciated, I was just done and needed to be alone.

Eventually everyone left.  Not a moment too soon.  In the quiet, we looked in that bag.  Aside from the things we provided like the CD of music and pictures, we found an heirloom Bible, a Merry Christmas From Heaven ornament, bookmarks with her obituary laminated to them, the guest book from her wake, the extra prayer cards and the beautiful tribute tile with her picture and a poem the director's wife had made for us.  All gifts from them.  I was so touched by their kindness and thoughtfulness.

We later learned that they gifted us her funeral as well.  Such a kind and generous family.

We were and are so blessed to live in the community we do.  The support, even 8 years later, is still there.  In fact a neighbor called me just last night to ask how I was doing, knowing it was a difficult week for me.

December 22nd will always be a 'trigger' day for me.  One I endure with a heavy heart.  It is a day of significance in my life, even though everyone else who was there has likely forgotten or simply doesn't remember this was the day unless I mention it.  That's OK   I understand that.  My heart is heavy.  The day your bury your child is only second in painfulness to the day that they died.

That said, she had a beautiful service and a beautiful day.  I am so blessed to have had her in my life the 3 short years I did.  She truly was a visitor from Heaven.

As her Uncle Larry wrote on a note card to her that afternoon, "Fly High, Fly Free!"  She got her never-ending wish, she will forever 'fly in the sky', only now, it's among angels.  I'm the mom of an angel.  One of the happiest, most loving and sweet and yet loudest little angels you might have ever encountered.  Her light is bright and her love boundless.

Close your eyes and feel her.  Can you?  I can.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Emerging from the darkness

Happy apocalyptic solstice day! Welcome to winter!

So, as expected, no end of the world today.  There was an event of celestial proportions however.  Today is the day of the winter solstice.  The 'shortest' day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  The darkest day in a manner of speaking.  The solstice officially occurred at 6:12 am EST or 11:12 GMT.  While the amount of light will now become longer the cold continues to descend on us here in the Northeast.

I kinda wish it would snow.

I kinda wish I lived in a warmer climate.

I kinda wish I never had to experience this day for it's a trigger day.  I hate them.  This week is fraught with them.  This particular day is not as difficult as some others this week, largely because there is much in spiritual meaning that resonates with me and it brings comfort.

The winter solstice has fairly deep spiritual meaning in many cultures.  They all revolve around re-birth.  About celebrating coming out of darkness and into light.  Perhaps then it is no surprise that the birth of Jesus is celebrated this season.

The meaning of the solstice never really resonated with me until December 21st, 2004.  THAT felt like the end of my world.  My own personal apocalyptic hell.  It was that day the wake was held for my daughter.  The day I saw her again, after leaving her body at the hospital, after an autopsy, after three days of not seeing her and adjusting to her death, the day I saw her IN A LITTLE WHITE CASKET.  OMG, there is nothing that can prepare you for that moment, either.  She had on her favorite clothes I had brought in.  She was covered with her pink big flower blankie she slept with every night.  She had her yellow lovey blanket tucked under her arm that had her name on it.  She had her favorite kitties, Duncan and Duncan.  She had make up on!  She was surrounded with pink and white flowers.  She had angels around her literally and figuratively.  It was so surreal. So wrong.

Someone who came to her wake said to me afterwards there was so much light around her as she lay in her little white casket.  That it was as perfect a day as could be given the circumstances that we gather to pay our respects and honor Meghan and for some to say good-bye to her because the energy of the day was about the transition from darkness to light.  About her spiritual re-birth in a way.  Sadness to the realization she was a light being now.  Her soul was free to shine down on us, to guide us, to shower us with love and divine energy.

It was also a night of light and love beyond any and all expectation.  I was completely overwhelmed with the endless line of people who came that night.  It was cold.  It had snowed a pretty significant amount the day before.  Some drove for many hours just to come pay their respects, only to drive home again afterward.  The calling hours were 5-8 pm.  The line was out the door all night.  They waited for an hour, easily.  As their line snaked through the funeral home, they saw pictures and a slide show.  They saw some of her favorite things, mostly cats, her drawings, and a plaque made by the funeral director's wife for us.  They were probably a bit surprised to walk through the door to some rousing Disney tunes like 'Under the Sea', 'Circle of Life', 'Everybody Wants to Be a Cat', and 'You Can Fly'.  They were probably most baffled by 'Mambo no 5', by Lou Bega.  One of her favorite songs at the time!  This was about Meggie.  A celebration of her life.  She was an upbeat and feisty little girl.  It only made sense to have her favorite music playing!

I stood there for 3 hours, watching person after person kneel before her open casket, cross themselves, shed a tear or outright bawl, and then hug us to express their condolences.  Many cried.  Some couldn't even speak, we consoled them!  The time flew by.  The people did not stop coming.  Some I didn't even know, they were complete strangers.  Some, unbeknownst to me at the time, were the various personnel who attended to her the day she died.  Some were other parents of twins who knew of me but never met me.  Some had lost their children and just wanted to be there to support us, even though we'd never met.  Some were old school or work friends we'd not spoken to in years, some who didn't even know we had the twins, who somehow found out and were compelled to come to pay their respects.  It was deeply touching.  Over 300 people came.  Our pediatrician came towards the end.  She brought 3 angel bears.  She hugged us. She shed tears. She said there were only 3 bears left at the store.  One for each of the children.  Meggie's is in her room, on her dresser, to this day.

My doula sisters, oh my sweet doula sisters...  They came, many of them.  They were there at the beginning.  They were among the last to leave. They sat vigil, they held the space just as they do in birth.  They mothered me.  They got me a chair.  They handed me water periodically.  They gave me soft tissues. They checked in to see how I was doing, if I needed anything.  They told me how beautiful she looked.  What they remembered about her.  Mostly, they just sat and beamed energy and strength my way.  Silently empowering me to be able to stand there for 3 non-stop hours in the surreal experience of watching people kneel before my dead little girl and dissolve into tears with THEIR pain and then accept handshake after handshake, hug after hug, condolence after condolence.   I was numb, but at the same time, having the doula love and support made that evening so much more bearable for me, I am forever grateful.  They went above and beyond, creating a network of doulas to check on me, bring me food, lend an ear or a hug for six months after she died.  I am so blessed to be a part of such an amazing community of women.

As I left that night, the stars were brightly shining in the sky.  I noticed the belt of Orion.  I later learned Orion means 'breaking forth of the light' and symbolizes spirit.  Supposedly, in some spiritual teachings, it is the gateway to "Heaven".  I don't know what it actually means, if anything, but it gave me some comfort that night and to this day, I gaze to Orion's belt in the Winter Sky with awe and hope.

I pondered how every December 21st, every first day of winter for the rest of my life, would forever be associated with a 'trigger' day for me.  It would also always be the day of my daughter's wake.  Part of me didn't want to forget that day, part of me wanted to be able to share it with her twin, only 3 at the time, who most likely wouldn't remember.  So I took pictures during our private time with Meghan at the funeral home, before our calling hours.  People freaked out.  They couldn't believe I was taking pictures of my dead daughter!  I wanted to capture the emotion.  The surreal beauty of the room.  The serenity of her face.  Her brothers exploring her 'special box' and saying their private good-byes.  Of course, the same people who objected to the photos also freaked out when they found out I opted for an open casket.

Get over it. She's mine.  I can do what I want.  I am momma.  I know what's best for myself and my family.  Right now, it's preserving this moment for when and if my boys or myself wish to revisit it someday.  Some may say it's morbid.  So be it.  If you've read my blog before this day, you probably have the sense I'm pretty mama bear when it comes to my kids and pretty comfortable in expressing my feelings.  Besides, she was as beautiful as she could've been.  Yes, she looked sort of like a doll.  I found the make up amusing.  I remember thinking if she had put it on, the lip gloss would have been on the outside of her lips and I was really tempted to 'fix' that.  I was also tempted to mess up her hair, since those pigtails never stayed in place very long.

This is my 8th winter solstice without Meghan.  Now, more than ever, I feel the power of the light, of the rejection of the darkness.  I hear a little voice, 'this little light of mine...I'm gonna let it shine...'

With so much negative energy in the world.  With so much violence and lack of goodwill toward our fellow man, now, more than ever, we need to find our light.  We need to let it shine.  We need to reject the darkness, the negativity, judgement and blame.  Life is too damn short to do anything else.

Another song comes to mind, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me".

Be grateful for this day and every day.  Choose love.  Shine your light and bring others into it with you.

Sparkle on!

Meghan wouldn't want it any other way.  Well, maybe with a touch of pink and purple...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Be with me. Just for today.

For once, I'm at a loss for words.  Maybe not so much at a loss, but there are so many things I want to say that I just don't know where or how to begin.  I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning.  This post is less about words and more about feeling.  It's about emotion.  It's a glimpse inside my heart, not my mind.

Eight years ago this morning, I woke to a nightmare.  One that will really never end.  My 3-year old beautiful daughter was found lifeless under her dresser.  Somehow she managed to tip it over on herself while we slept.  We did not hear it fall, for it fell onto her.  She was unable to cry.  She died in minutes while the rest of our family slept, her airway compressed by a drawer under the weight of the dresser.  Her dresser is pictured below.  When most people see it, they are flabbergasted, expecting it to have been a much larger piece. Many of you may know this story already.  What you probably don't know, is what I'm going to share here.  I will thank you in advance for being with me this day in my grief.

Every year on her 'Angel Day', the anniversary of her death (or 'Angelversary' as we refer to it now), I allow myself to participate in my own ritual of remembrance.  I eagerly wait for the rest of the family to go off to work and school so I can have time alone with Meggie.  It's difficult to go back to that day, yet it's important to me.  Important that I allow myself one day to grieve, to really grieve, to honor my feelings from that day to this day, to reflect on my life and how it's changed as a result of her life and of her death.  It's the one day I allow myself to really *be* with the pain, to remember and re-live the details of that day.  For in the pain of it all, were absolute angels who helped us through.

It always starts with an overpowering sense of guilt.  I am, by nature, an early riser.  That day, I wanted to sleep in.  In fact, our entire family did.  Every year on the anniversary, I wake early and get up. My heart heavy. I desperately wish I had that day, too. Had I gotten up earlier, when she first woke up, she'd still be here with us.  Instead, I told her it wasn't time to get up yet and it was still time for sleep and I went back to bed.  She was apparently playing in her room instead of sleeping as she often did before it was 'get up time'. Add to that, the fact that if we had secured her dresser to the wall, like we had taller and heavier pieces of furniture in our home, she would not have died.  

The fact that I failed as a parent to keep my child safe (partially because of my own selfishness in wanting to sleep) and that resulted in her very preventable death is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how much that hurts.  IT COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED! *I* could have prevented it.

Then, I read some of the letter I began to her on December 28th, 2004.  It's now 397 pages long.  It is a painful reminder of what I felt during those days, weeks and months after her death.  It's also a reminder of how Meghan's Hope began and grew and of the love and support we received from so many.  I'm so glad I wrote it, for I've forgotten many of the details of those days and had I not recorded it in my letter to her, I'd likely not remember it now.  It always moves me to tears.  I'm always surprised by what I've forgotten. Yes, they are my own words, but it brings everything back. I actually need that.  There was a lot of goodness in there that came out of the pain.  The kindness of friends, family, neighbors and compete strangers were gifts that helped us endure the hell, who walked with us through the pain. My depth of my gratitude for them is difficult to convey.

I, of course, add to the letter each anniversary and periodically during the year.  With the social media tools available today, I also write about it here and on Facebook and Google+.  I vow to somehow turn the letter into a book.  I don't know when I will find the time to do it, or what exactly I will write, but it is inching ever closer.  My hope in sharing all of this, is that it will touch someone, somehow, that will be compelled to DO something about it to prevent it from happening to a child they know and to share the information with everyone they know.

My ritual then turns to time in her room.  Her dresser is still there.  It has many Meggie items on top of it. Some made by her, some given to me in memory of her.  It is now secured to the wall.  The irony kills me.

Her room is still her room in many ways, but it also a room for me.  For us.  It's the place where I scrapbook and do my bead work.  Neither of which I've actually done much of the past few years, but I enjoy being in her room.  My scrapbook table is actually in the place her dresser was when it fell on her.    Artwork by Meg and her twin hang on the wall.  Her twin brother actually will go in there once in a while to read or listen to his iPod.  He needs to be near her energy, too.

I stand in the doorway to her room and pause.  I close my eyes.  I allow myself to remember my husband screaming my name "Kim, oh God, KIIIIIMMMMM" and being woken from a deep sleep knowing instantly something horrible had happened from the tone of his voice.  I remember running into her room, seeing her tiny, beautiful body, pale and blue, lifeless on the floor. He had thrown the dresser off of her and placed her on the floor.  I remember my older son, then 6, literally freaking out by her head, crying and yelling "What happened to she OK .. mommy make her wake up, MAKE HER WAKE UP!"  I remember doing CPR, simultaneously begging her to come back to us and yet knowing in my heart it was already too late.  I remember her twin, also just 3, kneeling at her feet, quietly saying, "Mommy, Meggie not wake up". It was not a question.  It was a statement of spiritual fact.  He knew.

I remember my husband falling down the stairs trying to get the door for what he thought were the EMT's, but was actually a young neighbor who was an EMT who heard the call on the police scanner.  I remember him walking into the room behind me and audibly gasping.  I remember the EMT's arriving, taking over CPR, running frantically into my room to change my clothes, (I still have the sweatshirt I last held her in.  I can't bear to part with it) running outside in bare feet to yell to ambulance to ask which hospital they were taking her to and then flying to the car and nearly running over neighbors who were already flocking to our house to help and support us as I backed out of the driveway.

I have no idea how I drove.  I shouldn't have. I had no idea how to get to the hospital, yet I managed to get there.  It was a Saturday. All I could think was "it's been more than 6 minutes", although none of us knew how long she was under the dresser, knowing on a soul level she was gone, but hoping beyond hope that they would get her back.  Miracles happen, right?

I remember, very vividly, walking into the ER at the local community hospital.  By then, I was having chest pain. Like really serious chest pain, I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack from the stress.  My heart was breaking.  Literally.  I felt it.  It hurts.  Like hell.  I can actually still feel the visceral pain of it when I allow myself to fully go back to that day.  I felt like I'd pass out, my head was spinning, my vision was fuzzy, my legs were as heavy as cement.  Walking was such an effort and so very slow and unsteady. I have no idea how I managed to put one foot in front of the other.  I really thought I was dying myself right then.  I remember the girl at the check in desk, telling her I was here and my daughter was just brought in by ambulance.  She told me they'd be right with me and not to worry, she was sure it would be OK.  I literally almost slapped her across the face.  I wanted to scream at her, "She's dead!  What the hell do you mean it will be f*cking OK?!"

I remember the little room, the kind woman (a nurse or chaplain maybe) who sat with us.  Who brought me ginger ale and tissues, which I asked for in the hopes it would quell the nausea and keep me from passing out because it is nothing short of a miracle I did not hit the floor.  She prayed with us, because clearly, we needed it and there was little else we could do.  I remember talking to our neighbor, also an ER doctor, who was part of the team caring for her.  The look on his face said everything, but they were opting to Life Flight her to a trauma hospital.  He said it didn't look good but they were not giving up yet.

We were allowed to see her before they took her.  I was vaguely aware of the many people around her, yet all I saw was her beautiful face.  I ducked under someone's arm and kissed her, stroked her silky blonde hair and told her I loved her.  That I would see her at the next hospital.  I remember thinking she'd have loved the helicopter ride.  She always wanted to fly. There were tears in the eyes of the staff tending to her.  A few posted on her guest book of the Web site later and their words were so sweet and kind.  I remember one nurse saying she promised me Meggie was well loved and deeply cared for by everyone who tended to her that morning in the ER.

One of the EMT's drove us to the next hospital.  I remember trying to sit in the car seat in the back seat, unable to process that I should remove it and sit in the regular seat or even figure out how to remove the car seat.  I just stood there and stared at it. The EMT did it for us.  He was a wonderful man.  We tried to call at least one family member to let them know what was happening so they could share with others.  I called to see how the boys were doing since we left in chaos, essentially leaving them with people they barely knew.  I was told our babysitter, who knew them well, was already with them and the entire neighborhood was in our house holding vigil.  Family was on their way to our house. It gave me some peace of mind that I needn't worry about them.

When we arrived at the trauma hospital, we were lead to the God-awful room.  You know the one.  Where the priest is waiting with you and your family to hear the words you don't want to hear.  It wasn't long before a very uneasy looking resident and the trauma chief, who had on a lovely Christmas tie (odd what you remember), said something to the effect of "blah, blah, blah...I'm very sorry, but Meghan had died".  It was like the Charlie Brown voice.  Slow and distant and mumbly.  They really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but now it was official. There was no more hope.  It was over.  My baby girl was gone forever.  I couldn't have hurt anymore than I already did.  So I bowed my head, took a deep breath, and asked to see her.  I'm sure I cried but I don't remember.  All I wanted to do at that moment was to see her. It was but a few minutes before the nurse came back and said we were allowed to see her.

Let me say, the pedi trauma nurses rock.  How they do it, I'll never know.  The priest accompanied us. Quite frankly, I found him irritating.  I'm not sure if was just my reaction to her death or if he was really annoying.  He did not comfort me at all.  He read the 23rd Psalm.  It took every ounce of my being not to tell him to shut up.  It did NOT help.  He left. Rather, I dismissed him, thanking him, but not sure what for.

Meggie looked so peaceful.  A true sleeping beauty.  If only a kiss could really bring her back to us!  I actually wish we had a picture of her then.  She was SO beautiful and so at peace.  Her color was better thanks to an hour+ of CPR.  They asked if they could call anyone for us.  I couldn't remember phone numbers.  I couldn't even dial a phone.  They got me a chair so I could sit by the phone and they looked up numbers.  They dialed for me.  They held the phone to my ear because I was shaking so badly I couldn't even hold it.  How do you tell your parents their granddaughter is dead?  They stood behind me with their hands on my shoulders and rubbed my back while I told my parents.  I think they also talked to them since I was likely incoherent.  They called my uncle, the Deacon who baptized her, and asked him to come for me. All I could tell them was his name and what town he lived in, they did the rest.  When he came, I sobbed into his belly.  It was the first good cry I had.  He was my spiritual comfort.  Then I looked up at him and smiled through the tears, a comforting thought and connection coming to me.  "She's with Gram!", I said.  We knew she'd take care of her.

They asked if I'd like to hold her.  Of course, I said yes.  I'd have held her forever if I could have. They got me a rocking chair and they placed her in my arms.  They covered us both with a warm blanket. I rocked her and held her little hand.  So delicate and tiny.  So sweet.  I stared and stared and stared at her face.  It was so surreal.  How could she really be gone?  I kissed her.  Often.  I talked to her.  I cried.  But mostly, I stared at her and loved her. The nurses gave us our space but checked on us often.

The nurses asked if we'd like to make hand/foot prints for us and the boys.  They helped us paint a hand and a foot pink and purple and 'stamp' several pieces of paper with them.  They hang to this day in her brother's rooms. They made a little soft plaster heart and together we imprinted a hand and a foot.  They added a little pink bow.  It sits on our mantle now.  They placed her back on the bed.  Other family members were invited to see her and say good-bye.  Then we had a bit more time with her. After about an hour and a half, they gently encouraged us to say goodbye.  This was as much from a practical physiological stand point as it was psychological for us in need.  We were blessed to have all that time alone in the trauma room with her, with no one else in the ER that morning.  For that, I am grateful.

I left the hospital with a cardboard box that had the painted hand/foot prints, a lock of her hair and the plaster heart.  My own heart shattered into a zillion pieces.  The social worker handed me a brochure on grief.  I just stared at it in disbelief.  As if this little piece of paper was going to help at all.

I remember it was a beautiful day for December.  The sky was blue, it was in the 40's.  I glanced at the sky. Were you up there, Meg?  I wondered where our car was as we waited for my BIL to get his car.  The EMT had driven it home for us.  I stood there in complete shock.  Getting irritated at the smiles on other people's faces. I hated that their child wasn't dead and mine was. It was surreal.  How was I going to tell the boys?  How was I going to do this?  How could I be living this nightmare?  OMG, I have to plan a funeral. For my daughter!  This couldn't be real. Yet, I knew it was.  So painfully real.

I had to come home and tell my boys, on the kitchen floor of a neighbors house, where they immediately clamored into my lap hoping for good news, that she had died.  The pain on their faces exponentially deepened my own pain.  How could a 3 and 6-year old comprehend the death of their sister when their parents were struggling so much?  We came home, without our Meggie.  And our lives have never, ever been the same.

I sat on the couch and stared at the Christmas tree, snuggled with her twin.  I sat.  I stared.  That's all I did. For hours. I couldn't function.  I didn't want to function.  Family wisely left me alone.  They gathered down stairs and did their own grieving.  I think there was pizza.  We went into Meggie's room.  Her twin gently and methodically cleaned up all the clothes she had thrown all over the room, put her toys away.  All on his own. When he was done, he quietly said, "There".  He continued to talk to her and play with her.  It was comforting to know that just maybe, he *could* still see her.  My husband turned the dresser to the wall so the drawers could not open and it couldn't tip again.

I was starting to get pissed.  When darkness fell, I went outside and swung on her favorite swing under the stars.  I wondered what they looked like from the other side.  I thought about how she always wanted to 'fly in the sky!'  I started to cry.  Sob.  Loud, uncontrollable sobs.  Finally.  I was able to release that pain, the grief, the sadness of the day.  God and the Universe got a loud what for that night, directed toward the sky. I screamed, I cried, I threw myself on the ground in complete and utter despair and sobbed some more. Neighborhood dogs barked like crazy at my outburst.  I didn't care.  My daughter was dead.  It was wrong. It was unfair.  It was my fault.  It hurt.  So.  Damn. Much.

I come back to the present now, and sit on her floor.  I take out her jammies.  The ones she was wearing that day.  Cut off by the EMT's.  I lay them out on the floor.  They look so small now.  I lay next to them.  I imagine she's with me.  Can you see her?  I touch them.  I smell them.  I cry.  Because although she may be with me in spirit, she is not here physically.  I miss her.

I open the 'purple bin'.  The one that holds all the cards and little gifts we received, the trinkets left for her, the guest book from her wake.  I go through them.  Bolstered by the outpouring of love and support we received.  I go through her clothes.  Remembering what she loved about each thing.  What I loved about each thing.  I hold the little red velvet skirt with white embroidery and the black turtleneck sweater I bought for her to wear for Christmas that year.  It still has the tags, for she died before she could ever wear it.  She'd have been so pretty in it! I hold the Marie, the cat from the Aristocats, one of her favorite movies.  A Christmas gift she never saw either, but would have been SO excited to have.  I slept with one of her stuffed kitties last night.

I wrap myself in the quilt made of her clothes, I snuggle one of her stuffed kitties, I smell it, hoping to smell her again.  Of course now it's been too long, but I still try.  I look at her windows, still smeared with her finger prints, now dusty and even a wee bit moldy in spots, yet I cannot bear to clean them. I close my eyes and I quietly try to be with her.  Her memory, her spirit, her essence.  There are tears.  There are smiles.

There are more tears. I open her dresser drawers and wonder how the hell she managed to tip it over.  What was she doing?  Why was she doing it? What did she think?  What did she feel?  Was she scared?  How a zillion other things could have happened and she'd have survived, but the pure physics of the situation instead led to a tragic outcome.  I ask an unanswered, why?  Why her?  Why me?  Why this way? Why at all?  The why's get more angry and insistent.  Why, why, why, why WHY?!

That was only the beginning of a long and painful road, 8 years long today.  One I will walk for the rest of my life.  Without my daughter.  One that *I* could have prevented.

So, when people ask me why they should secure their furniture, I'd like to tell them this story.  I'd like for them to feel what it's like to live with the pain, the guilt, the hole in your heart.  Maybe if the words don't compel you to do something, perhaps raw, visceral emotion will.  Perhaps knowing what your life might be like if you don't will motivate you. I don't, of course.  Who would listen?  Besides, it takes too long and is too painful to re-live that often.  Feel free to direct them here if you think it will help motivate them to action.

Here is my rant:  What really pisses me off is knowing people who know us, who knew her, who came to her wake and funeral, who have heard her story, who have children or children who visit their home and still choose to do nothing.  The people who I ask to share the links to her Web site and Facebook page, especially on this day, and don't.  That hurts me.  Deeply. I don't get it.  I just don't.  I'd be lying to say there are not times where I wonder WTF?  Why not their kid?  (and immediately hate myself for that thought) Why mine?  Why not try to help someone else even if you don't believe it's a risk for you or your children? Everyone has furniture.  Nearly everyone has a TV.  Every child is at risk. And why the hell do so many people think 'it' can't happen to them?  Ignorance is not bliss!  It's stupid!  If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.  It doesn't matter who 'you' are or what 'it' is!

I'll never know all the answers.  The simply answer to why Meghan died is because her dresser was not secured.  $5 and 15 minutes would have saved her life. It's that simple. Why she died when dressers have fallen on so many other children who were luckier and were not injured is not for me to answer.  I'm glad for them that they were so fortunate.  I hate that it was my daughter and our family that were the ones who it happened to and had deadly consequences.

All I can do now is try to educate as many people as I can about these dangers so it never happens to another child again.  So no mother ever feel the pain I do.  So no one need bury their child because of something that could have easily been prevented.

No one should have to experience what I did 8 years ago today.  No one.  If everyone secured their furniture and TV's, no one would ever know the pain of this tragedy again.  Just do it.

So, I ask you.  Have you shared Meghan's story with everyone you can?  Have you secured ALL of your furniture and your TV's?  Even if your children are older, do younger children visit your home?  You must consider them, too.  Have you 'liked' the Meghan's Hope Facebook page so you can be informed of all manner of child safety information?  Have you been to What about those at the homes of friends and family where your child visits, are furniture and TV's secured in their homes?  Yes? Thank you, thank you, thank you.  No?  I'm sorry, but WTF is wrong with you?  Most days, I don't judge. Today, I do.  Today, when I'm so deep in the pain I just can't fathom why anyone wouldn't do anything they can to avoid ever knowing this horror.  I just don't get it.

Current statistics are that 71 children are injured every single day from a falling piece of furniture or TV.  More than 30 every year lose their lives.  Even one death or injury is too many.  I am not the only parent who has lost a child this way and none of us knew of the dangers or thought it could happen to us. This is why I want you to help me raise awareness.  These numbers are likely underestimated due to reporting methods as not all of these injuries and deaths are reported as being due to tip-over accidents. They can ALL be prevented!  You can see an infographic here.

Thank you for listening.  Now, "You listen to Meggie"!  (which is what she was telling me when this picture was taken just weeks before she died)
December 18th, 2013
It's now been 9 years.  When I first posted this, I intended for the few people who read my blog (mostly friends) to understand what I went through on this day and to compel them to share her Facebook page so lives could be saved.  In a matter of days, it went viral.  It is my hope, with your help, that will happen again this year.  So many more people are aware of these dangers now, but so many more are not.  You all have more friends on Facebook than you did a year ago and they have more friends and so on.  Think of all the lives that could be saved!  Thank you for your help!

I've also begun that book.  I've got several chapters written and hope to have it print by this time next year. Thanks to all who have supported and encouraged me.   It is also my hope that with your help, we'll never have to hear another story like Meghan's.  That no more children will die from falling furniture or TV's.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life goes on. How to celebrate in times of grief.

Believe me, I totally understand the sentiment that 'we' should not be so happy about the holidays when 26 families are preparing to bury loved ones after the school shooting in CT.  I've been on their side.  Thus, I feel I can offer a little perspective from experience.  Granted, everyone copes differently.  Still, I offer this:

When I was the one with a wide open wounded heart, preparing to bury my child just days before Christmas, seeing festivities around me, hearing Christmas songs, seeing people happy, they were all like salt in the wound.  It hurt like hell.  I won't lie.  Those families are in a living hell right now.  It's a process and they all have to do it their own way and in their own time.  That is part of grieving.  Truth be told, it all STILL bothers the crap out of me.  I've learned to tolerate it better.  I've found a new 'normal'.  You have to.  They will, too.  With time and love.

Those who have lost any loved one recently must grieve.  The holidays are always hard, but especially difficult when the loss is so close to the holiday itself.  The only way out, is through.  They will do so surrounded by their family, friends and community.  We, the rest of those who feel their collective pain, can choose to do something constructive to show our support.  It helps both us and them.  I offer these suggestions:

  • Purchase a toy for a child and donate it to Toys for Tots
  • Donate clothing to the Red Cross for disaster victims
  • Donate to a memorial fund, but make sure it is legitimate before you do
  • Donate to a charity in memory of someone you know or one of the victims of this tragedy
  • Purchase or make a card to send to the Sandy Hook School community to show your support, involve your children in this.
  • Enroll your kids in the RadKids program in your community to educate and empower them (and you)
  • Treat each other with love, respect, and tolerance.  Everyone.  Always.
  • If you practice Reiki or energy healing, send some their way
  • Say a prayer if that resonates with you
  • Light candles and say each of their names out loud.  
  • Talk with your kids.  You might be surprised what they know, hear and think.  They need your support and unconditional love.  Answer their questions.  Be as honest as you can be for their age.  Reassure them but don't make promises you can't keep.  
  • Do something nice for a complete stranger.  Random acts of kindness go a long way for you and for that person you just showered kindness upon.

One of the most beautiful things we can do to honor those lost and those mourning their loss, is to hold those near and dear to us close and celebrate togetherness, love and family.  What better time than the highest of holidays this season?  We should all be celebrating LIFE.  The entire nation just got a wake up call as to how short and sudden our loved ones could be gone.  None of us are immune to sudden death, regardless of the cause. With holiday stories and celebrations about miracles galore, it seems to me now is most definitely a time to celebrate and rejoice.  You can do both at the same time.

Today, my family and I ran a 5k.  It's called the Jingle Bell Run.  It's my third year doing so, their second.  5000+ runners, most in costume, with bells on, literally, run for FUN.  There are smiles galore, laughter, happiness and helpfulness.  It's the happiest race I've ever participated in.  Still, it starts with the national anthem, sung beautifully by a group of young girls.  It was followed by a moment of silence for the victims of the school shooting in CT.  Far more people fell silent for that then did for the anthem.  I saw several people with "In memory of the children from the Sandy Hook School" on their backs.

Once the race started, the focus was on fun.  Contrary to popular belief, you can have fun despite a heaviness in your heart.  In fact, it's quite healing.  I smiled nearly the entire way seeing all the costumes people chose, seeing groups of friends and family sticking together.  Talking, laughing, walking, singing...Sure, there were some seeded runners who were probably done before I was finished with the first mile, but even they had red and green shorts and T's on and a Santa hat!

Last year, it happened to fall on Meghan's anniversary.  I thought long and hard about running it.  I registered, knowing it would be a spur of the moment decision.  I opted to run it.  My heart was heavy.  But I thought about what Meghan would have done, what she would have wanted me to do. I thought about her joyful spirit, her love of Christmas, her love of running.  I would do it for her.  I wore an angel costume.  What would be more appropriate?  My time was not the best, but I didn't care.  I did it for Meghan.  As soon as I heard the first little girl (of many) exclaim "Look mommy!  She's an angel!!!" I knew I made the right decision.  I won't tell you I didn't run with tears in my eyes at times, but I did smile more than I thought was possible on such a painful anniversary day.

This year, I opted for a Mrs. Claus outfit.  I ran with my Santa and my little wise man.  My oldest son is too cool to listen to his mother about dressing for the weather and way too cool to dress up.  He was cold and one of the very few not dressed for the occasion.  He also ran the fastest of us all!  As we took our place in the starting corral (at the 10 min pace marker) I took photos of the crowd before us and the crowd behind us.  We enjoyed observing all the costumes people had chosen.  Some were amazingly creative and fun.  To name a few there were many Santas and elves, an entire team of reindeer complete with a sleigh with Santa, two guitarists and drummer who played and ran and sang all at the same time!  There were menorahs and dreidels, presents and Christmas trees, a chimney, a Scrooge, a Grinch, elves with signs that read "I run to free slave elves", some chickens, a snowman or three, a bunch of random reindeer, an angel, festive red and green costumes galore, and even a sled dog team complete with sled!  The Ibominable finished right before I did.  I have to say, my favorite family was the parents who ran as Mary and Joseph and in their jogging stroller was their own baby Jesus, complete on a bed of hay!  They had a cow and some wise men who ran along with them, of course.

The spectators cheered and smiled.  They pointed and took photos.  The little kids watching were awestruck.  No one felt silly in their costumes. In fact, many proudly wore them into one of the many bars, pubs and restaurants on the course after the race! The spectators and those just stopped in traffic to allow the runners the width of the road (because it was needed!) probably had a full 15 minutes of runners going by to make them smile today.  The finish line seemed to come more quickly than most.  Not that I actually ran any faster than I normally do, I just enjoyed it more.

We decided to carry the spirit further.  We drove closer to home and went to the local Olive Garden for lunch.  We kept our costumes on.  Let me tell you, this world needs a better sense of humor and holiday spirit!  If we made one person smile, it was worth it.

If I can participate in something frivolous and fun just days before the anniversary of the worst day of my life, surely you can find the spirit of the holidays in your heart and focus your energy on the celebration of life.  Remember those who have left us too soon and do something to honor them.  Don't neglect yourself or your family in the process, though.

Jingle all the way!  Or, as Meghan would've said, Tinker Bell all the way!  ;-)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Blame Game

I am not the first person to write about the horrific murder of 26 innocent random people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT yesterday.  I will not be the last.  I am by far not the only one to feel simultaneously emotionally overcome with empathetic grief for what their schoolmates and families endured yesterday coupled with outrage that something like this can and does happen.

I am, however, one of the relatively few, but yet far too many parents, who know exactly what those parents who arrived in a panic to pick up their children yesterday felt and are feeling now when they were told their child was one of the victims.  I promise you, no matter how much you feel for these families, you have no idea the hell that it is to live it.  Especially so close to Christmas.

When I heard the news yesterday, via Twitter and Facebook by a quick check on my phone at lunch time, I was moved to tears.  In the middle of the hospital cafeteria.  I took a deep breath.  I looked out the window.  I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer.  I sent Reiki and love to those children, teachers, parents and their community.  The visceral remembrance of the day my own daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly without a chance to say goodbye came rushing back.  Her death was not a a result of a random act of violence, but the reality is it doesn't matter what killed your child.   The fact they are here one minute and suddenly gone the next is enough.  The circumstances of their death matter little.  Your child is dead.  It doesn't get worse than that.

I thought of the guilt some of those parents may feel for not being the one to see them off to school that day, for being irritable with them because they were running late, for not hugging or kissing them good-bye for the day, for forgetting to tell them they loved them.  The pain of parents who may have been travelling out of town or were unreachable when the call came and couldn't get to the school or home fast enough.  The disbelief, the anger, the blow to your solar plexus and the pain in your heart when you realize you'll never have the chance to do those things ever again.  Wanting to see your child, even in death, yet not being allowed to.  Then, finally seeing them, lifeless and cold, in this case, with gunshot wounds.  My God, the feeling of your heart shattering is something you cannot even imagine...Wondering what their children felt, what they thought in their last moments.  Thinking about their teachers, heroic in their efforts to save the children and wondering why yours was one of the unlucky ones. Your body railing because they died, because they died alone, without their mommy and daddy, without saying good-bye, never to be again. Meghan's anniversary is just days away, so this hits close to home for me on many levels.  As if it could get any worse for these families, losing a child during the holiday season somehow makes the loss feel exponentially worse, if that is even possible.

I thought of the pain of the families of those teachers killed trying to protect the students in their care.  I thought of the children and teachers who witnessed the horror they did and will have to forever endure as part of their existence.  The PTSD they will have to cope with.  The survivor's guilt they may feel.  The fear those children may have about school or even ever leaving their homes again.  The loss of innocence for them all.  I felt the collective cry of their community, for having lost so many beautiful souls.  Oh, but how brightly they shine...

Later, when I read Twitter and Facebook again, nearly every post was about the tragedy.  There were two common threads.  One was the outpouring of support and messages of prayer and love to the victims and their families.  The other was outrage that this happened and a loud cry for gun control.

No one offered any prayers for the family of the man who shot all those people.  No one that I saw, apologized for their posts, often derogatory and inflamed, initially falsely accusing his brother due to confusion in news reports and then the same hateful words about the man that did do it.

No one thought for a moment that answer might not be, and probably is not, gun control.  No one considered, or if they did, publicly wrote about the fact the young man who did this was probably mentally ill.    Reports are emerging now of the possibility of an Autism spectrum disorder.  No one has mentioned that the system that should be in place to help people like him has clearly failed him.  As is true of most of the people who commit these types of crime around the world, their perception is skewed.  It's likely a chemical imbalance in their brain.  A distortion of reality.  A disorder of physiology that is not understood or respected or treated properly.  It doesn't in any way excuse him from the moral responsibility he failed to show and the horrible massacre at his hands, and since he killed himself, we will never know why he did it.  Yet, I feel for him and his family, too.  You have to be significantly troubled to want to kill your own mother and random completely innocent children.  His brain was broken.  Clearly broken.  The system that could and should have identified it and helped him clearly failed.

About gun control.  I abhor violence in any form.  I can't watch violent movies or video games.  I hate hearing people talk about them even though they are not 'real'.  I don't read books that involve acts of violence.  I have not yet watched a TV news story about this crime.  I do not believe we need assault rifles in our homes.  I do not believe we need any kind of gun in our homes, save perhaps for hunting rifles for those who hunt. Unless you are a member of the military, why do you need such a deadly weapon that could so easily fall into the hands of someone who may use it to kill themselves or someone else?  There are many ways to defend yourself without a firearm.  Having one doesn't guarantee you'll successfully defend yourself either, but it seems far more likely it will be used to kill someone else at the hands of someone else.

In many of these instances, and as I understand it in this one, the guns used were legally obtained and owned by the person who committed the crime or someone in their family.  There was easy access.  Background checks were done.  It's not hard to obtain a gun.  It's been reported his mother owned the guns he used to kill.  He was not a child. He was an adult.  The safety checks we recommend to protect kids from accidental access and use of guns in the home would not have applied to him.  He knew where they were and how to use them.  Clearly.  Why he did, we will likely never know.

There is a myth that people who kill with guns are 'hoodlums'.  That they obtain their weapons illegally, are not well-educated or well-off and are involved in a shadowish inner-city world of crime, drugs and gangs.  Clearly, this is not always the case.  More and more of these men (and it's always young men we hear about it seems) are reported to be well-educated, even 'brilliant' but typically loners.  They come from good families in good communities.  They are often reported as quiet and 'nice'.  It is often a shock that this person would be capable of such a crime let alone carry it out. For some reason, they have a psychotic break and suddenly commit horribly violent crimes like this one.  Some are carefully planned and some probably wake up that morning and just do it.  Maybe they don't even know why they are doing it.  Their friends and families seem to have no indication they would be capable of let alone actually commit such a horrific crime.  Some have been in counseling and thought not to be a threat to themselves and society, yet walk out of that therapists office and murder random people for no reason.

Gun control isn't the answer.  If we took away access to guns, other ways to kill would be used.  There was a similar incident yesterday where a man knifed 20 children in a school in China.  There are suicide bombers all over the middle-east and the world, killing themselves and random innocent people, including children with alarming regularity.  It's just part of life in their part of the world.  Not so in ours, until now.  There are a myriad of drugs and chemical weapons that could be used.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  That said, I'm all for some gun control reform.

Violent video games are often blamed for such crimes.  The real feel of first person shooter games give a sense of power, control and reality to many.  It gives them 'practice' if they are inclined to take their prowess at killing people in a virtual world into the real world.  Does it cause people to grab a gun and shoot someone.  I seriously doubt it.  Do all people who play violent shooter games kill people?  No.  If they did, we'd all be dead.  Do people who are mentally unstable with homicidal tendencies who play violent video games use them for inspiration?  Quite possibly.  Banning and blaming video games is not the answer.

Will people with Autism spectrum disorders or mental illness now get a bad rap?  They shouldn't.  It would be the equivalent of racism and it would be wrong.  What about children who are 'socially awkward' or 'loners'?  We tend to be quick to assign labels and place blame.  Often without finding out all the facts and circumstances first.  Labels don't solve a problem.  They often cause more problems.

The media sometimes takes the heat.  I am partially on board with this.  The non-stop and speculative coverage is not healthy or helpful for anyone.  No one benefits from wall to wall coverage of something so negative and violent.  It can cause further and deeper trauma.  It doesn't solve issues.  It doesn't foster a sense of community, if anything, it incites further unrest and fear.  A news story, sure.  Non-stop coverage that is repetition of the same information, most of which is 'unconfirmed' or speculation serves no one.  No one.

We need to figure out why there is the will to commit such horrible crimes, why no one sees it coming and fix the root cause of the violence.  We need a system that can identify and help these people before they feel the need to murder others.  Our mental health system is broken.  It cannot handle the needs of our people.  Mental illness is not easily identified.  It's not completely understood by non-professionals and even the professionals don't have all the answers.  Can someone with a high IQ outsmart the system and their counselors and doctors?  They can only do so much with what they have and know and the limitations put on them by time constraints and insurance coverage limits.

Many people also posted about God.  May God bless the children and their families.  Yes, but what God simultaneously welcomes innocent children into his arms while allowing another of his 'children' to murder them all?!  My God does not do that.  Maybe yours does.  I respect your opinion, but 'God' will not solve the problem.  'Evil' is not the problem. Many people commit their violent crimes in the name of their God.  Your faith in a deity will not change what has happened nor will it fix the problem, whatever your perceived problem is.  I totally understand that faith in a higher power and energy is necessary for so many to cope and live a human life.   It does not absolve us of personal responsibility.  It does not give us an 'excuse' for our behavior and actions.  I do believe in a collective universal love and energy.  I just don't call it "God".  I do not assign human traits to it.  I believe there is a universal energy of love.  We all must connect to the love.  Only the love.

What it comes down to is we can only ultimately be responsible for our own actions, or in this case, perhaps our reactions. As parents, we can only do so much to educate and support our children.  To instill values and set their moral compass.  We need to be more attentive to their personality, their needs, their behaviors.  We need to love them, support them, talk to them.  There may be nothing we can do to raise children that won't commit such horrific crimes, but surely there has to be a way to lessen the likelihood if we do a better job at identifying what causes the switch to flip and make it OK in someone's brain to murder innocent people.  We need to find the resources to learn how to help those that feel that violence is the only answer.

Some people have blamed the parents.  How dare you?  There are many wonderful loving parents whose children 'got lost' or committed similar crimes to the complete and utter surprise and dismay of their families.  Unless you know them intimately, you have no right to judge let alone offer commentary.

Can we make our schools safer?  Can we protect the innocence of our children?  Can we identify and help those who feel the only answer is to kill others and themselves?  Can we do it without blaming someone else and take responsibility for working together for the greater good of our community, our state, our country and the world?  I don't know.  I hope so. I do know hateful words, the blame game and assumptions and stereotyping are not the answers.

I just know that 26 families will experience a very similar hell to what I did 8 years ago, when they bury their loved ones just a week before Christmas.  One family will witness it all, knowing their family member was the one who created that hell.  They will bury a woman who was the mother of the man who committed this mass murder.  They will also bury her son, their brother, grandson, friend.  They will do so not knowing why he did this. They will have to endure the horrible comments and hatred directed their way for something THEY DID NOT DO.  My heart aches for all of them.  Every single one of them.

I talked with my boys today about it.  My high school freshman said the school made an announcement at the end of the day saying there was a school shooting in CT and their thoughts and prayers were with the families of the victims.  He seemed to know about it from what friends were saying.  He told me he came home and Googled it.  He didn't bring it up until we did, though.  Then he seemed to want to talk about it.  He thought it was horrific and stupid and what they hell was wrong with that guy.

My younger son did not know until we told him.  He is my sensitive and empathetic one.  He cried.  He said he was scared.  He said he didn't want to go to school anymore.  He felt bad for all those kids who won't get to have Christmas and how sad their families must be.  He is afraid it will happen in his school.  Both had age-expected and appropriate reactions.  We talked about it at length, both about the crime and the good that was part of the horror.  The heroism of the teachers, the first responders and the community.  The outpouring of love and support across the country and around the world.  We talked about why they did lock down drills at school and why it is important to listen to their teachers.  I did my best to assure him the school and we will do everything we can to keep them safe and that it is highly unlikely anything like that would ever happen again, let alone in his school. We snuggled.  We decided we'd make a card to send to the Sandy Hook School tomorrow.  He will draw a dove for peace and a heart for love.

What I did not do was promise him he wouldn't happen to him or in his school.  Because I can't.   I have no idea what will happen.  I won't make false promises.  I pray and hope it never happens again to anyone, anywhere, but I also know all too well thinking 'it' can't happen to you is foolish.  Whatever 'it' is.  Everyone at that school thought they were safe, too.  He often tells me he loves me and he's afraid I'll die.  I don't tell him that won't happen or not to worry.  I tell him I love him too, and I don't plan on dying anytime soon, but we all die someday and we don't always know when that will be.  I assure him I will always love him, wherever I am.

I can do nothing but send love and healing energy to those affected by the massacre at the elementary school in CT. EVERY ONE that was affected.  I hope you do the same.  We must choose the high road.  The road lined with love, compassion and light.  We must not give in to or subscribe to fear.  We need more than ever to focus on love, light and compassion for the entire world.  For peace.

Choose love.  Always, choose love.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A mother's love

Yesterday was a day of extremes.  As I finally lay my head on the pillow in the evening, I pondered the various energies of the day.  The transitions between them and the lessons to be learned from it all.

I began the day with a much needed massage.  It was relaxing and all about me!  Something I don't do often enough. It's always interesting to find out where my trigger points have meandered to...

The middle of my day involved attending the Winter Ball.  An amazing afternoon of ballroom dancing on a ginormous floor.  We were dressed to the nines, along with everyone else in attendance.  My man in a tux with tails and I in a black evening gown.  It was an afternoon of good food, good conversation and fantastic dancing with wonderful partners as well as a chance to practice our own dancing together on a real ballroom floor.  The energy of the room was upbeat, fun and elegant.  Everyone was there because they loved to dance.  No wallflowers there!  Watching the (much) more skilled dancers was as much a treat for us as the dancing was.  Everyone had smiles on their faces.  Everyone was like-minded in their love of music and movement.  It was nice to belong to such a fun crowd!

As I headed to the ladies room to change for our next event of the day, I could feel my mood shift to a more mellow, contemplative one.  Preparing for the transition from such a fun and happy event to the one we were going to just happened without active thought.  I started to become anxious about leaving so we'd not be late to our next commitment.  We left our dancing friends and their fun-loving energy and we were off.

We left the winter ball to attend the Compassionate Friends Candlelight Remembrance.  I didn't go last year, but had been every year prior since Meghan died.  I felt really called to attend this year.  I knew we'd be late and we had the OK to come just for the end as I didn't want to disrupt the process, I know how special it is.  We arrived at 6:40 pm.  We quietly entered the room.  What a contrast.  It was silent, save for the one woman who was speaking about the son she had lost, in his thirties, 14 years ago!  She was tearful.  Her pain was palpable.  The room was full of 100 people who had all lost a child.  The energy was heavy, laden with grief and sadness yet with a beautiful undercurrent of love.  Those who had been there before had an ever increasing nervous tension building up to the moment of the candle lighting itself, knowing it would be the culmination of the past few hours they'd spent together remembering their own children and learning the stories of others who had lost theirs.

Normally, the event starts at 4 pm and includes dinner.  Everyone places their child's picture next to their name tag on a long table across the ballroom floor.  They are in alphabetical order.  Next to each picture is a tea light.  A centerpiece is lit first, while some recites the "We Light These Five Candles" poem.  Then, each and every parent comes to the dance floor, one by one and is handed the microphone.  They say their child's name.  It often sparks tears out of the blue.  You think you'll be fine and then, as their name starts to roll off your lips, you lose your composure.  Some cannot even speak their name, the pain is too great.  They start to, but then the tears.  Some walk up with their spouse, their children or their siblings.  My sister and I have done it in the past together.

Next, they light the tea light next to their child's photo.  Every year, ornaments are donated.  There is one for every child lost.  Their parents hang it on the Christmas Tree.  It's interesting to watch where people place their ornaments.  This is followed by dinner, an opportunity to visit the table with all the photos and get to know them in a way.  It's all followed by some readings and the opportunity for parents to say a few words about their child, if they wish.  It's difficult for them to speak and for everyone to hear, because it's so raw and real. It's all very ritualistic the way the evening unfolds.  Which is helpful and healing, but so, SO emotionally exhausting.

This is where we walked in. We waited for the woman to finish speaking and made our way to an empty table at the back of the room.  Even though we were 'late', I was almost immediately invited to say Meghan's name and light her candle.  I hung her new angel wing ornament, complete with bell, on the bottom right hand corner of the tree. Where we've hung it every year we've attended this ceremony.  Everyone watched in silence while I did this.  It was about respect and honor.  Funny.  No one else's ornament is ever hung there.  :-)

Then it was time.  A Jewish blessing/prayer with a response of "We Remember Them" is read together.  Finally, it's 7 pm. Time to light the candles. The reason everyone was there.  Knowing we were being joined by bereaved parents and family members all up and down the East coast in honoring our children.  It's a powerful moment, personal, yet one of community.  We were immediately invited to join the table next to ours.  They didn't want us to be alone.  Not that we really were.  We did.  We lit and held our tapers.  "Tonight I Hold This Candle" by Alan Pederson was played.  Almost immediately, the tears flowed around the room.  Silence, peppered by sniffles and a few sobs.  I closed my eyes.  I smiled as I remembered Meg's beautiful face, her loving and wise soul, her silliness.   Hot tears ran silently down my cheeks, as they always do.  I felt the warmth of the flame.  I basked in the glow of the candle light.  I felt love, sadness, love.  I saw Meg's beautiful face.  I felt Joe's arm around me, his gentle kisses on the side of my head briefly.  For the most part, I was aware of nothing else but my heart, My Megs and that candle.  When the song ends, the lights stay dim.  Silence prevails, save for a few sniffles.  The candles are extinguished.  Several offers of tissues are made to me.  We hug total strangers.

Except they are not really strangers.  We are all there for the same reason.  Because we lost a child.  We don't have to explain why we are there.  We don't have to apologize for our tears.  We can talk about our children and laugh and cry and be angry and listen to others do the same without judgement.  Because we get it.  No one else can possibly get it unless they lived it.  It's as if we already know each other.  There is a bond we have.  We didn't want it, but we all share it.  We hear stories of others. We laugh with them. We cry with them.  We hug.  We always ask their names.  Most were adult children.  It always strikes me how powerful and strong the grief is even decades after the loss of an adult child for some of these mothers.

I guess it just never occurred to me that it doesn't matter how old your child is.  A mother's love never changes.  Never lessens.  Meghan is often the youngest child remembered at this event.  They see her picture and they remember her.  They remember the story in the paper (with the same picture).  They remember me being their in previous years.  They remember her beautiful face from years prior.  It's always surprising to me what an impact she's had, how many people come to talk to me because of her picture.

As we left the candle ceremony and headed home, I thought about the similarities between the two events.  The energy and the reasons for being there were very different, yet they were much the same.  We are members of two very different communities.  We are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people for both.  The sense of belonging, albeit for vastly different reasons, is comforting and uplifting.  Just like at the dance event, everyone was there because they wanted to be.  Like minded in purpose and movement, only this time the movement was one of ritualistic remembrance.

The dance floor the central focus of both events.  One to dance, the other to honor.

Maybe next year, we'll use that dance floor at the candle ceremony to dance a dance of remembrance for my Meggie and for all the children.  Right in front of their pictures and their light.  More powerful than any words I could say.

Yes.  Let's do that.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Say their names and remember their light

Today is December 9th.  It's the second Sunday of December.  For you, perhaps a day of shopping, baking, cleaning, holiday decorating or celebrating Hanukkah. 

For those of us who have lost a child, it's a special day of remembrance.  It's the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle lighting. You can visit their Web site here to learn more about this touching tribute and to sign or read their virtual guest book, available today only.  I made myself cry writing my entry. (7:50 am, CDT) I encourage you to at least read a few entries.  It will give you amazing perspective. Worldwide Candle Lighting

The Compassionate Friends are a bereavement support group for parents who have lost children of any age.  They are a wonderful resource and source of support.  Many local chapters arrange for events where they can come together as a community to light their candles and remember their children.  It's not just for parents.   Siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, extended family members and friends can attend or light a candle.

I often attend a local event that includes dinner, a ceremonial reading of names of the children of parents in attendance by their parents, lighting of a votive by their child's picture and hanging of an ornament on a tree for their child followed by readings and ending with the candle lighting and a period of quiet remembrance to the song  Tonight I Hold This Candle by Alan Pederson, written for his daughter, Ashley, after she died.  Take a listen, it's beautiful. We are a special community, we always welcome new members, although we wish there were never any members at all...My parents attend a ceremony in their retirement village, where people gather at a local church to remember their children and grandchildren.

The Compassionate Friends Web site encourages everyone to light a candle at 7 pm local time, wherever you are, to create a virtual 24 hour wave of light around the world to honor and remember those children gone too soon and to support their parents in their grief.  I assure you, I am not the only one you know who has lost a child.  Whether or not they have shared their loss may be a mystery, but everyone knows at least one person who has lost a child.  I pray you never know that pain.  We belong to a club no one wants to join and you can't quit.  We find comfort with each other, for no one else understands such a profound loss unless you've experienced it yourself.

What parents often want most after the death of their child is that they be remembered.  This is the poem that is read at our ceremony and at our home when we light our 5 candle 'Meggie candle'.

We Light These Five Candles

We light these five candles in honor of you, our children who have moved on to the next place.  For we know you are with us today in spirit, shining you love and light upon us.

The first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

The second candle represents our courage - to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, and to change our lives for the greater good.

The third candle we light in memory of you - the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other, the silly things you did, and the caring and joy you gave us.

The fourth candle is the light of love. Every day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us.

The fifth candle is the light of hope. It reminds us of love and memories of you that are ours forever. May the glow of the flame be our source of hopefulness now and forever.

We love you!

Another poem:
Please Say Their Names

The time of concern is over.

No longer are we asked how we're doing. Never are the names of our children mentioned to us.

A curtain descends.

The moment has passed.

Lives slip from frequent recall.

There are exceptions: close and compassionate friends, sensitive and loving family. Still look. Still ask. Still listen. Thank God for them.

For most, the drama is over. The spotlight is off. Applause is silent.

But for us the play will never end. The effects on us are timeless.

What can be said, you ask?

Please say "their names" to us.

Love does not die. 

Their names are written on our lives. The sound of their voices replay within our minds.

You may feel they are dead. We feel they are of the dead and still they live. They ghost-walk our souls, beckoning in future welcome.

You say, "They were our children"; we say, " They are".

Please say "their names" to us and say "their names" again. 

It hurts to bury their memory in silence. What they were in flesh is no longer with us. What they are in spirit stirs within us always. They were of our past but they are part of our now. They are our hope for the future.

Please understand we cannot forget. We would not if we could.

We know that you cannot know, yesterday we were like you.

Understand that we dwell in both flesh and spirit. We do not ask you to walk this road. The ascent is steep and the burden heavy. We walk it not by choice. We would rather walk it with them in the flesh, looking not to spirit worlds beyond.

We are what we have to be.

What we have lost, you cannot feel.

What we have gained you may not see.

Please say "their names" for they are alive. 

We will meet them again, although in many ways we’ve never parted. Their spirits play light songs, appear in sunrises and sunsets. They are real and shadow, they were and they are.

Please say "their names" to us and say "their names" again. They are our children and we love them as we always did. More each day.


Author unknown

I hope you will join us tonight at 7 pm and light a candle.  Call to mind those children you are aware of who have passed on to the next place, whether you've met them or not.  Take a moment to remember them, pray for their parents, siblings and family members, that they may find comfort and peace in their loss and feel for a moment your own vulnerability as a human, parent or potential parent.  Say their names.  Remember them.  Then go hug your children.  

Tonight I will hold in my heart:
Meghan, Katie, Chloe, Nick, Thomas, John, Annalise, Katharine, Aiden, Aidan, Kai, Abby, Michael, Ethan, Owen, Issac, 'little bean', Molly, Patrick, and all the children whose names I don't know or cannot recall.  

Thank you.