Tag Archives: grief

A letter to my son’s first mother on Mother’s Day

My becoming a mother came at a high cost to someone else.  And on this Mother’s Day, I want to honor that sacrifice.

My husband and I adopted our son when he was 4 years old. We had the opportunity to meet his biological mother once, which I am grateful for. When I think back to that day, I can remember the pain in her voice. The sadness in her eyes. The mixture of shame and anxiety and regret and fatigue that were evident in her body language and her distant glances. But I also remember her intentionality and the way she carried herself with grace and humility. I saw her son’s/our son’s face in her deep blue eyes. I knew in that moment she would always be a part of me.

As I celebrate my third Mother’s Day, my heart is drawn back to her. I have so many things I want to say to her now, almost three years later. So I wrote her a letter.

Dear J,

There are so many things I want to say…

First of all, our son is amazing. He is a fun and gregarious boy who makes others feel comfortable and valued. He is full of insight and awareness.   He has a beautiful imagination and sense of adventure coupled with a thoughtful care and respect for the world. He draws people in with his ability to connect and his sweet spirit. He is a special boy.

You are not forgotten. I think about you often, and our son does, too. I see it in his eyes. A far off look of wonder and concern. A creased brow. A wide-eyed expression of excitement followed by a pause. A feeling he can’t quite name. A deep connection to his past that will never leave him.

He remembers and so do we.

You are not alone. You carry us in your heart just as we carry you. You are an integral part of my story, and because of that, we will always be connected. Our son keeps you with him in his big smile and his cute nose and his memories. You are always with us.

You are mentioned. I do not pretend you don’t exist or quiet our son from speaking your name. I honor your presence by asking him what he remembers and leaving room for him to speak freely about you whenever he wants or needs to. Every time we meet someone with your first name, he jolts his head up and smiles at me with a knowing glance. He calls you his first mom, and I do, too.

You are still a mother. You gave me the gift of motherhood, and now that I have experienced it, I know I can’t ever go back. I will always be a mother, and so will you. Although he isn’t calling for you in the middle of the night or asking you to tie his shoes, you know the feeling of love for your child. You made choices to protect and support him. You intimately know the pain and guilt of wanting the best for your child and not knowing how to give it to him.

You are still a mother, and you always will be.

I want you to know that you are a precious and valuable human being. I don’t know what you believe about God, but here’s what I believe. He created you. He knows you. He loves you. Your love and sacrifice is a reflection of God’s love and sacrifice, and he hasn’t given up on you. I pray that you know how precious and valuable you are, to me and to God.

Most importantly, know that our son is loved.  As a mother, the most meaningful thing someone can do for me is to love my child. To treat my son with dignity and to honor his journey. To notice him and to value him, not for what he does, but for who he is. To put his needs above her own and to give sacrificially to him. And that’s what I promise you.

I want you to know that our son is loved. And so are you. 

Thank you for making me a mother and for entrusting me with the most profound job of my life.  Our son is growing so fast.  In the blink of an eye, he went from a preschooler with training wheels to a kid riding roller blades.  He is doing well.  We hope you are, too.

Take care,

Karin

100_2247        josh skating

Mother’s Day is not easy for many people.  My son’s first mother is just one example of that.  Remember that this weekend. Look around at church or at brunch or the grocery store and show love and compassion to those with far-off looks.  I hope someone does that for my son’s first mother today.

Lord, be with the grieving, with the barren, with the lonely, with the distant, with the orphans, with the broken-hearted… Today and always.

My Octobers: How pain and uncertainty can lead to connection and growth

When I used to think of October, the first thoughts that would come to mind were pumpkins, spiced everything, football, and the beginning of fall.  I love fall.  As a child, it was just what I longed for after the start of the school year.  It meant that the holidays were coming and there was a lot to look forward to.

For the past few years, October has been my most eventful and intense month of the year.  Three Octobers ago, my husband and I picked up our son Joshua for the final time and spent almost half the month in South Carolina waiting for paperwork to go through.  I remember feeling both intense joy and perpetual helplessness.  We adjusted to our “new normal” by enrolling Josh in preschool, introducing him to family and friends, and celebrating our first Halloween together.  We also attended my grandfather’s 102nd birthday.  I remember being in a constant state of awareness and disbelief.  It was one of the best months of my life, and one of the most exhausting.

josh and gramps meeting     100_2286

Two Octobers ago, my “not so new” family reunited in the mountains with some of our closest friends.  We experienced nature and rest and fun together.  Upon returning home,  two other dear friends were undergoing  an immense trial of having their baby, Ari, rushed to the NICU where she teetered between life and death for weeks.  Walking through such intense pain and heartache with friends created a  heightened emotional state that our entire community lived in throughout the month. I don’t think I have ever prayed harder in my life.  Everything seemed fragile. Alongside this intensity, my family was also experiencing our first round of “repeats”: Josh’s second year of preschool, my grandfather’s 103rd birthday, and the beginning of our second holiday season.

Ari 2          gramps and josh   josh superman

This year, as October approached, I had much to be thankful for and look forward to.  Sweet Ari was thriving and doing great as we were all getting ready to celebrate her 1st birthday, for which we had fervently prayed.  I was busy preparing for the wedding of my cousin Molly who has been like a little sister to me throughout my life.  And in the midst of all the excitement, I expected one more thing to remain consistent- we would celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at the end of October like we always have.

Then I got the call from my brother that changed things.  My grandfather was in the hospital again, and this time, there was talk of “the end”. I spent the rest of the month of October going back and forth from Orlando to Gainesville visiting him in the hospital, then in his home with hospice care, and making his funeral arrangements with my family. When his 104th birthday finally came the day after his funeral, I felt depleted.  This October, with all of its extreme highs and lows,  took everything out of me.  By God’s grace, I mustered up enough energy from my reserve tank on the very last day of the month to enjoy a great Halloween with my family.

10563080_10105517083152951_3044614371198159223_n    gramps hands    halloween 2014

The last three years, my Octobers have been roller coasters of emotions.  I have agonized and waited. I have anticipated and celebrated. I have prayed desperately for life and I have made peace with death. I have spent time with my dearest loved ones and I have been reminded of the pain of separation and loss.  And I have walked away from each October feeling utterly exhausted, yet more connected and grateful.  In the midst of all the uncertainty and change, each October I am drawn more intimately to God and knitted more closely together with others.

Although I can look back on my Octobers with tremendous gratitude and fondness, I can’t help but also feel relieved to see November come.  While my Octobers have been filled with change and uncertainty, my Novembers seem to bring a familiar comfort.  The start of the holiday season is accompanied by traditions and history and collective experiences that feel warm and inviting.  The change in weather (even in Florida) seems to bring a change in energy that I welcome. I look forward to November.

But I do not dread October.  I have learned more about myself these past 3 Octobers than any other season in my life. I can push through the pain and heartbreak for the intimacy and depth of relationships.  And because of my Octobers, I have a clearer picture of redemption and faith.  When I find myself questioning if God really has a plan for me as we wait eagerly for more children, I can reflect on the October when my longing to be a parent was met with the sweetest face I have ever seen.  When I doubt that God answers prayer, I can scroll through Instagram and see a picture of precious Ari playing and laughing, and I remember how desperately so many people prayed for her.  When I find myself fearing pain and death, I can remember my grandfather’s dream about the never-ending road and the legacy of his life that lives on in his family.

And when I feel alone, I can think back on my Octobers and picture the moments of true connection I have experienced- watching my family and my husband’s family embrace our son in South Carolina; staying up late responding to group texts from my community of friends as we waited for updates on Ari; dancing to the Brady Bunch with all my extended family at my cousin’s wedding and reminiscing about our childhood.  Standing around my grandfather’s bed after he died with my brother and sister feeling fully known and understood and loved.

We can’t perpetually exist in a heightened emotional state without some pretty significant consequences, but there are seasons in life where we have to.  And in those seasons, I feel more deeply and acutely aware of my surroundings, my relationships, and my need for God and others.  Those seasons are my Octobers.  And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

The call that changed my life and broke my heart

grief pic 1

I will never forget where I was when I got the call.  My breath was labored and I held on to my stomach tightly as if it were going to escape out of my body, my hand serving as the last line of defense.  The voice on the phone, a female police officer, filled me in on procedural matters since I was the one who made the initial report.  As she talked, I searched for hope in her voice. I yearned for her to use the word “attempt” or “false alarm”.  I didn’t know if it actually happened, only that it could have. I prayed it didn’t, but deep down, I knew.  The officer was talking with such sterility and dispassion, even annoyance.  Just another day at the office, I thought.  I needed to hear her say the words.

I mustered up the courage to interrupt her detached protocol and interject the question I never wanted to ask.  “Wait. I just… Are you saying she’s dead?” My voice was filled with a desperation I could not mask despite my efforts at remaining professional. “Oh, I’m sorry.” she replied in an embarrassed tone.  “I should have… Yes, her attempt was successful.  She’s dead.” I doubled over in pain, my hand once again trying to push my insides back in my stomach.  I wanted to fall down.  I wanted to throw up.  I wanted to disappear.  This can’t be a real, I repeated to myself over and over again.

Wake me from this nightmare.

But I wasn’t sleeping.  It was real.  And it was excruciating.  Everything felt like a fog, but one thought rang out through the haze.  I will never be the same again.  I never wanted to be the same.

 


 

There are moments in life- frozen seconds of time- that define and change us.  Experiences that cause life to be divided into two parts: before and after.  The day my client committed suicide was one of those days for me.  As the three-year anniversary came and went a few weeks ago, my body remembered the feelings I felt that day.  So much has changed since the day when everything changed. The memory of it feels like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, but once reunited, we fall right back in step with each other.  Familiar, but aged and weathered. Comforting and excruciating simultaneously. Grief is like that. Unwelcome and painful, yet sacred and intimate. I long to forget, but I fear forgetting because I need to remember. To feel.  To honor.

I imagine the person I knew. I picture her standing on the cement wall by my old counseling office, looking into the stream below and swaying slightly to the music blaring through her headphones.  No more.  I hear her voice greeting everyone in the waiting area as she enters, eager to connect. Desperate to be heard.  No more.  I see the other side of this person, the darker side, sitting on my couch unable to pretend any longer.  Broken.  No more.

As a counselor, I witness the desperation and grief of others often. I find myself asking, “How could this happen?  Why would a good God allow people to suffer to the point that death feels like the only relief?  Is there anything anyone can really do to help in the presence of such hopelessness?”  I don’t know the answers, but I do know this.  There is no time when I feel more dependent on God and more desperate for a Savior than in the face of grief and tragedy.  I don’t want to avoid pain because that would mean I am avoiding connection and relationship. And it would mean missing out on an opportunity to participate in the most powerful collective experience that exists- human suffering.

In light of our nation’s recent collective grief experience as we mourn the death of Robin Williams, I hold my own grief tightly and remember.  Suicide impacts so many, and this very public grief of a legend and dear friend from afar connects millions to the grief of losing someone to suicide and dealing with the aftermath and the questions and the confusion.  I pray for his family, his friends, his fans, his counselor if he had one, and all those who feel hopeless and trapped.  There is a psalm (34:18) that says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those that are crushed in spirit.”  I can’t understand why things happen the way they do, but I take comfort in believing that in our darkest moments, the Lord is close.  And there are people who care and want to walk beside you.

Thanks for letting me walk beside you, C.  It was an honor.

“I’m a happy mother”: Honoring the joys and sorrows of Mother’s Day

mom and me

Growing up, my mom’s response to the exclamation “Happy Mother’s Day!” was always the same.

“I’m a happy mother!”

Now that I am a mother, I see this response from a more personal lens.  I have always wanted to be a mom.  I know that not every woman shares this desire for motherhood, which I respect.  But for me, it was something I just assumed would happen, along with every other goal or dream for my life.  I don’t remember yearning for it when I was younger and even newly married, partly because I was pursuing other ambitions and passions, but also because I believed it would happen exactly how and when I wanted it to.  I didn’t see the point in dwelling on it.  I would be a mom, and it would be great when the time was right.

Long gone are the days of simple assumptions about anything.

2 years ago, I remember sitting in church on Mother’s Day feeling alone and angry.  Dave and I had been “trying” (awkward) for longer than I was admitting to myself or others, and it wasn’t happening.  I watched loved ones and not-so-loved ones around me getting pregnant like it was an item on a lunch menu.

I‘ll have a salad.”

“And I will have a baby.”

My beliefs about life and the way the world worked were being challenged in a painful and paradigm-shifting turn of events.  After buying in to the adage that I was “Taking Charge of My Fertility”, both by preventing and then by not preventing, the realization finally hit me that I really have very little control over it at all.  This always reminds me of Charlotte on Sex and the City when she says, “I spent all of my twenties trying not to get pregnant and all of my thirties trying to get pregnant!”

So here I was, sitting in church, watching adorable children pass out carnations to the standing women- the mothers– and I finally yearned to be one of them.  It went beyond a “you do you and I’ll do me” mindset and it became personal.

“Why them and not me?”

In that moment, I felt like I was becoming the person I hated.  The person who believes that everything is about her and that someone else’s fortune is somehow in direct competition with her own.  And then something happened.  I stopped looking at the women who were standing and started looking at the ones who weren’t.  Young women.  Old women.  Single women.  Married women.  Women who looked annoyed and others who looked embarrassed.  Women who fidgeted in their seats and those who looked around smiling and nodding happily at the standing women around them.  I didn’t want to judge them.  I wanted to know them.  “What are their stories?”

What I am learning as I allow myself to be vulnerable with others about my story is that there are a lot of complicated, painful, confusing, uncomfortable, and tragic stories all around me.  There are also countless stories about love, redemption, second chances, joy from sorrow, strength in weakness and healing amidst loss and grief.  I am not unique.  But my story is valuable.  So is yours.

Today, on Mother’s Day, my mom’s words resonate in my heart and soul.

“I am a happy mother!” 

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I am not happy because I got what I wanted, nor am I happy because I deserved it all along.  I am happy because I have seen God work in my life in a real and personal way.  I am happy because God had a plan all along that was better than mine, and I didn’t know or understand that two years ago.  I am happy because the deep yearning I felt that day in church and the story I have been telling myself since childhood are connected.  For me, that’s the key to my story now.  It was never about getting everything I wanted.  It was about the desires, passions and visions God put in my heart the day I was created that have strengthened and evolved into something more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Mother’s Day is a painful day for a lot of people.  It represents loss as much as it represents gain.  It reminds people of what they used to have and what they have never had.  So in addition to my happiness today, there is room for grief.  I grieve the loss of my son’s first mom.  Today, while I celebrate my “mom” status with my son, she will feel her own loss acutely, and that pains my heart.  I grieve the loss of my parents’ mothers.  I am reminded of my mom’s face when my grandmother died and the deep wailing in her spirit as she verbalized that she had become an orphan.  I mourn with my friends and clients who never knew the love of a mother.  I weep with those who have lost a child or who have a child who is sick and hurting and they don’t know how to help.  I hurt with those who yearn for  a child deeply.

That’s the beauty of life, really.  Feelings are not compartmentalized; they are fluid.  They don’t exist one after another, but in a magnificent tapestry, woven together intricately and gently.

If you are a happy mother today, celebrate that.  If that label does not fit for you, honor that however you need to.  For me, I will enjoy my presents and cards and cherish every hug and acknowledgment.  I will also make a conscious effort to be sensitive to the stories of others and leave room for grief and contemplation while still embracing my “special day”.

My road to motherhood was not simple, but it was just as it was meant to be.  And for that, I am certainly a happy and grateful mother.

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