Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Shooting Too Close

Yesterday a 15 year-old boy was shot and killed just outside Roslyn's school. According to the latest reports, he was an innocent bystander, a "good kid" in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is sad and absolutely heartbreaking. The tragedy has sent a tsunami of fear and sorrow and anger throughout our community. My Facebook feed is now full of posts from friends, parents with kids at Classical, expressing their sorrow for the family, worry about their children's safety, and relief that they came home from school yesterday. We are all scared and sad. It was too close, way too close.

Earlier this morning, I found myself involved in a Facebook conversation where some people were talking about this incident as a "school shooting," and I felt compelled to clarify, to point out that this wasn't like Parkland or Columbine. This wasn't a crazed maniac entering a school armed with assault rifles and opening fire. This happened on the street, in front of a school, during a fight, with a handgun, one shot fired. This is in so many ways NOT a school shooting. Or is it?

I started to question why I felt the need to point out the distinction. Why was I so uncomfortable with it being talked about as a "school shooting"? Like everyone, I'm still processing what happened, but maybe I was triggered because I cannot even begin to allow myself to entertain the possibility of an actual school shooting happening so close to home. Maybe if I focus on all the ways this ISN'T a school shooting, that it's not some random evil act by a lunatic with machine guns, maybe then it's not quite so scary. But unfortunately, it is that scary. It really is. Because when it comes to the possibility of losing your child, it doesn't matter how.

People talk about this incident as "every parent's worst nightmare" -- and it is. I know that it is. But what does that mean really? Haven't I also lived "every parent's worst nightmare"? Eleven years ago, I put my happy, healthy toddler to bed one night and she never woke up. No warning, no explanation. Where is the outrage? Where is the outpouring of calls for research funding to find out why thousands of children each year die suddenly without any explanation?

It's because it defies comprehension. We can look at this boy's tragic death and get angry that politicians continue to do absolutely nothing time after time, or that we don't have enough resources to help our troubled youth. You can point a finger and identify a culprit and place blame and that makes it just a bit easier to get angry and feel a little bit less helpless. 

When I heard about the shooting yesterday, I instantly burst into tears. Rationally I knew Classical was on lockdown and Roslyn had to be safe. (Right? She had to be...) But irrationally, I felt that I could not survive losing a second child. I know what it feels like and it would literally kill me.

There's a saying that when we have children, it's like having a piece of our heart walking around outside of our bodies. It's true. When your child dies, your heart is forever broken. As a "bereaved parent" (that's what we're called because the English language doesn't actually have a word for us like "orphan" or "widow/widower"), I'm now reprogrammed to be extra careful, extra vigilant to potential danger -- and extra grateful when my kids come home safe and sound. 

Yesterday's tragedy hit like a sledgehammer reminding me of all the things that are beyond my control. The truth is, we cannot protect our children. It's one of the hardest realities of being a parent. We are helpless, and when you add guns into the scenario, it's downright terrifying. Life is so fragile. Don't take anything or anyone for granted.

I hugged Roslyn extra tight yesterday when she got home. We talked about what happened. She said it was scary during the lockdown. I wish none of us, but especially our children, had to live in a world where the threat of gun violence is an everyday reality. I hope soon, very soon those who are in a position to do something about it will act.   

I am deeply sorry for the family and friends of William Parsons. I'm sorry his parents are now part of the club no one ever wanted to be a member of. But I know after surviving 11 years of grief that somehow we manage to breathe and keep on going. When this tragedy is no longer in the news and everyone has gone back to their regular lives, I hope William's parents know that they are never alone. I hope they know that he will never be forgotten.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

13


July 29th is coming up in three days. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that Natalie would be turning 13 this year—officially a teenager and another milestone we won’t get to share. This summer I’ve run into some other 13 year-olds, the children of friends whose kids have grown up to become awkward, introverted, and lanky teens… all the endearing things a 13 year-old could be. Seeing these kids now—kids who I knew way back when they were toddlers, when Natalie and I would drop off Roslyn as East Side Nursery School—sometimes stops me in my tracks. It’s an odd perception of time because these kids are now going into the eighth grade (!!), but Natalie is and will forever be a little 1½ year-old girl. How is this possible?! The perception of time is so subjective and changes constantly. I look at Roslyn, now heading into her sophomore year and it feels just right. I’ve watched her grow up into the confident, sensitive, and loving young woman she is each and every day—and though sometimes it does feel like time is moving too fast, it also feels absolutely perfect.

I have written about this before—wondering what Natalie would be like. But this year, another milestone birthday, it strikes a bit harder. What would her passion be? Music? Sports? What would be her favorite subjects in school? Would she like math and science? Or maybe art? Or Spanish? Would she follow in her sister’s footsteps and love theater or would she be playing bass in her own punk band? Or maybe it would be something else entirely that I can’t even begin to conjure in my brain. And what would she look like? She had the best giggle, I wonder what her voice and laughter would sound like. I can imagine, but then I just can’t. It’s a strange paradox—and sometimes it just hurts too much to think about it. More than 11 years ago, the universe decided that we wouldn’t ever get to know these things, and Natalie’s life was taken away. We were all robbed of the beauty, joy, and amazing amount of fun she brought to the world. I can only imagine now that she would still be wreaking havoc, only on a bigger scale—doing all of the things a 13 year-old girl should do. It is forever heartbreaking that she can't.

Since 2007, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of saying “happy birthday” to Natalie, but I am starting to think about it in a new way. It always felt awkward, because the truth is, she is gone and there is nothing happy about that. Instead I would acknowledge her birthday by honoring the day she made her grand entrance into the world and celebrating her beautiful, happy life and all of the love she brought to our lives. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: for all the indescribable pain I have suffered as a result of losing Natalie, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am so, so, sooooo happy Natalie was born. I love you, sweet girl—soooo much! Happy Birthday.






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Sunday, March 18, 2018

A surprise gift

Today marks 11 years since we lost our precious Natalie. Last night, I was looking through old photos and noticed something on this one that I'd never noticed before. Natalie was born with a small patch of white hair on the back of her head, which you can see in this photo! I am so thrilled to have some kind of tangible record of this unique little part of her because a few days after she died, the funeral director had given us a few "keepsakes" -- a lock of her hair and some plaster casts of her hands and feet. It reminded to ask about the white tuft of hair and I asked if there was any way I could have it as well, but unfortunately it wasn't possible due to the autopsy (let that sink in). It broke my heart but there wasn't anything anyone could do and it felt like another little piece of her had slipped away.

Last night I was looking at every photo, not just the "good" ones of her beautiful smiling face. Since this one is taken from behind, I'd never really looked too closely before, but suddenly there it was! Her precious little lock of white hair. My heart leaped to receive this special gift, especially now on her Angelversary.

I remain eternally grateful to all of my friends and family who continue to support me and my family on this life-long journey. My dear friend Laura Prieto, who also happens to be the first person we called 11 years ago this Sunday morning, recently commented "Love keeps her memory strong." I love this idea and it's true because the depth of the grief is measured by the depth of the love. And the love is oh so strong. It is unbreakable.<3 p="">

Saturday, July 29, 2017

#Natalie

Today my beautiful Natalie would have turned 12. As the years go by, the pain of losing her has not diminished. If anything, the longing and wondering what she'd be like grows ever stronger, and the magnitude of her loss is amplified through all that could have been but will never be.

Her memorial website is temporarily down, something beyond my control. In lieu of a virtual candle there, let's light up Instagram and Facebook with messages and/or pictures of candles, blueberries, or anything else that reminds you of Natalie with the hashtag #Natalie.

We celebrate this day she entered the world 12 years ago and the 19 months and 18 days she was here to brighten our lives. Remembering Natalie always with so much love.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Why I Talk to Butterflies

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Once again, death has been on the front burner in our lives. June 30th saw the passing of Christopher's mother, my children's last living grandparent. And a few days ago, Gabriel's beloved chicken Pickles died after being ill for several weeks. Whenever we are faced with death, inevitably it triggers thoughts of Natalie—thoughts and feelings even deeper than the regular, everyday thoughts and feelings.

Today I took an alternate route home, which took me past a funeral home in East Providence. As I took note of its existence, a sudden flood of imagery came to mind, all pictures of death: my mother-in-law in her casket, our dead chicken, and my precious baby Natalie on several occasions: her small lifeless body when I found her on March 18th, at the funeral home, and at the cemetery before she was cremated. Overcome by the sudden intensity of these memories, I burst into tears and cried the rest of the way home.

Earlier today, someone in one of my grief support groups posted an interesting article about how people who don’t believe in God deal with death. It talked about the science of what is proven/known vs. what is not and where faith comes into the picture for many people. It reminded me of the beautiful sermon Pam Gregory gave at Natalie’s memorial service about how physicists know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, just transformed. It gave me tremendous comfort to think that Natalie’s energy and life force did not die, but simply took on a different form. Pam talked about how maybe if we pay close enough attention, we will be able to perceive it.

When I got home and was getting out of the car, which I had parked in the shade of the house right next to Natalie’s garden, a beautiful swallowtail butterfly swooped past and landed on Natalie’s butterfly bush, the first I’ve seen this summer. I couldn’t help but feel an immediate connection to this spectacular creature. Nor could I help wonder if her appearance was not particularly timely and relevant given recent events. I greeted her and remarked how beautiful she was. I thanked her for coming to visit me today.

Hours later when I went back out to the car to pick up Gabriel from camp, a monarch butterfly was flitting about Natalie’s garden. Again, the first one I’ve seen all summer. Again, I greeted her with joy, so happy to see her and, again, I thanked her for coming.

I don’t know if this is Natalie’s energy manifesting to bring me comfort, but I don’t know that it isn’t. And that is why I talk to butterflies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Personal Revelation About a Political Revolution

Last night I was at my grief support group meeting of TheCompassionate Friends, and a light bulb suddenly went off in my brain. 

Anyone who has seen my Facebook feed over the last 9 or 10 months cannot escape my frequent and unabashed enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders as my candidate of choice for President of the United States. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that many people were surprised by my sudden outburst of political fervor (normally I stick to personal updates with the occasional GMO labeling or “save the bees” type of activism). I have to admit, it kind of caught me by surprise, too.

What I already knew
On the surface, I support Bernie because I believe that he is a rare kind of politician who has the integrity and courage to stand up for what’s right—fairness, equality, and justice for all including our planet—without being swayed by Big Money interests or political favors. And I agree with his priorities and his positions on the issues.

What’s more, because Hillary Clinton is running again this year, the inevitable comparisons to the 2008 presidential race have caused me to become aware that I really don’t remember very much about that election. I was in a fog in 2007 and 2008 having just suffered the death of my precious daughter Natalie (July 29, 2005–March 18, 2007). 

What I realized last night
Last night it dawned on me how my passion for Bernie is also an expression of my grief. It’s a little complicated as grief can take some unexpected turns, but I’ll do my best to explain.

First, a few notes about my political background and why I support Bernie
I believe that this election year, the United States is at a critical crossroads in its history. For most of my 49 years our country has been sinking into a dangerous and inherently “un-American” system that has turned our democracy into an oligarchy—a system of government in which a few rich and powerful people are in control.

In 1984 I became eligible to vote in my first presidential election. I have always taken my right to vote seriously and have exercised it faithfully in every election since—presidential and otherwise. With the exception of 1988 when Jesse Jackson ran for the democratic nomination (I saw him speak three times that year), no candidate has ever really gotten me particularly excited.  It seems like every time election year rolls around, it’s the all-too-familiar choice between the “lesser of two evils.”

The truth is, aside from voting, I have never really been involved in politics.

Now, for the first time in my life, a candidate has come along and ignited a fire in my political being. I’ve almost become an activist—even going so far as to become a delegate candidate on the Rhode Island democratic ballot. Thanks to Bernie Sanders—a man who has a proven record of fighting for equality and justice his entire adult life (just look at his various speeches over the years)—I am now keenly aware that the middle class has been shrinking and the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Roslyn’s and Gabriel’s future
And I started thinking about my children’s future: what kind of world are we going to leave them and their kids? Bernie’s idea of tuition-free public universities is sounding pretty darn good right now. So is his idea of universal, single-payer healthcare. Not to mention his deep commitment to addressing climate change. I want the world to be a better place for my children, not a dark, dystopian future that we see in popular fiction like “The Hunger Games,” where an oligarchic “Capital” controls everyone else through fear and propaganda for its own gain.

But in order to make any of these things happen, we need to get Big Money out of our political process. It’s not democracy when anything other than the will of the majority of people takes precedence. Yet the influence of Big Money and special interests has become standard operating procedure in our country. Bernie wants to fix the system.

A more compassionate society
Former President George H.W. Bush once said he wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” It is a noble goal, but one that he was unable to achieve, nor has anyone else since. Why? Because the people we have elected to the highest office are not people of clear conviction and integrity that inspire others to be better human beings. Remember the line in the movie “As Good As It Gets” when Jack Nicholson says, “You make me want to be a better man”? That’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about. To inspire that in others you must set the example—and Bernie Sanders is doing that all over this country.

As a Bernie supporter, I have noticed an amazing thing starting to happen in our country. Through the incredible immediacy and intimacy of social media, people are connecting with each other. There is a sense of community—an American community—that doesn’t seem to have existed before. As I watch voting results come in across the country, I am deeply grateful to the people in those states for having the courage to vote for change, to vote for hope, to vote for integrity. I felt a glimmer of one-ness with my fellow citizens I had never felt before—like we are all in this together. And that is at the core of Bernie’s message. We are one people. Let’s help each other. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s stop the “me first” attitude that rears its ugly head so often in our daily lives.

Why we need a political revolution
It takes a lot of courage to change. But I believe that Bernie is the catalyst for truly bringing about the reform we need in our government and our society. His political revolution embraces the inherent principles of democracy, which is what the United States of America is supposed to uphold: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have strayed and it's time to get back on track. Bernie is the only candidate who can make that happen.

Our ancestors fought for the freedoms many people now take for granted—the right to vote. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to be accepted for who you are. 

I am just one voter. One American citizen. One mother who wants the best for her children. And that is why I am voting for Bernie Sanders.

Back to the grief connection
So… last night I was sitting in the meeting listening to people talk about their grief and something clicked.

For people who have lost a child (myself included) one of the most difficult things to deal with in the grieving process is the unfairness of it. Children are not supposed to predecease their parents. I still find it impossible to accept Natalie’s passing. It is just wrong. But I don’t have anyone to blame or be angry at (except the universe, and frankly, that’s just not good enough).

With the wrongness of losing a child comes a feeling of powerlessness. There was nothing we could do to save her. Hope dies, too.

When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, on a level buried very deep within me, I saw an opportunity for hope and I was compelled to DO SOMETHING in a way I never had before in my life. And so political activist Beth emerged. It came from a deep need, an all-consuming craving, for there to be fairness and justice in this world.

Natalie is gone. My only hope for her now is that her memory will live on among those who knew her and those who may be touched by her life. But I can still hope for a better future for Roslyn and Gabriel, for my fellow citizens, and for our planet. I know it’s an uphill battle. But does that mean we shouldn’t try?

My very insightful and caring husband
When I shared my revelation with my husband last night after the meeting, I was surprised and touched that he seemed to have understood my motivation all along. Last summer, he had expressed concern over me getting too invested in Bernie because he saw from the beginning how it was connected to Natalie and he didn’t want to see me get crushed. (Like many people, he was skeptical that Bernie could win against the enormous power of the political Establishment and the Clinton machine.) I am humbled by his insight. Sometimes those who love us know us better than we know ourselves. It just took me longer to figure it out. I am grateful to Christopher for that and so much more.

And I'm pleased to report that he has joined me in feeling the Bern!

Friday, January 29, 2016

You Can't Undo Death

Yesterday evening when we went to tuck in our chickens for the night, my husband found one of our four hens had died. I had let them run free for a couple of hours that afternoon and hadn't yet closed the door to the coop. Immediately I assumed that a predator had gotten in there. Already I was feeling like it was my fault. But when Chris picked her up, we examined her and I noticed she was in perfect condition. There were no wounds or signs of any sort of distress. We ruled out an attack, which then left the question of what caused her to die? Not even a year old, it wasn't her age. What else could cause a seemingly healthy chicken to just die? I had just seen her less than 2 hours prior and she was running around with the flock. So what happened in that short time frame to cause her to die?

I googled this question and found out that other people have had similar experiences. Maybe it was a heart attack. Maybe she was "egg bound," a condition that occurs when they can't release an egg. Maybe she was sick (though she didn't show any symptoms). Who knows?

I couldn't get to sleep last night as I cried and cried over this poor chicken. I felt a little silly until I realized how similar her fate was to my precious Natalie's. I am forever plagued with the question of what caused Natalie to die quietly in her sleep? There were no warning signs. Just like this chicken. There are no answers.

We didn't take any pictures of Natalie that horrific morning of March 18, nor as she lay peacefully in her casket when our family members visited her the night before her memorial service. (I have those images imprinted on my brain forever.) But Roslyn did take a picture of our poor hen and posted it on her Instagram account with the caption "RIP Gaspar or Sleepy" (it was hard to tell the three RI Reds apart, but we're sure it's not Birdy) and some crying emojis. Looking at that peaceful bird makes me keenly aware (yet again) of how precious and fragile life is. One minutes they're here, the next they're gone. Poof!

You can't undo death.

As a result of not sleeping well, I'm tired and I've been in a bit of a funk. In fact, I've been in a funk for the past couple of weeks as now we are well into the new year and March 18 is just around the corner. It seems to happen every year around this time. The passing of our poor, sweet chicken has triggered my grief big time. I'm in the thick of it again. I struggle to get through this season coping with the enormity of my loss and my forever longing for my daughter who I will never get back. Because you can't undo death.