~Today is the 15th. The past two months have been filled with crushing chest pain, random and violent, exorcist-like vomiting that can wake me from sleep, screaming, sobbing, days spent in bed, very dark thoughts due to the guilt and the tragedy of losing Norah. Disgusting things that I can’t believe I’ve had to experience. Things that robbed me of the joy that was all around me and the memory of her amazing little life, that has proven to be bigger than anyone could have imagined.~
Last week, while trying to work through these thoughts and experiences, my therapist told me that I was in no way to blame (many others, including police, a detective, several doctors, a distinguished Medical Examiner, a priest, a nun, my husband, my mother, my friends, my family, have told me this countless times. But a Mother’s mind and soul will do some powerful and irrational things when mourning for a child, especially when there is no cause).
She told me that I’m a wonderful mother whose baby died, and the two can go hand in hand.
This concept resonated with me.
I’d be the first to express those thoughts to other grieving moms, but I couldn’t do that for myself.
However, at that moment, I was finally able to speak the truth and know wholeheartedly that I did everything in my power to nurture, nourish, advocate for, comfort, and love my sweet girl, every second of the 111 days we had together. I grew this baby inside of my body. I fed her from my body. I sacrificed everything for her. We gave each other a lifetime of love in a very short amount of time. That’s pretty remarkable.
By the end of my session, my therapist had given me an assignment to discover a mantra; one that I could use when I’m beginning to spiral. I was on a mission.
That day, I broke down and shared my deep, dark pain and guilty feelings with a friend. She replied so kindly, and reaffirmed all she knew about me, and my love and care for my children. She then, unknowingly, presented me with my mantra, as she said to me, “Love is all you’re capable of.”
Love is all I’m capable of.
Love is all I’m capable of.
Love is all I’m capable of.
Love is all I’m capable of.
So simple. So powerful. So true.
That day continued to unfold with blessings right before my eyes. I was invited to attend a Healing Mass with someone who I believe was put into my life for a very specific reason. (She shares the joy of children who are the same ages as mine. She and I met last year and were pregnant again, at the same time. She reached out to me after Norah died, and shared words, some of which were God’s words, that I’ll never forget. She paused her very busy life to help me plan Norah’s funeral mass and directly contacted our Priest to ensure that everything went just as we had requested. Both of our youngest were baby girls. Both of their names begin with an N. Both of them are now living together, as soul sisters, in Heaven.)
I knew this mass was exactly what I needed. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before! But I was barely able to form a sentence sometimes, let alone a thought. My friend, and God, did that for me.
She and her Mom picked me up the very next evening. This was the first time I had met her mother but I felt an instant bond, a comfort, in her presence. I was with the people whom I needed to be with.
We walked in to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The magnificence of that church hit me. We sat in the middle of the church, row 130. I was exactly where I needed to be.
During the homily, one of the fifty-some priests from around the world spoke about forgiveness and healing from his own personal experiences. I learned that healing can not begin until you have achieved forgiveness. I began racking my brain, trying to figure out who I needed to forgive. It is extremely rare that I have run-ins with others. I don’t hold grudges. I move on, even it means removing myself from a bad situation. But I forgive. Long ago, I even forgave for others, those who had wronged some of my friends and family. There was no one out there whom I needed to forgive. Why was I being blocked from beginning this journey into grief and healing?
I yearned to grieve for Norah in the most normal way possible. I yearned to not be overtaken by the demons that were flooding my brain and gripping my heart. The demons that were blocking me from so much joy that was still surrounding me. I was more confused than ever. I continued to pray.
At the end of the mass, the priests positioned themselves in areas around the church for people to talk to, confess to, cry to, pray with, receive a blessing from, whatever was needed. I told my friend and her mom that I’d meet them by the door later on.
I walked around, looking for the priest who had spoken about forgiveness. I needed more info. I needed his prayers. But I could not find him. I walked aimlessly for a few more minutes, staring at each man and deciding which would be the right line for me to stand in. Suddenly, I caught sight of someone in the back corner. He was a very tall, very strong-looking older priest. I stood and watched for a few minutes as he was leaning over a couple, praying and blessing them. They appeared to have a deep need, and he was helping them. Something about him reminded me of my late Grandfather. This was the line I needed to stand in.
As I stood in line, I began to feel a deeper, overwhelming pressure in my chest. I wasn’t sure if it was grief or anxiety or God beginning to work on my heart. Whatever it was made me weep, out loud, without any control. My tears were literally forming a small puddle on the floor in front of my feet. I kept looking down as they fell. I kept trying to catch my breath. From behind me, a very kind lady, a stranger, placed her hand lightly on my back and said, “It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK.” (I’ve found that “OK” has so many meanings now. But I’ve yearned to be as OK as a grieving mother can be. I want to be OK for my other two girls and for my husband. I want to be OK for my friends and my family. I want to be OK… for me.) I needed to hear those words for the umpteenth time. I couldn’t even reply to her. I just looked deeply into her eyes and hope she sensed my gratitude. I wish I knew who that lady was.
It was my turn. The priest asked for my intentions and how he could pray for me. My voice cracked. I trembled and sobbed, as I handed him Norah’s prayer card and told him our story. He placed his hand on the side of my face – it covered me from my hair to my jaw line – and he let out a huge, empathetic sigh and “awww” – to me showing the greatest empathy as he acknowledged the greatest loss. He then looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve given love. You must forgive YOURSELF.”
If it was appropriate to say “Ohhemmgee” in church and right there in front of a priest, I would have. A light bulb came on. It was ME I needed to forgive in order to heal!
He prayed over me for several minutes, he blessed me with oils, he held Norah’s prayer card to his heart. I kept saying my mantra. I felt my knees tremble and I felt air rush into my lungs for the first time in weeks. I could breath. He told me the Holy Spirit was working now.
He asked if he could keep Norah’s prayer card. I exhaled a huge breath and said, “Yes.”
A little while later, I saw him talking to another priest, and holding Norah’s prayer card for both of them to see. It appeared that he was telling him about her, about me. They were praying for us, and I believe they’ve continued to pray.
Since that evening, I’ve felt an ongoing sense of peace. Five, almost six, whole days have passed and I’ve continued to feel different. Of course, I still experience unfathomable pain and tears from missing my sweet, perfect angel (I know that will last forever) but I no longer feel guilt or self-blame or self-hatred.
I’ve forgiven myself because I know that love is all I’m capable of.
I hope these experiences can help someone else get through the darkest of times. Bereaved parents are the only ones who can truly understand the magnitude of this loss. Burying your child is unnatural. It’s not on the “timeline” of life. It’s not a normal process that occurs with aging. It’s your greatest love, taken away from you. It’s learning to live with empty arms and a piece of your heart gone forever.
But I’m holding on to hope, now, that what I’ve experienced will be lasting. I’m ready to continue with the difficult work that I’m faced with on this journey of grief, in faith and in therapy, as I remember and honor our Norah.
I’d like to invite you to attend a healing mass. It’s OK to go in lost, skeptical, scared. God accepts all. You just need an open heart.
If you’ve contemplated the need for therapy, please reconsider and seek the help that you need. Our brains are not equipped to independently handle the toughest of tough situations we’re sometimes faced with. There is no shame in seeking what is needed to open up your life to something greater; to have an awareness of your needs and the needs of others; to focus on rebuilding your strength and becoming a warrior. If you needed open heart surgery, would you consult a cardiac surgeon? If you had cancer, would you be willing to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment? Why not accept the gift of mental healthcare, when faced with life’s most difficult paths?
And last, but not least, forgive yourself.