Welcome to My Blog

Chava's Memorial Quilt

Chava’s Memorial Quilt

The journey with grief after the loss of a child is long and lonely. Although the circumstances around  the death of a child might be different, the emptiness that a parent feels is life-altering. That moment in time changes who we are forever. It also effects every member of the immediate family, extended family, and communities of which we are a part. The loss has a rippling effect on the family for years to come and plays a part in everyone’s life as they face changes in their own lives and move forward. We all struggle to find ways to face family holidays and celebrations of life that surround us. Our emotions are varied, complicated, and ever changing.

Grief is an individual process and each person’s path is different. Perhaps over time we learn to carry our loss as we move through our lives, but the grief is always with us. As the years go by, we each find ways to ease our pain and find some peace. For some of us expressing ourselves creatively through a variety of art forms such as writing, poetry, journaling, painting, quilting, photography  and singing. Others have reached out to others by creating foundations or volunteering. Some find solace being in nature and gardening. My hope is that through sharing our stories of loss and healing we will feel less alone and can offer each other comfort on our long journey.

A Gathering to Remember

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This June was the 10th year anniversary of my daughter, Chava’s death. As I was approaching the date I was a bundle of knots inside. In past years we have acknowledged this time of year in a private way. Being alone and sharing our memories with each other has been our way of being with our grief. Some friends and family would let us know they were thinking of us, and Chava, and that felt comforting that they still remembered and that we weren’t totally alone. 

Time passes in such a bizarre way. Sometimes it feels like Chava’s illness and death happened but a few short months ago. The memories are so fresh and raw, but at other times, it feels so long since I held her in my arms and told her how much I loved her. I miss her touch, her laughter, and the vision of her enlivening the space around her, and us. This void makes the length of time feel painfully real. Oh, how I still ache inside. The anniversary brings all these feeling to the surface .

So what do I do with these swirling emotions? I little voice inside of me kept saying I need/want to do something this year to mark this milestone. For weeks I found refuge in my garden as I pondered what I wanted to do. By digging deep into the soil, unearthing rocks and sifting the rich dirt in my hands, ideas began to germinate. I built a free standing iron lattice wall and a stone trough around it to connect sections of the garden together.I envisioned the varied hues of purple, blues, and reds of  morning glories climbing the black tralise contrasting the hard metal as the radiating blossoms swayed in the gentle breeze. I wanted our friends and family to gather here in a this place that has given me such comfort and solace over the years. Chava’s words from her journal which she wrote while she was sick :” Ah, the flowers…take your time to look, to see, to smell, to feel the beauty of this amazing world”. Her words led me to the corner stone for the gathering. Together we would plant flowers in her memory as we celebrated her life, shared memories, and reflected on how having had her in our lives has enriched us.

Over the next several weeks I sent out an open invitation to family and friends to circulate throughout the communities where Chava had touched people . I continued to dig finding comfort in knowing that through my digging I had found the creative nugget for which I had been searching . I felt at peace knowing that whatever happened on the day of the gathering was what was meant to happen because it was coming from my heart and not because of a prescribed script on what one” should “do. Together we would gather as family and friends from different communities and together create a safe place to share and celebrate all that Chava had given us.

Now, months later reflecting on the gathering, I can truly say it was all I had hoped it would be. On a crystal clear blue sunny day , Chava’s garden was filled with many of those who loved her. We shared our stories, memories, reflections through laughter, tears,and song. We released butterflies into the garden, and silently watched as they flitted amongst the flowers, creating an invisible thread that connected all of us and lifted our spirit into the universe. Chava had truly left her mark on each of our lives. By coming together on this 10th year we rekindled her spark in each of us. Her memory lives on in each of us and her spirit is present in all the small wonders we encounter every day. She was ,and will always be, a gift to cherish. 

                                          …………..francie

Unexpected Gifts

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I was recently at a retreat center in western Massachusetts with a dear friend, Marie who had invited me to join her for a couple of days of  R&R. At first I was hesitant to go as I had  just been away so was trying to justify spending the money but the draw to share that time with Marie whom I hadn’t seen in 5 years was too strong a pull. It turned out to be a couple of days ladden with several unexpected gifts.

Marie had come with a close friend of hers plus that friend’s sister-in-law. We were nestled in the glorious Berkshire mountains with a thawing lake in the near distance and surrounding us was the budding of spring awakening. It didn’t take long for our bodies and souls to begin to relax into the comforts that were bountiful. From healthy food, to yoga, self affirming lectures, a whirlpool, and hiking trails, we had found an oasis away from our lives with the greatest of joys …..being together surrounded by nature’s peace.

From the moment of our first hug I knew Marie and my friendship had survived the distance of time and we could reach out to each other with a thirst to catch up, to listen, and to share from the center of our souls. On walks through the muddy trails that transversed the hills we shared our life stories from the center of our authentic selves. With a bond of trust that brushes away all pretenses, we laughed and we cried. We both had experienced life sadnesses, and joys, and were willing to speak of them in all their complexities. The gift of frienship that allowes that level of sharing is a treasure to behold and cherish.

As it turned out Marie’s friend’s sister-in-law had also lost a child. She and I didn’t know that of each other until Marie made that connection for us. Immediately that created a bond of shared experience. There were moments over the next couple of days when we mentioned the terrible loss we each felt in our lives and that awareness peppered all that we talked about from adventures we wanted to embark upon, to what our other children were doing and their lives. Behind the scenes we knew that whatever we were pursuing was greatly shaped by having lost a child. And just as this was a chance encounter , we knew that throughout our lives we would each come across other parents who were living on after the loss of a child. I found myself wanting to know what had helped her on her journey with loss. What nuggets had she held onto that gave her the strength to take another step ? What were her “ stepping stones “?

We were all headed to our evening presentation that sounded interesting, but as I tried to settle in, my gut kept telling me that going to the writing workshop, that was happening symultaniously, would be a better fit for where I was at that moment in time . So I quietly snuck out and tentitively settled into Nancy Slonim Arone’s workshop on, “ Writing from the Heart “.  I hadn’t heard of Nancy prior to this chance meeting but I was immediately mesmorized by her theatrical ,funny, endearing presentation of how she began her career. This tall ,slender ,older ,but ageless , woman with curly blond hair which sparkled with tinsel ,was bursting with energy and charisma. She told her story from an awkward tall youngster , to a suburban housewife who for many of her middle years got lost in the hurry and scurry of raising kids and living the typical life of carpools, recipe sharing, decorating her home in marimekko fabrics until she realized she no longer wanted to continue on in this frenetic pace  nor be the expected comic at dinner parties. She wanted to write and speak from the heart and help others do the same. That was her introduction to having us write our own piece ; “ The hardest thing in my life was when…….”

For the next 10 minutes I settled myself into a corner of the room and began to write. When given a spontaneous writing assignement there isn’t much time to process but my pen was flying across the page. I began to speak of when the doctor had first told us that our daughter, Chava ,had cancer. What ? Who? This isn’t real .This isn’t true !…..I flashed back to tell of the longest 2 1/2 hour drive of my life ,through thunder and lightning and torrential rain to pick Chava up at camp in N.H.and take her to Children’s Hospital in Boston where that diagnosis of cancer was pronounced, and from there fast forwarded to a year of her living with various treatments until her death 10 months later.

When Nancy asked for volunteers to read what they had written I pushed myself to raise my hand, as another part of me was saying…are you crazy ?!  With tears streaming down my checks I made it through what I had written. There was a hush that fell over the room as I fiinished. Nancy had created a safe  environemnt where people gave supportive and heart felt comments. When it was over I could feel my body gradually relax ,and once I had taken my first deep breath, I could settle into listening to other’s stories.

I went up to Nancy at the close of the workshop to thank her for the opportunity to be in her session and to share my story. Instead, she thanked me and then said in a soft voise, “ I don’t know if you knew but I also have lost a child.”  For that brief unspoken moment our eyes held each other’s in a knowing gaze. As I walked out into the hallway I was overwhelmed by emotion from sharing what I had written  but also by yet another chance encounter.

As I drove home the following day I had 2 1/2 hours to rewind the tape of all that I had experienced over the past few days. I couldn’t help but say to myself…..look what you would have missed if you had taken the practical path and not ridden the wind of chance.  Instead, I was blessed with many unexpected gifts that I will carry with me….and thus my life has become richer.

submitted by , francie

Beauty Through A Shattered Pane

 

                                                                 Beauty Through A Shattered Pane

I suppose we all look at our lives and record memories according to special occasions or painful events, by happy times and sad times, by events that ring out with joy and those which bring us much sadness. We measure our life span but those events that knock us to our knees in either extreme joy or pain. At those moments time stands still as if waiting for us to take our next breath and once again resume life. Not as it was, for that moment has changed something within us .

For me the birth of each of my three children has been one of those moments when life has stood still. I knew that my life had been changed forever when I heard each of their first cries. When I held those tiny beings against my chest,  my life was changed forever. Even now many years later, I cry in remembrance. All these many years later I still am in awe of that moment in time when they burst forth in life. When their eyes reached out to mine, when their warm bodies which had grown in mine for 9 months came forth and our outer skins touched for the first time , there was a quiet hush. Few words can rightfully describe that moment when soul touches soul. As a mother I knew my life had become richer and this tiny being would be connected to me forever. The umbilical cord is cut symbolizing a separation of our conjoined physical selves but the soul spirit remains connected. No object can sever our bond. That joyful moment represents our bond for life. My life stood still in reverence and with each birth my life was changed forever.

But now I stand before you with pain in my heart to say my life was changed forever,  in a different way. My 15 year old daughter, Chava, died 10 years ago this June. On that day my life was shattered. Not for a moment in time,  but forever. There are still all the joys of before but now time has a different meaning. Time is not measured in seconds and minutes, it has stood still. Days, weeks, months, and years mean nothing. All reference points begin and end at that moment in time when my youngest daughter’s breath stopped forever. I held her warm body for her first breath and I held her cold body when her breath stopped.
My world as I knew it was shattered. I was so numb I couldn’t even experience pain. I was neither here, nor there, I was nothing. I was a soul lost in a world that no longer made any sense to me. There was such a void that there was no warmth from sunlight, no marvel of starry nights, no coolness from running brooks, no scent of flowers, no fluttering of hummingbird wings. There was nothing.

Slowly, very slowly, the twinges of life began to move through me. Numbness began to wear off and so too the stabbing pain that felt unbearable. As my body began to function, my mind wanted no part of this world. But slowly, my mind too, began to let in specks of life. I became aware that the world of life continued to swirl around me but I knew not how to enter that current of life. At first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to but I realized I was faced with a choice. I could stay in darkness or I could slowly, very slowly begin to inch my way back into life. I could let life re-enter my body. Gradually as a seed begins to show it’s tiny head through the warm soil of life, I too could come back into this world. I was re-born, changed forever, but I could come back.

My shattered heart began to heal . In my heart I knew that the hole and scar would remain forever, but now I knew, I could also carry my , Chava , in my heart forever. Slowly I could begin to feel the warmth from the sunshine on my face , smell the intoxicating scent of the brilliant spring flowers, and rejoice in the starry night as the specks of light danced across the sky. I had re-entered the stream of life.

I will never be able to answer the question of ” Why ?” but perhaps mine is not to answer,  but rather to live. Life in all it’s complexities has unfathomable questions. I as one small speck, as one small leaf drifting along the stream,  can ebb and flow with the current , and at times , find respite in the quiet stillness harbored against a rock or piece of drift wood, but eventually I too will re-enter the stream and drift towards the mighty river. My questions become part of a bigger whole. I can choice to become part of that current, and by so doing, become less lonely, or I can remain alone in my darkness.

I have been blessed with the desire to once again swim in this stream of life. I feel blessed to be able to feel the love of All those I hold dear to my heart. Through shattered pain, through a refocused lens, I once again see the beauty in life.

submitted by   francie

Stepping Stones

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                                                                                     Stepping Stones

 

The image of stepping stones brings back childhood memories of growing up on an old historic farm in Pa. . We had a large back yard that sloped down to a lower level where  there was an ever flowing stream. When you crossed the stream there were woods that led up to a small mountain. We played in and explored that stream for hours during our childhood. We watched the stream change from year to year , and so did we.

I can picture the stream in my mind’s eye as clearly as if it were yesterday. There were spots which were calm, deep, and dark where the fish seemed to swim, and areas where the stream bed was shallow and you could clearly see the pebbles on the bottom move with the flowing water. There was one spot where you could cross and stay dry despite the rushing water…..the stepping stones. By taking one step at a time,slowly, planting your feet cautiously from rock to rock, balancing before taking the next leep, you could get across to the other side.

That beloved stream had a life of it’s own. It would change from year to year depending on the harshness of the winter and the ice that would move what lay below,or by the occasional floods that would cause the stream to flood beyond it’s natural banks. As children we loved the ever changing stream as each year we would discover it anew. But the one thing we could count on from year to year was that the stepping stones would remain constant and we could always cross to the other side, perhaps not always as  in the most extreme time of flooding but as the water receeded we always knew we could find the stepping stones , and once again cross to safety.

After my daughter,Chava died ,it was as if my whole world had changed forever ,and so had I. Nothing was the same, and even the ground beneath me had shifted as the mighty ice changes a river bed. I was numb to life and I only wanted to crawl under my covers into the warmth of my bed. But gradually, very gradually I could surface and begin to let in some of the light of day. Over time, I could find my stepping stones which would keep me safe as I began to venture forth in this changed world. Each step forward helped me gather strength to take the next.It is a long agonizing journey, but now, nearly ten years after Chava’s death, I can say my heart still aches but I can once again face the world and begin to see the sparkle that dances upon the stream of life.

                                                                                                 By francie