The Other Side of Broken

 

I must show you the other side of broken,

as I watch you dream, the wisps of your breath an innocence encircling my chest;

can I share with you now, as you sleep?

Your soul can keep the secret, until you need to know.

But, not now, not tonight.

 

For this moment alone, I will share with you what I have seen,

so please do not open your eyes.

But, you must understand that there may come a day for you too,

and I promise –

there is a place that exists on the other side of broken.

 

You will sense it coming, but you cannot foresee the exact moment.

I hope it will be as it was for me – a silent failing of senses:

all that is physical, all that is conscious; it is stripped away in pieces.

You will feel them float away, no longer tethered by gravity,

into space.

 

Breaking entails a myth that all is lost into an endless void;

that you are no more,

that all you know has been dispersed.

The myth comes from the solitary moment

of shattering.

 

But, you must fight through the moment to find the other side:

when your spirit reaches that most physical of end points,

where conscious thought is overcome,

and your mind can no longer comprehend.

just Breathe, and

Let

Go.

 

It is on the other side of broken that you will find your core.

 

Relax your body, in the silence of the dark; you can feel it now,

emanating from your heart.

This is your core, which cannot be destroyed.

The other side of broken is even more magnificent,

for it is there that you can simply Be.

And, in this space, nothing is lost,

you can no longer be hurt;

after the breaking, you will Rise.

 

You will not be alone,

for no one is unbroken.

As you walk through life, even now, feel it,

you will sense the pieces of others;

hold them, protect them, for all are connected.

Lift each one you find with the strength of your love, 

for there may be pieces, long lost by others, that fit only 

in the palm of your hand.

 

Now, wake.

Just go be, you.

The other side of broken exists already within you, it is your spirit;

in its peace, you are protected.

Find its strength.

For Life, when all else falls away, is the blinding sun rising in the East,

your brilliance to explore.

 

* The Other Side of Broken was written with my two daughters in mind. However, it is meant for anyone who has broken or feels that they are facing the impossible. I found the other side of broken on November 20, 2014. Whether you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, illness, loss of security, homelessness, divorce, loss of a friendship, daily stresses of life, or any of the myriad losses and traumas individuals face each day, I am speaking to you. Please know that you are not alone and that there is space on the other side of broken. Hold on, fight, and find strength in your core. There is a brilliance to Life itself, within you alone, even when all else seems lost. Reach out to others, for we are all broken in ways, and our pieces surround you every moment. We are all connected and can help each other. Reach out in peace, love, and faith. There is always hope. Just go be, you. You are beautiful.

I May Have Broken My WHAT? And Why....

I don't cry, or at least not much. I've shed more tears in the past 4 months than the better part of my entire life. Sunday ended with an unexpected few tears appearing, while we were out for dinner with friends. It had been a particularly rough few days involving an intense yearning for parts of our "pre-July 7th" life that we lost, and a sense of profoundly missing Ben and what we had, including our love and relationships with close friends that, always, involved Ben. I woke up this morning with the same core sadness. 

After the girls were safely at school and Kyle on an errand in Newtown, I sat down on the couch to listen to country music with headphones (a new post-July 7th quirk of mine) and write. Deep in thought, I realized I needed a book that I'd left on the kitchen table. Jumping up, computer in hand, I started walking, not realizing my headphones were still connected to my iPhone on the couch. As I felt the tug of the cord, my balance altered, foot with socks on slippery hardwood floors, I took a step back to try to keep my iPhone from falling, landed on my heel, and started slipping. 

You only have a second. And, in that second, my mind scanned so many things to make the "decision," which was more like instinct. I fell, trying to protect my computer, not letting go to brace myself with my hand and CRACK. Yes, I heard a loud crack and saw the flash of light that I'm assuming is a brain signal produced from intense pain. 

Its interesting how you really do assess your body after a fall. I'd felt the jolt radiate up my spine, so I made sure I could feel and move everything. The very next thought was like a "life review" but of the future. I saw myself in the bright, crisp sunlight with Kyle, the girls and our golden retriever puppy, running and hiking on vast trails, breathing in the peace of fresh air. Blue, clouds, breeze. The words that ran like a script across my mind: Nooooo...if I've broken something or have a compression fracture in my spine, I can't do THAT for a very long time. I NEED to do that. But, if I did break something serious, I'll be okay. I'll get through. 

Then, my often-used catch-all word, SERIOUSLY? Did this really just happen?

Next, I mentally scanned through friends to call. Who is closest? Not at work? Who don't I mind seeing me flat on the floor? Then comes the embarrassing call to 911, after we both figure out I can't sit in a car to get to the ER. I felt like saying "I've fallen and I can't get up!" but resisted, thinking humor may not be appropriate at that point. My friend arrived before the paramedics, bless her heart. I'm fairly certain the first thing I said was "You CANNOT laugh at me!" 

The paramedic informed us he would be driving me to Danbury Hospital because it was closer and less of a bumpy ride considering my pain level. My friend immediately said "Linds, is that a good idea? No, let's do Norwalk." We ended up on the way to Danbury, since in my mind, "I'm fine, I can handle anything, noooo woorrrrieeesss.....," plus my bum really hurt! The paramedic asked what was wrong with this hospital. I answered point blank (I've found things tend to be easier that way these days) because my son died this summer and we took him there. He went on to ask How?, to which I responded We're THE Ridgefield family. In my head, Yes, I'm THAT mom.

When he asked how I fell, I started to methodically dissect the event. Then, I began crying, chin quivering, tears streaming - the whole shebang. I didn't put my hand out to brace myself because I couldn't drop the computer and risk it breaking. All my pictures and videos of Ben are on my computer! I feel so stupid, but I couldn't drop it! I didn't care what I broke..... [Yes, I'm sure we've backed up everything. But, they are just that - "back-ups." I need three or four back-ups. If I break one, that's one less back-up I have.] 

He reassured me I wasn't stupid and, I'm sure, realized he'd gotten himself into more than just a normal post-fall drive to the ER. Then, I joked around a bit, met my friends and husband at the ER (which thankfully was brand new, with no memories or similarity to the July ER), made a lot of fun of myself and allowed them to do the same, and was discharged by noon. Diagnosis: No pelvic, spine or hip involvement, possible fracture of the coccyx, i.e. tailbone, or bad bruise (no x-rays because who needs radiation if the result won't change treatment). Treatment - rest and see how soon it gets better. 2 week = bruise; 2 months = fracture. Another friend faithfully bought me the obligatory foam donut, and we were all set. I had no shoes, but found eating at Chipotle with only hospital socks and a bright yellow donut oddly not embarrassing. Its all relative these days. 

So, what in the world did I learn from today? 

First, I don't have Ben physically anymore, but he is spiritually around me every day. I have memories and I have...pictures and videos. As my mind's eye fades, I need the pictures to trigger more intense connections with him. More vivid memories to get me through. And, I'd risk a broken bone to save those. I'd instinctively reached back to try to stop my iPhone full of over 2,000 pictures from crashing to the floor (though unsuccessfully), and I'd refused to let go of the computer in the fall.

Second, I was reminded that, though things can change for the worse, they can change for the better too. I still have sister friends, a few which I may not have had otherwise, and I'm willing to let them see me lying flat on the floor, embarrassed. And, those friends are still able to make me laugh and willing to buy foam donuts for me. 

Life can be different, but still good. And its so very much worth it.

 

Halloween is one of those holidays with a capital "H"?

Since Ben's passing, I've often heard "oh, the holidays will be hard." Holidays? Which ones? Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, his birthday, Easter? 

Or what about July 4th, when we played at the beach and watched fireworks together? Or Memorial Day, when he sat on his daddy's lap watching the parade and was so enthralled by the floats passing us by (and slightly concerned by the loud car engines)? Or simply Labor Day, when we grilled out with friends and he laid on his blanket sucking his thumb, looking at me, grinning contently? 

As opposed to any ordinary day, or moments of ordinary days. When I think I hear him crying in his crib at night, but its my imagination (or my mind re-creating reality). When I expect him to walk through the kitchen, throwing his tiny basketball, laughing uncontrollably, but he never does.  When he should be watching his big sister's soccer game, squealing as he runs after a ball on the field, and I quickly pick him up and run to the sidelines. 

But, Halloween? It hit me, so unexpectedly. Pulling out of the grocery store parking lot, explaining things to my girls: "So, I'm just going to say it once today, then I'm going to try not to talk about it again ok? But, I REALLY miss Ben today." Then, watery eyes -- really, Halloween? Out of the blue, my oldest daughter asks me to turn into the cemetery so we can visit him, "quick, do it mom." (She's not usually expressive about her loss.) As we drove up, I noticed someone had placed a little pumpkin on his grave. More tears, but we find our way together to stand, kneel by him, and "We love you Ben, we miss you," slips out. The three of us have our quiet moment of mommy, daughter time. 

The moments of recognition are much needed for all of us. We laugh, smile, and play; we love; but then, in the moments, we cry, long for him, and just simply miss him. And, its all okay. 

If all else fell away

 

To, my daughter K

 

If all else fell away,

and you simply

Were.

The clouds turning to ice with our exhale,

I would stay.

And, sit. Embracing the silence,

existing beside you.

Look - 

the snow blowing in sheets off the mountain.

Do you See?

 

Shivering, I would lean toward you,

listen, that's my heart, and feel -

the warmth pulsating,

surrounding us. Protecting us.

The sun blinds in its brilliance,

but in blindness we are free.

This gravity of me

towards you.

This connection that whispers I love you

is our heaven.

If all else fell away….

Falling Into You

 

Can I fall into you, my son?

Love becomes

Only a combination of letters, born from the lines and curvatures of our limited consciousness

Christening our lips for the unspeakable, the unknowable

As one bubbles, upon another, in singularity these words give life. I feel

Your presence is like the universe, expanding

energy that blankets my everything, my history and future –

 

Was every moment, a history without you, but always with You?

Non-linear, time brought you before birth and shepherds you to

Where are you now?

 

The shards of light, glimmers of you through the falling leaves

The flurries of snow melting on your sisters’ tongues

The breeze tunneling through the trees with the sound of your voice

All and, the silence.

 

God in the space between.

 

As a star collapses into itself,

Did you follow?

May I find you there?

I will not wait for your answer to fall upon my ears

Space,

Time interrupt, or prolong, Begin?

As I search for the horizon, that event of birth, beyond which there is only

You, always shifting, seemingly just out of reach

You try to answer I am here, further

You worry I cannot hear you -

That I yearn too much for the physical moment of you…

 

But, oh my love, you do reach me.

Listen to my voice as I speak to you at night -

I hear you

Feel You

Faith transmits your answer, trust in me,

I will listen, am listening, have always been listening.

Your energy which should not, did

Find me.

I hear your giggles, feel your soft cheeks, see the curls falling softly over your eyes.

 

The energy of you now, of where you are - speaks,

rolling off the tongue, as a peculiar combination of the soul emoting

that which is the energy of Love

You were, and will always be.

 

For I did fall into you, am falling into you, will continue falling into you 

Infinitely, this love, of you, us, my son

You know now, what I can only still imagine - 

In your star's collapse, the energy that is You, beautiful soul, is disbursed into

The All

That ever was and ever will

Be.

 

I have always been a part of your horizon,

Passing infinitely into your beginning

Not end.

Return is not needed,

For we eternally are

 

Together,

In the space between.

Our Reddi-Wip® Days

Surviving grief, and living. The initial steps are simple, mindless, but the latter steps more arduous. 

The day after your trauma - get out of bed. Shower. Shave. Its that simple. I promise. Trust me. 

The three month anniversary. There is no recipe, this maze is complicated, winding, and individual. But, I can talk about what today brought for us. Driving my oldest daughter home from soccer, I found myself saying, "Can I tell you something? After Ben's death, I'm sad, and its very painful, daily. But, you know, I'm happy too, especially in the moments. Getting up in the morning, reading, writing, being with you guys and daddy and friends. Can I say that? Is it okay?" 

"Yes mom." 

And, after homework and dinner, the girls begging for dessert. My next instruction to you, for the three month anniversary -- do what you need, scream, cry, snuggle with your family, laugh, love, write, read. But, if the time calls and your kids ask for whipped cream -- spray a gob of Reddi-Wip® in their mouths, and yours, and listen to the laughter resonate within your home.

Then, wake up, shower, shave. 

And - Breathe.

 

 

My God, My Child

Its tough to write much these days. Not because we aren't "okay" (in the sense of the word that most people think about), but more because writing takes a mental focus and freedom that is difficult to find in our lives right now, for we continue to be weighted down by extraneous factors that take our attention away from what truly matters to our family unit. One day soon, we pray, we can just collapse into each other and grieve, forge a new life together - in peace, much needed peace.

That being said, I can't avoid writing. It builds up in my chest as rumblings of anxiety unless I allow it to flow out at least in little trickles for now. So, maybe I will try short blurbs each day. Nothing special, just tidbits of the immense emotions sweeping through our lives. 

I've been daily contemplating God, energy, and connections -- paths that are woven together, and coincidences which are not.

Last Monday, I was handed Emily Rapp's memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, in which Rapp chronicles her journey through grief and "mortal love" after finding out her nine-month old son, Ronan, had Tay-Sachs disease, an untreatable genetic condition whose victims usually survive only one to three years. She lived through love, knowing she would lose the very pulse of her existence. 

I remember happening upon her blog when Ronan was still alive, February 5, 2012. A friend had sent me a link to Rapp's article at therumpus.net titled Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship. My friend told me "There is more, but its a tough read, knowing you have kids and all..." But, she continued to lead me to Little Seal: Ronan's Blog. Heart wrenching for any reader but, for some reason, it tore my heart apart. I felt a compulsion to write. So, I scribbled down the following in about 10 minutes, in February of 2012. I'm still mentally exploring the Why? And, it only perpetuates my exploration of "God," as I work through Ben's death. 

 

My God, My Child 

 

I question you, this child of me, as

your skin nuzzles against mine.

This God of which you speak has given,

yet taketh away.

But you speak of Him, with each hand

Grasping

at my fingers, comfort for you. And

for me a reminder that

there will come a Day.

 

This God, he has spoken to me too,

and he has called himself a child.

You, dear,

and father, are my God – and you speak

so gently.

 

Through nightly whispers I hear Him,

touch you, caress your skin.

This God of Uncertainty,

forcing met to question what I have found

as Suffering.

 

But, this God gives Life,

through each warm breath I feel

against my skin, it is Life

for with this suffering, I find existence,

we breathe, together, cadence.

Speak to me dear child,

with your cries.

Mixing with mine.

 

For I embrace, tightly,

you, this Time,

through Him, we See

a meaning in this suffering,

and it is called

Living. Through you

my God, my Child.

 

- February 5, 2012

 

Women of Courage

I’ve never been one for clubs, but I now find myself a member of an exclusive club that no mother wants to join.  The hallways of this club are convoluted, dark and lonely. The first few days after Ben’s death, I walked through these corridors alone, crying and beating against its walls for comfort. Then, a door opened. A mother who lost her precious child in the Sandy Hook, CT tragedy walked out and offered me her hand. As I lost sight and stumbled during those early days, she guided me and saved me over and over again, for she had walked these halls before. She guided me around each corner, carrying me across the chasms that threatened to swallow and destroy me.

She comforted me when I needed to know Heaven was real, the nights when I texted I cannot breathe, he’s so beautiful. Moments of unimaginable pain, in your soul. How do you get through? The day of Ben’s celebration service, the moment when I cried into the phone, searching I just need to know it gets better. If it does, I can fight to try to get through.

She promised it would. So, I fought.

Many of her words made no sense to me at the time, but I understand now. It hurts like no other pain and it feels like it will swallow you whole. Keep breathing. In. Out.  This is a marathon that you will finish in order to get back to Ben. Talk to him. He hears your voice. He is all around you, wanting to help you. The brilliance of God and Ben that I have experienced since she first uttered those words is something I cannot even delve into through writing yet. But, she was right, I found Ben.

Weeks later, when I could concentrate enough to process sentences, I began to self-medicate by drowning myself in books, instead of other more destructive options. (I had to be strong for those that needed me the most.) As I devoured them, I found myself frantically searching for an escape from the feeling of isolation. I needed to hear “you are not alone.” I yearned to know that others had felt, not only the pain, but also the hope and energy of God, of their beloved child. As I raced through the books, underlining passages, some would be tossed aside with a No, that one doesn’t quite capture it or kept by my bed That one is close enough for now.

I have felt God at work, or maybe it is Ben I feel (are they different?), filling my needs in unexpected ways. This time last Sunday, after a rough few days, I woke up with an overwhelming, intense feeling in my chest. My heart needed something that was missing. It called me to search, for “something” - as I so often find myself doing these days. Coffee in hand, several websites later, I was led to Rare Bird, a story by Anna Whiston-Donaldson of the loss of her twelve-year-old son in a random flood. I drove 45 minutes that morning to locate it, and after several straight hours of reading, I sighed OK, this is the closest to my journey so far. Relief.

RareBird_3d book cover.jpg

Two days ago, I received a package from a close friend from high school, who knows Anna. We haven’t seen each other in years. Unbeknownst to me, the Friday night before my heart inexplicably led me on my quest to find Rare Bird, my friend was telling Anna about our family and beloved Benjamin, asking her to sign a copy of the book for me. My friend’s note that arrived with the book reassured me that during those rough nights last weekend, when I was struggling greatly, our family had “even more prayers coming our way” from their little town.  And, as I woke up that next morning, after the prayers, my heart knew. The power of God’s energy – it leads in mysterious ways.

Over time, my club’s membership has expanded, and it now includes women that have experiences beyond the pure grief of losing a child. There are various circles of friends behind each door, sitting, talking, sharing – those who were struck with sudden losses, those with longer battles, some who are experiencing the fear of death in their own life, and women who are rising above a variety of other challenges. Breast cancer, addiction, divorce, or just the challenges of “life.” But, the common thread: These Women are POWERFUL.

I asked my Sandy Hook friend what our club should be called. We are survivors, but we are more than that. We are warriors, but that doesn’t seem quite adequate either. I find that words carry their own energy, just like the energy we feel through the human connection or God or just experiencing life. So, yesterday I wrote down the words that had an energy connecting me to these women: strong, core, support, warrior, survivor, hope, energy, resilient, power, faith, change, dynamic, will, foundation, love. Maybe there is no single word that encapsulates who they are. But, I searched for it.

The message God needed Anna to share with me was greater than redemption and hope. It was that of courage and friendship. For there have been many dark days where I have felt very alone walking these hallways of trauma and grief. But, I have begun to notice other forms emerging from the fog, reaching out to support. They may not be members, but they are friends willing to “go there with me” if just for a moment. To risk joining me in the pain, in order to help me through. Anna gets it right, when she states the painful truth that “[i]f I'd made a list of who I thought would be there with us to try to pick up the pieces after a tragedy, that list would have been off.” The dirty truth of a tragedy goes beyond the immediate grief of the loved one lost. Life is much more complicated that that, but it is what makes us human. In her words, “[f]riends who grieve with us have to face their own version of leaning into or dealing with grief. They run the risk of being overwhelmed by it, pulled into their own form of depression, fear and bitterness.” As a friend said last night, it would be nice to know who those warriors will be before they are tested. But, this is not possible. And, I’ve come to believe that this discovery is part of the journey of grief and loss, and through it, Life.

But, for those who are courageous enough to face their greatest fear as a mother, to feel the pain for just an instant, to hold my hand through it -- I thank you. It is because of you that I can even begin to utter the words “Life is Extraordinary” and search for the light at the end of this tunnel.

You will find a thesaurus that lists “manly” as a synonym for “courageous.” But, I respectfully disagree with that social construct.

Women cannot comprehend their immense power – a power whose energy is only matched by the single word COURAGE.

For more thoughts on how you can help your friends or family through the deepest layers of grief, please see "5 Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend - Rare Bird Launches!!!" (blog by Glennon Doyle Melton), at momastery.com. One day, I will be able to write and share my own thoughts on this subject. But, not quite yet. Baby steps.

 

Extraordinary!

Mommy, mommy!! I want to show you something!!

With a devious smirk, my six-year old glanced quickly at my parents sitting on the couch across the living room, straight faces, belying her intent. Oh boy, I thought, what’s next? Proceed with caution. Her spirit exudes, the energy that has forced me to put one foot in front of the other, since July 7th.

EXTRAORDINARY!!!! She screams, laughing, as she and my parents immediately place their index finger in the air next to their faces. My teacher told us you have to put your finger up when you hear someone say a big word. The word is extraordinary!! And extraordinarILY gets two fingers!!!

Her cackles fill the room, she lies on her back, gangly legs kicking in the air. I laugh. We all laugh.

The journey through grief and beyond, it has to occur. It is dirty and rough. On our darkest days, I have yelled at God that I feel like a prisoner of war. I have stood by Ben’s grave, sobbing just to find air, talking to him, a request that he give me the strength to survive. The incessant waves batter our already-exhausted bodies. One after another, as if a form of water boarding. Breaths are intermittent, shallow.

But, to survive, we know we cannot avoid the waves – we have to meet them at their core, feel them, dive to their depths as they crest. Hold our breath and listen for the sound of their power breaking against the shore in their tumultuous descent. We must gasp and swim, some days sinking a bit lower, others floating on the surface of much calmer waters.

Grief is the journey from brokenness back to life. By surviving another wave, we come closer to finding our “new normal.”

That new life may be imperfect, a jigsaw of shattered pieces. But, we swim. And with each passing wave, we inhale the pain and exhale hope, as a piece falls into place. And, as the days pass, moments of sunlight shimmer on the surface of the water, with ever increasing frequency.

A smile, a laugh, a dance, a joke. A hug.

Those glimmers catch me off-guard. The reality of the loss of Ben is constant, like a separate, parallel consciousness. But, in the moments, we are finding space for the loss AND the hope. I pause and realize the girls and I are singing Colder Weather (Zac Brown Band), loudly, with the windows rolled down, sun blazing, breeze blowing in the crispness of a New England fall. I find us suddenly dancing in the sunroom. Or I feel my heart bursting at the seams with pride during the girls’ soccer games, just existing as a normal “soccer mom” again for a moment. Then there is the instant when I look up from my book at our local coffee shop, and time seems to stop. If only. But, I grab the moment, as it ever too quickly passes, and watch my little mini-me’s engrossed in books of their own, sipping their mango-strawberry smoothies. 

And, then there is my husband. We find ourselves holding hands, being silly, even if just for a second. Laughing, enjoying soccer again, walks to nowhere. Like college-age kids, when we first started our journey together, innocent, with the entire world of possibility in front of us. Date nights just talking and thinking. Smiles. Tears. Smiles.

As the glimmers sneak in more often, so does the guilt. I found myself sobbing, texting a friend who lost her daughter a few years ago. Am I allowed to smile? To laugh? What if I’m not miserable all the time or realize I haven’t cried yet today? And, again, she gives me strength to continue riding the waves, replying: When you are not on your knees, broken, it is because Ben lives in you here AND in heaven above.  It's nothing we can comprehend!  We can only trust.  Trust Ben.

People have tearfully told me they worry our family will never feel true joy again. But, that can’t be true. I want to live, to feel joy, even if its different and not quite as pure or constant as before.

Ben’s joy and laughter filled a room. That’s one of the greatest thing I learned from him – love and laughter define us. With those ingredients, a true life ensues. And time is too limited and precious to allow suffering and sadness to win. Life is a gift.

Ben would want us to live, love and laugh. He’s cheering us on, I feel him each day.

So, we fight the waves of trauma and grief. We breathe and live. And through God’s love, I have faith one day we will crawl on our knees, tired and battered, out of the waves, and stand in the sunlight in our “new normal.” Maybe it will be a simple island, but it will be built on the foundation of joy, family, faith and friendship. But, mostly, it will stand strong through love. Ben’s love.

Because ultimately, God (through Ben) is teaching me that life is EXTRAORDINARY, and we need to live it EXTRAORDINARILY.

(I get three finger props for that sentence!) 

The Benefits of Stoicism

I remember the moment I was called stoic live on national television. September 2nd, CNN Legal View, Ashleigh Banfield. I sensed her going in that direction as she started the sentence, but I wasn’t sure what descriptive word she would land on, so I couldn’t prepare my response as she was speaking. “Stoic.” There was a split second where I thought “Am I really stoic?” but I didn’t have time to analyze that deep-seeded question, internally, on live television before responding - so I just rolled with it. My response came from the heart, which was the only thing I had left at that point. The truth is that no one sees me behind closed doors, in private, except my family and close friends. I feel like part of my heart has been ripped out, part of my soul. I love Ben. I miss him so much. There are no words for this.

After a few weeks of consideration, I believe she was correct. Soon after Ben’s death, a therapist told us that the human brain can only handle so much trauma at once. To survive, it compartmentalizes before catatonia takes over, moments where the brain shuts down. I’ve come to realize that I have what I call “buckets.” Many buckets. And, I put them on shelves in my brain, take some down at points, keep others stored away – as they are all so very heavy, filled with the emotions of July 7th and the aftermath, that I would surely succumb to their weight bearing down on me all at once. The public sees me when I’ve taken my advocacy bucket off the shelf, supported by stoicism, and briefly when my grief bucket tips over a bit. But, most of the buckets are privately mine, and I spend the better part of every day pushing them back in their place on the shelf in my brain, as they teeter-totter under the vibrations of our sorrow and pain and exhaustion, until I can finally let them fall when I am safely behind closed doors with family and close friends.

What the public didn’t see on the Today’s Show or CNN was Kyle standing right off-camera, watching, listening, tearing up at times. Yes, I support him, but he does the same for me. The Sunday before the interviews, I’d told him I needed him to come with me. I couldn’t do it without him, in fact. And, that is also part of my truth. Our truth.

Kyle and I went for a walk together in Central Park right after the CNN interview. Our path took us past some of our favorite spots, with many memories. Past Heckscher Playground and the Sheep Meadow where we had lain with Ben and the girls several times the summer before. I took his hand, he paused, and finally talked about his emotions from the day. “I couldn’t hear what you and Ashleigh were saying but I could see the picture of Ben right behind you on the set, and I just looked up once, pointed, and the only words that could come out of my mouth were ‘That’s my son.’” His voice quivered. Then, the first tears of the day flowed freely down my face. I felt that all-to-common pain in my chest, and it took my breath away momentarily. I’d held it together far too long. The bucket was falling. I had been able to see the pictures of Ben on the camera in front of us, but compartmentalized that portion, and often avoided looking in that direction altogether because….well, because I had to remain stoic to achieve my objective that day. My mind had to remain clear, uncluttered with the pieces of my heart that, being shattered, push their way into my consciousness at inconvenient times. As we heard the happy laughter of children playing in Central Park, I responded to Kyle, my voice breaking, “Yeah, but you know, I don’t want to say ‘Look, that’s Ben on CNN.’ I want to be able to point one day and say ‘Look that’s Ben, playing soccer.’ And, I don’t get to do that. I just miss him. So much. That's why we are doing this today.” To which he responded, “I miss him too,” and we walked and cried.

It was in that moment that I realized why I have become an advocate and why I have to do it stoically. I can’t get my Benjabear back, I can’t rewind and change the events of July 7th. It is out of my control. And, that bucket, well that bucket of my loss as a mother, I have to keep on a shelf for times when I can even begin to delve into those emotions, they are so overpowering. But, I can control my life from this point forward, make choices to ensure others never have to think “I wish I could see my baby playing soccer.” And, to accomplish that, it takes a small measure of stoicism.

Reading through the Forbes article, Five Reasons Why Stoicism Matters Today, by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni, I began to understand that the connotation of the term stoicism has become twisted in modern times, in an age where over-sharing and emotional displays are commonplace, accepted and, often, expected – leaving little room for an ancient philosophy built on emotional control. But, there are benefits.

Stoicism evolved in a time of turmoil, a chaotic world on the edge, “in a world falling apart” - Athens, Greece in the early 3rd century BC. Its the natural philosophical backbone for Christianity, the military (prisoners of war) and leaders. In the words of Goodman and Soni:

Stoicism tells us that no happiness can be secure if its rooted in changeable, destructible things. Our bank accounts can grow or shrink, our careers can prosper or falter, even our loved ones can be taken from us. There is only one place the world can’t touch: our inner selves, our choice at every moment to be brave, to be reasonable, to be good. The world might take everything from us; Stoicism tells us that we all have a fortress inside.

The night of July 7th, my world fell apart. It seemed to have been destroyed in an instant. In the blink of an eye. I felt like I had lost everything. Life spun out of control. As my body began to go into shock – legs too wobbly to stand, overcome with chills, shaking, an out-of-body feeling, where I could form no words to respond to questions – I found a way to survive. There was a moment when a female physician, with a nurse and therapist standing nearby, took me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes, and calmed me down by stating, very matter of fact: “Lindsey, you are in control -- of everything from this point forward. It is your decision. You. Are. In. Control.” In that instant, when my brain could not even function to imagine our life moving forward, the seeds of stoicism were planted.

Our tragedy – there are no words really. Losing my son. My joy. The complexities that will lie within us for the remainder of our lives. It was just another day, and in an instant, my world crumbled. But, that night, I had a decision to make. And, I did.

 

The Moments That Take Your Breath Away

They overcome me, and at the most unexpected times. The triggers, so minor. Yesterday, at my daughter’s first fall soccer tournament, one of our players took a ball to the stomach, wind immediately knocked out of her. As she stood in the middle of the field, bent over, trying not to cry, both teams got down on one knee as a show of concern and respect until she was able to walk off the field. The innocence of children, the respect shown to those suffering in pain, the love of friendship. It took my breath away, only quiet tears remained -- which I quickly wiped away.

The end of summer has brought another layer of grief for us. In ways, it is the end of the summer of Ben. The last memories we have of him running around with a beach ball at the summer concerts in the park, of him playing in the sand at the beach - running and screaming over and over at the cold waves touching his feet, reveling in the beauty at the shore of our local lake.

The fall ushers in our new “firsts.” Not the firsts that parents usually get – first sentence, day of preschool, then first day of kindergarten, first tee-ball game. It’s the first of my daughter’s travel soccer games without Ben accidentally toddling onto the field. Our first visit back to 850 Degrees Wood-Fired Pizza or Fifty Coins without his face at the end of the table. Our first trip to Kent Falls, or apple picking without him. The first pumpkin trip and Halloween without him dressed up as a little teddy bear. The first Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday.

IMG_1662.jpg

 

Those are the moments that take our breath away.

The moment out to dinner with a friend, where I reminisce about rocking Ben to sleep at night – his tiny, chubby hand on my chest. The way his face looked when he was dozing off, such peace and comfort. The moment I take the girls back-to-school shopping and I glance at the boy’s clothes.

But, there are also the others. The moment at our favorite Mexican restaurant where Kyle looks down at our youngest daughter and says “Where’s your tooth?!” Look of astonishment, she frantically glances on the table – “There it is!!! Mommy, I lost my first tooth!” she screams with a new, cute toothless lisp. (I won the bet, by the way, that she’d lose it before the first day of school.) Its the moment she runs into our bedroom screaming “The tooth fairy came!” and jumps on the bed to snuggle with us.

The moment during the soccer game, where I see my daughter unrelentingly, dribbling down the field against three defenders. Where I feel a renewed energy to mirror her strength, to get through another day -- just when the forces bearing down on us seem too strong for any human to take. 

Most importantly, the moment, where my husband and I are so beaten down, that we just sink, exhausted, into each other with a strong hug and simply stand, waiting, holding onto each other until the wave of unbearable emotions pass over us and we can take another step - together.

 

Is Empathy Still Alive?

“There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us….As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier….[W]e live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained, a culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses.

 I hope you don’t listen to this. I hope you choose to broaden, and not contract, your ambit of concern…because you have an obligation to yourself because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. And because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential – and become full-grown.”

- President Barack Obama's 2006 commencement speech to Northwestern graduates

Empathy, in its most basic sense, is the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. Some commentators have identified empathy as one of the most important skills of the 21st century, while it has been touted by many, including President Obama, as the key to bridging the political divide to tackle some of the most pertinent issues facing America today. Neuroscientists have identified certain regions of the brain that predispose humans, and other animals, to empathy, while philosophers, as early as David Hume and Adam Smith, have viewed a concept similar to empathy as one of the integral underpinnings of morality and ethics.

However, empathy does not always persevere. As Ute Frevert, German historian of emotions, once put it, “The fact that human beings are naturally equipped to feel what others feel does not mean they always do so. They might just turn away and act indifferent.” Or worse.

Empathy is balanced by a seeming counterforce called the ego, which allows us to understand how we are separate from the rest of the world, in other words – it is the portion of human consciousness that reflects on one's self in relation to the world and others, in terms of self-esteem, acceptance, empathy, and a coherent self-concept. This plays out in ways that can greatly affect, not only our social interactions and development as a society, but also political growth, problem-solving, collaboration and compromise. A 2011 CNN article (Is the Internet Killing Empathy?, Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi Vorgan, Special to CNN, February 18, 2011) proposed that the Internet’s “all access” (and I suggest, impersonal and detached) approach de-sensitizes individuals to life and reduces the ability to empathize. Referring to a public tragedy caught on tape, the authors noted that “[p]eople couldn’t turn away…drawn often by a subconscious fear that the same thing could happen to us. By observing it in other people, we have our own experience of it, but at an emotional distance. The more we observe terrifying events happening to other people, the more they reinforce our sense of denial and detachment: It can’t happen to us.”

After being asked to challenge the graduating class at Northwestern, even if just for 30 minutes as they entered the "real world," President Obama quoted scripture, Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things.” This reminds me of something my husband, Kyle, told me yesterday while we were talking about the past week. He had said:

“The best part of my day is watching [our oldest daughter] play soccer. Watching kids play, unburdened, completely innocent of everything. They don’t see any evil or hardship or any of the worries that burden adults. I can see back to when I was that age, before I lost that innocence. At a [recent] tournament, just for a day, everything was a little bit better. You don’t think about tragedy or what is missing. You are just in that moment, the innocence of the other children. In a way, it is their gift back to us.”

I think about watching these girls playing soccer. When one falls, the other stops, reaches her hand out and lifts the other up. The innate instinct to care for one another, even at the risk of “the win.” Though different positions, they work together as a team. Their ego gives way, in the passion of life, and a common connection guides them through the game. One misguided kick, another falls, and there is a hand outstretched. “You hurt. We are one. Let me help you.” Our job as parents is to ensure that our children keep this innate beauty and innocence, empathy, as long as possible. And to mirror it in ourselves.

I think of Ben. Young babies, it is empathy at its purest. The way his chubby hand touched others, so softly, with a tentative regard, as if he understood that any touch would initiate ripples that could affect something greater than himself, another’s life, even if he could not see it at the time. Ripples, to waves, which merge into torrents, oceans that can save or destroy. Many children sense their social responsibility, before they are burdened by the demands of adult life, the pressures of the ego, of career, family, friends. As politicians, spouses, parents, friends, children, leaders, employees, it is not about the result, i.e. the “win,” but about the “how” – how one lives, setting an ethical example for those who are watching, to build bridges, to shine a light on pathways forward, together.

So, I propose - Yes, empathy is alive and well.

I see it each day in my child’s eye, in the touch of another human’s hand, a hug, phone call, support. I feel it in the possibility of politicians and regulators coming together to listen, understand, think and talk. It may be rare, and it may be hard, but it is indeed alive. 

Defining the New Conversation: Looking at the Real Numbers

Until this point, legislators, regulators, safety advocates and the general public have focused on the rate of child vehicular heatstroke fatalities each year. However, when parents are advised to place briefcases in the back of cars as reminders, or auto manufacturers add back-up cameras, lane departure warnings, forward collision warnings, and trunk latches in cars, the goal is of course to eliminate injuries and deaths but, also, to MITIGATE RISK of such injuries or deaths. It is impossible to find a solution to mitigate a risk, without first assessing the true magnitude and defining the parameters of the risk.

When most individuals speak the phrase “That would never happen to me,” they are usually right – and I say thanks in a prayer each day for this fact – that out of the many parents whose minds have admittedly tricked them into “forgetting” a child in a car, most are jolted out of their artificial reality quickly enough for no harm to have occurred. Maybe it was 10 minutes taking the groceries into the house, 5 minutes running into Starbucks for some coffee after a long night with a newborn, or 30 minutes (in winter) after turning the wrong direction while driving to daycare and instead driving to the office – but by the grace of God, there was a trigger, their artificial reality was broken – and they carried their little ones back home safely.  

According to a survey of 1,000 parents and caregivers conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington, D.C., 11% of parents (based on U.S. population, that number is projected to be more than 1.5 million parents transporting more than 2.6 million children) say they have forgotten their child in a car. For those with children age 3 and under, it is nearly 25%. (See "New Study: 14% of Parents Say They Have Left A Child Alone Inside Parked Vehicle Despite the Risks of Heatstroke," Safe Kids Worldwide, April 29, 2014). 14% of parents (based on the U.S. population, that number is projected to be nearly 2 million parents) admit to intentionally leaving their child in a car. For those with children age 3 and under, the percentage increases to 23%.

From 2003-2013, KidsAndCars.org documented 5,697 children that were left alone in a vehicle or entered a vehicle on their own, but survived. It is very important to note that this is a drastic underestimate of the actual number of children that are left alone in vehicles. If the child is not seriously injured or killed, the incident is not likely to be reported in any way, which makes it very difficult to determine how often this is actually occurring.

So, THESE are the numbers, showing how often this risk is created. Nearly 25% of parents of children under age 3. Why are numbers twice as high for this age group? I surmise….it is due to rear-facing child seats.

That moment, when you realize your mind has played a trick on you. That moment when you rush out to your car and find your 5 month old sleeping soundly, unaware. Now, that can and does happen to a significant percentage of Americans, and many responsible parents. It has been proven to be the way in which the mind works. Auto manufacturers know it, and that is why technology is progressing at such a rate to mitigate risk created by the fallible human driver, as shown on the web-page titled Safety Challenge for Auto Manufacturers and Government Leaders. 

 

This I Know to Be True

Photograph by Chung Kun Shih 

Photograph by Chung Kun Shih 

A moment is as fleeting as the reflection of the heavens cast off of the icy rivers of winter. No two will ever be the same, no ripple will bend a moment at that exact angle again. Grasp it, hold it tight to your chest, never let it go. July 7th, cradled on my husband’s hip, ruffled hair, sleepy eyes, adjusting. Green alligator pajamas. I touched his soft, chubby arm. Kissed his cheek. He pulled away, in his independent Ben way, wanting daddy in that moment. My fingertips brushed his hair out of his face “You’re too pretty to be a boy.” I love you Ben, my fingers spoke. Those are the moments. That is your life.

Life is only a snapshot of existence. Love transcends, energy transforms. In the clear, starry night sky, I adjust aperture, searching for the clear brightness of his smile, click. Only darkness. I adjust shutter speed, reality blurred, in the evanescence looking for wisps of his hair, click. Only smudges of light. Where are you Ben? I can see the tiny light of your reflection, fleeting, the glint in your father's eyes, but cannot capture you. That moment, which may have been.

Time is at once both an unfailing absolute, in its passing, and a fleeting uncertainty, in its indiscriminate toll. As the hands of our lives turn, matching the beating rhythm of our heart, time may one day, in an instant, find its way full circle absent and incomplete. With part of that hour, day, year missing. And, transitory, life passes.

God is love. Both defy explanation. No words, just being. Breathing. It is. Love does not heal the broken places, but it serves as a glue of sorts, as we find beauty, once again, in the puzzle pieces that were our life. Love supports and replenishes.

Grief is primal; loss is visceral; love is physical, painful and comforting; living is spiritual.

There are very few things, in this moment, of which I am certain. But, this I know to be true.

 

Savannah Oaks

The Oak Tree

- Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

 

A mighty wind blew night and day.

It stole the Oak Tree's leaves away.

Then snapped its boughs

and pulled its bark

until the Oak was tired and stark.

 

But still the Oak Tree held its ground

while other trees fell all around.

The weary wind gave up and spoke,

"How can you still be standing Oak?"

 

The Oak Tree said, I know that you

can break each branch of mine in two,

carry every leaf away,

shake my limbs and make me sway.

 

But I have roots stretched in the earth,

growing stronger since my birth.

You'll never touch them, for you see

they are the deepest part of me.

 

Until today, I wasn't sure

of just how much I could endure.

But now I've found with thanks to you,

I'm stronger than I ever knew.

 

Our family dream vacation, when Ben was old enough to understand its beauty, was to visit Africa together. Not Disney World, not the Bahamas, but to go on an African safari. The girls had it planned out, maps drawn, they were researching all of the African mammals we were to see. 

We had just recently taken Ben to the Bronx zoo – he was so enthralled with animals...and the dinosaurs on the new Dinosaur Safari exhibit. The look on his face below – that was my baby boy’s look of amazement that I would have seen on our African safari one day  But, it was not to be…at least not as we had planned. I think of Anita Moorjani’s theory from her near death experience chronicled in Dying to Be Me: that we, in our human form, spend too much time in a doing mode, a planning mode, instead of a being mode in which we give up control and allow our lives to “unfold before [us].”

Yesterday, I arrived at an isolated ranch outside San Antonio, Texas, where an angel of a friend welcomed us into his home to host us for a week. He explained that, one day, sitting on his back terrace, he had realized he was viewing an African savanna but unique in the miraculous splattering of oak trees in the deep yet powdery sand of the Texan landscape before him. And, his haven became “Savannah Oaks.” Not like I had planned, but we had arrived on our little piece of Africa, right here before us.

As I lay on the rooftop patio last night, I could touch the stars. My gaze scanned through the constellations in search of you, Ben. As I yearned to see your smile and hear your giggles again, I only heard the buzz of airplanes hidden in the darkness above. I wanted more, I needed to hear the word you said the Saturday before you left us…”Mommy.” But, there was just space, stars, and silence....

I realized the hardest part of this journey is not that we believe we cannot live without you, Ben. It is that we know and feel we have a long life ahead of us, and we must Live it without you physically in our arms. Right now, that is simply a deep pain ingrained in our chest, but we have hope that one day the pain can turn into a celebration of the 15 months we had, and the gift of your life will shine through, in the sunrise and sunsets, as we continue to live on to follow the path you are laying out before us.

Like the deeply rooted oak tree, which can withstand the fiercest of winds, we will remain strong so we can continue to grow and show your beauty. It is said that an oak tree’s roots mirror its branches above the ground and that the root system of a mature oak tree can total miles, serving as an anchor to the life branches above.

Being in the early stages of our difficult journey to find you again, Ben, last night my logical brain just saw the stars and heard the man-made airplanes buzzing in the Heavens, but my heart and soul are fighting to feel the energy and love that is You and that remains with us, yet unseen, only felt.

As I look toward the mighty oak trees growing on the horizon, I know that there is so much more to this physical life that is beyond our limited, human senses. Like its roots spreading their tentacles below the earth, there is so much more for me to explore and sense as I find my way back to you. Patience, time, and I listen to the wind churning quietly across the plains, the loud chirp of a bird in the night sky, the echo of my voice as I yell “I love you” across the Colorado canyon – and I will find you, my love.

We miss and cherish you Benjamin. 

In Search of A Sunset

“For a second I was almost jealous of the clouds. Why was he looking to them for an escape when I was right here beside him?” - Kamile Shamsie, Kartography

 

Ben, there was not one cloud in the sky yesterday that could keep your rays from touching our skin. We felt you all day. As your love poured over my body, I had sat speaking with a trusted advisor who told me that the only way to get through the physical pain of missing you was to reaffirm my decision to move forward and fight, minute by minute, hour by hour….and in those tough minutes where my heart’s pain was unbearable, to talk to you and ask you to help me through. Your sister, the soul of my trinity, is helping you to be my salvation, since she can still touch me physically. She reaffirms our love and life when it is needed, as you would if you were here.

We spent hours upon hours together yesterday, laughing, smiling, hiking, climbing on rocks, her hugging me when I cried. She willingly helped share the weight of my burden, as we travelled on our journey in search of your sunset one last night. In her own way, she was as determined as me to tell you goodnight and see your sleepy eyes close just one more time, as you snuggled into the chest of the hillside. 

As we neared our vantage point, our gaze lifted to see the clouds descending – a 360 view of our horizon showed clear skies – except for the one spot in the West where we were to tell you goodnight. As if God were telling us, “No, you cannot say goodbye to him, as he is here with you forever, until you meet again.” 

“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of wisdom. Life is short.” - Iimani David

“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of wisdom. Life is short.” - Iimani David

Undeterred, we continued our journey. I felt her excitement and determination as she bounded in front of me with her endless energy, up the trail to the rocks where we would lay our blanket and look to find you, once again. She carried pieces of my heart with her, just as I carry yours. As she crouched at the top of our summit, amongst the Gods, she leaned forward, feeling your love (just as you used to crawl up her legs to lay on her)….I sensed she needed to touch you, just one more time. 

“To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: 'I am an evening cloud too.' They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me.” - Rainer Maria Rilke, Stories of God: A New Translation

“To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: 'I am an evening cloud too.' They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me.” - Rainer Maria Rilke, Stories of God: A New Translation

In that moment, I felt you, through her – your energy in my present earthly life – in her love, my husband’s strength, my oldest daughter’s tender kindness and wisdom, my friends' invaluable support. And, for that minute, you sent me a reaffirmation. The clouds of our God hid your descent, as we are not supposed to say goodbye to you and, as I whispered through my heart’s aching, “I love you Ben,” I realized we were only meant to say good morning to you, each day as we edge closer to your spirit. As I turned my eyes from the clouds back to our earth, I saw your sister's hand reach out and we both verbally confirmed our love for one another, and, in that moment, my love for you was transformed.

A Mother's Journey

Sunrise, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Sunrise, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

If our souls are pure energy, then, Benjamin, you are my sun. Kissing the hilltops of my face each morning, you rise. After the darkest nights, where I miss you so profoundly, I awaken to feel the promise of your touch, again, and again. Magnetically pulling to your ascent and, thereby, allowing me to rise – as if this day, I will get to see your face again. And, I do.  Your rays light the earth’s path, out of the depths we crawl to see your brilliance, a promise of you and what you see now that we cannot possibly imagine. Dear Ben, I will forever journey...days, years to be closer to the purity of your soul's rays, as the earth welcomes you each day. My hand outstretches, reaches, upward and each day, just misses your touch, the softness of your skin, the twinkle in your eye, the dimples of your smile – they are too evanescent, and my fingers find only empty space. So, I will follow, forever, until one day, I know, my hand will caress your face again, and I will be home. 

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

“The brain itself does not produce consciousness. That it is, instead, a kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the non physical worlds down into a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives.” Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

 

In the immediate aftermath of Ben’s death, I felt an urgent need to know that there was something more than our earthly lives, some version of a Heaven or spiritual life that continued. The reason I yearned for this understanding is because my heart was not ready to let go of Ben, almost as if my heart needed to know one day it would be complete again. So, I spoke with our pastor, read Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife and Anita Moorjani’s Dying to Be Me  - two eerily similar accounts of near death experiences and what God, spirituality and Heaven may really be. I also spoke to friends with different views on the afterlife and spirituality. Being a lifelong Christian (raised Southern Baptist), some of their thoughts didn’t make sense to me at first, but the more I explored over the next few weeks, the more I felt like my heart was able to feel Ben again.

During those first few days, one friend who had previously lost her young daughter told me that the grief was a marathon that I would need to finish in order to get back to Ben, and she made a comment that caused my heart to pause: “It is a time to be close to Ben. He is all around you, wanting to help you. Nothing can break your bond. Talk to him! He hears your voice.” My brain, restricted by consciousness and thinking in "human mind" terms, didn’t understand her words at that time. Others talked of the fact that the energy of our souls remains all around after our physical bodies fell away. They told me to be open to the energy and signs as Ben tried to show me he was happy and okay. My mind couldn't comprehend those notions, I was utterly lost.

But, over the next two weeks, as I read and pondered, I started comparing their thoughts and experiences to some inexplicable feelings I was experiencing. To boil down (and attempt to paraphrase) Alexander and Moorjani’s experiences – as humans, we are limited by our physical bodies and minds, as we attempt to conceptualize the metaphysical and spiritual truths that cannot be understood or verbalized in human terms or words --  it is just too Great. That our spirit, soul or “energy” is simply bottled in human form for a short time (though time really has no meaning in the spiritual world – it is non-linear), until it is released into its fullest form. This form of true spiritual existence or metaphysical world is around us all the time, not just after death, there are no demarcations between the two. In that form, souls are encompassed by unconditional love, “God’s love” (as humans put it), and that comfort and form of existence is beyond human imagination.

Alexander writes, “Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything. Not some abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day-to-day kind that everyone knows—the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our children…. In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional. This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that ever will exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it, and embody it in all of their actions.”

The more I read and talked to others, the more I began to understand more of my own truth. As friends spoke of taking spiritual journeys into nature to “find” their loved ones that had passed…I began to put some pieces of the puzzle together, though it is still an on-going process. The closer I am to places that are unencumbered by “human” complexities – the closer I am to nature, spirituality, beauty – the more I can experience pure love, of my family, friends, and yes, Ben – and honestly feel his spirit. I realized this week, though, that as I get closer to that purist of places and feel his love surrounding me, the more my human mind and heart misses his human form, in the quiet at the end of the day. Because, even as I revel in the beauty of his spirit, I grieve my inability to feel his human form, see his beautiful smile. The deep, soul-piercing love of a mother.

My comfort yesterday was my 5 year old, once again. How can a young, innocent child so comfort an adult’s pain? I am beginning to wonder if it is because, like nature, children are closer to the purity of God’s unconditional love. They are not as limited by the human mind as we are as adults. Watching the sun set, the tears came for the first time that day. Moments later, my 5 year old touched my leg and asked if she could hug me. I kneeled down and hugged her, crying, and said “I just miss Ben so much sometimes.” She said, “Me too mommy.” I asked how do I get through? Her response, as she placed her forehead against mine and grabbed the sides of my head: “Just stay calm. And, stay with me, let me love you. Because I am your sidekick.” And, that night, as I cried myself to sleep in her arms and she rubbed my face with her tiny hand, saying "Its okay mommy...accident's happen" – I found unconditional love and took a step closer to finding Ben.

Connecticut Makes a Move to Enhance Public Awareness

First, I want to acknowledge the steps that our state officials and national Congressmen are taking to enhance NHTSA's public awareness campaign locally, due to the multiple incidents that have occurred in Connecticut this summer. On July 11th, Senators Blumenthal and Murphy spoke out in a letter to NHTSA asking for the agency to focus more resources geared toward public awareness in our state (see Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Murphy (D-Conn.) Letter to Acting Administrator of NHTSA). 

During a press conference yesterday, Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, along with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, announced that the state DOT is providing a $100,000 grant to fund the new NHTSA "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" campaign in Connecticut. See "After Toddler's Death, Connecticut Effort Aims to Prevent Leaving Children in Hot Cars" (New Haven Register) and "Hospital Launches Campaign to Prevent Hot Car Deaths" (NBC Connecticut).

Congratulations for a successful launch and THANK YOU!!!

After sitting down over the past few days with some wonderful, respectful news anchors in order to raise public awareness, I've realized that it is this part of the aftermath -- the tid-bits of joy and hope -- the small successes throughout the week that keep us going. I remember today, when I saw their SUV pull into our driveway, I hoped they weren't nervous or wondering "How will the family be? Will this be a horribly difficult interview?" And, after the interview, I mentioned that thought -- receiving in response, the natural insight that "Well, its just such a tragic story. It could happen to anyone." So, I smiled and we chatted and I responded "We'll be okay." 

But, later today, the epiphany hit me. It was just yesterday that I found myself pulling by Ben's grave site, standing there just talking to him...saying how much I loved and missed him, and that I honestly didn't think I could do "this." Now what "this" is, I'm not sure of yet. In that moment, I think "this" was...to live without him, to move forward with our new and different life. But, I think the "this" was also...holding it together for others. Knowing how unimaginable and tragic this is to other parents (your worst nightmare, in ways) -- I sometimes (well, often) find myself feeling the need to hold it together in front of others to prove "We'll be okay." 

As dusk arrived, my youngest daughter and I were chatting away about the future -- school, vacations, time alone, etc. She was very excited and life seemed....well, "okay." But, out of nowhere, her lips parted and this thought slipped out: "Mommy, I wish Ben could go on vacations with us. He never really got a vacation. Because, he only lived about a year." Again, it took my breath away, it was like a knife in my heart -- maybe it was the unexpected nature of her comment. In that one moment, the floodgate opened and in rushed a torrent of dozens of emotions...washing over me for the remainder of the day -- back to shock, anger, profound grief, disbelief, etc. 

A close friend sat with Kyle and me on the porch tonight -- we discussed the "reality" of that day and what happened. I ran through our options: (1) we just don't go on -- which isn't an option; (2) we go on, but never really live again, we allow the grief and trauma to swallow us whole; or (3) we go on, different, hold on to each other, and struggle through. The only option for us is #3...and, to answer the most common question from reporters, friends and even strangers --  that is how we are doing. Its for the girls, really. They are the anchors allowing us to weather the storm, until we can do it on our own. We see innocence, happiness and hope in their every move and word. We ended the evening, tearfully, with our friend reminding Kyle that he's such a good father ("Mr. Mom")...with us all recognizing, though, that our family still has to work through our new reality. And, in her words, people can lie and say we will be fine eventually, but really its not just going to disappear and go away...it will always be difficult...but we just hold on and Live and grow.

So, that's a typical day about a month after losing Ben....but we make it through and hopefully end each day...well, just "okay." And, that's good enough for now.