Category Archives: Joy

How the Bereaved Celebrate the Living

Since my daughter died, we have celebrated birthdays and holidays, our son’s milestones and my husband’s retirement from the military. It is two and a half years later, and it still hurts. We feel the emptiness of the space where her body once was. How do the bereaved celebrate the living when our hearts are sometimes still heavy with grief?

In December we moved across the country to the Denver area. We left Mary Rose’s house. We left the place where our toddler became a boy, and now at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, we celebrated our son’s fifth birthday. We celebrate with an excavator cupcake truck at a party with his first cousins. But we miss Mary Rose. We continue to mourn, even as our love for her continues to grow.

How do we celebrate life after loss? My heart is a basket that feels hollow after my loved ones die. How can I fill my basket? How do we gather the courage to celebrate joyously for the living and the dead?

I cry almost every day, remembering Mary Rose and the others. But I also cook and write cards. I spend time outside walking and breathing, noticing my surroundings and the creatures that share my habitat. I breathe in the dry mountain air in wonder. I think of my bedridden aunt who died before Mary Rose, and I am grateful that I can walk. I am grateful for my living family. I bake. I read. I treasure my relationships, especially getting to know my sister again now that we live close to each other for the first time in 14 years. I do all this while I remember. I celebrate the living and the dead, because they are all in my heart.

I teared up when we sang Happy Birthday to our son because he is growing up, and because Mary Rose never did. I feel her close to us, but I still long to hold her in my arms. It is hard to be on this earth and be joyful after a death, but we can do it if we walk together in unity with all those we love, living and dead. It takes great courage to hold both grief and joy in our heart. I suspect that as the years go by, grief does not become easier. It feels like being in the ocean where you never know when there will be a big wave or calm sea. I still can’t predict a riptide that takes me back to the rawest grief.

I’ve been missing my aunt as much as Mary Rose through this move, the holidays and our son’s birthday. Tonight I told my son a story about her while we snuggled together at bedtime. I told him that our Thea Matina was a principal of an elementary school, and that the children had a hard time with her name, Cacomanolis. I told him that the kids sometimes called her Ms. Cacamanolis. There is no kaka in my name, she told her kids. They laughed, and they said her name correctly. My son laughed and laughed until no sound came out, and she was there with us in that moment.

This is how I choose to walk. I carry the ancestors into our future through our stories and memories, through prayers and love. Each new celebration and milestone includes them, as long as we remember, and give thanks. If our friends and family could join us in weaving our dead through our lives, we will be more whole and connected. Crying is just fine, because there is so much joy around us…

 

 

Book Launch: Why Did I Write This Book?

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Book Launch: Why a Book about Mary Rose?

Books about grief, pregnancy and infant loss have already been written. Yet when I was a pregnant woman walking around in a daze of grief after a prenatal diagnosis of trisomy 18, I did not find comfort in books, the place where I have always found comfort. Other than Nancy Mayer-Whittington’s For the Love of Angela, no book was raw or honest enough. In my state of pregnancy-awaiting-death, I wanted truth. I wanted to know how I could survive carrying life and death inside me. I wanted someone to explain the madness of grief that lasted far longer than Mary Rose’s brief life. I wanted to know that my unborn baby wouldn’t suffer.

In my pregnancy I came up against people’s judgements and beliefs about pregnancies with life-limiting diagnoses and life support for newborns. I fought the system to birth my daughter at home and give her a quiet peaceful life. I prepared her body for burial on my own bed where we held her, where she died. In the aftermath of my grief, I came face to face with our culture’s ignorant ways in treating the bereaved. Many kind people comforted us, but once I left my house cocoon and reentered life, I felt silenced and judged for grieving. Some people think that I am angry, but I am not angry. I am writing to speak my truth. Grief can take a lifetime to process. Grief is also infused with joy, as we live again.

To get to that joy, we first need tender love, a way to process our grief (I chose art), and the truth that life and death are inextricably linked. They always were. They always will be. Babies sometimes die. Women sometimes miscarry. I write Mary Rose into a book and send her out into the world to comfort women facing pregnancy and infant loss. I write to support communities – real communities – that walk together through the joys and grief that comprise human experience. Mary Rose’s book is as raw as a pregnant mother buying a casket and planning a funeral. It is as real as breath and love.

Today White Flowers Press launches Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death. The numbers are staggering. One in four women miscarry. One million babies die in this country before their first birthday. We all know women who have had their pregnancy losses, but most of us continue to ignore them because they are uncomfortable. This book addresses the social awkwardness that we feel around death and grief. It addresses the grieving mother, but also the family and friends that surround her not knowing what to say.

Every page of this book was watered with my tears; I kept writing anyway. I did not walk my pregnancy alone, and I do not want anyone else to be alone in that sacred space. I had my mentor Cubby, my parents, my sister, my closest friends. A therapist. A few midwives. A homeopath and bereavement doula. A son. A husband. A priest and his wife. A shaman. And the blessed nuns who pray in their little rooms for this broken world. Not every woman has a midwife to accompany her to the scariest of doctors’ appointments. How long can my baby live? What do I do next? And so I write for my readers.

In her memoir The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch ends her book with these words:

Listen I can see you. If you are like me. You do not deserve most of what has happened or will. But there is something I can offer you. Whoever you are. Out there. As lonely as it gets, you are not alone. There is another kind of love . . . . This book? It’s for you. It’s water I made a path through . . . . Come in . . .

Yuknavitch is talking about art. The art of words and books and many media. I agree that art is a gift, but the gift is also truth and an open loving heart that loves our vulnerable babies who are miscarried, born still or die soon after birth.

After my pregnancy I did research and found out the most important thing. If Mary Rose had lived, she would not have suffered. Why didn’t my doctors tell me that? I was so anxious in that unknowing. I intend for this book to clear up the blur of getting a life-limiting diagnosis during pregnancy, for it to be a companion as we walk through the fog of grief. You are not alone. Many women have gone before you, walking this path, since the beginning of our myths and stories. And those babies who were miscarried, born still or alive, who lived a minute or a day, their souls are perfect and the stories of their lives will heal our own grieving souls.

Today on the launch of Mary Rose’s book please share this blog post, if our work resonates with you.

I am grateful for your help and support.

To purchase Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death please click on this link:

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Mother’s Day: Joyously Connecting with our Loved Ones in Spirit

IMG_2298for Nancy Eagle Spirit Woman

People are writing and posting about Mother’s Day and grief, about International Mothers’ Day for the Bereaved, which was celebrated last week, about the lack of response from our friends, family and community in remembering us during Mother’s Day. I have been thinking about how much importance we give one day, one holiday. I have decided to make a safe space for myself this Mother’s Day. I plan to stay home away from pregnant women and newborns who trigger my trauma. I want to be in my garden with mud underneath my fingernails. I want to be with my son, and I want to be with Mary Rose.

Instead of focusing on the separation that we feel from our loved ones in spirit, this year I will call Mary Rose to me. I will welcome her into my day as an ancestor of light and I will spend my day with both of my children. Lighting a candle is one way to remember our children. Planting a flower or plant is another. I will breathe deeply this Sunday remembering her small body, the sacred hour of her life here on earth, as I celebrate the life that she has now. I know that I will grieve my newborn’s death for the rest of my life, but I want to do so joyously. I cannot change the way that I see the world differently after holding life and death in my arms, but I can reinforce the love that deepens for my daughter. I will stay in a safe space where I can cry and remember my daughter while celebrating my continued role as her mother.

I am thinking more with my heart these days. My reality is shifting from a thinking place of lonely loss to a heart place of loving communion. This year I invite each of you whose children or mothers are not in an earthly body to celebrate anyway. It is my great hope that we can celebrate this Mother’s Day with tearful smiles and an understanding that the veil is thin, that our loved ones are still our children from their heavenly place, even the ones who were miscarried.

My connection to my daughter is deeper this year. She has been at my side as I wept and wrote her book that will soon be released by White Flowers Press. I have been through another year of milestones without her physical body, but she is here.

One night my son said to me “I feel Mary Rose in my heart. My heart is soooo big from the love of my sister.” She continues to be a part of our family. She continues to be my daughter. She is an intercessor helping us in our daily lives. I won’t be able to hear her whispers over the clatter and chatter in a restaurant, so I will be outside on our Earth celebrating quietly knowing that all life has its purpose and continues far beyond the life of the human body. I will listen to the birds’ songs, and notice the peony about to burst open. I too am open. Mary Rose, come…

 

Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death will be released later this month by White Flowers Press.

 

Navigating Through the Holiday Season After Infant Death: A Meditation on Joy, Interrupted

blog IMG_0163‘Tis the Season. For those of us who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death, how do we walk through the holiday cheer? It is the season for Christmas cards and sparkly cookies, parties and gifts. It is also the time of year when somehow the fact that the world keeps spinning without slowing down to acknowledge Mary Rose makes my heart feel a little more tender. This second year of holidays after my daughter’s death from trisomy 18 hurts. After two early miscarriages in July and October, the holidays feel raw and holy. I walk this path gently.

­My friend, Daniela, recently sent me the book Joy, Interrupted edited by Melissa Miles McCarter. I love the title: Joy, Interrupted. Even in the midst of my pregnancy with Mary Rose when I knew that she would die, there were moments of joy. Snuggles and kisses. Loving conversations. Moments of grace when those who love me did stand by me. A bit of community. Hugs. I continue to find joy even though it is interrupted by grief and longing.

In McCarter’s book she collects works of various genres including artwork. The stories of heartbreak and hope are poignant. I love the titles of the five main sections: No, Furies, Plea, Longing, Acceptance.  The editor’s own daughter, Maddie, died at six weeks of SIDS. She then experienced secondary infertility. McCarter’s pregnancy was not easy and it ends for her in the death of her baby. She put together this anthology to heal and offer healing to others. The book has a range of topics including infertility and death of the mother, as well as miscarriage, abortion, adoption, stillbirth, infant and child death. The essays by Gabriella Burman about her daughter, Michaela, who died suddenly at five years old, 12 days after her youngest sister was born, brought tears to my eyes. Michaela who had many challenges and delays is a beautiful girl and her eyes cut to my own heart. (There are a few photos in the back of the book remembering those whom the writers honor.) One essay by Gail Marlene Schwartz about her pregnancy with twins was also particularly touching. One of the twins has Down’s Syndrome. Instead of aborting Benjamin, who does not fit into his parents’ family, he is given up for adoption to a willing and waiting family. That which one does not want is another person’s miracle.

Reading this collection during Advent makes sense to me, because I keep pausing as I check in with my heart and inner knowing. I don’t want to be swept up into the insanity of this season without remembering my family in its entirety. Last December I was in a foggy daze, but I wanted to create a good holiday for my living son, so through my tears and heartache, I decorated a tree, took a family photo, sent out cards, and baked. But it hurt each step of the rocky, craggy path. It hurt and now I am here again. People say that time makes this pain better. I can say that I am not quite as shocked as I was last year. I can also say that I don’t cry hysterically as often, but my eyes tear up frequently as I open my heart again and again. With each opportunity to love another I open my heart to being broken again. I cannot build a fortress around my heart. As Marie Howe writes in her beautiful poem “What the Living Do,” “I am living. I remember you.”

Last year when I worked on our family Christmas card I included Mary Rose’s name on the card after my son’s name. The Armentrout family includes Mary Rose. Every time I sign a card with our family names without hers my heart aches. Perhaps I will change the wording this year to say something like “and Mary Rose, in our hearts” or “and our intercessor, Mary Rose.” I hope that for parents struggling with their footing on how to be a family with part of their heart in the heavenworlds that there is space to acknowledge all of the children, if that feels right, even if our family and friends do not speak their names any longer.

Our friend Annie made us our Christmas stockings last year. She knitted these huge, beautiful, homemade stockings and she knitted an angel on the back of each stocking to remember Mary Rose.  Mary Rose whose only Christmas on earth was that first year when I was newly pregnant with her. Isaiah’s Promise sent a handmade pink stocking with Mary Rose’s name on it and a small angel pin. This year I am thinking of putting something from Mary Rose to the other children in that stocking. If she is with us continuously and constantly, then what would be an appropriate gift to her brother and cousins? Chocolate? A sweet treat? Perhaps this will be a new tradition for me to keep her in the family, to weave her short life here into our longer lives on this earth.

Two years ago I bought a Christmas ornament from Brian Andreas and StoryPeople. It says “I carry you with me/into the world,/into the smell of rain/& the words/that dance/between/people/& for me/it will always/be this way,/walking/in the light,/remembering/being alive/together.” When I bought it I knew that my aunt would not live much longer. I unpacked the ornament last December after the year that changed everything. I wept because of the truth that now my daughter, that spark of life the previous December in my first-trimester was now somewhere else, not posing for photos under the tree, not growing, not here on this earth.

Last year my sister and her family made a donation to Isaiah’s Promise for Christmas in memory of Mary Rose. This meant so much. Perhaps this holiday season for those readers who know of a family who has experienced a baby death, a small donation and a card with the name of the baby could be offered. It is the speaking of the name, the acknowledgment of the life that we mothers seek. The comfort is in coming together as a community to celebrate our living and our dead, as we are intricately woven together, those still living on the earth and the ancestors of different generations here in their other-worldly presence.

As for the parties and the celebrations, I go to a few but give myself space to leave if I want to, to cry if that feels right. I was at a meeting this week and a tiny newborn girl with Mary Rose’s coloring was right behind me fussing and being a baby. I wanted to get up and leave, but I decided that I could make it through the two hours to be with my friends. Other times I just don’t face the world because I can’t. Cubby didn’t go near babies for two years after her beloved newborn, Francis, died. I navigate the best I can and hope that each of you readers has good support, warm tea, and the space to rest and grieve in your own time. It is so important to take the steps to rejoin the spinning world around us, but it is good to know one’s own limitations too.

This year as I prepare for Christmas, I am in a different space. I think of the Christ child whom we remember this Christmas. I think of Mary and how all mothers await their babies. I remember my anticipation waiting for Mary Rose.  A child is coming who promises peace and love to our broken world. Even in grief, the light settles in each day and a gerbera daisy blooms in December in my garden. Sister Evelyn of Mount St. Mary’s Abbey told me once, when my aunt was suffering from atypical meningioma, to look for the small miracles that surround the difficult situation. Around my aunt’s hospital bed many gathered. We shared chocolate. My son brought joy to her long days. She made us laugh until her very end. Indeed the miracles abound, but Sr. Evelyn tells us to look for them. It’s okay if our joy is interrupted by our grief, as long as we allow joy to come back again and again and again.