Category Archives: Grief Diaries

Interview with the International Grief Institute

 

It was my great honor to be interviewed by Lynda Cheldelin Fell of the The International Grief Institute to discuss Mother’s Day after pregnancy and infant loss. We discussed my pregnancy with Mary Rose, miscarriages, Trisomy 18 and grief.  The link follows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eChpI__dMl0

Grief Diaries Poetry & Prose

Following is my introduction to Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose and More reprinted with permission of Lynda Cheldelin Fell and AlyBlue Media. As we close one year and open the next, our poems and words can be a great source of comfort. Wishing you blessings this 2017.

Stories and poems began with the first humans. Before there was a written language, we painted on the walls of caves and told stories around fires under the night sky. Some of this artwork survives to this day. We still read the earliest Sumerian hymns to Inanna written circa 2300 B.C.E.  We sing ancient hymns in our temples. We pray the same words people have been praying for centuries, because words can transcend a lifetime.

The contributors of this book find hope in writing. After facing tragic losses they turned to the blank page to process trauma, remember loved ones and offer their words to comfort others. Writing memorializes our ancestors. Words help others going through similar challenges. Poems become a healing balm for our own souls as we remember the ones whom we can never forget. As time passes, our words change. We never “get over” our grief, yet we transform our grief into the art of poetry and prose. We create a story about the lives of our daughters and fathers, even as we tell stories about our moments together, about death, about who we now are. We speak stories of our own illnesses, and the illnesses of those around us, and these stories become a light we offer to others. These stories say We survive. You can too.

When I was married to a mentally ill man who had a psychotic breakdown, I studied poetry therapy and bibliotherapy with Dr. Sherry Reiter in New York City. I drove Downtown from Connecticut one Sunday each month and listened to this inspiring mentor teach us about archetypes, therapeutic devices, symbols, metaphors, poetry, stories, but mostly about life and how to cope with its constant changes. Her own husband had suffered a stroke at a young age. When she looked into my eyes and told me that I could survive my husband’s unemployment and illness, she spoke from her own experience.

Twelve people gathered in a circle at Dr. Reiter’s Creative “Righting” Center. Throughout the training I volunteered to bring this therapeutic work to people in nursing homes, underserved communities and HIV positive women in a public health clinic. When participants told me that they could not write poetry, I promised them a poem at the end of our time together. I especially loved watching senior citizens write their first poems. One woman in a nursing home was blind. She told me that she would like to write, but couldn’t see. I invited her to stay, and when I gave the class their writing prompt from the poem that we had read, I wrote her words down for her. She clutched her paper afterwards. “I can’t wait to show my daughter my poem,” she said.

The beauty of writing is that it offers us an opportunity to transmute our pain into something beautiful. There is a turn in every good poem that surprises the writer first. We are taken somewhere unexpected. Writing therapeutically gives us a cognitive, spiritual and emotional modality to turn our grief and pain and suffering into something else. We release some of our pain through catharsis. Our writing which is often accompanied by weeping, allows us to change and grow and heal. And as that sweet woman in the nursing home, we too can show our work to others, if we so choose.

When I was 21 weeks pregnant and found out that my unborn daughter would most likely die soon after birth, if she was born alive, I wrote. I wrote in my journal to process my deep emotional journey. I wrote to save my life. I wrote to be the best mother I could be for Mary Rose. After 9/11 Americans shared poetry and stories. We wrote. We dug out a poem by Auden that resonated with that time period in American history. We write and we read poetry and stories, especially at tragic crossroads, because it is a part of the human condition. We are born with poems in our souls. If we allow ourselves the space to release these words, they often become prayers.

In poetry therapy, as in homeopathy, like cures like. For a grieving client we offer a poem on grief. After reading and discussing the poem, the facilitator will take a line or image from the poem and have the client write her own poem from there. Whether we write a journal entry, a story or poem, words heal. This book offers the stories and poems of its writers to you, Reader, as medicine. I would like to invite each of you to join us in this healing journey. Choose a line from a poem or an essay or blog post and write your own work. Honor your ancestors. Honor your own journey through illness and grief. You can do it. We did. You can too.

To purchase Grief Diaries: Poetry, Prose & More CLICK HERE

Still Grieving this Holiday Season

picThese last weeks have been a whirlwind of motion, more so because in a few days movers will come to pack us up. I am finding things from my pregnancy with Mary Rose, who lived one brief hour. Essential oils of geranium and clary sage. Dried roses from my blessingway. Notes and sympathy cards. My mala beads that broke after so many repetitions of prayers and mantra. I am leaving the house of Mary Rose and it is harder than I thought.

 

cemetmg01My son has been asking for his sister. He asked me if he could go to the cemetery and dig her out and bring her home. This boy who is now almost five years old, sees babies all around him. Only our baby died, he told me last night.

In all of this emotional and physical swirling, I recently wrote a blog post for a grief website about how to support the bereaved through the years of their grief. Years. This feeling of something missing from my physical world is not going away. This is the third Christmas without Mary Rose and I cried as I selected photos for our Christmas card. I want my daughter on our family card too.

Something about this move and writing about grief has me thinking of so many of my friends who are facing another holiday without their loved one in the physical realms. I am thinking of Lakshmi’s Siddha and Sherri’s Bryson and Ryder. Carissa’s Millie and Fernanda’s Madison Rose. Isabel’s Grace Miriam and Audrey’s Zinia. Lauren’s Nora. Lynda’s Allie and Mary’s David and Jacob. Greg and Louisa’s Colin. The babies of many parents I have reached out to in the trisomy 18 community. In my introduction to a Grief Diaries anthology of poetry and prose, I say “But the death of my daughter is not where my grief begins . . . . My beloved aunt, Matina . . . . My friend, Jeanette . . . . Connie . . . Hannah . . . . Ginger. Nadia and Danillo. Mary. Masha. Pappou. Yiayia. Laura. Pauline. Cubby.” This holiday season feels more poignant, perhaps because of my move, perhaps because things are changing so quickly that we cannot seem to catch our breath, perhaps because of those dying around us.

In this life of so much loss I am also impacted by people’s behavior around the election this year. Regardless of political identity and belief, people have been nasty. The anger, the constant political jockeying and sharing and bantering has me down. One of my dear friends seemed ready to let our friendship go because of a Facebook post. When so many of us have lost so much, can we unite in a common love for humanity? Can we come together to honor humans regardless of religion and sexuality, of race and educational status? Is there someone in our circle who could use some kind words and love this day?

My son and I visited the cemetery this afternoon. I hate the cemetery. I haven’t been there since I took my parents last year a few days before Christmas. I needed to go one more time before I move west. I wanted my son to see the cemetery and remember it. Of all the last things we are doing, today’s visit is the most poignant. A child at his sister’s grave puts life in perspective.

It seemed fitting this evening to gather the stones and shells around my statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the yard for the move. My son who wanted to dig his sister out of the cemetery earlier was happy to help me dig a hole under the statue. I released my unstrung mala beads into the earth and buried them on the land where my daughter grew and blossomed into the baby girl that she became.

For those of us who have lost so much, for those of us who live on what Cheryl Strayed calls “Planet My Baby Died” we need peace and light and hope. If I lit a candle in my heart for all of the babies and loved ones and friends I carry inside, I would be ablaze.

For this one moment, this holiday season may these words be my offering to Mary Rose and this broken world. Before I bake a cookie or send a card for the living or board a plane to start a new chapter of my life, let me remember my dead. May this holiday season be lit from within with a love brighter than our most profound grief.

 

If you feel so moved, please comment with your loved one’s names and we will grow this memorial blog post.

Grief Diaries: Get Your Grief On

grief diaries loss of a pregnancy covver

Grief comes in so many forms, both visible and invisible . . . . Until now, there was no book series dedicated to sharing and embracing all the various life struggles. By publishing our stories, we help others who share our journey feel less alone. In turn, our stories help raise awareness and educate, which paves the way for better support.       Lynda Cheldelin Fell

I came to Grief Diaries through Mary Potter Kenyon. Mary was one of the first readers of my book, and kindly supported my work. Her own book on grief, Refined by Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace, was good for my soul after my newborn died of trisomy 18. I reached out to Mary and we connected through love and loss. She messaged me one day telling me that she was working with Lynda Cheldelin Fell on a book of poetry and prose for Grief Diaries. Would I submit some of my poetry? I agreed, and then wrote to Lynda. After hearing about Mary Rose, she asked if I would write for a new anthology called Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy. Mary Rose’s story, or rather my grief journey, is in this book, as well as Grief Diaries: Loss of an Infant.

Lynda’s daughter, Ally, was killed in a car crash at age 15. Two years before Lynda had a dream that her daughter died in a car accident. In the dream an open book appeared where Ally’s body was. Last summer Lynda began collecting stories of bereaved people whom she met at a convention. In one year Grief Diaries has published several books with many more titles on the way. Lynda says that “the individual stories highlight the spirit of human resiliency.” Her focus is on telling the stories of our grief. “When we share stories, our written words become a portable support group for others,” she says.

Lynda has created a community of bereaved who are writing to help others. Grief Diaries books address various losses such as the loss of a child, spouse, loved one by suicide, and many more. She has published My Grief Diary: A Workbook through Grief, A Companion Guide & Confidante through the Aftermath of Heartbreaking Loss with writing prompts to help a grieving person start to make sense of great loss. I like the list of what not to say in the book How to Help the Bereaved. I wish that we could pass out cards of “A toolbox of what not to say . . . and why.”

Grief Diaries read as diaries do. The writers answer questions about their experiences, so each chapter focuses on one question or aspect of the loss. The entries are not essays, but rather a record of what we went through and how we coped. There is rawness. There is love and beauty. Every page in the book Surviving the Loss of A Pregnancy is about loss, and it is a tough read. It would be most appropriate for someone who is in the midst of grief, someone who will be comforted by other people’s suffering. For those trying to become pregnant and move forward from pregnancy or infant loss, I would advise waiting to reading this collection. I would not want this book on grief to discourage a woman who is pregnant, who has hope that everything will be fine. In the midst of our grief we might forget that most pregnancies have good outcomes, and that most babies thrive.

In my introduction to Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy, I write “I hope that this book will shift that aloneness [of pregnancy and infant loss] as we build bridges that connect our grief. Instead of one more lonely and depressing birthday, anniversary of the due date or holiday, I hope that Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy will offer a way for us to connect with each other, and the spirits of our babies . . . .” As I continue to write about my own experience I meet people who are dealing with the unsayable. Another miscarriage, another fatal diagnosis, another death. It is important that we create a web of light (as Sandra Ingerman instructs us in her Transmutation News website) to catch the bereaved as they fall down, to connect to other humans who are suffering. We are more similar than we are different. In the awakening that comes after such depths of darkness, we notice the sunshine and the birds singing. They were there urging us on all along.

 

To read my introduction and more of my story and purchase Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Pregnancy CLICK HERE

To purchase Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of an Infant CLICK HERE

Grief Diary books are available on amazon.com. To find out more about Lynda Cheldelin Fell, her website is www.lyndafell.com. To submit to forthcoming Grief Diaries anthologies visit www.griefdiaries.com.