Hazel looks out the back window as we pass the memorial park and says “I miss our baby.”
I hear my mother’s breath catch. “Your grandma would be horrified.”
They are often together. Two of the most awesome people I’ve ever known, the only two I have to live without. They are often together in Hazel’s words, in my heart, in spirit, and even in that little memorial park.
“I know, Hazel, I miss our baby too,” I say, and I breath very deeply. I steady my hands on the wheel.
Hazel and I don’t miss our baby the way everyone else misses grandma, but to her, the baby and grandma are the same. She misses that she didn’t get to have them in her life. Our baby was lost to us at the very end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Grandma’s cancer was diagnosed shortly after Hazel was born. Hazel hears the stories of my grandmother and knows her from the influence she has still in our daily lives. She misses that she was not old enough to know this person first hand, and have memories. With the baby, she mourns the big-sisterhood she was so eager for. Everyone she knows is a big-sister. She wanted a baby of her own.
When I learned the baby’s heart had stopped, I knew I was heartbroken. I knew I was forever changed — but the panic, that was about telling the children. How was I going to tell them gently? How could I help them? I dreaded it. I knew I was going to have to watch their hurt, and their pain. And let it be. I knew I was going to have to answer all sorts of complicated and difficult questions. I knew that even when the news about the baby was over, they would have other questions. Questions would come up about life, and death, and I would have to guide them in words and actions. I would have to hear their questions, stay with them, be in the present. I knew they deserved the space to explore their feelings, and be grounded by my presence. Nothing seems scarier to a child than not understanding something that upsets her parents.
“He will hardly ever be wrong about what you are feeling but he will often be wrong about what you want him to know you are feeling. If you are trying to conceal a serious quarrel, an illness or a work problem from him, he will know that you are miserable. Your bright forced smile will not fool him but it will confuse him. He knows you are sad, but you pretend to be happy. You make him doubt the evidence of his own senses. He will be better served by a simplified version of the truth than by attempts at total concealment. ‘ Mommy is sad because her daddy is ill’ is far less worrying than ‘There is something odd about mommy and I don’t understand her today.’”
The only way to prepare ourselves to come fully into our children’s grief is to come fully into our own. How can we offer them the advice they so strongly need, or guide them towards peace, when we have not practiced this ourselves?
So now, we must ask ourselves those difficult questions, must allow our own feelings to be felt. We must allow ourselves to be hurt, and not shy away. Just like we did with the pains of labor, or a difficult asana in yoga class — we must sit with the discomfort and examine it. Wonder at it, and mindfully choose our actions and reactions. We must try not to be afraid.
Coming Fully Into Your Own Grief
Talking and telling your story
Friends, relatives, therapists — talk with someone supportive of your feelings and spiritual beliefs. It is healing and clarifying, hearing your own story and thoughts in your own words.
Making space for silence
Yoga, meditation, a nature walk, a solitary drive. Choosing time for your own thoughts and silence is essential to understanding yourself and making sure you have the fortitude to help your children.
Writing and creating
Recording, painting, writing — for your own comfort. You need not share this artwork. Creating a crafty memorial to your loved one, or an interpretation of a traumatic event gives us a deeper level of understand and ownership of our situation. Consider creating a photo collage, memory book, memory box, journal, painting, or a quilt with a loved one’s favorite colors or clothing.
Establishing Rituals, Traditions, Acts of Closure
Some losses have rituals and traditions established by our culture or religion. Some do not. And some are simply not helpful to us as individuals, do not last long enough, or are hard for children to understand. It is okay to create your own.
Lighting candles, burning incense, even opening all the windows on a special day, can be acts of ritual which bring you closure and comfort. My children did not attend grandma’s funeral as I wanted the freedom to cry and care for myself. So later we went with flowers and gifts they created. With the baby, the children prepared a box of things they had wanted to give the baby. They dug down into the earth with their hands and buried their box of gifts near grandma. It bought them much comfort to think of grandma dressing the baby and caring for her. Because we had separate rituals, I could focus on myself during mine, and be present with them during theirs.
Ask For Help
Be honest with yourself. When someone asks to help, let them. When they do not offer, ask. We all need to be cared for. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, the most strengthening thing you can do for your children is find help. From friends, from relatives, from therapists. If you are feeling scared and anxious beyond what you feel is reasonable find a support group and a professional to offer you reassurance and guidance. This link offers guidance on how to answer children’s questions and handle their expressions of grief.
Sadhanas are healing practices that are part of our regular rhythms. Making ghee is a generally healing sadhana. The smell of the butter, the color, and the quite absorbed thoughts clarify our emotions, as well as the butter.
To make ghee you will need one pound of unsalted organic/high quality butter. One pound of butter should take about 15 minutes to become ghee. The more butter you are using, the more time it will take. You may want to use a 1/2 pound of butter the first time, so you have a second chance to try once you are familiar with the process.
Place butter in a heavy medium sized pot. Turn the heat on to medium until the butter melts.
Lower heat until the butter is just boiling and continue to cook at this temperature. The butter will start to foam and sputter while it cooks. Whitish clouds will form on the bottom. The butter will begin to smell lovely and turn a golden color. Watch the pot during all this time, as not only can the ghee burn easily, but the practice is the process.You have nothing to do at this moment, except watch the ghee.
After awhile the butter will become clear, but still golden in color. Sometimes, the foam will fall to the bottom of the pot, indicating it is done. Having a heat source with an actual flame may encourage this. If you have a ceramic cooktop, expect to use a clean, dry spoon to move some of the foam on top to see if the ghee is clear all the way through to the bottom. When it is clear and has stopped sputtering, it should be taken off the heat. Let it cool until just warm.
Pour through a fine sieve or layers of cheesecloth into a clean, dry glass container with a tight lid. You may eat or discard the foam left in the pot. The ghee is burned if it has a nutty smell and is slightly brown. Luckily, if the ghee has burned, it just means you get to do it again.
Ghee can be kept on the kitchen shelf, covered. It does not need refrigeration. The medicinal properties are said to improve with age. Do not use wet spoons or allow any water to get into the ghee, as this will create conditions for bacteria to grow and spoil the ghee. I prefer to use two pint-sized glass jars to lessen the chance of contamination. You can use ghee in place of butter or oil when cooking vegetables. It also adds a deeper flavor when buttering muffins or bread, especially when adding honey on top.
Sherene Cauley lives in Maryland with her husband and their two girls. They lead a life full of work and play, all hoping someone small and new will join the celebration next year. You can see more of their everyday adventures at her blog.