Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Capture Your Grief 2020

For the past 7 Octobers, I have participated in a Capture Your Grief project created by Carly Marie Dudley of The Carly-Marie Project Heal and the Seashore of Remembrance.  I have not seen any information about it happening this year, but I know Carly has been through a great deal lately and has stepped back from being in the public eye.   I do know that this event is meaningful for a lot of people.   So, I have decided to use her as an inspiration and create a daily prompt list here.  Many of these prompts are inspired from those of previous years I have participated. 

Please note, this is NOT my idea or my project and I am in no way attempting to co-opt it for myself.   

I just wanted to carry it on for anyone who wanted to participate.  Carly Marie deserves all the credit for the creation of this project.   Also, my friend Elizabeth of Our Little Beastie Blog has helped me put some topics together for this.  

For those unfamiliar, Capture Your Grief is a daily photo prompt challenge for the month of October - Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.   It is meant to be a way to heal, to honor our babies, and to bring awareness to loss and grief.   

There is no requirement to do every prompt, so you should only do the ones that speak to you - or the ones you feel up to doing.   This should be helpful - not hurtful.  You know your heart the best.  Do what you can when you can.  Also, all prompts are completely open to interpretation.  Feel free to change it to suit your needs.

Day 1:  Sunrise 

If you can, get up before sunrise and find a place to sit with your thoughts.  Take a picture of the sunrise wherever you are.  If the weather isn't ideal, take a photo from your window.  Breathe and take some time to think of your child(ren).  What do you hope this month will bring you?  Healing?  Time and space to deal with some difficult emotions?  The ability to share your grief with others?  None of us wish to be here, but you are welcomed into our circle with outstretched arms and an open heart.

Day 2:  Named

What did you name your child(ren)?  Write their name somewhere, even if you don't post it.  Hold it in your heart for a moment and then if you're ready share why their name is so special.  Share any memories you have regarding their name - how you feel when you hear it spoken by another person?

Day 3:   Before 

Who were you Before loss?  How did you see the world?  

Day 4:  After

We are all profoundly different.  How have you changed?  How do you feel about these changes in yourself?   What has been left unchanged?  

Day 5:  Friendship

Is there a friendship that has become especially important to you?  How has this friendship affected you in your loss?   If you can, write a message to this person (people) to tell them what their friendship means to you.

Day 6:  Space

Do you have a specific area dedicated to your child(ren)?   A memorial space you've put together?   Or just a space in your mind and heart you've created as a pocket where you keep their memory tucked away?  How does having this space help you honor them?   

Day 7: Rights

What are some rights you feel the bereaved should be granted?   If you could create a list of fundamental rules everyone would follow in dealing with those grieving, (or YOU in particular)  what would be on it?  

Day 8: Seasons

Is there a particular time of the year that always makes you think of your child?  What feelings does this season bring with it when it comes?  

Day 9:  Broken

Loss destroys us.  We all break and we all try desperately to piece ourselves back together.   Where are you in this process?   How are you feeling about where you are?

Day 10: Comfort

Where do you find comfort when you need it?   Is it in a family member or friend?  A walk along the ocean?  A warm cup of tea or a snuggle with a pet?   What helps you find peace when you need it the most?  

Day 11:  Stuck

Sometimes, many times, we feel like we aren't moving forward.  We feel stuck in our grief, unable to move.  When is a time when you've felt stuck?  What did you do to help yourself get out of that place?   Or are you still there?  (and that's ok) 

Day 12:  Hope

In the darkness of grief, we can't always see the light of hope - of a life lived in the face of grief.  Maybe it's too far away.  Maybe the darkness is too thick.   Have you found your hope yet?   Are you still searching?  

Day 13:  Breathe

Take a day to take a break.   Focus on your breath and let yourself feel calm.  In 2020,  this is especially important.   

Day 14:  Support

What has been a support for you?  An online group?  A website?  A book?  A charity or organization?  How have you found support in these places?

Day 15:  Wave of Light 

Today is Baby and Child Loss Remembrance day. Light a candle at 7pm to honor all of our children and let the wave of light carry their names around the world. Share anything about your baby you want carried on that wave of light.

Day 16:  Treasured

What is a treasured object(s) you have that reminds you of your child?  What are they and what do they mean to you?

Day 17:  Beliefs

What is your belief system? (spiritual, religious, agnostic, atheist)  How have your beliefs (or non-belief) shaped your grief?   How has your grief shaped your belief? Have others' beliefs helped or hindered your healing?

Day 18:  Empty

Grief is a shattering followed by an emptiness that really never goes away.   What does it feel like to be in that empty?  Are you early on in your grief and overwhelmed by it?  Are you farther along and able to sit inside that emptiness?  What does The Empty mean to you?

Day 19: Deed

"Grief is just love with no place to go".  Today, find a place for your love to go and do a kind deed in honor of your child(ren).  You could buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive thru - or donate to a charity in their name.  If money is tight, send an unprompted message of love to someone who may need it.  Anything you see fit to do is ok.  

Day 20:  Obligation

What is something you feel obligated to do for your child - or for other loss families?  Is it an obligation you enjoy and appreciate - or does it wear on you? Could you take a step back if you needed to?

Day 21:  Mantra

What is a phrase or mantra that keeps you going - or one that you feel encapsulates your journey of grief?  Share what has spoken to you and why.  

Day 22:  Create

What have you created - or have had created - in honor of your child?  Artwork you've made or purchased?  Tattoos?  Jewelry?  Share something made by you - or by others - that honors your baby.  

Day 23: Cultivate

How do you tend to your broken heart?  Or, what would you like to be able to do to help yourself heal?  How can you cultivate a place of healing within yourself?  If you're not sure - where would you like to be eventually?

Day 24:  Music

Share some music that reminds you of your baby.  How did this music make you feel when you first heard it?  How does it make you feel now? 

Day 25:  Trigger

What are some triggers that come with your grief?  What do you do when confronted with a trigger?  Have they gotten better or worse?

Day 26:  Release

What especially painful piece of grief do you hold on to too tightly?  Why is it so hard to release?  Share your thoughts on how you can start letting go - not of your love, but of what causes you pain.

Day 27: Self Care

Take a minute to do something for yourself today.  If you choose, share what that is.  Remember, you are worth taking care of.  You are worthy of feeling good.  Loss has not changed that.  

Day 28:  Love

We grieve forever because we love forever.  Share your love for your child in any way you see fit.

Day 29:  Connect

What do you do to feel connected to your baby?  Do you have any specific rituals or routines?  A yearly event?  A daily occurrence?  When and how do you connect?

Day 30:  Vision

Take a minute to look to the future.  Maybe it's a year from now.  Maybe it's tomorrow.  Where do you see yourself in your grief journey?  Where would you like to be?  

Day 31:  Sunset

Find a moment to take in the sunset and reflect on this past month.  Did you learn anything about yourself or your grief?  Did you feel more connected to your baby?  What did this month of prompts do for you?  How are you feeling?  Be gentle on yourself as you come out of this month of grief-reflection.  Take care of yourself as you continue to heal - and thank you for sharing yourself and your baby with us.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Kenley Project

A few weeks ago, I spoke for the third time to the second year med students at Lincoln Memorial University / DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine on perinatal bereavement.  After my presentation, my sister and I were approached by some students with an idea.  They wanted to use their Solidarity Week ( a week dedicated to compassion and patient care) to fund and create memory boxes for nearby hospitals.  Within days, the idea was in the works - and the students named it The Kenley Project, which filled my heart with so much emotion.   My part of the project was to write a letter to the newly grieving mother.   It took me longer than I would have liked, as I had a hard time getting myself back into that headspace, especially given what month it is right now.  But, I want to share that letter with you now, as well as the link to donate to the project.   I am so very proud of my NInja and all she has accomplished.  

A PDF of this letter is available for distribution here.  You can also download the unofficial recognition of birth included in the memory boxes (because stillborn babies don't often get an official certificate) here.

Dear Heartbroken Mother,
I am so sorry you have this letter in your hands.  I’m so, so sorry you’ve had to say hello and goodbye to your precious child and that these last days that should have been spent celebrating have been plunged into darkness.  I want you to know my heart has broken into the same million jagged pieces yours has.  In February 2013, my daughter Kenley was born without breath or beat of heart, and my world changed forever.  As a fellow grieving mama, I wanted to write this letter so you would know you aren’t alone – that there is someone out there who understands the indescribable heartbreak you’re feeling now.  

The hardest thing you will ever do is survive the loss of your baby.   You will feel broken beyond repair, but you’re not.   Slowly, you will gain enough strength to start to crawl your way out of this pitch-black hole you have been thrown in.  Eventually, light will start to seep through the cracks in the walls and you will begin to be able to see again.   Your heart will learn to hold itself up around the empty spots where your baby should be – and you’ll be able to feel more than simply emptiness and pain.  I know right now, you can’t possibly imagine this, but I promise you – you’ll get there.  Not today.   Not tomorrow.  Maybe not even this year.   But, it will happen. 

In the meantime, be gentle with yourself.  Allow yourself to grieve – to feel whatever you need to feel.   Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel anything on any specific timeframe.  Everyone’s grief journey is different.  Well-meaning people will tell you well-meaning things. You may hear things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Time heals all wounds”   Some phrases will be helpful to you and some will not.  You may feel like people are trying to “fix” you - trying to make it all better.  But, the reality is, you don’t need to be fixed – you need to grieve.   It’s okay to have terrible days – days where you feel so shattered you can’t manage to drag your broken pieces out of bed.  And it’s also okay to have good days – days where you feel ok, where you maybe even realize you’ve smiled or laughed.   We have all wondered if we are grieving “correctly.”  Truthfully, there is no right or wrong way to grieve – and no one can tell you how you should do it. 

You’re going to have to fight.  There is no way around that.  You’re going to have to claw and scratch your way through muck and mud.  You’re going to have to heave yourself over hurdles that may seem impossible.  You’re going to ache and bleed.  You’re not going to feel strong at all – but you are.  You are a champion.  You are a Heartbroken Mother – a fierce warrior broken in grief but strengthened by love.  There is a quote that says “Grief is just love with no place to go”.  You will grieve as much as you love, which is an unfathomable amount.  And while it may feel sometimes like grief is going to break you – it is your love that will sustain you.  Hold on to that love.  Remember that love – nurture it.  Find as many places to put it as you can.  It will never be enough, but it will be something.  Some mamas find healing in performing Random Acts of Kindness in their baby’s name.  Some mamas like to volunteer for organizations or attend memorial walks.  Maybe you paint, or write, or knit, or run – whatever you do, find somewhere for your love to go.  This will probably be the strongest bandage for your heart. 

Your life is now segmented into two parts – the Before and the After.  As we learn to live in the After, it becomes our New Normal.  Your greatest challenge beyond initial survival will be finding your footing in this new world and learning to walk with purpose again.  Life will never be the same.  You are forever changed, and the way you see the world around you has changed as well.  It’s okay if you find yourself unable to relate to things you used to – and if your relationships with others seem different. You’ll learn how to navigate this New Normal.  You’ll learn how it’s okay to not be the same – and how your scars are nothing to be ashamed of. 

You may feel guilty for your baby’s death.  Don’t.  If you had known there was something you could have done, you would have done it in a heartbeat.  Repeat this mantra daily, “It was not my fault”.  It may take you a long time to believe it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  It was not your fault.  It was not your fault.  It was not your fault.  Your grief will lie to you and tell you that is was.  But it wasn’t.  It isn’t.  It will never be. 

If you ever feel lost in this dark and tangled forest of grief, don’t be afraid to reach out.  There is a huge community of Heartbroken Mothers just like you.  We’ve been where you are and we’ve fought our way to where we are now.  We hurt with you and for you.  Our arms will be open to you whenever you need us.  Even though I don’t know you yet, my heart knows your heart, and I am more than willing to be your crying shoulder or whatever support system you need.  Feel free to email me at or visit my blog if you aren’t ready to contact me, but want to feel less alone.  I will be happy to help you find support groups or other resources you may not have the energy to do on your own. 

Even though today seems so dark, I promise the light will come.  Don’t give up, Mama. 

Kenley’s Mom, Rebecca Wood

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grief without God

While I don't focus much on it in my writing, nor am I extremely outspoken about it in my every day life, I do not believe in god.  I am what you could classify as an agnostic atheist, meaning although I can't claim to know for sure, I am not inclined to believe there is a god.   I would also consider myself a Humanist, which is less about belief in the supernatural and more about faith in humanity and our responsibility to our fellow humans.  

I came to my beliefs really over the course of my lifetime.  I think all people search for meaning in their lives, and I was never one to find it in religion.  It never made sense to me.  I had too many questions and not enough answers.  I was never angry or upset with god - I just never felt like the concept of god fit in with who I am.     

Over and over, I see confusion regarding how atheists function as people.  How can they be a good person without religion?  How can they find meaning in a life without god?  I've already written a post about the misconceptions others have towards non-believers and a post about how I feel about the phrase "God's Plan".  Yet somehow, I have yet to write about atheism in how it relates to the main point of this blog - grief.  So, here you go.  
This is that post. 

Recently, I read an article that claimed the difference between how an atheist grieves and how a Christian grieves is that a Christian "grieves with hope" and that those without god "sorrow without hope."  I've seen this same mistaken idea in many places throughout the online universe.   I, by no means, "sorrow without hope".   Just because my hope doesn't come in the form of faith or belief in god, doesn't mean it isn't there.  

In the darkness of grief, we look for light - any light - to help guide us through. This is universal.   We all seek out ways to bring peace to a broken heart.  For some people, prayer brings peace.  Holding on to their faith in god and the belief someone loves them and guides them through the dark is comforting. God is both the buoy and the lighthouse in an angry ocean.   I understand this mindset, but I don't follow it.  So, what's my light in the dark?  What keeps me, and any other non-believer, afloat?   Honestly, I think that answer is very different for everyone.   At the beginning, I don't really know how anyone gets through that absolute shocking pain - we just do.  All of us, with or without god, broken to our very core, go into survival mode and for the longest time, we are alive but not living.  We eat, we sleep, we cry.  We feel empty and lifeless.  It's when we reach that moment of wanting to live again - of wanting to try to feel something more than blinding pain -  where the differences in grief manifest.

As a non-believer, I did not find comfort in faith in god.  I didn't shun it, it just wasn't part of my thought process.   A month after Kenley died, my first real act of healing took place when I volunteered for the charity that supplied her memory box.   I spent time with other women who had lost babies and I created bracelets to wrap around the wrists of teddy bears.  I helped pack the memory boxes with important items to help parents memorialize their child who will never come home.  This afternoon was the first step in trying to make meaning out of what had happened.  

For me, my hope comes not in the form of religion, but in action. My hope is that I can bring positive change to my life through the things that I do.  When I DO something to make a difference in the world around me, I feel connected to her.  I feel like I am making her death mean something. Grief is work.  Anyone who says it's not has never done it.   I worked hard to arrive at the place where I am now, and the road is long and treacherous.  So, I do whatever I can to make an impact in her name.  I volunteer.  I write.  I carry out Random Acts of Kindness.  I give presentations.  I attend Walks of Remembrance.  I run.  I do whatever I can to bring some light into my darkness and to walk this path with as much strength and grace as I can muster.  

Obviously, taking action isn't unique to non-believers.  I think most grieving parents, religious or not, seek out a way to honor their child.  I have many Christian friends who head charities, run support groups, or write blogs and articles.  The only difference between what they do as believers and what atheists do is that they do it while believing in god.  Their charity may have a religious theme.  Their support group may pray before meeting.  Their blog may reference their faith.  But, the purpose and the end result is the same.  Our children are remembered and our hearts find some peace.  

I think many people may think atheists grieve without hope because we lack a belief in the afterlife, therefore we have no hope of seeing our children again.  Everyone has their own way of coping with the finality of death.  For me, endings are comforting.  When I was in elementary school, I remember being terrified of the concept of eternal life - even one in paradise.  I imagined this beautiful expanse of pink, like a sun setting into infinity, and my stomach would drop and tingle in fear as I thought about how that would go on forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.... so I rarely allowed myself to think about it.  As I grew into my mindset as an atheist, the idea of life ending at death actually settles me.   I imagine it being like the time before we were born; we are conscious of nothing and so nothing matters to us.  For me, I feel that knowing I won't see Kenley again is easier than thinking I might.  I'm not hanging my feelings on something that won't happen until the end of my life, and I'm not having to envision her somewhere without me.  I mean, I would do anything I could to have her in my arms again, obviously.  But, that's not the cards I've been dealt, so I play the best I can with the ones I have.

A popular piece of writing in the atheist community regarding death is called "You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral" by Aaron Freeman.  

"You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly."

While religion has never really made sense to me, science always has.  I love the fact that energy can't be created or destroyed - only changed in form.  I love thinking about how all of our atoms once came from the belly of the beginnings of the universe, swirling in a cosmic soup that would one day become galaxies - and how, long after our consciousness has ended, those same atoms will find their way back into the stars.   Right now, the body of my child is in the form of ashes in a pink ceramic urn.  Millions of years from now, when Mother Earth has breathed her last breath and our Red Giant sun engulfs our planet, my baby's atoms, along with mine, will return to the universe - and to each other.  To me, that is beautiful.  

Despite what some people may think, Christians and Atheists don't really grieve all that differently.  We all love and miss our children terribly and we all do what we can to help ourselves get through our day.  We all need hope and, if we are lucky, we all find it in something.  Maybe it's found in the belief in heaven and maybe it's found in the power of stardust.  Either way, we are all just humans doing the best we can not to hurt as we live our lives on this spinning sphere.