I’m in Canada in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, almost 2 hours east of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I flew here to participate in a week long holistic retreat for grieving mothers called Landon’s Legacy Retreat. There are 28 of us. We are all so beautiful, so courageous, so vulnerable. The night before last, during an opening ceremony, each of us spoke one by one around a circle and shared about the child we lost. There was such respect and honor in the room, and lots and lots of tears. We brought pictures, footprints, handmade quilts, onesies, tiny hats, ashes. We brought heavy hearts and hope.
Most of the mothers here experienced a stillbirth, which is generally defined as a pregnancy loss after 20 weeks gestation. Other mothers had minutes, hours, or days with their child outside the womb before he or she died. A few mothers lost their children later in life.
It was incredibly humbling to listen to each mother share her love for her child. We are each so brave. Each story was unique, some were surprisingly similar to mine. None of us are alone in our pain and sadness. We are all here to be heard, to be seen. Our children shall be known. Each of us has a legacy to share. At the end of the ceremony, we all walked around the room quietly and gazed upon the memorabilia each of child. I brought three pictures, a poppy flower ornament I made this past Christmas, and a tiny vial with a teaspoon of Poppy’s ashes. There is a lake here and with Eli’s blessing, I hope to scatter some of her ashes later this week.
I brought my handheld recorder with me and I hope to interview some of the mothers while I’m here. I’ve never done anything like that, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to gather love stories, joy stories, sob stories. I want to know what’s working for them and what’s not working. I want to know what helped and what hurt. I want to gather information that will help grandparents, siblings, friends, co-workers, acquaintances feel like they can do something that will help the grieving process and avoid doing something that might make matters worse.
I’m also writing every moment I get. I forget so much. Yesterday I sat alone before dinner and captured my thoughts about the day’s activities. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s been a good day today. I’m feeling gratitude and light and forgiveness. The focus of today’s work is grounding. Only within the last week of my grief have I begun to feel a sense of groundedness. Today we were graced by a meditation teacher named Dawn who lost a baby girl 21 years ago. She found meditation after losing her daughter and it radically transformed her life.
Today she led us on a number of meditative journeys. She was so gentle in her approach — with each new technique, she encouraged us to consider the exercise as “an invitation.” She granted us permission to participate on whatever level we felt was appropriate.
That’s something I’m learning and really embracing these days. I had a very frightening breakdown a few weeks ago and was feeling extremely dark. The right people showed up for me at just the right time. That week I told a social worker that I felt like I’d hit “rock bottom.” She helped me understand that there is no “top” or “bottom” to grief, rather grief is like the ocean, bottomless, the deeper you the darker it gets.
I feel like I’m turning a corner though. I feel buoyed by life again. I was drowning in the sorrow. I have come to terms with Poppy’s death. I can believe that she died, because she did. That’s a fact. What has been so frightening is the sense that I lost my Self. That I didn’t know who I was anymore. That I lost purpose and value. I was losing sight of my own self-worth. But I’m coming back. And I’m so grateful for that.
I am giving myself permission to be. I am slowing down. I am chilling out. I am recognizing that I get to be wherever I need to be and that I do have some control. Feeling out of control, feeling helpless and hopeless — it’s such a horrible place to be, and I’ve been there over and over again these last 7 months.
Being here at this retreat is affirmation that I am not alone in these feelings. Today, we had a discussion about why we are here. Here are some of the things we identified: for connection, healing, and comfort; to really grieve; to soften the edges; to love ourselves more; to sit without judgment; to let go of anger; to remember; to break the stigma of not talking about loss; and, to cope with reality.
When we were asked what we need, I started the circle of responses. “I need to remember that I was imperfect before Poppy came into my life and that I am still perfectly imperfect now that she is gone.” In my rawness is too easy, and dangerous, to reflect on my life before Poppy died as one without struggle or pain. Yes, there was a more liberated sense of confidence about my life before she died, but nothing was ever “perfect.” I was not without self-doubt and fear and pain. None of us are. Other women responded with their needs: to slow down; to be heard; permission not to feel guilty; to feel grace when it feels impossible; time to heal; and, to accept that we are still alive!
We personalized our name tags which bear our name and the name of our child. On the back of my “Katie & Poppy” name tag I wrote “Best Friends Forever Since February 16, 2015.” That was the day we found out we were pregnant. That was the first day my little Poppyseed existed for me, that was the day I became a mother, and the day I started loving the life growing inside of me.
We closed the meditation session with the understanding that we are all on our own path in life and that none of us is responsible for anyone else’s journey. There is great freedom in that understanding as we bereaved mothers all admit to struggling with the impulse to carry the weight of grief all around us. Our hearts are broken, yes, but we do not need to be fixed nor do we need to fix others. Our essence is still pure and will remain so. Our mindfulness practice can bring us back to that purity, that peace, and we can find solace there.
Writing is my medicine these days, that and a big handful of vitamins and supplements that my loving naturopathic doctor has prescribed. I’m starting to feel a little stronger, the good days seem to be outnumbering the bad. There is fear in me though, fear that it will get worse again and that my grief will go deeper.
Last week I had what felt like a major breakthrough in my grief process. I was talking with my friend Joy about Poppy and my own spiritual journey through life and she courageously suggested that Poppy sounded like my spirit guide. It smacked me when she used that phrase, “spirit guide.” I tucked her words into my heart and let them resonate there for the afternoon.
At home with Eli that evening I was feeling weak, exhausted, and vulnerable. I started crying and asked him to come hold me while I laid on the couch. He knelt down beside me and wrapped his arms around me. I sobbed, a huge wave of grief moved throughout my body. It was a cathartic cry. As I wept I could feel Poppy’s energy there with us, wrapping us both in her love, and I declared it out loud for myself: “Poppy is my spirit guide.”
I have begun to feel the truth of my epiphany. Poppy would have given me great purpose were she still here in physical form. The joys and responsibilities of Motherhood would be mine. Her body is gone, but her energy remains and she is a powerful force. Now I can live my best life possible, for her, because of her. Here and now.
It is Tuesday and it has been a gloriously beautiful day. After this morning’s yoga class, we sat and journaled for 15 minutes. Yesterday’s class was about feeling grounded. Today’s was about feeling open.
Here is what I wrote:
I am Open. I am Free. That was the mantra of today’s morning yoga class. As I listened to Amelia’s voice I relaxed into the present moment and felt alive and at peace. I am giving myself permission to feel this joy. I’ve noticed that the past few times I’ve cried or felt emotions well up in me, there is also a smile on my face. Holding space with joy and grief at the same time is a new experience for me. My essence is rising above my ego in those moments. I am feeling a true sense of hope for the future and feeling real gratitude for the now. I have been sighing a lot during yoga classes on the exhale. I am letting the sound flow out of me. I am enjoying the sound of music again and connecting with the flow of the melodies. There are beautiful songbirds here and I can hear them singing outside. The sun is bright today and there are puffy clouds stretching across the sky as far as I can see. Poppy is with me too. She always is. Such a sweet spirit, a magical mix of her daddy and me. My thoughts drift to Eli and how he is doing with our puppy Wilson. I feel such love and admiration for Eli. As I continue to know him, to learn who he is, I am in awe of the man that I married. At the start of class, Amelia connected with us regarding the guilt we have all surely felt when moments of joy or happiness creep back in our lives. There is a sense that if we feel joy, we are not honoring our loss. I am beginning to see things differently. Poppy is my joy, my happiness. As I get to know her more, I can be freed. I am still alive! I am still here! I shall live for the both of us!
It is evening now and time to go inside for our restorative yoga class. The sun won’t set for another 4 hours! It is beautiful here. I can’t wait to watch the sun set below the horizon with all these beautiful women and spirit babies by my side. I am feeling strong and forgiving. Poppy is in my heart and my heart is feeling Light.