Friday, January 20, 2017
I usually use this blog for moments of growth and reflection. Tonight I want to share a moment of grief that caught me off guard. A moment that took my breath away. I was driving home tonight and I was thinking about random things and had the thought of fire fighters and paramedics and what they see in their careers which lead to the memory that took my breath.
Over the years and especially in the beginning of this journey I needed to know every detail of the day Mckenna died. I wanted to hear from others that were involved that day, I wanted to hear their stories. I was given the opportunity to speak with the paramedic and EMT. It's actually a really neat story of how it happened but that may be a story for another time. The moment that I was remembering tonight was from the EMT. When I called 911 I was so hysterical that they could not understand what I was saying so they automatically dispatched a code but they did not say if it was an adult or child. The EMT shared that when he walked in and saw Mckenna's little body on the ground it stopped him in his tracks because he wasn't expecting a baby. He said he had a baby at home.I was imagining what that must have felt like and my heart dropped. I remember standing there and I couldn't even see Mckenna. She was surrounded by these fire fighters and paramedics. I was standing there watching them frantically try and stabilize my sweet baby girl. I stood there in shock as the police were talking to me and I was on the phone sobbing saying, oh my god what have I done, I killed my baby over and over. I was imagining the feeling of this young EMT as he walked in a home where he was expecting to help save an adult but instead an infant was laying there lifeless. He said that the fire chief had to snap him out of it for him to do his job. I remember getting into the passenger seat of the ambulance looking over and he had this terrified look on his face and did not say two words to me. I believe he knew what the outcome was going to be and he could not face the mother of the baby he just tried to save but knew would not live.
Meeting those men and hearing their stories of the worst day of my life has always been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I was able to thank them for working so hard to save Mckenna and a curse because I heard things I could not unhear.
Since I was on the Crisis Response Team I have an understanding of what fire fighters and paramedics see on a regular basis. The horrific scenes that you can't unsee. They do not realize the impact they have on the families they interact with and the lasting impressions they give. I did not interact with them much, but I will forever and always be thankful that they fought for Mckenna to live and when they heard she died they were devastated.
My poor baby girl, my sweet baby girl. So many memories pop into my head but that is the first time I put myself in that EMT's shoes. They have a tough job and they said they will never forget Mckenna. I will never forget them either.
I have been missing Mckenna and can feel the build up of grief. This brought me to tears as I remembered this moment. My baby girl died and there are days that I still can't believe that she's gone...
Friday, January 13, 2017
I may have been built from the fire but I was also lost in the fire.
I have been reflecting a lot on my life and where I am today. A few months back I wanted to join the Glendale Fire Crisis Response team again. I felt I was ready to do what I feel I am meant to be doing. I was finally able to do the ride along in Dec and it felt good to be back on the van. I knew it would be a different experience this time around. As an intern it almost killed me (literally). I had the interview and I was picked to join the team again. Again it felt right and felt like “home” to be at the fire station and being part of the team again. They have training classes and in one of the classes I was drowning in memories. Personally I have had the crisis response team show up for 3 different family members and all very traumatic circumstances. I was drowning in the memories of the calls I went on as an intern. All 8 hours of the class I was trying to swim through the memories without them taking me down.
I sat with this for a long time. I took time to reflect on my life and especially the time I was previously on the team. How I survived that time in my life I will never know but I did. I was working at PCH full time on the night shift. I worked Fri, Sat, Sun. I had classes Tues and Thurs and internship Tues night to Wed night. On top of all that I was dealing with my mom and her drinking was getting worse and worse. Exhausted was an understatement. I was lost and felt broken but I kept pushing through. I lost my brother and my mother right after my internship with the CR team. That was the second worst year of my life. The rest of that year was awful and I had come to realize that I am not superwoman and had to realize that I could no longer push through my pain because it was catching up to me. It was time to face the pain I was punishing myself for and the added pain of continued losses.
Looking back I can now see that I really was trying to punish myself for what I was responsible for, responsible for taking my daughter’s life. Accident or not I was responsible and that is how I handled it. I put myself in the fire. I chose to go into the fire over and over. I chose to go the most painful route because that is what I deserved, if you accidently kill your daughter you deserve to be in pain forever. It all felt right at the time and honestly if I didn’t go that route I may not have become who I am today.
Time after time the fire became what I was used to. The fire was my punishment. As I reflected on this over the week I came to realize that I no longer feel the need to put myself in the fire. I no longer feel the need to cause mental and emotional trauma to myself. Do I love the work that took me down this path, yes, I just don’t need to ALWAYS put myself in situations that cause me pain. Would it be different if I wasn’t so personally affected by the CR team, probably but I am personally affected and I can’t change that.
All of this to say that I know I am not ready and I AM listening. I don’t need to push through and prove myself. It will come on its own and I may one day be on that van again. But right now my work is enough. I will get there one day because I know in my heart that that is the area of work that I am meant to be doing.
I am in such a different place now. I am constantly growing and becoming. I am learning every day at my job. I have beautiful friends and family who support me along the way, even on the days I am struggling to breathe. I have my freaking MSW and worked damn hard to earn that. I have a job that may not be a good fit, but right now it may be where I am meant to be.This journey called life is so unpredictable and I would have never been able to see where I would end up 4 years ago. Here I am scarred from the fires but standing strong on the other side of them.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
I did not know what September 27th, 2008 would bring. I was so full of emotions that day, from the moment Mckenna woke up, to the moment I went to bed without her. It's hard to believe how that can happen. How the day can turn in an instant. The drastic changes from the morning to the afternoon to the evening. I did not know that at around 9 am that I would move a TV and it would fall on my daughter. I did not know that at 2:56pm I would hold her lifeless body as she slipped away no longer the joyful, full of life little girl I woke up to that morning. I did not know that I would walk around in a daze wondering what in the hell had just happened going to bed lost and confused. My life was changed on the morning of September 27th, 2008.
8 years ago today I knew what it meant to be brought to your knees begging for your life to end because the pain was just too much to bare. In these last 8 years, I have discovered the depths of darkness I would go. I discovered who would stay by my side and who would leave. I discovered how to push the pain away and put on my mask. I discovered who I was and who I wasn't. I discovered how to feel the pain and carry it. I discovered that I will learn to navigate this life without my daughter. I will allow the dark in and embrace the light knowing and trusting that it will ebb and flow for the rest of my life. I have learned so much since that day and will continue to learn and grow until the day I die. Just wish with every part of my soul that it did not happen and I was here with my daughter.
It has been a long/short 8 years. SO much has happened since that day. I never knew I would get to the place I am today. I did not know that I would one day feel joy again. I did not know that her death would cause me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I did not know that I would become, grow and love so deeply. My daughter changed my life and dare I say, she changed me for the better. Would I give it all up to live a life with her, of course, however, this is not possible. I will not be able to mother her on this earth. So I will embrace those who come into my life who fill me with joy and love, I will look at the little things in life and know they are a gift, I will love with every part of my soul, I will see the beauty in the pain. I will allow love into my heart even when I feel I don't deserve it. I will honor Mckenna forever and always because she is the reason I was put on this earth.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Lane Graves, 2 years old killed by an alligator in what is supposed to be happiest places on earth. I can't seem to get him or his parents off my mind.
Not too long ago I was having a conversation with a couple bereaved mom friends. We were talking about what it means to say to someone, "I can't imagine". One of these beautiful friends Karla Helbert said that she no longer says those words to anyone after an interaction with a bereaved parent or someone who went through a traumatic experience. Because in reality, we CAN imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. We CAN imagine what it must have felt like for that father to run in the water desperately trying to save his son, we CAN imagine the parent leaving home not knowing their child ran after them accidently running them over, we can imagine what it must feel like for the parents who discover they did not drop their child off at daycare accidently leaving them in the car, we CAN imagine the mother holding their lifeless child after pulling them out from under a television they just moved, we CAN imagine feeling the responsibility, the shame, the guilt of their actions, their decisions, their mistakes that caused the death of their child. But most are unable to sit with these images because it's too much to sit with, imagine or process.
An article was published acknowledging that no matter what "mistakes" this family may have made, they need to be treated with compassion, love and respect. That no matter what happened leading up to these heart wrenching events, they lost their precious son. Accidents happen, mistakes are made and we can't always be the perfect parent. We are human who make mistakes and some parents have to live with these awful mistakes that may have caused the death of their own child.
I have been in their shoes, totally different circumstances, but in the end I made a mistake one day that cost me my daughters life. They did not wake up that morning in fear that their son was going to be dead by the end of the evening. They did not wake up that morning with the intention of putting their son in danger. They did not wake up that morning thinking their son was going to be killed by an alligator. I sure as hell did not wake up the morning Mckenna died thinking I would be holding her as her heart stopped beating because I made the mistake of moving a television and accidently dropping on her.
People are cruel, mean, condeming, blaming, judging and yet if it were them they would feel the same guilt, shame and grief this poor family is feeling and will feel for the rest of their life. We CAN imagine what it would be like to lose your child this way, we CAN imagine the panic as you try and save your child, we CAN imagine helplessly standing by as people search for the body of your child. We CAN imagine and we SHOULD imagine because allowing yourself to imagine this horror, you feel more compassion and love for those who actually went through it. You would hope that if you were in their shoes, others would treat you the way you would want to be treated, with compassion, love and respect.
These poor parents are already going through hell, no reason to add to their shame and guilt. Remind others to sit with what it would be like to go through what they are going through and remind them that no one is perfect, we are all human.
Lane Graves, his parents and family are in my heart. From one bereaved parent to another, my heart is with you.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
I have often thought about the analogy of trees and wind. Trees need to be flexible when the winds blow or they would break and not survive the storm. Rigid, stubborn trees trying hard to go against the wind grow tired, weary and broken. Fluid and flexible trees go with the flow of the wind, bending and bouncing back after a storm.
When I began my journey of becoming a social worker I was the stubborn rigid tree trying hard to control everything around me falling apart in the process. This became more of a challenge than allowing the wind to do what it does and go with whatever direction it goes. It was exhausting. I would come unhinged quickly, shut down and not stay with my emotions. Friends have told me that they saw it happen right before their eyes.
2 years ago I started the MSW program. I was fragile, unstable, rigid, shut down, broken and lost. I never thought the day would come for me to get my Master’s. Graduation felt like a million years away. Every class felt like it related to my life. I realized that as much as school was for me to learn how to care for others, it was also about me learning how to care for me. If I did not learn to care for myself, I was going to be no good to those I care for.
When I first began this process I was a hot broken mess. I knew it deep down but I told myself that I was fine and able to get through. I was so wrong and so glad I am able to look back and see my growth. Even just 2 years ago I was a different person than I am today. Sometimes it is hard to see but I have beautiful souls who remind me of where I was 2 years ago. I have learned that it is ok to have rough days, it is ok to cry, it is ok to not know what is triggering the emotions, why I feel the way I do. I can miss my mom just as much as I miss Mckenna, I can love big, and I can grieve big.
Recently I was with a beautiful friend having conversations about my growth and how far I have come. I told her how I feel I am now the fluid, flexible tree, just like my favorite tree, the beautiful weeping willow. I have had some major changes occur that have forced me to go with the flow of the wind and trust that my limbs won’t break as the wind blows, changing directions at any moment. I trust myself enough to go with the flow and that everything will all work itself out. 2 years ago these major changes would have sent me over the edge, grasping for anything to save me as I fell. I am now able to have a moment, regroup and process things differently. I am kinder to myself, I am less judgmental, I am more passionate, I give less shits about what others think (amazing feeling), I am able to own a mistake and apologize (though this is still a learning process and a work in progress), I am able to be with those who are hurting, I am more present for others, I am able to recognize the difference in feeling for others and feeling my own emotions, I cry for others. I walk with my head held high trusting the journey and when I fall it's ok because falling is part of the process.
There are several people who I wish were here to see me walk that stage to receive my MSW degree. My father, my nana, my brother Peter, my mom and Mckenna. I know they are all proud, but I am dedicating this degree to my mom and most importantly my beautiful baby girl Mckenna Jodell, the driving force for this journey. Without her, I would not be who I am today. Her life and her death have forever changed me. I will continue to listen as she guides me where I am meant to be. She reminds me every day that I AM a mom and I will ALWAYS be a mom. I am proud, they are proud....I do still wish Mckenna would be my grand prize for this achievement....But since she won't be I will allow myself to envision her running up to me, hugging me tight, telling me she is proud of her mama. I dedicate this to my mom as she was the proudest mother of everything I ever did. I owe her for instilling in me to work hard, be kind, be respectful and be me. I miss her deeply and she will not be there to see me get my MSW but I know she will be looking on from where ever she is cheering louder than anyone in person.
I am a now weeping willow..."adaptability, is the willow's ability to not only survive, but thrive in some of the most challenging conditions. The willow is a prolific grower, often taking root from a single branch that has fallen into some marshy bog.
In all, the willow reminds us to take heed of this lesson: Keep growing and reaching higher no matter where you are planted." The Celtic meaning of the willow tree.
A beautiful gift from a beautiful friend for my new journey. LOVE IT!
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
As I head into the last few class days of my Master's program I am struck by my impending future and what lies ahead of me, along with being overcome with emotion as I think of the journey that has brought me to this moment in time.
I began this process in the summer of 2010 as I finished the classes I could (because it was WAY cheaper) at community college and transferred to ASU in spring of 2011. In the fall of 2011 I began a job at PCH which would forever change my life (still can't believe I worked there). I busted my butt each semester going to school full time working full time (nights, which adds a whole new layer of hard work). I began the BSW in the Fall of 2012 where I did my internship at the Glendale Fire Dept Crisis Response team, which to this day do not know how I survived (worked full time nights Fri, Sat and Sun, had Mon off, school Tues and Thurs and internship Tues night to Wed night) and not afraid to admit I had a few meltdowns during that time period and some very scary dark days (thank you to those who saved me on those dark days). In my final semester of the BSW I was accepted into the advanced standing MSW program, landed an internship in the ED of PCH (not sure how I thought that was a good idea), and continued to work nights at PCH . In my personal life my mom was becoming more and more of a worry and I wasn't sure how much longer I could "deal" with her drinking. April came and the first of the cascade of terrible events started. Peter died April 25th, his memorial was May 8th and I graduated with my BSW May 9th. I started the MSW program at the end of May along with my internship at PCH and on June 18th found my mom dead. I slowly began to unravel causing me to fail my internship forcing me to take the year off (best thing I could have done for myself).
And in between all this I moved 3 times and all the craziness that I can't remember or mention.
July of 2014 I quit PCH (one of the best days of my life). In the fall of 2014 I moved, started work part time and began the MSW program again. A lot less stressful and I have been able to grow tremendously since that time.
Fast forward to 2016. I never would have thought I would survive Mckenna's death and yet here I am about to graduate with a Master's degree (holy shit). I can't help but feel nostalgic as I think back. SO much has happened since that summer of 2010 and I'm still alive and a different human being ready to take on the world and do what I need to do to continue to grow, learn and become the Ashley I have been fighting SO hard to become. It has been one hell of a journey and I can't imagine what the months to come are going to bring but I am working very hard to make things happen and see what unfolds.
Big changes are in my very near future.....Stay tuned!
Saturday, December 19, 2015
I am often thinking about what I would say to Mckenna if she showed up one day. I wonder how I would react. I am sure I would stand there in disbelief that I was staring at the face I have missed all these years. I want to write her letters but I so often push them aside because I seem to not have the words. The other night I decided to finally write her a letter because her birthday is approaching. It seemed like a fitting time to actually sit down and write to her. I will keep most of my letter private but wanted to share a couple parts that seem to deeply affected me.
This time of year is always hard but this year seems to be kicking my ass. I can never predict how the holidays or her birthday are going to affect me. I now am trying to just go with what I am feeling and not try so hard to feel "happy" "jolly" "cheerful" when that is not how I feel deep down in my bones. If I am sad I am sad, if I don't want to participate I'm not going to participate. It's not easy to watch all around me the things I am missing. Don't get me wrong I am so grateful for what I do have and I don't take that for granted, but I can't help but miss what I don't have.
When Mckenna's birthday approaches I am often met with her death day. This bothers me because I feel her birthday should overshadow her death day. Those who really know me well know that I judge my grief and I am super hard on myself.
I read Mckenna's letter to a trusted friend yesterday. Before I even read it out loud I told her that it was a stupid letter and that I can never seem to write her a letter that is beautiful (judgement). I read the letter out loud, tears fell, my heart ached, I was deeply saddened by reading my words to my beautiful daughter.
I wanted to protect you, give you love, be the mom to you that I so desperately wanted. I wasn't going to hurt you the ways my mother did to me. I wouldn't have been perfect but I wouldn't have been an alcoholic. I never hurt you like my mom did me, I hurt you by being distracted, in my own head, careless.....I deserve to hurt.
The guilt is never too far from my mind. It is so easy to get caught up in our own troubles and pain that we lose sight of what we are supposed to be doing. That day I was supposed to be protecting my daughter, keeping her safe and instead I was distracted by my having to move, the loss of my marriage, angry at him that I did the opposite of protecting my daughter, I killed her (accidentally).
I'm sorry I failed you that day. There are not enough I'm sorrys in the world to make up for what I did. All I can do now is try and be a decent human being by helping others. All I can do now is try and be the mom you still deserve (though I am not sure I am doing all I can to be that mom) My world feels so incomplete without you here with me. I'm not sure it will ever feel complete.
One thing was different as I read it out loud and had it read to me out loud was the compassion I felt for myself. I looked at it as if it was not my story but someone else's story. My heart ached for this mother who made a terrible mistake that cost her her daughters life. When Mckenna was alive I felt like as long as I had her life would be fine. I couldn't imagine my life without her and here I sit in my life without her. I have survived but I am not the same.
I gain more and more compassion for the mom 7 years ago who was so in love with her daughter and never would have intentionally hurt her. The mom who was distracted, in her head and careless because life was falling apart around her and she didn't know how she was going to survive.
I may be met with her death day during her birthday but I am going to try and just be with it and notice the judging voice and meet that judging voice with compassion because it's ok to remember both days because both days changed my life forever.