Thursday, June 16, 2016

We Can Imagine....Love to Lane Graves and His Family

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

Graduation, Weeping Willows and Love

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. 

I owe so much to my growth to my living people and my dead people. My living beautiful soul people have been by my side helping me process, love me unconditionally, cheer me on, make me accountable, are patient with me, allow me to feel what I feel without judging me and never forcing me to be/do something I’m not ready for. My dead beautiful soul people have shown me the love I have to give, the love I can receive, that nothing is bigger than love not even death. They allow me to see the beauty in the world. Seeing everything more clear and breathtaking. Pain and joy coexist.

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. 


It is now time for me to spread my wings and fly. Start my new journey of change, love, and light. I would not be where I am today without my living and my dead. Thank you all for believing in me and loving me through this journey. 

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

Finally Here.....

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

Birthday...Death Day....

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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Oh Social Media...

I have been noticing it more and more and have had a couple conversations about social media and the persona people put out there lately. Social media is an interesting thing. Many times we post about all the good, the perfect picture, the perfect moment in time and yet the behind the scenes of that perfect moment or perfect picture are never disclosed. For example, how many shots it took to get the perfect picture, about the fight that happened just before the "perfect moment". The smiles are deceiving and don't always share the whole story (Trust me I can turn on a smile in a picture and no one would know the pain I am feeling under the smile.) Why is it that when we post about the realness of our lives or how we are really doing it is seen as weakness or annoying? How people place judgment on a post that is too personal as if they have never experienced a rough day? Who cares if someone shares their real life, I would rather see authenticity.

I too am guilty of getting the perfect picture and posting it, or sharing what is good, but I also am sad a lot. I don't always post about it because I just need to be in my space with it. If I do want to post about it I don't want to feel stupid since I know I am being judged for feeling the way I do.

So many don't want to hear about the reality of life but lets face it our lives are not perfect, they aren't always rainbows and butterflies. Why can't we post the joys AND the sadness and EVERYTHING in between when that is what life is all about.

Yes we don't need to post every personal detail about our daily lives and what is going wrong or what is going right, but when we do we shouldn't be made to feel less than for posting it.

There is a balance to everything in life. Post what you want and don't judge what others post.

Give love and support because most people just want to be heard, acknowledged and validated.

That's my two cents anyway...

P.S. This is not based on anyone in particular but just something that has been on my mind with social media.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I'm Proud of You

"I'm so proud of you honey" my mom would say. Thank you I would say back to her, be shy about my accomplishment and move on. I never knew how much I would miss those words coming from her. But I do....a lot.

For whatever reason I am stuck on this word proud. You know that feeling you get when you are proud of someone? The immense joy you feel, the smile on their face shining through as they see how proud you are of them? Or the feeling you get when someone is proud of you. How it makes you feel proud of yourself. How it makes you feel loved. I love/d that feeling and yet I am often hit with grief when I see it around  me. I think how I will never hear my mom tell me how proud she is of me or how I will never get the chance to show Mckenna my pride in her. I love/hate seeing parents proud of their children. It's a beautiful thing and yet a hit to the gut.

My mom was so full of pride in both of her children and was never afraid to tell us. When I graduated with my BSW she couldn't get to me fast enough to be the first to hug me. The look on her face that I didn't "see" till after she died was full of pride. I never doubted it I always knew how proud she was of me.

I know others are proud of me and it really means the world, but there is something about your parent being proud of you that truly makes you see your accomplishments. It makes you feel proud of yourself and know you can do anything. I took for granted what it felt like to hear my mom say those words to me. To put her hands on my face and tell me how proud and how beautiful I am.

I yearn to have these moments again with my mom, I yearn to to watch my daughter grow, learn and do things that make me proud. It is two different sides with me being the daughter missing those words from my mother and me being the mother missing sharing those words with my daughter.

I miss my mom, I miss Mckenna. It's a tough time of year and I am feeling it deeply.....

Friday, August 28, 2015

I Was Once...

How does one discover who they are? How do you find yourself when all your identities have been stripped from you? I have found myself struggling with who I am, knowing the core of my soul. Who am I? This is what I know about me....

I am a care taker. Loving and caring more for those I love deeply than I care and love myself. I would literally die for those I love and be ok with that as long as they are safe and alive. I would suffer just so someone else doesn’t have to suffer. I would go with out to give to another. My heart hurts for animals, children, elderly, those who are hurting. I want to help, I want to fix, I want to be there. All of these things sounds like I am a beautiful soul with so much to give this world and yet I feel like I have no purpose in this world, that I am not good enough, smart enough to be what I need to be for others.

I am a people pleaser. I am so afraid of hurting others that I would do anything to not hurt them so I often don’t say anything at all. I get hurt easily. I have too high expectations so I am disappointed a lot. I say I’m sorry for anything and everything I do, I cry when I receive constructive criticism for something I have written or said to someone, I feel stupid when I don’t  write well which makes me cry.

I am sensitive.

Highly intuitive.

And extremely observant

I was once a daughter. I lost my dad the day before my 14th birthday. I never got to know him like my siblings did. I have few memories but the ones I do have are some of my most fond memories. He loved me deeply and I knew how much he loved me. I had regrets after his death. I didn’t see him enough and when I did I couldn’t be around him because it was too painful. The man I knew was wasting away right before my eyes. So I sat in the other room and played video games. I was a young girl who didn’t know how to be with her dying father. Though those regrets do not linger anymore. I was 14 struggling to figure out how to deal with my dad’s death while dealing with my mom’s drinking. I lost my mom when I was 29. Her death shook me to the core. Still does. The night I found her I didn’t care about the drinking because I just wanted my mom back. Though in reality that life was challenging. Dealing with an alcoholic is almost impossible. Since her death all I can think about are all the ways I didn’t help her. How I could have done more. I have to be reminded of the ways I did that I did all I could do with what I had. I feel like I failed her on so many levels.  I was the child but I was more of a mom to my mom. A role I shouldn’t have had to take on. I loved her fiercely, I loved her with all of my being and in the end that wasn’t enough, she still died. I couldn’t save her. I yearn for her. I ache for her. I miss the mom I knew behind the alcohol. Yes your parents are supposed to die before you, but I just wish it didn’t have to happen when I was 14 and 29.

I was once a wife. I thought I was a good wife. I would have gone to the ends of the earth for my ex husband only to be treated like I didn’t matter. He never stood up for me. He often made me feel like I wasn’t as loved as I loved him. I felt like I was the last thing on his priority list. Yes this was not my fault but it was what I felt deep down I deserved back then. I didn’t deserve to be treated with respect so I just took what he did give and loved him with all of my heart and soul. Being a wife was so important to me, I took my vows seriously. I gave my all and in the end I lost everything. My love could not save it.

I was once a mom. I LOVED being a mom. Waking up to the beautiful sounds of Mckenna made life all worth it. It didn’t matter what I was going through as long as I had her I knew I was going to be ok. We were buddies. I loved watching her explore her world. Making new sounds, learning new things every day, taking the world in (she was observant like me). I loved her beyond this world. She trusted me completely, did not know fear and knew I would be there. Knowing how much she trusted me breaks my heart because all she wanted to do was be next to me and I drop a television on her. Yes unintentionally, but it happened because my hands moved the TV and I wasn’t paying attention. My love ultimately killed Mckenna.

I was once a different person though I don’t know who that person was. How do I try to be the person I think I am if I don’t know who that person is? I don’t have anyone to take care of anymore. I have not been a daughter of a father for 17 years, a daughter of a mother for 2 years, a wife for 7 years and a mother for 7 years. I know these roles should not define me as who I am. I just want to be content with the person I am and know me to my core. As my friend said…the struggle is real.

I want I was once to be I am. I am fearless, I am lovable, I am funny, I am worthy, I am beautiful, I am smart, I am, I am, I am....All the things I feel I am not need to be I am. 

It has been a struggle for a few weeks to try and figure out who I am. I love deeply, I hurt deeply and I wish I knew where life was taking me because I feel a bit lost in the world. I guess we all feel a little lost sometimes.  

I am blessed with some beautiful friends who walk with me along the way. I may be sharing some of my pain publicly but I share my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings with a select few. They help remind me of the person they see, what I did for my mother, how my ex husband is an asshole, and that I really was a good mom. I need to hear those things from time to time. They sit with me in the space and understand how it feels. They aren't afraid of my pain and thoughts, they listen, they love and they honor my journey. I love you and thank you for loving me.