A truth has been revealed to me. I AM KATIE’S MOM!
I became Katie’s mom 32 years ago today. I was her mom then and I am her mom now. When she died two years ago I didn’t realize I could still be her mom even though she is not here. At that time I felt I had lost much of who I am. I lost my identity when I lost my daughter. My mother once described it as losing even more, she said, “losing Katie is like losing a big chunk of our own bodies, bigger than if we had lost an entire arm”.
It was recently pointed out to me that I am able to mother her still, not only while she was alive, but also in death. That is earth-shattering to me. I am not sure what that will look like, but I think since her death I have been mothering her by sharing her story. Her story did not die with her, it is up to me to share her life, her death; her effect on me and on you.
She taught us so much while she was living, and has taught us even more with her death. The lessons are the same. I learned about grace, perseverance, patience, and courage by watching her struggle with delayed milestones, bullies, ever-present hunger, and frustration. I am learning how to live with my new struggles. An example is how I have called upon her lessons to get me out of bed every morning. Once I decide that I must get out of bed, I put one foot on the floor, then attempt to get my other foot close to the floor. I’m still supine with my head on my pillow but bent at the waist to a near ninety degree angle (much like a broken Barbie doll chucked aside for a newer version) waiting for the strength to hoist my body upright, which I know I can do because I am a warrior! I am finding my new identity. I am a broken Barbie doll warrior. I am the teller of Katie’s story. I am Katie’s mom. I was her mom and I will be her mom until the day I die.
Today, I celebrate Katie’s birthday by becoming her mom once again. I’ve missed her.
written: April 26, 2018. 32 years after Katie’s birth.
A group of people with the worst commonality gathered to find something. What we were looking for might have been different for each person. Perhaps solace, peace, comfort, understanding, help, hope, advice, reassurance, or a place to express love. It didn’t matter what we were seeking, all we really wanted was to not know about this group. None of us asked for membership. In complete opposition of our desires we became bereaved parents. This status of being forever broken-hearted caused us to cleave together to honor the lives of our loved ones too soon gone from this earth.
Earlier this year, seasoned members of this club created a memorial garden shaped like the wings of an angel, and erected an Angel of Hope statue. If you circle the statue you will see these words carved into the base:
“Angel of Hope”
“Annual candlelight vigil December 6 7:00 pm”
“This memorial is dedicated to all those who are grieving the loss of a child”
“Our children loved, missed, and remembered”
My heart was changed seeing those words so boldly proclaimed. My grief was not going to be a temporary or fleeting condition. The words carved in stone made my daughter’s death cuttingly real. She doesn’t have a headstone yet, maybe that is why I was gripped by the engravings.
These parents who have learned the impossible tasks of breathing, standing, and getting dressed when falling through the floor feels more realistic, reached outside of their own personal grief to create a hope filled space of remembrance for all who mourn a child. This is how we happened to be gathered on a cold, windy December 6th to honor, to remember, to mourn our children.
I inhaled deeply as I pulled open the mausoleum door. I noted the bucket of white carnations and the table covered with white candles. While waiting for the ceremony to begin parents chatted with each other; there were hugs, tears, and even laughter as the candles were distributed and lit. A couple of poems were read, a song played burning words through my heart. “Tonight I hold this candle… lost in the glow, there are so many things I want you to know.” I concentrated on breathing until they began reading the children’s names which are engraved on the bricks in front of the garden. “Suzy Snowflake, Jack Frost, Hermy the Elf,” I was hearing names of children I knew from town. My hand gripped the candle cup so tightly it bent. Pressure was building up in my head, it felt like it was going to explode. My eyes were blurring when I realized I had been clenching my teeth as tightly as my jaw allowed, testing the strength of my newly installed crown, and I had not taken a breath since the name recitation had begun. I parted my lips and teeth, inhaled slowly and repeatedly until my jaw loosened and my blurriness cleared. I repeated “breathe” with every inhalation. The recitation ended. Now we called out the name of the child for whom we were lighting a candle. Because my head had not exploded, I was able to call out proudly and clearly, “Kathleen VandeMoortel”. Once we knew all the names of our children it was time to process, with lit candles in hand to the Angel garden.
My friend and I became bereaved mothers within weeks of each other earlier this year and tonight we found ourselves at the beginning of the procession, stumbling hand in hand, clutching plastic cups with little white candles lit for our dead children. I fear I might have crumbled to the ground if she had not been holding me up. By the time we reached the engraved bricks my candle had been snuffed out either from my deluge of tears or from the sobs which could not be contained. The blessed organizers were prepared and able to re-light Katie’s candle. The garden was aglow from luminaries lining the wings, our candles placed at the feet of the Angel of Hope burned brightly en masse, telling our children, “we remember you.” and “you will always light up our world.”
We placed white flowers for each child. White flowers signify remembrance and innocence. When laid in the garden, at the base of the statue, their purity reflected the candlelight. I unsuccessfully attempted to capture the enormity of the evening with photos snapped in the dark. It was a difficult sight to walk away from. I’m not sure what the preferred symbolism is of the Angel of Hope. Maybe it is the hope that our children rest in peace. Or the hope that they will never be forgotten. Or the hope that their lives had meaning. I suppose any hope one conjures is the hope we are given. That night the hope I was given was the hope of a future without my girl, the day I might no longer feel like the poem I wrote this summer when I was attending an event which was completely out of my comfort zone. I knew I would be with people who had no idea what I was experiencing. I worried about how I would present myself to others because at that time these words fit me best:
I am limp, lethargic muscles,
Wobbly, unstable bones,
Lungs filled with sighs,
And eyes drained of tears
The iron beams of grief lie heavy upon me,
Squashing all activity and dreams.
During moments when the sun shines through the iron beams,
Ideas emerge, Suggesting
a new and improved me will someday sneak Out of the dungeon of sorrow.
A world where I live without a daughter will exist.
I will grab hold of life with the tenacity she taught me.
Plans for that time are slowly forming,
The sun shines through,
My lungs inhale enough to give me a glimpse Of a day
when I will comprehend that I can survive,
and if I try,
as a bereaved mother.
Seeing the others who have walked in the dreaded bereaved parent shoes for many years and realizing they were breathing, standing, and dressed gave me great hope.
Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
On the December 11, 2016, The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting will unite family and friends around the globe in lighting candles for one hour to honor the memories of the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren who left too soon. As candles are lit at 7:00 p.m. local time, hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor the memory of all children gone too soon. (taken from The Compassionate Friends)
The neat thing about the above candle lighting is that if somebody from every time zone around the world lights a candle at 7pm it means there will be memorial candlelight for an entire 24 hours.
I’ll be lighting a candle here. In fact it has Katie’s picture on it. Stick around, I’ll show you another time.
You can listen to the song, “Tonight I Hold This Candle” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFxM_sm9pqQ
Katie has always been difficult to buy for, for any holiday or gift giving occasion I would wrack my brain trying to come up with a decent idea of a gift for her. I always wanted to find something to make her happy, but my gifts were never food. Instead, my gifts were Uno cards, a new game, a movie, craft supplies, or music; all which she was happy about, but I never felt like I was able to give her what she really wanted. I never thought what I could give her was good enough. Today, I think I chose good enough. Today, I understand I gave good enough.
One thing about me which was bothersome to Katie is the fact that I am a procrastinator. If taxes don’t have to be done until April 15th at midnight, I’ll turn them in at 11:55pm. When I think of something that needs to be done, I figure I’ll do it sometime this week. When Katie thought of something that needed to be done, she wanted to do it immediately. Our sense of time, or rather our sense of the importance of time differed. Perhaps she knew tomorrow wasn’t promised, it should be done today.
So today, three months from the day my daughter died, I filled my car with ribbon, wire, trinkets, a potted plant in a basket and a giant glittery, lavender shepherd’s hook. I drove to her grave site, well, I drove to the vicinity of her grave site. I thought it would be easy to find. I thought it would be the plot with the fresh, new, baby grass growing on it. Nope. They laid sod! I found a metal circle in the ground that read 221 abcd, I knew she was at 221 b. What I didn’t know is where those plots were located in relation to the metal number circle. There was a wooden stake tipped with red paint sticking out of the ground to the far right of the number circle. I looked carefully at the stake to see if there was any other marking on it. Nope. I carefully walked in all directions away from the stake until I found a faint sod line in the ground. I walked the perimeter of the sod line and was astounded how small it looked compared to how eternally huge and gaping it looked when her casket had hovered over it three months prior. I backed up to look at it from a different angle, I heel to toe walked the length and decided that yes, she is probably right there. Now to figure out where the headstone would be located. I suppose it would be located at the head, but if it is to line up with the others in the row, it seemed like I was standing at the foot. I decided I would put her stuff there whether I was right or wrong. I put the bottom of the shepherd’s hook in the sod line and pushed it into the soil by standing on it with my good foot while trying to not damage my injured foot. I reached up to fasten the sparkly fuchsia tulle bow to the center with pipe cleaners. The sun sent sparkles all around my head as it shone through the bow. The bright blue sky made me happy as I saw it peeking through the white rattan of the basket I was hanging. I stuck “stars on sticks” from her students in the plants’ soil, affixed various trinkets, a crown, a cross, and an angel, then I hung up the zip bag of craft supplies. Inside was yarn, scissors, and pipe cleaners with a note to friends of Katie to feel free to use those items to attach anything they might wish to the shepherd’s hook. I walked a few feet away to take a few pictures. It sparkled and shone pink and purple and was noticeable from a great distance. It was up before her birthday. She would be proud. She would be pleased.
For my daughter’s thirtieth birthday I decorated her grave and it was good enough.
For my daughter’s thirtieth birthday she helped me understand that I always gave good enough.