Sunday, May 29, 2011

Telling the Real Story...

Faceless by Naomi Labuscagne

I waited a long time to watch the film The Rabbit Hole. It was intentional. There was too much media frenzy around the film, and I wanted to allow that to settle, wanted to be clear and present with the film in an unadulterated way.

The film didn't really move me. I shed some tears but there was an emotional lacking for me, an inauthenticity in Kidman's character with which I simply could not relate. But of course. How could a Hollywood actor possibly capture a mother's grief? It reminds me of a myth I'd heard long ago about Michelangelo's Pieta; he was hesitant to sculpt Mary's face for fear he could not possibly carve, with requisite honesty, the pain of a grieving mother.

After the film, I contemplated the many movies I've watched since my induction into bereaved parenthood in 1994. Many depicted traumatic death, and some even child death. Yet, none of the Hollywood enactments resonated any degree of substantive authenticity.

So, what is my real story, one I've been hearing from other parents since starting this work in 1996- the one I wish Hollywood would tell- so the non-bereaved could really experience some of the more authentic aspects of grief many families report after the death of a child?

- I wish they would tell the story of how every single cell in our body hurts. Literally, it hurts from the tips of our toes to the ends of our hair. The pain is indescribably physical and merciless.

- I wish they would tell how difficult even basic bodily functions are: drinking becomes work as our throat is constantly tight and closes off to water, or food, or oxygen, or sustenance. Or how we are unable to carry groceries or the mail or the sadness in our arms as they ache with the phantom weight of our children. Or how we cannot breathe because of the concrete slabs on our chest, heavy and dense and gray. Or how our legs buckle and we cannot bear to see other children, especially the ones who are their age and with their names walking gleefully with their parents; parents who may or may not take a moment or two for granted but who will tuck them into bed tonight as we lay sobbing, our salty tears saturating the shag carpeting, in our dead child's room.

- I wish they would tell the story of early grief and how, on the rare occasion when we do sleep, we awaken in the morning, wishing we hadn't.

- I wish they would tell the story of how we look in the mirror at our unrecognizable self and wonder at the stranger we see. And how every relationship in our lives changes, even our conflicted relationship to the imposter-self. And how all the others- family, friends, colleagues- want us to be the person we were previously, but we know that person is irretrievably lost.

- I wish they would tell the story of how the primal mourning is most often done alone and that the supernatural sound of this mourning frightens us, like an wild animal being killed and eaten or like the flogging of human flesh or like the torturing of a prisoner or like Satan being cast from G*d's presence.

- I wish they would tell the story of grief's incessant state of craze: pacing the hallways late at night, the inability to focus, the intolerance of music, or laughing, or expressions of joy, sensitivity to lights and other benign stimuli, racing video tapes that replay in our heads as we wish-for-changed outcomes, the constant self-accusations of blame and responsibility, the unconscious roulette of risk with Death as our challenger.

- I wish they would tell the story of how we are terrorized by insidious ruminations of our other children dying, and we may over-protect to maintain illusory control or under-love to maintain illusory protection from recurrent grief. And how trauma stays in the body and, even if we have processed the acute agony, returns the minute we feel concern for one of our other children because there is something in us that reminds us of our vulnerability. This something whispers, "you are not exempt".

- I wish they would tell the story of the dark and ugly thoughts about other people and their happy and naive lives. Or how we become fierce imaginary protectors of children who are neglected, or unloved, or scolded, or abused by their "parents".

- I wish they would tell the story of how a mere turn of a corner in the grocery store that confronts us with baby food, or car magazines, or cereals can unhinge us to the point of utter helplessness and madness, frantically abandoning $200 worth of unpurchased frozen foods for an exit sign .

- I wish they would tell the story of how this brings us to our wounded knees. On the floor. Face in the dirt. How we may beg and plead for a different life, willing to do anything, anything to turn time back and go through another door. Or how we fantasize about time machines and contemplate self-institutionalization.

- I wish they would tell the story of a pain so deep and so wide that no word in the English language can begin to express it. That no subsequent child, no new job or house, no distraction- no pill- no drug - no joy- no self-induced suffering is sufficient to fill the chasm of the loss.

- I wish they would tell the story of how we pray, even in the absence of a belief in a Creator- we pray, that the suffering would end, by any means.

-I wish they would tell the story of how well-meaning others cause us to recoil with their platitudes, meant to comfort but coming from outside our hearts often do not, and mindless remarks about G*d's will and His garden, the one which needs tending, and something idiotic about making lemonade. And how others may treat us as if we are lepers, turn the other way when we walk in a room, pretend that our child did not exist.

-I wish they would tell how even religious people may have two lenses through which they view the world.  Yes, even if we have a belief in the afterlife and our spirituality eases some of the angst, it often doesn't ease all of it. For most of us, there is no "better place" for our child than our own arms.

- I wish they would tell the story of how life goes on, and we can feel content and happy again, but that everything has changed, and that we have died in a sense, and must choose to be reborn when we are ready. And that the things that help us along- when we are ready- are unique to us but that we need nonjudgmental support and unrushed compassion, as oxygen and nourishment, along the way.

- Mostly, I wish that they would tell the story of a bittersweet survival that does not include a fallacious or contrived "end" to the grief after a prescribed six months. This is not reality for most of us.

Tonight, I watched a movie called The Greatest for a second time. The first time I watched it, I found it to be one of the most sincere portrayals of parental grief and, though it still felt inadequate, I noticed that some memories unearthed during the second watching. Memories of the real story which had fallen victim to an ad hoc amnesiac state, but which were rapidly resurrected. These memories evoked powerful emotions tonight.

I wish that somehow they could tell the true story of the anguish of loss without a contrived happy ending into the sunset. Not that we, at some point, aren't capable of pure love and joy, in fact, sometimes more than we could have ever imagined. Having really "looked into the eyes of such sorrow" is the only way to such pure joy, as Gibran says. But there is no bypassing the tortures of child death, it's effects perennial and relentless for much longer than the unsuspecting world believes.

And there is so much more I wish they would tell.

I wish they would tell the story because I wish others knew. Certainly, if the others knew, they would have to be kinder, more compassionate, more loving to bereaved parents. Wouldn't they?

Wouldn't they? And wouldn't they appreciate, more fully, all they have, every moment?

Yet, I find even my own words fall woefully short of the real story.

As the Michelangelo-myth goes, some things cannot be expressed in sculpture or form or film or with words. The real story is one we can never truly tell.


Beth said...

I wish it would tell how we cling to anything to prove to ourselves that what we are feelings is normal/OK because we are not the only ones that have ever had those thoughts.

Or how a song from an artist that is truly heartfelt, means the world when it describes those feelings I've never said out loud. Afraid of what everyone might think.

And to be honest...I think Rabbit Hole falls short as well...except it talks about it, and that's a good start.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...


Mirne said...

I haven't seen the film, because it will no doubt have a "happy ending". Where the characters accept their loss, "get over it and on with it". But reality is not like that. Losing a child (or children - I have lost three) is forever. It scars you forever, it can ruin your life. Not only is your child gone, your life is as well. Rebuilding is terribly hard and unrewarding work. Because often we don't want to rebuild. We just want to go back. I certainly do. I wish others would be more understanding, but after all these years, I know that they never will be. Grief is a very lonely thing. And one never stops grieving for a lost and much loved child.

Maria said...

I wish people would stop saying stupid things thiking they'll make you feel better but they aren't.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Dear Mirne,
Yes, it is- so incredibly lonely and enduring. I am so sorry...

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

I wish too Maria. I wish too. And, I'm working on it. I promise.

Justine said...

I wish they would tell the story to the world,that I don't fit into the "real world" anymore.I have a new normal. I am a new person. Please get to know this new me. Perhaps ask, or enquire what my new world is all about. I am still living and breathing...yes, with effort and pain...but I still need you. I still need love and comfort...not "fixing". My shattered heart is not a break that can be put back together the same as it was before. But it's beating, and will continue to beat until I join my child where he is now. Until then, I wish they would tell the story that we are here, and doing the best we can in an unimaginable life.

Unknown said...

I felt the EXACT same way about Rabbit Hole--in fact i started a discussion on PIF via FB to see what other BLMs thought b/c i was so disappointed in it. LOVE all you had to say--so refreshing, so raw, so authentic. thank you! I am going to share this on my blog with your name on it b/c it is so moving! ((hugs))

2QTsInHeaven said...

I wish I could explain the sense of utter failure, as a mother, wife, woman. To have failed my daughters to death; to have been unable to save them no matter how badly I wished it. No one seems to fathom or even attempt to fathom how such losses can & do impact one's life. What sort of world do we live in that seems so emotionally devoid of love, compassion or even common courtesy? One would think that the loss of a child(ren) would inspire more tenderness from the world. And yet, I've seen the nature of how cruel the world can be, especially to the weak, vulnerable & grieving. Mother Theresa was famous, not for her work; but because there are so few in the world doing the work she did. Everyone else's concerns are their latest electronic gadget or trip to HappyLand AmuseMe Park--where the landscaping is immaculately gorgeous. And yet how the dirt & weeds do consume the "BabyLand Garden" where my children are buried--landscaping & flowers are forbidden, and their groundskeepers don't have time to weed. So as bereaved parents, we've made that our beloved duty--to tend to the weeds that would otherwise take over the baby cemetery where our children are forgotten. The rest of the cemetery isn't gorgeous, but its well kept. The babies, however, are set in a corner off by the crematorium where it's just weeds & traffic from the hiway that runs adjacent (and where people love to yell cruel things out the window as we tend to the poor forlorn little area). No, BabyLand in our cemetery will never have the gorgeous flowers, ponds & fountains like the AmuseMe Parks (or even like the local convenience store for that matter). And truly there is a point on the timeline of grieving when one's family & friends just truly don't want to hear it anymore. They don't want to help, they don't want you at family gatherings; they just don't want to be anywhere near your pain, and what's wrong with ME that I'm just not over it already! And mine is one of those bodies that got really sick in the wake of my second baby burial. I've been in & out of the hospital, and truly have tried my hardest to take care of myself & be well. I can't help that my body has not cooperated; I cannot WILL my cardiovascular problems away. So in the end, I'm quick to be reminded from many angels that I'm not only a failure at motherhood & career, but I'm also a total failure in how I'm recovering. And I just want to tell the world that they have a lot of nerve implying or even occasionally outright telling me I'm a failure at everything including how to "properly" grieve. And yet at the same time, I'd rather die isolated & alone than share my anguish with them only to have them mock my weakness (as if having a mother's heart is "weak").

michelle said...

I wish everyone would stop looking at me like I am crazy because I take my sons urn with me everywhere, especially my family physician. It makes me feel better, why cant they understand that. I probably am but after that kind of loss crazy feels somehow normal.

Missy said...

Yes to all of it! I am so overwhelmed by the great depth of your words that I cannot come up with something that is missing. I will say that I had the same feelings about Rabbit Hole. I chalked it up to be something wonderful and felt it was lacking on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this with us~

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you for reading and visiting... (((Michelle))) I am so sorry... and yes, Missy, I've had many parents share their ambiguity about the film too. Thanks for sharing your honest feelings.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

(((Vicki)))) Wow, thank you for sharing so much of your wounded heart with us.

Diana Doyle said...

Wow, such a profound post...all of it summing up how we grieving parents feel on a day to day basis. You've written so perfectly the emotions and reality of life burying an adored child.

Even today, I have guilt if I mention my daughter who died to some people...I see them shift in their chairs, or pick off invisible lint at 'their' do they thing we feel??

I have purposely NOT seen the Rabbit Hole for the reasons you've written about.

Thanks Dr Cacciatore for capturing our pain so perfectly and having somewhere that us aliens can come to and read and know we aren't alone.

Sending a hug with gratitude,
Diana x

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

(((Diana))))) I wish it wasn't so for all of us here... Those who don't know are truly the most fortunate of all.

Karin said...

I remember seeing the film Minority Report years ago, and feeling outraged that at the end, Tom Cruise's character is back with the mother of his child who was lost, and she's pregnant! I thought it would have been enough to just have them together but then they had to throw in the image of her pregnant belly to prove that 'life goes on' and all that.

I am unsure how film could depict the chaos that reigns inside oneself after ones child or children die. Some time after Heloise died, Kieron and I sat and watched the entire series of Band of Brothers. It resonated deeply with us. The relentlessness of war, continually having to face destruction over and over again, the unendingness of it all, battle after battle. I felt like we were part of Easy Company, their hell echoed ours somehow.

Most people would never understand how we could compare our situation with theirs but it's not comparing, it's identifying. I identified with the struggle of being in a place that no one wants to be. So many of the words of the real members of Easy Company echoed our feelings. I remember this comment shared by Major Winters that he received in a letter from one of his men: "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said 'No… but I served in a company of heroes.'"

That is how I feel about us. We are all heroes. Maybe the only way to make this journey make sense to people is to make our own mini series called Band of Mothers.

Karin said...

I remember seeing Minority Report years ago and feeling really annoyed by the ending. The main character was back with his estranged wife after their son's disappearance and what do they show us but her pregnant belly. I guess it's to prove that 'life goes on' and all that. I felt pissed off. It would have been enough to just show them together but nope, they had to throw in the pregnant belly for good measure.

I am unsure if film can actually capture the internal chaos that one feels after the death of a child or ones children. It's such an unseen energy. I remember feeling like I had rockets shooting out of my head and my heart felt like it was on fire, my insides were like a Jackson Pollack painting, but my first walk down the street proved how invisible all this is to the ordinary passersby.

I think this is why for Kieron and I, war films resonate. We sat down and watched the entire Band of Brothers series sometime after Heloise died, perhaps after Roku and Seven's miscarriages. For us, it was the relentlessness, the battle after battle, the continuity of hell that mirrored somehow, our own situation. We felt like part of Easy Company.

Lots of people would say, how can you even compare the deaths of your children with what these guys went through. But comparing isn't the link, This isn't about comparing, it's about identifying. It was their complete inability to extract themselves from the hell in which they found themselves that resonated. And also, it was how their loyalty to others in the same situation echoed my feelings of loyalty to other bereaved parents.

I remember so well, the actual interviews of members of Easy Company, which were part of the series. I remember nodding my head along with them. I remember Major Winter sharing an excerpt from a letter he received from one of his men: "I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said 'No… but I served in a company of heroes.'"

This is how I feel about us. We are all heroes. And if Hollywood wanted to capture something real of our experiences, maybe they need to do a series called Band of Mothers.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Karin- I love this, just love this. We are a company of heroes indeed. Brave ones.

Teresa said...

Wow...Karin - we serve in the company of heroes. The quote and your comment, how utterly and completely the perfect description. Much love to all of you.

Teresa said...

I absolutely love the description, Karin, that we, too, serve in the company of heroes. That took my breath away, as it is one of the truest descriptions of this process that I have come across. Thank you for that.

Believe said...

{{Joanne}} Once again I am in tears reading your blog. You said so much of what I have felt for the past 7 years. I'd like to add that I wish they would talk about the fear of being pregnant after a loss and although you have a living child, it does not make your pregnancy any easier. I sit here waiting for the safe arrival of our next daughter already with a crib and car seat for her - still disconnecting myself from this being inside me fearing I won't get to know her either. Praying and begging G** to allow us to keep this one healthy, safe, and from no harm. I'm scared to death but because of you and other parents who have gone or going through the same fears after their child's death, I am able to live one day at a time. <3

Marie said...

I am not a parent who has lost a child. But I am a human who has experienced profound loss and sadness.

This line--

"And how all the others- family, friends, colleagues- want us to be the person we were previously, but we know that person is irretrievably lost."

--really resonated with me.

I lost my father suddenly 5 years ago, and not a single person in my peer group has had this experience yet, so they just. don't. get. it. And they won't, until they get their membership card to this sh!tty club called "grief".

I wish people would just get it that once you have experienced profound loss, a piece of you dies too. And I wish they understood that the person you were died on the same day that your loved one died.

I wish people didn't say "aren't you over it yet?" No, I'm not "over it yet". I will NEVER be "over it". But I will incorporate it into the new person that I have become. And if you, the one who wonders when the "old me" is coming back, can't see how incredible this "new me" is, then that, my "friend", is your loss.

Thank you for writing this blog, and thank you to everyone who has shared their feelings on this blog as well. You made me feel like I'm not a freak for grieving.

Hugs to all

Karin said...

Thanks Jo. ((hugs)))

By the way, you may remove one of my comments as I posted it twice - had to try to remember what I was thinking and type it again because my computer crashed during posting. Yet I see they both made it. LOL Crazy this online world. :-P Love you.

trytal_27_02 said...

It is amazing how so many women so many miles apart can feel so alike. Losing a child is the absolute hardest thing anyone could ever face & yet other people still don't get it. I wish I knew why that is. I would never wish anyone to have to be in my shoes, but sometimes I wish they could have just a glimpse.

It has been 5 1/2 years since we lost our son at 35wks when he was born still. Seems like a long time yet I still am affected sometimes daily by what others say that to me is insensitive to my feelings. They give it no thought & I'm almost sure if I pointed it out they would think "Get over it already". Unfortunately there is no "over it" nor do I want there to be. It's kinda like when I was asked if I could go back to before I was pregnant wouldn't it be easier if I had just not gotten pregnant. My answer was absolutely not! I would never give that time back. I was devastated & couldn't believe someone I love would ask me such a question, but yet they saw nothing wrong with it. Or telling me "At least he didn't come home with you & then die, because that would be harder". For me there is no "harder". When I became upset at the person I was told "well you think that because you have no living children to compare it to" & I told her that she couldn't imagine since she had no dead ones. Anyway, we expect more from the people closest to us but even they don't completely get it.

I too saw the Rabbit Hole & it fell short in my opinion. I think there should be a movie that truly expresses a parents grief, the raw, ugliness of it that doesn't simply go away one day & all is better. The world thinks you should grieve but only in an amount of time they deem necessary. Grief is as we know a journey full of twists & turns & feels neverending. You can't put a time on it, even if you want to. Each person should be allowed to feel what they want, how they want & for however long they want.

Thanks Joanne! Blessings!

glc said...

My husband tells me that the loss of our babies is like having all his limbs cut off and then looking in the mirror every morning and seeing himself limbless. He also says it's like having a giant thorn permanently pierced into his chest. He told me all these tonight, on our way home from dinner. One of his colleagues brought his children to work and seeing them made him miss our babies.

Megan said...

I wish it would tell how we so desperately want people to acknowledge our baby, ask us about our baby, ask to see his picture, ask what he looked like, ask to hear the story of him... the sound of my baby boy's name is music to my much pain as I feel, I am not as sad as I am proud to be his mother.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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