Ten years ago today, my daughter died

Grief Diaries

Ten years ago today, my life changed in unimaginable ways. My daughter Aly died and life as I knew it ended.

Confused, shocked, and helpless, I was engulfed by a firestorm of indescribable pain.

Every breath was pure agony. It underscored the saying, “hell on earth.”

I was 43 years old, sitting in the belly of hell from which there was no escape.

I didn’t think I could survive.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the belly of hell is actually life’s greatest classroom. While in there, I discovered valuable lessons I wouldn’t have learned any other way.

While in the belly of hell, I discovered others who were there for the same reason. I wasn’t alone, and there’s comfort in numbers.

While in the belly of hell, I learned that many lacked the support I was blessed with.

I learned that this lack of support can make the difference between surviving and thriving.

There in the belly of hell, I learned that I could be part of the difference.

When I learned how, I discovered that it helped my own heart to heal.

While in the belly of hell, English became my second language, and Grief became my first.

I learned that speaking Grief made me unique on the outside. It set me apart in ways I didn’t like. Yet, when I learned to use it to help others, it became something I loved.

The belly of hell afforded many more lessons that not only taught me about myself, they actually molded me into an improved version of who I once was.

I’m no longer afraid of trying. I’m no longer afraid dying.

I’m also no longer afraid of living and giving.

I am no longer afraid to laugh, to love, and to embrace hurting strangers.

Perhaps the most important lesson my daughter’s death taught me is that the language of grief is also the language of love. And when we teach the language of grief, we’re also teaching the language of love.

Ten years ago today my daughter died and I found myself in the belly of hell.

What I didn’t know then is that it was actually a classroom through which I would learn life’s most valuable lessons, making grief the greatest teacher of all.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries

Dear bereaved mother,

Grief Diaries

Dear bereaved mother,

I’m so very sorry for your loss and the unimaginable twist of fate you’re now living. It’s a horrible journey that can’t be put into words.

From one bereaved mother to another, I want to offer some insight I hope will be helpful.

Waves of emotions will feel suffocating, and take you to the limit of human pain. In those moments, do nothing but breathe.

Eventually those waves will become less intense and less frequent.

It takes a while for that to happen, but hold on to the hope that eventually it will become less raw. Because it does.

Many nights you’ll feel like ending your own life. Please don’t. Losing a child is survivable, I promise.

You might not remember much for the next few years. This is normal. It’s how the brain reacts to shock.

You will feel like a square peg in a round world, but you aren’t the only square peg. Together, we learn to live in a round world. I promise.

Friends and family can’t fathom the depths of your loss. Seek comfort and understanding from those of us who speak your loss language. We get everything you’re going through, the need to lick your wound in private, feeling like you’re going crazy, the despair of living without your child.

When spending time among us, you’ll also see that one day the despair does lift. Further, you’ll discover collateral blessings that wouldn’t have come about any other way. Hard to believe, I know. But trust that it will happen.

Above all, just know that the journey is survivable. Because it is.

I promise.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell
lynda@lyndafell.com

International Bereaved Mother’s Day

Grief Diaries

Today is International Bereaved Mother’s Day.

It’s not a day we celebrate. Rather, it’s a nod of recognition for fellow sisters of the Wailing Tent.

Recognition of the moment when we became a square peg in a round world, turning us each into an Other.

Recognition for . . .

. . . . our strength to get out of bed each day

. . . . our courage to face the future without our child

. . . . our love for mothers who speak our loss language

. . . . our admiration for those who are stronger than we

. . . . our dedication to helping those behind us

. . . . our determination to find the good in life

International Bereaved Mother’s Day is recognition of an invisible pain we carry for life, and yet we carry on.

Big hugs to my fellow sisters in the Wailing Tent.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries

Answering God’s nudge

Grief Diaries

The nudge came 3 hours in to the 5-hour flight. Sigh.

I was tired. And sore.

Just a few hours earlier on the way to the airport, we were involved in a 3-car accident. Hit from behind by a car at 45 mph, thankfully my friend’s truck was larger than the car. Three vehicles, two tow trucks, no obvious injuries. And, thanks to Uber, I still made my plane on time.

Thank you, God.

With security behind me, Starbucks in hand and two cookies in my purse, I boarded the plane bound for home.

My seat was nestled between a young man traveling to Alaska and a small elderly woman reading a book. I swallowed the last of the Starbucks, rested my head against the seat and closed my eyes. The cookies could wait.

Some time had passed when turbulence woke me. Not wanting to ruin a good night’s sleep in my own bed, I pulled out my iPad and began watching a movie.

Thirty minutes into my movie, I felt the nudge.

THE nudge. A nudge from God.

Sigh.

I paused the movie, laid down my iPad, and pulled out my earbuds. God pointed to the elderly lady to my right.

She had been reading earlier but the book was now in her lap. I opened the conversation by asking whether she was from Atlanta or Seattle.

Seattle, she said.

Her kind face was framed by short silver hair, wire-framed glasses and soft pink lipstick that accentuated bright blue eyes. She was wearing a beautiful blue sweater.

The nudge was still there. I obeyed and continued.

“What were you doing in Atlanta?” I asked.

She started to speak and then burst into shoulder-heaving sobs.

I wrapped my arms around her as best I could and just held her, resting my cheek on the crown of her small head.

I recognized those sobs. They were the sobs of a newly bereaved mother.

The sobs of a mother who lost a 47-year-old son to suicide just 4 months before. The sobs of a mother who had just traveled to his house to tend to details no parent should have to tend to.

The rest of the flight was spent in conversation with my new 86-year-old friend, a conversation punctuated by occasional sobs, lots of tissue, and a few smiles. I reassured her that one day it wouldn’t feel so raw.

We parted at the luggage carousel. No goodbye was needed, just a long hug before heading in opposite directions, she to a taxi and me to a northbound shuttle.

I’m still tired. Still sore. And still on the shuttle. But when my head finally meets my pillow tonight, I will fall asleep with a heart full of gratitude, gratitude for God’s nudges.

Thank you, God. XOXO

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries

Tomorrow is your birthday

Grief Diaries
Dear Lovey,
 
Tomorrow is your birthday. Just yesterday I could hear your voice, smell your hair, touch your skin. It’s been nine years but the pain still runs deep. So very, very deep.
 
They say the pain changes with time. It hasn’t. But I have. My coping skills are stronger. I am stronger. I’m a better person with more compassion. And a heightened awareness of a world in need of kindness.
 
But tonight the pain runs deep. So very, very deep.
 
When the tears fall, I need to retreat from time to time to the Wailing Tent where I’m among sisters who speak my loss language. I suppose I’ll always need them when the pain runs this deep.
 
Most days the sun shines gloriously bright and I am grateful. Today is not one of those days, though. I want to tell you happy birthday but the words just won’t come. I know I’m a few hours early anyway, so maybe the words will come tomorrow.
 
It feels like yesterday when I could hear your voice, smell your hair, and touch your skin.
 
I wish it were yesterday.
 
Happy birthday, Lovey. I love you. XOXO
 
Love,

The Wailing Tent

The Wailing Tent

Dear newly bereaved mother,

Welcome to the sisterhood of the wailing tent. With profound condolences, I know this greeting will soon be forgotten, for your heart and soul have sustained a terrible blow. The shock known as The Fog will accompany you for some time, greatly impacting your memory.  So I offer you this written welcome to refer to when your recollection falters.

The wailing tent is an honored place where only mothers with a broken spirit can enter. Admittance is gained not with an ID card bearing your name, but with the profound sorrow freshly etched on your heart.  Membership is free, for you have already paid the unfathomable price.  The directions to the wailing tent are secret, available only to mothers who speak our loss language of everlasting grief.  No rules are posted, no hours are noted.  There is no hierarchy, no governing body.  Your membership has no expiration date—it is lifelong.  The refuge offered within its walls does not judge members based on age, religious belief, or social status.  You can hang your camouflage and mask outside, and if you can’t make it past the door we will surround you with love right where you lay.

The wailing tent is a shelter where mothers shed anguished tears among her newfound sisters, a haven where all forms of wailing are honored, understood, and accepted.  In the beginning, you will be very afraid and will hate the wailing tent and everything it stands for. You will flail, thrash about, and spew vile words in protest. You will fight to be free of the walls, wishing desperately to offer a plea bargain for a different tent, learn a different language. Those emotions will last for some time.

Your family and friends cannot accompany you here. The needs of the wailing tent are invisible to them and though they will try, they simply cannot comprehend the language nor fathom the disembodied, guttural howls heard within.

In the beginning, your stays here will seem endless. Over time, the need for your visits will change and eventually you will observe some mothers talking, even smiling, rather than wailing.  Those are the mothers who have learned to balance profound anguish with moments of peace, though they still need to seek refuge among us from time to time.  Do not judge those mothers as callused or strong, for they have endured profound heartache to attain the peace they have found. Their visits here are greatly valued, for their hard earned wisdom offers hope that we, too, will learn to balance the sadness in our hearts.

Lastly, you need not flash your ID card or introduce yourself each time you visit, for we know who you are.  You are one of us, an honorary lifelong sister of the wailing tent.  Welcome, my wailing sister.

Fondly,

The Sisterhood of the Wailing TentThe Wailing Tent

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell  01/26/14

 

Heavenly angel helps dress a grief-stricken mother

Grief Diaries

Teenaged girls giggled around my sister and me at the mall. They walked together in a tight group, swinging bags of merchandise. Any minute I expected to see my own daughter Liz come around a corner with a group of friends.

But Liz wasn’t here. She died in a duplex fire at college the day before.

“Let’s try this one,” my sister Sue said, guiding me into a shop that looked familiar. Of course. Liz had worked at this store during high school. A true clothes-a-holic, she’d loved the employee discount. Most of her earnings went right back to the store. Now here I was buying one final outfit for Liz—her burial outfit.

“Can I help you?” the salesgirl asked.

“Just looking,” I said.

I felt numb and far away. Sue had driven us to the mall because I couldn’t focus on the road. I couldn’t focus on anything. At the funeral home I had sat with my husband and father in silence while the director went over all the details.

“You’ll need to bring us some of Liz’s clothing,” he explained. “Any time in the next couple of days.”

I sat like a statue, not really understanding. It wasn’t until I got home that his words actually registered: Liz needed new clothes. Her entire wardrobe had been destroyed in the fire along with everything else.

I flipped through the racks around me. How many times had Liz needed new clothes? She seemed to come up with a reason every other week. My daughter was a champion shopper. If it ever became an Olympic sport, Liz surely would have won the gold medal.

“Liz didn’t get her love of shopping from me,” I said, holding up a dress for Sue’s opinion.

I put the dress back on the rack. Sue agreed: It just wasn’t Liz. How could I ever pick the right outfit without her? The clothes in the store swam together like a jumbled mass of fabric.

Liz, you’ve got to help me here, I thought to myself. I have absolutely no idea what to pick.

Sue and I moved through the store and my gaze wandered over the racks. Suddenly, a pair of khaki pants caught my eye. I grabbed a pair in Liz’s size. A few minutes later I reached for a pale blue sweater. “That’s pretty,” Sue said. “Let’s get that.”

“I have no idea if this is what Liz would want,” I admitted.

In my mind I saw Liz picking through racks of clothes. Maybe she can’t care about things like that anymore.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get it right,” I said.

I had once wished my daughter didn’t care so much about clothes. Now the thought of her not being able to care was unbearable, because it meant she no longer existed. Not on earth, anyway. I would never see her again.

The funeral went smoothly, not that I would have noticed any mistakes. Nothing mattered to Liz anymore. Why should it matter to me?

The day after the funeral my sister-in-law stopped by. Karen was the family photographer and had gone through her collection searching for shots of Liz.

“I found one from last Christmas when Liz was over at my house,” she said, digging into her purse. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen it.”

She handed me the photo showing Liz smiling and happily sitting on a couch with her cousins.

I drank in the sight of her face for a moment before scanning the rest of the photo. And when I did, I couldn’t believe it.

Liz was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a pale blue sweater.

You weren’t on your own, I realized. I had asked for Liz’s help. And she did.

A fashionista angel helped me choose the perfect outfit for my daughter, the champion shopper. No longer here with me on earth, but alive as ever in heaven, where one day I will see her again.

No doubt she has a new outfit ready and waiting for the reunion.

Kim Wencl
www.kimwencl.com

Grief Diaries

Grief’s Collateral Blessings

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Not because today marks nine years since losing Aly. Rather, the feel of the cool sheets, my sleeping hubby next to me, and the warm sun filtering through our bedroom window felt too peaceful to disturb.

So I laid there and allowed my mind to wander over the past nine years. I replayed that night in the field when I sat next to Aly, how I held her warm hand while strangers on scene surrounded me with love. How Jamie called for an update on the fender-bender only to learn his youngest daughter was covered by the stark white sheet of death.

How we made our way home as the full moon gave way to dawn, wondering when we’ll wake from this nightmare.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I would survive.

In those early days I didn’t think I could endure the agony, and many days I didn’t want to. The pain is beyond any words in a college textbook.

How could I learn to live with Aly in my heart instead of my arms? I didn’t know. But whether I liked it or not, I was about to learn.

My playbook of grief begins with a fog of shock so strong, I don’t remember much. The next few chapters are filled with wailing, gnashing of teeth, and spewing vile words. I then embarked on a desperate search for comfort, for relief from the agony. The end of my playbook remains unwritten but the rawness has softened and the current chapters teach that my heart can hold joy the same time as sorrow.

There are many lessons and chapters in my playbook, but the most surprising of all is the one about transformation. In the early days we don’t believe this is possible. How could we? We can’t see past the pain. But as the rawness softens and our coping skills strengthen, we move into an unexpected—and often positive—transformative phase.

What I didn’t know nine years ago that I know now is that Aly’s death was the gateway to many blessings.

My circle of friends has expanded to strangers around the world who speak all loss languages. This taught me that the foundation of mankind is love.

My skillset has expanded to things I didn’t know I could do. This taught me that limitations are self induced, and I can do more than I think.

My compassion has grown in ways I could never have imagined. I learned to see outside my own pain into other hurting hearts, and how helping them helps my own heart to heal.

My gratitude has evolved into an intentional mindset. This taught me that being grateful is a powerful healing modality. The more grateful I am, the more gratitude I have.

Am I grateful for Aly’s death? No. It’s a hellacious journey. But I am grateful for the collateral blessings. This taught me that there is more to grief than meets the eye.

Nine years ago I didn’t want to live. But others held that light of hope when I had none. This taught me the importance of sparking, igniting, and shining our light for those in the darkness behind us.

I’m often asked whether the pain ever truly ends. One cliche is that we don’t get over grief, we move through it. I don’t believe we move through it. I believe we learn to carry it with us as we move forward in life.

To answer the question, I do believe pain eases. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. The timing might be different, but don’t give up. Life’s second act will be different, but enjoy the moments when the pain isn’t as suffocating and you’ll find that you don’t have to choose between sorrow or joy. The heart has room for both, and eventually the joy will grow.

Nine years ago I didn’t believe I would survive losing Aly. What I didn’t know then that I know now is not only would I survive, I might actually like—no, love—life.

I love you, Lovey.

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell
08/05/18

The Others

Her body sank to the floor, her shoulders heaving with sobs. I knelt down, wrapped my arms around her and rested my cheek on her soft hair. I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.

I saw her again the next day, yesterday, at the top of the escalator. When our eyes met, sobs once again overtook her body. I couldn’t stop her tears but I did know the power of a hug from one bereaved mother to another. I held her right there on the spot, oblivious to others coming and going. Because in that moment, nothing else mattered. Nothing else but her grief. And my love for her, for a stranger.

I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.

Some wonder why those of us who are years down the road attend grief conferences. Don’t they remind us of the darkest moment of our lives? Why would we want to revisit such pain?

Because when we help others we help our own hearts to heal.

These conferences remind us how far we’ve come.

They remind us how much we’ve changed for the better.

That we’re the hero of our own story by holding the light of hope for those who have none.Hope

Grief conferences recharge our batteries in ways nothing else can. We meet others who speak our loss language, and become lifelong friends based on that alone. Politics, religion, nor socioeconomic backgrounds do not matter here. What matters is that hope is ignited, shared, and protected.

I’m home now, having climbed into bed next to my dear sweet hubby before daybreak this morning. My body is weary but my heart is content. Physically I didn’t do much at this conference, but spiritually I gave all I had. And I’ll do it again next week, next month and next year.

I may not know all their names but I know their pain. When we lose a child we become The Others. And when I hold another Other in her darkest hour, all is right with my world.

I am grateful.

-Lynda Cheldelin Fell  XOXO