A letter to my best friend

Grief Diaries

Dear Kaite,

I miss you. You passed so unexpectedly, so without warning. We were texting the day before about nonsense: about friends and about your classroom and I had sent you pictures of my wedding dress. You were supposed to be standing next to me while I wore it, you know. And that’s been hard. Actually, just about everything’s been hard.

It’s hard because I can’t talk to you about the things I want to talk to you about. I want to tell you I started watching Glee like you recommended and I want to tell you that in fact, I was right and I do hate it. I want to tell you that I kept watching it, though, because it was one of the last things you said to me and that I cry a lot when something really stupid happens, just because I know I can’t talk to you about it.

It’s hard because I started saying no to extra tasks at work and sometimes to friends. I’ve always been a “Yes, of course, whatever you need,” kind of person, but I’m the one who needs help now. It’s hard to admit that and it’s hard to ask for it and it’s hard to accept it. It’s hard to be frustrated when people do bring you up or don’t bring you up. It’s hard because I know I wouldn’t really know what to say either. It’s hard to know I’m suddenly the needy friend, experiencing a loss I never imagined happening.

It’s hard because I think about you every day, but I know I can’t talk about you every day, because I don’t want to be that person: the one people don’t want to be around because they’re always bringing up sad things. I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, you’d be squinting your eyes at me, shaking your head, wondering why I’m being so dramatic. It makes me smile to remember that face. You’d make it as we sat in your basement, underneath a shared blanket, with me coaxing Opus to cuddle with me instead of you. You’d be chewing on your ice (still don’t know how you found that pleasant), and when I’d tell a story that deserved it, you’d just give me a side-eye and raise your shoulders, with a soft chuckle of incredulity.

It’s hard because I want to talk about how sad I am, but the people you were really close to aren’t people I’m close to. And even though I know I can reach out to those who miss you as much as I miss you, I don’t want to. Because there are some moments when I’m fine and some moments that I’m so unbearably not and I don’t want to send a sad text and snap them out of a moment when they are okay.

It’s hard because I feel guilty that I’m not able to skip over the sadness and just celebrate you. I try, though, I promise. I try to tell stories about the joy you brought to everyone around you. I talk about when you embarrassed me during Never Have I Ever at my New Years’ Eve party and how I was momentarily mad, but in the end, grateful because you brought all my friends from different groups together. I talk about how you made us buy black and blue shirts and decorated them with glitter for the Backstreet Boys’ concert. I talk about the Jersey Shore party we threw in my basement and how we poofed our hair as high as it could go. I talk about going out in White Plains and how, for a while, we thought it was the magical place to be and just no one else understood. I talk about blasting Miley Cyrus in the dead of night in the Chase drive-through in Raleigh for God knows what reason. I talk about the potato I sent you in the mail and the Galentine’s Day presents we gave to each other. I talk about your old man neighbor I befriended when you let me stay with you in NC over my February break. I talk about our races over the Triboro Bridge after a day at the beach.

But, then, I try to remember the day that I visited your classroom in North Carolina and you compared our friendship to some celebrities’ friendship and for the life of me, I can’t remember who. Was it Beyonce and Lady Gaga? Or Rihanna and someone else? Your kids laughed and wondered how we were friends if we were so different: if you were more like Ke$ha and I was more like someone who’d wear pearls. And then I feel so sad because that’s something only you and I know…and I took for granted you’d always be able to help me finish the story and find the laughter.

I want to remember you happily and I try every day. I want to stop getting filled up every time I think of you. And when I successfully talk about you with a smile or get through a few days without crying, I want to stop feeling immediately guilty afterwards. I want to be okay and I want to remember you with joy. But really, what I want is not to have to remember you at all… and just to have you back here with me.

Missing you always,
Amanda

Author: Amanda Urban

The lonely toll of funeral bells

Church

Hi friends. I just returned from Switzerland, and have an experience to share.

We were touring the magnificent Grossmünster church in Zürich when visitors were asked to leave so staff could prepare for a funeral.

A short time later, the Grossmünster’s bells began to toll—and continued for at least 20 minutes. The sound was magnificent, and could be heard far and wide.

Not shy, I asked a local about it, who explained that either a celebration or funeral was in progress.

Having just been at the church, I knew it was the latter.

Time stood still as those beautiful bells tolling high above a city invited strangers near and far to acknowledge a family’s loss.

Here in the U.S., loss is not revered in the same way, but I wish it was.

Church
Grossmünster church in Zürich

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

A soldier’s ultimate sacrifice

Grief Diaries

Three months after our daughter died, a local boy was killed in combat when his Stryker on patrol hit a buried explosive. I didn’t know his family, but joined the town to honor his sacrifice. Tears streamed down my face as the hearse carrying his remains drove slowly down Main Street. He was just 22 years old.

I met his mom that day, and she shared that her son’s foot was all they had left. It was all the coffin contained, the only thing left to bury.

We hugged long and hard, our wet faces revealing the private hell of two grieving mothers.

Since then, I’ve thought about her often and wondered what it might feel like to lose a loved one in combat. It’s a special kind of loss. The soldier sacrificed his own life with little pay and living conditions to fight for the freedom of people he’ll never meet.

The family sacrifices a child who followed his or her heart, only to return home in a coffin.

The young man I honored on the curb that day represents to me all the faceless soldiers who return home in a coffin.

To those who went before him, I’m grateful for your sacrifice.

To those who went after him, I’m grateful for your courage.

To the families left behind, your loved one will never be forgotten.

In memory of Aaron Aamot

Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO

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

Through the Eyes of a Widow

Grief Diaries

Collateral blessings, a term describing something good that results from something bad.

Today marks the release of the 35th book bearing my name. A book filled with stories by widows who share their own personal insight into the unspoken challenges of losing a husband, and the emotional, mental and social shifts she’s forced to reckon with in the aftermath.

I didn’t lose a husband, but I lost a child. Our daughter Aly.

As I fought to restore balance to my world, I found comfort in stories by those who walked before me. They gave me hope.

Grief Diaries was born and built on this belief. By leaning on and learning from one another, our stories become a lifeline in a griefphobic society.

Each book offers family and friends a better understanding of why their loved one acts the way they do.

Scholars and clinicians learn from the rich spectrum of unfiltered narrations by people from all backgrounds.

When I lost Aly, I didn’t set out to do anything other than breathe. The collateral blessing is that her death led to something far bigger than either her or me. It birthed a village of people brave enough to share the truths of their loss—and what hope means to them today.

I will celebrate right after I blow my nose.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell  XOXO

Grief Diaries

Grief attack at the grocery story

Grief Diaries

Lately I was becoming a bit of a shut-in, and if I didn’t go food shopping I’d go hungry another day. Having exhausted the dry goods and freezer supply, my stomach grumbled in agreement.

I had to first take a shower so as not to offend anyone with my funk. Feeling a little revived and more alive, I hopped into my Jeep before I could change my mind.

Wet hair blowing in the wind, head boppin’ to the bumpin’ music. I had to stay motivated because I was on my way to what my depression had convinced me was a battlefield. Landmines everywhere in the form of memories threatening to strike.

Today I didn’t walk into the grocery store, I sauntered—an effect of having some pep in my step for the first time in a long time. Armored with my favorite protection amulet, most soothing gemstone ring, and my trusty pocket knife.

In the very first aisle I caught a glimpse which took my breath away and stopped me in my tracks.

A twenty-one-year-old man-child was buying beer. The puffed-up way he walked, strumming the whiskers on his chin as he carefully considered his choice, suggested it was his first time.

I had to steel myself at the sight. I wasn’t armed for this.

Brandon’s body had been found mutilated just a week shy of his twenty-first birthday. On his birthday, his father spent it in court for the arraignment of his suspected killer. His mother spent it at a funeral home planning his services.

In the grocery store, I took a deep breath, shook my head and put up my defenses. Trying to stay present by focusing on the task at hand of restocking provisions. I’ve always been a healthy eater, sticking mainly to the produce aisle and the perimeter of the store. I drink only the three necessities: black coffee, water and beer, though not necessarily in that order anymore.

I didn’t think about the case of coke, nor did I give a second thought to the Mac-n-Cheese or easy squirt jelly as I placed them in the carriage. In fact, it didn’t hit me until I was in the frozen section grabbing DiGiorno’s stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza, buy two get one free, that I froze.

Too late this time to steel myself from the oncoming grief attack.

My heart refused to accept reality and I found myself grabbing supplies for what had been our regular Friday pizza night. I was buying nephew-approved foods, as Brandon called them, eager to have them on hand for our next aunty date. Except there won’t be any more aunty dates with my nephew Brandon. Ever.

He’s not missing anymore like he was for six weeks. He’s dead. Murdered.

He’s not going to pop over. Not. Ever. Again.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see. ~Muhammed Ali

The weight of this truth hit like Muhammed Ali and stung like a bee. Grief is the perfect TKO.

With weak knees, slumped shoulders, and eyes heavy with unshed tears, I knew I wouldn’t be able to duck and cover this time. The blows landed and I was about to go down. I made a beeline to the bathroom for cover.

As I shut the stall door, my shoulders began their familiar shudder. I leaned against the door and let the tears flow. I just had to ride it out.

As women came and went, I was helpless against the onslaught. Their concern and kind words exasperated my breathlessness. All I could mutter was, “It’s grief. It’ll pass.” With the breathy whisper of a shy little girl, I said, “Thank you.”

If I didn’t sit down, I would fall down. So I went to the sink and, leaning on it for support, splashed my red swollen face with cold water.

Just then an employee came in to check on me. I swayed on my feet fighting for control, and she offered me a chair and a bottle of water. She introduced herself as Nancy and asked genuinely for whom I was grieving. I told her about my beloved nephew Brandon. She was quiet, empathetic and—most important—not the least bit patronizing.

She surmised, “He felt like a son to you, didn’t he?”

I silently nodded my head. I wouldn’t dare to say it out loud, but a crucial piece of me is gone and I’m lost in a daily struggle of being here without him, the present reality too much to bare. With a hoarse voice I thanked her for her care and concern, to which Nancy replied, “We are all in this together, just helping each other along.”

I left the bathroom and shuffled to the register, leaning on the handlebar of the carriage. My unsteady gait, red face and runny nose revealed the heart on my sleeve. Grief has a way of breaking down walls and stealing what’s left of one’s dignity.

A young teen tentatively approached me and said, “I hope your day gets better.”

Bless him. He saw heartache on my face and tried to shine a little light in the dark. Wishing I could hug him but feeling too damaged to dare, I whispered over and over, “Thank you,” trying to convey my gratitude yet unable to feign a smile.

I returned from the battlefield battered and bruised. The grief offensive defeated my resilience defense and left me feeling listless.

I don’t remember the drive home but when I got there, I tossed the perishables into the fridge and retreated to sleep.

Grief had won today’s fight. But if I’m lucky, I’ll see Brandon in my dreams so I can wake to fight another day.

-Sarah Mercier

In loving memory of Brandon

Grief Diaries

The power of joy to heal a broken heart.

Grief Diaries

I love babies. My babies. Your babies. Everybody’s babies.

There’s just something so wondrous about these tiny beings. They’re innocence and pure love rolled like a little magical burrito.

Once a week I sneak away from the office to volunteer in the neonatal ICU. I cuddle, feed, change diapers, and soothe.

As they look into my eyes, I know I’m holding future teachers, humanitarians, astronauts, Nobel prize winners, and world leaders.

I’m also holding future gang members, addicts, and lost souls.

Grief Diaries

It doesn’t matter who I’m holding because in that moment, I give as much love as I can and hope that my little imprint will carry them through life.

When I’m done, I leave with a heart full of gratitude because those tiny babies gave me so much more than I gave them.

They gave me joy.

Doing something that makes your heart sing is a powerful healing modality.

When heartbreak and sadness rule your world, do whatever it is that brings a smile to your face and lifts the heaviness of your heart.

If you don’t know what that is, then go find it. And don’t stop looking until you do.

Then do it as if your life depends on it.

Because it does.

-Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO

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