Grief recovery, loss of child, healing after death & loss 

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How to become a Master of Grief when you Lose your Child.


January 17, 2040, is a significant day for me. It will mean I have gone through 10,000 days without Phil. My son. My baby whom I held in my arms and looked deeply into his eyes. The baby I bonded with, my foxhole buddy. My first born. My boy. 

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell outlines the concept that you become a master at something after you have practiced it 10,000 times. 

I will be 76 years, 10 months, and 7 days if you count that day. You know, the day Phillip died. The day a normal 22-year old boy made a decision to drive fast enough to get there early. The day he chose to go to the beach. To drive unsafely through heavy traffic. To casually push the accelerator a little more, a little faster. The beach. The one he didn’t make it to. The day he was flippant about his responsibility of protecting his life. The day he lost. The day we lost. The day Alyssa lost. The day her family lost. Forever. The day he took from so many. Alyssa. His mom. His dad. His daughter. His wife. His siblings and his friends. 

Each and every one of us take. We take from others when we drive too fast. We have all driven over the speed limit. Eager to get there a few minutes sooner. We don’t even calculate in our mind or even on paper how much sooner we will arrive. We just know, if we move faster, we will get there sooner. Is it five minutes sooner? 30 minutes? An hour? It doesn’t matter, sooner is better. Faster is better. Except when it isn’t. 

Each of us has pressed that accelerator a little more to get there. Faster. Faster. Risking our lives. Risking others’ lives. Casually taking and hoping for the best outcome. The chances are good, you will make it. The chances are in your favor. 

Hope and chances and risk didn’t work for Phillip. The risk did not go in his favor or in Alyssa’s. She died too. Tremendous loss. Tremendous grief. 

Turn the music up. Open the windows and feel the breeze. Life is so good, we are going to the beach. It will be so amazing to hear the waves crashing against the beach. The boogie board in the back seat, ready to have fun in the sun. Fun that was stifled early by a tree. 

It’s not like the ocean is going anywhere. 30 minutes earlier, it would still be there. Hell, I was there this last weekend and it is still there. He could have slowed down. He would have made it home and back and now, six years later would join us for yet another Labor Day weekend. He would be 28 years old. Swimming in the pool perhaps. Perhaps playing with Ava in the water. 

Faster. Faster. Gotta get there sooner. 

Maybe there was a phone call or a text message. Maybe there was a distraction of sorts. Maybe it was missed judgment. No one knows but them and they take it to their grave. Not that it matters. The end result is still the same. Final. 

Was there pain? Was there awareness in the last seconds? Did they die instantly like the report says? No one knows for sure. It is left to the imagination.  And I am so creative. 

I am six years in, 2,192 days, and it is such a long journey to master the process.  Yet people say, “Oh, six years? It was a while ago then?” 

It is more of a statement than a question. It hangs on their lips. Then they add,  “That helps. Time heals all wounds.”

Yeah right. I think quietly. Time heals all wounds. Maybe when I have 10,000 days under my belt, there will only be a massive scar on my heart. I will sing Hallelujah, I am healed. I put in the time. 

I know they want to help. The intention is good. They simply do not know the shallowness of their words. The words get stuck in the web of grief through which everything is now filtered. 

So for now, I tick off the days on the calendar. And though I am aware I am looking at the time, it isn't the time that heals. It is the learning to go through each day and becoming stronger that heals. My mom used to say, "Inch by inch it is a cinch." I'm not saying it is a cinch by any means. I am saying that I am aware that each day the habits we develop form our results in life. This isn't about arriving at a destination. It is about the journey. It is long. Hard. Bumpy. 

I work hard to lift myself from the quicksand of grief. It takes diligence. Patience. Awareness. I am aware that I must behave my way into the feelings. The feelings cannot rule. I will never feel my way into a behavior. I will not hide out either. Grief is not contagious. You won't catch anything from me. Although, at some time in your life, if you live long enough, you will have grief knock on your door. Phillip Shelton

I don’t do this because I am some noblewoman. I don’t do it because I have a strength of character that others don’t possess. I do it because I am just like you. We can all call forth a greater sense of strength because we have the power to choose. 

Choice is my Superpower. It is my weapon against grief. I do it because I choose to. I do it because I CAN. I choose to live a life to honor my son. I choose to live a life that is an example of what is possible for my other children. I do not choose anger at him driving faster than he should.   I choose to focus on the lessons he gave his very life to teach me. I choose to put down the phone, leave the text messages, lift my foot from the accelerator. I choose to not come from blame, regret, guilt or shame. I choose to forgive. I choose to offer grace. 

I was his mom. I love him. I will love him until the day I die.  When I get to January 17, 2040, I suspect, I will have gained more tools to share with others starting the journey of grief. I will share with them how they can master loss. If it is what they choose. Choice can be their Superpower too!




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Advising a Friend about Loss – What Not to do!

Advising a Friend about Loss – What Not to do!Sad Michelle

Today I was visiting with someone whom I respect very much. I think this person has a pretty good handle on life. He is positive and connected to others. He is kind and caring. We had a great conversation and explored many topics and then toward the end of that conversation…BAM. Advice on my emotion of grief.  The grief he had not experienced. The grief he had no reference point of in his own life. The grief he only knew ABOUT. The grief he did not understand from personal experience. He said he wanted to tell me to not be sad to be present and realize I had a husband and other children.

The Truth About Losing a Child

During the conversation, he spoke about his relationship with his daughter and how close they were and how proud of her he was and how much he enjoyed his time with his daughter. My first thought was, tell me about being present when you find out you will never experience your daughter again. Envision her lifeless body laid out on a slab.  Hold your other children while they feel the pain of loss. Lift your wife from the floor, multiple times, while deep, uncontrollable sobbing and guttural sounds are being released from her body.  Deal with your other children grieving.  Their anger, flippant or self-sabotaging behavior. Sit in your daughter's car. Sort her trinkets and jewelry and try to decide what to do with them. Lie in your daughter's bed. Smell her pillow. Breathe in her smell and try to capture it to memory. Lift the hair, her hair, from her hairbrush. Hug the stuffed animals from her shelf, the ones you tucked in beside her as a young child.  Long for her voice. Call her phone and listen to her voicemail over and over and over again. Then decided what to do with the tangible items left behind. You know, the only things left to show your daughter was on this earth. Wrap your brain around this new, unfamiliar and unwanted normal. 

Right after Phil died, I worked in the same office as this man. He got to know me at the lowest point in my entire 49 years. Now, five years later, he tells me how he thought I was such a sad soul when he met me. He was right. I was a sad soul. I reminded him of the timing and he said, "I know, I just wanted you to be present with your family. I want everyone to be happy." He didn't want me to be sad. HE didn't want it. 

When Others Need You to Be Happy for THEM

I could feel the heat rising in my body as I listened. He had no idea this was upsetting of course and I knew his intent was well meaning so I didn't let him have it. It did take great restraint on my part not to let the anger rule my mouth in that moment. He is one of the kindest people I know and for that reason, I redirected my tongue to share with him how grief is normal when you lose a child. I know he was trying to help. Again, he wanted me to be happy. That's not such a bad thing to want for others, is it?

The Un-Reality of Being Happy all the Time  

Why is happiness so grand for people and grief such a challenge? No one lives in a constant state of happiness. It is a ridiculous goal. When someone says, "All I want in life is to be happy." I think, what a stupid comment. First. It isn't achievable. No one lives in one emotion all the time. Second. How would you even identify happiness if you hadn't felt sadness? Third. Why do other people need me to be happy so they can feel good? 

How to Give Advice to A Friend about Loss

If you have a friend or family member who has lost someone close to them and they are grieving. Leave them the fuck alone about it. Don't try to fix them. Don't give them some lame story about your dog dying and how traumatic it was for YOU. We are human beings. We have emotions. We have feelings. We respond to events in our lives with emotion. Emotions are not bad. As a matter of fact, I think emotions are good and can be healthy when properly expressed. You know why other people want me to suppress my emotions? Because it makes THEM sad or it makes THEM uncomfortable. Fuck that! How about taking responsibility for your own thoughts and emotions. No one else can make you feel anything. How about taking the time to be a friend? Maybe consider being outward focused. Maybe have compassion. How about BE with your friend and listen. They don't need you to fix it. Because you can't! 

Grief is Healthy Healing

I patiently told my friend this, it's okay to grieve when you have a great loss. Grief is a human emotion and I think it is a healthy, natural process. I actually think it is necessary to healing. After Phil died, my doctor asked if I wanted antidepressants. I said no. I wasn't depressed, I was grieving a deep, soul-wrenching loss and I needed to feel it so I could properly heal. 

Is There a Way out of Grief?

So, the next time you hear about a friend or family member who loses a child, don't tell them how to do something you have never had to do. Don't be an asshole. It is a raw and ugly process and there is no "right" way other than breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in and breathing out is the only way and the rest of the path will unfold before them in time. How much time? No one knows. Each person must find their own way. As long as they want out of the grief, there is a way. There is hope. 


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Holidays Past – Missing a Loved One Who is Gone, Learning to Cope

Holidays Past – Missing a Loved One Who is GoneHolidays after the loss of a loved one

I remember past Holidays having our whole family together and feeling so good. So thankful. I felt proud of the amazing life we had together.  I would look at my husband and children all laughing, having a good time.  I would pull out Christmas decorations and clean and listen to Christmas music as I set up the tree. Before Phil died, they were all on the verge of adulthood finding their way in life. They were playful and would be joking together. I remember being so grateful to have them. That feeling of joy. A sense of peace that all was right in my world in that moment. We were all safe and we were all together.

It occurred to me that many families had sickness, pain, divorce and even death. I knew it would shadow our home someday and as most parents, I hoped it would be years away, a natural progression of either Paul or myself that died first. I couldn't imagine it being one of my children. 

Changes in the Family Dynamic when a Child Dies

When a person dies, it changes the family dynamic. Our family is different now. There are several threads of sadness in the fabric of our Holidays. We get together, cook, share a meal and we light a candle for Phil. A candle some of us didn't want to blow out at the end of the day. There is an unseen, unspoken threat to our happy time together. It is there the entire time, shadowy, lurking, big, and looming. Yet unacknowledged. Silent. Like an iceberg. We only show each other the tip. The surface. What is above the water.  The real danger lies beneath all of us. Typically anger or hurt comes out and the deeper we go into the depths, the more the uncontrollable sadness shows up. Sad to the core. We are all good at NOT speaking about Phil other than the candle because for some of us, it triggers involuntary tears. It triggers acknowledgment of what lies deep down below the surface. There is danger there. We may not make it back to the surface if we go that deep.  

The Thanksgiving Family Photo without Our Loved One. 

Every year we have taken photos of the family on Thanksgiving. It is somewhat of a tradition and this year was no different. Though I do think it is the first year since Phil died that we chose to take a family photo. It is simply too difficult to have the empty space in the photo where he should be standing. We did it. Most of us were able to push aside the missing loved one long enough to smile and not think how messed up it was that Phil wasn't there. I kept thinking our photo was no longer balanced.  Two brothers, two sisters and mom and dad with the baby. That is how it was always done. We are forced to do something different and make it work. I justified in my mind that now it should be more balanced with an even number of people…except I knew it wasn't right.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle. Phil.

I realized Phil was my helper. He would run to the store and get the last minute items I forgot. He would take out the trash. He would get on the phone and let everyone know when the Holidays were and give them the details. He was always the first one there. He would enroll his siblings in coming to mom and dads house. Now that falls on me and it is awkward. For some reason, we all love each other, but when we get together, we think of Phil. Some of us project our sadness and anger on each other during the Holidays. Others avoid it altogether and make an appearance and then leave. Some have nearly abandoned the "new" family that was created when Phil left. They have gone and found other families to spend the Holidays with so they don't have to face the death of the sibling demon or deal with the sad mom. Yet another has decided to spend time with "just" mom and dad and reject the ways of the ungrateful siblings. Each is coping in their own way. 

The Solution to a Grieving Family at the Holidays

There could be a solution. I'm not sure. Some say it takes time. Others say we go through the sadness. Others say you never get over it. I think I can choose. I am more of the mindset that you go through it and take it in the moment. Lean on each other and cry. Hug each other and smile. Remember Phil in a grateful manner and be grateful for what and who we have now. Of course, it isn't up to me as each person has their own way of grieving. Some of my kids don't want to bring it up. If they put it somewhere safe in their mind and close the door, it will go away. Sounds logical, right? Only the mind knows it is still there, lurking behind door number 1. The door that becomes larger over time.  At some point, I fear they will be forced to fling that door open and deal with what lies beyond it.  I have come to the conclusion that I don't have a solution to this problem. I will love my children. Invite them to the Holidays. Do what I can to keep our family close. They will learn to cope. Coping looks different to everyone. Some struggle more than others. There is no right way to cope and there isn't only one way to cope. There are, however, effective ways to cope and ineffective ways to cope. 

What is the Take Away for You?

Right before Phil died, I was coaching and loving it. My husband and I had worked hard to turn our turbulent marriage around with massive amounts and years of personal growth training. I was contributing to the community and doing community service. I was at my ideal weight and looked better than I did in my 30's. At 49 I looked good, felt good and had built an amazing marriage and relationship with my children. I was taking on my greatest love, public speaking, training, coaching. My husband had just left his job he had been at for 20 years to come sell real estate with me. We were making more money than we ever had and building a productive real estate team. We had a nice home in a highly desired neighborhood that we had remodeled over the years. Our kids were all thriving. We had our granddaughter that we adored and we spent the majority of our free time with Ava. 

A week before Phil died I would never have believed I could go as low as killing myself. That wasn't even in my realm. There are so many suicides during the Holidays. I get it. The Holidays bring up memories of past Holidays when there was joy, love, comfort and family time. If someone doesn't have that now, it creates a deep sense of loss. Suicide is where people go when they have no coping skills. They don't have the mindset tools needed to cope. I know how to cope with life's ups and downs.  I have those tools. I  think people who kill themselves often see no way out. It could be financial problems. Poor relationships. Poor Health. Emotional struggles or at a deeper level, it could be Spiritual.  Many hit bottom when these things all collide. A greater health issue leads to less income and less income puts a strain on a relationship and spiritual life becomes nonexistent. I began to struggle in all of these areas. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I quit meditating and abandon my spiritual practices. Physically I began to pack on weight which in turn affected my health. I wanted to feel bad. I wanted to look bad. How can I look or feel good when my baby died? Part of me died when Phil died and I didn't want to be here anymore. I did some heavy lifting in my life to really look at how I was operating. When I looked it was a victim mentality. A selfish mindset. It was all bullshit feeling sorry for myself. 

I call Bullshit on Myself and You can too!

I would tell myself, it would be okay if I was gone because everyone was already sad. It's not like it would make them sadder. Bullshit. I would hear bullshit in my mind whenever I attempted to justify. I had trained my mind to call myself out on my bullshit. Paul could find another woman who would hike with him. Bullshit. Paul didn't want another woman! My family didn't need me. I was so sad all the time, it only made it worse. Bullshit. My family needed me more than ever. Everyone had suffered a loss. I was going to die anyway, why not just do it now? Bullshit. It was a chickenshit way out and very selfish and self-serving to boot. Does this mean I have a judgment on suicide? No. It means I have compassion. I had a toolbox full of tools and was still contemplating how I could cope with this situation. Like going to the gym, lifting weights is hard at first and when you keep lifting and showing up, you become stronger. I decided I would go to the mental and emotional gym daily and face the sadness head-on and defeat it. I am a strong person with a strong mind and plenty of mindset tools and if I couldn't do it, no one could. I pushed through. I talked myself off the ledge daily. I fell to the floor and allowed myself to feel the overwhelming pain. In the end, it is always up to me. I choose life.


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The Price of Being Real

Published on 6 June, 2017 by in Uncategorized

The Price of Being Real – Resistance is Futile

Today was not a fun day. Sometimes I have days like that. On days like this, my brain says, keep these emotions all to yourself.  After all, I don't want to be that bummer, negative friend. You know, the drama queen. The crier. The one everyone talks about.  The sad friend. The friend who is needy. 

I don't want to be judged.

How the Velveteen Rabbit Became RealGrief and the Velveteen Rabbit

This takes my mind to the childhood book, The Velveteen Rabbit.

When all the playthings the children had loved and played with were old and worn out, the Magic Fairy would come and take them and make them "real". In the book, the rabbit became "real" when he shed a tear. He became "real" when he became vulnerable.  When he showed emotion. Not when he felt emotion when he showed it to others. 

People often tell me, Michelle, you are so real. 

When I first was told this, I wasn't sure what it meant. After all, we are all real, right?  We aren't stuffed animals. Then it occurred to me what they really meant to say was, I was visible, vulnerable, transparent, not faking my emotions. We can all tell when someone is not presenting from a "real" place. Basically, we know when someone is full of shit or acting.

I have noticed it is hard for people to be "real" in our culture. It's the new catch phrase. Real. I read about people being real and see people posting information on Facebook about being real. I also hear people talking about how wonderful it is to be real. To be transparent. How wonderful it is to be vulnerable. Wonderful? Hmmmmm. 

Real doesn't feel wonderful to me. It feels emotional. Angry. Sad. Guilty. Hurtful. Mostly scary. Something I have noticed is people TALK about being real. I simply don't experience a lot of them actually BEING real and vulnerable. Why?  For me it goes back to those same emotions. I am afraid to be vulnerable. There's judgment when you're vulnerable. There's judgment when you are mad, sad, negative, scared or anything less than a flawless perception of perfection. There's a risk of rejection. A risk of loss. Some people will go away from you because you're too negative. Some people will go away from you because they can't deal with your sadness, your neediness or grief.  People will go away. It's uncomfortable. What I realized is, people will always go away.  Real or not.

Vulnerability is not about Unhappiness 

It may sound as though, for me, being vulnerable and real is about unhappiness. It's not. It's about showing my humanness. Happiness is just one of many emotions. Emotions are just that. Emotions. It is we, as humans, who put the judgment of positive and negative on them. It's bad to be sad. It's good to be happy. It's bad to be angry and so on.

I am a happy person for the most part. At least that is how I see myself. It's not about being happy.  Happiness, like all emotions, is fleeting.  Peace is a state of being. Peace is a place within my spirit that I can go and simply BE. Feeling all emotions, happy, sad, angry, joy, frustration, worry, and sharing them is what makes one "real".  For me, life is about developing coping mechanisms that can bring me inner peace.

Becoming the Observer of My Emotions

Emotions come from my resistance to what is and my thoughts about "how" I am resisting it. My judgments to my own resistance. Today, I was a whiny little bitch.

In August, I had my left thumb operated on and now it's about 70%. That's really good compared to what it was when I started, so, I'm happy with that. Last Friday, I had my right thumb operated on. The surgery went well and is considered a success, so, I'm happy about that. There's not a lot of pain and no signs of infection, so, I'm happy about that. I have plenty of food to eat, so, I'm happy about that. I have a nice car to drive, so, I'm happy about that. I have an amazing home to live in, so, I'm happy about that. I have a ton of friends who are supportive and a loving family, so, I'm happy about that. So you see it isn't about being happy. I am happy with many things in my life.

Why am I emotional and being a whiny little bitch when I'm happy with so many things in my life? 

Because I'm human of course. 

What Happened Today – the Emotional Meltdown

I woke up and stumbled into the kitchen, grabbing my glasses off the night table. I made myself some coffee and started to get ready for my day. Doing things with one painful and recovering hand is a challenge. Most days Paul is around to help me but today he's at work.

I look down at my toes. I haven't had a pedicure in weeks. Good thing I will be wearing my shoes today and no one will see my toes. I groggily drag myself into the bathroom and begin the process of undressing with one arm to get into the shower.

Once in the shower, I struggle with soaping myself and shaving my armpits. Basic things for a woman, right? Once I finish my shower, drying off is a struggle. I can't get the towel wrapped around my hair.  The frustration is mounting. My left arm is overworked and out of shape. I feel exhausted.

Drying my long hair takes some time and can be a challenge in and of itself.  This morning it became my biggest challenge. When I couldn't get my hair to do what I wanted to do, I decided I would use a curling iron and then promptly burnt my forehead. Not one of my best ideas to use a curling iron with my bum hand. It's okay, I have many "mind tools" from my personal growth training so I talk myself off the ledge and say, you have some cute hats, today is a hat day.

What's Really Going on – Real shows up one way or another

Paul had been doing the laundry for so long because of my hand I had gotten used to him stuffing my clothes into weird spaces. It was like an Easter egg hunt finding my jeans. As I struggle to pull them on, I realize this would be a piece a cake compared to securing my bra.  The frustration and emotion that filled me were surprising. I had been pushing back all the raw emotions over the last few weeks due to the fact that this will be the fourth Christmas without Phil. It will be the first Christmas without Ava. My life had changed so dramatically in the last four years it was almost hard to recognize.

I glanced in the mirror, my left-handed makeup job looked pretty good, considering. I was feeling the frustration mounting as I managed to wrestle into my bra and latch it after several attempts. I had to roll around on the bed to get my jeans fastened. Not because I was too fat but because I couldn't manage to pull together the fasteners with one, bum hand.  Fortunately, I knew just the shoes to wear, they would be quick and simple to put on my feet. As I quickly went from room to room looking for my shoes, I can feel frustration and panic mounting again. At this point, tears were just under the surface. The burning feeling in my throat came and went as I stuffed raw emotion down.

I didn't have time to search for shoes! I vaguely remembered the last time I saw the shoes. It was when I entered the hospital for my surgery last Friday. I remember as we were leaving and Paul put me in the truck, he said, "just leave the hospital booties on, it's fine."

So after a thorough search of the house, I reluctantly pick up my cell phone and punch in the numbers to Paul's work. The familiar voice of the receptionist, (who is naturally stressed and annoyed), answers and curtly tells me Paul cannot come to the phone right now. At this point, I burst into tears. Through the sobs, I managed to tell her I need my shoes, I can't get my bra on right, I can't find my jeans, my hair looks terrible, it's a hat day, I'm running late and I have to go to the doctor. The words tumbled out profusely and sounded like a wounded, wild animal and I begin to apologize profusely. All of this was of course, barely audible because I was bawling my eyes out.  In the back of my mind, all I could think of was the judgment of Paul's coworkers. How his emotionally unstable wife was calling about her shoes and couldn't cope with the most basic things in her life, getting dressed. I envisioned them laughing in the hospital break room about how poor Paul had to deal with this crazy, loonie wife.

The funny thing was that all of the things I had been stuffing we're also there. The continued to struggle and grief of losing my oldest son. The loss of Ava's presence. The lack of our family coming together at Christmas. Missing my mom. Missing my dad. Missing Paul's dad. The lack of Christmas decorations this year. The drywall guy who didn't finish on time. The fact that I'm out of shampoo. The bill I forgot to pay. And on and on and on.

I have always been a fan of Star Trek. My favorite is the Borg tag-line, 'Resistance is Futile'. This is one of the most brilliant lines in a movie. Resistance is Futile. You know why resistance is futile? Resistance doesn't work. Resistance causes frustration, pent-up emotion, roadblocks in our minds.

I have resisted Phil's death. There are moments of acceptance and then I fall back again and resist. Resistance is futile. Philip is still dead.

Everything is different without him here. Ava now lives in Turkey. Our family has suffered tremendously. Broken relationships. Individual grief. Well-meaning friends offering advice on something they know little about and have never experienced. Disdain for the holidays. 

Today was not a fun day. Sometimes I have days like that. I am a human being. I am real. And then I remember, Resistance is Futile.

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Gone from my Sight

Published on 11 May, 2017 by in Uncategorized

Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And that my friend is dying…

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My Grief is Better than Your Grief!

compare griefThe comparison of grief. It doesn't work. Although I find it happens often. 

"I know just how you feel about your son." My neighbor began. "The other morning I was out front with my dog and I loved that dog. I saw the car coming and shouldn't have called him. He was across the street and in the neighbor's yard and I called him at the wrong moment and he ran right in front of the car. I felt so bad. I totally cried." 

I stood there and I am pretty sure my mouth must have dropped open at some point. Did this guy just compare his dog to my 22-year-old son? I walked away feeling differently about him.  Mostly, I just didn't get it. Emotionally I felt angry. I felt like he was stupid. Logically, I knew he was a pretty good guy and was simply wanting to connect and let me know he felt bad for me. 

Comparing Grief doesn't Work!

Comparing grief doesn't work. Many of my friends and even strangers have said things like my neighbor said to me.  I love my friends and I know they are making feeble attempts to connect with me and let me know they understand. The point is, they don't. They don't understand and I hope they never do understand. My grief is not better than their grief. Their grief is not better than mine. It isn't about comparing emotions. 

Trying to Box Grief and put it in a Neat Package

Grief is raw. Grief is personal. Grief is something that we make major attempts to define. As humans, we want to rope it in and contain so we can control it. We have even made a "formula" of the stages of grief. Bullshit. I have found it all to be bullshit. There is no formula. No pat answers. No typical. No normal. 

Grief releases all emotions. When there is a loss, emotions won't be corraled. Even if they are stuffed, eventually, they will fester and come out. They will bubble up from wherever they were stuffed and create physical pain, emotional pain, drinking, drugs, or disease. 

Grief reminds me of the movie, Clash of the Titans and the release of the Kraken. The Kraken. It was a monster that, once released, there was a possibility the Kraken could not be controlled.  Of course, the Kraken was always there in the depths, lying in wait. The Kraken could destroy the entire world if released and allowed to roam unchecked. This is grief. Also, if released, there is no way to know if it can be recaptured. 

Grief is not just about the loss of form. It is about a loss of the relationship. A loss of future experiences. What makes it unique is the fact that those future experiences are made up by the griever. This is what makes it so personal. For example, who knows if Phillip would have ever bought a home. In my head, he bought a home and I was the one to help him buy it. This is one of many scenarios. 

The Best Case Scenario of Death 

The very best case scenario in life is that the Grandfather dies. The Father dies. The son dies. The grandson dies. This is the path to the most happiness. When someone dies early in life, it is a loss of future experiences. When someone lives a long life, it is easier to reconcile in our brain. 

As Eckhart Tolle says, all stories are failed stories. In the end, we all lose form. We all die. Suffering is inevitable, and how we respond to that suffering is our choice. 

Getting Good at Grief

The only way to get good at grief is to experience it. It is not something for which you can prepare yourself. You can't get ready. There is no class on how to get ready. Well, maybe there is, I don't know. The point is, even if there was a class like that, it wouldn't work. The emotions must be felt. It is healthy. It is a huge part of life. It is the only thing we can all count on. We have 100% death rate in this world. 

This is why comparing grief is difficult. It doesn't work. The truth is, my neighbors level of grief could possibly be as deep as mine. Perhaps the loss of his dog is a deep grieving process for him. I don't want to judge that. I also don't want it compared to my son and my grief. 

What is the Answer?

The answer is love. It is aways love. Love can be a light touch. Listening. A warm hug. I have found that sometimes I just want a friend to listen. I want them to cry with me and realize that I have lost one of the great loves of my life. There is nothing to do. There is only a way to BE. Just BE with me. I will BE with you. Nothing else matters. My grief is not better than your grief, it is different. That doesn't mean we both cannot be experiencing the same emotions. We have all experienced loss. Let's BE with that and appreciate what we have in front of us NOW. 


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1498 Days without Phil

It's Fall again Phil. The weather is beautiful. The trees are lush and green, and in Arizona, will be for at least another month. I look at the sky in the morning and I look at the sky in the evening. I am always looking for signs from you.

No Christmas without Phillip

1498 days ago, you left. It seems like it just happened and yet I am about to launch my fourth Holiday season without you. I haven't put up a Christmas tree or decoration since. This year, I suppose I will drag out the decorations and spruce this place up a bit. How can it be 1498 days?

How Long will it Take?

Each day I wake up and I think of you. I fall into bed at night and think of you. Losing a child is so strange. It is the pain. It is like an open wound that will never heal. I keep hoping for a scab to form. Even when it does, I pick at it. I suppose one day there could be a scar that perhaps I will just touch and remember. How the heck long is it going to take?

Directing My Emotions

Dad says we are badasses Phil. I think I can get behind that when I look at our results. Though, it is tough to find meaning again. Everything seems so small in comparison to your life. Fatigue comes and goes. No rest for the weary is what they say. Whomever "they" are, they are right. I feel weary and tired most of the time.

On the other hand, I am grateful. I work with this daily. I am in charge of my emotions. I am in charge of my life and I do not want to live in sadness. Directing my emotions is way more difficult now with this than the small, trivial problems I thought I had before. 

Sorry Phil, I Don't Care what You Want!

Well meaning friends and acquaintances remind me, "Your son wouldn't want you to be sad." Sorry Phil, I don't really care what you want. This is about me and I am a mom and you don't know anything about being a mom. I'm not upset at friends and qcquantnaces, it is their way to avoid the uncomfortable fact that sometimes I will visit the sadness when I speak of you. I will always speak of you to anyone who will listen.  I also know if they lost their child FOREVER, they would not want to hear such a pat answer as your child wouldn't want you to be sad. It's too pat. Cliche. Perhaps I am being too hard on my friends. I know they only want to support me. Still I wish our society was more in tune to grief. We should could support each other. It seems like something we know nothing about.

Random Memories of Phillip

So many thoughts of you. What a strong name you had. Phillip Henry Shelton. A kings name. Random memories. Remember the times you went to Bisbee with Joey and loved it? Dad and I finally went. We took Ava. Ava. She is so beautiful Phil. Her mom took her to Turkey.  Another loss for us. Our Fridays and Saturdays used to be filled with love of Ava. She would call me at work on Friday and say, "Gigi, are you done yet?" She couldn't wait to come over and hang with us. Now we sit at home and don't do a whole lot on the weekends. Everything is different with you gone Phil Henry. I wish it wasn't so and I wish you hadn't gone.

1498 days is too long. I know it is just the start. I miss you Phil and wish you were here.


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How I Saved a Woman’s Life on Facebook

Last night there was a woman in a private group I am part of on Facebook. Her daughter had died a year and a half ago and she and her husband had since divorced. She was struggling.

There were a couple of posts. One said, something like, I thought I could do this but I can’t. Then the other looked as though she had been drinking and doing drugs. It talked about her husband and divorce attorney and taking a lot of pills and being done with it.

I didn’t know if I should take it serious at first and then I remembered back to some of my deepest, darkest days early on after Phil died. I wanted to die. I wanted to live. I didn’t know what I wanted. I wanted my baby back. I wanted to hold him. My emotions were all over the place. The pain was so intense that it felt like I couldn’t get through it and it did seem, at times, that it would be easier without me. Others were struggling dealing with my openness about Phil’s death.  There was always something that stopped me from taking action. My husband. My other children. My family. My friends. I had a huge support system who had surrounded me. I wondered who this woman had in her life? Her and her husband hadn’t made it through the trauma. Divorce alone is a grieving process, I cannot imagine it coupled with the death of my child.

I read her words again and made a feeble attempt to decipher what she was saying. I felt a chill up my spine. I think she was serious. In a nutshell, she said she was done. She had no last name and I was not friends with her. I went to her profile and poked around. I couldn’t see much. The first thing I did was fill out a Facebook Report Suicidal Content form I began to contact the people who had commented on her photos. It looked like she could be from the East Coast.  It was after 10:30 Arizona time. That would make it after 1:30 in the morning on the East Coast. How many of these people would still be awake and on Facebook?  I couldn’t tell where she was from as it was blocked on her profile, but many of her friends were either from New York or New Jersey. I messaged each and every one of them. I tried to call her and them from Facebook. Nada. I’m not friends with them either so that won’t work.

Then I clicked on her friends list. I could only see two of them. I clicked on relationships and one of the visible friends said she was a family memeber. I sent messages and again tried to call. Meanwhile, people in the group are frantically trying to get her to engage. It has been over an hour by now. There were well over 100 comments on her post.

My husband had come home from work late and said, “What are you doing? Come watch TV with me.” So I did. I took the computer with me and read some of the comments. I didn’t seem that anyone was having any luck with reaching her. It was weighing heavily on me. I grabbed her family members name and googled it. Nada. Then I went to white pages and typed it in…I didn’t even know where she lived. Bingo. New York. There she was. Maybe.

I excused myself to the other room and dialed the phone. She was not happy and was very direct….well…because she was a New Yorker of course!  My New Yorker friends are very direct. It was late there. She did say she wasn’t sleeping. But who was I and what family member did I think might be in danger? How did I get her number? She didn’t seem to have the urgency of the situation. She said, “Let me call her on my cell, hold on.” I heard her leave a message. Then she said, I don’t know what else I can  do, I will wait to hear back from her.”

I said, “Call the police and they will do a well check on her.”  

I gave her name and number to the administrator of the Facebook group and asked her to call as well. She did call and apparently, the family member, said she thought, because of what I had communicated, her loved one was still posting in the group and that is why she wasn’t urgent. This was NOT the case!

An hour and a half later the family member called me back. She had been found and was taken to the hospital and was resting. She didn’t know much because of the Hippa Privacy Act. She just knew she was alive and getting care.

This morning I was at the gym and when I came out there was a message from the woman’s family member.  She said she was resting comfortably and was still in ICU. I had saved her life. She was so grateful. I felt pretty good about that message.

Losing a child is a hard road. I don’t know this woman. I don’t know her family or her circumstances. I don’t even know how her daughter died. None of that matters.

I am her and she is me. I have been there. I have contemplated ending it all after my son died. In our culture the belief seems to be that people who contemplate suicide are crazy and should be on medication. They need help. This could be true that they need help, it does not make them crazy.  Because of this thinking, oftentimes people don’t open up about their pain and share. This intensifies the problem.

I have had my ups and downs. For the most part, I think it is part of the struggle of losing a child. Coping. Finding new ways to cope. Getting to the next day. Each day. Breathing. In. And. Out. I am not ashamed of my contemplation. I know all of you have thoughts that you never act on and if it came down to it, never would. So, I see this for me as the same thing. However, with suicide you never know if someone simply needs attention. Needs a friend. A hug. Someone to listen. Someone to CARE.  That seems to be another thing with humans. We don’t want anyone to know we need attention. So instead of simply stating, I could use some attention now, humans play games to get it.

As you go out in the world today. Instead of judging, being pissy, angry or opinionated, reach for your compassion. Consider what the other person could be going through. And then do something to really GIVE. Give with no hope of return. Basically, I am asking you to CARE. Care for someone elses well being even if you do not know them.

And finally, I will leave you with this: It’s all love. Phil used to say that. It’s all love.

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My Son Sam Shelton

I have been appreciating my son, Sam, more than ever! Having only one son after having two for so long is a strange feeling. I enjoy his antics. I enjoy his voice, expressions and his quirkey personality. He is not really like Phillip at all. He is unique, he is Sam.

I think of the book, Green Eggs and Ham. It is one of Ava's favorite books. I read it at least 17 times a day when she is here. That Sam I am, that Sam I am, I do not like that Sam I am.

When I think of Phil, I think about how much he admired Sam. He looked up to his little brother and wished he could be more like him. He told me several times how cool he thought Sam was. He is right, Sam is way cool. I am so grateful I have him.

Today I want to write about Sam. He writes music. He plays guitar. He attends leadership classes and he has deep discussions with his mom and dad about Spiritual truths. He shares his thoughts on the Universe and how he thinks it all works. It is facinating to hear how his young mind works and processes the world around him. I cannot imagine the world without him.

Sam also eats all of our food, he sleeps over at the houe and doesn't make his bed…it may sound strange but these are the things I often miss about Phil…the normal, every day stuff. I miss it about Sam when he is not here. I cannot imagine my life without Sam.

Each child has a place in the family…they contribute something. Sam is the entertainer. He makes everyone shake their head and laugh. He provides humor and seriousness. This may sound funny because they are opposites of sort. He does though…he has a very deep spirit. He is fun and thoughtful and he is a driving force in the world

Now with Phillip gone, I think I appreciate Sam much more. I had a very deep and special relationship with Phillip. This sometimes shadowed the relationship with Sam. Big brother would always fill the gap between him and mom. Big brother would fight his battles for him and also smooth things over for him. Now he has to do it on his own. I was like Phil was a part of him. I mean really a part of him.

I am looking for the good in my life right now. I am searching for purpose and a reason to go on. Don't worry, I am not that depressed that I would check out…I am just needing to find the joy that is there waiting for me to recognize it. Sam is one of those joys. He contributes to my life. He is part of me. Just as Phil was. I am so happy Sam is my son.



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A Brother’s Love – Death of a Brother

Death of a brotherPhillip and Sam were 21 months apart. Phillip was always the good big brother. He taught Sam by example. He was quiet, gentle and patient. Phil was born this way. He came in with nothing to prove. He was here to enjoy life and other people.

Sam was clumsy, loud and reckless. I don’t mean this in an unkind way.  Sam is an amazing child. He simply had “heavy hands” in everything he did from birth. He did not have a soft touch. He jumped in full fledged, feet first and just did it…the quality would come later.

Speaking at the Funeral
At Phils memorial Sam spoke quite eloquently about his big brother Phil. Everyone had been getting up and talking about how they got to know Phil. Sam said, “I didn’t have to get to know Phil. I always knew him.” It was a perfect thing to say.

This was a very true statement. Phil had always been there from the time Sam was born. The overseer, the protector of his little brother. Like his dad. The peacekeeper. The watcher. What stuck with me about Sam was he dealt with the pain of his loss as if one of his limbs had been cut off. We was aloof, alone, tired, disconnected and encouraging. Yes, I said encouraging. It is sort of a weird combination and grief can do that to a person.

He stayed up late at night. Played his music. He wound’t call. Wouldn’t check-in. Didn’t talk to us much. When I talked to him he was busy. I remember calling him at 3:AM one morning when I was overwhelmed with it all. I couldn’t sleep, everyone else was asleep and I felt sick to my stomach and I felt as though I would die. I hoped I would, though I couldn’t, and wouldn’t make that happen for myself. As selfish as I am…I wasn’t that selfish. So I called Sam. The encourager.

“Hey mom.” He answered.

“Hey Sammy. You up? Can you talk? I just need to talk to someone.” I said.

“Sure. What’s up?” He answered.

On the verge of hysteria now, I sobbed. “I just can’t do this. I can’t go on without Phil.”

He was quiet and listened to me cry as he gathered his thoughts and then said. “Mom. MOM. This is the thing mom, (long pause), you had your time with Phil.”

It was a profound thing to say. I clung to it for a long time and I still revisit this saying from time to time. I had my time with Phil. I had my shot. I spent all the time I had.

In that moment I realized. Paul and I had done an amazing job of raising our kids. Teaching them coping skills for the real world. Teaching them a healthy mindset. I don’t know how I did it exactly because I was a red hot mess.  Perhaps they got it all from Paul. I knew from that moment on that I had to come through this…for them. For Ava. For Paul. For Josie. For Emma. For Sam. For Marie. Even for my little dog who followed me everywhere and seemed to pick up on my sadness. And for Phil. Although, I hate it when others say what Phil would or would not have wanted….how would they know? I do know Phil would want me happy. I know this because he wanted everyone happy when he was alive. It was his way.

Grief is NOT Logical
Grief is an interesting process. There are so many unspoken emotions. There is zero logic. ZERO. When people try to fix it or give words of advice or how to tips, the words fall on deaf ears. It is pure, raw, unbridled emotion. Not only does it not have logic, it actually defies  logic. It is like a dog looking at you when you speak and they tip their head that certain way as to say WTF are you even saying? That’s grief. No understanding. The only path to salvation is acceptance and that takes guts, determination and focus. I don’t think time does it. Although people like to offer up this pat line of “you just need time, or give it some time”, I think pure WILL does it. A mind-set. A decision that you WANT to do it. You want to LIVE.

Unfair Assignments
We now look to Sam to solve the problems that Phil did. To step in and fill Phillips shoes. He doesn’t of course and it is unfair to even have that expectation and this is yet another unreasonable and unspoken quality of grief. At least it has been in our family. Phil was the peacemaker of the world. When people would become emotional, he was the calming force. He brought a sense of peace to those around him. If we would fight he would remind us of our love for each other. If something happened, he would hug and hold. When Sam and I would fight, it was Phil who would step in and reassure me that Sam would come around and apologize for the harsh words he never should speak to his mother. Phil would remind me how much Sam loved me and that he was just upset with the situation at hand. Soon Sam would come walking in with a commanding walk and give me a tight hug. No words. I knew Phil had spoken logic to him and Sam had once again conceded to his big brother. The 21 month authority and respect Phillip had simply by being the first born.

What Sam Learned from Phillip
It must be difficult for Sam not to have that buffer.  Not to have a real outside force who always had his back and made sure he maintained the most important relationships of family. He has never said much about it…nor would I expect him to. I am very proud of my only living son. He has handled his brothers death with dignity and grace. Much as if he had lost a limb. He has learned to accommodate and exercise his weaknesses into strengths. I have seen him be loving, tender, and understanding. I have seen him realize that Phil is no longer there to patch things up. He is more aware of his actions and the affect they have on others. He is a dad. A great dad. Phil would be proud. I am proud. His dad is proud.

I know Phil would be so happy that Sam was learning to have the empathy that came to Phil so naturally.  That Phil patiently taught him when they were together those few short years. They complimented each other and Phil was a great contributor to Sam’s life and Sam was a great contributor to Phil’s life. Phil would not have done as well as Sam has done with this tremendous loss. He had to be the one to go first as he would have crumbled. Sam is strong and has taught me much since the loss of Phil. I wish Phillip could see what a great man his little brother has become…of course maybe he can. Maybe he can.

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