Grace And Courage

Jenny, our precious one and only — the night you were born I could not imagine that 11 short years later, we would be in the same hospital, at night, again at your side, watching you depart. And here we find ourselves, over 11 years later — when you’ve now been gone as long as you were here. Your time with us was short, but so full of life and lessons for all of us who knew you. You coped with your brain tumor and the laughter and vision and ease it stole from you with the greatest bravery and humility. Our hearts were broken knowing you suffered, knowing you had to become the wiser person, knowing you had to endure what no child should ever face. But your grace in doing so taught us all the greatest lesson of perspective and knowing how to go on living and enjoying to the end of our days. You are always with us, your adoring parents, who are so grateful for the blessing of you in our lives, then and now. Thank you for reminding us how to live — and know your love and lessons moved far beyond just us, but all those whose lives you graced with your smile, enthusiasm, laughter and encouragement. You are loved to the edges of the universe and back.

In the immediate days after Jenny’s death, I allowed myself to feel relief. That may sound caustic to some, but I was relieved from worrying about how bad her suffering would be, how bad the ending would be. I was ultimately relieved to know she was no longer suffering. In the midst of feeling numb and arranging the memorial and cremation, relief was huge in helping me cope. I knew bad days were coming, but those first days were filled with relief and my final acts as a mother in arranging the things mentioned above. It got me out of bed each day.

I removed the world “should” from my vocabulary. There is no playbook for what we experienced so I was not going to guilt myself into some version of “I should do …, I should feel …, I should say …”. I let myself just be — and I was numb for quite a while. I allowed myself to just be until I was bored with “just being” and felt motivated to do whatever came next. No playbook. I was blessed/cursed with having no job to go to — no obligation to show up to work but also no distraction by being at work.

Picture of a giraffe looking at the cameraBeing a spiritual person at heart along with being a nature/science girl, I really tried to accept the notion that this was her journey/my journey and nature had decided what was to be, i.e., the “circle of life”. I fought it a lot, but there was no one or thing to blame for what befell my child’s body — so I had to find some means to come to acceptance. A year after her death, Brian and I went to Africa. I remember encountering (the first night we got there no less) a clearly upset and likely grieving mother giraffe, circling her baby that had just been killed by hyenas. I sobbed silently in the back of the jeep, understanding so well, on such an instinctual level, what that animal might be feeling. But there was something in those moments that made what happened to Jen feel so much a part of the natural world — it could happen to mama giraffe as easily as it happened to me — and oddly enough, it was a place of comfort for me. She and I both embraced nature so much; it seemed appropriate and right I would encounter this scene. And from the beginning up to this day, nature and the natural world are places of comfort and solace for me. Without nature, I would not be getting through this life.

Travel … We were blessed to go to some wonderful “wild” places, and we always take Jen with us and leave some of her there.

Self-care with modern medicine. About nine months after Jen died, I sunk deep into the dark place of grief. I remember laying on a couch and thinking there was no possible way I could live the rest of my life feeling the grief I felt. Fortunately, I sought out both emotional and medical care. I had a great doctor who helped me restore my biochemistry — I had adrenal depletion from living with “fight or flight” for 12 months or more — so that got adjusted. I also did work with a family therapist and psychologist who introduced me to EMDR — a way to reduce the anxiety and hysterical grief from an event. Simple therapy using pulsing paddles in one’s hands while talking through the event. I also had craniosacral massage to help with grief headaches. Sounds very new age — groovy, but was immensely helpful. In the course of these therapies, I was able to visualize the following: that the enormous bag of boulders of grief that was crushing me to the ground each day, could be loaded onto a smooth sliding sled that I carried alongside me every day — allowing me to be upright and carry on with my life. Always right beside me, always with me, but no longer crushing me. This was profound, and a major turning point in my survival.

Brian, Jen and MJ at Disneyland. Brian is on the left. He's wearing khaki pants, a long sleeve black LIVESTRONG shirt. He has white gray hair and a beard and mustache. Jenny is wearing a pink hat, olive green jacket and teal shorts. MJ is wearing a blue jacket with a gray color

Probably the most important person to see me through this was Jenny (and that is not to dis Brian; we just did this together — that in itself being a survival tactic). I became worried that if she saw us (from wherever she now was) and saw how broken and wrecked we were that she would think she was responsible. I could not allow her to feel guilt over what her death did to us. She was an absolute good — a tremendous blessing in our lives. It took time to figure out how to live it, and we allowed ourselves to fall apart in grief and rise up again, but I knew the greatest tribute to her and the blessing she was in our lives was to live our life well and seek out happiness. To live as the embodiment of what we gained from her presence in our lives. She taught us so much about grace and courage — I needed her to know that she mattered and that we could take the blessings of her and what we learned and apply it to the hardest time in our lives. In all honesty, that was the biggest turning point in our survival and continues to be to this day.

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