Everything in my life has made me who I am today. Each experience has brought me closer to where I want to be, shown me where I am or where I can improve. It’s not been a journey for the faint of heart, but a journey of experiences and lessons that allowed me to learn and grow. How can we really be living if we are not growing every single day in some way?
Part of my journey was accepting that my life will go on after the death of my child whether I like it or not, with or without me, as well as accepting my life as it is and not how I thought it should be. My life going on meant having a response to common questions such as “do you have children?” and “how many?” These innocent questions can bring a grown woman to tears. And nobody wants to see that! Yet, these questions are among the most common questions in our culture. These questions serve as a way to connect us with other parents and to share common experiences.
But what happens when parts of our story are too difficult for us to tell? Or, when we don’t know how to answer these questions anymore? How do we respond to questions about our life when our internal dialog does not match our external dialog? I gave birth to two children and so I have two children, but one is here and one isn’t. What if our story overwhelms others, evokes fear and/or pity, or articulates our vulnerability in such a way that it makes others uncomfortable? These struggles are real if your child has died, or if you have experienced other significant trauma in your life.
I have learned that people don’t really want to know that the possibility of their child dying exists. It brings up their own fear of death. Their own sense of mortality. The reality that life is not fair. The truth that any one of us could be gone in an instant. The unpredictability of life. The fear of how they would respond.
Others are fascinated. Afterall, it is their worst nightmare that their child will die before them. They looked on in awe to see what the aftermath would reveal. When Keara was born with cancer, an onlooker said “I don’t know how you get out of bed in the morning.” I had never even considered not getting out of bed in the morning. Who would visit Keara if I didn’t get out of bed?
This makes me want to talk about it even more. I want parents to see that death is part of life. Their life will go on even if their child dies. Sometimes I just need to talk about Keara to release the hurt and sadness that has built up. Sometimes I want to talk about her to keep her alive and to feel like she is still here. Sometimes I just want to talk about my beautiful daughter.
Inevitably, people misunderstand my need to speak about my daughter. Assumptions are made, one size fits all comments are spoken, and pity is given. I want people to understand that I just want to talk about her like any parent would. I want to brag about how great she is, how sweet she is and how happy she is now that she is free from the struggles of human experience. I want people to hear about her struggles with cancer, how bravely she handled years of multiple doctor appointments. I want people to know what a loving daughter, sister, cousin and friend she is. She can be all those things even if we don’t recognize her in our physical world.
I am not stuck in the past. I am not ridden with sadness. I am not crying out for help. I am simply storytelling. This desire to keep my daughter’s spirit alive through story is generational. It is why we know anything about our family’s history.
Stories surround us. Humans have been engaged in storytelling for thousands of years. Stories help us to express ourselves, understand our experiences, communicate with others and give us reference points to help our recall of past events. Stories surround us as we become the stories we tell. We can learn a lot about a person by the stories they tell, the messages they convey and the words they use.
Storytelling brings our experiences to life. Storytelling provides opportunities to connect with others, share ideas and experiences, convey culture, history, perspective and values. Stories teach us about life, ourselves and others. Stories give us perspective we may otherwise never have.
My storytelling is conscious, deliberate, intentional. It acknowledges the fact that my cherished daughter has died. It shows respect to the reality that my heart was broken when it happened. It is not intended to perpetuate the sadness, evoke pity or leave people in fear. It is intended to illustrate that a child’s death is not the worst thing that can happen. Choosing not to heal after the death of your child might possibly be worse.
Keeping our child alive through stories is one of the coping skills parents have. The ability to inspire others with your story can be a superpower. Stories allow us to share beauty and pain with others. Our words and feelings also serve as a badge of courage for us and as a way to honor our child. Stories give meaning to our life, and can heal us, as well as others.
My conscious storytelling about my experiences with my daughter is my way of making sense of it. Talking about Keara allows me to elicit stories about her that I did not already know. A way to remember small details that I may have forgotten. A chance to bring her alive through my speech. A way to honor her journey.
These deliberate attempts to bring her memory to life, to learn more about her, and to celebrate her bravery and experiences help me to fill the hole that was left in my heart. I had to learn a whole new way of living and breathing, and storytelling became a part of that new identity. I want people to know her story. Not for pity, but for glory. To be born, live such a profound experience and then to change the lives of others through her death, deserves glory, not pity.
Storytelling allows me to create the narrative for my daughter’s life. It allows me to collect facts, beliefs, memories and combine them with love to create a story that inspires. There is great power in that. The best responses are those that totally understand what I am saying and agree. They are not offering me pity or sympathy. They are not trying to change or dismiss how I feel or think. Instead, they try to imagine how I feel. That’s empathy. Most don’t want to imagine the pain at all. Or it almost seems that they think its contagious. I really can’t tell, but people’s reactions and responses reveal more about them than they realize.
You can let something destroy you, define you or drive you. The story of Keara’s birth sometimes drove me, but as a story it defined me. Upon reflection I can see, feel and know what it feels like to be defined by something. It feels different than letting it drive you. Being driven versus being defined feels so much more free.
Awareness around the story I tell about myself, matters. The inner dialog matters as much as the outer dialog. Your story matters too. How do you tell your story? Is it filled with woes or triumphs? Failures or opportunities? Regret or acceptance? Are you a victim or a warrior? When you think about it or speak about it, does it feel expansive or constrictive?
Each and every one of us is the author of our own story. There is immense power in the realization of this. Harness that power and weave your tale of lessons in a way that empowers you. If your child has died, find a way to tell the story in a way that honors their journey.
As I write this, my now 19 year old son and his girlfriend are playing video games in a fort they made in his room. Memories have been flowing through all afternoon. Making forts with his sister was a big part of my son’s childhood. I can spin a story of sadness, grief and anger or I can spin a story of trust, love and acceptance. A conscious choice that is mine to make. If it inspires just one person to do the same, healing can occur. And, do you know what is contagious? Healing. When we heal ourselves, we show it is possible to heal. Telling stories about our journey shows others how and where they can heal too. What better way to honor Keara than to inspire others to heal from grief through storytelling?!
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of “21st Century Parenting” brought to you by Keara Kisses.
I invite you to consider your story and how it makes you feel, think and speak.
For more information visit kearakisses.com. In Episode 5 of our series on “Living after the death of a child” we will
Until we meet again, keep wondering.
These blogs are written from my personal perspective. I have over thirty years of experience investigating, counseling, assessing and understanding the nature of humans. I look forward to creating a connection with you and sharing reciprocal positive experiences, comments and feedback about your life experiences and opportunities for growth. Please feel free to email comments to email@example.com. Positive comments only please.