Tag Archives: grief

Moments in Time – Part 3

This post is part of our series throughout the month of May on motherhood. This story is the third part to “Moments in Time – Part 1,” and “Moments in Time – Part 2”, reflections from our Executive Director Elisabeth Zimmermann on the death of her grandson, Coby.
We post this story in honour of all the mothers who have experienced the tragedy of loosing a child.

This past January we gathered together to mark what would have been Coby’s second birthday.  It is still difficult. We came together as family to remember the child who we never had the chance to know.  I couldn’t help but think about what he would have been doing, what kind of little boy would he have been.  I know if he had been anything like Kirstin he would have been taking the world by storm, inquisitive, exploring and full of energy. We would have probably have had lots of grandma and Coby time by now, secret times, just the two of us as I helped him learn about the world around him.  The grief has softened as time has gone on as I knew it would, yet it is still there.  There are moments that still catch me by surprise, a sentimental commercial, a little blond haired two year old boy.  Moments that remind me of what we have lost.  Those moments aren’t as often as they once were but they are still there and when they happen are still as intense and full of sorrow as they were from the beginning.

This year life has evolved and continued as it does, Kirstin and Jason now have Alice who was born in August after an anxiety filled pregnancy.  The first time I saw Alice within hours of her birth was the same way I saw Coby for the first time, in the arms of her father.  It took my breath away how much she looked like her brother.  There are moments when I look at her as she is growing and thriving I can’t help but wonder about Coby and what kind of big brother he would have been.

“It is the great comfort that children bring, life goes on and the immediate needs take precedent and in that there is healing.”

Kirstin and Jason’s first weeks of parenting this new baby had all of the typical new parent anxieties but all of it was amplified.  Layered over everything was the loss of Coby, the knowledge of how badly things can go wrong is always there.  As the weeks and months have gone by and Alice is growing and becoming more and more her own person it has forced them to be present in who she is.  It is the great comfort that children bring, life goes on and the immediate needs take precedent and in that there is healing.  What having Alice has done for all of us is crea
te the space for the joy of this new child without diminishing the importance of who Coby was in our lives and in so doing has created some peace with what happened.

Here we are now at Mother’s Day, the 3rd one since we lost Coby.  It has been a different Mother’s Day this year because of Alice’s presence it was marked by the duality of joy and sorrow.  The journey of parenthood has been a struggle for Kirstin and Jason because of the loss of Coby, it has had an everlasting impact on how they and I as well view the world.  I am grateful to see that Kirstin and Jason are finding peace with losing Coby and that Alice has brought them such great joy.  I know they will always miss him and that he will always have a place in their lives and that Alice will grow up knowing that she had a big brother even if she didn’t get to know him.  1

I continue to share our family’s experience and will always share this experience because I believe that in so doing we honour the time that Coby was with us and as well it is my hope that in so doing it creates the space for families who have lived in silence to share their own experiences.

I also continue to share my perspective of our experience because of how much Coby has impacted my life even though we only had him for a moment.
He will always be remembered, he will always be a part of our lives. 

 

Remembering Remembrance Day

111113-remembrance-dayRemembrance Day  is a time for us to pay our respects to those that put their life on the line to protect our country and all of it’s freedoms.  Freedom to make our own choices, freedom from dictatorship. Freedom to pursue a life of happiness.   It’s a time to reflect on what it means to be Canadian and to be grateful for living in a democratic society that is possible because of those that took a stand on the front lines.  It’s a time to remember that we enjoy so many freedoms because others fought  for us to have those freedoms.  It’s a time to honour those that lost their lives during the battle.

For me, it has special meaning and bittersweet memories.  As a child I was not allowed to participate in any of the ceremonies held to honour our war veterans, or to acknowledge the sacrifices that our brave soldiers made.

2My paternal Grandfather was a Private in the Second World War and served as an orderly in a hospital in England.  He was so young when he went off to serve his country, he left as a boy and returned as a man.  A man who was very different from the person who witnessed all of the atrocities of war.  He worked in the operating room at the hospital, cleaning up after surgeries were performed to save limbs and lives.   He saw things that no human could ever forget.  He served his country faithfully for 3 years, while his wife (my grandmother) waited for him to return.  She was pregnant with my father when he left to go overseas.  My grandfather would not meet my father until he was 3 years old.

1As a child I remember seeing old men coming to our school to talk to us about war and why they were proud of defending our country.  I remember seeing the veterans rolling in wheelchairs and  being horrified by all the amputees.  I remember seeing how they dressed sharply in their uniforms, adorned with poppies.  I remember thinking that this would never happen again in my lifetime.  I remember feeling ashamed for not being allowed to participate in something that even as a child I could see was very important.

In the seventies, my parents joined a cult that exerted extreme control over every aspect of our lives.  We were required to remove ourselves from anything outside of their organization.  I remember feeling so disrespectful for having to stand in the hallway while the war veterans gave their presentation.  Even at an early age, I could clearly see the sacrifices these people had made to protect our freedom.  I suffered with an internal struggle to obey my parents in the face of such hypocrisy and ingratitude.  I realized at a 3very early age the extreme irony of being forced to do something that I personally didn’t believe in, while living in a country that had fought for the rights of all Canadians.  Yet, I was not free to participate in a tradition that I thought was important and special.  As a child I was expected to do everything I was told without question. I was not allowed to express doubt or disbelief.   I was not allowed to disagree or object to anything.   This was done in strict adherence to a high-control religious organization. I found it maddening that their rights to practice a “religion” that stripped their members of their rights, were protected by the very people I was supposed to disregard.  I was to remove myself from their presence and not show them any honour.  I found this to be very disrespectful and distasteful.  And yet, out of sheer obedience to my parents I did just that.  I would have to excuse myself from the Remembrance Day assembly and stand in the hallway while the soldiers delivered their messages and handed out poppies.  I always felt sick to my stomach and I never made eye contact with anyone as I left the room.  Inside I was filled with turmoil.  I felt like I was 4betraying myself every time I had to announce to the entire classroom that I could not participate in Remembrance Day.  The teacher always looked at me with pity in her eyes.   Some kids looked at me with confusion, while others looked at me like I was a traitor.  I felt like a traitor!!  But I couldn’t defend myself for fear of the consequences at home.  Soldiers had fought and died for my freedom, but a cult had stripped that away.  The irony was sickening.

Years later I escaped the cult and started a brand new life.  I promised to be true to myself from that point on.   I made a big deal out of every holiday and celebration when I had children of my own.  Sometimes I went over the top in an attempt to make up for the past.  I proudly wear a poppy every year and I reflect on how lucky I am to have a second chance to express myself and involve myself in things I truly believe in.

remembrance_day_2011_by_the0raclexx-d4fsj3uI have a son who is a Corporal in the Reserves.  He’s been in the Army for 8 years now and for years we went to the Remembrance Day Ceremony together.  He would wear his dress uniform and participate in the parade in the arena.  It made me proud to finally stand up and sing O Canada and honour all of our past and present soldiers.  It makes me happy to know that my son makes his own choices and defends the rights of others to do the same.  I am not a warmonger.  I’m more of a peace-loving hippie on the inside,  but I respect those men and women that put their lives on the line to protect our country and our freedoms.   I sleep better at night knowing that someone is watching over us.

My life has come full circle and I’m grateful for another chance to do things my way.  I never take anything for granted and I know that I enjoy this beautiful country because of the dedication and loyalty of our soldiers.  Past and present!   This Remembrance Day I will once again find a way to pay tribute to our veterans.  My son has moved to Calgary so I won’t be going to the arena with him, but I will still pay my respects by going alone or taking someone with me.  I am so proud of the service my grandfather gave and I’m proud of my son’s training with the military.  Their involvement in the military gives me a connection to a tradition I had always wanted to honour.  I am a proud Canadian who wears a poppy and honours Remembrance Day with reverence.

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*Images courtesy of Google

Moments in Time – Part 2

This post is part of our series throughout the month of May on motherhood. This story is the second part to “Moments in Time – Part 1,” reflections from Elisabeth on the death of her grandson, Coby. As mentioned in Part 1, we post this story in honour of all the mothers who have experienced the tragedy of loosing a child.

We wish you comfort and peace this Mother’s Day.

pregnancy loss

Life fifteen months later.

“It has been fifteen months since Coby’s funeral. To say that it has been difficult doesn’t really paint the picture. As a family we have gone through the traditional processes of grief, numbness, anger, sadness, and many, many tears. What I have learned though is that more often than not this kind of loss is treated very differently than other deaths. In fact, through this process I learned a new term – Marginalized Loss. It is a term that refers to the fact that, as a society, we do not give the same relevance to this type of loss as compared to another type of death. I think this sometimes makes it even more difficult as people have expected us to just get over it.

As a mother, this has been the most painful experience I have endured. We do so much as parents to protect our children from harm; our instincts are to do what we can to make the pain go away when we see our children hurt. I remember very clearly that first night when we learned Coby had died, thinking to myself I can’t make this better, I can’t make this go away. It was a hard realization. So for the past fifteen months, I have watched Kirstin and Jason travel this terrible journey. They have traveled it with incredible grace and dignity, and have been very present in their grief as they mourned the loss of their first child. It has allowed me to be present in my own grief, and it has given me peace as I have watched them move through it, to know that in the end they will be okay.

As we traveled through the firsts, they were as difficult as we expected. One of the most difficult firsts was Mother’s Day. It felt like a giant hole. Kirstin had gone through the right of passage, had given birth, but there was no baby to celebrate her first Mother’s Day with, and yet she was still a mother. The first Father’s Day was no better.

Kirstin said it very well,

“You expect the firsts to be hard, but what is harder is the unexpected moments that catch you by surprise.”

Like the moment when I was at the hairdressers, and the woman next to me was talking about her pregnant daughter who was due any day. It took everything in me not to burst into tears and run out of there or to stand up and say to her, “You don’t know everything will be okay, because if might not be, so you shouldn’t be so excited.”

There are many strange moments that happen, such as, when someone asks me how many grandchildren I have. I have learned to say, “One living.” I still find it difficult when I see toddlers the age that Coby would be and I find myself wondering what he would be like. I find myself sometimes looking at Kirstin and Jason, and thinking about what life should have been like for them now. I still have moments that take me by surprise: A commercial, seeing a tender moment between a mother and a child, or a random memory that can catch my breath and instantly bring me back to the reality of our loss.

Kirstin is now pregnant again.

It has taken great courage for them to take this risk again. It has been interesting to note people’s reactions when they learn of this pregnancy. Many people have wished them well, and said how brave they think they are, and that their prayers are with them. However, from some there has been this reaction of, “Oh good, now that you are pregnant, it will be all better and you can put it behind you.” It is in these moments that it expresses clearly the term Marginalized Loss. If Coby had lived to be 6 months, 1 year, 20 years, would we dare to think another child would somehow replace him? Is it somehow supposed to make it easier that he is not with us because there is the possibility of another child? It is because of this lack of understanding of what it is to go through this kind of loss that Kirstin and Jason, and consequently I as well, have become outspoken? In this last 15 months I have heard many similar stories of loss, and what has been the most striking thing to me is that it didn’t matter how long ago it had happened, in telling their story, the depth of loss could still be seen. What has also struck me is how much we don’t speak about it and the overall lack of understanding there is about what this means for a family.

Again, I find myself taking cues from Kirstin. As I have struggled through my own fear and anxiety over this pregnancy, I have learned through watching her that although she constantly struggles with her own anxiety and fear, she has also allowed herself to have hope. She lives comfortably in a kind of duality of difficult emotions along with hope and anticipation. I have learned through this time that Kirstin has grown into a wise young woman. I have often been awestruck over these last fifteen months by her grace, her wisdom, and her ability to move through the challenges and hurdles of her journey. She has become a great advocate for breaking the silence and being vocal about pregnancy loss, and baby loss, and what it means to families. I feel very fortunate that, as Kirstin includes me in her journey of this subsequent pregnancy, she inadvertently forces me to deal with my own emotions, to be present in the moments, and live in the same duality of anxiety and hope.

Losing Coby has forever changed our family and forever changed how I feel about pregnancy. I am no longer innocent. I know the harsh realities that can come with pregnancy. We no longer live in blissful ignorance that pregnancy always has a happy outcome. We will always miss Coby, he was only with us for a moment but his impact has been everlasting.”- Elisabeth Zimmermann, ED YWCA Niagara Region

“Smallest, Wingless”- Craig Cardiff

Photo Credit: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Moments in Time- Part 1

For the month of May, the focus of our blog posts will be motherhood.  Some of our posts will be lighthearted and others will carry more weight. To begin, our executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann has agreed to share a very deep and personal story about the death of her grandson, 15 months ago. Part 1 of this story was originally submitted for a book, focusing on grief.  We post this story in honour of all the mothers who are mourning the loss of a child this mother’s day. May you feel validated, respected and cherished as you are a mother of great strength and courage.

“Although this is a very personal reflection I agreed to share this with our followers to hopefully begin a more open dialogue about pregnancy loss and baby loss, something that too often has been kept silent. I do this with the consent of my daughter who has become a great advocate for bringing this experience out of the shadows.” – Elisabeth Zimmermann

“Tomorrow it is two months since Coby’s death and birth. Today Kirstin showed me the pictures that were taken right after he was born. They were beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. It seemed strange at the time but I am so grateful that they were taken, it helps to make it real, to know that he was with us and that it happened. It was comforting to see his little face again, I didn’t really want to put them down, it made me feel a little like he was still with us. It brought back all of the moments that we went through.

8It is a series of moments that stay in my mind that make up what happened. The moment I heard the midwives struggling to find Coby’s heartbeat, the moment that Kirstin came into the living room to tell me that they were going to the hospital and the look on her face, I could see her trying to process what was happening. The moment that she phoned me from the hospital to say that the news wasn’t good. The moments of making phone calls to tell Chuck, Andrew and Kim and Rachel that Coby had died, the moment that I saw Kirstin in the hospital. Then the moments of waiting strung together while everyone arrived at the hospital and the looks of disbelief passed over everyone’s face, “how is this possible” “everything was fine” “this can’t be true”. Then came the moments of gathering information, what was going to happen next, why did this happen. After a long and sleepless night the moments of watching Kirstin go through the final stages of labour, walking away from the door thinking I can’t listen to my daughter push her dead baby out. Then came the first moment etched permanently in my brain of seeing a grief stricken Jason holding his dead son in his arms as the door to their room opened for a brief moment. Then came the moments of seeing a drugged and exhausted Kirstin with her son, of all of us taking our turn to hold him and say our goodbyes and giving him the only kisses we were every going to be able to give him. My heart was broken, how could this be, this beautiful baby boy, so perfect with his chubby cheeks, with Kirstin’s hands, this beautiful long awaited baby.

Then there are the moments of helping Kirstin and Jason plan their son’s funeral and of watching Kirstin, still weak from the delivery and Jason graciously greet the many people who came to wish them well at the visitation. Kirstin and Jason showed endless openness and inclusion and tremendous wisdom through every step from the moment they knew their dear son had died, through the delivery to the steps of planning the funeral.

I had to start coming to the realities of my grief as Coby’s grandmother but I also had to watch my other children move through their own processes of grief. You know as a mother that you can’t protect your children from the pain of this life but it goes against every fiber of my being to have to watch my children deal with devastating loss. There are those moments of conversation in the early days as I tried to gauge how they were managing while I tried to come to grips with the reality of the tragedy that had befallen all of us. There are the moments of supporting Rachel as she tried to understand her emotions and was unsure of what to feel and feeling helpless to support her sister and the moments of talking with Andrew and Kim as they processed through their anger and grief and the unfairness of what had happened. There are the moments of tentative phone calls, the first conversations with Kirstin and Jason, bringing dinner to their home and seeing them curled together under the quilt that I had made for Coby and then used the fabric that was meant for the wraps that were supposed to carry him to make it big enough for the two of them to cover themselves with.

5Two months have passed, my grief is still fresh, I cry easily, I tire easily, my heart beaks every time again when I hear and see Kirstin and Jason traveling through their grief. I have moments where I am sad and moments when I am angry and feel robbed. Robbed of the phone calls from an exhausted Kirstin because Coby was up all night and could I come and take him for a while so she can have a nap. Of watching Kirstin and Jason grow as parents. I have seen Kirstin become mother, she knows now what it is to give birth, to love a child that is yours and I feel robbed as does she of being able to have the joy of that knowledge. I feel robbed of the joy of having Grandma time and playing with him and having the secrets about our adventures that only Coby and I would have. Of watching him become the child and eventually the man he was supposed to be. I feel robbed of the grandma bragging rights that I was supposed to have, of all of his misadventures and adventures of his accomplishments and his struggles. Then there are the moments that I am exhausted and I think, it is what it is, I can’t change it, I just need to find peace with it. Then there are those moments when life takes me away from the reality, I have a deadline to meet at work, another meeting to go to, another email to answer, and then there is that moment at the end of a hectic work day that I remember, as I drive back to my empty house, aww yes, there it is, the hole in my heart for the one that was but is no longer.

I allow myself the moments that I become engrossed in my day and can smile and enjoy what I am involved in. I also allow myself the moments of anger and sadness and the flow of tears that feel like they will never stop. I know this is all part of the process and that the moments of sadness and heart ache will grow farther apart but right now and especially today those moments are close together and the peaceful moments tend to be more elusive then present.

I know it is a journey, I have traveled the journey of grief before, I recognize it and remember the process. I know it will grow softer and easier, that it won’t seem so fresh and raw, that when we talk about Coby my heart won’t ache as much. I also know that he will always have a place in our lives, he will always be missed and we will always wonder who he would have become. I also find my moments of peace in my shared moments with Kirstin and Jason, I am grateful that they have let me be a part of their journey, that they have been open and shared. I know this would have been so much more difficult if it had not been for the fact that I have been able to be so connected, it is one thing to grieve for your own loss but it is a whole other thing to watch your children grieve the loss of their own child and knowing that their reality is that much more difficult and their grieve is that much deeper. When I see that they are as okay as can be expected and that they are moving through their grief I have peace. At least I know they are going to be okay, that they won’t lose themselves in the process that they will move through it and get to the other side.

I will remember Coby always not only as the one who was but also as the one who we gathered together for and showed us how much of a family we are and how we can support each other. I will remember Coby as the one who showed me that my children are strong and that they are resilient, that they are wise and capable. I will remember Coby as the one who reminded me of the importance of good and strong relationships, who brought a different level of connection for me with Kirstin. I will remember Coby as the one who turned Kirstin and Jason into parents. I will remember Coby as a beautiful baby who we had for a moment.” – Elisabeth Zimmermann, Executive Director YWCA Niagara Region

Please take a moment to leave your thoughts, prayers,  feelings and emotions in our comment section below. We would be honoured to share your experience.

Please come back on Thursday for Elisabeth’s reflections 15 months later.

Photo Credit: Now I lay Me Down to Sleep