Tag Archives: #grieving mother

In the Belly of the Serpent

Do you sometimes feel like you’ve been swallowed up by your grief, like you’re Jonah trapped in the belly of a whale? Or maybe you feel like you’re shooting through a dark, enclosed water slide, tossed round like a log, without a clue where you’ll end up, or even if you’re going to survive.

For this kind of terror, I find some solace in an ancient myth that appeared in different world cultures. The story was told that at the end of every day, the sun would get swallowed up by an enormous snake, yet would be reborn the following morning. The early Egyptians pictured this as the sun god on a boat that was being carried through the body of a huge snake. In Ohio, a similar concept is depicted at Serpent Mound–the largest prehistoric effigy mound in the world, located near Peebles, Ohio. The quarter-mile-long snake has a three-foot-high body rippling over the ground, ending in a coiled tail. Its horned head opens out to a large oval, as if it’s about to swallow it. Many think the large oval represents the sun being swallowed by the serpent because the giant maw faces due west.

When the sun of life sinks and the dark night rises, I know I am back in familiar yet frightening territory. My more recent soul journey through blackness started during 2009 with highly aggressive end-stage cancer; continued through a three-year divorce and the loss of my father to dementia; and culminated with the unthinkable: losing my 19-year-old son to a heroin overdose.

Yet during those two long years of cancer treatment, my friend Gary gave me a turkey feather. During the divorce process, I felt drawn to Serpent Mound, during which I had a waking dream: The oval filled with light, and in the center lay the body of a woman, radiance surging through her. She stood up, as if being born. I came to realize I was that radiant woman rising up out of the egg. My friend Margaret Klein heard this story and painted it for me. It became the cover for my third book, Thriver Soup: A Feast for Living Consciously During the Cancer Journey. And during a 2019 trip, tour guide Anneke Koremans gave me a little boat.

This June, when my friend Mica invited me to take a day trip to Serpent Mound, I knew it was time to return with gifts of gratitude to the Great Spirit for allowing me to survive the past eleven years.

At the mound, I sat with my back against an old tree and faced the undulating coils. I closed my eyes to meditate. I immediately found myself, in my mind’s eye, lying inside the oval. I heard the words “Life Boat.” And as if on cue, the “boat,” with me inside, slid uncontrollably into the mouth of the giant snake. I was trapped, powerless, terrified.

Night engulfed me again inside its terrible suffocating walls. Water sloshed under my Life Boat, forcing me forward. I sped through the serpent’s slimy body, rounding curves, getting splashed, ever aware of the shadowy energy of the snake. I clung to the sides of the oval and surrendered to the inevitable.

All the way to the coiled tail, and all the way back through, I hung onto life.

And then I slid back out of the mouth. I had survived. Just as I had survived the horrendous circumstances of my life.

Before leaving the park that day, I left the little boat—representing my Life Boat—and the turkey feather—representing the wings I’ve been given, as well as the wings my son Brennan gained when he flew to Heaven during 2015. It was time to let them go, to offer them to the Great Spirit, with gratitude for my survival and renewal.

A couple of days later, I found a snake skin on my drive-way. It’s the second time in my life I have encountered one, and this one was nearly intact. The Serpent had shed its old skin, transformed, and been reborn. As have I.

And today I saw a large bird of prey rise up out of my garden with a snake in its claws. The serpent was taking its final flight on feathered wings—like my son took his final flight into the heavens, carried by the wings of angels. Reborn on the Other Side.

 

 

Sign in a Fawn

 Do you long for a sign from your dear one who has passed on? Do you receive possible signs, yet wonder if they really mean something? Or do you find that synchronicities show up in your life that are so amazing you find it hard not to believe they are gifts from your departed loved one?

I feel fortunate to have been given another wonderful sign this year, on the fifth angelversary of my son’s final overdose. The first astonishing synchronicity arrived just before that first horrible Christmas without Brennan. An unordered gift box appeared on my deck, and the sender said I could keep it.

Last year a gifted tea rose had exactly four blossoms on exactly my son’s fourth birthday in heaven. It has not produced a single blossom since.

The third most amazing gift arrived on Friday, the day before Brennan’s fifth angelversary. I was startled to find a beautiful little fawn curled up in my garden only six feet away from where I was working on my deck. She stayed in that spot all that Friday and all through Saturday, the day my son left our world five years ago.

I spent as much time as I could on my deck, despite temps in the mid-90s, to be near that fawn. Not for her safety—nature was doing its best to take care of her—but for my own sake. I was surprised to feel a sweet sense of solace from being near her, because her doe-eyed gentleness and innocence reached out and enveloped me.

On Sunday morning when I walked outside, she was frantically pacing along the south side of my yard, distressed because her mommy stood on the other side of the short fence. At one point the fawn turned around and ran directly toward me. I did not want to frighten her, so I talked softly while slowly moving a hand. The motion caught her attention and she abruptly stopped. She stared at me for a breathless moment; then she wheeled and ran back toward her mommy. She soon found her way through the fence.

This lovely creature spent two days with me, the two exact days I would have wanted her here. The two days when I most needed a little extra comfort in my life.

Did my son, or something else, arrange the perfect timing of this beautiful gift? I’d like to believe so. I choose to receive these moments of grace as Divine gifts to help ease my way, to help me know my son is still with me and that our love goes on into eternity.

What is the best synchronicity you have received since losing your loved one?

Message in a Fawn

Do you feel like you did everything you could but still lost your loved one to substance use disorder? Do you think you abandoned him or her in the one most critical moment of need? Does it overwhelm you with guilt and shame?

While my head might repeatedly tell me these tales, my heart is finding this is not the case. I have a little fawn teaching me this lesson on the angelversary of my son’s passing.

On this morning, exactly five years ago, my son Brennan’s overdosed body lay lifeless and alone in a retreat center bathroom. My body had woken up at 4 a.m. with a terrible feeling of sorrow for my son, but I did not know where he was or what had happened.


Today I am sitting on my deck and the sun is rising over the housetop. Not six feet away is a sweet little fawn. She is curled up, hidden among the lilies and hostas, all alone. No mother anywhere to be seen. Why did that mother abandon her darling Bambi? What was wrong with her?


Fortunately my friend Kay had told me, a few years after she lost her own son to suicide, that a fawn was left alone on her lawn for a couple of days. Kay made some calls and learned that does often leave their babies hidden somewhere so they can go feed. This is normal, natural, instinctual behavior. They can only do what they know how to do. Could she lose her fawn? Sure. My house is surrounded by homeowners with large dogs. Will she? Not likely. Does have been doing this for millennia. Yes, some come back to find their babies are forever gone, but clearly not all do, or there would not be so many deer. Their behavior works for the majority.


Our behavior with our loved ones would ordinarily have worked. The problem is, the drugs now available are not normal or natural. Our bodies are not designed to consume them, yet somehow many of our loved ones got trapped in the lies that these substances would be cool, would help them feel better, would help take away their pain. Instead, their pain was multiplied, and so has our own.


If you hadn’t lost him or her on that horrible day, it probably would have happened on another horrible day. The addiction overpowers every other consideration.


If you loved your dear one—and clearly you did, or you would not be grieving—then you did enough.

Hope of Notre Dame

candle at the crown of thorns

Do you feel like Notre Dame Cathedral, gutted by the fires of grief? Do you feel like a husk of your former self, burned out, weakened and emptied?

That’s how I felt after my son Brennan drug me through two years of addiction and then a deadly heroin overdose. The terrible sorrow left me completely bereft, weak and vulnerable.

Our Lady of Paris is now weak and vulnerable. Yet when I see post-fire pictures of the church’s interior, the altar and cross are still standing. The deepest heart of the cathedral is still intact.

After my son died, my heart was broken, yet still intact. I did everything I could to grieve in a healthy way, just as the firefighters did everything they could to salvage what they could of the massive church.

Now this monument is at its most vulnerable and most in need. And so are we while dealing with our devastating losses. Yet people are coming forward to rebuild her, as people came forward to help me rebuild my life, giving generously from their hearts and their time. I hope you are blessed with the same support. To turn down assistance is a disservice to ourselves and others, just as it would be a disservice to Notre Dame to not rebuild her.

And as a service to my own soul–especially because I had been sent home to die from cancer in 2011–I have done some bucket-list traveling. This past fall I was most fortunate to visit Notre Dame de Paris, specifically to light a candle before the crown of thorns, a Christian relic experts say dates to the first century. I wanted to pray for us and for our loved ones lost to addiction. To me, the crown represents an injury to the head sustained by Christ–just as our loved ones sustained injuries to their brains. I sought, for us all, the compassion of The Compassionate One, one who bore a head injury and who was intimately acquainted with sorrows and grief.

Fortunately, the crown of thorns was spared from the fire. And so was the sculpture of Mother Mary with Jesus, and the symbol of resurrection above them.

Let Our Lady stand as a symbol of hope for you—that after the phoenix fire has burned its destructive path, we can rebuild and restore our lives, with our hearts still intact. It will take time and effort, but we are worth it.

And that is what our dear ones would want for us.

Anniversary of my son’s heroin overdose: 3 spiders descending

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Proverbs 30:28, Christian Bible

Small spiders where I live have taken hold of their webbing and descended, appearing right in front of my face.

It’s never happened before, that I recall. Yet it’s happened three times within eleven days, starting on June 5, the three-year anniversary of my son’s heroin overdose. It occurred once while I walked under a tree in my yard. Once while I sat in front of my computer on my deck. And once while I sat indoors at my regular desk.

White Spider

I felt there had to be some significance to this, especially because the first little spider was white.

Many years ago a Jungian psychoanalyst gave a presentation about a white spider that appeared in one of her dreams. Once awake, she went to the local bookstore and saw a book called The White Spider. She got an intuitive vibe that this was important for her. The book was about climbers’ first attempts to ascend the north face of the Swiss mountain Eiger. Success entailed crossing a steep, funnel-like, spider-shaped ice field called The White Spider.

Writing about the opioid epidemic

Hmmm. I have had my nose to the computer screen for weeks now, working on Grieving an Addict’s section about the opioid epidemic. I was attempting to funnel hundreds of pages of information and 20 interviews into about 25 pages. It included the story about a woman who had severely painful surgeries for cancer treatment, and was on opioids for eight years—not as an addict, but simply to manage the consequences of her surgeries. And she lost her son to opioid addiction.

Grieving mothers

Sometimes I have been overcome with grief, and have shared my sobbing with my sturdy backyard oak tree. It accepts my tears as they pour out, yet continues to stand tall and strong, like a ladder from heaven.

Afterward I stare at the calm green foliage, breathe deeply, and try to restabilize my emotions. The terrible agony so many people have endured during this opioid epidemic is beyond comprehension.

Another sign

Then I go back to my computer. Slowly, paragraph by painful paragraph, the first draft of this section is nearing completion. When the middle spider descended, it attempted to weave a web on the side of my laptop as I typed.

Like the spider, I have taken hold of the strands of stories and integrated them into the fabric of understanding.

Weaving stories

Weaving is the work of arachnids. And writers. I find it especially interesting that all three spiders used their webbing to descend right in front of my face. According to one website, the ancient Chinese people thought that when a spider dropped down, it was like gifts were dropping down from heaven. I hope they are gifts for writing this book.

Healing on the Other Side?

Ironically, my deceased son was terrified of spiders. Perhaps he was letting me know, too, that he has been healed of this phobia on the Other Side. That all of us can heal on the Other Side, when we enter into kings’ palaces in paradise. Maybe there can be a good ending to this story for all of us, after all.

Sources:

https://goodlucksymbols.com/spider-symbolism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Spider

Remember the Rachels on Mother’s Day–grieving mothers

Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.

Matthew 2:16-18, New Living Translation

Rachel was an early biblical character who died giving birth to her second son. She was buried by the road to Bethlehem. Bethlehem would later become the birth location for a king, according to Matthew’s gospel.

And Herod, the jealous and frightened ruler at the time, sent his soldiers to kill all the male infants and toddlers near Bethlehem to remove this new threat.

One cannot imagine the kind of imperishable grief such an act would produce on a vulnerable population.

Mothers who grieve

This story is part of the birth narrative of Jesus. When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about this trauma in connection with the nativity story?

It seems to me that mothers who grieve their children appear easily overlooked.

The world is full of Rachels who weep disconsolately for their deceased children. My friend Joan just lost her daughter to diabetes.

Opioid epidemic

With the current opioid epidemic, mothers who are cancer patients need to be wary. I was told in 2011 to “stay ahead of the pain,” and was sent home with a month’s supply of what I now realize were heroin pills.

Recently I talked with a cancer survivor who also had leftover opioids and a teenaged son at home. I urged her to get a digital lockbox or return the pills to a pharmacy.

Even if her son doesn’t find or use them, a friend of his might. Then the treacherous slide into heroin overdose begins.

If I ever doubt myself as a mother…

If I ever doubt myself as a mother fighting for her children, all I have to do is look at this Mother’s Day card my deceased son made for me about ten years ago. I’m seen as firm with my words and my sword… with a kind smile on my face, all centered in a heart glowing with love.

I’m hardly alone. Even my son’s memorial garden was just visited again by Rachel’s weeping.

A mother bird in the sweet gum tree had fought valiantly for her eggs, evidenced by the circle of feathers; but her efforts simply weren’t enough.

The nest fell to the grass and her babies were hungrily consumed.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is approaching. Ugh. For me, and for perhaps hundreds of thousands of mothers, this time on the calendar is a terrible reminder of broken hearts and empty arms.

Despite all we do, sometimes we still lose our children. Some mothers lose their only children—I know two such women who lost theirs to heroin. I have heard of one woman who lost all three of her children to heroin overdoses.

Stigma of death to drugs

Losing your children is bad enough. Add on the stigma of death to drugs and you have an unfathomable nightmare.

I am most fortunate that one of my brothers will be here and we will spend the day making and eating delicious meals our mother made when we were growing up—a time of innocence. My younger son will get to indulge with us. (He loves to tell me there’s no food in my house.) Foods I typically now avoid, yet that give comfort and solace to an empty heart. Corn fritters, hamburger pie, cheesecake, springerle.

I’ll still be weeping for my child, as I do nearly every day, yet with social support I also will have some consolation.

Easing your Grieving:

Mothers fight for their offspring, though not always successfully. Many of these mothers are single. It can be such a lonely time, especially with the isolation that can come from losing a child to drugs.

On Mother’s Day, please pray for or send positive intentions to the Rachels everywhere. Those who have suffered heavy losses need comfort and love—a kind word, a simple text, a card—something to let them know they are not entirely alone.

3 Birthday Feathers for Making Wishes

…he said: ‘Now you have seen me, you shall see me no more, unless you are willing to serve seven years and a day for me, so that I may become a man once more.’ Then he told her to take three feathers from under his side, and whatever she wished through them would come to pass. Then he left her at a great house to be laundry-maid for seven years and a day.

“Three Feathers,” More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1894

In this tale, a woman is not allowed to see what her own husband looks like.

With untamed curiosity, one night she lights a candle so she can see him. Jacobs writes, “He was handsome enough to make all the women of the world fall in love with him. But scarcely had she seen him when he began to change into a bird.”

The bird-man exiles his wife to seven years and a day as a laundress so he can regain his human form; yet he also gives her three feathers for making wishes.

Through the feathers she really doesn’t do seven years of labor. The feathers do the work for her.

Like the wife and her husband, I finally looked upon the truth about my son Brennan; soon thereafter he flew away into the unseen realm, a victim of a heroin overdose.

Signs of his presence

My friend Kay taught me to watch for signs of his continuing presence in my life.

A week ago would have been his 22nd birthday. Like the bird-man, he sent me three feathers to let me know he’s nearby, working his magic. And like the wife, I have labor to perform, writing a book about grieving. It is a labor of love.

The first feather presented itself a few days before his third birthday after passing. It appeared at Lake Isabella in Loveland, Ohio, while I walked and talked about him with my friend Laura. The large turkey vulture feather stuck straight up in the grass next to the road. Turkey vultures are symbols of devoted motherhood. Their plumage would probably make good quills for writing. Perhaps Brennan has sent me a Quick-quotes Quill from Harry Potter.

Right in front of me

The second feather floated down out of the clear blue sky, landing right in front of me on the day before his birthday.

I knew then that feathers would be the sign of his presence for this birthday.

A third feather

On his birthday, I discovered the third feather–caught somehow on a gossamer thread hanging from the shelf above my laundry sink.

I believe my son, invisible to me now, left me three birthday feathers for making wishes as I labor on his book.

And there will be three parts to his book–-perhaps a feather for making wishes and receiving inspiration from my son as I write on each section.

It was a beautiful gift to me on his birthday.

Relieving Grieving:

Signs from our deceased loved ones can be subtle. Keep an open mind and heart and watch for them. My friend Kathy, whose sister Karen passed a year ago, writes, “It’s also interesting to me how often animals appear in some significant way when people move on… when Mother died, we heard a Mourning Dove…at 1:30am, a rather unusual time for bird song.

“As we walked to the door to enter the house to say Goodbye to Karen (after all the police/medical investigations were done – standard procedure for an “unattended death”), someone happened to glance to the left and there in the field was a doe, looking right at us. She stood for the longest time, unafraid, then bounded away into the cedars looking so graceful and free. ”

What signs have you received from your deceased loved one?

Source:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/meft/meft08.htm