(Forewarning: This is a long post!)
After my daughter Rebecca’s recent birthday and death day, a relatively new friend sent me a message asking, “I believe every person has a reason for being - if you also believe thusly, have you discerned what Rebecca's purpose in her much too short life was?”
First of all, I would like to acknowledge how beautifully this question is phrased. This friend is a spiritual adviser and has worked with people of many faiths as they are dying. She recognizes that her beliefs are not the beliefs of everyone, and her question left room for me to disagree with her. It turns out that I do agree with her: I believe that every life, no matter how short, impacts the world in some way.
Second, I want to point out that this is not a question that anyone should ask a recently bereaved parent. It’s been 15 years since my daughter died, and this friend knows that I am willing to talk openly about my daughter’s death. That greatly changes the situation. In the situation of a stillbirth or neonatal loss, though, a recently bereaved parent is more likely to be in a stage where they can’t see what purpose their child’s life and death has served. They are surrounded by pain, grief, anger, depression, and many other dark feelings. They may feel they were cheated out of the future they had envisioned. To ask them what purpose their child’s life served will feel insulting and possibly amplify their pain. If they bring up the topic, it’s certainly appropriate to talk to them about it, but until they have healed some of their wounds, they may not be ready to move on to this stage of understanding.
So what purpose did Rebecca’s life serve? I think that there are many answers to that on many levels. One of the first things that came from Rebecca’s death was that my ex-husband and I established a scholarship in her memory. We used the memorial donations from friends and family towards this scholarship, plus we put in a large amount of our own money over five years. The Motorola Foundation matched our donations as well. This is something we never would have done if it hadn’t been for Rebecca. Now each year we get the joy of seeing the scholarship reward someone who devotes time and service to the Marching Owl Band (aka the MOB) at Rice University. The annual report on the scholarship often brings me to tears, but they are good tears!
One of Rebecca’s other gifts was to her siblings who were born after her. I had planned to breastfeed Rebecca, but I wasn’t very passionate about it. I knew it was best for the baby, best for mama, cheapest, etc. However, when I was holding Rebecca’s dead body in my arms, I was hit with the most overwhelming urge to nurse her. I knew logically that I couldn’t nurse her, but the hormonal urge was amazing. That response drove my dedication for breastfeeding my subsequent children. I had a very rough start with nursing my twins due to their slightly early arrival (36 weeks 5 days) and rampant thrush which impacted my supply, but I was determined to breastfeed them. Eventually we succeeded and nursed until they were almost 18 months old. If it weren’t for that experience with Rebecca, I probably would have given up as so many overwhelmed and undersupported mothers do.
As part of my breastfeeding devotion, I discretely nursed all my subsequent children in public. It was something I never questioned that I was going to do with my twins since I knew if I left society while breastfeeding them, I’d pretty much never see other people for many months. This actually triggered a chain reaction. My friends, who hadn’t publicly nursed their first children, realized that if I could discretely and comfortably nurse my babies in public, they could do the same with their younger babies. I am sure these women’s change in their stances on breastfeeding in public helped other women feel more comfortable, too. I see all of that change as having been instigated by my experience with wanting to nurse Rebecca so desperately.
On a much deeper level, Rebecca’s death taught me a level of compassion and understanding that I would never had known had I not lost her. While I had lost family members and friends prior to Rebecca’s death, the death of a child is incomparable. Only a few years after Rebecca’s death, I began speaking publicly to help health care providers, especially those in the natural childbirth community, have better resources for dealing with infant loss. Through feedback I received from those who heard my presentations, I know I made an impact in the lives of others who subsequently lost babies. My e-mail address and phone number were circulated for a while in the midwifery community of Austin, so I would periodically get messages or calls from women who had lost a baby and who needed to talk to someone who truly understood. This in turn has led to the life coaching work I do with bereaved families.
On a metaphysical level, Rebecca’s spirit periodically stayed near me for almost four years after her death. At the time, I didn’t really believe in such things, but I knew what I was experiencing. I didn’t discuss it with anyone because I didn't think anyone would believe me. I unfortunately didn’t know that I could interact with her, but I was aware when she was around me. She was the first departed soul I know I encountered and experienced. After her youngest sibling was born, I believe her spirit moved on to whatever her next mission is.
I believe in reincarnation though I respect that others don’t. I think that my experience with Rebecca in this life ties to my most recent past life in the 1920s-1940s wherein I had both a late miscarriage (four or five months gestation) and an abortion (not my husband’s child). I have also seen another male life of mine hundreds of years ago wherein I lost a child in battle; that loss greatly shifted my soul’s beliefs and actions in this world. Somehow I think that my losing Rebecca in this life was to help me process those previous losses in a way I did not or could not in the previous lives. I can’t be certain of this, but it rings as truth for me.
One other meaning for Rebecca’s short life came up for me in recent months that was deeply profound for me. In a healing session, I learned that Rebecca’s soul also needed the experience of coming into this world and leaving it so quickly. She was not happy about her quick departure, but it served some purpose in her soul’s growth. This isn’t all just about me and my loss of her! I still haven’t fully understood what that purpose might have been for her soul, but I know that she too gained something from the painful experience.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance
I recently turned 40, but for years I have been pondering the baseline mammogram issue. I’m not a huge fan of putting extra radiation in my body if there are safer alternatives. Having had multiple friends diagnosed with breast cancer before or around the age of 40, I understand the importance of screening and early diagnosis. I am missing a chunk of my family medical history which adds a bit of question to the risk issue, but from what I do know, there is no history of breast cancer in my family. However, since family history is not the only risk factor for breast cancer and because 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer during their lives, I consider it important to do screening.
Like many other women, I havefibrocystic breasts. This means that it can be difficult to notice changes in the tissue of the breasts because of how fibrous and lumpy (that sounds attractive, doesn’t it?) they always are. Each year at my annual exam my doctor declares that he can’t tell anything from a manual exam on me.
Having talked to many friends including friends who are midwives over the years, I’d heard a lot of stories about how mammograms often have difficulty clearly detecting issues with fibrocystic breasts and how mammograms can lead to unnecessary biopsies on women with fibrocystic breasts. That was something I wanted to avoid, not to mention the stress during the period before the biopsy came back.
So what to do? I decided to hedge my bets on breast thermography. In one short sentence, it’s a heat based image that examines temperature differences in the breast tissue which can detect breast cancer, often before mammograms can. It’s not yet covered by most health insurances, unfortunately, despite being FDA approved. However, given all my other health issues, I decided this was something I was willing to pay for out of pocket because it seems like the best option out there at this time. The initial scan was $185 with the company I used; annual follow-ups are $165. They also have a program for free exams for low income women.
This week I went and did my initial scans. It took 30 minutes, 10 of which were sitting alone and topless in the exam room waiting for my body to adjust to the room temperature. (I declined a medical gown because of my sensitivities to most laundry detergents; the exam itself is done in a fragrance free facility in Austin which works well with my chemical sensitivities.) The female technician then took five images from five angles while I sat on a stool with my hands on my head. It was really no different than getting a photograph taken except for the fact I was topless and it wasn’t a regular camera! Nothing ever touched my skin. There was absolutely no pain. And because I am comfortable with my body and the technician is completely comfortable with women’s breasts, I didn’t even have emotional discomfort from the exam.
After the exam, the technician shared the primary image with me just so I could see what it looked like. The heat difference in my axillary lymph nodes and under my breasts was obvious. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell much! I do think the thermography image took at least 30 pounds off of me compared to a regular camera, though! :) The company will email the results back to me after they are examined by a doctor. I will go back in three months for a follow up to establish my baseline, and then it will be annual after that. It was really an easy and pleasant experience, all things considered!
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance
In this week’s edition of the The New Yorker, there is an article on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a young adult novel that has been made into a powerful movie. The author describes an experience of the main character Hazel:
“After she reads the online tributes to a girl who’s died of cancer, Hazel observes that the girl ‘seemed to be mostly a professional sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died they’d have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I’d ever done was Have Cancer.’”
As I read this, a giant “YES!!!” went through my head.
So often when I run into someone or get a message from them, people say to me, “I was in an elevator with someone loaded with nasty perfume this morning, and I thought of you.” Or they will send me an article about someone who has died from complications of Lyme Disease. Or they will tell me that being knocked down and unable to function for ten days while ill with the flu gave them a bit of perspective on my life.
While I am grateful that people have not forgotten me completely and that they have internalized the reality of some of the difficulties of my life, part of me always cringes when people say or send these things to me. I am not my disease. I am a person who happens to have that disease. I still have far more complexity to me than the battles I fight with these health issues. I have hobbies. I have kids. I read books. I watch movies. I feel. I hurt. I live. I love.
So what do I want to have people say to me? I’d prefer to hear, “I saw a great photography exhibit last week that really reminded me of you.” I’d be happy to hear, “I love your outfit.” I even like hearing, “It’s so great to see you today.” I want to hear the same things that people would say to any of their healthier friends.
Please remember and contact your friends facing challenges at times other than when you are reminded of their illness or life difficulties!
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance
The fifteenth anniversary of my daughter Rebecca’s death and birth was last week. This year, there was no intense grief surrounding Rebecca’s loss. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her or don’t wish that I could have known her better in this lifetime. However, it does mean that her birthday was not a day of pain and grieving for me.
Several years ago, I had a powerful spiritual, metaphysical, physical and emotional experience surrounding Rebecca’s death while working with my mentor. The full story is long and probably unbelievable to many who don’t share my metaphysical views. The short version of it is that we were able to release stored emotional pain that I didn’t realize I had in my body. I was aware that I had stored pain related to her as any time I thought of her I would feel a very painful ache in part of one bone of my body. I didn’t realize how deep that pain was and how much it entailed.
Prior to this powerful experience with my mentor, I had done many, many things across a variety of modalities as I attempted to heal the wounds from Rebecca’s death. Each effort chipped away at the pain, but this experience working primarily with energy, crystals, words, and emotions was what set me free. Releasing that stored pain changed my life. It allowed me to be grateful for the all too brief time I spent with Rebecca. Having her birthday be just another day this year was a bit odd after so many years wherein it was a painful wound that got reopened annually. However, I’m grateful to be in this new place.
For those of you who are mourning the loss of someone you loved, please know that healing can happen. It’s not easy, and it does take work that can be painful in and of itself. However, when that healing happens, your life can be much better than it previously was.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance
Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D.
Holistic Life Coach and