The Bark and The Tree ~ A Grief Journey

In April of 2010, just 16 months after my Robbie left the earth plane, I wrote THE BARK AND THE TREE for my (then) TCF Chapter newsletter.

I am at a different place, now, than I was then…

Yet sharing these words, these emotions, is no less honest, no less important.  I will be  adding a post script to the ending, 13 months after I initially wrote

 The Bark and The Tree

My first night at our The Compassionate Friends meeting, after the meeting had ended, a few of us sat, talking.  It had been only about a month since my daughter’s tragic accident and I was that combination of foggily numb, angry, cloudy and very depressed that most of you know so very well from your own journey.  In my heart I knew that my life could never be anything but what is was at that moment.

An analogy was shared with me that evening that I absorbed as much as I could absorb anything in that fogginess.  My daughter used to call me, not necessarily with great fondness, The Queen of Analogies.  I had used them, often to her annoyance,  frequently as she was growing up to illustrate points and teach lessons.  They didn’t always make sense to her, but being The Analogy Queen, I coveted any good one that I heard and make up scores of others on my own.

Over the course of the following months after that night, I found myself drawn back to the Tree and Bark Analogy when people would ask how I was doing.  “Today I only know The Bark”, I might reply, or  “There may be a vague sighting of something that could be a tree”, I might say at another time.   And then I would have to explain what I meant, having turned The Bark of the Tree into an analogy that spoke to my emotions.

In the very beginning following the death of our loved one, it is as if we are standing in a forest, but with our faces pressed up against the bark of a single tree.  It is all that we can see.  It blocks out the sun and obscures everything else. All we know, all we are, everything that exists for us is that blurred bark of the single tree.

As time passes, we might, some days, notice that there may be a butterfly lit upon that patch of bark, or a bit of life sustaining sap trickling upon the grain.  Maybe, on one particularly day, we might notice that the patch of bark is actually part of a tree.  And as some time passes, we might begin to notice that the tree has another that stands next to it; and another and another and that there is actually green grass making up their bed and blue sky welcoming their outreaching branches. On a particular day we might notice that The Bark on The Tree is actually part of a forest and that other life, other animals weave among the trees and fly among the branches.  Our ears may hear the babbling of a distant brook or the songs of the birds.  We might actually feel the warmth of sun or a cool breeze tickling our skin.  And, then, some days, again and again, all we can see is The Bark.

The Bark never goes away.  It is always part of our picture.  Some days, especially in the beginning of what is now our Lifetime Journey, The Bark is all that we can handle, all we can see, all we know exists.  Sometimes, even on that same day, we might get a glimpse of the trees or feel the sun, but then are pulled back to seeing only The Bark.  Yet the forest remains, too, even if some times it is  out of our ability to comprehend its existence.

Mostly, in the first year of the past 495 days, I’ve had my face pressed up against The Bark and was often aware of little else.  Occasionally I would surprise myself, when someone asked, to admit that there were times, when I might believe in the possibility that I could see other trees someday.  And once in a rare while, now, I do catch a blurred glimpse of The Entire Forest.  Yet some days, especially the days that Robyn’s Void screams so loudly that I can hear nothing but how deeply I miss her and grieve for the absence of our daily teasing, talking and friendship, that there exists only the fogged coarseness of The Bark.

It was more than a year after my first meeting that I discovered who had presented the analogy to the women who had shared it so kindly with me that first night.  She is Toni Wood, Barry’s mom, and had long been a Compassionate Friend to the members of This Ugly Club that we all, so deeply against our will, were forced to become part of.  I was able to talk with Toni about the origin of The Trees and she shared this with me:

“…To tell you the truth I have no clue where I got that from… but I used it because it worked for me.  I can see the tree now more clearly and the memories don’t always make me cry now ~ most of the time, but not all.  When I first thought about this analogy all I could see was the ugly knot of Barry’s death.  I could not see the good memories, the wonderful things he did and said.  I had to step back and get my nose away from the knot in the tree so I could see more of the tree ~ his life.  The roots of the tree ~ the family.  The branches ~ his son and wife and friends.  The leaves and flowers are the good and the bad things he did in his life.  Even bad things are good memories now.”

Toni Wood, Barry’s mom

What I do know now to be true, is that The Bark will never completely go away for me, though, someday, it might become ‘the bark’.  And I have found that sometimes I might be having a “Forest Moment”; like the day I officiated my son and my daughter-in-law’s outdoor Vermont winter wedding. Their vows were shared next to a gorge, a shivering waterfall and among the birds and trees.  I was in “The Forest” when all of the sudden a painful spasm of Robyn’s Absence, hurled me back toward The Bark.  I know that even at a time when I might feel the sun, that I can suddenly crash right back into The Bark of the Tree.  That is The Reality of Missing My Child.

Perhaps the irony is that, as a family, we bought 30 acres of forest that we built our family home on together.  We used to play among the trees and go “tree hunting” for games of hide and seek and scrap wood for our cozy fire circles.  Trees always used to make me smile and feel comforted.  Perhaps, some day, again, I will see them and appreciate their beauty.   For right now, I am still all too well aware of The Bark. ♥

Bettie-Jeanne Rivard-Darby, Ellington, CT
Forever RobynApril’s mom
 
May 2011 Post Script
To Be Posted

 

RobynApril Rivard-Darby

A SEA OF LIGHT IN MEMORY OF OUR CHILDREN December 08, 2013

Please Register Using Form Below

WorldWide Candlelighting 2013

Thank you
Ken and Arlene
 Dworetsky,
Daniel’s parents,
For sharing your home
63 Long Hill Drive
Glastonbury, CT

All chapter members, their families and friends are invited to attend.  Unlike our meetings, we do not limit age.  If you have a young one who you feel could participate, they, too, are welcomed.  Also welcome are any bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings who may have never attended or can not attend a TCF EOTR CT Chapter meeting, but would like to become part of the gathering. Those attending our chapter’s candle lighting are asked to bring an item or two to contribute to our Pot Luck Supper, Snacks and Desserts.  We will be running a slide show presentation of all of our ‘children’.  Photos can be submitted electronically by emailing them to Bettie-Jeanne at  TCFEastOfTheRiverCT@gmail.com before midnight December 7.
If you’d like, share a few words about your child’s  or sibling’ life; their likes or dislikes, what made them laugh, what made them special.  If you have a poem or reading that you would like to contribute, please email also (or bring it with you).
This is NOT a Holiday Party ~ There will be no holiday decorations.
It is an informal, caring gathering, rather like our Vernon Diner Breakfasts and After Meeting Get-togethers of “like-hearted” families who understand the challenges faced not only at this time of year, but all the days of our lives.

 An RSVP is appreciated via the form below Questions?  email   Bettie-Jeanne at TCFEastOfTheRiverCT@gmail.com or  leave a voice message or  leave a voice message at 860-375-EØTR (3087)

 

please list the name of the person being remembered with the name of the person attending & relationship in ( parentheses) For example: Robyn (Janet & Ted Flanagin, Robbie's aunt and uncle)
We are planning a pot luck dinner before the candle lighting with desserts and snacks after the candle lighting. Entries, Appetizers, Desserts, Salads, Beverages are all appreciated, but are not necessary to be able to attend.
Sending

WHY ATTEND?

I don’t have words to describe the emotion that enveloped me these past four summers at The Compassionate Friends National Conferences.  Each time, there I stood, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart with 1,500+ other bereaved moms, dads, and siblings.  The first three years, in a light originating from a single flame, until the glow enveloped the hall, we lit candles, one from the other, in memory of our loved ones.  As the flame was passed, we were recipients of the gift of the child’s name who brought light to our dark candle.  Then Jim and I proudly spoke our RobynApril’s name as we gave light to the candle next to us, and heard, in return, their own beloved one’s name. (this year because of restrictions at the hotel in Boston, we were not allowed to light open flames and instead used battery operated candles.  It was still symbolic and nice, but didn’t have the same impact as the burning flames of the lit candles.)

I have lit candles at home for our daughter and taken comfort from the connection that was felt.  But there was something deeper, more meaningful, when I stood among others who knew my heartache because of  living their own.
At that moment,  eyes locked, Jim and I reached for each other’s hands
below the glow of the lights, and without a word exchanged, we felt deeply connected in the moment.  We were Robyn’s parents, together; each living the experience of her death alone, and yet sharing the deep loss, together, as her family. Sharing a Candle Lighting with other bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, family is Profound, Intimate, Important.  For the past 17 years, The Compassionate Friends has hosted a Worldwide Candle Lighting that reaches across the globe like a sea of brightness, uniting family and friends who light candles for one hour to honor to remember children who have died from any cause, at any age from pre-birth to full maturity.  As candles burn down in one time zone, they are then lit in the next, creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light as the observance continues around the world. To provide for intimacy and a “homey” atmosphere,  our TCF East Of the River CT Chapter chooses to join the world’s largest candle lighting at the private home of one of members.
This year we thank Ken and Arlene, Daniel’s mom and dad, for sharing their home.♥

More information about The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting Event can be found on our own website at
http://www.tcfeastoftheriver.org/candlelighting2013/ ‎
Worldwide Candle Lighting December 08, 2013 Honors Our ‘Children’
A list of other Connecticut and other Candle Lighting events, including the on-line virtual candle lighting and signing of the 2013 Remembrance Book,  can be found on the National Website under
News and Events /Worldwide Candle Lighting.♥

Why I Allow Myself To Be Sad and Feel Pain After My Daughter’s Death

I was singing the song, YESTERDAY, by the Beatles the other day.
Feeling it.

 “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be,
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly…
Why she had to go I don’t know
She wouldn’t stay…
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday…”

and I posted it on Facebook, commenting,

“Yep. Yesterday.  (not literally yesterday, but about 53 months ago)”

 A newly bereaved mom
(two months “out”  or “old” as Mitch Carmody and Alan Pedersen, bereaved dads and grief specialists, phrase it – our new age)
responded on Facebook , saying

Ugh….53 months sounds like forever when I’m not even on 3. I don’t want to be 53 months and still so sad…”

Sadness.
Grief.
Complex.

It provided me the opportunity to look at my own emotions,
at my own Sadness…

I truly believe that
If you don’t Want to Be Sad, then  you won’t be.

I believe that You will be what you allow and what you choose.
You CAN fight off The Sadness.
You CAN choose
” I can’t help how I feel, but I CAN help how I think and act”.

You CAN push through The Pain and make a deliberate choice to Think and Act “Happy” and then, eventually, you will be so.

But I have not done that This Time.

This time I am allowing my emotions.

This time, for now, I am being true to my feelings
(most, not all, of the time -There ARE times that I mask for reasons of the moment.  But I REFUSE to pretend that my heart hasn’t been shredded just to make the “civilians” around me more comfortable).

Once upon A Time…I used to be a motivational speaker, by profession.
I used to teach people how to apply the concept of
“I can’t help how I feel but I CAN help how I think and act”
to nearly every crappy situation in their lives,
and, then discover when continually doing so,
that such a little thing can positively impact their lives.

I took a course when I was 17 called ADVENTURES IN ATTITUDES (google it) –
it was LIFE CHANGING!!!!
And that was when I was first introduced to
“I Can’t help how I FEEL,
(feelings exist- we don’t ask for them- we don’t look for them- we don’t go shopping for them- they JUST ARE….)
BUT I Can Help how I Think and Act….”
(I can change my circumstances by thinking and acting differently than how I feel.  
I can not react to challenging emotions  I can think positive, uplifting thoughts through challenges.  I can smile and Act like it is the brightest day of my life, even if I feel sad or have difficulties.  And, eventually, how I feel may come around to how I am acting.  If I believe and will myself to be a Happy, Contented Person, I can become a Happy, contented Person.)
It is, in essence, the Power of Positive Thinking.  And it WORKS.

I applied that very little, but POWERFUL, concept to dealing with my years of sexual abuse,  through a bad and abusive first marriage, through bankruptcy, through my physical and psychological care giving to, and followed by the deaths of  Jim’s parents, his aunt and uncle, my parents, and  two best friends; through Jim’s five heart attacks.  I applied it through the difficult and debilitating terminal illnesses of my parents who I was taking care of….and used it to survive grief after their deaths.

I applied it to every negative facet of my life and turned my attitude ,
and often,difficult  circumstances around.

I was one of The Most Lighthearted, Upbeat-In-The-Face-Of-Challenges, Happy Inside, Peace-Owning people I Knew…Because I had decided that I WANTED TO BE and so I was going to Be.

Robyn frequently, and lovingly, but with a hint of annoyance in her smile,
enjoyed calling me “The Perky B**** “!

So I know because I lived it,
and because I was a really good life coach for others who applied it and lived it  and it worked for them, too,
that
 ” I can’t help how I feel but I CAN help how I think and act”
can be Positive Life Changing.

I don’t know that anyone can truly understand this next part, unless, maybe, they have walked a mile in my shoes….
Unless maybe they had a child who grew into their best friend, their pal,  their business partner and then, violently and suddenly had her life ripped from their own….

For right now, until when and if OTHERWISE comes,

I AM JUST ALLOWING THE EXPERIENCE OF ROBYN’s DEATH.

I am NOT going to fight it

I am NOT going to try to talk myself out of the emotions

I am NOT going to take “a negative” and reshape it into the positive that will never be.

I am NOT going to try to climb over it.

I’m not going to bury under it.

I’m not going to go around it.

THIS TIME, for this most horrible of Life Experiences,
I am going to Walk Through The Pain.

It’s really hard to explain.

But THIS TIME I feel that both Robyn and I really deserve
(not as”punishment” but as Truth)
for me “TO ALLOW” to be fully immersed in The Experience,
the Ugly Reality of her death
and not try to take a short cut.

We live in a cut and paste world.
For most of our lives we’ve had a rewind button and the fast forward button.
We don’t like what we see? We skip ahead.
We need a “do over”?  We rewind to have the experience again,
or we cut and paste something new in.
Then came the delete key.
How EASY to get rid of something that we don’t like clogging up our lives.
Heck, we can even UNFRIEND people with the simple click of a button
and erase them from our lives as if they never existed.
This technological world has impacted how we emotionally  deal with things;
how we think of things,
and how we are SO ABLE to avoid things.

For a good chunk of my adult life,
I have had  word processors and computers that have allowed me to take “it”,
move “it”
and if I don’t like”it”,
then I can easily get rid of it,
delete it into a garbage can,
shred it,
make it just “go away” as if it were never there….
or, with new technology, I can now morph it into something else…..
(morphing is so cool!)

Every thing for past 30 plus years has been about short cuts
and changes
and morphing negatives into positives.

I’m NOT taking a shortcut with Robyn’s death.
I am allowing the Truth of The Emotions.
And THIS SUCKS more than Anything SUCKS.
This is more painful than ANYTHING that I ever thought could be lived through.

I am a The Compassionate Freinds Leader.
I facilitate several bereavement groups.
All of time I see people who try to Fight Grief
They are ‘afraid of it’…
they don’t like the way that  it makes them feel…
they don’t like being sad….
they don’t like Tears, Crying, Sadness…
…being BEREFT…
…Screaming into the pillow at night until they are too hoarse to speak.
They don’t like the feeling of Not Being In Control…
they hate weeping…
emotions all over the place…
or suddenly getting hit with a wave of grief that hurts so badly it feels as if ever feeling differently is impossible

…and we do live in a “Get Over It”  World….that lacks empathy and understanding for deep grief…
We live in a short cut
medicate
“deal with it”
“you can’t change it, so just move on”
Kind Of World…
and so they, who Try To Fight Grief, work to push it away;
they try to hide from it and try to keep busy so they won’t feel sad…..

THIS TIME, I am allowing Sad.

Maybe keeping busy to not feel pain is a way that some people can deal with their grief
(and other “bad” or challenging situations in their lives and I am not judging their need to deal with their situation in their own way)
But I know that, for me,
running away from it and trying to take a short cut,
isn’t a positive.

I need to Walk Through This Fire.

Not around it,
not fly above it,
not burrow under it.

I need to Walk Through the Pain.

I need to be True to This Ugly Experience.
I need to allow Robyn’s Death to take coal and create a diamond on the other side of the flames.

I feel that my daughter deserves better than a shortcut
 and, in my own respect for myself, so do I.

Now, that is Not  to say that at 53 months “out” or “old” in my new bereavement age,that I never feel happy.
I do genuinely laugh again.
I have experienced plenty of moments of Happiness since Robyn’s death,
and they are becoming more and more so.

Just this month after our regular TCF meeting,
a few of us went to  eat after the meeting.
We sat in the diner until 12:30 in the morning, chatting, laughing, liking being together!
Oh!  Did we ever laugh!
Three bereaved moms and two bereaved dads,
and we  were laughing so hard,
and being so silly
that we even remarked that no one would suspect that we are bereaved parents!
And it was Real!
We weren’t masking.
We weren’t Faking.
We, who all miss our children, were having fun….

….and back when I was sitting where my newly bereaved new friend is  now,
I never would have believed that fun would ever be possible again…..
and now I know that it is……
(still working on FUN, but fun, and even Fun, is OK for now
Enjoyment, now….THAT is something else, indeed)

I speak and teach a lot about
The Secondary Losses of Grief
to help people understand that there is something that is to “be expected” about all of this
(that is me, refusing to use the word “NORMAL”
~whatever can be “Normal” about my daughter dying before me?!
~whatever can be “normal” about my first born being crushed to death!?
So I phrase it that
Certain things in grief ~ Certain things in being a Bereaved Parent Can “Be Expected”…)

…. and I also know,
because
I am living THROUGH IT
that those Secondary Losses of Grief DO change again.

I am beginning to live in color again

And as it’s happening,
it is happening with a Natural Progression.
I didn’t short cut it.
I’m leaving it in the manner that is right for me.
I still have plenty of sadness and plenty of pain.
….and it can pop up without obvious triggers that I  understand….
but I am NOT Sad all of the time.

More and more and more each day,
I’m able to find ways to laugh about Robyn,
to smile about Robyn,
and to remember and celebrate her life,
rather than to just mourn her death.

I am becoming an Intentional Survivor of My Life
instead of a Collateral Victim of Her Death.

But without Shortcuts.
Without cut and paste.
By Living Through The Pain.
And I allow for the fact
that I may become,
(in fact, Expect To Become)
a happy and lighthearted person again someday;
just not today.  ♥