Man, grief is weird and hard. It is filled with twists and turns. Grief does not progress in a neat and tidy order. It is chaotic and certainly very unpredictable. It can make you feel all alone when you’re in a room full of people. Even a room full of friends. It’s a complicated, emotional journey. One of the strangest things I began to experience after Mallory died was anxiety. No one told me I would feel nervous and anxious pretty much all the time. Sometimes it was for a reason other than just loss that I could identify, but many times I just felt a generalized anxiety for which I could not pinpoint any external cause. Along with that anxiety came sleeplessness. It was tough to fall asleep and tough to stay asleep and I began to wake up every day around the time of day Mallory died. Being tired often made the anxiety and grief worse! What a vicious circle. Thankfully, I discovered a few activities that helped me cope. I started running and hoop dancing and gardening (special thanks to Kelly Truby and Kim Ray and Sadie Nuffer) all of which helped my anxiety a great deal. They were outlets for the big emotions I could not control.
The ladies pictured, wow, I could never adequately explain how important they are in my life. These two are more than just my friends and perhaps that’s why they often don’t get the recognition they deserve from me. I consider them more my sisters. We have been bonded for more than thirty years. Without them, my life would be less filled with love. I know I can call either one of them anytime of day or night and they would patiently listen or gently calm me. They get angry for me when needed. They let me cry and scream. They let me sit quietly when I’m out of words and broken down. They always love me through whatever I’m living without judgement or question. I have many friends that deserve recognition but these two women deserve more than recognition, they deserve more than I could ever truly give them in return. Our hearts and lives are forever intertwined.
Day 3- What it Felt LikeThis post was so hard to write. I have thought about it and struggled with it all day and finally came to the conclusion that no matter what I say, no one can know what it feels like. Even other bereaved parents can’t totally understand one another’s emotions because each of us has our own unique grief experience. The best way I can describe it is that it felt dark and scary and like everything was closing in on me. It felt like there was only the tiniest point of light visible and I thought surely I would never feel moments of joy again. Child loss is insanely hard to explain and I fear if I was ever too honest with the non-bereaved, it would scare people. This journey isn’t fun and it certainly isn’t pretty. The ugly cry moments come when you are alone with it.
Day 2- Who They AreMallory Grace Milton was born on Friday, November 21, 2008. We only got to have her for (almost) five years. She brought great joy to us in her little lifetime. She was a loving friend, a dancer, a singer, a fashionista, a joke maker. She had a big vocabulary from a young age and had lots to say all the time. She was definitely filled with a personality all her own. Uniquely her. This picture is a great snap of her uniqueness. She was hilarious and strong willed in the best way. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Cara Connolly, told me she thinks God gave her a big personality because he knew we would only hold her for a little while and that way we got more of who she truly was in that short time together. I can only hope and believe that she is singing and dancing in heaven. She is probably entertaining the angels now.
Day 1 -Sunrise Dedication As I begin this month of capture your grief, I decided to pick a word that reflects what I have learned from Mallory’s life and our loss. That word is grace. It is fitting that it was her middle name as she taught me so much more than I ever knew about what it means to give and live in grace. She loved so unconditionally. She never allowed where someone was (sad,mad, happy or otherwise) to keep her from sharing that love. And in her death, I’ve lived some seriously tough days. My ability to extend grace has grown exponentially because I know all too well that often we just don’t have a clue what someone is going through that we do not see. Some people’s actions and choices are a mystery to us and I really strive to let my heart make room for the good, the bad, the tremendous and the disappointing things people do and say. Because I feel strongly there is room for all of us in this world. Therefore, I try to make room for all of us in my heart.
Read more of Mamie’s story here:
I knew of Mamie’s Poppy Plates before Mallory died but, I confess, I thought they only supported still birth, miscarriage or infant death. I was wrong. They graciously support any family that experiences the death of a child. The day of Mallory’s visitation was a blur, we hugged and cried and hugged and cried until the funeral home literally asked us if we could wind it down as it was time to leave for the evening. In fairness, they had given us well more than an hour of extra time due to the overwhelming turn out. I think more than 600 people came to see us that night. I remember snippets of the night, small pieces of conversations, or a moment I shared with someone but mostly it is a blur of tears and sadness and final moments looking upon the angel face of our darling child. She would be forever four. As she laid there not sleeping, though she looked to be sleeping. No, this was no sleeping child in front of us, this was our deceased baby. The angel we were supposed to have the privilege to parent for her whole life was gone. We did parent her for her whole life. We just had no idea that her life would be so short. One thing I remember quite clearly, are the few moments I shared with Sarah and Britney as they came to show us love and support. I recall very clearly when they stepped into the doorway of the room where I was receiving people. I saw Britney’s familiar face first and then Sarah’s and their hugs may have been tighter than even those of my own family. Those girls knew the hurt, the confusion and the fear we were feeling. They also knew that night was only the beginning of a lifelong journey for us.
A few months passed and I learned that Mamie’s has an annual 5k race called Race to Remember. Not only is it a fundraiser for the nonprofit, it is a time for families of child loss to gather with friends and family and community members and remember their beloved children. Many of these families and friends proudly run or walk 3.1 miles towards a finish line as they honor their lost little loves. Some prefer to stand on the sidelines and cheer us on as we race. That is welcomed and appreciated, as well. Really, isn’t that pretty much what this life is? A race that we run as boldly as we can, hoping that friends and family will cheer us on as we go. Race to Remember happens in June, close to Mamie’s birthday, which I feel makes it extra special. Since I had just begun running in April, I recognized that the Race to Remember in June would be a great goal for me. It would keep me running and focused on the reasons I began to run in the first place. I made up my mind that I would run the race as my first official 5k. We set up a team page and asked folks to join us or donate to the amazing cause. When race day came, June 15, 2014, I was ready for the run. What I was not ready for was the overwhelming feeling of emotions I would experience on race day just from walking into a crowd of people I knew had all been touched by child loss. On race day, I looked around at the crowd and I knew that we were all there for the same reason. It was both beautiful and tragic. I felt understood in a way that I had not since Mallory died but I also felt sad that so many families were hurting just like us. There is a balloon release each year before the race to commemorate the little souls that went before us. As we released balloons into the air, I recall thinking how very not alone we are in this grief. It was both comforting and heartbreaking at the same time. I believe there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere in the place. Witnessing that many people remembering their children is powerful. It is a testament to the love that endures past death. There is no way to explain to you the bond you feel when another bereaved parent shares their heart with you. Sarah is not just someone I admire, I am fortunate to now be able to call her my friend.
The month immediately following the 2014 race I attended my first volunteer night at Mamie’s. Once a month, volunteers gather to prepare plates to mail out to families. This includes, checking the birth stats and names, adding tiny feet and hand prints, carefully boxing the plates and addressing them for mailing. It’s an evening attended by women and men wanting to lend a hand. Some have been directly touched by loss, others are just moved by the mission of the organization. It had only been 10 months since Mallory died. That night was very profound for me. I was astounded by the number of plates we were processing. I had many mixed emotions as I reflected on the fact that each one of the plates in the room represented a life lost too soon. It also represented a mother and father broken from the loss of their child. At the time, I already understood the need for the services that Mamie’s provided and at that moment I also understood that the need will never end. the accompanying photo is from my first volunteer night. I am preparing to add some very tiny footprints to a very special angel’s plate.
Over the last year, I have volunteered a number of times with Mamie’s. Each time I feel that I am fortunate to be able to offer some sort of help to this organization. Their mission was born of a personal tragedy and Sarah, with the help of her sister and their mother and many, many other passionate folks involved with this group, has turned that into a mission of love. Love for the grieving hearts of mothers and fathers everywhere. It reminds me of a quote from the great philosopher and poet Rumi:
“The wound is the place where light enters you.”
Sarah has allowed the light from her own wound to shine onto others by graciously sharing Mamie’s story with the world. She and members of her team have gone to hospitals and funeral homes to take prints of the little hands and feet of the children that are gone too soon. Can you imagine the strength it must take to do that? Now imagine the strength it must take to do it after losing your own child. I cannot say that I would be strong enough for that task. Sarah pours her heart and soul into this mission. It is remarkable that from her deepest wound came incredible amounts of light to spread and share with people not only in Arkansas but all over the county. I honestly feel that I have been blessed to watch her and her sister and their mother as they work. It is truly a labor of love, a work from the heart. Sadly, there is much more work to be done as the need to support grieving families persists.
This year Mamie’s Poppy Plates will again have their Race to Remember in June. Race day is June 6th. If you feel compelled, come and join us. Run with us, walk with us, make a donation, or just come on out to cheer us on. We would be honored to have you on our team.
You will find our personal Mallory’s Grace Team page here:
You may register (or donate) as an individual here:
Recently, I watched a video of a man named Jim Willett speaking about running and cancer. Except, what he said wasn’t about cancer or running. Not really. It was about words and actions and the mental games we play with ourselves but overall it was about living. After I watched the video, I thought about running and what meaning and place it has in my own life. It has become a saving grace, my version of grief in action, a coping mechanism, an outlet for anxiety, my time to be in nature.
See, like Jim Willett who came to running after hearing the words, “You have cancer.”, I also turned to running to cope with a devastating life change. The loss of my only child. A little girl so loved by her father and me that the loss of her left us feeling broken and destroyed. Sadly, time does not stop with loss. No matter how tragic and no matter how unfair the circumstances, life does not slow down to give you a break and allow you to catch your breath. No. Life goes on around you while you are left trying to find the strength to stand upright and somehow put one foot in front of the other.
After Mallory died, there were a number of evenings that we sat on our patio around our outdoor fire pit. I don’t know if it was simply something to occupy our now empty, sadly quiet evenings or something to stare at when words failed us… I am not certain what drove our need for those fires but they helped us get through the early days of intense grief. Around those fires sat friends and family members that offered us love and talked about our sweet girl and her life. One evening a discussion that took place around that fire turned into something more than just a discussion.
Our friend, Katy Simmons, listened to us talk about the “some days” of what we would like to do eventually to honor our sweet kid. She listened and wondered how she might make that happen for us. Fast forward about three months and Katy contacted me and told me that there is a group in Little Rock called Girls on the Run and that they’d like to talk with me about naming their one mile fun run for Mallory. I was awestruck that people who didn’t even know us wanted to do such a generous thing for us. For her. A lunch was scheduled with my friend and the executive director and the chair of the board of directors. Plans were made and all of a sudden, this amazing organization that never knew my kid was planning to use the biggest event of their year to honor our child.
I made up my mind that since Girls on the Run was doing such an amazing thing for us, I should try to run the Mallory Mile. Secretly, I had always envied friends that ran but never had the confidence to believe that I could actually do it. I loved to walk for exercise but I never believed my body could adapt to running. This seemed like a great time, THE time, to challenge that belief. And I began to train. At first, I could not even run for a full minute without thinking I was about to fall over or possibly cry. The goal of the Mallory Mile kept me motivated and by the day of the event, I was able to run that mile! Over the last year, I have run seven (7) 5k races and even ran my first 10K in March of this year! To say that running has saved me might be an overstatement. But it doesn’t feel like it. Running has helped me cope. It has given me an outlet for excess energy and anxiety. It has kept me in better physical shape than I would be otherwise because taking care of yourself is hard when you’re grieving. It has been an important part of my grief journey and something that I likely never would have discovered without Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run is such an important organization. Yes, they are a running program but their goal is so much more than running. The following is taken directly from their website:
We believe that every girl
can embrace who she is,
can define who she wants to be,
can rise to any challenge,
can change the world.
And, y’all, that’s a mission I think the parent of every girl can get behind. We want to raise smart, strong, healthy girls who can grow into smart, strong, healthy young women! As I prepared for race day with girls on the run and learned more about their vision of “..a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”, I realized that Girls on the Run was all about many of the things we attempted to recognize and encourage in Mallory’s personality. Individuality, empathy, strength of character, compassion.
I began to compose some words to speak before the first Mallory Mile. I planned to talk about something our friend Deah Chisenhall created for us based on things she knew about Mallory’s personality. It was simply called “Love Like Mallory” and I realized the words from Love Like Mallory perfectly encompassed what Girls on the Run is all about. The program is designed to inspire young ladies to be leaders with open hearts that spread their own unique brand of light. They encourage girls to stand up for what is right and to embrace the differences they see in themselves and in others. The very mission is how my husband and I had been raising our daughter. We had been encouraging her individuality and that little flair for what was uniquely her.
Girls on the Run has become even more dear to me over the last year. Not only have they honored us by naming their fun run after Mallory, I have seen the daughters of friends, family, and neighbors participate in and benefit from this amazing program. In fact, I was lucky enough for my young cousin to allow me to be her running buddy for her graduation 5k this past fall. It was fantastic! (Love you Ruby Claire!!!)
This May 16th, we ask you to join us at Two Rivers Park at 9am. We would love to see all of you out there to walk or run the Mallory Mile with us and then stay to cheer on this spring’s class of amazing girls as they cross the finish line of their graduation 5k! For more information, visit the Girls on the Run website by using the link below: