The Day The Earth Would Not Stand Still

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Three years have passed since the day the earth would not stand still. Three hundred-sixty-five suns have set, since the day the water left the ocean, destroying everything that stood in its path. Thirty-six full moons have brightened the night sky, since that dark night when we huddled on the floor of the hospital gymnasium, wondering if the ground would ever stop shaking.

The morning after. Violet made a friend in the shelter and they had entertained the elderly people by running around and giggling.

The morning after. Violet made a friend in the shelter and they had entertained the elderly people by running around and giggling.

How did this happen? How did the days creep by at such speed? Time has a funny way of doing that. It keeps going, even if you don’t want it to.

When I think back on that day, March 11, 2011, I am still filled with such raw emotion. I don’t often let myself sit in the memories of that day because if I do, my mind goes to a dark place from which it is hard to escape. The “what ifs” play over and over in my mind and if I’m not careful, I find myself mentally paralyzed by fear.  Fear, that has taken me so long to manage in order to allow our daughter to go to school and my husband and I too work in different locations. For so long, I couldn’t stand the idea of physical separation from them. I needed to be near them. It was the only way I felt safe. Fear, that still visits me in my dreams but not nearly as often as it did. Fear, that returns with each earthquake. Fear, that I have yet to overcome but have learned to breathe through and release. It is that fear that keeps me from sitting with these memories for too long.

That day, I lived through an actual nightmare. You see, I suffered from reoccurring nightmares about the Thailand tsunami of 2004. I wasn’t there but it haunted me. They were very vivid dreams about my family being washed away in a wave. I would wake screaming and shaking and often crying out loud. Those dreams haunted me randomly but always at least a few times a month. They were exhausting.

I knew that living in Japan posed a risk for experiencing such a natural disaster but it wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis. After Violet was born, I became more cautious and more nervous about what I would do in such a situation. When we had strong earthquakes, I usually wanted to evacuate to higher ground. I remember after one such earthquake, packing up the car and driving up to Rias Hall (which is on high ground) to wait it out. We were the only ones up there but my husband and I felt it was the right thing to do.

Our home before the tsunami

Our home before the tsunami

On March 11, 2011, I was home with Violet, who was one and a half years old. Thankfully, I had extended my maternity leave and had not returned to work. Gabe was at work across the bay. When the shaking started I ran over to Violet. I picked her up immediately. I stood frozen for a moment, wondering what to do. It became clear, very quickly, that being inside was far too dangerous. I threw open my front door and ran outside. The ground was shaking so violently that it was very hard to balance. I just focused on holding Violet close to me and covering her head. All that I could do was put one foot in front of the other. It might sound crazy, but the thought that it was the end of the world actually crossed my mind. I wondered if the whole earth was shaking or if it was just in Ofunato. I kept glancing down, thinking that at any moment the ground beneath my feet might split open and suck me in. It was terrifying.

I tried to remain as calm as possible but I felt that my heart was beating out of my chest. Violet of course felt my fear and began to cry. We huddled together with some elderly women from our neighborhood and they all tried to help me calm Violet and protect her. The electric wires in the near distance sparked loudly and a fire erupted in the sky. We all let out a communal shout as we looked up at the sound. Then we quickly huddled together again.

After several terrifying minutes the ground stopped shaking but my body did not. You know that feeling you get after you step off a boat or stop skating? Your legs feel like jelly and everything seems to be moving. That is what those first steps felt like after the earthquake subsided. I wanted to collapse. I wanted my husband. I wanted him to hold me and tell me it was just a dream. But it wasn’t and he wasn’t there. I’ll never understand why I started walking back to my house. I was obviously not in my right mind. I didn’t even think about a tsunami. The shock of the shaking left me feeling confused and clouded my judgment.

Thank God, my friend happened to be in the area during the earthquake and her clear thinking led her to drive by my house to check on us. She informed me of the impending tsunami and we quickly fled to higher ground.

My heart raced as I fumbled with my phone to try and call Gabe and then tried to call her husband as well. I was able to reach Gabe and tell him we were going to the hospital and he said that he would meet us there. We waited and waited as the walls shook around us and the lights above us swayed like a ship on rough waters. Soon people started to arrive with wet hair and wet clothes. It was then that I knew the wave had come. I felt my heart sink wondering if my husband had made it to safety. The hours moved by so slowly that it was as if time had frozen. Everything around me seemed to be moving in slow motion but inside, my heart raced.

Gabe did arrive that day. He came back to us. He ran for his life to live another day with us. So many husbands and fathers did not arrive that day. So many mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends were not able to embrace the ones they loved that day. Some families waited and worried for days or weeks even, to embrace again, others waited and still wait to this day to be reunited with their loved ones, but theirs will be a reunion in the next life.

Violet and Daddy the evening of 3.11.11

Violet and Daddy the evening of 3.11.11

Waiting to go home

Waiting to go home

on the way to our house after the tsunami

on the way to our house after the tsunami

view from the bedroom window of or washed-out home

Gabe found one of our flash cards we used at school in the ruble

one of our English game cards we used at school in the debris

our house was one of the last ones struck by the wave. Everything piled up in front of our home and pushed through it.

Our house was one of the last ones inundated by the wave. Furniture, clothes, other neighbor’s books, toys, photos, paint, industrial chemicals, and all manner of debris was piled up in front of our home, broke through, swirled around and flowed-out.

the waves washed through our home

After the streets had been cleaned and cleared of debris two months later.

 

After the land was cleared

After the land was cleared

our community trash recepticleOur lives will never be the same again. Our hearts will always grieve for the ones we lost that day. For the lives we lived in the days and years before the waves destroyed our worlds. We grieve for the memories, both past and those that could have been, that it robbed so many of us of.

Three years later, life has found a new normal for many of us. We get up and we go to work. We play with our children and we visit with friends. But for so many, life is like living a daily nightmare. The mother whose arms will remain empty, the husband whose heart tortures him by continuing to beat rather than let him go and join his beloved. The daughter who wakes without a family and knows she is on her own now. The sister who lives without her truest friend and the bride-to-be whose wedding will never come…. For these people, life has continued to move on while their hearts remain in that day. We grieve with them and our hearts long to take away their pain.

For so many, guilt continues to plague their hearts, mine included. When I think about how quickly we were rescued from the shelter, I feel both incredibly thankful and unbelievable guilty. The fact that I had food and water and place to sleep while so many families, for months, did not, still breaks my heart. When I look at a picture that was recovered from our home after the tsunami I feel so grateful to have that memory back on my wall but then I immediately feel guilty for feeling that joy when so many of my friends have lost all their pictures and memorabilia that they carefully kept for generations. It is easy to give in to the guilt. The guilt of experiencing joy, the guilt of feeling depressed when so many have lost so much more.

For those of us in temporary housing, life has settled and we are feeling a new sense of community again. I will say that for the elderly in particular this is especially important. In Japan, your community is your family. People take care of one another. People still come out on the streets daily to talk with one another. After the tsunami, all of that was lost and for so many even if they still meet some of their former neighbors, it is difficult for them to communicate more than just a hello anymore. There is so much between them and yet a river of grief, envy, guilt or sorrow divides them. So, the new communities that we were all placed in are that much more important.

Three years later, there is talk of moving on and rebuilding. But for so many, the thought of starting over again is almost unbearable to think about. Even if the housing is small and cramped and cold in the winter and hot in the summer, it is home. It is a circle to belong to.

There is an elderly woman in my community who lost her family and her neighborhood. She is about 80 years old and she lives alone. She was able to make a connection with her new neighbor in temporary housing. They talked daily and walked outside daily. When her neighbor moved, it was so devastating for her. She came out every day looking for her friend. My neighbor had to remind her that she had moved. The pain and sorrow on her face as she remembered broke my heart. She couldn’t understand why she had left or where she had gone. My neighbor tried to comfort her and tell her that the rest of us were still here with her, that she was not alone. But she just sat there on the bench looking out at the parking lot, waiting for her friend to come back. For her and so many like her, the thought of leaving this new community is just too hard to think about.

Our family of three continues to live in temporary housing along with hundreds of other families. We still struggle with the painful memories and terrors of that day but together and with the amazing support of our family and friends both here and abroad, we are healing. We remind ourselves that it is ok to feel sad sometimes. It is important to feel our feelings and breathe through them. We watch our town and neighboring towns slowly coming back to life and it fills us with hope. We watch grieving friends begin to smile again and it fills us with love. We watch friends who lost their homes, rebuilding and starting a new life together again and it fills us with joy. We gather and we remember and it fills us with peace.

Our new home

We took this photo the first day we saw our temporary home. This is where we still live today.

Today, I still have nightmares. I still wake up crying in my sleep. But thankfully, they don’t come as often as they first did. I still dream of my family being lost in the wave but I also dream about all the true stories I have heard of losses on March 11th. I wake and remember and try to forget. I snuggle in a little closer to my husband and daughter. I breathe them in and remind myself that it was only a dream. The real nightmare is over.

Life will never be the same again, but it will be life. And the life we are given this day and the next will be a blessing, a gift that I pray we can cherish. My prayer for us all is that we can find at least one thing to be thankful for each day. And that with each breath we are granted, we might breathe peace, love and light. Today is your day, live it as is it were your last. Breathe as if it was your first.

photoFor further reading about our experiences on 3.11 read my post “Breastfeeding through a Disaster”

Our thoughts from 2012 on the first anniversary of the disaster are posted here.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

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It’s amazing to me how just holding my daughter’s hand brings me such peace. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, her small hand in mine reminds me to breath.

When she is crying out of anger, even when it is me that she is angry with, and I reach out to hold her hand, she holds it. When we are driving to school and she is crying from frustration and I am feeling frustrated too, I reach over and hold her hand in silence and I feel my body, and hers, calming down.

When I am sad or sick or tired, she reaches out to hold my hand, as if she knows our hearts unite in that single physical act of connection.

When we cross the street or walk through a busy public place, I reach down and her hand is there waiting to grasp mine. It is safety, it is reassuring, it is calming, it is peaceful, it is an I’m sorry, it is an I forgive you, it is Love.

I held my mother’s hand when we walked side by side, even when I was in high school and college. She was my safety, my calm, my friend. I felt her love and her heart when our hands were clasped.

Violet, often looks up at me as we are walking hand in hand and says, “Mama, I love holding your hand. I can feel you sending all your love through it.”

The power of touch is so healing and so important in our lives. If your child is feeling stressed, anxious or even angry, I encourage you to try holding their hand. Even if you don’t know what to say to them, just holding their hand expresses solidarity and compassion. As Dr. James A. Coan says, “The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat.”

One way our children can learn to regulate their own response to external situations is through the act of hand holding. Hand holding is an extension of our heart. It is a physical, tangible exchange of love.

Violet, I hope you know that you can always, hold my hand.

The Grieving Child

I’ve been very behind in writing on my blogs lately. We had an extended summer vacation in the States due to the death of my beloved grandfather, “Papo”. Then only three weeks after returning to Japan, we had to make another emergency trip home due to the death of my dear, sweet grandmother, “Mamo”. They died exactly 2 months apart on the same date. July 14th and September 14th. They were married for 62 years and raised 8 children together. After my grandfather’s passing it was not really a surprise that she soon left us to be with him. In life they never liked being apart from each other, so we knew she was eager to join him.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents. I grew up visiting them every Sunday after church and spent every Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and Easter with them (until I moved to Japan). They were an incredible influence on my life and I cherish the lessons that I learned from them. Losing them both in such a short time has been hard. And explaining death and the afterlife to our daughter has been both challenging and comforting.

In July, we were able to fly to Texas early to spend some time with my grandfather before he passed away. We were able to talk to him and he was able to respond in grunts and simple motions. Violet told him that she loved him and blew him a kiss and even though he was very weak he managed to raise his hand to his mouth to blow one back to her. It is a precious memory that will forever warm my heart. We spent hours singing and praying with him and telling him he was free to go. He had been suffering from illness for a very long time and it was time for him to rest.

When he finally did pass away we were at his house. Violet was in another room and I went to get her. She ran to my arms and said “Mommy where is Papo?” I told her he had passed away. She immediately held my face directly in front of her own and she smiled so big and said, “Mommy, he’s not in pain anymore now. He’s in heaven now right? He is with Grandma Pam. Can I be happy? We can be happy right?” After that I found it difficult to cry. She reminded me to be joyful.

I told her of course she could be happy and after that I had a hard time not feeling a form of happiness too. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced in his home-going. It was amazing. She wanted to go over and see his body. She was confused why his body was still there. She thought it would disappear. But she touched him and felt him and I told her his earthly body is here but his spirit, what we knew him like was gone.

The days following she often stated that she missed him, in fact she still talks about him and how she misses him. She told me that Papo wants her to come to be with him in heaven. That she saw his body turn into a pony when he died and he is a pony now. She asks about if he will come back as someone or something else. She is really interested in this lately and she often talks to me about what she was before and what she will be. We tell her that none of us really knows what happens after we die but what we believe is that we don’t have to have any pain anymore and we can be everywhere with all the people we love even if they can’t see us.

When we had the Rosary, Papo’s casket was open. Violet wanted to go up and see him and touch him over and over. She wanted to give him stickers and put them on his hands. I let her do it as often as I could because she was really expressing a desire to see him. I had to really try hard to keep her in her seat during the service because she kept wanting to get up.

Throughout the service she kept asking me questions about death and heaven and life after death. Questions that I couldn’t answer because I don’t know the answers. I could only answer with my feeble human mind.

Then when she saw me crying she said, “Mama when will my tears come?” I said, “Your tears will come when you are ready. We cry when we are sad or happy or scared or for any other feeling.” Then she pressed her self against my body and looked up at me and said “Mommy, maybe if we press our cheeks together and you touch your eyes to my eyes I can share your tears. Your tears will become my tears.” I was so taken aback by this expression of true empathy out of my child’s mouth and heart. I immediately said, “yes, you can share my tears baby. I will share my tears with you and you can always share your tears with me.” I pressed my cheek to hers and our closed eyes touched. My mascara stained tears rolled down her cheeks and she smiled up at me and said, “See mama, now I have your tears.” All I could do was hug her because I had no words to express the gratitude I felt in my heart for that moment.

My brothers and I sang Amazing Grace at the Rosary and Violet really wanted to sing with us. She really wanted to sing for Papo. She saw me expressing my love for my grandparents through singing to them for the last week and I think she really wanted to do the same. So I let her come up to the microphone with me. She didn’t know the words but she sang her heart out. I struggled to keep it together while listening to her sweet voice in my ear.

At the funeral, Papo’s casket was open in the beginning before the service started so that people who couldn’t make it to the Rosary could see him. Again, Violet wanted to go up to see him again and again. I let her take a couple of turns to say goodbye again. She gave him a few more stickers too. Then when they came to close the casket she became upset. She wanted to see him still. I tried to comfort her and tell her that it was just his body, he wasn’t there anymore. She continued to ask me questions about what happens to a person after they die and where he was. I tried to explain in as best a way I could that he was no longer in pain. He was with Grandma Pam and he would always be with us and around us watching over us.

We continued on to the burial and we stayed until he was lowered into the ground. It was a small group of us at that point. We all threw in some dirt and then Violet wanted to throw some flowers in for him. So we let her.

Since Papo’s passing Violet has continued to talk about him and voice what she thinks he is doing. She is always certain that he is with Grandma Pam and that they are having fun together. One day she told me “Mommy I think Papo is playing with Grandma Pam now.” I asked her “What are they playing?” She looked up and said “I think they are playing golf.” I don’t know how she knew that he loved playing golf. Maybe she overheard someone talking about it. I answered, “yes, I am sure they are.” Another time she told me that Papo was dancing in heaven. He was dancing for joy with Grandma Pam. I love when she shares these thoughts with me because I really do believe that children have a more open mind to the spiritual world. And I love to picture my beloved mother and grandfather doing the things she says they are doing.

Before we left, we had several opportunities to go and visit with my Mamo. Violet seemed to know she was sad and she knew why, without me telling her. Two days before we left we were over visiting with her and Violet asked me if Mamo lived in Japan. And then said she didn’t want to be away from Mamo. She began to cry and said she wanted to be with Mamo. Then she decided she would make a picture for Mamo to remember her by.

She went and drew Mamo a picture and when she brought it to her she told her it was magical.Then she gave Mamo her plastic wand (a toy she had recently become very attached to) and said the picture was “remoted”. She said, “When you touch the wand to the picture a voice comes out.” “Who’s voice?” Mamo said. “Gods voice.” replied Violet. “What does he say?” asked Mamo. “That you are never alone and Papo is always with you.When you feel sad and miss Papo you can use it.” Violet said.

Just before all of this Violet had asked Mamo “who do you sleep with?” Mamo said I sleep alone now. I sleep with angels.” So, Violet made this picture and came up with that whole idea on her own.

She then told her “You have to use it right when you wake up because I know you always miss Papo when you wake up.” Then Mamo said, “Can I use it at bedtime too?” Violet said, “Yes! You can use it anytime when you feel sad and are missing Papo or anyone who is not here anymore. Anyone who is not with you. God will always help you when you feel sad!”

Mamo was so touched. We all were. I could hardly hold back my tears through the whole conversation. It was so precious and so heartfelt.

I am so thankful that we had that time with my dear Mamo before she left this world. My aunt told me that my grandmother had slept with the wand by her bedside and often asked for it when she was in another room.

When she passed away, we were not physically there. It was terribly painful to not be able to say goodbye to her. I felt so much more emotional at her services because of that. Seeing her in the casket, although she looked beautiful, was very difficult for me to bear. Violet really wanted to go up and kiss her and touch her though. So we did.

Violet sat more patiently through these services because it wasn’t new to her anymore. I feel sad that she has had to attend so many funerals in her short life already. But thankful that she seems to really have an understanding of empathy and love.

She often talks about Mamo and cries that she misses her. She asks if we can send her letters or if she could go and see her again. She says things about death that sometimes might disturb others who don’t know why she is so in tune to it right now.

She told me and and my father on her birthday that she wanted to go to heaven and be with Mamo. She told me she wanted to wear her favorite purple party dress when she was in her “box” and that she wanted to be buried with Mamo. She has asked me many times when she is going to die and then will she come back to life as someone else. I always tell her the same thing, that she doesn’t have to worry or be afraid of dying. That no one knows when their time will come. I tell her that Mamo and Papo and Grandma Pam want her to live a long and happy life and then when the time comes they will be there waiting to hold her. This usually seems to satisfy her.

Her heart, her big and beautiful heart is full of so much love and compassion. I am so thankful that she is in my world. She truly gave me so much comfort during this time of loss. Young children can be so resilient and usually can find the positive in things faster than we adults and for that I am thankful.

Have you had to explain death to your children?

What ways have you found to comfort their grieving hearts?
We found these books very helpful during our grieving process. We had actually been reading them for about 4-5 months before Papo passed away because she had been asking so many questions about my mother. I was so thankful that she already had somewhat of an understanding about it before we had to go to the services.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
The Next Place by Warren Hanson
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This is what came of 2 people in love. 8 children and their spouses, 31 grandchildren and 27 great grandchilren so far. Everyone lives in the same state (except me)

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My beautiful grandmother. She called Violet her precious! And Violet adored that.

My dear Papo. I am so thankful that Violet got to know him.

My dear Papo. I am so thankful that Violet got to know him.

Missing You

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Poohmom at 30 with 3 kids 

Death is a difficult thing to explain, especially to a child. Unfortunately, it is something that we all have to deal with at some point.

Our sweet daughter is very inquisitive and her questions are becoming more and more challenging for me to answer. I want to tell her the truth always but I also want to find a balance between the whole truth and partial explanation. I don’t want to over explain things and make her feel worried or cause her to have anxiety about death and illness.

A few weeks  ago in the car we were listening to Isreal Kamiwamiwo’ole and she was looking at the album cover. She loves his voice and loves the cover photo of him swimming in a pool that looks like the earth. She asked “Mommy is he still alive?” I answered that he wasn’t. She asked “Did he swim too much and then he died?” I told her he died from heart problems. Then she said “Maybe his pants were up too high and then he died.” Her questions went on and on and I tried to explain to her that some people get sick and get better and some people get a very serious sickness and their bodies can’t recover so they die. She seemed concerned but she was able to move on without dwelling on it for too long.

So far, no one that Violet has known very closely has passed away. We lost friends in the tsunami 2 years ago but she wasn’t quite old enough to know what that meant . She knew that life was different for a while and we had to move to a new house with new books and new toys and new clothes but the loss of life was not something she could comprehend at the time.

When my friends sister passed away a year ago, she saw that I was sad and cried a lot. She was so young and left 2 young children behind and a loving husband, sister and parents and countless friends. I tried to explain my sudden bouts of sadness to her and tell her that mommy was sad because her friend had gotten sick and couldn’t get better. She would pat my back and tell me it was o.k. to cry. Her death reminded me of my own loss. The loss of my dear, sweet mother. I was 21 years old when my mother was taken from me. Her children were only 4 and 6. I grieved for them and each time I looked at my daughter I saw her daughter searching for her mother, crying out for her and not understanding why she didn’t come. At 21 years old I felt that same pain but my mind was more capable of comprehending her absence. My heart felt like it was breaking all over again and I felt all those feelings over again. Anger, sadness, frustration, fear and pain.

About a month later I was blessed with an experience I had never had before. As I was nursing Violet to sleep I was overcome with the feeling that my Mom was surrounding me with her presence. I saw her face so clearly in my mind. Usually when I picture her I see her as she looked before she had cancer. With her beautiful brown hair. That night she had her post chemo hair (a beautiful purplish grey). She was smiling so wide and she was glowing. I felt so warm and full of light. My eyes filled up with tears and I whispered “Please don’t go Mama. Stay here with us a little longer.” When I started to feel her slipping away, I whispered it again. I felt her there with me for the entire time I was nursing Violet to sleep. I felt like she was holding us both and looking at her beautiful granddaughter. I don’t know how to explain the feeling I had except to say it was close to perfect happiness. I couldn’t stop crying and my tears were dropping onto Violet’s tummy. She didn’t seem to notice that I was crying, thankfully, and fell peacefully to sleep.

There are more times than I can count that I wish I could call out to my mom and seek her reassurance, her love, her understanding, her praise. Since becoming a mother myself, I feel it even more frequently than I did before. Since she left this world there has been a constant hole in my heart. Every occasion and celebration is missing her presence. I know how much she would have loved to be a grandmother. She never got to be “Mimi” (that is what she wanted to be called by her grandchildren). She never got to hold her grand-babies and shower them with her unmatchable love. Her sweet grandchildren will never know how her hugs could calm any fear, how her smile could brighten even the darkest room. They will never get to laugh at her corny jokes or be comforted by her heartwarming words. They will never know how much she loves them.

At the same time, I feel so much closer to her now than I did in the immediate years following her death. I can understand in a way I never did before how much my mom loved me. I remember her telling me “when you’re a mom one day, you’ll understand…” There was no way I could understand that until my own daughter was placed in my arms and I knew that I would walk through fire for her. I now know how deeply it hurt her to see me hurting and how overwhelming the love in her heart was for me and my brothers.mom 35 with teenagers

A mother’s love is like no other love. No one will ever love me like my mother loves me. I was perfect in her eyes,though she knew I could and did do wrong, she knew I was not a bad person.  When I broke my mother’s heart with poor choices in my teen years, I couldn’t understand how she could forgive me and keep loving me. Now I know why. When you carry life inside your own body, although they enter the outside world at some point, they are always a part of you and the love you feel for them can never be taken away.

My mother’s love surrounds me now. No matter where I am or what I am doing, she is there. When I lie awake watching my daughter suffer through an illness, she is there worrying with me. When I hold my daughter close to my breast and nourish her with life giving milk, she is there holding me. When my heart fills with the purest joy at seeing Violet accomplish something new, she is there celebrating with me. She is there. She is there. She is there.

mom on her last trip to Colorado, 1 month before she passed

Though Violet never got to meet her Grandma Pam, Grandma Pam is there. She is always in my heart and so I know her love is pouring out to Violet through my love. Violet has been very vocal about her and asks questions all the time about her life and why she had to die. She misses her. She has even cried for her before, crying out that she misses Grandma Pam. As she grows older and asks more questions I can see her grieving for the loss of the grandmother she never knew. I wish that I could protect her from ever having to experience the pain of loss and heartbreak. But I cannot.

My dear friend put it so eloquently in a post on her blog saying, “Daily, I wish I could protect my children’s innocence. I wish I could shield them from the harshness of this world. I wish I could always protect their hearts, their minds, their souls. I wish they knew nothing of the sin, brokenness, and ugliness of this world. I wish I didn’t have to tell them that they can’t trust everyone, and that there are people in this world who are not good. I wish they knew no sadness, experienced no loss, and lived carefree and happy all of the time. That is Heaven though, and not Earth. As long as they live on this Earth, they will experience all that we experience – they will break hearts and their hearts will be broken”

I fear losing Violet or her losing me or her daddy. I try not to worry about it but I know that one day one of us will be gone from the other. I cling to the hope though that we will be reunited. Just as I cling to that hope that one day I will embrace my mother again. I am trying to help her find ways to understand pain and to deal with it in a healthy way. Teaching her that it is ok to cry and it is ok to miss someone. These are natural feelings. We are also trying to teach her to look for love and joy and peace and beauty to bring her out of sadness and darkness.

Talking about death with her has allowed me to realize that there are not always answers to every question and I don’t have to pretend to have the answer to it all. I am praying that as she grows older she will come to understand in her own heart what happens after we die and that even though we don’t know for sure, we don’t have to be afraid of it. Love will live on, Love will always live on.

How do you talk to your children about death?

Has your child asked you questions that you don’t know how to answer?

Thanks for stopping by today,

Violet’s Mama

The Big Bad Cough and Mama’s Fears

Three weeks ago my sweet little girl started coughing. I had been coughing the week before that and so I assumed we both had caught the cold that was going around. Then on a Monday night she was trying to sleep and just couldn’t stop coughing. Her cough seemed to be choking her and she was waking herself up almost gagging on the sputum when she could finally cough it up.

I tried everything I could think of. I held her near the humidifier, had her sip cold water and stood in the steamy shower. The only thing that seemed to stop the coughing was to keep her awake. So at 3 am I decided to just let her stay awake. We played quietly in the dark and watched a little bit of Blue’s Clues. I was exhausted but too scared to let her sleep. I just held her close and let her nurse as much as she wanted and prayed that the cough would go away so she could get some rest.

At 5am I woke up my husband and said we needed to go the pediatrician as soon as it opened. We go to the hospital for pediatric visits here in Japan. So he dropped us off and luckily we were one of the first patients there. I looked around at all the other little sick children and worried that she would catch whatever it was they had too. She was so tired though that she just wanted to be held. I put her in her “pouch” (we use the Baby K’tan) and she snuggled up close to my chest and looked up at me with tired eyes and said “Mama I really want to sleep now. Is that ok?” I kissed the top of her head and told her to close her eyes and everything would be alright.Image My mind was racing with fear and panic. I had been going over her vaccination schedule and worried that I had missed something. She had not (has not) received her last DPT vaccine. I was terrified that she had pertussis. Although, I know it is not as dangerous for a preschooler as it is for an infant, I was still scared. I had made the mistake of reading too many stories about pertussis that ended fatally. My heart raced and my stomach was in knots.

She finally got about 45 minutes of uninterrupted sleep snuggled up next to my breast and I closed my eyes as we waited to be seen. The doctor called us in and she tried to listen to Violet’s chest without waking her but Violet stirred and started to scream terribly. She listened to the front and the back and said her left lung sounded a little weak. So she asked us to go across the hall for blood work and a chest x-ray. We had been through this last October and it was so traumatic for Violet. I was dreading it but I knew we needed to figure out what was going on.

We got to the blood lab and she was shaking and crying uncontrollably in my arms. The nurse held her arm out and Violet clung to my chest. I try so hard to be brave when these things happen but I was sleep deprived too and scared as well. Silent tears started to stream down my cheeks. I just whispered in her ear that I loved her and asked her to please not look at the needle but to look at me. She looked into my eyes and cried out in fear as the needle pierced her soft, milky skin.

When it was over she was trembling and kept trying to tell me she wanted to be brave. I told her she was brave because she did it. My husband and I are always trying to tell her that feeling her feelings is o.k. I wanted to express to her that being brave doesn’t always mean that you don’t cry. Even brave people cry sometimes. So she smiled through her tears and exclaimed “I’m brave, mama! I’m brave!” We both half laughed, half cried. Then we walked down the hall a little further to have her x-ray done.

She had just had an x-ray in October and knew that it wasn’t going to hurt but she still began to panic. I am still learning how to handle parenting in our gentle style when something has to be done. I don’t mean that I get angry when she cries or even impatient in a situation like this. What I mean is I struggle with getting the other people to wait and understand how she is feeling. In a medical office (in the US or here in Japan) the nurses and doctors often just want and need to get a procedure or test done. They see crying, fearful children every single day and I guess sometimes they get numb to it. I have often felt pushed aside or felt that my daughters feelings were not validated in situations like these.

When she was 2 years old and receiving a vaccine, somehow I was pushed out of the office and had the door shut in my face. I had cried during her 9 month well baby check up because I felt they were being too rough with her at that clinic and was branded weak by an overpowering nurse. So for some reason on this day she decided I just needed to leave the room. I have seen other parents leave their baby/toddler with the nurse too. I don’t know if I have ever seen this at the doctor back home. I am fairly certain that I haven’t.

Violet was crying and I was struggling to keep her still for the vaccine. So the nurse grabbed her from my lap and forced me out of the door. It happened so fast and took my breath away so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to stop it from happening. The door was closed in my face and I was left there on the other side listening to my daughters terrified screams, screaming for mama. I stood up against the door calling out her name. Other parents stared at me but I didn’t care. I cried and cried out her name. When the door was finally opened I gave the nurse the angriest look I could muster up through my tears. I cradled my sweet girl and promised her that I would never let that happen again. I still have nightmares and suffer from guilt that I wasn’t more assertive. I have learned from that experience though and I have never again let a nurse or doctor take her from my arms.

Back to the most recent experience. When we were trying to get her x-ray taken I couldn’t get Violet to hold still and stand in front of the x-ray machine. She wanted me to hold her. Of course I couldn’t hold her during the x-ray. So I stood beside her trying to hold her in place. Two male technicians were in the room and they ended up grabbing her arms and holding her arms out to either side. One of them grabbed directly on to where she had just been poked with a needle for her blood work. I wanted them to wait and to let her calm down first. But again, it happened fast. And they had a remote that they could control the x-ray machine with. So all of this only lasted 10 seconds max. Still I felt like I had failed to let her work through her feelings and come to do it on her own. Maybe she never would have. I am not sure. How do other gentle parents handle situations like this?

I feel that my lack of ability to speak proper Japanese often impedes my ability to parent the way I want to in public places such as this. We left radiology and made our way back to the pediatric ward to wait for the results. She was too shaken up to fall back asleep and just nursed through her tears until she finally calmed her breathing once more. Forty-five minutes later we were called in to get the results. The doctor showed us the x-ray and pointed out the little white lines in her lungs that showed she had an infection.

Mycoplasma. Again. She just had mycoplasma in October! How could this be. Violet never had a fever this time around and so I didn’t know her cough was anything serious. The cough was much worse this time around though. Much more violent. We were given a 3 day dose of zithromax, an expectorant and bronchial dilating patches that go on her back. I was relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t more serious, in my mind I was fearing the worst. Pertussis or TB. We went home and had a little lunch and I held her upright on the couch as she took a little rest.

We ended up going back to the hospital 3 times in 2 weeks. On the second trip we were given a nebulizer for free that we get to keep at home. It is small and portable. I was so thankful to have it and it brought me comfort that we had something to give her relief during the night. I held Violet in a cradle position but more upright, while sitting on the sofa every night for 2 weeks. She slept for about 5 hours max each night and I slept maybe 2 hours. It was a long and exhausting 2 weeks. But thankfully she is finally not coughing anymore. We are sleeping in our family bed again and my body is trying to recover from the lack of sleep.

It was so hard to watch her struggle with this cough. She had a decreased appetite for those 2 weeks as well. Thankfully, she could still nurse whenever she wanted and I was never worried about her getting dehydrated or going without nutrients. Full term breastfeeding has so many wonderful benefits. Even though she was sick we definitely enjoyed our time at home together. We snuggled, we drew, we read,we laughed, we danced, made muffins and she ran around the house naked (one of her favorite things to do).

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The night before Violet was to return to nursery school I started having severe panic attacks about her getting sick again. I heard from a friend that TB was becoming more prevalent in Japan and we did not vaccinate her for that. My heart raced and I couldn’t catch my breath. My husband and I scoured the internet for information on TB in Japan and the BCG vaccine. My mind often gets the better of me and what ifs start haunting my mind. Ever since the Tsunami I find that my worry and panic are at a higher level than they used to be. When it concerns my daughter’s health and safety especially. Gabe and I finally arrived at the decision that she was safe to go to school but that we would definitely get her vaccinated when she was 100% well again.

My mind still plays tricks on me though and I go back and forth as to whether or not it is necessary. It is so hard to live and raise a child in a foreign country when you are not fluent in the language. I kick myself for not studying harder. I feel ashamed and feel that i have let her down. Also, I really dislike my tendencies to panic and worry. I am trying to rest in the peace of knowing that I cannot control everything. I can only do my best to make well informed decisions. Being a mom is hard work! It is the best job I have ever been granted but it is definitely not easy.

How do you deal with worries about illness for your children?

What are your favorite cough remedies?

What are your feelings toward vaccination?

Fear

Fear-a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H. P. Lovecraft

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Marcus Aurelius

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Before I became a mother I would not have thought of myself as a fearful person. I enjoyed all manners of thrilling things from haunted houses, scary movies to roller coasters. After becoming a mother I find myself being fearful of many many things. Being responsible for someone’s health and well being is a stressful albeit enjoyable, job! When Violet was a newborn, I felt nervous that she would stop breathing or be smothered by blankets. I worried if she was getting enough milk. I worried if she was too hot or too cold. After the first few weeks that all subsided and I felt comfortable with being responsible for her. Then when she started eating solids I started having fears again. I worried she would choke, even if it was just pureed food. I only gave her a teething biscuit one time because it broke off in her mouth and she started to choke on it. She was able to cough it up by herself. One of my uncles told me that when I feed her I should pray for peace. I started doing that and found a lot of comfort in it. I still get worried when she is eating though. She is 3 now and it is not uncommon to hear me say “That’s too big of a bite sweet heart. Spit it out please.” I don’t know why I have such a big fear of her choking. I have never known anyone in my family to choke to death or anything like that. I suppose it is fear of not being prepared for how to handle the situation.

When we experienced the 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 I experienced a fear like I had never known before It was real it was raw it was barely manageable. When the ground was violently shaking below our feet and it was almost impossible to stand upright, I feared that the earth would tear in two beneath me. The thought actually crossed my mind that it was the end of the world. That may sound crazy, but it was such severe shaking. When the tsunami came, it was as if my nightmares were coming true. I suffered from anxiety for months and my hair started to fall out. Amazingly, my breasts never once ceased to produce enough milk for my then 17 month old daughter. The fear and anxiety seemed to fade as time went by and the aftershocks came less frequently. Then out of nowhere last week on Dec. 7th we had a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the ground for about 1 minute. A minute seems short but when the ground is shaking it feels like an eternity. Thankfully, I was at home with my husband and Violet when it happened. After a few seconds of shaking I started to think that it was all happening again. I asked my daughter to roll into a ball on the floor between my legs and then I covered her with my body in a duck and cover position. My husband then covered over my body. Violet was very obedient and calm through the whole thing. They have frequent earthquake drills at her school and so she is used to the routine. My husband and I assumed there would be a tsunami warning due to the length and amount of shaking that occurred. It wasn’t long before the all too familiar sirens started to wail striking fear and panic in many residents. Fortunately, there was no severe damage done with this earthquake and the tsunami that did come was small and didn’t cause any damage either. I felt shaky all night. The tsunami warning was lifted after a couple of hours and life went back to “normal”. People who were on low ground evacuated and stayed at their assigned evacuation centers until around 8pm. We were lucky to have been at our home which is on top of a mountain. We turned on a movie and had family movie night. The sound of the movie blocked out the warning sirens. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest all night. We all went to bed together at the same time that night. It felt safe that way. My nightmares returned that night. Running, screaming, separated from each other, kind of dreams. I woke myself up screaming and crying in my sleep several times that night.

Saturday and Sunday we stayed together and went about our normal routines. Monday, we had to return to work. When I woke up that morning I felt the panic rising in my chest. My heart felt like it was beating extremely fast and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I worry about making Violet feel afraid when she sees me feeling afraid. She still mirrors my emotions. I don’t want her to think that repressing our feelings for the sake of others is a good thing. But I also don’t want to cause her undue worry and stress. Children are so much more resilient than we adults are. In the car as we drove to her school I started having a panic attack. I couldn’t hold back my tears and I was breathing very deeply and slowly. I always sit next to her in the back seat so she was very aware of what I was doing. She looked up at me and said “mommy are you crying?” I thought for a moment about what to answer. Finally I replied “I’m just feeling a little anxious today.” She reached out and grabbed my hand and patted it with the other. She said “Don’t worry mama, it will be ok.” Her gentle spirit helped me to focus. I decided to be honest about my feelings with her and I feel like it helped us both. Every day since then I have struggled with anxiety and fear. I feel like I had let myself believe that another massive earthquake and tsunami could not happen again. After Friday’s 7.3, I realized that that was a false assumption. The fact is, none of us can say whether or not another big one will happen in our lifetime. I am trying to realize that my fears are valid but am also trying to not live in fear. I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of dying and leaving my loves behind. I fear losing my child or my husband and being left here to survive without them. I am trying each day to let go of my fears a little more. Deep breathing and focusing on love has helped me a great deal. Parenting is a joyful experience but it definitely leaves your heart more exposed than you ever imagined it could be.

Have you experienced anxiety in your life?

What are some of your fears that you carry around as a parent?

What do you do to manage those fears?

Thanks for reading!