On The Surface

Anyone who has read my writing knows that I find meaning and messages and inspiration and hope and healing and connection to my daughter, Dannica, in numbers and blue sky rainbows and signals and signs and in the synchronicities of every day life. My daughter’s death is the most painful of the many earthly losses I’ve experienced.

It is a very long story, full of numbers, blue sky rainbows, signals, signs and synchronicities that recently led me to become a participant in a Grief Recovery Method support group and to then become a certified Grief Recovery Specialist in order to continue my own healing work as well as to gently guide others in this direction.

Dannica loved worms.  She loved all living things.  She even treated inanimate objects that resembled living things with the same respect and compassion she’d have shown the living version! (Other stories for other times.)  As a child, whenever it rained and the worms would come out on the driveway and in the gutter, she’d pick up as many as she could and put them back in their happy, dirty places.  She gave them names and talked to them before finding some dirt for them to squiggle into and she loved them with all her little heart.  She didn’t know it, but I watched her, and loved her and was her enthusiastic student the entire time.  Now, I think of her every time I save a worm from becoming road jerky, and I *have* to do it!  I can’t stop myself.

I saved a worm on the path between the hotel and a coffee shop just before my first day of Grief Recovery this past June.  I found a beautiful feather where I bent to return the worm it to it’s dirty home; then a butterfly… it almost let me brush its wing with my finger and it followed me and it stayed close.  All of these, were whispers (to me, anyway) from the spirit of respect and compassion, from the spirit of Dannica, the spirit of my daughter, winking at me, giving me a hug, seeing the genuine joy through the tears as I took a deep breath and thanked her for lighting my way.  She got me there, to that place, to that class, to the next step in my own recovery and to the next step in fulfilling her purpose of making this a better world to live in for all living beings.

I’m not going to talk here about my experience in the group other than to say it was an emotionally intense and extremely challenging experience and I’m deeply grateful to have had it.  I believe from the moment of her passing, my Dannica has been telling me there are greater, higher purposes for her passing just as she did, just when she did.  We had an agreement (well, that’s what I believe); a sacred contract, that she would contribute in this way to making the world a better place and that I have a part to play in it too, and she’ll help me with that because this is not something either of us can accomplish on our own.

I’ve felt in a bit of a whirlwind since I got home from my class; web site stuff, facebook stuff, making flyers and plans, completely restructuring my business and private practice with this new focus.  Now some of that’s done, I’m getting out of my business mind and back into my heart.  It’s a better place for me from which to live and from which to be in my daily life.

Sometimes, a lot of times, as others in their lives go on with their lives, grieving people tend to feel isolated.  Their hearts are broken.  My heart is still broken.  I, as many do, heard a lot of the hundred plus comments, one generally hears following a loss; all of them made sense to my brain, none of them made sense to my heart.  I believed them and have even passed some of them on to others, each statement perpetuating another myth of grief and loss and grieving.  “Don’t feel bad, at least _______.”  “She’s in a better place.”  “Time heals all wounds.”  “This, too, shall pass.”  “Everything happens for a reason.”  “Only the good die young.”  As logically acurate and emotionally unhelpful as all of these were, the one that truly sent me reeling over the edge was, “It could be worse, honey.  I know of a woman who lost not only her daughter but also her husband in the same accident.  It was easier for her than it is for you though, because she had her church and her faith, and you don’t.  Do you have a relationship with Jesus?”

Yeah, if I had those things I wouldn’t be feeling any of this, would I?  But, I’ve lost those, too.  I couldn’t push her out my door fast enough.  I couldn’t slam my door hard enough when she was gone.  I coulnd’t have cried harder than I did in the hole I felt my own life to be in that moment.

Many of the things I heard from others didn’t make sense to my brain either, but I believed people meant well and probably had no idea what to say instead.  I don’t believe they consiously intended to shut me down or minimize my feelings to remain comfortable in my presence, nonetheless, that is how I felt, and many relationships have faded or vanished completely from my life.  More loss.  More grief.  More time alone. More believing there is something wrong with me.  It must be me.  I’m the one who changed, right?  Mine is the only life now different than it was before November 14, 2012.

Over time, I came to feel as if the world was just tired of hearing from me.  There are people in my life who continue saying things like, “We make our own happiness.”  What I hear, what my heart understands is, “GET OVER IT ALREADY!  Move on.  Let it go, I have. Be happy… just be happy so I can feel better about being near you.  You’re such a downer. Life’s too short!  I don’t have time for this…  I don’t have time—for you, Melissa, for you—not as you are – not like this.”

So, while my heart is broken and while I’m bleeding to death on the inside every day, I put on my happy face and I pretend to be happy.  That way I can tell myself I don’t need people anyway.  I’m all I need, right?  That might be true, but not when it comes to grieving.  Not then.  I know this now.  I didn’t know it before.

Day after day, I drift up from sleep into a panic in the pit of my stomach and part of me always wants to scramble back down again but it’s time to face the world with my happy face. The door to the world I’ve awakened from has slammed shut.  Day after day, I am the academy award winning griever playing the part of the amazing, strong, brave woman who’s daughter died and yet still buys groceries, still does laundry, still manages to work at a job (more or less), see a movie, have lunch or coffee with another human being and talk about the weather and the world as if she cares about those things at all.

There are days when I feel superhumanly powerful for walking from one room of my house to the next as opposed to crawling or just giving up on the trip altogether and taking a nap on the floor between rooms.  No one else knows that.  No one else sees that now because it’s been four years, 11 months,  9 days and that’s way beyond plenty of time for someone to be over this and move on with their life just like everyone else.  “That’s life,” and that phrase makes me want to take my own life every time I hear it.

The mantlepiece in my broken heart is lined with little golden Oscars.  One for each and every time I answered, “How are you?” with the word “fine” and someone believed it. One little golden Oscar for every holiday I’ve “celebrated” pretending to actually care about the centerpiece, the menu, or whether the toilet was clean, even when I wanted to sit in the closet until it was over but felt obligated to “make an appearance.”  One for every time I fooled even myself into believing, “now I’ve felt it all… nothing could feel worse,” and then it feels worse.

The Grief Recovery group and the specialist certification don’t mean I’m “there” yet even though I so wanted them to mean that.  I have a new direction in life and I have some new ideas and a new understanding of myself as a mother and as a human being and as a facilitator of healing in others.

Recovery from the pain of grief is a journey more than a destination; made a step at a time but in a direction I hadn’t intended when I first set out.  It feels like a detour because it is a detour…  a different path, well defined by others who see the bigger picture with better understanding than I do in order to get me safely from here to there with the least resistance and the most efficiency possible.

I still feel sad that my Dannica isn’t here with me physically, but I no longer push sad away from who I am in a given moment.  Permission to feel sad feels so different than feeling shame for feeling sad.  It’s my new way.

A Different Sea-When the World Has Moved On – A Poem by Melissa Murphy

Grief softens

it shifts

it changes

it erupts

it cripples, it heals but is never healed.

It is a constant companion in all the shapes and forms and intensities it takes.

The loss takes everything

…all at once.

And anything you have left is taken up simply by continuing to breathe.

Continue to breathe.

A single breath followed by another single breath.

And continue from your side of this life, in the silence of your own breath, to embrace the one you love who died.

Continue to include that love in all that you do and you’ll begin to hear their whispers in the wind, you’ll feel their presence brush your cheek, they’ll paint magnificent gifts in the clouds just for you and for all the world to see.

For those who notice.

Many won’t.

Not until they do.

Not until their own hearts are ripped by loss, when the grief introduces them to gravity.

It will happen.  It does happen.  To everyone.

It’s just your turn to walk before them.

They haven’t abandoned you.  They haven’t turned their backs.  They have continued living their own lives as they did before yours crumbled around you and pulled them in for a time.

We don’t come together for life.

We come together and drift apart so there are spaces for new connection.

Healing begins to happen in those spaces.

The tide comes in and leaves some things struggling in the sand

What’s left when the tide returns is rejoined with the sea but it’s a new sea, not the sea that left you struggling in the sand.

—written by Melissa Murphy


Birthday Buttons


Today, our Dannica turns 21 years old.  I remember the day she was born so clearly… the sweet smell of her little head, that first fragile cry echoes in my mind so clearly.  I’m not sure why some of those first memories are more vivid than some of the last memories.

I think of Danni every day, nearly constantly, but this week I found myself wanting to take her shopping, wanting to get her a birthday surprise and make a special treat for her special day.  The energy around me has felt spontaneous for days; like Dannica.  She was so quick witted, so creative, so curious… so FUN!

She was also very tactile and as a small child had dexterous little fingers that enjoyed disassembling anything that was held together by nuts and bolts.  These things were usually left for me to find as surprises such as the handle falling off the wood rack followed by the fireplace screen separating into three separate panels followed by the handles to the fireplace tools going missing.  The most memorable to me was one of the legs to the kitchen table just falling over onto the floor leaving a three legged table balancing over her and the little pile of green nuts and bolts.  She looked so proud!

One day while I was folding laundry, I noticed her in the closet admiring the shiny buttons on the sleeve of a coat.  She traced them and slid her little fingers over the raised patterns on them.  I’m pretty sure she was trying to figure out how to unscrew them, too.  She never lost that love of shiny buttons and even as a precocious 8, 9, 10 year old still spent time in the closet lost in fascinated examination.

I have spent the past ten months or so surrounded by my new hobby of jewelry making.  Each night, I sit on the living room floor and sort through beads, twist wire, experiment, create.  It relaxes me.  It keeps my hands busy and makes couch potato television watching (or floor potato as the case may be) feel like more of a productive activity.  It’s been positively therapeutic as well as introvert appropriate.


This path led to Etsy.  Each day, I log into my shop to see what’s new and what others are doing.  This past Thursday when I entered the site, the first thing I saw was a photo of a beautiful vintage tin full of buttons!  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and my first thought was, “Danni would *love* that!”  I nearly clicked away from it but I just couldn’t so I bought it for her.  I could just imagine the excitement in her eyes when she opened the tin and I could see her sitting on her bed laying them out, touching them, finding her favorites and putting them all back again.  They would have become her friends, the way my beads are my friends; the way these buttons are becoming my friends, too.


I can feel her joy as I slide my fingers into the box, buttons closing in to cover them completely…maybe if I reach in far enough, I’ll feel her hand doing the same from heaven.  Again, my child’s birthday brings me a priceless gift.  It even arrived with this little card containing the image of a birthday cupcake.


Thank *YOU* Danni Jade ❤

Still Point

When I was in massage school, I took an introductory class in Craniosacral Therapy where I learned about something known as a still point.  This is a physiological state during which the production of craniosacral fluid ceases, causing a pause in the craniosacral rhythm.  This rhythm is familiar to the rest of the body as is the heart beat or the breath; a normal, natural movement within it.  This pause allows the body a few moments of deep silence as well as an opportunity for self-correction, a reduction of symptoms in certain conditions, and an increase in wellbeing.

Mid-November 2013 through mid-March 2014 was a time of chopping wood, carrying water, doing only what was necessary to my survival and letting everything else go.  Every moment since Dannica’s accident has been this way to a great degree, but these four months were an even more drastic release of anything not necessary; a deeper silence, an absolute stillness within me to the point of being mistaken by others and myself as dead and gone.  The holidays, and the weeks that followed my failure to be jolly, filled me with the sense I was chopping petrified wood and carrying water from the ocean floor to the highest mountaintop only then to realize it was unfit to consume.

I once had a vivid dream in which I lay myself down upon the earth and waited for my own death.  It was a struggle and seemed like it would just never happen.  I tried to relax my body there in the dirt looking up at a sky full of stars.  I envisioned the insects arriving to dispose of my body and other creatures coming to return it to the earth.  I was anxious, but willing and grateful to have this opportunity to offer myself back to Mother Earth in this way, which brought a certain calm.  I’d drift off into a restless sleep and awaken once more to find myself still living and looking up at a now cloud covered sky lit eerily by the lights of the city.  How long until morning?  No way to know.

Something was going on in the world that required everyone I knew to evacuate taking only the necessities.  They would not be coming back.  I saw my dad’s Ford station wagon loaded, my siblings holding their dearest belongings to their little hearts.  I had chosen to stay behind…I would be dead soon.  They needed to go on.  They went.  Morning came and I found myself still there, in the dirt.  Realizing it just wasn’t going to happen, I ran to all the places I knew hoping to find the people I loved and go with them after all, but they were gone and now I was dead to them.

I remember having a dream within that dream as I was tossing and turning in the dirt and the grass that long night awaiting my own passing.  I dreamt of a golden kernel of corn.  A seed.  There, in the center of my vision, it glowed and sparkled as if it were actually made of gold.

I was 20 years old when I had that dream and wrote of it in my journal.  I was newly married.  My children still in spirit, where my daughter is once more.  My golden seed.  Now, I look back in time and I’m in that dream with my 20 year old self.  I see the 45 year old me, showing the 20 year old me a golden seed, creating the dream within the dream, the still point.  The 45 year old me was telling the 20 year old me, she still had a life to live.  A lot of it.  And though I felt alone in the world, she was there with me.  My daughter was there with me, too.  My dream within a dream.  Her life lived within my lifetime, burning bright there in the center of my vision.  The center of my life.

The dream within a dream, those four months last winter, these still points created hollows; opportunities for self-correction and increases in wellbeing.  A dear friend told me today, “Life has not been good to you.”  I agree.  It hasn’t.  And yet, it’s been amazing to me.  For one, I have this dear friend who brought me fresh eggs from her own chickens and gave me the greatest hug and the biggest smile.  I am blessed.  For another, I am reminded today of a dream I had 25 years ago which I thought was telling me I am alone in life but which now tells me I never am.

Maybe It’s Enough

So I’m not a phoenix rising.  So I’m perfectly human.  So I’m not amazing even though everyone told me I was.  So the world has moved on without me.  So I’m only able to drag myself through half a job.  I do love that job…that’s something.  That’s something.

So the dreams I had for myself have passed on, too.  So I’m mourning things I can’t even begin to express (in addition to my daughter’s life).  So I’ve been touched by this life just like everyone else has been or will be.  So I drag myself through half a life.  Sometimes, I love things about this life, such as it is… and that’s something.  That’s something.  Isn’t it.

So despite the flowers blooming and the trees budding out in the world, it’s still winter in my heart.  So it’s been winter in my heart for more than a year.  So it may be winter in my heart forever.  So be it.  I have my blanket.  I have my slippers.  I have a fire to curl up in front of.  I have hot tea.  That’s something.  That’s something It is.

So my daughter has passed on.  So she took half my heart with her and holds it forever wherever she is.  Maybe people can live with half a heart.  They live with one kidney and I have two of those.  I gave birth to two children.  I have a son, a beautiful, precious son.  So my daughter’s passing took half of his heart, too.  Together we have a whole one.  That’s something.  That’s something.  That’s everything.  Now.  And I LOVE that.

So I rest at the end of the day, with my two hands over my half heart.  It’s quiet.  It’s still.  I hear the rain and I remember the flowers.  I think there’s hope.  I like that.  Maybe that is enough.  So it has to be enough.  Maybe it is.

Autumn’s Fall

A year and four months following my daughter’s accident and passing, my mind is still easily consumed by the most traumatic memories of that evening.  The smells, physical sensations, the taste of my tears, even the sounds are all gone but for a few:  The sound of the EMT, “Get her out of here!”  The doctor’s voice, “There’s no easy way to say it she’s dead.”  My son’s cry, “No! No.. No…no…no.  Even when I try, I don’t get it all back.  But the images.  The images are bright and clear and vivid and silent across the dome of my mind.  I am standing right there under the dome.  I see everything over and over and over and over again bigger than anything I’ve ever seen but the night sky.  It is no wonder I am exhausted still.  The physical, conscious effort it takes to push my mind in any other direction seems to me a superhuman one.  It might be easier to bend steel or stop trains.  If only there really were a Superman to reverse the spin of the planet until my Dannica was alive again where I could hold her tight and, this time, keep her safe.

November 14th 2013, one year.  We lit candles.  Many, many candles.  I don’t seem to be able to recall more.  Remember, I’ve only just dragged my mind and spirit up from the sea floor.  It’s rusty now and full of silt and reluctant to try.  The part of me that once obsessed with documenting everything doesn’t care about that now.  So I’m losing details at four months out and I’m sorry about that.  Ask me anything you want about sixteen months ago, though, and I can give you everything.


November 20th 2013, we had our dear German Shepherd, Teva, put down.  It was horrible.  It wasn’t a peaceful passing and it was devastating.  I could see it in her eyes as her sweet spirit left her body, “Why do you want me to go away?  I would NEVER leave you!” … she didn’t understand.  How could she?  The next day was my birthday.  The year before, that day was the day of Dannica’s memorial service and the day after that, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving a year later I cooked.  I like to cook once in a while.  It was always Dannica’s gift to set the table.  She starched and artfully twisted cloth napkins into fans or candles or bishop’s hats and added flowers or glittering leaves and made the table so beautiful.  I tried.  My napkins wouldn’t cooperate.  This year they were frustrated rectangles.  I bought fresh flowers but couldn’t make myself glitter anything.  Dannica’s place was set with the flowers, candles, her photo…  it was okay until it was time to eat.  It was quiet.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t eat.  I tried not to, really hard I tried not to but then just cried.  Of course, I’m so grateful for my husband and for my son.  Of course I am.

For a minute I wanted to do Christmas the way Dannica would have done Christmas.  I wanted to deck every hall and light up the place, every space.  For her.  But my heart and mind were giving each other the silent treatment and trying to get me to take sides.  My heart won… my heart wasn’t in it and we did the best we could to find a little joy and I think we did.  A little.  It will never be the same; any of it, ever.  How could it be?

2013xmastree 004  2013xmastree 002

Happy New Year.  Yes, happy new year.  I was happy to see the last one go, anyway.

The Trip & The Journey (Part 2)

I felt quite numb as I sat on the shuttle, as I made my way through the airport, as I settled into my seat on the plane and looked out at the planet below, the planet that her feet no longer walked upon… nor, in this moment, my own.

As I stepped into the jet way in Phoenix, the first air that hit me was oppressively heavy; a hot blast that I couldn’t breathe in completely. I thought immediately of my daughter and wondered if this is how she felt all the time, unable to breathe deeply, comfortably, in this world of humans so unlike the world of angels from where she came and to which she has returned. She tried. I saw how hard she tried to breathe on earth. It broke my heart how hard she tried.

In the moment, I regretted this trip. I regretted the expense since I haven’t been working much, I regretted the time away from home and all that I truly find comfort in (other than all the stuff in my really big suitcase). The only thing that stopped me from the downward spiral was the numbness. It’s actually more of a layer of disengagement that tends to hold me in a place of self-observation most of the time; silent observation of the world around me and all that’s in it.

First leg of the trip behind me, the journey began, or rather, it continued. See, this extrication cloak that transports me to my personal observation deck allows me to see a bigger picture of my life, my journey. When I’m in this place, I begin to get a sense of eternity, to release my attachment to this world and the people and things in it (not forgetting my really big suitcase) and I just begin to glimpse what might be a reason for all the hell we go through here on earth. The same cloak allows me to find beauty, love, compassion, motivation, determination, a will to live my daily life without the physical presence of my daughter.

There’s a feeling of failure when a parent loses a child by any cause. I have never heard anyone actually come out and say it but I’m going to be so bold because there isn’t a thing that I’ve heard from another parent experiencing this sort of loss that hasn’t rung true for me regardless of the child’s cause of death. I cannot be unique in having this thought at least fleetingly if not suffocatingly. Successful parents raise their children to be self sufficient, responsible and caring members of society. Independent. They guide their little birds out of the nest and into one of their own. Parents who don’t do this have failed as parents. The reason doesn’t matter. Your child dies? Game over. You failed. Isn’t it interesting how easily I can say that about myself yet would never *dream* of even thinking such a thing in the presence or direction of another parent suffering the loss of a child?

For this reason among others I am grateful for the cloak I now wear and my right to wear it.

Is it possible Dannica and I had an agreement of some sort? A contract, perhaps? Something we agreed to the potential of before either of us came here to earth? What if roll playing games or video games or legends or fairy tales are a microcosm of the macrocosm? Suppose this time around, Dannica’s soul required the challenge of anxiety and depression and an early transition to finish the game and go home. Suppose my human earthly character required the challenge of failing as a parent and the loss of my baby in the prime of her life to reach my soul’s achievement for this lifetime. Suppose the next level is simply to survive the next level.

Suppose my precious son required the indescribable loss of not only a sibling but a soul twin and all they shared in addition to all they would potentially share throughout the lifetime that he is now moving through as an only child in order for his soul to reach the goal it came here to earth to reach. Suppose. Just suppose the only way it could actually happen would be to lose part of his own soul. Now suppose that he and she planned it, knowing it would be hell on earth but that we would all be strong enough to do what needed doing so we could all win the game.

Regardless, we are in the fire. We are moving through it, this kiln. We’re being melted down, mixed together, reshaped, remade, remodeled and it’s an emotionally violent process. Still, it’s a process that each and every one of us must go through as human beings…somehow.

This is the only explanation for completely senseless things that makes any sense to me, that brings any comfort… that in some way, on some level, we all had some say in the paths our lives would take and that there really are no completely senseless things.

Perhaps our souls, having seen the potentials, brought us together as families in the first place knowing the circumstances were right, like fertile fields waiting to be planted with life’s lessons, harvested and blessed and taken in to nourish allowing us to flourish spiritually.

Following the trip, I realize as fully as I can in this moment the value of having made it. I met people I needed to meet. I learned things I needed to learn and though still walking through the fire I’m beginning to feel some of the strength that comes from this part of the journey.

In hindsight, no regrets. Hindsight always brings glimpses of blessing. Never, ever a sense of being okay with the fact that this happened, that my daughter’s life was taken, never that. But glimmers of hope and of strength and greater purpose behind the scenes…glimmers of blessing in the wake of the trauma and tragedy. The fact that I can truly feel grateful for anything at all astounds me, but I am grateful.

Hindsight will happen again at the end of my own life. Perhaps I will be able to look back over the course of this lifetime I’m living and be grateful for the challenges that allowed my soul to grow beyond what my human mind conceived as possible.