Busiculous. Strange word, isn’t it? Someone asked me how I was when I returned from a conference I taught in Oceanside, California. After only three days, I returned home to the MISS office with 385 emails (after sorting through the advertisements) and all three voice mails were full. I was four lessons behind in my school work, had a grant proposal to turn in for the 2001 retreat, and my own small children who missed me and wanted attention. My response to her, was not the rhetorical, “Fine,” as she expected. Instead, I invented a new word: busiculous, ridiculously busy. I have always been a busy person. I function best that way. I am action induced and results oriented. None of this all-talk-no-follow-through for me. When I commit to a cause, my personal integrity holds me to my word at any sacrifice.
My closest B.C. friends (Before Cheyenne) (all bereaved parents know their lives are split into two parts: the before and after) seem to have difficulty grasping and accepting the work I do. “Why do you keep doing this?” “Can’t you just go back to work at a real job?” “How long are you going to keep this up?” “All this death can’t be good for you?” They flood me with inquisitions about my future plans outside of the MISS Foundation. They presumptuously conclude my mental health is at grave risk.
“Why do I do this?” I ask myself. I must be nuts. This year, the 50 volunteers hours a week have exploded into 100. As MISS becomes more entrusted to the community, more people are calling on us to help. A precious baby whose life was taken by cancer. A sweet boy who was accidentally run over by his grandfather. A handsome boy who drowned in his neighbor’s pool. A beautiful baby girl who died just before birth. A little prince who died in a fatal car accident. An innocent toddler who strangled in a drawstring cord. An adorable little girl who become rapidly ill and died of pneumonia. A tiny baby boy who was born to early to breathe on his own. A perfect toddler who died while trying to get out of her crib. The stories go on and on. Why do I do this?
I remember the days after Cheyenne died. I never slept. My body ached for my missing piece. I would pace the hallways like an animal, my spirit aching, burning for my little girl. My concrete arms hung in agony. I would sit in the dark on the closet floor, rocking back and forth, my knees drawn to my chest. The death moan- I would moan from the ache. I was alone in this pain. One month after her death, I was a meager 92 lbs. I did not want to live any longer. The isolation was like leprosy consuming my flesh and my mind. Her nursery sat, collecting dust. The silence of the nursery screamed at me, taunting me. Then one day, when I knew if I didn’t get help, surely I would die from the pain, I grabbed the yellow pages and turned the light on in the closet at 2:00 a.m. I began looking for help. I knew this was more than I could handle alone. I called six phone numbers, all of which were disconnected. Except one. The Compassionate Friends. I got a recording. In desperation, barely getting the words out, I left my number. Early the next day, Terri Flowers called me. I was no longer alone on the journey.
In 1996, the MISS Foundation was born. Since then, others have praised my efforts with fond euphemisms that I won’t bother to rattle here. But I do not do this because I am noble or because I am kind. I do this because I must. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of another parent enduring this hell alone. I couldn’t imagine a woman sitting on her dark closet floor calling disconnected phone numbers and having no one to talk to. I never expected the MISS Foundation would grow to the capacity it has, yet I am not surprised. The unimaginable has happened and the families are beginning to connect through groups like MISS and TCF. The voices of grief are uniting. Parents are talking more, sharing more, remembering more, and connecting. An incredible societal transition is taking place in the year 2000. Truly incredible. But there is so much more work to be done- too much.
So why do I do this? Because it is my ethical responsibility to humanity. Because someone was there for me. Because I cannot imagine another parent enduring this Gehenna alone. Because babies keep dying and more people need to be educated. Because families are torn apart without support. Because the letters of thanks come everyday. Because a child misses his baby sister. The same reason that our committed staff (very much appreciated) volunteers give of their time, emotion, financial support, and love. Because it is the right thing to do.
But mostly, I do it because a little girl lived, and died- and even in death, matters to this world. If Cheyenne were here, I would spend countless hours doing homework with my kindergartener, combing her long straw-woven hair, cooking her meals, buying her clothes, taking her to California, playing dress-up. I would have been a good mother if she lived, can I still be a good mother to her in death? What should I do with that time that should have been hers? I do the only thing I can do. With that time, love, effort, and money, I honor her by helping others through MISS and the Kindness Project. I live each day to make her proud, so that one day, when we meet again, and she says, “Mommy, what have you done with your life since my departure?” I can respond with a smile, “The right thing, Cheyenne. Mommy did the right thing.” Thank you to all our volunteers. You matter.
“…And though they cannot speak, they do speak, still.