Sunday, October 1, 2017

Infant & Child Death


My way of being in the world today is much different than it was in 1999 when our first son died. It is even very different than it was just 7 or 5 years ago. My focus isn't so much on grief just from the death of a child because I know too well now how many circumstances come up across the span of a lifetime bringing grief along with the experiences. That said, because in the first decade after the death of our first son, I was immersed in the life of a bereaved parent, much of my core community is still stemming out of that world. And so I'm seeing lots of messages in my feeds and private communications about Infant & Child Death Awareness Day (Oct 15th) and Month (the whole month of October).

As always, this time of year gets me thinking about how many children have died through the course of history, how many bereaved parents have come and gone. Million and millions, uncountable numbers really, of people who have gone dust to dust, not remembered, not named, re-incorporated back into the ether as time does its work. In more recent years, Infant & Child Death Awareness has me thinking about the impetus behind things like #BlackLiveMatter and #SayHerName movements where it is not just the bereavement experiences that happens when death comes, but also the collision with social (in)justice issues. It has me thinking about how we have allowed the stillbirth rate in Flint, MI to go as high as it is by refusing to give the community there clean water. It has me thinking about how the rates of maternal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage in general are higher, while the number of midwives of color are lower, in marginalized communities. It reminds me that something like Infant & Child Death Awareness is not just an individual experience, but is also very much a community experience -- or should be.

Where It Is Personal

For me personally, there is some small bit of comfort that comes when looking thru my feeds and in my messages to find that indeed my own sons, Dakota, Mizuko, and Bean Jones, are all remembered by various family and friends. AND at the same time I have full realization that once I am dead, my mother is dead, and my husband is dead, their names will begin to fade away as will our names. In less than a generation really. Not to say there won't be grand- or great-grandchildren who won't think of us, maybe retain a box of old photographs, but once a generation passes, how well does the next really know them? Really.

For me these Awareness days are a counter balance to the reality that mortality brings a nothingness with it eventually. For all of us. Even the most famous of us -- example: The author of the all-time-famous, still-taught-in-schools poem Beowulf is completely unknown. At these moments of pondering awareness AND nothingness, my mind and heart often land on those I still re-member though they have been dead a long while now.

Beaner, Link, and Vig. 
It was only 1984 when the three of them died in a car accident. Did anyone remember them today? Will anyone light candles for them on the 15th of this month? Will their names be said on one of these memorial days dedicated to raising awareness about child death. They were seniors in high school, not babies, but they were each loved by their parents, I'm sure. Like most parents their's probably looked at these 18-ish year old young men and still saw their baby boys. Will they be remembered this month?

You see I was only in 9th grade, my first year of high school, when the boys died. But I had spent a year in school and at my friend's house where the boys hung out with her big brother, having one of those school girl crushes on Beaner. While certainly, he never took more notice of me than that pesky friend of the baby sister, it made no difference to my feelings. His laugh set me on fire. If he did happen to look my way, or OMG speak to me!, I would be beet red for about two days. Of course now, I know this for what it was. But at the time, given my life experience then, this was love.

Needless to say, when, in the wee hours of that next morning, I heard he was dead, it was simply not believable. I met up with my friend at the junior high bleachers looking over an empty and silent ball field. I remember being cold that morning. We sat and cried. We walked back to her house. We walked in the door to the kitchen at the back of the house like we sometimes did. And suddenly it hit me.

There was real meaning to the word: Without.

We would certainly have other meetings in that kitchen, we would cry, we would remember, we would laugh again, we would go on to lead lives none of us could even imagine back then. But every moment of it, any creation that came from that moment forward, would be without Beaner, Vig, and Mark. No matter what we did or didn't do, chose or didn't choose, didn't matter. The event, the change, had happened. And now we were all left with a life time of transition, trying to incorporate the concept of without, in the physical sense, while trying to make peace with the love that does not die ever.

There is a tree somewhere in that small town where their names are carved. Well, if it still exists. For all I know, someone has since bought the property and developed it so the tree isn't even there. And while I can look online and in my post box and see all these remembrances of my son, what about those three sons? Is anyone remembering them today?

Well, I am. For what it is worth, while I have breath left in me, I will remember them.

Where It Is Communal

Remembering is a core piece of living a full life in the face of loss. I say remembering as in memory, but also in the way of recalling members of a society. Also in the way that Dr. Lorraine Hedtke talks about in her Remembering Practices. I mean that just because these members of our communities die physically, that does not revoke their membership in said community. They become ancestors. They become re-member-ed as a different kind of member. (This is something I began exploring back in the early 2000s with the zine A Different Kind of Parenting to express how we parent both our living and our dead children.)

And so this time of year also has me considering all the ways we communally remember and re-member to practice living our lives in the face of grief. There are many invitations open around this time of year for people to connect and explore, some related directly to Infant & Child Death Awareness and others not. Some find openings to remember with Days of Dead events happening this month, too. Some are just keying off this Fall time period in the northern hemisphere where we seem to lean more into the "thinning veil" between life and death. For those having grief experiences, I encourage you to explore:

It is with a heart full of love that I open Capture Your Grief for 2017. Welcome to our tribe ❤️ Please click on the link in my profile to see the entire project. I would be forever grateful if you could share this project with your loved ones and support groups so that we can let as many people know as possible. That way we can hopefully minimize the number of people who come to my page after the project ends with the comment "I wish I had of known about this!!!" This Sunday at sunrise (Perth time) I will be doing a live instagram and facebook video to begin our month of kindness and compassion. I would like to thank everyone for their patience. I really appreciate all of your well wishes and love. Wishing you all a beautiful day/night. With heart, CarlyMarie P.S. Yes - the sun heart reflection is real ❤️ #whathealsyou #captureyourgrief2017 #captureyourgrief #captureyourgriefperth #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness #waveoflight
A post shared by △ CarlyMarie △ (@carlymariedudley) on

Many thanks to all of you who continue to reach out during this memorial month to me personally, as well as to those of you who continue to reach out by creating communal spaces like those above for many of us to come together and connect. I know living *WITHOUT* is a life long process and a fore-learning for me in facing my own mortality and nothing-ness. It is helpful though to face these things in kinship with all of us who are becoming aware on many levels, personal and communal, to know that, at least while still alive, I'm not alone.

Sending Reiki to all eyeballs who managed to make it all the way through this post...

[Original versions published in Radical Creativity October 2007; MOD blog 2003]

Thursday, September 28, 2017

heARTmaking: a collaborative, community post

In offering calls for collaborative, community posts like the one shared here, it is always my hope that fellow seekers and creators will be sparked, inspired, and want to share their thoughts and artworks. For today's topic: heARTmaking, we are featuring three beautiful shares from:

Jen Davis
Casey Bee
Sue Hasker

As an introduction to this topic, my mind has been mulling around with various memories and ideas on heARTmaking that I (Kara) wanted to share with you as companion to our features. For me the word heARTmaking first came into play after the full term stillbirth of my son in the Spring of 1999. I had been an artist prior to his birth/death, but something changed after he physically left us. I was no longer living the life of an artist. I was living life in the face of grief as: heARTist.

Over the years, first in the early 2000s in the KotaPress Loss & Compassion Journal, I wrote about the various definitions and meaning-making processes that came for me around this term. In 2007 as part of the (now archived) Radical Creativity blog, I continued writing about how rituals in the face of grief were more than body art or visual art or movement art, but were more akin to heARTmaking. For me this continual meaning-making process was in parallel to the meaning-making happening as I tried to make sense of the deaths of three of our sons while continuing to find ways to choose to stay alive.

While it is true that much of my process involved art of some kind: visual, movement, body, writing, those particular mediums were not the end-all-be-all definitions of heARTmaking for me. The process was more about the creation of a life in the face of loss. The every single day choices we make to take the next breath and next step even as our hearts are breaking (hopefully open). While the definitions of heARTmaking included artmaking mediums because I happened to be an artist, the definitions also expanded to include the daily choices on things like:

  • Do I get out of bed today?
  • How do I get out bed today?
  • How can I tend my body today?
  • What do I need that I can provide for myself?
  • What do I need that requires the support and love of others?
  • How do I move through the world in meaningful ways today?
  • Will saying "yes" to this bring me more inline with my heart or more out of sync?

Some days the answers were things like:

  • Yes, you will get out of bed just because you have to pee.
  • You will get out of bed today without an alarm, waking at your own rhythm instead.
  • You can tend your body today by going extra slow in all things.
  • I can close the door, unplug, and create silent space for self for just 10 mins now.
  • I can send a text message to a loved one asking for help today.
  • I will do something today in memory of my dead sons, something beneficial to others, something that is beyond the capitalist structure of "making money."
  • I will say "no" if the request made of me will cause more pain.

Can you see how heARTmaking became a practice for me on every level? While artmaking was involved, for sure, simply because I am an artist, it was much more than just the making of art pieces. It was making a cup of tea. It was making a different pace. It was asking for help until I got what I needed. It was crawling into my blanket house to tend when needed. It was being out in public, speaking or showing work or asking questions to counter the modern western medical paradigm that equates grief with sickness or something that needs to be fixed or cured.

So with this collaborative, community call to exploring heARTmaking, this, too, is another bit of making space for we humans to keep seeking and meaning making. For us to create space for each other, to share, to be heard and seen. To acknowledge the on-going process of meaning making, creating new definitions, and continuing our practice (not perfect!).


Jen Davis

A post shared by Jennifer Davis (@jenpdavis) on


Casey Bee


Sue Hasker 

"...heART making comes from a deep place, it's more than free creativity or skilled art-making. It comes from the groanings and aha's of the soul that need to be expressed but may not have words or techniques to follow."


Thank you again, to each of you, Jen, Casey, and Sue for your community spirit and contributions to this collaborative post. 

If any of our readers are interested in our previous community explorations, you can see our collaborative post on the topic of Invitation here

And if you are interested in future calls for collaborations, you are welcome to a free subscription to our eZine where we offer exclusive grief + creativity materials throughout each month, including first calls for community topics.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Podcast: Social and relational changes in the face of grief (aka my interest in fellow humans is very different now!)

The topic covered in today's podcast is one from the series I called "Grief Truths" which were difficult truths to deal with in the face of grief. In this particular truth, I was wrestling with something like, "For them to like me, I have to like them, but I'm not really interested anymore." It was a space of realizing that grief was having an impact on my social and relational experiences, and in that realization, acknowledging that creative curiosity could be a very helpful tool. Ideas explored include:

  • Grief shifted lots of things after our son died, including our social experiences and connections that suddenly felt like alien territories.
  • Platitudes or anything close to them were not going to meet my needs in social and relational ways in the face of grief. Some people could go beyond platitudes with us. But some could not. Relationships changed. 
  • I share a few specific examples of how we began noticing social and relational needs were no longer being met for us, how social trusts were being broken, and how even faith can be shaken post-grief.
  • And then I share a few specific examples of how we can creatively explore what we want to save in various relationships, where we want to discover new relationships and social connections, and how we can begin purposely seeking social and relational spaces that more readily meet our post-grief needs.
  • Tending social and relational connections are both self care AND community care.
  • Not every relationship is going to meet every need. Be gentle with yourself and others as you explore what each relationship can be and can't be in your post-grief life.
  • The re-definition of social and relational aspects of life just do shift post-grief. That's okay.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 23, 2012]

Monday, July 10, 2017

10 Ways To Handle Life When Struck With Grief-Incommunicado

Do you ever have those grief experience days where you should just be incommunicado? I sure do. There should just be no speaking or writing allowed.

But the phone rings, the emails come, the meetings are set, the events are happening. And so I go forth and speak or write and oooooooooooooooooooooh, what a bad idea that is. The day usually ends with me having a slight implosion before planting myself in the tree swing if it's summer or in my blanket house if it isn't summer!

So in an effort to start getting creative in the face of those grief-incommunicado spells, I thought to try and come up with 10 things for how to practice handling life when this strikes! Here's what I've come up with so far:

  1. ... [oh damn. THIS is one of those days.]

What about you? Your best tip on handling grief-incommunicado spells?

Sending you Reiki and supportive vibes for whatever spell you find yourself in at the moment! From my radical grandma heart to your heart...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Podcast: Resiliency + Grief (aka I got out of bed because I had to pee)

In today's podcast, the focus is on resiliency during grief experiences. The biggest find in terms of resiliency, for me personally, came creatively. And the definition of creativity expanded beyond mere art-making, leading me to discover the heARTmaking of my still living, breathing body, even in the face of a grief I thought would break me.

Join me and explore:

  • You don't have to be an artist to engage with creativity in the face of grief experiences.
  • Even in the face of a grief I thought could kill me, the auto-functioning of my body (thirst, need to pee, etc) kept creating reasons for me to get out of bed. It was so surprising. 
  • Sometimes a lot of sleep was just required by my body, heart, and mind in the face of grief. And often the dreamscapes of that sleep time informed my creativity later.
  • The exhaustion of grief tested my doing-nature (wanting to DO something) and taught me to not discount even the smallest of movements. I learned to celebrate any choice, however small, because that was a reconnection to my sense of agency.
  • Doing tiny things, making small choices, all added to my practice of creativity, and this practice was a direct counter to guilt and shame that was popping up in my grief experience.
  • The grief experience just is a very human and messy experience, and creativity can give us permission to find our way.
  • I didn't stop being his mother after he died. I am still his mother. And grief was going to practice me and have it's way. But likewise, having a creative relationship to grief and this different kind of parenting, really allowed me to keep committing creative acts in the name of tending.
  • A lot of tending and healing can happen in a blanket house, too!
  • Why do you get out of bed the day after your kid has died? Why do you get out of bed the day after a major loss? Sometimes it is just that the blood in your own body keeps flowing. Allow that auto-functioning of your heart guide you creatively.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 25, 2012]