Glittering Grief with the Mahe family at their daughter Elsie’s resting place for their Good Grief Photo Shoot
Elsie is a gorgeous and vibrant little girl who had a sparkle in her eyes everywhere she went. The family remembers Elsie finding glitter and dumping it on herself because she loved to sparkle, and sparkle she does. Sunny and Reno Mahe help their children experience good grief by carrying sparkles to sprinkle the world with Elsie’s sparkle to share their sweet daughter and sister wherever they go.
“She really likes glitter. She would always go to my mom’s crafts room, get glitter and pour it on herself. “ -sibling
It’s just a beautiful, sweet and symbolic tradition.
I had a chance to chat with Reno and Sunny after the session and gleam a few nuggets of gold in the wisdom they have gained in perspective through their daughters life.
“I try to keep in mind this is temporary. It doesn’t take away the sadness, however It does help me keep in mind that it’s not something that is going to last forever. None of us were meant to stay here forever. All of us will eventually join her. For me that has been the most comfort and strength.“
I let myself feel it. In the moments I know tears are coming I don’t try to fight it. That has helped me a lot but isn’t always pretty. There’s an incredible amount of guilt you feel. It’s not even always about her life or things that I did that I wish I didn’t. Sometimes I feel guilty I didn’t miss her today or feel guilty we have to move forward. When I’m honest with that I’m able to face it head on. It helps me deal with whatever I’m feeling… guilt or sadness or embarrassment. Processing it helps me not let it ruin the whole day, week or month. I don’t have a bad life even if I had a bad moment. There is good and bad in every day.
Grieving publicly has also been super helpful for us. It’s easier to assume people are doing fine. That was my go to when I had friends that were going through hard things. If I saw them and they looked fine, it’s easier to assume they’re doing great.
Journaling publicly allows people in to see what it really looks and feels like. While I am doing pretty well, the trial is not gone. The burden is not lifted. It’s still hard. Sharing has been able to open people’s eyes to the fact that it doesn’t just go away, even if I am smiling, the pain is right there behind the smile.
“Even if I’m smiling the pain is right there behind that smile.”
Reno: “I stay busy. It’s how I cope with it. We started the Miracles From Elsie foundation because we received so much support, aid and service. Sunny and I realized we couldn’t really pay it back so we collectively decided to pay it forward instead. We offer financial support to families who have a child in the middle of crisis. We also wanted to help with grief counseling. I felt buried in my own grief. I had no idea how to parent all these grieving kids. They react completely different. I didn’t know how to handle that.” (Click here to donate.)
Sunny and Reno had a gift and ability to smile, laugh, joke and feel joy just 18 months after Elsie’s graduation from this life. I believe oftentimes we as grievers fear that if we are smiling people will forget that we are still longing and yearning and fear that the support, love, compassion and empathy will subside if we seem happy.
One of the most detrimental thing anyone can do to themselves or with someone they love who is grieving is to play the comparison game. 18 months after James passed away, I was still sleeping 20 hours a day managing to stay alive myself. The thought of smiling, laughing or joking was foreign. It would anger me seeing other people happy because I was just so miserable. If you are reading this and finding that peace just yet does not mean there is anything wrong with you. The Mahe’s have been able to grieve with a smile on their face. This doesn’t mean they are doing any better or worse than anyone, they are just doing what they know to do.
Every persons experience is wildly different. Their love, relationships, understanding, emotional well-being, spiritual grounding, trauma, PTSD, life perspective and childhood are all massive factors that play a huge part in how we respond in grief.
Comparison breeds shame for someone grieving. It is damaging and hurtful. Oftentimes we don’t just grieve our sweet child, we grieve how we are grieving! The more we compare or are compared, the more we suffer and the harder it is to heal. Let you do you, how you feel it, how you process it. Love yourself. Accept your self for the way you know how to grieve.
Grief has two phases. Survival grief and transformation grief. In survival grief all you can do is keep breathing when your child has stopped. It is the time all you are concerned about is keeping it together for another moment, day and week. This is the time the most important thing you can do is love the heck out of yourself or the person who is grieving. In these moments there is nothing you can do other than listen and love. People try to comfort by sharing other tragic stories. Don’t. Others try to comfort by offering insight. Don’t. Your job in survival is to just listen and love over and over again a gajillion times over.
Transformation grief is when you are ready to allow your grief to make you into a new person. Letting the old you die as your new self emerges with a new light, understanding and perspective. It is when you become a student to your grief and learning from the pain. Transformation grief is when you decide you will do something with your grief and not let your grief do something to you. This stage often is accompanied by putting purpose behind your pain and doing something that is positive with the past.
I remember the moment I shifted from survival grief to transformation grief. I was in my bed ready to take my life. It was James’ 5th anniversary. I told James that for his anniversary gift I would find happiness again. I didn’t know how or what it would take but that I wouldn’t stop until I figured it out. It took me another five years beyond that commitment to truly be fully happy again but I made a choice to do something different than allowing myself a slow emotional death. There is space in your heart to feel the pain of missing someone you love simultaneously reminiscing about the joy you felt while they were here. That is when you have arrived at peace in the pain. I never thought in my life I would get to a place of being able to smile while thinking of my Sweet Baby James. Twelve years later I allow myself to smile cry when I see his face, play with his locket of curly hair and watch his videos.
My Best Friend Grief
I was introduced to Grief unexpectedly. He became my best friend instantenously. I had a lifelong friendship with Joy but overnight she disappeared. Joy didn’t know how to be friends with Grief and so when Grief moved in, Joy moved out. I missed Joy every day. She made me laugh. I begged for her to come back, she just didn’t know how to be around my new friend Grief. He seemed to spoil all the happiness Joy and I had together. Grief always left me feeling heartbroken. I tried to get rid of Grief, but he refused to go anywhere. He is the most persistent friend I have ever had. When I realized there was no getting rid of Grief, I had to figure out how to become friends with Joy again. Only being friends with Grief was just too hard. One day I invited Grief and Joy over for a rendeveouz. Joy had me laughing and grief had me crying all at the same time. It was the weirdest thing to be happy and sad simultaneously. Right then I heard a knock on the door. A new friend showed up. Her name is Peace. The four of us go out all the time now. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh and sometimes I am just content with the friends in my life. They all give me something so special. Grief gives me gratitude. Joy gives me reason to rejoice. Peace gives me purpose.
Much appreciation to Ryan Estis for sponsoring the Mahe family for their Good Grief photo shoot. I couldn’t have done this without you.
ps. One thing you should know about me is I am SO not a sun flare photographer. It is just not my thing. This night, I could not avoid it no matter how hard I tried. The flare you see is all 100% not intentional. I was in tears as I saw how many times Elsie showed up in her family pictures. Our angels are there, they are close.