Creating a place for the suffering to share stories of loss
Following the death of her son Charlie, writer and Solo Mom Lexi Behrndt struggled to make sense of her loss. While parenting her surviving son, Lincoln, Behrndt began writing about her experience of watching Charlie die as a result of pulmonary hypertension at just six months old.
Her experience of parenting a terminally ill infant alongside a healthy child has informed her world vision—one that is filled with faith, sorrow, joy, and empathy. She describes herself as Christian and specifies that her vision of faith is inclusive, with ample room for differences of opinion.
Her blog, Scribbles & Crumbs, is a community of people on a mission to unite all those who have known suffering of any kind. She seeks to unite people through compassion and support.
Recently, Behrndt has been taken up with the launch of a new initiative called The On Coming Alive Project, a collection of stories that reflect loss and sorrow of all kinds: stories that consider the loss of children, siblings, parents, and others—and, in particular, stories that focus on rising up and discovering meaning in the midst of deep and life-altering pain.
ESME caught up with Behrndt. Her strength and her deep commitment to storytelling and memory crackled over the telephone line—her kindness is as clear as it is abundant.
Q. How would you describe the origins of The On Coming Alive Project?
A. The On Coming Alive Project was born out of heartache and suffering. Over the course of nine months, I experienced the loss of my son, the loss of my marriage (after years of heartache), and a million tiny, secondary losses as a result. I became all too familiar with the darkness. Over a year later, and here I am: standing, breathing, alive, possibly more alive than ever. My suffering has hurt—that’s not even a question. Some pain will last till the day I die, but my suffering has also refined me, and I’m rising and coming alive. I wanted to share with others that they, too, could rise. That they, too, didn’t have to spend the rest of their lives simply in the darkness. That they, too, could see their suffering as horrible, but they could also use it to propel them to purpose; to refine their hearts with compassion, empathy, and love; and to understand that doing so does not negate their pain, it simply allows pain to coexist with joy and purpose.
Q. So it would be accurate to describe it as a project that fosters community—finding meaning in loss, generally?
A. The On Coming Alive Project is bigger than any one person, any one topic, any one community. This is about authentically sharing our stories and giving hope to those who are feeling hopeless. In this, we all can find a common ground, and we all can join together, hand in hand.
Q. As a bereaved Solo Mom who is also parenting a thriving preschooler, how do you help your son, Lincoln, understand the death of his brother, Charlie?
A. Lincoln remembers Charlie. We talk about him every day. I believe in heaven. People sometimes tell Lincoln that Charlie died. Personally, I believe that Charlie is alive in heaven and so I reframe it for Lincoln. He is getting an understanding that there is more. He knows about death, and he starts to understand that our belief allows still for life. The other day on the way to school, Lincoln was telling me about a dream he had where he and Charlie were playing together.
Q. So your sense of faith informs how to process, and help Lincoln process, death?
A. Yes. I am a Christian. I am also a writer. But you don’t have to believe what I believe to participate in the Scribbles & Crumbs community or even engage in a conversation about faith. I love that we can come from different places, share experiences, even if we don’t see eye to eye on certain things. That is fine.
Q. As a Solo Mom who nursed her baby son until his death from terminal illness while also parenting another child, how do you handle the emotional aftereffects?
A. Good question. I have not had a partner when I have had low days. I have to learn to cope. There is no option but to do so. I have to go grocery shopping. I have to go to work. In a way, having no options helps to keep me going; or, in a sense, the fact that you really can’t stop forces you forward.
Q. So not having any options gives you no choice? Can this be good?
A. Yes. You have to cope. Charlie died. The next day, I had to go grocery shopping. When you are the primary caregiver, you have to roll with the punches.
Q. But this seems almost impossibly hard. As a Solo Mom, you must find ways to undertake self-care. What helps you cope?
A. Writing gave me a safe space to unlock a big box of emotions. Every night, when Lincoln went to bed, I’d sit on the floor and type. It was my way of mothering Charlie—even in death.
Q. So writing was healing?
A. Yes. It was healing. My way of mothering Charlie is helping others.
Q. Is there anything else you found helpful or sustaining as a Solo Mom?
A. I found counseling helpful. I had no money, so I went through a local church ministry. This ministry did not require any religious affiliation. Going through my story piece by piece, sorting each piece out—this was helpful. I basically lived in the hospital with Charlie for close to seven months. I had buried my trauma. So saying it piece by piece helped. Dig deep down. Finding a safe way to to let it all out is helpful.
Q. As a Solo Mom, what makes you proud?
A. I am proud that I have paid my bills. I don’t have debt. To do this—it was hard. I had to move back in with my parents. My car was a rusty wreck, and I had to get a new one. I got a job. I managed to turn it around even though it was really hard. I have dug out. I am now providing for my son—[I’m] on the other side of that in terms of finances. I am so thankful for my friends and family and God for providing and helping me realize that I can survive.
Q. That is incredible. Really, what an accomplishment. You have been through such a great deal. When you think about it, what occurs to you?
A. That I can survive. That I am not inadequate. I live with my son, Lincoln, in a home. The two of us are a family. We are enough.
Editor’s note: There are many religious organizations that offer interdenominational counseling. Local services may be located through local churches, synagogues, and mosques. Should you prefer a nonreligious affiliation, check out this article by Dr. Julie Bindeman, about getting your insurance to pay for grief counseling—even out of network.
Solo doesn’t have to mean alone. Join our confidential community of Sisters for support and connection.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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