Hope and Grief, Connection and Creativity: An Interview with Cara Martinisi

Cara Martinisi is a writer, advocate, certified grief counselor, and mom to three little boys, one in heaven and two on Earth. She lost her 6-year-old son in a tragic accident in 2014. She blogs about her journey, sharing with others the beauty and wisdom she and her family have found in the pain they experience. Visit her blog at Christian’s Red Balloon and her new foundation Love From Heaven to support grieving families. You can also connect on Twitter at Grief’s Guiding Light @lightofgrief.

Cara, you have a beautiful blog about dealing with the loss of a child, and you’ve published other articles in a variety of blogs (including this one) besides. What is it like trying to capture your experience, your emotions, in words? 

Self-expression in words has always come easy to me. In fact many times, I find myself narrating situations in my own head as they are unfolding. The physical act of writing is soothing. I love the way pen and pencil feel on paper. As my emotions leave my body and the pen glides along the page, a certain sense of calm overcomes me.

There are some emotions that are more difficult than others to put into words. When I have trouble finding words that fit my emotions, I turn to meditation. Often this works, but not always.

Photo by Aung Soe Min on Unsplash

After Christian passed away, my ability to read was gone. The concentration and focus needed to delve into books had vanished. It pained me. It was over a year before I could pick up a book again. Now I read even more ferociously than before. The more I read, the more I am able to express myself. Reading, all different kinds of texts, has proven to be a wonderful compliment to my writing.

Were you a writer before 2014, or did the need to write arise out of your experiences? 

I have always considered myself a writer. English was my favorite subject in high school and my major in college. While many students bemoan paper writing, I enjoyed it. My confidence never paved the way for me to believe that I was good enough to do much more than write school papers. Although I was employed as a Deputy Managing Editor at The Economist, it felt as though it was more my attention to punctuation and detail that landed me my job.

After we lost Christian, writing was my way to carry on his memory. I would post a photograph, accompanied with a blurb about him, each day. At one time photography was a large creative outlet for me. That outlet seems to have dimmed since losing Christian, while writing is taking center stage now.

Grief is a powerful emotion.  Does it serve as a motivator or demotivator for you? 

Grief is an intensely powerful emotion. Most of the time it serves as a motivator for me. Many blog posts are derived from my own real time emotions surrounding grief. It truly helps me to keep the blog flowing, as emotions are always flowing. Grief will always be a part of me. With time and growth, my relationship to it changes, but it will always be there.

There are days, and sometimes more than one strung together, when grief is a demotivator. When these dark days descend upon me, fewer than in the past thankfully, it is difficult to do anything that brings joy. There are times when focusing is difficult. Eventually the fog lifts and I find myself returning to writing.

What did you hope to achieve when you started the blog, Christian’s Red Balloon?

My goals have always centered around helping others. It is all about healing. The hope has been to help others heal as well as to continue walking my own healing journey. I have received messages from grieving parents, those who have experienced grief in the past, as well as people who have just walked through tough times telling me that my writing is relate-able and helpful. While I am aware that my blog speaks most poignantly to grieving parents, I am also aware that none of us escape the world without running into some trouble.

It has been over a year that I have been writing my blog and it has become abundantly clear that a strong message is hope. Hope for those grieving, hope for those who are sick, hope for those who are experiencing tough times. We cannot control what comes our way in life, only our reactions. We need to move through the pain, the troubles that arise, and find light. For that is the only way to live again after you have been burned by the fire.

Has it been easier or harder to achieve those goals than you initially thought? What have been some of the surprises along the way? 

Achieving my goals has been easier than I thought as far as my blog acting as a healing vehicle for others. It has also helped me to heal immensely. Finding time to write my blog, however, has been more difficult than I imagined. Both of my boys are now in school full time and it has been a learning experience finding my way, balancing time and priorities. With the goal of helping others to heal, my blog is only one facet and so the other facets – our foundation, my own personal goals of becoming a healer in my community and becoming published on other websites – has demanded a lot of time too. I am learning as I go along. My passion about helping others continues to increase and my goals and dreams continue to expand. I often find the need to remind myself to be patient. I am so grateful to be on this journey and I just want to help as many people as I can, as immediately as I can.

What are your goals now? 

Providing hope, resources, a sense of understanding, connection and healing continue to be my goals. Sharing my truth and remaining transparent is abundantly important to me. Loss and life in general can be so isolating. The more willing we are to show our truth, flaws and all, the closer we will be to others and ourselves. As I walk my own personal journey I find that everyone loses hope once in a while. Sometimes it is more severe than others. I am still amazed that I am a living, functioning grieving mother. Hope is what helps me to survive and thrive. If I give up on that, Christian’s life was lost in vain. If I can find hope and turn it into a positive, he lives on.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

You write on your self-introduction on your blog, “I am now a bereaved mother. It may be one of my titles, but not my identity.” This is such a powerful statement. It reveals so much reflection and self-understanding. Can you elaborate on this?  

It can be very easy to get caught up in a tragic title. Grief can consume us, especially when it is a tragic untimely death. Everything in life changes and we are forced to form a new normal. If we make an identity out of this, we lose hope and potential. My living children are a constant reminder to me that I am not only a bereaved mother. I am also a mother to two amazing, living boys.

The tragic accident that resulted in the death of your son happened four and a half years ago. How has your perspective on grief changed in that time?

It will be five years in August and that passage of time seems so unbelievable. The fact that I am still breathing and living when a piece of my heart is irrevocably wounded still amazes me. I write about the first time I experienced child loss in one of my posts and it always felt as if that was the defining moment when I knew one day I would be experiencing this type of grief. Of course my intellectual brain never believed it. I don’t think anyone’s can. Even after losing a child it is a long time until you truly believe it. The first woman I knew personally who experienced child loss was an enigma to me because she survived it and went on living. I never imagined I could do that. There have been countless times on this journey when I have thought of her and her strength after losing one of her triplets.

Up until losing Christian, child loss felt a lot less common than it actually is. Parents having to grieve their child no matter how old, never seemed right. It isn’t right. It is obviously much more personal to me now. Even when you know someone who loses a child you cannot allow yourself to believe that you will ever lose your child. Just days before Christian was called to Heaven we saw a local woman who lost her daughter only a year prior. After speaking to her, I turned to my husband and commented, “Losing your child is a true tragedy. Our home can be rebuilt.” (This was after we had a fire in our home due to lightning). My heart felt her pain and yet knew none of it until five days later when true tragedy would strike my family.

If you could send a message to yourself as you were in the immediate aftermath of the accident, knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself? 

Perhaps I would let myself know that there is no way Christian will be forgotten. Grieving parents are so afraid that their child will be forgotten. I was even afraid he wouldn’t be present in my other boys’ lives and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are so many things I heard then from others. The common phrases that “the pain will soften”, “joy will exist alongside sadness”, and “he is still with you.” The latter made me so angry in my early stages of grief. Now it is a great source of comfort for me. The fact that I still have a relationship with my son does astound me. Obviously it is not the way I want it, but his presence is so strong that others who never met him have felt his presence.

It’s not that I needed to hear these messages in the aftermath of the accident. It is that I had to believe them. I am not sure that anything can help someone believe them other than time and experience.

What advice do you have for other grieving parents?

There are a few pieces of advice I have for newly grieving parents. Accepting help is absolutely necessary after a tragic loss. It can be hard if you are not normally comfortable with this. After loss things that were simple, menial tasks can become extremely difficult. Allow others to help you.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Build your tribe. Usually this is done for you. It is the group of people who you can trust to do anything for you. Let them be your mouthpiece to help you say things to others that you don’t feel like saying. Let them do the things you just can’t face doing. Let them just be there for you, however you need it.

Finally, try and find one thing each day that makes you smile. In the beginning it will be very difficult. It may be something as simple as the warm water in your shower. It’s not going to be a fun task but do it anyway. It will keep the tiniest spark of hope alive. If there is a day where you can’t find anything, go gentle with yourself but don’t allow more than four days to go by without it.

As time passes, build a self-care routine. The nature of routines is that they take the thinking out of doing. If you maintain a healthy routine it will help with your healing journey.

You’re also starting a foundation. What can you tell us about your goals for the foundation, the effort it’s taken to get it off the ground, and how all of this links back to your experience starting the blog? 

My husband and I formed a non-profit 501c3 foundation in memory of Christian. It is called Love From Heaven – Christian Martinisi Memorial FundThe ultimate goal of the foundation is to help families afflicted by sudden child loss. Unexpected child loss affects families at the root of their belief system. It spurs strong emotions that run the gamut. Our foundation provides support, resources, and hope to these families.

As we know from experience, the first holiday season after child loss, is extremely difficult. We live in a community filled with support and generosity. Our community surrounded us and helped us through that first season by providing gifts for our children, even for us. Our foundation will do the same for grieving families. These gifts not only symbolize allowing joy back into lives, but they hold an energy of love, as they are given from others who may or may not know you but want to help.

Finally, we will memorialize Christian’s love of learning through a scholarship program. The chosen students will personify Christian’s love of learning and his caring, giving qualities. He had a huge heart. He was a healer at six years old!

We always had a vision for our foundation but it took time before we were able to start putting it together. Working through our grief and raising our children certainly claimed the majority of our strength at the start of our grieving process. While beginning the foundation has been therapeutic, it also meant coming to the realization that our son is truly gone. Each step stirred up emotions.

All of this links back to the blog Christian’s Red Balloon, as the goals tie together. We want to help others heal. Our loss will not be in vain. We aim to turn it into as much positive as we can. Christian was a special little boy. The love, light, and generosity he radiated on Earth will live on through us.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Cara. You are an inspiration! We wish you the best in all your worthy endeavors!

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