07 December 2009

What a granddaughter and a grandfather can share

They are both here in front of me: two photographs. One of a daughter dead at birth. One of a father who died after a four year struggle with cancer. I can barely remember either one without the aid of a photograph. Of course, I can remember Grace and her small body, her three pound, 15 ounce self. But what I actually remember of her is rather hazy because I didn't realize then that I could have asked for more time. I didn't realize that instead of the three hours and 48 minutes I got with her could have stretched into another day. Instead, I took in what I could. The closed eyes, the dark lips, the furrowed forehead.

But now it really is rather hazy without the photograph in front of me.

And my father? Nothing. I remember nothing. I see the black and white photo in front of me, and it is as if I see a stranger. I see him holding my brother on his lap, me on my mother's lap, the other two off to the side. But no amount of staring at him can bring him any closer. No amount of looking in his eyes reflects back anything more than stories I have been told by others.

I see him in my mind, kneeling on the grass in our front yard with my brother, Jason while I remain inside of my mother's belly. I can envision the prayer my brother has told me about, when my father, joined by my brother, kneels down and prays for a daughter. I wonder if it was morning or night. I wonder if the grass was wet with dew. I wonder how fervently my brother actually prayed with him.

I see this image too as a photograph told to me several times as if the telling of it makes it real.

Are they real? My father and my daughter? For they were born, one living and breathing, one not. Set next to one another I suppose you could say my father got the longer life, the 42 years set against the other, 32 weeks inside of a body seems quite long.

But neither was long enough for me. With each of them, I cannot say that I had enough time with either one. I can say easily that I feel greedy. That I want more. That I want enough time with each of them to feel satiated.

I want one sitting with the other--granddaughter in grandfather's lap.

I want to call my father when conversations with my mother don't go so well.

I want to call my father when conversations with my husband don't go so well.

I want to call my father to tell him about my day, and I want to ask him for answers to questions that I just can't seem to answer.

I want to call my father and tell him, hopefully retired by now, to fly up to visit, to come up and fix the moulding around the refrigerator that we don't have time to fix. I want to ask him to patch the ceiling where the water has dripped for a couple of weeks now. I want to ask him to stay with the children while Terry and I go out on a much-needed and much overdue date.

And I want him here to teach me how to grieve. To tell me what it was like to lose his own father as a child, and how he found ways to cope. I want him here to teach me how to grieve.

As a minister, he would have seen and performed enough funerals by now to have a sense of what works and what doesn't. He would be able to comfort me with words and laughter, and I want to believe all of this with the desperate faith of a child toward her father. I want to believe that whatever words I would have cast out toward him in anger as a teenager would long ago have dissolved. I want to believe that I would have lived up to his prayer in the grass on that long, long ago day when his prayers rose up to sky and were met with answers that all of us found pleasing.

I want my prayers to be answered as easily as his: Yes, yes, you can have your daughter. Here she is.

And you, you can have your father for as long as you want.

I want my prayers answered as positively as his were on that day.

I want. I long. And I continue to feel terribly greedy toward all of these things that I wish for.

Granddaughter set atop of grandfather. Is that really too much to wish for?

Maybe, just maybe, with my childlike wonder and candy-coated faith, granddaughter really does sit with grandfather and time no doubt will pass too quickly until all of us are together again and some of my questions will finally be answered.

05 December 2009

Grief arrives in the quiet passing of a year

42. I have been 42 for more than seven months now. But as those seven months end and as I move closer and closer toward 43, I cannot help but think about my mortality. I cannot help but think that 42 years is how long my own father got. That's it. That's all.

And with his death, came the journey of my life at five years of age, learning again how to live, learning to live without him, not understanding the meaning of his death in that moment. And experiencing it again for the first time, 31 years later when my own child died and knowing finally how permanent death is.

42 years. Leaving behind a wife, a 13-year old son, an 11-year-old son, a 9-year-old son, and a 5-year-old daughter. And that is how I have always seen it. Until now.

And now, I see a life left still living. Leaving at 42 is leaving behind your own life, leaving behind your joys and sorrows. Leaving behind all of those things you imagined on the days that your children were born. Leaving behind their weddings and births of your grandchildren; leaving behind the death of your parents; leaving behind your daughter's high school graduation; leaving behind yours sons' marriages to their wives. Never knowing what it means to hold a grandchild in your arms; never being able to console your daughter when she grieves. Never being there to mediate an argument; to hold your wife again in your arms; never being able to sit again with your six-year-old, now seven and eight-year-old. Never taking your grandchildren out for an ice cream cone; never seeing the joy on their faces as they tear into their gifts on Christmas morning.

And at 42 with all three children on the couch, sharing a bowl of popcorn while watching a movie, I feel the inexplicable grief at being unable to call my father to tell him about this moment. I feel the grief of a daughter who for so many years has known the emptiness at losing a parent unaware that this emptiness was so much less even than the emptiness of losing a daughter and how is that even possible? How is it possible to sit one emptiness next to another and compare it? It really is no more or less, but together that emptiness is huge. That emptiness and longing feels like an open wound that sometimes closes and heals, but most of the time remains raw and exposed only pretending to be something other than it really is.

It is at best bearable and at worst excruciating. It is a kind of love so large that it tears open the heart and literally pauses the breath and closes the throat. It is a kind of longing so huge that words seem like empty placeholders filling up a page with mindless letter after letter, word after word creating nothing more than its own kind of void filled with nothing more than words on a page.

42. It is a kind of grief all on its own to live through this year. To make it to 43. A birthday that can only be bittersweet in the passing of it because living through this year cannot be a kind of celebration, it cannot be a joy worth celebrating. But it can be a life worth remembering. It is the closest I can get to being nearer to my father.

A father who for me is merely a series of photographs and told stories. A father whose face I cannot even conjure up without the help of a photograph. A father who I've been told from story after story after story that I was loved and wanted and wished for and prayed for. And to that again I say sometimes it feels like empty words on a page because nothing, nothing can bring him back into view for me. And with all the cells of my being I want nothing more than my father here sitting on the couch with my children and with a six year old sitting on his lap in the form of my other daughter, also missing.

And that is the kind of longing that never leaves. That is the kind of longing that stays behind no matter what joys come along. It is, in fact, that longing that sometimes makes the joy even sweeter, the heart sing louder, the love feel bigger than anything any words can ever describe.

28 November 2009

The pain of those first holidays

There are many families who, for the first time this year, are experiencing the holidays without their children. They sit around the Thanksgiving table with their families, dreading those words from loved ones, "What are you thankful for this year?"

I remember our first. We neither wanted to give thanks nor did we feel like we had anything to give. I was empty, both physically and spiritually. I had nothing to give, nothing to celebrate. It was a dark year. It was a lenten year that went on and on and on.

But not many people understood. Grace had died nearly six months before Thanksgiving and people would ask us, "What are you doing this Thanksgiving?" And I would stare at them with my alien look thinking, "Honestly? Do you honestly think I have anything to be thankful for?"

I don't remember what I responded, but most likely it was a standard response, something mumbled in passing to get out of being asked any more questions. Darkness descended. Clouds hung low. And we sat around, our family of four, fully knowing it should be a family of five. Our extended families called, and we let the phone ring unanswered. Why would we want to listen to their empty words when our empty hearts were hard enough to listen to?

And so at this time of Thanksgiving, while indeed we have much to be thankful for, I remain mindful of those dark days, remembering, holding in my heart those families experiencing their days of firsts: Our first Thanksgiving without our child; our first Christmas coming near; our first New Year with absolutely nothing to feel hopeful about because no resolution will bring our child back.

And I want to tell them that over time, the clouds will lift, the darkness will rise for the light to appear. But I also want to tell them to hold on to those dark days because in those days their children are present. In those days, their sons and daughters remain very much alive in their hearts and minds. I want to tell them that with the grief comes the love, and neither remains without the other. I want to tell them that the ache does subside, the loneliness dissipates, the hole in the heart gets smaller. But none of it ever goes away.

And therein lies the beauty of our collective grief. For in the loneliness is the memory of Grace. In the dull aching that pulses in the recesses of our minds, is the ever so slight reminder that Grace matters. In the way in which our children smile or laugh, in the way in which they cry, there is Grace.

And so as the holidays appear, as the lights go up and the carolers sing, "Oh little town of Bethlehem," they also sing, "Angels we have heard on high," and in the promise of the birth is the promise that life begins again. Despite the painful, painful realization that indeed our children cannot be born kicking and screaming, they remain present in our minds, kicking and screaming, laughing and smiling.

For indeed, unto us, a child has been born.

And unto us, our children matter.

24 August 2009

Statistics and how they become meaningless

Last week I had the privilege of spending the weekend with six different families with six different stories to tell. You can tell me everything I want to know about statistics and spin it in many different ways, but here are the statistics of six families. I know that these are the real statistics for them. The statistics of six:

One in three children dies shortly after birth.
Two of two infants die one day apart in two different hospitals though they shared the same mother and the same womb.
One in one child is stillborn.
One in three children dies of a fetal anomaly. (Who came up with that horrible term?)
Two of three children die of cancer, five years apart.
One in three children dies of unknown causes.
One of one father and husband dies of cancer.

The statistics of six. The grief of six mothers and five fathers. The grief of nine siblings left to make sense of the grief that they carry and that of their parents.

It is a large canvas upon which these stories are spun. But their stories carry meaning and the weight of their lives will not be forgotten and so I speak their names out loud and challenge you to do the same. Speak their names and hold their names so that the forgotten are remembered.

Isabelle
Aiden
Wyatt
Olivia
Grace
Michael
Nikki
Kerry
Dakota

Six families--nine deaths. It is a grief that is palpable and living. It is a grief with so much energy and movement that the power these six families have is remarkable.

These are people who understand the real meaning of living and what it means to watch someone die.

Six families and nine deaths. Each of them has given me the gift of insight and understanding. Each of them has taught me something about my own life.

And mostly, I want to thank them for being present, for being honest, for sharing with me a portion of their life and their days. And I want to thank them for their courage, their grace and their courage.

It is an honor and a privilege to have each of them in my life.

"The mention of my child's name may make me cry, but not mentioning my child's name can break my heart. "



18 August 2009

Did you know ...

26,000 babies die each year in the United States before they have a chance to take a breath!

4.5 million children worldwide are stillborn each year!

Most stillborn children do not receive a birth certificate. Yet the parents are required to file a death certificate.

In up to 50% of stillbirths, no cause is ever found.

One baby is stillborn in the United States for every 115 babies born.

You can find information here: Still no More


And you can take action here: MISSing Angels Bill






04 August 2009

An amazing mother, an amazing wife, a wonderful friend

Once in a while, a person gets so caught up in their own lives and their own grief, that we forget, and god knows, we don't want to forget. But we do forget there are others out there with stories so profound and so humbling that it takes your breath away.

I have had the privilege and honor of knowing Mary Anne Ruddis for a very short amount of time. But we are fast becoming friends and sharing our work and sharing our writing and in the process, I am amazed at her grace, at her candor, but most of all by her wit, wisdom and love for life.

As so often happens in Spokane, where I live, my life crossed with Mary Anne's about five years ago when we were both presenting at a conference, but it wasn't until just last month, that we were able to really sit down, talk and share our stories. And now, we meet weekly as part of a writer's studio.

If you were walking down the street and you saw Mary Anne and you met her 20-year-old son and you chatted with them casually, you would not know the whole story. You might walk away thinking that Mary Anne is single; Mary Anne has one son; Mary Anne works for a nonprofit organization. But if you stuck around, if you stopped and listened and watched and heard, you could meet Mary Anne's daughter Nikki, who at 16 months old, was diagnosed with cancer and after surgery and aggressive chemotherapy, the cancer disappeared only to reappear again six years later in the form of leukemia resulting from her previous chemotherapy.

And if you peered closer, you would meet Mary Anne's husband, Kerry, who had the courage and grace to tell Mary Anne about his cancer over dinner one night when they were alone. During this time, Mary Anne and Kerry fought his cancer aggressively too. And during his treatment is when Nikki was diagnosed a second time.

Fifteen years ago, on Easter Sunday, Kerry died. And four months later, Nikki died.

There isn't one person who wouldn't agree that Mary Anne had had her lifetime's share of grief. There is no one who could deny that Mary Anne above all else deserved the "no more trauma for life" cards. Don't we all yearn for one of those. The card that says, "You are done. You have had enough trauma, enough grief in your life. And now you get to walk freely without fear or worry."

But that, as we know, is a fiction that doesn't exist.

And so just as Mary Anne and her two sons, Michael and Matthew, were piecing their lives back together, the absolute unthinkable happened. A teacher called Mary Ann in to say that her once very bright son, Michael, was struggling in school. After a brain tumor was found and treatment was attempted, Michael died at the age of 12.

And so, young Mary Ann, by the age of 42, when most of us are re-evaluating our careers and celebrating our children's milestones, had buried her 9 year old daughter, Nikki, her 35 year old husband, Kerry, and her 12 year old son Michael.

This would be the undoing of any person.

But Mary Anne has taken the unbeaten path, and instead of treading carefully, instead of losing hope, she has chosen to embrace life. And that is not to say that Mary Anne denied her grief. Certainly, there were days and there are days, that I am certain when Mary Anne questions and rages and wonders.

But on most days of any given year, you will find Mary Anne, Executive Director of Candlelighters of the Inland Northwest, providing support for families whose children are diagnosed with and dealing with cancer. You will find her counseling parents and offering hope and giving out 'hope bags' and most importantly offering her kindness and her grace and her belief in embracing life.

And so take a moment, visit their Web site, make a donation, say a prayer because somewhere out in the world, for the very first time, a family is hearing the words, "I'm sorry. You child has cancer."

30 July 2009

La noche oscura del alma

There are times when your title says it all. And if not, then Robert Karen does a pretty damn good job of trying to sort things out for a person:

In "The Forgiving Self" Robert Karen says,


"Ideally, the therapeutic partnership offers something that cannot be found in a book: first, of course, the relationship itself, a relationship in which one is perhaps heard and understood as never before, that can access repressed and disowned parts of ourselves, that can get into the formative machinery and shed light on the forgotten gears and levers of our choices. But it also offers a relationship that may enable us to experience ourselves as cared about in a context where care has been wanting, where we can know our beauty and our ugliness, and where we can know the latter without obsessive self-recrimination but, rather, with a healthy remorse and a desire to grow. The therapeutic experience can--and should--engender a fresh perspective on what is possible for us in the realm of love and loss."


It is difficult in the middle of summer to have a dark night of the soul experience. It is better, I think, to do it in winter both literally and metaphorically. But sometimes that night will come even in the brightest of days. Sometimes that darkness comes in the midst of a sun-filled, huckleberry picking, waterslide waterpark, filled with kids kind of day. Sometimes you just can't stop that train from coming no matter how fast you try and run.


Do you ever feeling like you are running and running and still, you just can't escape that thing that is tugging inside your soul?


I wait and wander in the desert knowing that I'll find my way back stronger, better and with more empathy for the world that moves around and beyond me.


07 July 2009

The many faces of grief

Grief comes in so many different shapes, sizes and colors.

Of late, I have had half a dozen people in my life die of a variety of reasons and causes. And these are people that perhaps have not been in my life for years, but at one point were significant or made an impression or simply were just always there as anchors in a life surrounded and enriched by so many others.

Take Bill. The stalwart German who I worked for a number of years back. Cleaned toilets in his tennis shop in high school. I was generally afraid of him most of the time, his gruffness, his solitude, but underneath all of that, I could see the hints of softness and graciousness. His mother, in her 80s, sat in the tennis shop, slipping me $5 and $10 bills in between scrubbing counters and sweeping floors. And Bill quietly (if not gruffly) went about his business. And then one day, I went off to college and returned and met him again, and we had coffee and he asked me if I'd read his book he'd written from the point of view of a dog. He'd never shown it to anyone but he heard I was a writer and thought I might have some advice for him. So we chatted and I read and we shared a connection over writing, over dogs, over things lost and remembered.

And now Bill may he rest in peace.

Take Etsa. Our Italian friend. Her husband employed my brother when he was a teenager. And over the years, as the younger sister, I tagged along to parties at their house. I tagged along to meals, grown and picked and sauteed at their house. The meals started with one course and ended in the seventh or eighth course. First the pasta and the sauce and the lamb and beef and bread and more pasta and fruit and the final course of salad when you just felt that you couldn't eat any more. And the homemade wine to go with each course. You left the table not sure if you were more full than you were tipsy or was it more tipsy than you were full.

And Etsa struggled with cancer and lost the battle but before she did, she made sure to can 170 quarts of tomato sauce so that Ben had something to eat when she was gone. How much more beautiful can love get than 170 quarts of homemade tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in your own garden.

Farewell, Etsa. Rest in peace.

Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Hardly two people that should appear in the pages of a grief blog that has to do with stillborn babies and grandmothers. But who hasn't thought of them in the last couple of weeks. And who, as a 40 something year old woman, hasn't remembered those high school years of trying to get the hair to flip just right, to have the same tan and to let the spaghetti string of her tee, fall just right over the shoulder and onto the arm. And who hasn't just once tried to moonwalk again in their kitchen in between stirring pots and pouring drinks. Who hasn't listened to Billy Jean on the radio in the last few days? And so in some small (or is it large) way, those two have shaped my life as well.

Aside from the poorly told jokes and the flippant comments about their lives, there is a kind of grief. A childhood lost and remembered. A high school love gone bad. A memory of what was and can never be again. For in those moments of carelessness and recklessness, there was the belief in angels solving crimes and music rescuing love.

Farewell to Farrah and Michael, linked perhaps by nothing more than sharing a day of memorialization and a life of tabloid jabs. Rest in peace.

As so the grief arrives in the most surprising ways. Grief comes in the memories of their faces, in the small shift of pages across the table as I turn to the next chapter. The grief comes in the memories of lamb that melts into my mouth; who knew that lamb could be so tender as to melt. Who knew that wine poured from a recycled and well-used bottle could taste that strong, that fresh, that full of ripeness. The grief comes in the passing of their lives and the memories of their stories as they shaped and turned and in some small way created the person that I've become.

And grief is forever linked to love, and in that love lies the reason for being and the reason for knowing that today, one more person who I've never met will touch my life and find a way to affect my soul in this surprising and unexpected journey that we call living.

14 June 2009

For my grandmother

Read on June 13, 2009

I have been thinking a lot about death and grief over these last few days. Sometimes death comes slow and sure, waiting, for days or weeks or months. Sometimes it comes suddenly and graciously but certain. And no matter how it arrives, I have decided that there is no right time, no right way for death to appear on our doorsteps and certainly no set length of time for grief.
When somebody dies at the age of 97, it’s easy to say, “She lived a long life.” “It was her time.” “How wonderful that you had her for so many years.” But these are simply platitudes that are easy to repeat in order to avoid the hard work that grief offers. Because grief is hard work, but its rewards are tremendous and transformative.
What I remember most is this: Waking up in the early morning in a room off of the kitchen in my grandparent’s mobile home. Someone on the floor or in the bed quietly breathing early morning sleep beside me. And then, I’d hear it—a pan shifting on the stove; a drawer shuffling open. I’d see the light underneath the crack of the bedroom door. And once again, as often as I’d try to get up in the morning before my grandma, there she was already prepping the dough so it would have time to rise so that we’d have fresh peanut butter rolls for breakfast. As often as I tried (and I DID try), I could never wake up early enough to help her.
Another memory: Opening the pantry in her kitchen with shelf after shelf filled with glass jars: canned peaches, canned apricots, jars of pickled watermelon rind (gross!); jars of pickles; more peaches; old Christmas tins filled with—if you were lucky—chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. And if you were unlucky—pfernussen nussen, some sort of cookie I could never pronounce and never understand because what kind of cookie has pepper in it?
One more memory: The dining room table and brown chairs that swirled. Cards, lots and lots of cards that you had to count and divide, divide and shuffle, count again and hand out. And always, I wanted to be on grandma’s team because she would teach me how to cheat. And we cheated so well together! And then the cards went away and out came the Yahtzee. How she continued game after game, year after year to roll 1, 2 and yes, 3 Yahtzees was beyond me. I still can’t roll a Yahtzee. And at the table was grandma and grandpa, Anna and Alex, Aaron and Ida, Hank and Alvina. It wasn’t long before tears were rolling down our faces in laughter.
97 years. Is it long enough? I don’t know because I know the next 30 or 40 years without her are going to be long years. Is it long enough? I don’t think so because I’m still not confident in my ability to roll out the dough correctly, to put the right kind of pickling spices into the vegetable soup, to make sure to remember the cinnamon in the chocolate chip cookies. I’m certain that I can’t cook the strudels in the pan without lifting the lid and watching them fall. I still screw up the amount of water and vinegar in the cooked cabbage. And I know that I will never slice the cucumbers thin enough for grandma’s salad.
Shortly after my daughter Grace was still born, my grandma came to stay with me for a few days. It was the last time she came to visit alone. She was worried about me because I wasn’t cooking, and worse than that I wasn’t baking. But she didn’t really seem to mind. She just got out the toothbrush and started scrubbing my stove. And then she got out the flour, and she started putting it into a bowl unmeasured and added some sugar, an egg, some salt and within a few hours we were pulling peanut butter rolls out of the oven.
And then we sat down over rolls and talked. And she told me about her first born child, a boy she never got to meet, a boy that she never got to hold. A child, she told me, that she never forgot, not for one day, even though back then, she said, she wasn’t allowed to talk about him. And she told me that she wanted to name him William. And she took my hand and told me to never forget.
My grandmother died on the same day that Grace died--six years later--, and some small part of me wants to believe that it was planned, that somehow she knew that I would never forget, that I would always remember and that the four of us—Grandma, William, Grace and I—would be inextricably linked by a sort of grief so large, that it transforms into a beauty even larger that binds us together still like flour and water and yeast binds together to transform into the lightest, sweetest, most beautiful kind of offering.

01 June 2009

Six years...Eight months...97 years

Grace,

Six is a very big number. Six means all those number of years have passed without you. Six means six times six times six will pass again.

Six means grief like love changes form, grows and evolves but never goes away.

And you, my love, know none of this and all of this at once.

Today we planted a tree in your name that will grow to heights unimaginable and live for 150 to 200 years. In a park, near a playground, near a swimming hole, near a library, near all of the places you would wander and grow, near all of the places your brothers and sister will visit often. Where trees can grow to be the size of buildings, where grief can in the form of a leaf fall each season only to be born again. Lucky tree that it can lose its branches each year, each fall, and each spring, can grow anew. If only it were that simple. Oh, but I would grow you again and again until you could stay long enough for us to know each other. But that, Grace, is really the heart of the matter isn't it.

What is long enough? Because good enough, doesn't work for me. Long enough hardly matters.

My grandma she lived 97 years, and one might think that was long enough, but no. Because Grace, I was just getting to know her, I was just beginning to understand the way she rolled out her dough before she placed the cinnamon and sugar on it; I was just beginning to understand exactly how much pickling spice should go into the vegetable soup; I was just beginning to understand that I'm not allowed to lift the lid when the strudels are steaming.

And she wasn't here long enough for me to figure out how 3 Yahtzees are possible in one game. She wasn't around long enough for me to get her recipe for canned peaches and canned apricots. And though I never liked them, Grace, I will never taste her pickled watermelon again because I can assure you I will never make them.

And even if I can replicate her recipes, they will not be the same. They will not be the same.

Because nothing is the same anymore.

Nothing will ever be like it has been.

And when you meet her Grace, you will know what we have lost down here. And she will finally rock her stillborn baby boy that she was not allowed to hold, that she was not allowed to name; that she was not allowed to see when he was born 75 years ago.

And therein lies the beauty in her death--she can meet her son for the first time. And that is something even I do not want to stop because nothing should ever be the same again.

Not now. Not ever.

28 May 2009

Grace,

So, the thing about grief is this, Grace. If anyone ever decides to tell you that grief ends after six months or one year, just tell them that's bullshit.

This week. This week the grief seems rather insurmountable. And it's not just about us, Grace. It's much bigger than that. This grief includes your tree, planted in your honor, in Shadle park, dying. When I walked through the park to check on your tree, it was dead. Zap. I could tell you it's because they moved it when they dug the hole for the new swimming pool, but it seems they moved about half a dozen trees. Yours died. The rest survived.

I could tell you my grief is about your 11yo brother being in a play and singing a solo onstage. And acting his big heart out. Grief? Why? Because he is no longer that 5yo boy terrified to leave my side and stand in front of any stranger whatsoever.

I could tell you that grief came in the form of my mother calling to tell me a close friend had died yesterday. Yes, he was in his 80s and perhaps it was his time. But I wasn't ready for it to be his time, and he died alone in his house, and I just can't get that image out of my head.

I could tell you that my grief is about my grandmother falling and no longer being able to live alone in her apartment, but needing to be moved first to a hospital and then into a convalescent home. And yes, she is 97 and perhaps well past her time, but I am not ready in any way for her to go. Not.

I could tell you that something physical happens to me over these next few days, something I cannot explain in words because my body knows, it just prepares itself for your birth and death, and time hangs in the air like some kind of Southern heat that closes in on you even in the middle of the night.

I could tell you that the sight of six year old girls preparing for the end of kindergarten and the beginning of first grade opens and closes me at the same time. Their height surprises me; their abilities confound me; and their beauty undoes me.

I could tell you all of this Grace, if you were here, but here instead is this undeniable longing, this yearning that weeks and months and years of distance will never remove because this space in my throat still tightens and this bruise on my heart still hurts and this need for you and longing aches unlike any other kind of injury I've sustained. And I will sustain it, and I will survive it, but the longing is there. The longing is here. Now. Today. Forever. Long.

22 April 2009

Dear Grace,

If you were here today, you would have seen your 3yo brother run full speed toward the dog screaming at the top of his lungs to drop the ball so he could continue to play baseball.

You would have seen your 8yo sister dancing in her room to some hip hop, top 10, movie of the week song, assured of the power of her voice and assured of the power of herself as someone who might one day change the world or at the very least, most certainly rock it. In fact, I believe she has already rocked it more than once.

You could have looked in on your 11yo brother who was not to be bothered by the other two, only 45 pages from the end of his book, Fablehaven, or some such title, book 5 I believe. He could hardly imagine that there was a world actually out there spinning around beside him as he sat engrossed by page after page after page.

You would have seen the cat on top of the roof having climbed out the second story window and on to the roof only to find herself momentarily stuck and unsure of herself when she is hardly unsure of herself at all, rarely, never.

And, Grace, you could have been here today, and none of this might have happened at all because your death changed the course of our lives, and our lives could have been happening in a different house, on a different street, in a different town, on a different planet for that matter because our lives changed forever and our roads they did diverge and they did get potholes but then somehow those holes got inexplicably filled and one day, I woke up and they were just slightly less bumpy and slightly less edgy and still there you are and here you are because I saw you in the face of that 3yo as he charged toward the dog.

I see you in the eyes of your sister as she dances to her music. I see you in the eyes of your 11yo brother as he reads because you would most certainly tear him away from his book with your pleas, with your beauty, with your charm and wit.

And I see you in that ridiculous cat of ours up on the roof because that cat fell into my arms four months after you died when what I needed was to hold a baby and there she was in a box outside of our church mewing, and two little girls picked her up and held her by her neck, and I knew then that I had to save that tabby. I had to save something, and I couldn't at the time save myself so I saved a cat. How ridiculous is that Grace? a Cat? A cat most certainly is not a baby and most certainly is not you, but at the time, that cat was something, that cat was alive and I could bring her home and feed her and give her water and hold her in my arms and when I did, it felt just a teensy bit less painful.

And that Grace is why this cat is here now at my feet purring because of you, Grace and in some small and imperceptible way, I see you in her too, each time I bend down to pet her, you are there on my mind, always in my heart and in so many ways changing the course of our lives.

love,
mama

13 April 2009

If the doctor could read this now

If the doctor who delivered Grace was reading this blog, I would tell her that nearly six years have passed and still, Grace matters. I would tell her that, no, in fact, there is no rush for me to take the drug that quickens labor, that hastens along the birthing process.

If the doctor who delivered Grace were to see me in the grocery store, she would not recognize me or remember me because to her I was just one more patient that wasn't even her patient who most likely got her out of bed several hours before she'd intended because this delivery was a surprise, was six or seven weeks early, because my doctor was out of town and so they had to bring in the doctor on call.

If the doctor who delivered Grace were to pass me at the bank, I would remember her because her short black hair and unwittingly superior knowledge of birth was evident to me in the beginning. Yes, we need you to start the induction now. We don't know how long this baby has really been dead and we don't know what could happen inside your body if we don't get her out soon.

If the doctor who delivered Grace were to see me at a soccer game, I would tell her in fact, Grace could have stayed inside of me another day. I would tell her that the thing to do would have been to give me a hug, no, to hold me up, to tell me that it might take time, but time, time is what we have now because time will never be the same again. I would tell her that in fact I could have waited for labor to start on its own. I could in fact have gone home to tell my living children, to pack a bag, to take some photographs of my belly, to take a hot bath before returning to the hospital to give birth.

If the doctor who delivered Grace could remember that day nearly six years ago, I wonder if she could remember how many cracks there were in the ceiling (eight); I wonder if she could remember the color of Grace's hair (black!); I wonder if she could remember how many boxes of Kleenex were in the room (none!); I wonder if she could remember the color of the walls (cream!); I wonder if she could remember how long Grace was (17 1/2 inches); I wonder if she could remember how much Grace weighed (3 pounds, 15 ounces!). I wonder if she could remember the ages of my other children who were in the room when Grace was born (5 and 2).

If the doctor who delivered Grace were in front of me now, I would tell her that next time she has to be at the delivery of a stillborn baby to pause, to wait, to hold her breath because this moment of birth will be the only moment the mother and child have together, because this moment of birth, these 6 or 12 or 15 hours of labor will seem in years to come like a split second because it is all we have, it is all we have.

And I will tell her that I will no longer let her bring her fear into my presence, that her fear of stillbirth is less about me and even less about Grace than it is about her inability to cry, her inability to pause and see that Grace matters, that Grace is more than just a body being born, that Grace is my heart split open and cracked and that Grace is the person who will eventually heal me, who will teach me what love is and what fear isn't, who with her closed eyes and still heart will teach me what it means to see the world not with rose-colored glasses but with eyes wide open and with a heart very much beating fast.

If the doctor who delivered Grace could stand before me now,
I would tell her that I'm sorry she felt the need to be
so distant,
so separate from our lives
because if she had allowed herself in
even just for a moment
there she would see how
beautiful love really is.

06 April 2009

As simple as a crocus


It started with one flake, and then the snow returned, covering the ground as if it were January instead of April. But there peeking up out of the snow, the crocus remained, the purple hue as vibrant as the day before only closed waiting for the sun to return to coax it's center to open wide again. The crocus does not exist if not for winter.

I say that over again over again so as not to forget the gifts that winter brings. Because without it, the crocus would not bloom. Though sometimes in the midst of winter it is hard to remember the crocus.

Yesterday I stood for eight hours in the sun outside of a store that I detest, selling Girl Scout cookies with my daughter so that she could reach her very ambitious goal of selling 1,000 boxes of cookies. We left in the eighth hour having finally sold 1,022 boxes of cookies over a very intense 2 1/2 week period of time.

Let me go back though to the beginning of the sentence "Yesterday I stood for eight hours in the sun outside of a store that I destest..." I could have stood eight more hours because the sun was shining and for half of the day it was in my face and half of the day it was at my back. It was truly the best drug I've ever had. I think I could have stood outside like that forever. I was so grateful to have the sun beating down on us. It has felt like so many weeks and months of cold, of rain, of snow, of clouds.

Even standing in front of a store I detest did not affect my mood. There was very little to alter the happiness I felt at the simplicity of standing in the sun. And with my daughter, my eight-year-old who was so focused on selling cookies that she must have said, "Would you like to buy some girl scout cookies?" at least 3,000 times in the last two weeks.

The crocuses have blossomed. Their short life is nearly over, but the memory of their vibrancy, of their color will remain with me long after they are gone.

Grace blossomed for all of eight months in my belly. Yet she remains vibrant, unforgettable in my heart, in my mind, and in our lives. The season of winter is over. I know, though, that there are many winters yet to come. For now, I bask in the glory of spring, in the promise of Easter, in the hope that when spring becomes summer becomes fall becomes winter, that there I will find Grace again knowing that as the snow covers the ground, just underneath it's blanket, the bulb of the crocus lies in wait.

04 February 2009

A New Openness

When you hit the national news, you know that you've either had a tragedy, a drama, or a political mess up. In this case, tragedy has taken years to make it into the national picture--the tragedy of a baby born still, born silently into this mourning world.

So here it is,in Newsweek, no less, the story of so many parents, the story of how one family is coping, the story of MISS and the story of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

It is the unimaginable:

"Stillbirth happens more often than we imagine—10 times more often than sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, a condition most every parent knows about and dreads. Every year some 26,000 babies die during or after the 20th week in their mothers' womb..."

Ten times more often than SIDS! We all know, don't we, the tragedy of SIDS. But when that happens, the baby has been born breathing, the baby is taken home and cuddled, the baby is introduced to family and friends, the baby gets to cry and laugh and smile and coo. The baby and their family have been introduced to the world. I do not and will not minimize SIDS. It is just as tragic and just as awful and just as painful, I'm sure, as stillbirth. But up until now, we have all heard of SIDS and not nearly as many have heard of stillbirth.

And sometimes I wonder if it is simply because the stillborn baby does not get to come home; the stillborn baby does not get to meet the friends and family anticipating the birth; the stillborn baby does not get to laugh or cry or hold the finger of the mother and father.

And so we need to continue to throw open the closet doors. We need to come out together, as grieving parents, as families, and become our children's best lobbyists to let people know our babies mattered. Our babies were born. Our babies will not be forgotten.

We need to continue to remember so that we can become a family's best advocate, so that when, god forbid, it happens to someone else, we can be there to care for them, to nurture them, to tell them that yes, someday you will feel love again, you will laugh again and you will, most certainly be forever changed. We need to remember so that we can create memories with photographs and hand prints and foot prints if the families want them.

We simply need to remember so that we never forget.

I will never forget the way Grace's forehead furrowed as if to shout out that she too wanted to be here.

I will never forget the dark hair Grace had, like her sister Sophia before her.

I will never forget the way Grace's father bowed his head and wept and sobbed and screamed out loud.

I will never forget telling Carver and Sophia that their sister had died, that she wouldn't come home with us, that she just stopped breathing and we don't' know why.

I will never forget the way Grace smelled when my pastor and friend annointed her with oil and annointed me with oil.

I will never forget the footsteps of Beth carrying Grace down the hallway toward the morgue and away from me.

I will never forget.

I will always remember.

17 January 2009

Dawning

Sometimes, it is 2:44 a.m. and I am not sure if there is a more middle of the night. It is quiet except for the squeak of the chair I am sitting on and the tap of the keys. Even the hamsters who love their wheels going around and around have stopped running and crawled into their caverns to rest.

I can't sleep. It's the silence that woke me, and the silence that keeps me awake. Often I find it louder than the music that plays in our house.

I have been asking myself lately why I haven't been writing, why I haven't been blogging. And I feel sometimes like it is the pause in this space that separates me from Grace. But really that isn't so. There is no pause from Grace. I have turned inward. I have decided on private thoughts versus public ones.

Sometimes, there are actual feelings, real thoughts that I don't want to share, that I want to keep private, that I want to keep only been me and Grace. That in that privacy, I can have the kind of feelings for her that stay tucked in my soul.

Tonight as I watched Sawyer falling asleep, I thought, this is what life is. This moment, now gone, I want to forever etch into my mind. The eyes, first staring up at me, the hand holding a DS game (because he's always holding something) falls against my breast and the game slides away. His eyes blink several times and for a moment he is trying so hard to keep them open and then I whisper, "It's okay to fall asleep." And he does as if it is my permission that allows him to do that. His breathing slows and his eye lashes softly relax and he is is sleeping. And in these moments I am painfully aware at how fleeting they are. Lasting not nearly long enough. I hold my breath as the children grow, sometimes feeling impatient that it's not fast enough but most times feeling like the rush of it is all too fast, too soon.

Tonight, I wanted Grace to be watching her younger brother falling asleep, watching the two of them entwined in sleep next to me. My wants are always selfish.

And so I will go crawl back into bed to lie between father and son, to watch both of them breathe and knowing that their breath moving in and out of their bodies is something I will never, ever take for granted.