05 December 2010

What is the value of a human life?

I have been thinking about value a lot lately.

I have clients now in my consulting business where I have to place a dollar value on my time. And I have to decide: Do I charge them hourly or do I charge them project by project? And sometimes I wonder if I am over-charging them or under-charging them. I don't know that there is a right or wrong answer really. But it is worth thinking about and worth examining from time to time.

That being said, I also think about the value of our time in general. I recently listened to a story on NPR that was addressing the value of a human life. The attorney spoke about compensation for families after the death of loved ones, particularly, the 9/11 families.

What is the value of a human life?


Is one life more valuable than another? Is there a monetary value that is different from person to person?

The attorney versus the night time cleaning person. The doctor versus the patient?

How do we assign value to life and how do we place a monetary amount on that?

There was no monetary value placed on Grace's life. She died before birth. Even if we had chosen to get some kind of childhood life insurance for her, I'm sure it would be small in nature. Even then, would a check having been received in the mail for $10,000 after her death made anything better? I doubt it.

And still there are real financial implications to families after their children die. Jobs are lost. Mental health capacities are reduced. Even jobs that are kept are difficult sometimes to maintain and return to.

And let's not forget the emotional value of a life. This is what interests me even more.

In this case, is Grace's life more valuable now that she is gone because so much time and energy is spent on helping bereaved parents. Is this even worth bringing up? What if she did decided that in her own life, she had no real drive or motivation to do anything other than what she had to do to make ends meet. Would her life be any more or less valuable than the person next door?

My emotional life would be different for sure if Grace were here. My emotional state would be different.

I have continued to say over and over again that I would trade my more realized and aware self for less awareness if Grace were here. But as time passes, as I learn more about myself, about my responses to grief, about what she continues to teach me daily, is this still true?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. In fact, I hardly think there are answers at all. But that doesn't mean the questions can't be raised.

What is the value of your own life? Are you living up to what you think it should be? Do you need to?

05 November 2010

The perfect metaphor

Really, I have the perfect metaphor. Something is wrong with my heart. Literally. Something is wrong with my heart.

Okay, it might be pericarditis which technically is an inflammation around the sac that surrounds my heart, but it has everything to do with the beating of a heart. It protects the heart.

I have had tests this week. EKGs, blood work, ultrasounds. I had the first ever ultrasound of my heart, and there it was on the screen beating, pulsing, opening and closing the way a heart is apparently supposed to beat and pulse.

I wasn't prepared for the anxiety of the ultrasound. I wasn't prepared for the aliveness of it. The only ultrasounds I've had, of course, are of living and not living babies. This would be different, I thought. Of course, it's not a baby, it's a heart.

Oh, wait a minute, that's right, this is an ultrasound of a beating heart. And there it was. My heart beating, and all I could think of in that moment, as the technician was rubbing the gel over my chest and rubbing the probe over my heart was that This of course, is what a heart is supposed to do. Beat. Beat.

Why didn't I prepare myself better for that moment? For the memory of the not beating heart. For the technician in the room with the probe over my belly. Beat. Heart. Beat. Move.

I wasn't prepared for the memory of Grace's non-beating heart and for the contrast in size.

My heart, my heart looked nearly the size of a baby's head. Her heart was just the size of a plum, unmoved, floating in space.

"The opening and closing of your valve looks good," the technician said. "Thank you," I responded. I couldn't say anything else so I just turned away waiting for the test to be over, thinking of Grace, of her still heart, of my heart cracking into a million pieces. And I wanted to turn to the technician and say, tell me, do you see a hole? Can you see the cracks? Is that what you are looking for?

And suddenly I was terrified that she could look into my soul, and she would see the darkness.

Yes, something is wrong with my heart. Something is very wrong with my heart, I wanted to say. A child is missing. A child is gone. Can you see that with your probe?

The pericardium is the sac that surrounds the heart. It's function has three purposes. The first is to keep the heart contained; the second is to prevent the heart from overexpanding; the third is to limit the motion of the heart. My pericardium is enlarged. It is inflammed, and I can't help but wonder if it's function hasn't been tested too many times. What kind of sac could possibly contain my heart? What kind of sac could limit the motion of my heart. My heart has been cracked and sewed back together. It has a hole, and I don't believe that any kind of sac could prevent it from overexpanding.

You see, after I gave birth to Grace, my heart shriveled; it withered. It died. But then, I found Grace in the eyes of my other two children; I found Grace in their souls. And three years later I gave birth again and he came out eyes wide open and heart pounding hard. And in that moment, my heart grew again. It grew and grew and grew.

And in these last two weeks, as we have all suffered illness, my thirteen year old still managed to pass me in height. As he lay next to me shivering in bed, his body continued to grow, and my heart continued to grow in awe of him. And as the four year threw up in my lap, over and over again, I held his head and willed him better. I watched his body melt into mine, and I prayed over him again and again for health. And my heart grew.

And now the nine year old is sick. And tonight she laid in bed with me and wished for wellness. And I wished with her. And again, I could feel the pains in my chest, the crackling of my breathing, and I knew that still my heart was growing larger.

So, yes, I do have pericarditis, and yes, the sac is inflamed, and yes, my love spills out of that sac each day. And it continues to ache for the one lost child.

I imagine this inflammation will subside. I hope that the sac returns to its normal size, but I also know that the heart is never, ever the same.

I believe it can contract and expand. I believe that the love I feel for all my children will continue to grow. I believe my heart will always be inflamed. And I hope it never really stops.

19 September 2010

Because sometimes, a broken heart is good enough

What People Give You

Long-faced irises. Mums.
Pink roses and white roses
and giant sunflowers,
and hundreds of daisies.

Fruit baskets with muscular pears,
and water crackers and tiny jams
and the steady march of casseroles.
And money,
people give money these days.

Cards, of course:
the Madonna, wise
and sad just for you,
Chinese cherry blossoms,
sunsets and moonscapes,
and dragonflies for transcendence.

People stand by your sink
and offer up their pain:
Did you know I lost a baby once,
or My eldest son was killed,
or My mother died two months ago.

People are good.

They file into your cartoon house until it bows at the seams;
they give you every
except your daughter back.

Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

15 September 2010

School board meetings, love, and how change works on all levels

Jefferson Elementary School, September 15, 2010
School Board Meeting, Opinion Forum, 7 p.m. -- My three minutes.

Seven and a half years ago, I found out that the baby I was about to deliver had died.

Had Grace lived, she would be in second grade today.

What does her death have to do with the re-building of Jefferson school?


In that moment of her death, my family’s life changed dramatically. Our lives changed not because we wanted them to. But over time we changed for the better—slowly, surprisingly, unwillingly at times.

We are here tonight not to talk about the death of an infant, but the re-birth of a school that teaches hundreds of students to go forth in the world and change it for the better. This time of passionate, stubborn, immovable opinion, should not in fact be about anything at all except the lives of our children and our children’s children, who will have the privilege of going to an amazing school, of waking up and saying yes to their education, of saying yes to life in a school that offers what we promise them:

A safe environment in which to learn.

So I challenge the school board to offer our children the safest environment in which to learn, off of arterials and away from grocery stores. I challenge the neighbors who live nearby to embrace these children, to watch with wonder as five- and six-year-olds cross the street for the first time with their backpacks awkwardly strung across their shoulders. I challenge you to lay aside your disgruntled ways and choose instead to marvel out your windows at the beauty and wonder of what childhood has to offer and perhaps even open yourselves up to learn what these kids might teach you about life, about learning, about love, something that as I have sat and listened to you over the last six months, I think all of you have forgotten.

In her absence, Grace has taught me only love. Here among these neighbors, I have felt embarrassment and animosity all because we worry about our park-like view, and how change might come into our lives.

I am here to tell you that not all change is welcome certainly, but if you are open to the mystery of change, you might find yourself in awe and wonder of it.

Every day of my life, I will miss my daughter Grace, but every day of my life, I am thankful at what she has taught me: Change, even in its darkest form gives way to light.

We are talking about the transformation of thousands of lives over the course of decades. And I challenge the school board not to let a few disgruntled folks stand in the way of what is best for our kids.

The facts, as we know them speak loud and clear: The west location is indeed the best and the safest choice. Nothing less will do.

10 September 2010

Letting go

There are pieces of my life I hold on to fiercely. I can't let them go no matter what.

Some of these things are good: memories that hover in my mind like small pieces of blue sky, crisp and soothing.

Other pieces are more than likely toxic: arguments, embarrassing moments where in front of my kids I acted more like a child than they did. Times when I exposed myself to someone in ways that I never wanted to be seen.

But I hold on to these as a reminder of where I've been, how far I've come and how much farther I need to go.

Recently, on Facebook, I had a discussion with some friends about happiness. I mentioned that I am leery of really happy people--those people who really and truly seem happy all of the time. Truthfully, I envy them, I watch them, I wonder how to become that kind of person. But then the demons come back, the dark spaces inside of me that I can't seem to really purge. When they appear, all thoughts of being anything other than who I am disappear.

And I want to disappear in that moment. I want to become something or someone other than myself. Only I'm locked inside that place that I can't leave.

At a grief conference I recently attended, MISS Foundation Mindful Grieving, there was a lot of discussion about remaining in the moment, being mindful of what was happening in that moment. Not falling prey to the monkey brain that we all are familiar with--leaping from thought to thought, not being present, unable to concentrate.

And I wonder if I spend more time remaining in the moment, will things get easier? Or harder? Will joy present itself more often or less often? Can I practice letting go of those demons so that they become distant memories of things past rather than things future?

I can't be anything other than what I am, in the moment, but I often exist in the past or the future and memories tug at me, pull me down. Instead, I'd like those memories to set me free, to give me permission to become something better, something larger than the memories themselves so that eventually I can let go of some things that create weightness rather than lightness.

And in that moment, I can be lifted up and fly.

04 September 2010

Mindful Grief: 2010 MISS Conference

My final talk at the MISS Foundation memorial service, 2010:

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a long, long time ago, I was a mother who only knew about the joy of caring for a five-year-old son, a two-year-old daughter and the joy of carrying the child that was growing inside of me. I went to baby showers and played those silly baby shower games. I knew that babies were born with their eyes wide open to the possibilities of what would come. I knew about the beauty of the world, I saw the laughter on my children’s faces, and I knew that life was indeed good and beautiful. The sun shone, the skies were blue. The air was fresh.

And then, one day, that world changed forever. The skies darkened, the rain fell, and the technician in the hospital turned toward me and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I am so, so sorry. There is no heartbeat.”

There is no heartbeat.

Why then when I heard those words was it my own heart that was still beating? For the next hour, I stared out at the world, my heart beating hard and fast, while the clouds rolled in, and the skies darkened.

In this story, there is no happily ever after: the rain fell much longer than 40 days and 40 nights. Until one day, on a day I could never have predicted or imagined, a piece of light fell from the sky and into my lap.

The MISS Foundation Passages Conference 2004.

And here we are today: Exploring Mindful Grief, 2010.

I have finally returned home after two long years—I am certain that many of you feel this way. We are all back together again as brothers and sisters in mourning.

And for those of you who have come for the first time, I am so sorry that you have to be here, but I hope that you’ll come back. I hope that coming here to this place, you have found a kind of safety, and a kind of beauty in our pain that you can’t really find anywhere else.

I’m pretty sure that most of you will understand this statement when I say, I live two lives. One as the mother of my absent daughter, Grace. And the second as the mother of my present daughter, Grace. Here in this home is where my daughter Grace is most present all of the time. Grace is both absent and present—her presence is felt by all of us, her spirit is alive. I can feel her here more than in any other place. It’s as if the walls of this hotel speak her name.

But for most of the rest of my life, my daughter Grace is missing. She is missing when I am standing in conversation with someone at work and they see me but they do not see her. She is missing when I bring my other three children with me to the grocery store and the clerk smiles at them and tells me what lovely children I have. She is missing when we go out in public and there is nothing to show the world that Grace matters. There are no name tags to wear in public that tell them I am the mother of this missing child. They don’t see her like the rest of us do.

But here amongst you—my other family members—Grace is present. And that is a kind of gift that each of you give to me.

And so there are gifts here among the incredible amount of pain and anguish. I couldn’t even begin to quantify the amount of loss in this room. It is palpable. But it is also, in its own way, a lovely and beautiful thing.

Where else, after all, can all of us feel this comfortable setting out pictures of our children? Memories hang like Christmas ornaments in the air. And we come together year after year to set out our memories, anxious and nervous at first. What will someone think when I set out a picture of my child, 20 weeks old, sitting so quietly in the palm of my hand? What will they say when I tell them that I had to decide when it was time to turn off the machine that kept my child alive?

The first time you come is always the hardest, the most awkward, the most angst filled. But here you are anyways, and for whatever terribly tragic reasons that brought all of us together, I want to say thank you for sharing your most intimate sorrow with me. I will forever be changed by your presence in my life.

Sixteen years ago, there was a mother in labor who had the vision of a daughter that would join her growing family. This mother had a vision of a daughter who would change her life forever simply by being present among her sister and brothers. Little did that mother know how much her daughter would change the lives of so many without ever taking a breath. And so tonight I want to read a love letter to this child’s mother, Joanne, that goes something like this:

Dear Cheyenne,

You should be sixteen by now. You should have gone out for your driver's test with your mother earlier in the summer. You should have known the lusciousness and heart ache of sweet sixteen. By now, you should have tasted your first kiss, and you should have been at first perplexed by it, maybe even a little uncomfortable about it, but then you should have kissed back with a kind of earnest and longing that all of us still feel—an earnest and longing.

Instead of all of those firsts, we continue to experience our firsts by the continuous presence of your absence as Anna Quindlen once wrote. The continuous presence of your absence.

All of us, Chey, long for you. For our children. For the possibilities of what will never be.

But you should know, Chey, that you have the most incredible mother.

Because of you, she has created a place where all of us childlost parents feel a little less lost, a little less lonely, a little less marginalized in our grief.

Do you know how huge that is?

Many people live their entire lives without doing something this large, this selfless, this courageous. And without ever having take a breath outside of your mother’s womb, you have created all of what is here tonight, in this room.

Your mother could have chosen to remain on the floor of the closet, but instead she built the MISS Foundation—on the tears of your absence.

Chey, your life and what your mother has done because of your life is really indescribable on so many levels.

The way in which we come together every two years, is our lament, our pining for you.

And here is what I have understood thus far from knowing you:

For the rest of your mother's life, she will wonder if you would have laughed like your sister or like your brothers. She will wonder what it would be like to console you after the stupid boy who first kissed you decided to break up with you. She will wonder who you would have married, if you would have married at all, what you would have done after that stupid boy broke up with you.

We all wonder, Chey, about so many things.

But I want to thank you for being who you are. Because your gift to me is the gift of knowing your mother, is the gift of knowing every single person in this room, and letting me stand up here on this stage to tell you what a difference you have made in the lives of so many wounded and lost souls. The number of lives you have saved is immeasurable.

And to your mother I want to say that I love you with all my heart, and I am so, so sorry that you have to cry so many tears with all of us. And I am so sorry, really in so many strange and complicated ways that we have to know each other at all.

But for that I am forever grateful.

And I will never tire, Joanne, of watching you becoming...

And finally, to all the families who are here this year for the very first time, I want to tell you that tomorrow might be a certain kind of hell when you find yourself returning into the world that still misunderstands and misinterprets our grief. And I want to tell you instead of being afraid of re-entry, to go boldly into the world carrying your grief like a child who laughs and dances and sings and stubs her toe and gets up again.

I want to tell you that this is our opportunity to show the world that the paradigm is indeed shifting, that we are not okay with the way that they think our grief will look. That instead we will teach them about our messy, sticky, unpredictable grief, and that we will survive this because in this room, what we know for certain is that our grief is love.

And our love will be spilled out into the world for everyone to experience whether or not they want to be a part of it.

Because every person in this room is love, and love is the only thing that can ever truly save us.

28 July 2010

Dear Cheyenne,

You should be sixteen by now. You should have gone out yesterday for your driver's test with your mother. You should have known the lusciousness of sweet sixteen. You should have tasted your first kiss. You should have let your mother run her fingers through your long hair.

Instead, your mother mourns.
Instead, your mother pines.
Instead, your mother longs.

All of us long, Cheyenne, for you. For our children. And none of us will ever let anyone take that away.

Because it is in our longing, our mourning, that we hold onto you and remember you and continue to love you.

Cheyenne, you should know that you have the most incredible mother.

Because of you, she has created a place where all of us babylost mothers feel a little less lost, a little less lonely, a little less marginalized in our grief.

Do you know how huge that is?

Many people live their entire lives without doing something this large, this selfless, this courageous.

Your mother, Cheyenne, could have chosen to remain on the floor of the closet, but instead she built a foundation--the MISS Foundation--on the tears of your absence. She holds the hands of the grieving daily and helps all of us walk through this maze of confusion, of angst, of loneliness, of fear, of pain, and somehow, all of us feel a little more love because of it.

Cheyenne, your life and what your mother has done because of your life is really indescribable on so many levels.

We would all of us give up this work, for a moment with our children. But we do this because it is time spent with you. It is our way to continue to love you.

But here is what I know:

For the rest of your mother's life, she will wonder what the color of your eyes would have been. She will wonder if you would have laughed like your sister or like your brothers. She will wonder what it would be like to console you after the stupid boy who first kissed you decided to break up with you. She will wonder, as will we, for the rest of our lives who you would have married, what you would have done when you grew up, what the test score would have been of your most recent exam.

We all wonder, Cheyenne, about so many things.

But I want to thank you for being who you are. Because your gift to me was the gift of knowing your mother. And that is something I can never repay.

So thank you for that.

And to your mother I want to say that I love you with all my heart, and I am so, so sorry that you have to cry so many tears again and again and again. And I am so sorry really in so many strange and complicated ways that we have to know each other at all.

But for that I am forever grateful.

And I will never tire of watching you becoming...

06 June 2010


I am recycling my own material because I know somewhere, at some point, I have written about seasons. The seasons of my own life. The seasons of our grief.

But really, the older I get, the more true I find that the seasons of grief matter.

All of us will experience grief in our lifetime.

Short of locking ourselves into a closet and living in pure isolation, we will all experience grief in its rawest form.

But what we choose to do with that grief, how we choose to manage it, where we choose to hold it in our bodies, is all part of our own decision-making process.

But here is the amazing and beautiful thing about grief:

If we allow ourselves to step inside of it and experience it fully, we will come out on the other side, better. Period.

I choose to believe then that this is one of the many gifts our dead leave behind for us. It is not something to come to lightly. And in fact, it is really never helpful or useful to tell this to someone else, especially when they are in the early stages of grief. But I do think it's true.

And it has taken me a long, seven years of my own processing to come to this conclusion.

Stay with me.

Grace died in June, 2003.

I fell into a hole of utter despair and chaos.

I couldn't parent my living children.
I couldn't take care of myself.
I couldn't function as a wife.
Thank god at the time, I didn't have to function as an employee.
I walked around for the first year as what I now come to believe as the living dead. I was for all intents and purposes dead.
I didn't make for good company. Trust me.
I shut down. I went numb.
I questioned every single thing around me.
I cursed.
For the first time in my life, I struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD--things that I thought only happened to "other" people.

But during this time, miraculous things were happening around me:

Other people picked up my children and parented them.
People came into my home and cleaned toilets and vacuumed rugs. (I can't for the life of me remember who they were.)
Someone appeared in my life (who I've never seen since) and handed me the name of her therapist who helped her after her child died.
I called the number, and even though she had a full client schedule, this therapist took me in.
Weekly, I appeared on her doorstep, curled up in a ball, and somehow, over time, she helped unfurl me.
Don't be fooled. I am not fully unfurled, not even seven years later.
She still allows me to appear on her doorstep.
I have followed her from one office to another across town.
I have uncovered more ugly and dark places in my life.

These are more of Grace's gifts.

Over time, I have discovered that unconditional love really does exist.
I have met other women, other families, who have experienced the tragedy of losing their children.
They share their stories with me fully present, heart-wrenchingly painful.
I listen.
I am awed by their courage.

There is not a week (hardly a day) that goes by without Grace presenting herself to me.

She is fully present in my life and in the life of my family.

A teacher this year told me how she witnessed my daughter consoling another student after the death of this student's father. My nine-year-old daughter was telling a class filled with students that sometimes people just die, and we don't know why. My daughter has become the most compassionate among us. She told the class about her sister, and how sometimes we still feel sad.

Grace is present in our lives.

My four-year-old a few days ago talked about his older sister Grace. It is strange to hear him say "older" sister when she died three years before he was born. When she died at birth and he, at four-years-old, is saying older sister.

Grace is present in our lives.

People have gone out of our lives, weary perhaps of the grief we carry.

But more people have come into our lives.

These are some of Grace's gifts.

They are, I recognize, gifts I would give up in a moment to hold Grace again, to see her take a breath, to watch her grow. I would become, in a heartbeat, my old, broken worn self once again to see her sitting up and looking around a room with wonderment.

But I can't.

And so I find her gifts daily all about me.

There is a heart-shaped planter on my porch this time of year filled with flowers. It is made out of a tree trunk. A group of friends soon after Grace died brought it to our house and filled it with flowers and placed it on our porch.

Last night, my four-year-old and I filled it with this seasons flowers. Yellow and red and blue and white flowers. He delighted in the dirt that filled the trunk, in the water he spilled over the heart, in the flowers that were still miraculously alive and growing taller today.

Grace remains present in all the seasons of our lives, and my grief remains tucked into the crevasses of my body. Sometimes, the grief appears wild and unruly and surprising.

But much of the time now it appears in the form of love.

I choose to believe Grace still matters.

I choose to believe that Grace remains present in our lives.

I choose to believe that she continues to make a difference.

I am still unfurling myself. It is a process that may take the rest of my life. I am willing to take the time I need to do that. And I will keep Grace at the center of that process.

Grace is present in our lives.

Our lives are filled with love.

Grace is love.

04 June 2010

Seven years and counting...


Here's the thing I forget every year.

Every year, May arrives and every year my body changes. It shifts, it leans, it pines, it mourns. And for the first few days, I walk around in a fog forgetting, but recognizing that I am becoming someone other than my self. Only I still am my self.

And there it is then.

The end of May comes, and I am crazed, crazy, wild, an animal let loose in the desert, the wrong sort of desert, and you are still gone, and I am that animal all alone lashing out at the world, lashing out at my family, hiding from my friends.

And here it is.

Now June.

June comes, and my body sighs deeply. My head lifts slowly out of the fog. I become functional again and present in the world. In fact, sometimes I become more present, more focused, more determined than ever before to do something right rather than doing all the things wrong as I seem to have done for the last few weeks.

This time though, Grace, this year has been a year. I think it has to do with my father. With turning 42 and then again turning 43. With growing older than my father ever had a chance to do.

And it has to do with the one-year anniversary of my grandmother's death passing with hardly anyone out there noticing, with no phone calls from family, with no shared conversations.

With no sharing among family now broken and separated by distances and by emotions and by too much time having passed.

And it has to do with all the first graders lined up this year, every day outside of the classroom at your sister's new school. First graders are all day school participants now. First graders are shy and nervous and excited and silly and loving and full of wonderment. And each time I see those first graders lined up, I see a gap, I see a hole, I feel the ache. I see you missing among them.

And so this year, Grace, has been a year filled with longing, filled with confusion, filled with still missing you.

Your anniversary comes and your anniversary passes.

And I am still here.

You are still gone.

You are still the one that matters.

And you are still love.

That's what it really becomes then, Grace: you become love. My love for you continues to amaze and frighten me. My love for you continues to confound me. My love for you continues to grow.

And in that love, I can find hope.

And with that love, I can find healing.

And because of that love, I am still.

I am


you are


we will




no matter what death has decided to take away.

Your presence continues to matter.

31 May 2010

June 1st - Noon

Grace is nearly here.

I am pushing, and she is no help.

I push, and she moves back inside.

I push, and then I panic and hold on.

The doctor is yelling now to push.

People are surrounding me and watching.

Suddenly, I remember that if I push her out, she is gone for ever.

I hold her back inside of me.

PUSH...they scream. PUSH.

The doctor says as calmly as she can, "We need to get her out."

And if I could, I would pause right here; I would pause this entire day and ask, "Why?"

"Why dear doctor do we need to get her out now? What's the hurry?"

Because I am hurrying.

Because I am well-aware that the funeral home has been called, that they are on stand by, that it is Sunday and they close at 4:00 p.m. That everyone in the room thinks that she has to leave the hospital today and go to the funeral home because no one, no one has been told that Grace could stay with me for one or two days because this is 2003 and in 2003 in Spokane, the hospitals send the babies away to the funeral homes because no one has stood up and screamed at the top of their lungs:

"Let the babies stay with the mamas as long as the mamas and babies need to stay together."

This won't happen still for a couple of years and at the hospital where I gave birth, it won't happen for a very long time.

So I push and I pull and I push and I pull until finally, finally my body does what it has to do and Grace is born.

Only she is not crying.

Everyone else in the room is crying, and fear hangs in the air and fear takes over and fear is the thing that remains for a very long, long time.

And Grace arrives at noon, and we have four hours.

FOUR measly hours to hold her and look at her and touch her, and friends parade through the hospital and people measure her and weigh her and no one really wants to touch her too much because it is clear, it is very, very clear that she has been dead for a while inside of me though no one really tells me any of this.

No one tells me that a body starts to decompose inside of you when the body dies before it's born.

That might be the ugliest sentence I've ever written, but it is the truth. The body decomposes, and no one, not the doctor who was there or the nurses who have seen this before prepared me for the state of Grace. NO ONE.

And so fear entered the room and never left.

Fear hung around and stayed until finally, finally on the next day when my doctor who was out of town arrived, told me that Grace was perfect and she looked perfectly normal and all of the things that were happening to her body were perfectly normal.


But for the briefest bit of time, I was led to believe something was wrong with her because the sucky doctor never said otherwise. And no one prepared me for this.

And I sat in my hospital bed thinking that something was wrong with her when actually nothing at all was wrong with her at all.

And all that I knew was that I didn't want anyone else to ever have to feel this way again. That I never wanted a mother to feel that lonely and that isolated and that much fear in the room with her again. That fear should never have been allowed to enter that day. That fear had no right to show up on my doorstep. That someone who knew what was going on should have stopped fear from entering the room.

I will shout from the top of the mountain for all the mothers who need more time with their babies.

There is no hurry. There is no rush. You may take all the time you need with your child. This is the only time you have.

Grace is.

Grace matters.

Grace will never be forgotten.

June 1st - 3 a.m.

I wake up in a panic.

Though I don't know it yet (I will soon), waking up for the next few months, is the worst part. Waking up and realizing what has happened, waking up and realizing my baby is dead, waking up and realizing that my baby is gone, this, this is the worst thing ever.

In the moment between waking and sleeping and realization is where I want to stay stuck.

At midnight, the nurse came in and gave me another cervadil. I was in labor and starting to dilate, but not by much.

So one more cervadil goes in. More morphine goes in. I have a magical button that I push when I need more morphine, and it magically dispenses the morphine directly into my bloodstream.

Then, 3 a.m. comes and I am dreaming (or am I awake?), I don't know, but I am suddenly floating above the room. I see myself below. I see my belly. I see my dead child. I see my body, and suddenly I am aware that I want to die, that I am dying, that a piece of me is dead.

It is an out-of-body experience. It is a near death experience more than likely brought on by the morphine, but I wake up and realize I am no longer floating above myself, that I am in fact still inside my body. And I realize that I no longer want to be inside my own body. That I really and truly want to be dead. I don't want to be alive.

Are these suicidal thoughts?

I will discover much, much later, that many other moms have this same experience of not wanting to live, of wanting to die, not so much out of wanting to die as much as wanting to be with their baby.

I want to be with Grace. I want to be where Grace is. I want death.

I stop the morphine. I call the nurse. I ask her to remove the drip from my body.

She asks me if I'm sure.

I am sure.

I want to feel this birth, I tell her. I tell my midwife that I am done with the drugs. I want to feel Grace. I want to feel this birth. I want to feel whatever it is I need to feel.

Still, I want to die.

And now I am bleeding.

Blood is everywhere. They can hardly stop the bleeding. My blood count goes way, way down. I hear them talk about transfusions. I think once again that really I might die. I wish them all away. Just leave me alone, and let the blood run out of me.

And then the bleeding stops.

I fall asleep. They go away.

I wake up at 6 a.m.

I am still pregnant.

Grace is still dead.

The world still makes no sense at all.

It is June 1st.

Today, I will give birth to my dead baby.

Today, I will give birth to death.

The day, the week, the month is suddenly longer than I can ever imagine.

Grace is dead and no miracle, I realize, will ever bring her back.

And then the work of hard labor is about to begin.

Soon, my labor will begin and in six hours, Grace will be born. Only hardly born at all.

Still, she will indeed, be born. Still born. Born still.

Spin it whichever way you'd like.

The story ends up the same way every time.

Grace is dead.

May 31st - 3 p.m.

There is not much that hasn't been said and done in these last few exhausting hours.

Our children have been brought to the hospital, and we have told them the devastating news--first that they have a sister but that she has died. Telling our children was the final crack in my heart already cracked wide open.

Calls have been made to family and a few friends.

Our pastor has arrived.

My mother is flying up from California.

We are on a runaway train without any guide book to help us navigate through this terrain.

The doctor, the sucky, sucky doctor who has not delivered a baby since graduate school has arrived. And I don't know it at the time, but I hate her. She is all business, all about the induction, all about getting this baby out of my body, and I just want to hold Grace inside and pause the moment.

Grace. We have named her Grace.

We have held that name through two babies, wanting to name one Grace but never feeling like it made sense--up until now. Grace. She is Grace and she is Susie. Sweet Susie, dear Susie, who just one year earlier died an unexpected death at age 36.

Grace Susie.

Some things make a lot of sense.

Many things make no sense at all.


I have been induced with a cervadil by the sucky doctor who leaves and informs the nurses to call her to return when my labor gets hard and delivery is close at hand.

But for the moment, nothing.

I sit in the bed and wait.

Our midwife and Terry take me for a walk, but first I have to be wheeled down into the waiting room in a wheelchair. And then I have to sign a form that says I am leaving hospital property to go on a walk, and that I don't hold them liable.

Of course I don't hold them liable. I hold myself liable.

For everything.

My head spins with this reason and that reason. With this meal and that meal. With this illness and that illness. With this fall on the pavement and that dog running into me. With this small glass of red wine and that small thrust of anger directed at god knows what.

We are in a holding pattern.

My belly aches with the fullness of death, head down, body still.

Calls continue to come in from family around the country--some calls I can take. Some calls I can't. Some people, I decide, I never want to see again.

My two children remain in awe of the cable television in the hospital waiting room.

Babies are being born and happy parents are cooing and fawning over their new little bundles of joy.

A silk flower arrangement is hung on my door and this, this I come to find out, means 'dead baby inside. Enter carefully and speak quietly.'

What I really want to do is scream out loud. What I really want to do is shout at the top of my lungs. What I really want to do is run.

But I have been trained to be a good girl. I have been trained to be polite.

I worry, instead, about the nurses around me. They look so sad. I apologize to my midwife. I apologize to my pastor who has left her kids for the next 36 hours and left her sermon and left her family. I apologize to Grace. I'm sorry I failed you.

I never once apologize to myself.

I have never taken a drug related to birth. I have never taken the medication they offer.

And now, I want it all. I want a C-section, but they refuse that. 'Too dangerous,' they say.

What the hell does that mean? Too dangerous for a dead baby but perfectly fine for a live one?

I want the morphine. I take the morphine. I want to be drug-induced. I want numbness.

The nurses tell me I don't have to feel anything. My midwife tells me I can feel everything. I am confused by all of it. I am confused by everyone.

I want my baby.

The rest of the day continues in some kind of bizarre and surreal fashion.

People arrive to take my children on play dates. People arrive to see me, but I don't want to be seen. I refuse some and allow others.

I am waiting for labor to start.

I am dreading that labor will begin.

I am about to give birth to death.

I think of my father.

I thought that was the worst kind of thing, to be fatherless, for a child to lose their father.

That no longer becomes the worst kind of thing.

This is by far the worst thing ever.

I am without Grace. She is still inside my belly.

I wonder when her soul left me.

I wonder when she took her last breath.

I wonder when her heart stopped.

I wonder when mine, please god, when will my heart stop beating.

I don't want to be part of this body any longer. I don't want labor to begin. I want to crawl out of my body and run away.

I want Grace.

30 May 2010

May 31st

Terry calls our midwife at 3:30 a.m. and mostly, I am concerned about waking her up, about the hour of the day, and I keep thinking, what if I'm wrong. Please be wrong. Who calls their midwife at 3:30 a.m.?"

Now, of course, this seems absurd. Ridiculous.

But then, I wanted everything about the moment to be wrong. I wanted to be wrong.

I wanted my baby to move.


Then there is the very real problem of the two other children fast asleep in our home, and so I reassure Terry that everything will be okay, and Tamy reassures me, and I get in the car and drive myself to Tamy's office alone while Terry stays behind with the children.


I am certain we will do a quick check and at worst, the baby's heart rate has slowed, and maybe, just maybe, I will be induced today and deliver our baby early.

Please just move.

I arrive at Tamy's office shortly after her, and she calmly tells me that we will check the heart rate with her doppler. She listens. I watch for signs. I watch her eyes. She hears something. Something. She is not sure though if the heart beat is mine or the baby's. I hold on to the something. Anything.


And so we both decide that going to a hospital is best.

I call Terry, and he has to call a friend to see if she would mind coming over. It's 5 a.m. on a Saturday. Who do you call at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to come to your house? Who do you call to wake up so early in the morning?

The children sleep.

Terry arrives at the hospital just as the technician, who is also woken up, arrives at the hospital.

She wheels in her machine.

The nurses stand toward the back of the room.

My doctor is out of town. They are trying to find another doctor.

Terry holds my hand while sitting in the chair next to the bed. Tamy stands at my feet. There is silence.

The gel goes on my tummy. More silence.


The technician quietly goes about moving the doppler across my tummy.

And now it all seems so ridiculous. The way the conversation went.

"Here is the baby's head," she says. "Here are the arms. The legs." She moves the doppler over my belly. "The spine."

No one says a word.

I watch eyes. I see the outline of the spine, the head, the neck.

I have to ask. I can't believe I have to ask, but I have to ask.

"And her heart?" I ask with a wide-open question mark at the end.

"Her heart beat?" I ask again.

There is an exchange of eyes once more.

"We are supposed to wait for your doctor to arrive," the technician says. "I am not supposed to say anything, but since your midwife is here..." she trails off.

More eyes.


"I'm sorry," she says. "I'm so sorry. There is no heartbeat."

The silence is heart-wrenching, surreal.

The world spins in the wrong direction.

"Can you tell me what the baby is? Can you tell me if it is a boy or a girl?"

"A girl," she says. "A little girl."

Move, goddammit, move.

The nurses begin to back out of the room.

I can hear Terry crying in the chair next to me.

My body is cold, so cold. The room is shrinking and growing all at the same time. I go numb. It's as if my entire self in some kind of protective measure tries to completely shut down. I cannot cry. I cannot move. I am shaking.

I only hear the pounding of my own heart.

The technician mumbles that she'll give us a few minutes, and she walks out of the room.

I can't understand anything that is going on. There is nothing anymore, nothing for a very long time that will ever make any sense. And some things will never make sense ever again.

May 31st has just begun, and it will be a very long day.

Some things about the day will be etched into my body forever. Everything runs into itself as one big, long paragraph without a beginning or end.

6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and most of Spokane is still asleep.

My baby shower is still being planned for the next day. Sunday.

And for one absurd moment, I worry about needing to cancel the baby shower.

Someone, somewhere pours herself a cup of coffee.

Someone, somewhere is reading the morning paper.

And someone in the hospital just told me that I will need to deliver this baby vaginally. That I will need to be induced.

And I will give birth to death.

The world continues to spin in all the wrong directions.

May 31st.

The Moment

It is May 30. And here is how the day will go:

I will go to a friend's house today, and I will try to get Sophia down for a nap. She is 2 1/2 years old. She is so tired. I am so tired, but I haven't been able to stop, not for a moment.

My friend will offer her bedroom to us as a sanctuary, and I will gladly take it.

Sophia and I will lie down together, and I will rub her back, and she will fall asleep. I am so tired, that I too, will fall asleep. And as I do, I will rub my belly. I am so tired that when I notice the baby isn't moving, I make note of it for sure, but I push it aside in my head.

No movement.

I fall asleep and Sophia wakes me up an hour later jumping out of bed.

I tell my friend I am still sleepy, but I don't want to sleep anymore. I tell her I've been depressed for a few days, but the afternoon continues as if nothing is wrong. I keep pushing aside that voice in my head. I want that voice in my head to go away.

May 30.

I will fall into bed late because the children have been exhausting today. Two and five years old.

And as I fall asleep, I will place my hands on my belly, lie on my side and wonder when exactly it was that I last felt the baby move. A sudden darkness and fear rises inside of me, and panic sets in.

But I am so, so tired. I have been so tired for more than a day.

I fall asleep.

But a few hours later something wakes me, jolts me awake, and I can feel my heart pounding inside of me. It is 2:00 a.m.


I get up and walk downstairs.


I do the only thing I can remember to do. I drink a glass of sweet grape juice.


I walk up the stairs and down the stairs.

Everyone sleeps. The air hangs low, and I feel my heart beat. I feel my heart beat.


I turn on the computer and type in fetal movement. I type in counting baby kicks. I follow every instruction and every suggestion.


It is 3 a.m.

I cannot feel my baby moving.

I go backward in time searching for the moment, trying to remember when exactly it was that I last felt the baby move.

There is no moment. There is just a memory of always movement. Of every few hours pausing in my day, my busy, busy day to hold my belly while she kicked. There is a memory of stopping mid-sentence while I talk to catch my breath as she pounded against me, while she moved.

And then there is the moment in the night trying desperately to remember the last moment.

Trying desperately to pinpoint a moment, any moment as a sign as a vehicle through which I could enter to find blame. A moment when I could say, this then is when her heart stopped beating, and there is nothing I could have done. This then is when her heart stopped beating, and I should have done something.

I want a moment.

I want there to be a moment when I paused, when my heart stopped too, when I could say, “I’m sorry.” I want a moment when I could say, “Goodbye.” I want a moment where I could change the course of things to come.

There is no moment.

There is only the darkness descending. The milky tears which fall from my breast. The fullness of the world around me feeling so empty.

It is 3:30 a.m., and I go back upstairs to wake up Terry.

This becomes my moment.

23 May 2010


Have you ever held a butterfly in your hand?

Have you ever touched its wings only to discover that they can break or tear with just the slightest tapping.

I am that fragile.

If you were to hold me in your hands, if you were to touch me, I may just crack for you. I might just fall to pieces.

Today, I was tested for explosives at the airport. I was in line, waiting for my flight, minding my own business, watching a group of Thai people in front of me get their passports checked. And then as I was walking forward with my own boarding pass and driver's license, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and said, "Please follow me, ma'am."

She then proceeded to wipe down my hands with a cloth, run the cloth through a machine. She placed my hands on some kind of scanner. She took my license and ran that through something and then felt me up and down.

"Do you mind if I ask what you are doing?" I asked.

"Testing you for explosives," she said with a smile as if I'd just asked her what she was watching on tv, and she had answered, "Dora the Explorer, of course."

I spent the next 30 minutes trying to figure out if I was just a random person in line chosen to be tested or if I was looking and acting in some suspicious manner.

And then for a moment, I thought, the security guards at the airport can see inside my head! Of course I'm being tested for explosives. They are looking in my head, and they can see what's going on. They can see that I am filled with explosives.

My head is certainly about to explode. My head is certainly ready to blow up. My head is certainly filled with explosives.

What if we could see inside of a person's head, inside her brain? Are there so many faces we wear that we would be surprised by what we really saw inside of each other?

There are some parents who come to our support group who know before their babies die, that their babies are going to die. They come because they know that the baby growing inside of them is going to die. And I can't for the life of me really know what that must be like. To have the knowledge ahead of time that the baby you are carrying will die. There is something beautiful about the way they are able to prepare, to say goodbye, to hold on to what they will not have for long.

If I could go back and hold on to what I would not have for long, I would.

If I could go back in time, there are words that I've spoken that I would take away from my mouth.

If I could go back in time, there are moments when I would pause longer before I speak, I would pause before I take a breath, I would pause before I ... Can you finish that sentence with me? What would you pause before doing?

I would let the butterfly land on my hand and with its own legs, I would let it sit still. I would resist the urge to touch her wings and instead, I would watch in awe at the intricacies of her wings, of the colors and patterns and way in which her wings flap back and forth slowly as if testing her stability.

If I could, I would pause the world right now, to see who else out there feels at least this broken, this fragile, this unsure of whether or not I should take off and fly or try to find my cocoon to burrow back into?

When you have set before you two choices--to walk or run--to stay or go--to grieve or forget--what would you choose? It is easy for me to choose grieving over forgetting. That one is not really a choice at all. But the other two confound me.

What if everything I thought I knew about grief, about death, about choosing wasn't true at all.

For an infant, it is easy. You choose the mother, you choose the breast, you choose the one that sustains you and fills your tummy.

But as we grow older, as we turn from the caterpillar into the butterfly, the choices are not always so clear.

And for the baby who never takes a breath outside of the womb, the choice no longer lies in the ability to choose the cocoon over the butterfly. The choice then is left up to the parents to figure out how in the world they choose to live the rest of their lives.

And therein lies our fragility. The world no longer makes sense. The world no longer moves in an orderly fashion.

The world took the butterfly first and left the cocoon behind.

21 May 2010

When failure is the only option

I have failed this month at many things in my life. At most things in my life.

I have utterly and completely failed. Do you ever feel that way?

When the month ends, when time moves forward, my failure will still be evident.

The cracks in the wall grow larger, and I don't know how many cracks a heart can really withstand.

Here is the thing: At the end of the month, at the beginning of the next month, at the beginning of next year, Grace will still be dead. Always and forever.

My failures, I suppose, are small in comparison to the largeness of the world.

It is easy to look at life and compare our failures and compare our grief, and think, well, mine cannot be so bad. That mother, that mother lost two children. That country suffered devastation. That family experienced multiple losses.

But, at the end of the day, as someone recently said to me, "Wherever you go, there you are."


And so whether or not there is famine in Africa, whether or not there are earthquakes in Haiti, my heart still feels like it's cracking. The initial quake set the stage many years ago, created my fault line. As a child experiencing death, losing a parent, the fault line emerged and settled into my body.

Then, a larger kind of quake happened years later when that child, now a parent experienced the death of her own child. The fault line rumbled, the earthquake roared, the buildings tumbled, the glass shattered into a million pieces around her.

And the fault line remains: larger, more fragile, more tenuous.

"Wherever you go, there you are."

What kind of platitude stands more in opposition to hope and love than this one? This platitude stands alone creating its own fault line.

And so I wander the streets. I board an airplane. I run out of my life. And still, here I am with the fault line still cracking, with the walls still tumbling. With Grace still dead.

There may not be a four-letter word more real, more alive, more grief-filled than that: Dead. Gone. Over.

And other things still happen to make me realize: Dead. Gone. Over.

Seven years. Seven times seven. Seventy times seven. The earthquake returns. The ground shakes. The glass rattles. And I use all my force, all my power, all my energy to keep the walls from crashing down.

'The moon is hiding in
her hair.
of heaven
full of all dreams,
draws down."

And still, wherever I go, here I am. There is no escape. There is no running away.

And wherever I go, Grace is still dead. There is no escape. There is no running away.

"cover her briefness in singing
close her with the intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Deepen her,
upon her
the rain's
pearly singly-whispering."

Twilight has come. Dusk has fallen.

17 May 2010

Running away

When I was a child, I wanted to run away. The story goes something like this:

I packed my suitcase after getting mad at my mom, and I told her I was running away. She helped me finish packing, opened the front door and let me go. I walked half way down the street while looking back at the house and finally, turned around and came running home.

I want to run away.

Tonight, I took the dog and ran 2 1/2 miles. That hardly seems very far at all, but honestly I'm not a runner and so I felt the distance of the miles. It was nearly 10 p.m., and I hadn't been out that late in the evening on my own in years. I felt like I could have run straight out of my life.

I felt like I could have kept running.

I was tired for sure. I was breathing hard. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. And toward the end of my run, I could see lightening in the distance moving closer toward me. Then thunder came and just as I was finishing up, the rain started.

While I was running, I thought about what might happen if I just kept going, if I didn't stop. I wondered where I would end up, what might happen, how far I could travel. And as I got more tired, I realized that I probably couldn't travel very far at all. In fact, I was ready to turn back home after only a couple miles. And when I couldn't run any farther, I started walking.

Do you ever just want to run out of your life, away from your past, toward some unknown future that has to seem better than what is in the now?

I want to run through the rest of May and past June 1. I want to rewind the tape and go back to May 27, on the day that Grace's heart was beating, 140 beats per minute and I want to tell my midwife to induce labor now, to get her out of my body and onto my chest. I want her heart to beat again, to pound in her chest, to see her nearly seven-year-old self chasing after her best friend. I want to find her shoes scattered across the living room floor like the rest of children's shoes are, and I want her tossing and turning in her own bed or in her sister's bed each of them taking up way too much room, unable to lie straight with the covers neatly tucked around themselves.

I want her to tell me she doesn't want the corn and edamame salad at dinner, and that she doesn't like the grilled tofu. I want her to pull at my leg as I'm putting on my tennis shoes to go out for a run, and I want her to stop me from going.

And I want all four of my children lined up, side by side, running along beside me without knowing what it means to want or long for or pine for or wish for.

I want the laundry piled up even higher with her clothes tossed in, and I want the dishes stacked taller and the enormity of our lives even larger.

I want to simply feel overwhelmed by being a parent not overwhelmed by a sort of grief that continues to pull me into these dark spaces, that continues to enlarge my heart in ways that I no longer want it enlarged.

I want to shout at the top of a mountain that I didn't want this, that I didn't choose this, that I could think of 20 people I'd rather have dead than Grace, that certainly someone else could have handled it better. That maybe those people who know how to shut down and shut out and turn off would be a better person for all of this grief, that they could have done a much better job. That maybe denial has a really good reason for showing up in people's lives because the protection from denial right now seems pretty good.

I want to climb to the top of the mountain and down the other side.

I want to run away.

I want to put on my running shoes again and head out into the storm to let the thunder and lightening and rain come crashing down.

It is in these moments that I most remember that love is the reason for all of this. Love is the reason for grief. Love is the reason for denial. Love might be the only real reason for us to be in this world. And that love without Grace sometimes seems kind of pointless. But then there are the faces of the other three.

And it is in their faces that I most can find Grace.
It is in their love where she exists.
And if I can find her there, then really nothing else matters.

This then is how grief works.
This then is what love is.

This is where grace matters most of all.

16 May 2010

Loneliness and Hope

Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unloved, is the most terrible poverty."

There is a very sense of poverty then after your child dies. There is a desperate sense of loneliness, and the curtains on the world fade. There is no one who knows this as well as the parents of a dead child.

Hope fades.
Darkness falls.
Fear rises.
Confusion looms.
Grief prevails.

Around this time, about three weeks before Grace died, I sent a desperate middle-of-the-night email to my midwife. I told her that I couldn't stop crying. I told her that I felt overwhelmed, depressed, and incredibly sad. I told her that I didn't know why, that I'd never experienced this with my other two children, and I hardly knew what to do.

There was, of course, nothing to do. The baby's heart beat. My check ups didn't detect anything unusual and all my stats were normal.

My midwife did the only thing she could which was to reassure me that hormones can play havoc with our bodies and that many women feel emotionally unsettled.

I still have that email.

I read it sometimes, and my body goes cold. A numbness settles.

Was this some kind of premonition? Was this the precursor to what was coming? There were signs coming out me from all angles. Only a month before this email, on Easter morning, Sophia, age 2 1/2 walked out the back door at a friends house, down the driveway and headed on her own away from all of us, three blocks from the party. She was crossing a busy street, wandering around, with no one running after her.

I thought she was in the house with Terry, and he thought she was outside with me.

A couple found her and carried her from house to house knocking on doors: Is this your child? Do you know this child? Until they found our party, until they found us, laughing and chatting, Easter candy strewn all around us.

And I looked at this stranger carrying my daughter confused in that moment of the series of events leading up to this. Time began to slow way down and my head began to pound as I pieced together the story.

I took Sophia in my arms, and she immediately fell asleep. I held her and cried, and saw before me a flash of what it meant to lose a child. And I remember thinking, This would be my undoing. This, losing my daughter, would send me over the edge and into an abyss that I could never return from.

Was this a sign, a premonition of what was coming?

I could give you more instances, more examples, but I think the point is simply that in all of this, I never could have predicted that I could have survived this sort of thing. I never would have predicted that seven years later, I would find hope, seek joy, find laughter and sing.

If we were made aware of our traumas, if we could see what was coming, surely we would try to run the other way.

But by some miracle of grace, we do survive and sometimes, if we are lucky, we come out stronger in the process. Certainly more vulnerable, but stronger too.

And therein lies the dichotomy in all of this grief: Here is my grief, for sure, present, daily, surrounding me and yet here is grief's companion: joy, present, daily, surrounding me.

And hope does exist because I am surrounded by people in my life that give me hope, that give me reasons to live. And still, and yet, there is Grace alive in my mind, missing in our lives, wreaking great havoc on my heart and expanding my ability to love.

The weeks are closing in on me. The memories come at me like shooting stars out of nowhere. I can be staring up at a sky filled with light, filled with stars pulsing in the night and then suddenly, one drops down quickly, out of the night sky, appears before me in a flash and disappears.

I can see Sophia in my mind, two and a half years old, walking down a neighborhood street. Was she looking for me? I have to believe she was. And I was unaware that she had walked out of my life for a moment while Grace still growing inside of me was living her life in the only way she'd ever know--inside of my body, forever cocooned from the world, sheltered within my womb, her little heart beating its last beats forever with just a few weeks to go.

Hope still exists.
Lightness appears.
Shadows move in and out of my life.

Grace continues to matter.

12 May 2010

It always starts on an ordinary day in May...

It starts on an ordinary day in May. Each year, it surprises me. One moment I am walking, I am gardening, I am driving, I am playing with my children, and then.

Then, a single tear falls.

Falling quite suddenly out of nowhere really. It just appears on my face, and I can't quite figure out why.

And then.


A few days later, it happens again.

Only this time it doesn't really stop.

It keeps falling.

One after another.


And then the flood arrives.
The tsunami.

And I remember.


How many weeks do I have left?
How many days do I have left?

When was that moment when she stopped breathing?

Was it the evening of May 28, Wednesday, or the early morning of May 29, Thursday?

There is a fog, then in those days before and those days after.

There is a haze in the days of knowing she was alive and the days of knowing she was dead.

There was the day of knowing.
May 29.
There was the day of confirming what I'd dreaded knowing.
May 30.
There was the day of waiting.
May 31.
There was the day of delivery.
June 1.

And they are all there, the days stacked upon each other.

And I wonder, what day then is the day I mourn her death? What day then is the day I celebrate her birth.

It is not a day. It is not a moment.

It is a week of hell.
It is a week of trauma.
It is a week of remembering.
It is a week of Grace.
It is a month of Grace.
It is a lifetime without Grace.

And in these days and weeks leading up, it is a time of holding. Of wondering. Of pondering. Of wishing. Of pining.

And none of it ever goes away.

May comes. It is my roaring like a lion, and there is no exit like a lamb.

It is my lament.

It is my longing.

It is my emptiness.

It is my hole.

Tears fall.

Days pass.

June will come and Grace will still be missing.

My four-letter word:


My four letter word:


Still born.

Born still.

No matter where you put those words, no matter what order, they are without.

With and without.

Without Grace.

And with grace.

It starts with a single tear.

10 May 2010

Weddings and Funerals; Life and Death

How is it that something written so many hundreds (okay, thousands) of years ago can say it best of all... (Ecclesiastes, chapter 3)

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

And so it is as I read this, that I am reminded that everything is indeed beyond my control and everything has its place in time.

Though I try and tear down walls and mend fences and stop wars, I cannot do all of these things. Though I try desperately to only love and only heal and only grow, I cannot do and feel and be without doing and feeling and being all of the rest.

There are some of these though, that are more difficult to feel.

It is difficult to hate.

I remember after Grace died, literally, hating, absolutely hating babies.

And the first time I saw one and the thought crossed my mind, "I hate you," I was horrified. How can a person hate a baby? It was probably one of the lowest, darkest moments of my life.

It is difficult to be uprooted.

I was uprooted this week. Upended. And there was not a damn thing I could do about it. Out of my control again. I am waiting to be planted. I am waiting again to bloom. I am waiting to sprout.

But in the meantime, I am tearing down; I am scattering stones; I am searching; I am silent; I am mourning that which can never be.

There is a time, indeed, for weddings and funerals, for life and death, for love and war. And it is good to be reminded of these things. Even those of us with the best intentions and the best hope, can feel despondent.

I no longer hate babies. I get pleasure out of holding them. Though if you had told me I would find pleasure in babies nearly seven years ago, I might have torn out your eyes. Rage, envy, lust was at the heart of all of my emotions then. Feelings foreign to me. Feelings that made me uncertain of where to turn, who to trust, where to go.

And I see that look now in the eyes of a newly bereaved parent. It doesn't take much to remember, to go back, to sit with them. It is in this time and in this season where I am most fully alive, where I am blessed. There is nothing more sacred and holy than being in communion with a parent who has just lost a child. To sit. To watch. To wonder.

I am blessed indeed. Even in times of absolute despondency and hopelessness, hope prevails.

It is in these seasons of life that I most recall the seasons of death.

And in these moments, I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.