27 April 2010

On the bittersweet side of what I know for sure

In Oprah's famous words, "Here's what I know for sure:"

That my father died too soon.
That my daughter died too soon.
That when I wake up in the morning, I will be older than my father ever got a chance to become.
I made it through my 42nd year. Always with my father on my mind, in the back of my head, wondering, thinking, realizing that his life was too, too short.
That time doesn't heal all wounds, and I still miss him.
That time will always be too long without my father and daughter and too short with my husband and living children.
That no matter how hard I try, I will never fully understand why some of us live longer than our own children.
That the pain, when it arrives in those unexpected moments, continues to surprise and confound me.
That love really does transcend death.
That hearts really do literally crack.
That I will always miss having a father.
That turning 43 surprises me because I thought I'd breath a sigh of relief, and instead I am surprised by the overwhelming sadness of the fact that my father never made it this far.
That for so many years his death was about what I had lost, but now it is about what he has lost.
That I wish I knew more about him.
That I wish I could have said goodbye to Grace before she died.
That I wish I could have said goodbye to my dad before he died.

That there is never, ever enough time with the people you love.
That therapy has saved my life.
That I haven't always wanted my life to be saved.
That cracked hearts can be repaired though they are always fragile, and if you look closely, you can see the hairline fracture.
That I will always wonder what he sounded like, smelled like, and looked like.
That I wonder what of him I carry in me.
That I wish sometimes that things could have been different.
That I really am grateful for the person I've become, and so much of who I am is because of who Grace and my father were.
That death in all its mystery will be what I think about my whole life.
That thinking about death isn't a bad thing.
That all my pain, all my hurt, all my sorrow stems from love.
That I will turn 43.
That I am lucky to be alive.
That luck really has nothing to do with it.
That someday I will not have so many questions.
That I fear the very thing that will save me.
That love will save me.
That love terrifies and excites me.
That I am, in the words of Joanne Cacciatore, still becoming.
That my father died too soon.
That my daughter died too soon.

Too soon.

I am ...

24 April 2010

New Death

This week, I met three new babies who died. And that is the beauty in the sadness. I get to meet these babies who don't get to be with us. Not necessarily in a physical sense. Most of the time not. But I get to talk to their mothers, their grandmothers, the friends. I get to hear about their loveliness. I get to sit in the company of the bereaved and listen.

It is not about me. It is not about my agenda. It is about listening and watching and breathing in.

It is about love.

It is about an overwhelming need to feel and be loved and to have to endure the excruciating pain of saying goodbye. It is about being present.

It is about unfairness.

It is about the desire to throw yourself on the ground kicking and screaming.

It is about love.

It is about needing someone to listen to you so that you can try and make them understand that this baby held all your hopes and dreams. This baby was your future. This baby was everything. And now the future has disappeared.

In all of the pain of these stories, I have to keep coming back.


Because it is a calling. Because I remember for the rest of my life the fear, the isolation, the overwhelming loneliness, and I remember the one mother who stepped into my hospital room and said, "It happened to me."

And I remember thinking that there she was: Standing.
There she was: Looking whole.
There she was. Fully present.

And out of the amazing kindness of her soul, she shared photographs of her child with me. She shared memories. And she cried with me.

And that is one of the kindest, most loving things I remember about that time.

This happened to someone else.

And she survived. Maybe, just maybe I will survive.

And so I go to be with the bereaved. To sit in their presence. To hold their hands. To listen on the telephone. To exchange email messages.

And there is some small or perhaps large miracle that occurs. Because they do survive. We survive.

We don't always believe that we will survive, but we do.

We don't always even want to hear that we will survive because at times the probability of living hardly seems like a glimmer of hope at all.

But...but...And yet.

Love is at the heart of survival. And taking one step at a time is part of the process.

It is like that silly, fuzzy white monster in the Christmas movie who puts one foot in front of the other. And soon you'll be walking across the floor.

Three babies. One week.

Amazing love.

That is where Grace lies. Between the love and the grief. Between the sadness and the joy. Between the hope and the fear. Between the confusion and the noise. Between the rage and the isolation. Between the silence and the music.

Between and betwixt.
Above and below.
Beside and behind.

Love in all its complicated forms.


12 April 2010

Anger, Fear, Isolation

I spoke with a mother this weekend who is angry. Very, very angry. Her baby died, and she doesn't know why. Neither do the doctors. She just died. And she's angry. And hurt. And sad. And confused. And tired. And then the anger, it starts all over again. Sometimes turns to rage.

I know immediately what that rage feels like. I remember it in my bones.

Only, as she tells me, she's a woman. What in the world is she supposed to do with her anger?

A good question.

Since I was a child, I have been taught how to suppress anger, and I bet I'm not the only one. If I threw a fit, I was sent to my room. If I got mad and stomped around, I was sent to my room. If I kicked and screamed, I was out of control. If I threw a tantrum, I was spastic.

Where then was anger supposed to reside inside of my body?


I learned that very quickly.

The only problem is, it didn't actually go away. It built up. It boiled, it bubbled, until one day, on the day my baby died, the anger started to seep out.

So, you might think when it overflowed, I screamed and cried and raged, but oddly, I sat silent most of the first day--confused by the people around me, oblivious to the fact that I was angry, at least in that early confusion of shock and anger.

My baby was dead. That was what kept going over and over inside of my head. There is a dead baby inside my body. There is a dead baby inside my body.

That tape played continuously. Remember as a child when your brother or your friend said something you didn't want to hear and you covered up your ears and sang, la, la, la, la, la. I can't hear you! Make it go away.

That's pretty much what happened. I shut down and the tape kept going over and over again and again. Dead baby. Dead baby. Dead baby.

And then, slowly, over a great deal of time, the reality of it set in and after the delivery, after the people had gone home, after the arrangements for the body were made, after the abundant casseroles were put into the freezer, after the milk let down, after the bleeding stopped, that is when the anger appeared.

The anger brought fear along with it. The anger stood up and introduced confusion. The anger came and threw a party for isolation. The anger snickered and taunted and teased until my body grew weary and gave in and just exploded in all the right and wrong ways.

And as I learned to express my anger, a strange thing happened. It started to lose power over me. I started to feel stronger. I was the mother bear who though she couldn't protect her cub, could protect the identity of her cub and shout from the top of the mountain, "Grace matters."

Anger is as valid and appropriate as sadness, as joyfulness, as love. Anger and fear and hope and exultant feelings all reside inside of our bodies.

I am so sorry that your baby died, I said to this mother. I wish I could tell you something else. I wish that you didn't have to talk to me about this horrible, tragic, life-changing, forever event, I continued.

But I will stay on this journey with you. And it will not always be pretty, and it will not always be so raw either. This anger is love. This sadness is love. And it is all good in its own tragic, painful loving way.

Love then is anger and fear and loneliness. Love is tossing rocks into the river, breaking dishes on the ground, spilling a glass and throwing it against a wall. Love is stomping your feet and flailing on the ground and screaming out loud: I want my baby; I want my baby; I want my baby.

09 April 2010

"Everytime a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there's a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead."

Rarely do I find myself to be superstitious, to believe in superstition. But when it comes to death, I find myself highly suspect to never again put myself in a position of challenging whether or not superstition can play a part in it.

And so in these last few weeks before I turn 43, before I become older than my father ever had a chance to be, I find myself not walking past black cats, never walking under a ladder, tossing salt over my shoulder. I find myself holding my breath.

Was Grace's death my punishment for thoughts and feelings from long ago? I know on a conscious level of course, that kind of thinking can be the undoing of me. That kind of thinking is counterproductive and counter to all things that I believe. But... Still... Nonetheless...

Did you ever find yourself playing hooky from school or work? Calling in sick one day just because you could. But then somehow, mysteriously, one or two days later, you actually become sick? It's happened to me on more than one occasion. Certainly then, the thought flicked across my brain: Is this then my punishment?

I don't pretend to be an expert on theology, but I grew up in a home where theology seemed pretty black and white, right and wrong. The trouble with that kind of theology is that the answers are often too clear in times where murkiness begs to be seen, where black and white becomes lines of polarization.

Where do our superstitious come from because part of me does still believe in fairies. Part of me does believe when those words are spoken out loud, "I don't believe in fairies," one indeed will drop dead.

Early in my pregnancy with Grace, I felt a divine kind of presence, a real kind of faith in the fact weeks before it could even be confirmed. And with that divine confidence, I walked around playing with fire. I walked around convinced that this was a pregnancy that was meant to be, that this was a pregnancy for which I could by pass most testing, most routine checks, most standard procedures because I had the certainty that everything was going to be just fine. I was certain that no fairies, thank you very much, would be dropping dead on me.

And still, still, there is another part of me that will tell you there was a tugging all along. That there was a voice far behind the recesses of my mind preparing me for the worst. Don't nest too much. Don't freeze too many casseroles. Don't buy too many baby items. And I listened to that voice and I didn't buy anything. I didn't freeze anything. I didn't prepare anything.

But I did call in sick even when I wasn't. I tested the waters. I ate a few slices of unpasteurized cheese. I even drank an occasional glass of red wine. I felt pretty invincible until the unspeakable actually happened, until I tried to take it all back. Until I saw the eyes of the technician when she looked away.

Just tell me my father was dying. That's all I want. I want the truth of the situation when it was happening. I don't want the faith in miracles, the faith in sparing what can't be spared. Just leave me a note, write me a letter and tell me you won't be at my wedding. Tell me you won't live to see your grandchildren. Tell me you won't live to see me turn 43 let alone your own self.

Just call death what it is and don't sugar-coat it with other statements.

I don't know if fairies really fall down dead or not, but I sure as hell know people do: parents do, children do. And don't pretend anything else because the murkiness in all of that? That kind of murkiness creates the most confusion, the most havoc that can stick around for a long, long time.

I do still believe in fairies. I have to. Because if I remove the rabbit hole, if I take away the fairy rings, if I give up believing in magic then everything else at times can seem pretty hopeless. Faith exists without seeing. Hope exists because faith is present, because the magic and wonder of the world holds so much potential. And if believing in fairies provides even one child with a magical moment, who I am to be the one to take that away. Who I am to challenge that which cannot be seen?