31 May 2013

A love letter


If I could sing a song to bring you back, I would.
If I could cry a river to float on and find you, I would.
If I could tie a rope onto a tree and swing into the heavens and find you, I would.
If I could connect the umbilical cord back to your belly, and breathe life back into you, I would.
If I could walk barefoot through the streets, across mountains and into the deserts to find you, I would.
If I could stand in the midst of a tornado to be carried and tossed back out to find you, I would.
If I could swim into the ocean, beyond the waves and toward its center to find you, I would.
If I could dive to the bottom of the ocean floor to pick you up again, I would. 

You are my child.
You are my love.
You are my heart.

You are the missing piece in these three walking hearts.

You are the crack in my being.
You are the hole in my heart.
You are the catch in my breath.
You are the tears in my eyes.
You are the empty place inside of me.
You are the air in the photographs between the second and fourth.
You are the box in the closet collecting dust and holding memories.
You are the name on my lips as I fall asleep and as I rise.

You are the cheeks of Carver, the eyes of Sophia and the chin of Sawyer.

You are missing.

You are the song without its refrain
The book without its epilogue
The river without its lake
The poem without an end

The rest of my days, I will look for you in the gestures of your sister, the sighs of your brothers, and the catch in your father's voice.

The rest of my days, I will love and I will weep and I will sing until my song brings me back to you again.

23 May 2013

What death feels like when you are alive...

What death feels like when you are alive is big darkness, a hole so black that even sitting in a planetarium watching a movie about black holes isn't terrifying.

I am not talking about the kind of death where you imagine your own. That kind of death can seem welcoming, refreshing and even holy perhaps.

I am talking about the kind of death when your child dies, before you, making the world into a nonsensical one, twisting words and spitting them back at you in ways that never make sense again.

If I were to write her obituary again, it would say this:

Grace Susie Bain
died on May 29th, 2003
born on June 1st, 2003

And since that time, no language has ever made sense.

That's what death feels like. Language flipped onto its back, ripped out from underneath you so that cards arrive in the mail with sayings like:

"There are no words."
"I will be praying for you."
"God's will is hard to understand."

I don't know about you, but the God I know does not kill babies. The God I know when I cried out in the middle of the night at 3 am with blood all over my sheets, with a kind of silent scream so loud that my cry echoed through the hallways and into the night sky, falling deep into black silent holes, that God, that One that appeared in my hospital bed, He showed up with his hands, these large, gentle hands cupped together to hold me as I contemplated ripping out my IV, tearing out my eyes, jumping out of the three-story window. He just sat there on the bed with me, his hands holding onto my entire body as I felt a single tear fall from His eye, as I shook, my large belly filled with death and empty at the same time. He sat there and said nothing.

And I cursed the night sky, I cursed my failed body, I swore against the injustices of the world and I swore at God, the same one who ripped my father from me when I was five years old. And He just sat there bewildered with me while I screamed obscenities into my pillow and my husband and two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son all slept together wrapped up in a king-sized bed three miles from the hospital.

I do not know what death feels like to anyone else, but this death I felt, this kind of death is the kind that cracks open your heart, sucks out your soul and spits you back out spent and confused. And you stay like that for a very long time. A time so long that if someone were to have told me that, I might have jumped that night. But these are the kind of things you don't want to speak out loud.

There are no words for any kind of death. And still we try to write them. I try to write them.

So that every day, when I sit down to an empty page, the first word that appears in my head is death. Then love. Then grief.

And everything else that follows is something for which my hands are just a vessel.

21 May 2013

How I own my grief...

1. Write about it. Write about every curve, intonation, juxtaposition, curl of the lip, gut-punch in the stomach, facial expression, door slamming shut, every feeling that happens because of the door slamming shut, eyes burning, just write and write some more.

2. Say Grace out loud as often as I can.

3. Connect Grace to my father, my father to Grace and then connect them again.

4. When people ask how many children I have, say four! Four. And mean it.

5. In the same way that I own my joy. Live it every day. Grief and joy side by side.

6. Connect my five-year-old self when my own father died to my son who was five when his sister died.

7. When people ask how old my children are, tell them. And every year increase their age by one, except for Grace's in which you respond dead every time and never change your answer. Dead.

8. Remember when your grandmother told you that she never for one moment forgot her first born son who died, and that she was afraid to talk about him out loud because she was supposed to "get over it." Never get over Grace. Remember your grandmother each time because you miss her too.

9. Remember that the depth of your grief is equal to the depth of your love and no less. No. Less.

10. Forget about the stupid people and how they still say stupid things once in a while. If you are feeling especially gracious, say a prayer for them. But don't be hard on yourself if you don't.

11. When someone brings up "God" and "Grace" in the same sentence, put up all your protective walls. Remember they mean well, but it never comes out sounding that way. God does not kill babies.

12. Be with my other children, fully present, and teach them kindness, empathy, compassion and love. Because nothing else matters. Love just love.

13. Sometimes by crying, but rarely in front of anyone else, and mostly by myself in the car while driving. Sometimes, late at night when everyone else is asleep.

14. Sometimes by simply feeling like the loneliest person in the world.

15. By listening to other people's stories and grief and giving them a safe place to say the darkest things.

16. Once in a great while still, not wanting to hold someone else's baby. Very rarely. But still sometimes, it stings too much.

17. By remembering every day, I am alive, and Grace is not. And being okay with both things some of the time. And some of the time, not being okay with it at all and wanting to throw yourself down on the ground and kick and scream.

18. Each May, each May succumbing to my body's own darkness and sitting with it and still learning to be okay with it.

19. By shouting expletives and saying them under my breath too.

20.  Say Grace out loud as often as I can.

18 May 2013

Do I stay in this recurring dream...

I am torn. I do not dream about Grace. It is one of my failings that bothers me most in these later years. No matter how much I try to conjure them up on my own (and I do try), I do not dream about her. I envy people who dream about their children. I have found from the many families I've met over the years, that some people dream often and many not at all. So once again, I am not alone. I am never alone.

And still. Still, I envy the dreamers.

So last night, when I dreamed about Grace, when I knew I was dreaming about Grace, I was torn. Do I stay in this recurring dream that keeps happening over and over again or do I leave it? 

A few months ago I was intrigued by a podcast I heard about Lucid Dreaming so I did what I do and I went a bought and read a book about it: Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. And much to my questioning mind's eye, it worked. With a few nights of practice, I could remain in my dreams with just a few tweaks in the moment.

So last night when Grace appeared in my dreams, when my body was re-living her birth and death over and over again in my dream, I asked myself this question: Do I stay in this dream or do I leave? I was there with Grace. I could see her and touch her and hold her and feel her. I could feel her in my body and then out. 

The problem of course is that this dream was filled with so much trauma. I kept waking up and falling asleep and giving birth over and over again to my dead child. In this dream, I could feel my body splitting open and pushing her out and my breasts filling up with milk that would first turn painful and then turn red and then turn dry. I could feel her head crowning and myself pulling her back in just one more moment before my body did what it did and before she came sliding out, Grace and I still connected with an umbilical cord whose jobs of providing nutrients and oxygen was no longer needed.

This dream came at me in waves over and over again, the pushing and sliding out and there she was in my arms again and again and again.

And throughout the night as I lay there dreaming, and still lucid and still wondering if I should end these dreams or stay in them, I remember thinking Here she is. Here she is.

I'm  certain you know what I chose. Because dead or alive, I would if I could choose my child over this absence. I would choose to have this dream every night, no matter how worn I feel the next day because Grace was present and I was holding her and I could feel her and she was here among us.

Everything that you expect to happen, happened next. I woke extremely early in the morning, exhausted, spent and sad beyond words, beyond senses. Sad. 

But then I realized the gift in all of this. In the ten years compressed into one night, taking time and bending it in ways I didn't know was possible. Giving me another moment with Grace, suspended in dream-like fashion, to hold her, to be a mother again to her, to whisper things into her ear that only a mother and daughter share, to be her mother. 

And the question of staying or leaving my dream need never be asked again. 

16 May 2013

I grieve because I love...

One of the most complicated relationships between humans is the mother-child relationship, and if I'm being wholly honest, the mother-daughter relationship must rank among one of the most complex. We place on our daughters unfulfilled expectations, complex issues that we ourselves wish that we understood better. We worry about how they will be treated, how they will fare without us. We worry if we did enough. We worry when they bleed. We worry when they arrive too soon at bleeding and how do we teach them that delicate balance between being a woman and holding onto their childhood. We want them to be like us and nothing at all like us. We want them to be strong. We want them to understand their weaknesses. We want them to find careers that they love. We want them to love being a mother as much as we do. We want everything for them and nothing at all but what they themselves believe to be love and truth.

We worry.

And so when a daughter dies before all of this happens, then the mother wanders in a desert without direction.

There are so many firsts that never happen, so many seconds and thirds. There are no first kisses to worry about. There are no tampons to buy. There is no hair to braid. There are no late night conversations into the night about what in the world the boy-toy band One Direction might actually be announcing.

There is in all of this the pull of the umbilical cord, the line that first connected mother to child that is still there in the invisible dark and the tug is ever present.

Add to that mix a complicated relationship with your own mother (okay, let's be honest what mother-daughter relationship isn't complicated) and then you mix in guilt and frustration and confusing and panic into all the rest.

Yes, yes, there are other children. Yes, yes there is another daughter. But this missing daughter, the one who fails to show up for the pictures so that you notice the distinct space--head and shoulders between the youngest and the middle child. Why does this picture look still unfinished? Yes, the picture always looks unfinished, as if something has been erased, someone is absent.

Recently someone implied that I spend a lot of time writing about the absent child and not so much about the present children.

I am sure that many others are thinking this same thing. I am sure the unspoken thoughts of many would cut immeasurably into a grieving mother's heart. You know who you are.

But here is the thing. My other children, the ones I see every day, the ones I speak to every day, the ones I hug and kiss and talk to and have conversations with, they are fully present human beings, engaged in their lives, their own lives and don't necessarily want me talking or writing much about them. They are living the lives that they are designing with us by their side. They have voices and speak a similar language as the rest of us. They are alive. Did I mention that?

But this silent one, I'm her only voice, I'm the only one who can keep her voice fresh and present. And believe me, her presence is immutable. I can pretend to forgot (oh, but who would?) I can place her in the recesses of my mind, but that does nothing except bring her closer to the forefront of my mind.

This silent one? She is ever-present. She speaks in ways that I am willing to share bits and pieces of because she cannot do it for herself. Other bits and pieces I cling to on my own in the dark.

"(i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands." -ee cummings

...not even the rain...


I do not pretend to have any answers or any wisdom around the right way to grieve.

For me, I grieve the only way I can: Wholly present and honestly. I grieve because I have no other choice.

I grieve because I love.

And I wouldn't give up my love for anything.

15 May 2013

Apology no more...

As a girl, a woman, a wife, a mother, I have been apologizing most of my life. I took lessons from my mother and my grandmother who were really good at it because I imagine that they too took lessons from their own mothers and grandmothers.

But recently I’ve stopped apologizing.

I’ve stopped because as I reach my daughter’s 10-year death anniversary, I realized I no longer needed to apologize for my tears, for the way I felt, for the fact that yes, I am still and will always be grieving because what mother wouldn’t grieve the rest of her life after burying a child who never had a chance? After all doesn’t the cliché that we would lay down our own lives for our children come from some depths of truth in all of our bones?

In the early years, I thought the worst question was this:

How many children do you have?

I looked up and looked away in trying to figure out how in the world do I answer that question?

But then after I discovered how to answer that question with lots of practice, I realized that the harder question was actually this:

How old are they?

Depending on my mood, depending on the day of the week, depending on the company, I answered the questions differently each time, but if I’m being wholly honest, which is most of the time these days, the answers go something like this:

I have four children.

Oh, the person continues, that’s lovely, how old are they?

Take a deep breath, pause and begin: 15, 12, 7 and dead.

Let me just state the obvious: If this question is posed at a party, I’ve just rendered the party part pretty much over.

People look down; people look up; people back away.

I smile, sort of, and then I used to apologize. I. Used. To. Apologize.

On the day my daughter died, I apologized to the nurses backed up against the wall, standing there like death had just entered the room. And it had actually. Death had entered my body two days early to lift my daughter’s soul and take her breath and stop her small heart from beating to leave behind a body that I needed to deliver.

I’m so sorry, I said. I’m so sorry you have to be here today for this. They nodded politely and placed the plastic flowers outside of my hospital room—their apology to the lab employees who would come later on to draw my blood.

And then the doctor arrived, a doctor I didn’t know because it was a weekend and because my doctor was out of town and because her doctor on call was already busy so we were way too far down the doctor line, and I got a doctor who hadn’t delivered a baby since back in rotation during residency.

That’s when fear entered the room. Fear and death in the same room is not a good combination.

“We need to get this baby out quickly,” she explained.

“Why?” I asked. “Why?”

Of course her “quick” I thought meant being wheeled into surgery and cut right out of me and taken away which honestly felt like a relief even though my previous daughter had been born at home in a birthing tub in a record four-hour labor that brought all the wonder and amazement that that kind of birth is supposed to bring.

“Well,” she declared, “we don’t really know how long she’s been dead, and we don’t know what could happen to you because she’s still there.”

At the time, I believed her, and it wasn’t until my own doctor arrived at the hospital to visit two days later that I found out that no, there was no rush and yes, I could have gone home to tell my other two children and to prepare my body and to prepare my mind (if such a thing is possible) but instead I nodded in agreement and said okay, I’m so sorry to call you out here on a weekend and she answered by inserting a cervadil in my cervix to get this labor moving, a labor that in all took 24 hours, which was 15 hours longer than my first labor and 20 hours longer than my second and still much too short because that was the last 24 hours that I got to carry my daughter inside of me and try to keep her safe.

I’m sorry it’s taking so long I said as the nurses arrived at midnight to insert a second cervadil into my body because labor was still too slow and this second cervadil would get things moving faster.

And it did.

Not only did it get labor moving faster but it moved blood out of me so fast that my levels dropped precariously low and people were now talking transfusion as I laid there in my bed pressing the button to deliver the morphine faster as I wanted the numbness of it all to stick around.

You don’t have to feel the pain of this labor the nurses had said to me earlier in the day knowing that my beautiful birthing plan requested no intervention at all unless the baby was in danger. Suddenly, I was the one in danger.

At three a.m. with labor coming faster and the blood finally under control, I woke up with my own mother sleeping next to me in the hospital room chair, and my husband at home with our other two children and a bevvy of women asleep in the waiting room and I thought, “This is what death feels like.” This kind of pain that is so black and so dark and so lonely and I prayed to God that I was sorry to Him for every bad thought inside of me and I apologized for so many unspoken sorrows and so many things that I was certain I was being punished for and I offered just like in all of the books and fairy tales to trade my soul to the devil for my daughter’s life and to trade my life for my daughter’s and to give up everything in exchange for hers to no avail but a deafening silence in the room and my tears, the same kind of silence that would come ten hours later when I pushed my daughter out of my body and into this world that would swallow her up in fire just a few, short days later and deliver her back to me again in a box of ashes so tiny that I thought they must be those of a bird not a baby.

I’m sorry, I whispered to a God I could no longer hear in the dark, I’m sorry for everything, and when nothing came back to me in return, that’s when I knew this was no happily ever after fairy tale about to come true.

If this were a book or a movie, I’d tell you now it’s time for an intermission.

Or perhaps if this were a year earlier, I’d apologize to you for taking too long to tell my story, but this is not my story really but my daughter’s life. And any child’s life is worth ten minutes of your time, yes?

And while this story seems to be so much about death and grief, I’m here to tell you that this is a story about life and love because my love for my daughter is so wide and so deep that it extends beyond the eight months that my third child, my second daughter, lived inside of my body.

This story is a love story that involves three years post-death to deliver a healthy baby boy albeit in a car (an entirely different kind of love story) to help me find redemption and love again in a way that I didn’t know existed.

And this story ends by telling you that I am no longer apologizing for the tears that occasionally still fall, for the crack in my heart, for the amount of love that spills out of my life and into the world because one small child, one small infant that I gave birth too was born into a room of deafening silence and tears and when my husband and I looked at each other and had to decide what to name her, we looked at each other and almost immediately said Grace. Grace because no matter how dark and how lonely and how sad I sometimes feel about all of this, I still believe in Grace.

And for that, I will never apologize again.

07 May 2013

How it begins...

It starts, slowly at first, a kind of yawn inside my body, a slow and laborious groan within, and I never know when it will come, when it will first rise up inside of me but often it comes after the crocuses have bloomed and died, after the buds on the cherry blossoms disappear and the maroon leaves take their places, after the days turn longer and the nights turn from cold to cool and then, just like that, it begins...the yawn inside my body, the whispering around the edges of my heart.

here i am, remember me?

yes, yes, i never forget you my child. you are always with me.

And while that voice whispers toward me all year around, this time of year, it tugs me in a different way as my body remembers the birth, prepares itself for long, hard labor and darkness that falls for so many days, weeks and months to come.

This is May, my body declares, and I will take over from now until early June.

Some years, my body declares itself just before the visit to the midwife, late May, when the last kicks and the last turns and the last rotations are happening, when the settling into myself happens and the last deep sighs occur, when the heart still beats--bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum--so fast inside of me, 165 beats a minute.

But this year, this BIG and LARGE and confusing tenth year took me by surprise. For the unsettling, the groaning began in late April. April! What of this noise and confusion and tears falling so soon and so early and so many weeks still from your birthday, from your death day, from whatever series of days you want to call them.

 here i am, remember me?

yes, yes, i never forget you my child. you are always with me.

And what to do then so many years out from this, from you and so many things to do each day--meals to prepare, papers to grade, classes to teach, work to be done, children to raise--who can spend an entire month with their body pulling them down and down farther and deeper into this space and toward that place where darkness takes over and declares itself entering the body and how long will you stay this time? You never even ask permission, you just enter and stay as long as you want.

here i am, remember me?

yes, yes, i never forget you my child. you are always with me.

And these tears, they fall in places like they did in those early days, in the car when you think no one might be looking, late at night when the rise and fall of the breath of so many others are sleeping in the house, in line at the grocery store inconveniently making you leave the cart of groceries in the middle of nowhere, in the classroom as the children ask you for help when they are planting seeds.

here i am, remember me?

yes, yes, i never forget you my child. you are always with me.

And my body continues to groan and ache and pull at me even as I shout, stop, stop all this right now, this instant but you know, don't you, that there's nothing really I can do but succumb to all of this, to fall into this space, to remember the curve of your chin, the forehead, always in lament itself and the long legs stretched out before me. And my body remembers the long and painful and deep labor that took more than an entire day, more than 24 hours, and that doctor yelling at me to push, push and I continued to defy her and hold, hold just so that I could carry you one more minute, one more moment in this sacred space you and I shared together, this place of holding, holding, keeping you safe, keeping you warm and floating and suspended and all of that ended when you came sliding out and the silence of all of it tore me to pieces in the places my body wasn't already broken from this labor until I wailed for you and made noises you couldn't make or hear or feel anymore.

And my body groaned unfamiliar sounds that scared even me from my own self.

May has arrived and you and I my dear are in this together.

here i am, remember me?

yes, yes, i never forget you mama. you are always with me.